Sickle & Hammer or Broom or Brush
Reconsidering the classic symbol of worker militancy
The classic symbol of communism is the hammer and sickle, two instruments, hand tools, one used in agriculture and the other in a variety of work. A sickle represented in the symbol is, importantly, made of metal. In this way the sickle refers to not only agriculture but also metallurgy. This implies unification of civilizations, sciences and prosperities, since the sickle is used to harvest staple grains, whose nutritional bounty produces the political stability required for scientific advance.
The hammer is more rudimentary. It could be made of wood but the one conventionally represented in the symbol looks heavier, as if it, at least the head, were made of metal and designed to pound down, perhaps on an anvil. Again metallurgy is implied, we have the instrument as a force-multiplier for more brute human strength. While the sickle might be seen as an improvement and intensification of the slicing power of our fingernails, the hammer is a heavier harder fist. Both symbolize the central importance of homo faber and how technology extends the physical transformative potential of human bodies.
These symbols are meant to be raised aloft by human beings in recognition of their contributions to social reproduction, for general emancipation, international solidarity of the working world. The elegance of the symbol, the fact that each instrument has a handle, connects through imagination with the hand of the person who be-holds it. The handiness of the tool symbolized there stresses that the communist project is a human one, one of joining hands and of working together, bringing a world of boundless plenty to hand.
It could be said today that the two implements are somewhat quaint and antiquated, and inadequate to represent the political potential of work and workers today. On the other hand 😅 , reaping and transforming actions of human labour are still fundamental for social reproduction, as symbolised by the rudimentary, epochal historic instruments hammer and sickle.
Replacing the hammer with a robot arm might be more up to date, but this would render the symbolism more diffuse. One would need to add the electricity grid and power plant through which the robot acquires its faculties, and of course the operator at their screen or other interface, directing and monitoring the robot arm in its operation. The joystick, mouse or keyboard are not symbolically as fundamental to the social reproduction of societies, the brute mechanical force and agricultural regularity, as are the the hammer and sickle.
An argument could be made to replace the hammer with a broom, or a brush. A broom would emphasise the essential “domestic”, or “reproductive” labour which accompanies, undergirds and ensures social reproduction, civil peace and stability required for industrial and technological progress. Or maybe better a knife and chopping board, stew pot, washing machine or carefully made bed. A brush would emphasise the social context within work acquires meaning. A hairbrush implies self care and care of others. Broom and brush symbolise the order needed for practices of liberation. Finally, of course, the broom, at least in the West impies ancient wisdom, planetary knowledge and women’s knowledge.
I began this short text, thinking I would spend a few moments reconsidering the message of the hammer and sickle which affirms human potential to improve their conditions through technological progress, and which emphasizes the centrality of labour. But in the process of writing I have come to think, in somewhat of a carrier-bag theory of communism, that it might be time to demote the hammer and replace it with a symbol of domestic power, fundamental for the reproduction of human work and genius, a broom or brush. A broom, or brush after all, is the most rudimentary of modifications of Nature, a drawing together of the harvest chaff to produce a vital instrument for the order which breeds freedom.