Everything Is Just Dandy!

April Brown – Against the Hammer and Sickle

The Anarchist Library

2022 01 12

Author: April Brown
Title: Against the Hammer and Sickle
Subtitle: Reflecting on symbolism in Anarchy
Date: 12 January 2022
Source: https://medium.com/@aprilbrowncommunist/against-the-hammer-and-sickle-reflecting-on-symbolism-in-anarchy-82013a743ad2

Through years of reading groups, labor efforts, and political organizing, the question inevitably arises “You’re an Anarchist-Communist, why don’t you use the Hammer and Sickle?”

At first, I was happy to explain that Bolshevik-types don’t have a monopoly on Communism, and that the anarchist tradition has a swathe of its own unique symbols. Of course, I don’t deny that the Free Territory utilized the hammer and sickle on its currency stamps [1] or that the CNT had its own use of the Hammer and Sickle [2]. That said, that doesn’t mean I believe we should continue using that icon. Of course, we know the Free Territory was a heavily decentralized affair, meaning there were different currency stamps, places there was no currency, etc. I don’t believe that anarchist project can be criticized as deeply, in retrospect. The CNT-FAI, too, was not homogenous, with various factions within the CNT, from liberal republicans to truly anti-Bolshevik Syndicalists. There is much to learn from both projects, and their use of the Hammer and Sickle is simply one I find to be a historical dead-end. From there, a simple anarchist critique of Bolshevism would likely arise.

I would explain it just about this way for some time, to varying responses. Many, especially non-anarchists, shook their heads in the affirmative. Others, especially State Communists would shake their heads in a begrudgingsense. Naturally, they took offense to me claiming they betrayed Communist principles of worker self-abolition and their ideas were covered in the blood of workers and peasants the world abound. The most frustrating response was the same dismissing motion, from other anarchists! “But, the symbol represents the worker-peasant alliance,” or “We can reclaim it from authoritarians,” were quick to follow.

Was it rude to laugh in their faces? No, not really. It is historically ignorant to claim we should use the hammer and sickle for its symbolic purposes, as if there are no other options! The hammer and plow, while more closely tied to Irish Republican Socialism at large, is one such non-hammer and sickle symbol that shows the same notions. And while there is value in signifying solidarity between industrial workers (hammer) and rural peasants or displaced individuals (sickles), this relationship is confined to only conditional regions. There is no peasantry in the United Kingdom or United States, for example. Yes, a peasantry exists in places across Asia, South American, Africa, and so on, and it is up to anarchists there to design their own symbols of solidarity. Also, the limiting of symbolic solidarity between industrial workers and agricultural ones is limiting and excludes classes such as the lumpenproletariat.

Perhaps I am too on the nose with this, but the notion that we can reclaim the hammer and sickle from Marxism-Leninism or any of its derivatives is like claiming Lenin was a libertatian socialist. In fact, the history of this symbol is directly tied to Lenin, “In 1917, Lenin held a competition to create a Soviet emblem. The winning design was a hammer and sickle, with a sword. Lenin decided to get rid of the sword because he wanted to portray the nation as peaceful. Then, the Moscow artist Yevgeny Kamzolkin designed the image of a crossed hammer and sickle for a May Day poster. In 1918, this version was adopted officially by the Soviets.”[3] Perhaps if we were to ‘reclaim’ the hammer and sickle, we could rehabilitate Trotsky as a friend to the anarchist revolutionaries of Ukraine!

I mentioned above a history of anarchist symbolism. The black flag is the most recognizable, next to the ‘Anarchy is Order’ Symbol: Ⓐ. Both have a deep history, the former coming to popular use by the efforts of Louise Michel, revolutionary member of the Paris Commune. She once bore the red flag before turning to anarchy during her time at a penal colony. Speaking of which, she once said of the red flag, “Lyon, Marseille, Narbonne, all had their own Communes, and like ours [in Paris], theirs too were drowned in the blood of revolutionaries. That is why our flags are red. Why are our red banners so terribly frightening to those persons who have caused them to be stained that colour?” While the Paris Commune is often found in Marxist discourse, it is heavily analyzed by the Anarchists, too, as some Communards were indeed anarchists. So while the red flag is a more general socialist symbol, it has a place among anarchist tradition, especially in its synthesis with the black flag as the bisected red and black flag, which grew in popularity due its use by the CNT-FAI in Spain. [4] Both the red, black, red-and-black, and the latters’ own derivatives (the anarchist flag is really just a coloring book!) are all fair use, in my view.

The Ⓐ symbol, as just mentioned, is also widely popular among anarchists, perhaps more so than the flags we fly. While it calls forth a strong negative reaction, what else would we expect from mainstream society under a neo-liberal regime? Surely the hammer and sickle wouldn’t fly any better, as we know. The symbol represents Proudhon’s notion of “Anarchy is Order,” but it’s history is less well-known: