Walter Kendall 2000

Hammer and Sickle

Source: Revolutionary History, Volume 7, no 4, 2000. Prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

I would like to raise a question of minor historical importance, but of major historical interest, with Revolutionary History readers. Where exactly did the hammer and sickle emblem of the Soviet Communist Party, which was as a matter of Comintern discipline inevitably displayed alongside the compulsory title ‘Communist Party of (such and such country) Section of the Communist International’, on the banner head of the major press organs of every Communist Party throughout the world, come from?

To the best of my knowledge, this symbol never appeared on publications of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party before 1917. The only similar symbol to appear on the publications of any party of the Second International was the ‘Arm and Hammer’ (hence Armand Hammer, the US millionaire) of Daniel De Leon’s Socialist Labour Party of the United States. The arm represented the strength of the United States proletariat, the hammer its striking power. The USSR had a large peasantry and quite a small proletariat. Hence it is suggested the Soviet party copied the hammer of the SLP, and added to it a sickle to represent the peasantry.

The SLP’s emblem was brought to Russia by Boris Reinstein, a Russian exile and a long-time militant in the SLP-USA, who returned to Russia in 1918. Lenin took directly from Daniel De Leon the phrase ‘labour lieutenants of capital’ to describe right-wing trade-union leaders. Here the influence of the De Leonist SLP is clearly made plain.

I wonder whether any Revolutionary History readers, especially those with a specialist knowledge of the early labour movements of the United States, Britain and Russia, can throw any further light on these matters. I would like to know.