The Hammer & Sickle should be equally repugnant as the Swastika. The 100+ million killed and 2 million women raped under that banner should be reason enough.
By Shish KaBob Seger
Artwork by Ed Meadows
Listen, if you have come here to debate the finer points of Marxism through an epistemological lens, sorry – that is not what this article is about. Everyone else seems to be debating the ‘cliff notes of cliff notes’ regarding what they often incorrectly label ‘Marxism’ and ‘Capitalism.’ We have opted to resist the temptation to dive into those reductive arguments in less than 10,000 words. We all may be better off leaving that debate to Sorbonne educated philosophers and/or seasoned economists. What we will examine, however, is the incontrovertible history of atrocity done so under the banner of the Hammer & Sickle. The fact that there is a resurgence in the use of 20th century authoritarian iconography and language only underscores the urgency of escaping this feedback loop we are stuck in today.
Since the election of Donald Trump, dormant sentiments of xenophobia, proto-fascism, racism, and hyper-nationalism have been awoken. Consequently, with one pendulum swing you get another: Many who identify with the ‘left’, who are seeking to counter this influence, go to the only point of reference they have in their limited, American collective consciousness — as it pertains to the last World War: “ The natural enemy of fascism is communism so I guess I am on ‘Team Communism!’”
Communism is the cousin of fascism. If we are going to LarP WW2, let’s remember Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were allies for the first third of WW2. Prior to the onset of the war, Germany rebuilt its military at four secret bases in Russia to circumvent the Versaille treaty. To return the favor, the Reich sent advisors to teach and train the Soviet officer corps. So much of the deadly technology of the war was developed in cooperation between the Nazis and Soviets. Together, they built an intricate network of “laboratories, workshops, and testing grounds” where many of the major weapons systems of World War Two were created. Without the technical achievements of this cooperation, Hitler would not have been able to launch his wars of aggression. Though missing from U.S. narratives and taught-history of the era, Soviet-German military cooperation set the stage for WW2. After their mutually planned attack on fellow enemy Poland, Germany and the Soviet Union now shared a border, massive militaries, and a similar ideological framework that enabled the annihilation of enemies. Without an alliance with the Soviets, Germany could never have rebuilt its army and developed new military technologies. The Soviets received military, technological, and economic assistance in return. Until Operation Barbarossa in 1941, the Swastika and Hammer & Sickle cooperated on every level. Once the friendship ended and the Soviets occupied Germany, up to 2 million women were raped by men wearing Hammer & Sickle emblems on their uniforms. Many of these women subsequently died of their injuries, untreated STDs, or took their lives as a result of the trauma. In the end, the similarly authoritarian Nazis and Soviets were responsible for the overwhelming majority of both combat and civilian deaths in WW2.
It should irk anyone with a 9th grade reading of 20th century history that displaying the Hammer and Sickle has become normalized. Language regarding ‘ kulaks, landlords, the bourgeoisie, and parasites’ have also suddenly entered the mainstream political discourse. We are naturally disgusted at the sight of someone displaying the Swastika yet make daily passes for those who do the same with the Hammer & Sickle. To be clear, the Hammer and Sickle should be treated like the Swastika. The track record of communism is as bloodstained as that of Nazism; arguably more so.
The Hammer & Sickle was the banner under which 100 million people were killed last century. Whether or not the people acting under this banner were authentically fulfilling their purported Marxist ideologies or not is immaterial. The swastika, an inverse adaptation of a Buddhist ‘good-luck’ symbol, is not debated nor should it be. Why the iconography of the Soviets and other authoritarian regimes is accepted, and even romanticized, can only be rooted in ignorance or deflected-acceptance.
People are either unaware of the atrocities committed in the name of Communism or they fall into the camp of miscreants that say “true Communism has never been tried.”
Can you imagine the utter stupidity of someone saying “ True Nazism has never been tried”?
For those unaware of atrocities committed under the banner of the Hammer & Sickle, the proportion is rarely matched in our species record. Though history has ample documentation of the many atrocities, much of the public remains unaware of their enormous scale. Collectively, regimes which flew the Hammer & Sickle killed as many as 100 million people. That is more than all other repressive regimes ( Nazis included ) combined during the same expanse of time. A large portion of the dead were a result of forced collectivist economic policy and the elimination of private property. In China, Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward was characterized by an intentionalism that put Marxist economic policy above human life much as Stalin did in the Ukraine. Mao created an ideologically driven man-made famine which caused 45 million people to perish. This stands as the single, largest period of mass murder in all of world history. Similar famines were forced upon the populations of Ukraine, North Korea, and Ethiopia. In all of these cases, ideologies who proudly wore the Hammer & Sickle were well aware that their policies were resulting in large scale death. This was the intention — the extermination of class members such as the “Kulak” who were deemed ‘parasites.’
Again, we won’t attempt to paint a picture of Marxism, Socialism, or intricate economic policy that ties these varying authoritarian regimes together. Trotskyists would attempt to argue that none of those regimes represented Marxism and/or Communism and were simply aberrations. Though, Trotsky recommended the annihilation of Poland the same as Stalin.
“Those on the far-left have a whole umbrella of communist styles, from Stalinism to Anarchism, Maoism to Trotskyism, or even just classic Marxism. Since Karl Marx never implemented communism himself, the leaders of communist states always have that get-out-of-jail-free card. Any shortcomings, tragedies, or crises a communist regime faces can always be blamed on a misapplication of Marx’s infallible roadmap to utopia.” –Richard Mason, Foundation for Economic Education
Though any line of thinking that dismisses the Marxist underpinnings of the many brutal, authoritarian regimes of the 20th century takes a large degree of is mired in ‘complexity’, what we do know that links together all of these mass murders is that they were performed by authoritarian regimes who did so under the banner of the Hammer & Sickle.
These atrocities are why it is so confounding that authoritarian communist iconography has made its way into mainstream culture. As many former liberals make their way into the radical left, revolutionary imagery that was once on the margins of society are part of general political discussion. The Hammer & Sickle are a frequent site at protest marches. The Democratic Socialists of America have gone out of their way to adopt the art style and language of 20th century authoritarian communist regimes. Even a hockey mascot has now been imbued with communist fervor. Naturally, in light of the uncertainty imposed by economic collapse, pandemic, and social unrest, people are seeking refuge in ideologies — often not fully understanding the history or ideas behind the. Yet that is no excuse for meetings symbols of genocide with other symbols of genocide. To be fair, public education often does a dreadful job of teaching history in a way where young people can grasp the meta-narratives which they can apply to modern dilemmas. So if you are unaware of the atrocity that the Hammer & Sickle pin, t-shirt, or protest sign are imbued with, here is a handy list by historian Scott Manning of atrocities carried out by those who bore that very emblem.
Communist Body Count: 149,469,610
|1||People’s Republic of China|
Body Count: 73,237,000
1949-Present (57+ years and counting)R.J. Rummel originally estimated China’s body count between between the years of 1949-1987 to be 35,236,000 (Rummel 1994). This excluded 38,000,000 million that died of famine during the Great Leap Forward. After the release of Mao: The Unknown Story, Rummel became convinced that the Chinese government was directly responsible for the famine, thus increasing his original estimate by 38,000,000 (Rummel 2005). 1,000 was added for Tienanmen Square in 1989 (Courtois 1999).
|2||Union of Soviet Socialist Republics|
Body Count: 58,627,000
1922-1991 (69 years)The body count only covers the years 1923-1987 (Rummel 1996).
|3||Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic|
Body Count: 3,284,000
1918-1922 (4 years)This body count does not include the 6,210,000 killed in the civil war (Rummel 1996).
|4||Democratic People’s Republic of Korea|
Body Count: 3,163,000
1948-Present (58+ years and counting)1,663,000 is attributed between 1948-1987 excluding the Korean War (Rummel 1994). 2,500,000 is the mid-estimate for those who starved to death between 1995-1998 (U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea 2006).
Body Count: 2,627,000
1975-1987 (12 years)The body count estimate is complete (Rummel 1994). The offical country name was Democratic Kampuchea during Pol Pot’s reign and then known as People’s Republic of Kampuchea afterwards.
|6||Democratic Republic of Afghanistan|
Body Count: 1,750,000
1978-1992 (14 years)The body count estimate is complete (Courtois 1999).
Body Count: 1,670,000
1975-Present (30+ years and counting)The body count covers the years 1945-1987 for Vietnam/North Vietnam and excludes 1,062,000 from the Vietnam War (Rummel 1994).
|8||People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia|
Body Count: 1,343,610
1974-1991 (17 years)The body count includes 10,000 political assasinations during 1977-1978, 1,000 children killed in 1977, 110 massacred in an Orthodox church in 1975, 80,000 during the civil war between 1978-1980, 250,000 that died in 1982 through Transit Camps, and 2,500 killed in a bombing raid (Courtois 1999). Another 1,000,000 is added for the famine during 1984-1985 (BBC News 2000).
|9||Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia|
Body Count: 1,072,000
1945-1992 (47 years)The body count only covers the years 1945-1992 excluding 100,000 from the Tito Partisans between 1941-1944 (Rummel 1994).
|10||Chinese Soviet Republic|
Body Count: 700,000
1931-1934 (3 years)The body count only includes the Jiangxi and Fujian provinces (Chang 2005). Although Mozambique has 700,000 to its name, the Chinese Soviet Republic produced more bodies in a shorter time period and the estimate is low.
|11||People’s Republic of Mozambique|
Body Count: 700,000
1975-1990 (15 years)100,000 civilians murdered between 1986 and mid-1988 (Young 1991) and 600,000 starved to death between 1975-1985 (Courtois 1999).
|12||Socialist Republic of Romania|
Body Count: 435,000
1947-1989 (42 years)The body count only covers the years 1947-1987 (Rummel 1997).
|13||People’s Republic of Bulgaria|
Body Count: 222,000
1946-1990 (44 years)The body count only covers the years 1948-1987 (Rummel 1997).
|14||People’s Republic of Angola|
Body Count: 125,000
1975-1992 (17 years)The body count only covers the years 1975-1987 (Rummel 1997).
|15||Mongolian People’s Republic|
Body Count: 100,000
1924-1992 (68 years)The body count only covers the years 1924-1987 (Rummel 1997).
|16||People’s Socialist Republic of Albania|
Body Count: 100,000
1946-1991 (45 years)
The body count only covers the years 1944-1987 (Rummel 1997).
|17||Republic of Cuba|
Body Count: 73,000
1961-Present (45+ years and counting)The body count only covers the years 1959-1987 (Rummel 1997).
|18||German Democratic Republic|
Body Count: 70,000
1949-1990 (41 years)The body count only covers the years 1948-1987 (Rummel 1997).
|19||Socialist Republic of Czechoslovakia|
Body Count: 65,000
1948-1990 (42 years)The body count only covers the years 1948-1968 (Rummel 1997).
|20||Lao People’s Democratic Republic|
Body Count: 56,000
1975-Present (31+ years and counting)The body count only covers the years 1975-1987 excluding 47,000 war dead (Rummel 1997).
|21||Hungarian People’s Republic|
Body Count: 27,000
1949-1989 (40 years)The body count only covers the years 1948-1987 (Rummel 1997).
|22||People’s Republic of Poland|
Body Count: 22,000
1948-1989 (41 years)The body count only covers the years 1948-1987 (Rummel 1997). Excludes 1,585,000 from ethnic cleansing between 1945-1950 (Rummel 1994).
|23||People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen|
Body Count: 1,000
1969-1990 (21 years)The body count only covers the years 1969-1987 (Rummel 1997).