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Issue #1674      February 25, 2015

Culture & Life

Why the hammer and sickle?

A young woman recently arrived from the USA asked us the other day, why do you use the hammer and sickle emblem? It’s a very valid question. The ruling class, the spokespeople for the big corporations, have invested an enormous amount of money and manpower in denigrating the hammer and sickle, in trying to invest it with the same connotations as Hitler’s swastika.

In the developed capitalist countries they have admittedly had some success. But only partially. Here in Sydney, we have a vertical banner, about a metre wide and about a metre and a half deep. In red cloth, it just has our hammer and sickle logo painted on it in gold. When we carried it at the head of our contingent in a march, total strangers would come off the footpath to ask if they could carry it for us. It resonated with them.

That is because the hammer and sickle is one of the most recognised political symbols anywhere in the world. Its iconography is simple and clear: it represents the unity of workers peasants (the hammer for industrial workers, the sickle for peasants or agricultural workers). There was a move in the 1930s to “update” the emblem to reflect modern industrial development – a dropforge and a tractor was suggested – but this foundered when it was pointed out (by Stalin, actually) that at the rate industry was developing in the USSR, they would have to change the emblem every couple of years!

And of course, there was no need, for the hammer and sickle is a symbol. It is not meant to portray specific workers anywhere. It stands for all workers, industrial and rural, everywhere. Only in parts of Central America has it been popularly amended: in countries where the main agricultural crop is not grain but sugar cane, the sickle has been replaced by the machete (the hammer remains unchanged).

The efforts of the ruling class to besmirch the hammer and sickle has, as I have said, had some limited success in developed capitalist countries. But even there, it should be noted, it was largely restricted to the main English-speaking countries: the USA, Britain, Canada, Australia. In India, the hammer and sickle is widely used by both the big Communist parties – the CPI and the CPI(M). In South Africa, too, it is the recognised emblem of the SACP, one of the three groups that make up the ruling alliance (the ANC, the SACP and COSATU, the trade union federation). And of course it is, on the flag of the Communist Party of China.

In Europe, from Portugal to Greece, Norway to France, Communists and workers in Communist-led trade unions, march and rally behind the red banner with the hammer and sickle emblem emblazoned across it. And why not? It is our emblem, the symbol of the militant working class and its closest ally the landless peasantry. If we gave it up, changed it to something new, something “untarnished”, the propaganda mills of capitalism would immediately begin linking it to fascism, or genocide, or cannibalism or anything else suitably reprehensible. Precisely because it is our emblem.

So we don’t hide it. We are proud to march behind the hammer and sickle, the symbol of united workers and peasants (agricultural workers/small farmers in the Australian context, if you prefer). Let the capitalists sling mud at it. It washes off. We know the heroic history of our movement, the courageous deeds that have been done under the sign of the hammer and sickle. The world was saved from Hitlerite Fascism by soldiers holding aloft the hammer and sickle. Capitalism would like the people of the world to forget that. Our task is to make sure they do not.

So put the hammer and sickle on your T-shirt, and wear it to the next anti-Abbott rally. I cannot think of a more suitable place for it.

If I can wear my other hat for a moment, politics is the theme, at least partially, of this week’s episode of The Doctor Blake Mysteries (for the rest of the week’s offerings, see the page opposite). The episode is titled By the Southern Cross, and airs on the ABC on Friday March 6 at 8.30pm. The episode mixes references to commemoration of the Eureka Stockade with some ropey allusions to the Communist Party, even referred to correctly as “the CPA” at one point. It’s nice to have recognition in popular television programs that the CPA has been a significant factor in Australian life, but the main “Red agitator” turns out to be cynically using Dr Blake‘s lodger Mattie, and (an incredible plot twist) to be willing to throw acid over an unsuspecting political opponent.

Those Communists truly are the most horrid people! At least on television.

Actually, apart from him, the Communists in the program are not too bad. The episode begins well, with police breaking up a small, orderly student commemoration of the Eureka stockade anniversary. There is then some argy-bargy at the local pub. But when the student leader is found dead, his body draped over the Eureka memorial, politics takes a back seat to murder.

There is plenty of opportunity in the script for some biting social satire, as a state government minister makes fatuous pronouncements about his government’s plans for revitalising Ballarat (the series is set in the 1950s). The opportunities are not seized, however. In fact, they may not even have been seen.

The implacable hostility of the police towards the Communist Party members is very accurately observed, however. One feels the scriptwriter has first-hand experience of this (or someone in his family has, perhaps). And it is refreshing that Mattie is not required to either repent or recant her involvement with the Party.

Personally, I find Dr Blake in particular and his mysteries in general to be too staid, too stuffy in their presentation. The attempt to liven the series up by changing the chief copper for someone who has an extreme dislike of Dr Blake is not really successful, as far as I am concerned. It seems too forced by half.

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