I just came across a prototype for what money ought to represent and what they might look like.* This banknote prototype is from the early 19th century Cincinnati, USA. We understand from it that its owner has completed honest work and therefore is entitled to shoes, or an amount of corn, equivalent to his/her effort.
Depicted in the middle are Justitia and Minerva (maybe, but why?). In the right corner is a clock with the caption “Time is wealth” and above it is the toiling titan Atlas, carrying the whole world on his shoulders, depicted. On the left we find “100” repeated twice, the number corresponding to the amount of corn the owner of the bill is entitled to. Also there is a picture of a goddess seated on a package at a wharf, a full-rigged ship sailing away. Possibly this is supposed to symbolise trade.
The general idea expressed is that only time-consuming, “living labour” creates value and wealth – “dead labour”, i.e. products and capital, creates no value and wealth without it. The true beauty of the banknote is however the text above the goddesses in the middle: “The most disagreeable labour is entitled to the highest compensation”
The very first notes ever to be printed and circulated in a socialist realm is probably the rouble banknote from the Soviet Union in 1919. Or?
* The American banknote was found in George E. McNeill, (ed.) (1887). The Labor movement. Boston: A. M. Bridgman
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.
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.)
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.