Symbolism of Soviet-Socialism

“Discuss the history of a social movement that fascinates you, discuss the symbolism, media reporting of the social movement, political forces around it, and the future of the movement, if it is still ongoing.”

That’s my assignment for this blog entry, and it’s perfect because I’m currently reading October, by China Miéville. The book, as you have probably guessed, is about the Soviet-Socialist revolutions that took place in early 20th century Russian Empire.

The three big symbols of Soviet-Socialism for me would have to be: the the weird sickle and wheat imagery; the odd hammers and gears that represent the workers; and the big red star.

State Emblem of the Soviet Union

The above state emblem of the Soviet Union has all three symbols.

In the book, October, the author mentions a struggle that the early pro-revolutionary leaders had. According to Marxist theory, a nation has to transitions from a despotic monarchy and into a capitalist society before becoming a socialist state. Tsarist Russia was not even a capitalist nation, and it didn’t have a working class for the revolutionaries to radicalize and overthrow the government with. They had recently freed slaves who didn’t understand the grand ideas that the revolutionaries tried to peddle. I suspect this is the reason for the inclusion of the sickle and wheat symbolism – to entice the peasantry to join the revolutionary cause.

The hammer is the most straightforward symbol – it’s the working class. While nowadays a symbol of the working class might be a cash-register, or a computer, or a car. In the early 20th century eastern Europe the working class worked with hammers, and pliers, and calipers and all manner of other industrial age equipment.

Finally, the red star. Wikipedia holds several theories about what the red star exactly means and how it came to be. Their theories include the stars being used to distinguish local Moscovite solders from the one returning from WW1, and Trotsky being influenced by the green star of Esperanto. Another blogger, by the name of heartinaheartlessworld, claims that the red star originated by a Russian science fiction novel by the same name. Russian Wikipedia article claims that the red star symbol was used by military forces of Tsarist Russia before the revolution.

Photo taken in 1905, before the revolution, of Russian Empire soldiers. Star symbol depicted in the top right.

These symbols are banned in several countries around the world, and in many others they offend and upset the general public. Regardless of how anyone might feel about the Soviet-Socialist republics and their policies, their symbols are immediately recognizable, even in the 21st century, and serve as an insight into the ideals of the movement from which they spawned.

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