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The hammer and sickle (Unicode: "☭")[a] is a symbol meant to represent proletarian solidarity – a union between the peasantry (pre-industrial term) and the working class. It was first adopted during the Russian Revolution, the hammer representing workers and the sickle representing the farmers.
After World War I (which Russia withdrew from in 1917) and the Russian Civil War, the hammer and sickle became more widely used as a symbol for labor within the Soviet Union and for international proletarian unity. It was taken up by many communist movements around the world, some with local variations. Today, even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the hammer and sickle remains commonplace in Russia and other former Soviet republics, but its display is prohibited in some other former communist countries as well as in countries where communism is banned by law. The hammer and sickle is also commonplace in communist countries such as Cuba, China, Vietnam, Laos and North Korea.
The Chilean peso
used the hammer and sickle symbol between 1895 and 1940
Farm and worker instruments and tools have long been used as symbols for proletarian struggle.
The combination of hammer and sickle symbolised the combination of farmers and construction workers. One example of use prior to its political instrumentalization by the Soviet Union is found in Chilean currency circulating since 1895.
An alternative example is the combination of a hammer and a plough, with the same meaning (unity of peasants and workers). In Ireland, the symbol of the plough remains in use. The Starry Plough banner was originally used by the Irish Citizen Army, a socialist republican workers' militia. James Connolly, co-founder of the Irish Citizen Army with Jack White, said the significance of the banner was that a free Ireland would control its own destiny from the plough to the stars. A sword is forged into the plough to symbolise the end of war with the establishment of a Socialist International. This was unveiled in 1914 and flown by the Irish Citizen Army during the 1916 Easter Rising.
In 1917, Vladimir Lenin and Anatoly Lunacharsky held a competition to create a Soviet emblem. The winning design was a hammer and sickle on top of a globe in rays of the sun, surrounded by a wreath of grain and under a five-pointed star, with the inscription "proletarians of the world, unite!" in six languages (Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Georgian, Armenian and Azerbaijani). It originally featured a sword, but Lenin strongly objected, disliking the violent connotations. The winning designer was Yevgeny Ivanovich Kamzolkin (1885–1957).
On 6 July 1923, the 2nd session of the Central Executive Committee (CIK) adopted this emblem. In his work, Daily Life in a Crumbling Empire: The Absorption of Russia into the World Economy, sociologist David Lempert hypothesizes that the hammer and sickle was a secular replacement for the patriarchal cross.
Usage in the Soviet Union
At the time of creation, the hammer and sickle stood for worker-peasant alliance, with the hammer a traditional symbol of the industrial proletariat (who dominated the proletariat of Russia) and the sickle a traditional symbol for the peasantry, but the meaning has since broadened to a globally recognizable symbol for Marxism, communist parties, or socialist states.
Two federal subjects of the post-Soviet Russian Federation use the hammer and sickle in their symbols: the Vladimir Oblast has them on its flag and the Bryansk Oblast has them on its flag and coat of arms, which is also the central element of its flag. In addition, the Russian city of Oryol also uses the hammer and sickle on its flag.
The former Soviet (now Russian) national airline, Aeroflot, continues to use the hammer and sickle in its symbol.
The hammer and sickle can be found as a logo on most ushanka hats, usually the Soviet-styled ones.
The de facto government of Transnistria uses (with minor modifications) the flag and the emblem of the former Moldavian SSR, which includes the hammer and sickle. The flag can also appear without the hammer and sickle in some circumstances, for example on Transnistrian-issued license plates.
Four out of the six currently ruling Communist parties use a hammer and sickle as the party symbol: the Communist Party of China, the Communist Party of Vietnam, the Lao People's Revolutionary Party and the Nepal Communist Party. All of these use the yellow-on-red colour scheme, except for the Nepal Communist Party which uses white-on-red. In Laos and Vietnam, the hammer and sickle party flags can often be seen flying side by side with their respective national flags.
Many communist parties around the world also use it, including the Communist Party of Greece, the Communist Party of Chile, the Communist Party of Brazil, the Purba Banglar Sarbahara Party from Bangladesh, the Communist Party of Sri Lanka, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Liberation, the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Maoist), the Indian Communist Marxist Party, the Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist), the Egyptian Communist Party, the Communist Party of Pakistan, the Communist Party of Spain, the Communist Party of Denmark, the Communist Party of Norway, the Romanian Communist Party, the Lebanese Communist Party, the Communist Party of the Philippines and the Shining Path. The Communist Party of Sweden, the Portuguese Communist Party and the Mexican Communist Party use the hammer and sickle imposed on the red star. The hammer and sickle accompanied by the yellow star is used by the Communist Refoundation Party, the main communist party in Italy, the country with the most usage of the symbol around the world: hammer and sickle was used in past by the Italian Socialist Party, the Proletarian Unity Party (Italy) and its forerunner Italian Socialist Party of Proletarian Unity, the Proletarian Democracy and the Party of Italian Communists, all parties formerly represented in the Italian Parliament.
Many symbols having similar structures and messages to the original have been designed. For example, the Angolan flag shows a segment of a cog, crossed by a machete and crowned with a socialist star while the flag of Mozambique features an AK-47 crossed by a hoe. In the logo of the Communist Party USA, a circle is formed by a half cog and a semicircular sickle-blade. A hammer is laid directly over the sickle's handle with the hammer's head at the logo's center. The logo of the Communist Party of Turkey consists of half a cog wheel crossed by a hammer, with a star on the top.
Tools represented in other designs include: the brush, sickle and hammer of the Workers' Party of Korea; the spade, flaming torch and quill used prior to 1984 by the British Labour Party; the pickaxe and rifle used in communist Albania; and the hammer and compasses of the East German emblem and flag. The Far Eastern Republic of Russia used an anchor crossed over a spade or pickaxe, symbolising the union of the fishermen and miners. The Fourth International, founded by Leon Trotsky, uses a hammer and sickle symbol on which the number 4 is superimposed. The hammer and sickle in the Fourth International symbol are the opposite of other hammer and sickle symbols in that the head of the hammer is on the right side and the sickle end tip on the left. The Trotskyist League for the Fifth International merges a hammer with the number 5, using the number's lower arch to form the sickle. A sickle with a rifle is also used by the Marxist and Islamist group People's Mojahedin of Iran.
The Communist Party of Britain uses the hammer and dove symbol. Designed in 1988 by Michal Boncza, it is intended to highlight the party's connection to the peace movement. It is usually used in conjunction with the hammer and sickle and it appears on all of the CPB's publications. Some members of the CPB prefer one symbol over the other, although the party's 1994 congress reaffirmed the hammer and dove's position as the official emblem of the party. Similarly, the Communist Party of Israel uses a dove over the hammer and sickle as its symbol. The flag of the Guadeloupe Communist Party uses a sickle, turned to look like a majuscule G, to represent Guadeloupe.
The flag of the Black Front, a Strasserist group founded by early Nazi Party members and expelled around the time of the Night of the Long Knives purge, along with his supporters and the Sturmabteilung and originator of the ideology and the Black Front himself Otto Strasser, featured a crossed hammer and sword, symbolizing the unity of the workers and military.
The flag of Burma (from 1974–2010) featured a bushel of rice superimposed on a cogwheel.
The flag of Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM, Party of the Revolution in Swahili), currently the ruling political party of Tanzania, has a slightly different symbol with a hammer and a hoe (jembe) instead of a sickle to represent the most common farm tool in Africa.
The National Bolshevik Party used the hammer and sickle in their flag, but colored black instead of gold and in a design similar to the Nazi flag, a brighter red flag than the USSR, with a black hammer and sickle on a white disk in the center.
The symbols of the liberal socialist parties of Radical Civic Union in Argentina and the Czech National Social Party in Czechia features a hammer and a quill with the former representing workers and the latter representing clerks.
The hammer and sickle has long been a common theme in socialist realism, but it has also seen some depiction in non-Marxist popular culture. Andy Warhol who created many drawings and photographs of the hammer and sickle is the most famous example of this.
In several countries in the former Eastern Bloc, there are laws that define the hammer and sickle as the symbol of a "totalitarian and criminal ideology" and the public display of the hammer and sickle and other Communist symbols such as the red star is considered a criminal offence. Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova (1 October 2012 – 4 June 2013) and Ukraine have banned communist symbols including this one. A similar law was considered in Estonia, but it eventually failed in a parliamentary committee.
In 2010, the Lithuanian, Latvian, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Romanian, and Czech governments called for the European Union to criminalize "the approval, denial or belittling of communist crimes" similar to how a number of EU member states have banned Holocaust denial. The European Commission turned down this request, finding after a study that the criteria for EU-wide criminal legislation was not met, leaving individual member states to determine the extent to which they wished to handle past totalitarian crimes.
In February 2013, the Constitutional Court of Hungary annulled the ban on the use of symbols of fascist and communist dictatorships, including the hammer and sickle, the red star and the swastika, saying the ban was too broad and imprecise. The court also pointed to a judgement of the European Court of Human Rights in which Hungary was found guilty of violation of article 10, the right to freedom of expression. In June 2013, the Constitutional Court of Moldova ruled that the Moldovan Communist Party’s symbols—the hammer and sickle—are legal and can be used.
In Indonesia, the display of communist symbols and the country's Communist party was banned by decree of dictator Suharto, following the 1965–1966 killings of communists in which over 500,000 people were killed. In January 2018, an activist protesting against Bumi Resources displayed the hammer and sickle, was accused of spreading communism, and later jailed.
In Poland, dissemination of items which are "mediums of fascist, communist or other totalitarian symbolism" was criminalized in 1997. However, the Constitutional Tribunal found this sanction to be unconstitutional in 2011.
Soviet Union (in the constitutional order)
In Unicode, the "hammer and sickle" symbol is U+262D (☭). It is part of the Miscellaneous Symbols (2600–26FF) code block. On systems where Compose key is available, it could be written as
[Compose]+CCCP. It was added to Unicode 1.1 in 1993.
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Any person who: a) distributes, b) uses before the public at large, or c) publicly exhibits, the swastika, the insignia of the SS, the arrow cross, the sickle and hammer, the five-pointed red star or any symbol depicting the above so as to breach public peace – specifically in a way to offend the dignity of victims of totalitarian regimes and their right to sanctity – is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by custodial arrest, insofar as they did not result in a more serious criminal offense.
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