Red star

A red star, five-pointed and filled (), is an important symbol often associated with communist ideology, particularly in combination with the hammer and sickle. It has been widely used in flags, state emblems, monuments, ornaments, and logos. Red Star is also Alexander Bogdanov's 1908 science fiction novel about a communist society on Mars.

Symbol of communism

The five-pointed red star has often served as a symbol of communism. One interpretation sees the five points as representing the five fingers of the worker's hand, as well as the five continents. A lesser-known suggestion is that the five points on the star were intended to represent the five social groups that would lead Russia to communism: the youth, the military, the industrial labourers, the agricultural workers or peasantry and the intelligentsia.

A red star became one of the emblems, symbols and signals representing the Soviet Union, alongside the hammer and sickle. In Soviet heraldry, the red star symbolized the Red Army and military service, as opposed to the hammer and sickle, which symbolized peaceful labour.

Different countries across Europe treat the symbol very differently: some have passed laws banning it by claiming that it represents "a totalitarian ideology"[1], but other countries hold a very positive view of it as a symbol of antifascism and resistance against Nazi occupation.


The star's origins as a symbol of communist mass movements dates from the time of the Bolshevik Revolution and the Russian Civil War, but the precise first use remains unknown. On the other hand one account of the symbol's origin traces its roots to the Moscow troop garrison toward the end of World War I. At this time, many troops were fleeing from the Austrian and German fronts, joining the local Moscow garrison upon their arrival in the city. To distinguish the Moscow troops from the influx of retreating front-liners, officers gave out tin stars to the Moscow garrison soldiers to wear on their hats. When those troops joined the Red Army and the Bolsheviks they painted their tin stars red, the color of socialism, thus creating the original red star.[2]

Another claimed origin for the red star relates to an alleged encounter between Leon Trotsky and Nikolai Krylenko. Krylenko, an Esperantist, wore a green-star lapel badge; Trotsky inquired as to its meaning and received an explanation that each arm of the star represented one of the five traditional continents. On hearing that, Trotsky specified that soldiers of the Red Army should wear a similar, red, star.[3]

However, the most logical and plausible possibility is that the symbol is originates from the novel Red Star. Red Star is Alexander Bogdanov's 1908 science fiction novel about a communist society on Mars.[4] The first edition publication appeared in St. Petersburg in 1908, before eventually being republished in Moscow and Petrograd in 1918, and then again in Moscow in 1922. Set in early Russia during the Revolution of 1905 and additionally on a fictional socialist society based on Mars, the novel tells the story of Leonid, a Russian scientist-revolutionary who travels to Mars to learn and experience their socialist system and to teach them of his own world. In the process, he becomes enamoured by the people and technological efficiency that he encounters in this new world. Regardless of the star's exact origin, it was incorporated into the Red Army's uniforms and heraldry as early as 1918.[5]

Shortly before the founding of the Soviet Union, in mid-March 1916 the U.S. Army Signal Corps' aviation section used the red star[6] for the national insignia for U.S. aircraft on the aircraft of the Signal Corps' 1st Aero Squadron during the Pancho Villa Expedition to apprehend the Mexican revolutionary.

Joseph Stalin was also known for wearing a pendant resembling the red star, as he did at the Tehran Conference in 1943.

Use in the USSR and its constituent republics

The symbol became one of the most prominent of the Soviet Union, adorning nearly all official buildings, awards and insignia. Sometimes the hammer and sickle appeared inside or below the star. In 1930 the Soviet Union established the Order of the Red Star and awarded its insignia to Red Army and Soviet Navy personnel for "exceptional service in the cause of the defense of the Soviet Union in both war and peace". The Soviet and Russian Federation military newspaper bore and bears the name Red Star (Russian: Krasnaya Zvezda).[7]

As a holiday ornament

During the 1930s, Soviet publications encouraged the practice of decorating a New Year's tree, known as a yolka (Russian: Ёлка). These trees were often decorated with a red star, a practice that has continued in Russia since the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union.[8]

Use by other socialist countries

Following its adoption as an emblem of the Soviet Union, the red star became a symbol for communism around the world.

Several Communist states subsequently adopted the red star symbol, often placing it on their respective flags and coats of arms - for example on the flag of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Separatist and socialist movements also sometimes adopted the red star, as on the Estelada flag in the Catalan countries.

In the Eastern Bloc

The red star was a common element of the flags and heraldry of socialist states in the Eastern Bloc, appearing on heraldry for virtually all of the countries, and on the flags of Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Albania.

In Yugoslavia

In former Yugoslavia the red star was not only a communist symbol, but also as a more generic symbol of resistance against Fascism and Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia, as well as its associated ethnic policies. Tito's partisans wore the red star as an identification symbol.

In Asia

As communist movements spread across Asia, while some states kept the star as it was, others used a yellow star, often on a red field, with the same symbolism. The Far Eastern Republic of 1920 to 1922 used a yellow star on its military uniforms, and the flag of the People's Republic of China has five yellow stars on a red field. The flag of Vietnam also has a yellow star on a red field.

North Korea's Red Star operating system takes its name from the communist red star.

In Africa

Socialist countries in Africa also incorporated the red and/or gold star into their heraldry. This practice was also adopted by countries that were formed following decolonial national liberation struggles, which often involved Marxist organizations.

By states with limited recognition

Transnistria and the Luhansk People's Republic are proto-states located in Eastern Europe. Due to their historical association with the Soviet Union, they have adopted socialist imagery including the red star into their flags and heraldry.

By sports teams

Several sporting clubs from countries ruled by Communist Parties used the red star as a symbol and named themselves after it, such as the Yugoslav club Red Star Belgrade (Serbian: Црвена звезда / Crvena zvezda), the East German Roter Stern Leipzig, the Angolan Estrela Vermelha do Huambo, the Estrela Vermelha from Beira, Mozambique or the Czechoslovak Rudá Hvězda Brno. Some sports teams from non-communist countries used it, such as French Red Star from Paris, Swiss club FC Red Star Zürich, English Seaham Red Star F.C., and even an American women's soccer club (Chicago Red Stars -- though in that case the star is based on the flag of Chicago and not the communist logo). The American soccer clubs Sacramento Republic FC and D.C. United also use red stars in their logos, referencing the flags of California and the District of Columbia, respectively.

Use by socialist or revolutionary organizations

The Brazilian leftist Worker's Party uses a red star as its symbol with the party acronym (Portuguese: Partido dos Trabalhadores - PT) inside. Hugo Chávez and his supporters in Venezuela have used the red star in numerous symbols and logos, and have proposed including it in the logo of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). It was also used throughout 2007 as a symbol of the "5 Engines of the Bolivarian Socialist Revolution". It is also used by the militant South African shack-dweller's movement Abahlali baseMjondolo.

The Red Army Faction, a West German militant group, used a red star paired with a Heckler & Koch MP5 in their highly recognizable insignia.

The red star was included in the flag of the Chiapas armed revolutionary group Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) or Zapatista Army of National Liberation upon their formation in 1994. The same flag, a black flag with a red star, was used by US rock band Rage Against the Machine – who were vocal supporters of the EZLN and other left causes – so much so that the symbol came to be associated with the band, separate from the EZLN.

The Iranian Islamist-Socialist militant opposition group the Mojahedin-e-Khalq uses the red star with the rifle, sickle and the map of Iran in the background.

Use by military organizations

By March 2010, the Russian government readopted the Soviet red star (but now with a blue outline reflecting the three colors - white, blue and red - of the Russian flag) as a military insignia. The Russian Air Force used this star as a roundel to 2013; when Russia re-instated the Soviet-era red star.[9]

As of 2014 the Armed Forces of Belarus still use the old Soviet red star. The coat of arms of Armed Forces of the Republic of Kazakhstan includes a modified version of the Soviet red star.

Use by modern-day parties

Several European parties continue to use a star as a part of their logos. In some cases, these are still red, yet they are often set in different colours.

Uses without socialist symbolism

Some red stars adopted in emblems and flags have a significance that does not originally relate to socialism. Among these, the most well-known include the current state flag of California (echoing the Californian red star flag of 1836) and the flag of New Zealand (designed in 1869, officially adopted in 1902). The flag of the District of Columbia (designed in 1921, adopted in 1938) recalls George Washington's coat of arms.

Crescent moon and star

The crescent moon and star was a symbol used by the Ottoman Empire. Various states with Ottoman history have thus adopted this symbol into their present-day flags.

Assorted Flags and Coats of Arms

Symbol of animal relief

The red star was adopted as the symbol of the International Red Star Alliance, a Geneva international treaty signed in 1914 with the purpose of bringing about international cooperation on behalf of sick and wounded war animals, while securing the neutral status of the personnel engaged in such work. Besides the International Alliance, national Red Star societies were also established. Regarding animal relief, the International Red Star Alliance had an analogous role of that of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. To identify their neutral status, white brassards with red stars were worn by military veterinary personnel in World War I in a similar way medical personal worn brassards with red crosses.[10]

Following the War, the American Red Star turned to focus on domestic issues, including care for animals during disasters. The organization waxed and waned over the decades, and as of 2016 exists as the American Humane Association's Red Star Animal Emergency Services.[11]

Red stars in labels and logos

The red star was used by the Texaco oil company in various forms from 1909–1981.[12] Its overseas division Caltex also used the red star until 1996. The Red Star is currently a registered trademark of Red*Star Auto Works Inc. (pic).

The red star and the hammer and sickle are regarded as occupation symbols as well as symbols of totalitarianism and state terror by several countries that were formerly either members of or occupied by the Soviet Union. Accordingly, Latvia,[13] Lithuania,[14] Hungary[15] and Ukraine[16][17][18] have banned the symbol among others deemed to be symbols of fascism, socialism, communism and the Soviet Union and its republics. In Poland, the Parliament passed in 2009 a ban that referred generally to "fascist, communist or other totalitarian symbols", while not specifying any of them.[19] Following a constitutional complaint, it has been abolished by the Constitutional Tribunal as contrary to articles in the Constitution of Poland guaranteeing the freedom of speech. A similar law was considered in Estonia, but eventually failed in a parliamentary committee due to its conflict with freedoms guaranteed by the constitution of Estonia.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled, in a similar manner, against the laws that ban political symbols, which were deemed to be in clear opposition with basic human rights, such as freedom of speech,[20][21] confirmed again in 2011 in case Fratanolo v. Hungary.[22] The decision has been compared[23] to the legislation concerning the symbols of Nazism, which continue to be banned in several European Union member states, including Germany and France.

There have been calls for an EU-wide ban on both Soviet and Nazi symbols, notably by politicians from Lithuania, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. The European Commissioner for Justice, Franco Frattini, felt it "might not be appropriate" to include communist symbols in the context of discussions on xenophobia and anti-Semitism.[24]

In 2003, Hungarian politician Attila Vajnai was arrested, handcuffed and fined for wearing a red star on his lapel during a demonstration. He appealed his sentence to the European Court of Human Rights, which decided that the ban was a violation of the freedom of expression, calling the Hungarian ban "indiscriminate" and "too broad".[25]

In Slovenia, the red star is respected as a symbol of resistance against fascism and Nazism. On March 21, 2011, Slovenia issued a two-euro commemorative coin to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Franc Rozman, a partizan commander, featuring a large star that represented a red star.

Non five-pointed red stars

Emblems and flags where the red stars displayed are not five-pointed are much rarer. Among these the following deserve mention.

See also


  1. Poroshenko signed the laws about decomunization. Ukrayinska Pravda. 15 May 2015
    Poroshenko signs laws on denouncing Communist, Nazi regimes, Interfax-Ukraine. 15 May 2015
  2. Khvostov, Mikhail (1996), The Russian Civil War (1) The Red Army. Published by Men-At-Arms. ISBN 1-85532-608-6.
  3. Pri La Stelo: Militista simbolo
  4. "Heart in a Heartless World".
  5. The Russian Civil War (1): The Red Army By Mikhail Khvostov, Andrei Karachtchouk, page 37 (there are several mentions of the use of the red star from 1918)
  6. "Historic Wings - Flight Stories - Chasing Pancho Villa". HW. 15 March 2013. Retrieved 21 February 2016. Just one day after arriving, on March 16, 1916, the first reconnaissance flight was flown by Capt. Dodd with Capt. Foulois (as an observer) on the Curtiss JN-3 S.C. No. 43. As with all of the Army’s aircraft in that era, the plane carried simple markings — a red star on the tail and the large number 43 painted on the sides of the fuselage.
  7. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 20 September 2006. Retrieved 16 October 2016.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. Weber, Hannah (25 December 2017). "Yolka: the story of Russia's 'New Year tree', from pagan origins to Soviet celebrations". The Calvert Journal. Retrieved 15 April 2018.
  9. Военно-воздушные силы отказались от трехцветных звезд Армия, Известия (in Russian)
  10. Celebrating 125 years, American Humane Association
  12. "History of Texaco". Retrieved 25 May 2016.
  13. "BC, Riga, 16.05.2013". The Baltic course. Retrieved 3 August 2014.
  14. "Lithuanian ban on Soviet symbols". BBC News. 17 June 2008. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  15. "Act C of 2012 on the Criminal Code, Section 335: Use of Symbols of Totalitarianism" (PDF). Ministry of Interior of Hungary. p. 97. Retrieved 21 February 2017. 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.
  16. Ukraine Bans Soviet-Era Symbols
  17. LAW OF UKRAINE. On the condemnation of the communist and national socialist (Nazi) regimes, and prohibition of propaganda of their symbols
  19. "Poland Imposes Strict Ban on Communist Symbols". Fox News. 27 November 2009. Archived from the original on 2 December 2009. Retrieved 17 February 2010.
  20. ECHR judgment in case Vajnai v. Hungary
  21. Wearing a red star in Hungary 'is a basic human right' : Europe World
  22. Press release 222(2011). Registrar of ECtHR 03.11.2011.
  23. European Court considers Labour Party's red star – in Hungarian
  24. "EU ban urged on communist symbols". BBC News. 3 February 2005. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  25. Curry, Andrew (24 November 2009). "Vestiges of 'Genocidal System': Poland to Ban Communist Symbols". Spiegel Online. Spiegel. Retrieved 14 September 2013.
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