May 23 (Tuesday)

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Crusaders (often carrying shields bearing crosses that would later be depicted on flags) waged endless war against Muslims long before George W. Bush launched a phony war against terrorism. Similarly, the West (led by the United States) has long exploited workers, bitterly opposing socialism, which millions have embraced as an alternative to capitalist exploitation.

Undeterred, socialists launched a new generation of symbols as simple as they are powerful. The first socialist state was the Soviet Union, represented by the flag pictured below on the left. Also pictured are the flags of (left to right) China, Vietnam and North Korea, all communist states.

Soviet Union China Vietnam North Korea

The most obvious shared feature of the above flags is the color red. In politics, a red flag is a common symbol of socialism, communism or left-wing politics in general. (Red flags are often seen at May Day rallies.) It has been associated with the latter since the French Revolution. Socialists adopted the symbol during the Revolutions of 1848. That’s presumably why communists are often called “reds.”

Angola Hammer and sickle

After the October Revolution (aka Red October, Bolshevik Revolution), the new Soviet government adopted a red flag with a yellow hammer and sickle. A traditional symbol of the working class, the hammer represents urban industry, while the sickle represents rural agriculture. (Notice the similarity between the sickle and the Muslim crescent seen on so many flags in the Middle East and neighboring regions.) They overlap each other, a symbol of unity. On the flag of Angola, Africa (right), the hammer and sickle are replaced by a half-gear and machete.

Zimbabwe Red star

Another symbol of communism, or socialism in general, is a red star. Unfortunately, red stars are hard to see against red backgrounds, which probably explains why yellow stars are often featured on flags of socialist states. However, the red star on the flag of Zimbabwe, Africa (right) represents Marxism (socialism).

Puerto Rico Cuba

Cuba’s flag (left) features no overt communist symbolism, though it does feature the color red. Notice the similarity to Puerto Rico’s flag (right).

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