By spring 1936, the French literati George Bataille famously came to the conclusion that Fascism had to be fought with its own means. For a surrealist inclined intellectual, this meant not jibbing at the darker sides of human existence: desire, perversion, violence, torture, sacrifice, fanaticism and death. For this aspiration, Bataille has been, quite erroneously according to my view, branded “Left fascist” by Richard Wolin.*
I wonder whether there are connections between this aspiration of Bataille and his friends and fascist-like feature in anarchism? I’m especially thinking about the obscure anarchist “Batallón de la Muerte” aka “Centuria Malatesta” that fought in the Spanish civil war and wore uniforms that looked “fascist”, not only to us today, but likewise to the contemporary bystanders of its parade in Barcelona on the 3rd of March 1937. If anyone has information on this unlucky unit, I would be very keen to learn.
Already in the Russian Civil War, The Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine seems to have used a black flag with a skull. In the 1930s also the Sandino rebels in Nicaragua used a Jolly Roger-ish flag (in the image displayed by their adversaries, the American Marines).
* I find the Wikipedia article on “Left-Wing Fascism” overall misdirected. For me, if you defend the ideals of the French revolution, with whatever means, even fascist-like ones, you are necessarily opposed to Fascism. Maybe “fascist Left” is what the article is really about? In any case, “Left Fascism” ought to be reserved for people like Gabriele D’Annunzio in Italy, the Strasser brothers in Germany and Juan Yagüe in the Spanish Falange. So far in the history of fascism, we have recurrently seen the purging of Left Fascism within the victorious and ruling parties.
I was surprised to find the topic “Soviet Swastika” being discussed on different pages on the Internet. Some used the visual evidence as illuminating proof for the sinister identity between Communism and Nazism. As other observers have already noted, the puzzling use of the swastika symbol by Soviet military is however not that difficult to explain.
The explanation is not shared fondness for totalitarianism, but the fact that the insignia was designed for Kalmyks fighting in the Red army. The Kalmyks are Buddhists and the swastika a well-known emblem for that creed. Thus, the explanation is some kind of Bolshevik tolerance, rather than totalitarianism.
* Images taken from the linked pages.
Remembering how left-wing friends in the 1980s took great interest in the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua (recall The Clash’s album Sandinista! I personally backed the Contras, perhaps not my finest political decision), it is intriguing to learn from Donald C. Hodges’ Sandino’s Communism: Spiritual Politics For The Twenty-First Century (1992) how deeply involved Augusto César Sandino was in spiritism and esotericism.
Sandino seems to have taken a particularly keen interest in the religio-philosophical ideas of Escuela Magnético-Espiritual de la Comuna Universal, founded by Joaquín Trincado Mateo. The Magnetical-Spiritual School of Universal Commune, “the direct continuation” of the magical system “Moses founded 36 centuries ago”, if we are to believe Wikipedia, seems to still be around. I doubt however that the political dimension of the school, that first attracted Sandino, are vibrant still. In respect to early 19the century France, Julian Strube has recently studied the juxtaposition of socialism and occultism. It was news to me that such a joint adventure continued well into the interwar period.
I’m reading the final draft for The Style and Mythology of Socialism. Socialist Idealism, 1871-1914 (to be published by Routledge in 2018). In this book I’m, among other things, trying to understand the symbolism of the Knights of Labor. One of their key symbol was the “Great Seal of Knighthood”.
I have tried to interpret its symbolism in details, but it is only now when I read this final draft that I perceive that from a distance the Great Seal of Knighthood on Grand Master Terence V. Powderly’s gravestone (next to the Masonic emblem) appears as a rose.
How could I have missed this! More precisely, it comes into sight as a so-called heraldic or Tudor rose.
I’m reminded of the poem by Elizabeth Doten (who was she?), recited during the opening ceremonies of the K of L:
God of the Granite, and the Rose, // Soul of Archangel, and the Bee; // The mighty tide of Being flows, // Through every channel, Lord from Thee; // It springs to Life in grass and flowers, // Through every grade of being runs; // Till from Creation’s radiant towers, // Thy Glory flames in Stars and Suns
Moreover, I need to look into the history of the use of the red rose by social democratic parties, at least the Swedish branch…
In modern times the so-called Roman salute was immortalized by Jacques-Louis David in his The Oath of the Horatii from 1786. Today the gesture is foremost associated with the Nazis. Less well-known is the fact that until 1941 the Roman salute was likewise used in American civil religion and performed when pledging allegiance to “the stars and stripes”. The idea to pick up the old Roman way of greeting – most certainly imagined with the help of David’s painting – seems to have came up within a group of Christian socialists. Included in this group was the Baptist minister Francis Bellamy who broadcasted the use of the salute, allegedly suggested by a friend in the early years of 1890s, thereby giving rise to the nickname “the Bellamy salute”.
I have however encountered an earlier use of the Roman salute among the Knights of Labor. This Christian socialist/humanist secret order was tremendously influential in ths US, especially in the 1880s. In the very first outline to their imperative ritual manual Adelphon Kruptos, a handwritten draft from sometimes between 1869 and 1874, probably written by Uriah Smith Stephens, we learn that the knights had a special secret “covenant sign”: “The (officer) W.A. will call all in the room up and to a rest or military attention, when prayer may be offered by any one designated by the W.A. or by the (officer) D.A.S. Place all eyes on the W.A. and all give the covenant sign in five motions to a rest.” In the marginal of the draft, this ritual element is described as “officers and appis(?) make pentagon”. A couple of pages later it is explained this way: “In five motion 1 left hand on right breast, 2 right hand raised closed, 3 open right hand palm in front, 4 right hand down to side, 5 left hand down to the side, in military rest pause a moment.”
I’ll bet Francis and his friends once were knights! It is also noteworthy, that, if I am correctly informed, Francis Bellamy was the cousin of Edward Bellamy, the author of the extremely influential socialist utopian novel Looking Backward: 2000–1887 from 1888.
The path transferring the Roman salute of David and French republicanism to fascism and Nazism, is said to go through the Italian epic movie Cabiria from 1914 (that I haven’t yet watched). The author to the screenplay was the fascinating Gabriele d’Annunzio, who in his short-lived republic of Italian Regency of Carnaro mixed proto-fascist themes with radical syndicalism.
Female socialists take part in fighting for the cause, but their bodies is moreover regularly used as propagandistic icons. In contrast to the iconic liberal painting La Liberté guidant le peuple by Eugène Delacroix, the female socialists not only instigate and lead but take active part in the violent struggle. The essential message of these photos is thus the emancipation of women from enclosed homes, restrictive garments and patriarchal codes of conduct by martial empowerment.
* Photos of Mujeres libres from the Spanish civil war, of tribal women fighting together with the Naxalites, and of a female soldier among the Lions of Rojava. Don’t forget to watch the wonderful Spanish movie Libertarias!
Having Google-translated three Russian texts that Roland Boer (Stalin’s moustache) was kind enough to suggest to me, I believe these authors argue for a French genesis for the red star. Apparently, the French army applied stars on their uniforms and the Russian army then adopted this custom in the mid 19th century. This martial connection is in line with the fact that the first time the Bolshevik red star is mentioned in press, in Izvestija on the 19th of April 1918, and some weeks later decided upon by Trotsky, on the 7th of May, it concerns ”Mars’ star” as an emblem for the Red Army. Thwarting rumours about the star’s masonic and satanic background and meaning, it was proclaimed that the star should have two beams pointing downward and one upwards. According to the authors, a Red Army leaflet explained that the red star symbolises Truth. If I understand the Google-translations correctly.
I haven’t been able to confirm that French uniforms actually had stars on them. It doesn’t sound implausible, but I still don’t detect them on images I have looked at. And I haven’t given up my theory about the significance of Boganov’s novel…
Top: Efim Ivanovich Kurashov portrayed by L. F. Golovanov. Right: “Soviet Russia in under Siege. Everyone to the Defence!”, propaganda poster from 1919 by Dmitry Moor.
The red star of communism is one of the most familiar signs in modern politics. Still, there seems to be surprisingly little known about its origin. Like everything else that we encounter repeatedly, and has been present already from our childhood, the red star of communism appears palpable. But on reflection, this choice of symbol is of course far from evident: why on earth do a star painted red symbolise the movement that aim to abolish class societies?! During the last year, I have taken every opportunity to ask historians, even specialists in the history of socialism, if they knew the answer to this enigma, but they have left me empty-handed.
If we conveniently start our investigation with consulting Wikipedia, we learn about the occurrence of the read star on the Red army uniforms in 1917. We also encounter a competing theory explaining that Trotsky brushed the green star of Esperanto red. The first theory doesn’t really seem to answer the question about the choice of symbolism, however. (Maybe the theory implies that stars are frequently used symbols on uniforms, which I guess is true, at least nowadays, and painting them red an obvious choice for socialist?) The second theory just comes across as long-fetched. Let me suggest another hypothesis.
In 1908, Alexander Bogdanov published Красная звезда (translated into English as Red star: The first Bolshevik Utopia in 1984). Through the eyes of the most advanced socialist revolutionary on the planet earth, Leonid, the novel describes a utopian socialist society on Mars, the red-coloured planet. The society the reader gets familiar with, and the Martians portrayed, are fascinating and the novel truly worth reading. Could it be that this popular novel – written by a person that for while, by some, was depicted as Lenin’s chief rival as the chief ideologue of the Bolsheviks – became the inspiration for the symbolic adaptation of the red star? Somewhere out there, there must be someone to know the answer to enigma of the birth of red star.
(Nota bene, that the red star on this newyear postcard is, for some reason, a pentagon.)
From mid 19th century, liberals and socialists occasionally draped their ideals in the clothing of the Viking. Richard Wagner and William Morris are probably the most influential radicals celebrating the simple and solid way of the Northmen, Icelandic anti-monarchism and Scandinavian beauty. In 1896, artist Walter Crane depicts the Valkyrie of Socialism as Nike defeating Liberalism and Toryism.*
After the victorious federal election in 1912 the Social Democratic Party of Germany presented this postcard with a red Siegfried slaying his draconic political opponents.** Thereafter socialist Viking romanticism has vanished, utterly impeded by Nazi and neo-Nazi use of Viking symbolism. Today, however, I found this picture, apparently from something called “The World of Munchkin”.
* From: Crane, Walter (1896). Cartoons for the Cause. London: Twentieth Century press. ** From: Deutsches historisches Museum, Berlin
Two new things concerning the from-Masonic-G-to-Anarchist-A theme.
David Leopold was kind enough to show me the image to the left above. It is the membership card for the left-chartist group Fraternal Democrats, active between 1845-1853. It is obviously masonic and most certainly influenced the emblem for the First international (1864–1876). Marx and Engels were in contact with the Fraternal Democrat group from its start. Moreover, the emblem looks very much like an A.
The emblem for the Spanish branch of the First International, to the right above, is indeed not reproduced in the version by historian Alberto Valín Fernández that I referred to in my latest post, but it in fact appears in another version: http://win.masoneriamadrid.eu/LA%20MASONER%CDA%20Y%20EL%20MOVIMIENTO%20OBRERO.pdf
From the frontcover to The Democratic Review of British and Foreign Politics, History and Literature (1850). Harney, G. Julian (ed.). Vol. II. London: J. Watson.
Conspiracy theories about occult origins of socialism circulate on the Internet. Socialists who have been initiated into freemasonry or accidental similarities between socialist and esoteric iconography are taken as proof of an occult, virtually satanic, genesis of the worker’s movement. Not everything in these far-fetched theories is false however, as the existence of The Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor may indicate. Right now I am in particular curious about the origin of the anarchist A, the one encircled.
As is well known, the most visible masonic emblem is the G (for God, that at least seems to be the most common exoteric interpretation) in the middle of a square and compasses. Look now at the emblem for the Spanish branch of the First International.* We find in it something halfway between a pair of compasses and an A – “A” for Asociation/Association, I take it. It’s like the pair of compasses (and maybe the square/ruler) builds the letter. (There is probably also a plumb bob.)
Inspired by the masons, the above-mentioned Knights of Labor used an emblem called Great Seal of Knighthood, depicting simply an encircled triangle. (Here represented in the animated Sherlock Holmes and the Valley of Fear from 1984 as the ominous emblem of The Eminent Order of Freemen.) The triangle is a good start on the way to the letter A as in the anarchist A… After the collapse of the Knights of Labor, the anarcho-syndicalist IWW entered the American radical scene. Was it perhaps in this milleau that the anarchist A was first drawn? Has the anarchist A actually been formed from the freemasonry square and compasses? Or is this only coincidences and the anarchist A actually, as have seen suggested here and there, a later invention, independent of everything esoteric? (Have you noticed the incessant presence of the @? Obviously the covert, miniscule form of the anarchist A, a fact that clearly demonstrates the final, worldwide victory for masonic satanism…)
* I’ve tried to check the authenticity of the emblem. The stated source for it is “La masonería y el movimiento obrero: imagos e ideas para una reflexion teórica” by historian Alberto Valín Fernández. Even though I know one or two words in Spanish, reading Galician is not my thing. I however observe that no emblem is reproduced in the article and that we probably should look into ”The Order of Eternal Progress: the quasi-masonic roots of the First International in the United States» by Mark Lause, presented at the conference “’We Band of Brothers’: Freemasonry in radical and social movement 1700-2000” held in Sheffield in 2004.
Socialist heraldic designs, the earliest examples going back to late 19th century organizations and fraternities, display a fascinating mixture of observance to established rules of heraldry and consciously rebellion against these rules. Beside is an emblem painted by Walter Crane for “The World Order of Socialists”, a fraternity/trade union I believe only existed in his mind.* The heraldic shield is substituted for the rose, which at the same time functions as a kind of mantling. The handshake, typical for trade union iconography, stretches over the entire globe, divided in rational quadrangles. The sun is rising.
Althistory (!) displays old Soviet coats of arms that seem to be authentic. In particular I find “Azerbaijan SSR 1920-1927” fascinating. The way the communist sickle and Muslim crescent have been arranged is lovely. But where is the picture from? A note?** Even though the heraldic supports are a worker and a farmer, this emblem have a rather conservative appearance.
Finally, most experimental and rebellious, is the coat of arms for a Hungarian city, designed in the 1970s.*** Op art goes commie.
* If I remember correctly, I found this emblem at Whitworth Art Gallery, but I am unable to locate it again. I know from experience that their search engine works arbitrarily. ** I have tried to contact the person who posted all these coats of arms, but unsuccessfully so. *** Slater & Znamierowski, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Flags and Heraldy, p. 465.
The Holy and Nobel Order of the Knight of Labor was a (proto-)socialist order, spread all over USA in the late 19th century. The order had something like 750 000 initiated members, males and females, whites and blacks, skilled and unskilled workers.* Despite its huge impact on the American worker’s movement, this romantic and mythic socialist order is today, due mainly to the biased historiography of victorious form of socialism, largely forgotten.
The emblems/pins/charms (I am uncertain about the correct term) display the triangle (trinity) of God surrounded by the circle of humanity. If the knights follow the rules of European heraldry, the lozenge-shaped emblems/pins/charms was probably intended for women. The “SOMA” written on one of them is the acronym for the motto of the order: “Secrecy, Obedience, and Mutual Assistance”.
* Best book about the K of L is without doubt Robert E. Weir’s Beyond labor’s veil: the culture of the Knights of Labor. University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press(1996). ** From Irons, Charles F. & Charles A. Russell (no year, probably 1895). Illustrated Catalogue of Solid Gold. Society Emblems, Pins, Buttons and Charms. Providence: Irons & Russell, updated version of an earlier version by Irons alone.
My Swedish book Morgonrodnad. Socialismens stil och mytologi 1871-1914, which translates into something like Reddish Dawn. The cultural style and mythology of socialism 1871-1914 appeared in 2016 and will in due time be published by Routledge. I was very pleased that the publishers for front cover chose a sketch by Walter Crane (1845–1915), identified as “the artist of socialism” by H.M. Hyndman because of his tremendous influence on the art and propaganda around the fin de siècle.* As pleased as I was, I however lamented the fact that thereby another sketch by Crane, also envisioning Prometheus revolting against the tyranny, would not be unveiled. I urge you to have a look on that beautiful image, in the collection at Whitworth Art Gallery. The most apparent difference between the two sketches is – besides the colour scheme obviously – the crown on the eagle’s head and – maybe – the Phrygian cap on Prometheus’.
* Morna O’Neill, Walter Crane 2010:15.
Nowadays, the Left is profoundly uninterested in fraternité, the red division on the French tricolour. It sounds too freemasonic and gendered, perhaps. Back in the late 19th century, fraternity was however arguably more important for socialists then liberté and egalité. To switch from “fraternity” to “solidarity” – like in this Red and Anarchist SkinHead image – is not without its semantic complications. “Solidarity” is to help people you have no special feelings for just because you know what it means to have human needs. “Fraternity” is on the other hand a cultural project aiming to make people feel affinity towards each other, i.e. it transforms co-humans into brothers and sisters.
The three down-pointing arrows in the image are the old anti-Nazi/Eiserne Front sign, created by the social democrat Sergei Chakhotins/Tschachotin, author of “Dreipfeil gegen Hakenkreuz” (1933). Here surrounded by a Fred Perry-ish laurel-wreath, evoking cool hooliganism.