On one of the much-circulated posters that Walter Crane made for the labour movements’ May Day celebrations we find a maypole. The wooden pole – throughout the history of scholarship linked with idea of a macrocosmic world tree at the centre of the world an thus with the microcosmic so-called warden tree of courtyards – has in the poster been substituted for a Marianne character, the Juno of the French revolution. Singing and laughing, whirling around this anthropomorphic pole, common people adorns her with banners with political messages. In drawing this image of the ideal May Day – a celebration that may be perceived as the labour movement’s counterpart to the ancient religious new year rituals when the world was born anew – Crane was not only motivated by political utopianism but additionally by the at the time thriving interest in fashioning a so-called “religion of humanity”. In fact, among Crane’s friends and associates the merging of socialist utopianism with religiosity, as a rule inspired by Auguste Comte’s Religion de l’Humanité, otherwise know as Église positiviste, was so influential that socialism in itself could be perceived and conceptualised as a new religion with the virtuous, beautiful, knowledgeable, perfect and perfected human as a deity. As such she is the centre of the world and the axis of life.
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
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.
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.