5 main symbols of the Soviets EXPLAINED

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These signs, things and words are internationally recognized as symbolizing the Soviet state and the socialist ideology.

1. Red banner

'The Bolshevik' by Boris Kustodiev, 1920

According to the Bolsheviks, the red color of the Communist banner symbolized the blood of the people who fought for freedom. This explanation goes back to the revolutionary France of the late 18th century, when the red banner first appeared as a symbol of revolt against the monarchy.

The red banner was used by socialists and anarchists of different types, but after 1917, it came to be known as the symbol of Soviet Russia and subsequently became the USSR’s official flag.

2. Five-pointed star

The Order of the Red Star and the Order of the Patriotic War (right) of the Great Patriotic War veteran Alexei Dmitrievich Samokhin.

The five-pointed star as a sign of protection and security has been known for over 3,000 years. It was used by peoples of different cultures – from ancient Greece and Persia to Japan and Native America.

The symbol was used in the Russian Empire – on shoulder straps of certain ranks of military men. In 1917, following the order of Alexander Guchkov, the Provisional Government’s Minister for Defense and Navy, a five-pointed star was added to the cockades on the caps of Russian soldiers. When the Bolsheviks took the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg on October 25th, 1917, they were aided by several thousand sailors with five-pointed stars adorning their uniforms. According to Victor Kibalchich, Soviet revolutionary and writer, the five-pointed star became one of the main symbols of Soviet Russia after that.

In Soviet ideology, the star became red, brandishing the main color of the Revolution. Its five rays symbolize the union of the world’s five continents in the struggle for freedom. The red five-pointed star was also a sign of Mars, the Ancient Roman god of war – thus, the star symbolized the protection of the peaceful labor of workers and peasants. In 1918, it became the main symbol of the Red Army.

3. Hammer and sickle

'Worker and Kolkhoz Woman' sculpture by Vera Moukhina, 1937. Moscow.

The main emblem of the Soviet Union, the hammer and sickle, was a symbol created by the early Bolsheviks. It represented the union of the working class and peasantry and is believed to have been introduced by artist Eugene Kamzolkin (1885-1957) in 1918.

With time, the hammer and sickle made their way onto the official USSR emblem and the Soviet Flag.

4. ‘Workers of the world, unite!’

'Workers of the world, unite!' An Soviet poster.

The motto was originally created in German – “Proletarier aller Länder, vereinigt Euch!” – and is translated as “Proletarians of all lands, unite!” The phrase was coined by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in their ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’, first published in London in 1848.

The initial meaning of the word “proletariat” was derived from the ancient Roman “proletarian” – the one who produces offspring. The word was used to denote poor citizens of Rome (in contrast with aristocracy) who had no possessions other than their offspring (proles in Latin). So for the Roman state, these people were only good for one thing: giving birth to the future citizens of Rome. In contemporary terms, they were paupers. That’s why the word “proletariat” was used by Marx and Engels to denote the poorest and the most oppressed class – the workers.

The emblem of the USSR.

Since the 19th century, the motto has been popularized by socialists of all kinds. The inscription "Proletarians of all countries, unite!" was present on the coat of arms of the USSR in the languages of all the Union republics, and on the coats of arms of the republics — in the languages of these republics and in Russian. The motto was printed in block caps on cash bills, the title page of every Communist Party policy document and plenty of other places.

5. ‘The Internationale’

The text of ‘The Internationale’ was written by the French poet and revolutionary Eugène Edine Pottier (1816-1887) during the days of the Paris Commune, France’s revolutionary government that existed for 72 days. The text was initially sung to the tune of ‘La Marseillaise’, but since 1888, original music has been used, composed by Pierre De Geyter, a worker and a composer.

The Internationale was translated into multiple languages and became a universal calling card for socialists and communists, much like its predecessor, La Marseillaise, did. Vladimir Lenin said: “No matter what country a conscious worker finds himself in, no matter where fate throws him, no matter how alien he feels, without a language, without acquaintances, far from his homeland, he can find comrades and friends by the familiar melody of the ‘International’.” In 1918-1944, The Internationale used to be the state anthem of the USSR, until the new state anthem was adopted.

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