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.)
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.
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.