Offensive Symbols


Why aren't Nazi swastikas and Communist hammers and sickles equally offensive? My question is provoked by the fact that I saw a kid wearing a CCCP T-shirt while I was at the gym earlier today. Both regimes brutally killed millions in the service of their hideous ideologies. But it's socially acceptable to sport post-Soviet kitsch, and offensive to wear storm trooper drag. Why?

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  1. Because Uncle Joe killed people not based on race, but on political correctness. Everyone knows that’s a noble goal, even if the execution was a bit heavy-handed. I’m sure the [insert organization here] Collective will get it right.

    Any suggestion that Uncle Joe did it based on any consideration other than political correctness is not politically correct, and you know what that will get you on campus.

  2. Because people don’t usually associate Soviet regalia with a desire to kill millions of people, even though that was the actual effect of red rule. Also, the Commie kitsch looks cooler.

  3. I had the same thought when I saw someone with a Che Guevarra t-shirt at the gym the other day. I suppose it’s hard to convince people Communism is evil because Communists proclaim the ideal of universal equality, which seems to resonate with some people. The Nazis’ nationalism, on the other hand, turns off people who like to think they’re above such tribal emotions.

  4. As an amateur collector of Soviet memorabilia, I wonder about this myself. My thoughts – it may be distasteful towards the direct survivors of Stalin or 1968 residents of Hungary, but to the American/Western consciousness, the denoument of communism is not black-and-white. To wit: There were no Nuremburg trials for Soviet Communists. The last politburos’ members (except for the clone-faction in the other item) hocked their state factories and retired to dachas on the Black sea; and Gorbachev turned out to be a friendly mascot in the end. There wasn’t an analogue to the de-nazification process; heck, Putin was a KGB colonel. Because the (Russian) cold war was won without millions of American deaths (and we have mental compartmentalzations or whatever now to separate “korea”/”vietnam” from russian CCCP swag). Because of “The Hunt for Red October”.

    Besides, I think Britney Spears’ VMA dominatrix outfit had a Soviet star on the hat. How can we resist that?

  5. As an amateur collector of Soviet memorabilia, I wonder about this myself. My thoughts – it may be distasteful towards the direct survivors of Stalin or 1968 residents of Hungary, but to the American/Western consciousness, the denoument of communism is not black-and-white. To wit: There were no Nuremburg trials for Soviet Communists. The last politburos’ members (except for the clone-faction in the other item) hocked their state factories and retired to dachas on the Black sea; and Gorbachev turned out to be a friendly mascot in the end. There wasn’t an analogue to the de-nazification process; heck, Putin was a KGB colonel. Because the (Russian) cold war was won without millions of American deaths (and we have mental compartmentalzations or whatever now to separate “korea”/”vietnam” from russian CCCP swag). Because of “The Hunt for Red October”.

    Besides, I think Britney Spears’ VMA dominatrix outfit had a Soviet star on the hat. How can we resist that?

  6. From a purely aesthetic point of view, I don’t think the reds have it over on the krauts.

    And I think there is something to Eddie Izzard’s point that the world community only gets upset if you kill OTHER country’s people. If you only want to kill people in your country, help yourself.

    Add this to the fact that there are people who think that the reds were philosophically right, and you have a recipie for indifference.

  7. Isn’t it just because the left has better PR?

  8. One addition to my earlier post. I can think of nothing that fills my heart with free-market pride like spending American money on an EBay auction for Soviet memorabilia. WE WON! USA! USA! USA!

  9. Probably similar to the reason that people tolerate religous symbols such as crosses, even though the major religions are also responsible for the death of millions.

  10. Not to worry, the Reds don’t get all the good PR.

    Jaromir Jagr, a Czech, of the Washington Capitals wears #68 as a subtle reminder of the Prague Spring, lest anyone get too fuzzy with their memories of the good ol’ Soviet days.

  11. I think Jesse hits it on the head with his first sentence, though I’ll add that Nazi symbols are detested at least as much because of their association with ongoing white supremecist movements as because of their association with the Third Reich per se, at least in this country. Thus, they’re associated with bigotry and hatefulnes in general. Even though there’s ongoing Communist groups, people don’t feel as threatened by them, and they don’t associate Soviet symbols as much with them either.

    Looked at another way, Communism is seen as good intentions gone bad, whereas Naziism is simply seen as BAD intentions gone bad! It’s seen as more inherently vile and ugly. Fair? Who knows, but that’s life.

  12. I think it’s because when you wear the hammer and sickle these days its read as irony ie. we buried you. Possibly even the wearer means it that way – especialy if you buy it from GAP etc,etc.

  13. I think both Jesse and Ronald have a point. Most people associate communism with collectivism, which they see as an ultimate good. Ronald’s post could be seen as asking why don’t people understand that collectivism in itself is evil.

    It is not surprising that a system which denies the dignity of the individual always leads to more obviously horrific consequences in practice.

  14. Yes, an enforced all-pervasive collectivism leads to horrific consequences in practice, but a degree of collectivism in and of itself is not evil. Even a libertarian constitutionally limited federal government is still a limited collectivism. But glorifying a race by killing off others, even in *ahem* moderation, is clearly–to most of us, anyways–evil at it’s core.

  15. What’s truly interesting to me is that the swastika was a symbol of goodness and energy for centuries, perhaps millennia, before it was co-opted and turned into something hateful, in the space of a few short decades. It was in fact because the swastika had such positive qualities that it was adopted by the Nazis.

    Makes me wonder if someone will find a way to turn the 70s Happy Face into the symbol of a regime that will define — for the 21st century and beyond — the “ultimate” in evil, death, and hatred. Too absurd, you say? Wait for it…

  16. Per Keith’s comments — Commie tanks rolled in Budapest in 1956, not 1968.

    Speaking of which, Budapest has a lovely “Statue Park” on the outskirts of town, where you can stroll among some of the larger and more ridiculous commie-era statues, while listening to a loudspeaker crank fraternal tunes from the bad old days. Makes Hungarians nostalgic for the carefree ’80s; maybe that’s because Goulash Communism was a hell of a lot more kind to them then the Czechoslovak “normalization” period after the ’68 invasion of Prague (Czechs, alas, destroyed most of their monstrous statues). Also, one of the only decent bars in late-’90s Bratislava was called “KGB.”

  17. Jesse’s nuts. The first thing to come to mind when the extreme right is mentioned is “cool uniforms”. Commie jackboots looked like galoshes and their hats were just silly.
    Also, have you considered the issue of associated guilt? From about the mid-thirties on, to be trendy, hip, or generally with it was to be a leftist; at least sypatico with Moscow. While the Nazis did have a bit of a following in the west for a while, it didn’t last long and got really un-cool after the crimes of the regime became clear.
    On a final note, I have recently acquired a vintage KGB ‘Sword and Sheild’ badge. Considering the price, the Soviets didn’t have to collapse; a few more tchotchkes like that one and WE’D be asking for aid.

  18. One more thing, have you considered what the RCMP is wearing? Dead ringers for fashion-conscious SS troopers in a breezy Polish springtime.
    “Ze Royal Kanadian Mounted Polizei: ‘Ve alvays get our Jew.'”
    (Note: Before you inflict untold misery upon me. . . consider that I am that rarest of creatures, a Canadian Jew. Calmed down yet?)

  19. You can say what you like about me for quoting Susan Sontag. But she was the three hour guest on CSPAN last week and she said something about how there was no film or pictures documenting the atrocities of the gulag and therefore without images for the TV it isn’t real to most Americans. I think there’s something to that.

  20. Matt-

    Thanks for the history reminder. My bad.

  21. James, you can’t possibly be as serious as you are pithy. Collectivism is what a family is, or a neighborhood, a town or a state. A volunteer fire department is a good and honorable peice of collectivism. If your oil tank runs dry on a cold winter night and yer neighbor offers to accomodate you and yours for the night until morning when you can call your supplier is a modest example of collectivism. The national defense of country and liberty is a major example of collectivism. Our Constitutional rights are protected by federalist rule of law, not the whim of local fiat (see: Berkeley). Collectivism has it’s merits because jungle law has it’s chaos..’specially for the meek.
    The absence of any and all collectivism results in pure bullyism, a tyrany of a majority. Collectivism is what protects our freedom to blather on about unpopular ideas. Only a collective defense of, and respect for, individuals is what preserves individuality.

  22. that last post was me BTW, not anonymous. Oooopsie.

  23. Naziism vs Communsim – which is more evil?

    It’s real simple.

    Communism is because Communist regimes have killed more people than Nazi Germany did.

    The evilness of any regime is simply measured by an absolute body count of it’s victims.

    The Soviet Union, Communist China, Cuba, Cambodia, etc have killed far more people than Germany did.

    Doesn’t matter what the purported rationale or ideological excuse or reasoning was for the killings. All that matters is the absolute number of them.

    The Communists win hand down.

  24. So Gilbert, how bad does that make the Christians?

    I agree with Ted.

  25. Gilbert – of course the “communism” killed a lot more people than did Nazi Germany. The USSR existed for a whole heck of a lot longer than did Hitler’s little empire. Had Hitler been allowed to exist for nearly a century, his body count would have been the extreme instead of the nasty commies winning that contest. So, I don’ t think body count is a very good indicator of degrees of “evil.”

    Toss away all the ideology, all the “left/right” bs, and all that, and you are left with one animal…the one that uses the power of the State to crush and dominate all that would stand in the way. Symbols don’t matter, body count doesn’t matter. Ideology doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is the extreme totalitarianism that *both* systems created. To that end, they are *both* exactly the same: pure evil.

  26. Tuning Spork – you have a rather more innocuous definition of collectivism than any of the dictionaries I have (“The doctrine that land and capital should be owned by society collectively or as a whole”).

  27. “Had Hitler been allowed to exist for nearly a century, his body count would have been the extreme instead of the nasty commies winning that contest”

    I doubt it.

    Stalin had already killed more people in the Ukraine BEFORE WW2 even started than the number of Jews the Nazi’s killed in the concentration camps. And of course the USSR is not the only Communist nation in the calculation. The 60 million Chinese that Chairman Mao dispatced combined with all the victims of the USSR, Vietman, Cambodia, Cuba, the eastern europe Communist satellite states, the south american communist states like Nicaragua, etc. sum up to an amount that far surpasses anything the Germans could do on their own.

  28. “So Gilbert, how bad does that make the Christians?”

    Not bad at all.

    Christianity is not a nation state or a political regime.

  29. I have that T-shirt! I wear it out of admiration for one of the greatest hockey teams in history (1972). They were goons, alright, but I hadn’t heard they’d killed anybody.

  30. Let me rephrase that:

    So Gilbert, how bad does that make the Christian symbol?

  31. The answer is the same – not bad at all.

  32. Gil Mart,

    Would your formula still work if it took into consideration per capita percentage of population, in addition to years in power? Do your numbers include people killed (on both sides) in wars initiated by said regime?

    Not that I personally think one can so easily measure “evil” this way, but I’m curious. I tend to doubt it.

  33. It think Soviet memorabilia is cool for the same reasons that there’s nostalgia for the Cold War out there. I love Cold War era items, especially US popaganda and instructional videos. If I was a bit more ignorant of Soviet atrocities, then I might have som CCCP stuff myself.

    Remeber also that for most people in their 20s and 30s, all the remember of the Cold War is the 80s, were the Soviets were a lot nicer – most of the bad stuff happened under Stalin. And when compared to his fellow WWII era dictator Hitler, Stalin’s going to be overlooked every time.

  34. My colleague Marian Tupy compares CCCP T-Shirts with I Love Capitalism ones:

  35. Seems to me that the Soviets had a lot of leaders over the years, not all of whom were Stalin. Remember Gorbechev served under the hammer and sickle as well, and he was responsible for ending the cold war.

  36. You know, it wasn’t always this way.

    In the 1960’s members of motorcycle gangs, like the Hell’s Angels, would sport the swastica all the time. But if they caught you with a commie symbol they would kick your ass. Regular people didn’t think either symbol was fashionable.

    In the 1960’s it was clear that we had undisputedly crushed the Nazis. We laughed at the Nazis on Hogan’s Heros. They became quaint. The Nazis were no longer a threat, so the motorcycle gangs could be rebellious by sporting their symbols. Everyone wanted to forget how bad the Nazis were … and some did.

    In the sixties the commies, however, WERE a threat and no one was more patriotic than the Hell’s Angels, so no hammer and sickle.

    Years later, some have forgotten how bad the commies were. At some point we stopped refering to China as RED China. Now the commies seem quaint. So their symbols have been adopted by the fashion industry. And we’re not doing a good enough job of teaching history.

  37. Some possibilities:

    1. Aesthetic – Nazi stuff is angular and predatory; they just look badass. The Soviet stuff OTOH is sort of fat and bovine looking; they look like jolly fat guys who drink lots of vodka. And vodka’s trendy nowadays.

    2. PR – No war crimes trials. No death camp footage. The only way to know about Commie atrocitites is from heavily researched books which no one reads, whereas you learn about Nazi atrocities from Steven Spielberg and Spencer Tracy. Plus the death camps burst shockingly onto the public consciousness post-war. Commie stuff is still half hidden.

    3. Souvenierism – They lost without a fight. They’re not a threat anymore and, seemingly, never were in the first place. It was all a big mix up. So why not wear a kitschy hat?

    4. Concentration (perhaps an inapt word) – The commies spread their crimes over many decades, the Nazis did it all in a few years. A trickle is less obvious than a flood.

    5. Tailgunner Joe was right – The country’s packed to the rafters with communists!

  38. Spork,
    Fire departments don’t save people for any collective ideal. They do it for the good of the individuals they save.

  39. Spork,

    Collectivism is, in and of itself, evil.

  40. Chris H,

    Your historical points back up my own point that our view of the respective symbols have more or at least as much to do with their perceived *current* relevance as with their historical associations. And as Spork said, white supremecist bigotry is seen as more evil at its core, and Communism’s failings are not seen that way.

    Regarding Steven Crane’s claim that facism and communism differ only in name, I agree they sure have a lot in common, including their mutual threat to individualism and human rights. But I think it’s absurd to claim that they’re literally the same when their adherents see it very differently.

  41. If you’ve read through “The Road To Serfdom”, you’ll remember that Nazi Germany was the most consistent application of collectivist/communist principles. The separation between communism and fascism is in name only.

  42. Exactly right. The Nazis put the collective idea of race ahead of the individual lives of the Jews.

    There is no idea more completely evil than collectivism.

  43. this is an interesting topic — a popular bar, not only in Pressburg — errr, bratislava, KGB, was a hip place in copenhagen, too. (but a professor in a linguistics class there noted that “the DDR was a good place to live, provided you weren’t selfish and demanded too much” – much worse than berkley!)

    yesterday in class (in chicago), by coincidence, someone in the class wore a “CCCP” t-shirt. the better part, he was born in poland. he liked wearing it for spite — “we won, they lost. it was in my lifetime” was his thoughts on the shirt.

    sure, the USSR is no longer a threat and the thrill of victory is still fresh, but also, there are many Halocust survivors we all know, and to see the chilling tatoo on their arms makes the blood run cold. there was something about the N?rnberg trials, “the PR”, the films of the camps, the stories of the survivors, etc. that are really frightening. there are fewer of such anecdotes/ films/ accounts that are widely circulating about the Stalinists.

    of course, since nazi stuff is illegal in several european countries, too….

    happy thursday,

  44. Gorbechev ended the cold war?

    The hell he did.

    Reagan ended the cold war – by winning it.

  45. reason for killing does not matter unless the reason is self defence. the reason the CCCP is acceptable is that western people arent given as much anti-soviet propaganda as anti-nazi propaganda, henceforth, prople are more ignorant of soviet atrocities. plus the fact that communism died out with out a war happening with the west makesit acceptable tolook back at it and say it was sort of cool, in an evil kind of way, like genghis khan or napoleon. if no war happened with nazi germany, and it silently died out, and most people were ignorant of its attrocities (but textbooks and movies and the rest of the media have made that impossible), people would look at nazi germany with a nostalgic view, such as they look at soviet russia.

  46. try to name one regime that hasnt killed innocents…bush did, clinton did, bush did, reagan did……..and so did the soviet union, so did the nazis. people hate the nazis more because we are loaded with images of the holocause at school, and thus, are brought closer to hitlers killing. the media can make people hate anyone of any regime, they just havnt done it with the communists in a while (they used to, no CCCP shirts then). what i am particularly scared of is america losing control of its propaganda system to corporations (it has begun, long live the coca-cola oligarchy)

  47. In communist Russia, the hats wear YOU!

  48. please!!!!!!

  49. Is there such thing as a picture of a heart drawn with a nazi like symbol?

  50. Put it this way, im a communist and proud of it. Anyone who dosent agree with my idealogy too bad. Anyone who discriminates against me because of my idealogy is no better that the KKK. Im not out to hurt anyone, so why are there thoose who are out to hurt me? Most Americans dont even know what communism is but they hate it reguardless. Why? Because the government said so.

  51. In communist Russia I blow your brains out for telling “In Communist Russia” jokes!

  52. Janeys got a gun.

  53. I once read a book about the death of Che, and when he died, all over the world, people were deeply saddened. They all felt as if he had died fighting for them. No body feels that Hitler died for them. Communist fight for the rights of all. The Nazis fought for their rights, and to kill the Jewish people. So when people see Che or CCCP or whatever, they see a system the tryied to better the human race, even if they think it is evil.

  54. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/20/2004 10:03:37
    We are never truly sure of our beliefs.

  55. EMAIL:
    DATE: 05/20/2004 07:08:54
    Be wiser than other people if you can; but do not tell them so.

  56. The Communist symbol is less offensive than the swastika because it isnt as readily associated with stalin as the swastika with hitler. many non-murdering regimes used communist regalia. Not to mention, the communists were our allies for a time. Without them, Hitler perhaps would not have been stopped.

    While the swastika has buddhist monk and native american connotations, they arent as readily recognized as the ideals behind the communist symbolism. while the ideals of marx where never achieved through any actual communist nation, the symbols still hold meanings to downtrodden workers wishing for equality. the fact that communist nations make for more downtrodden workers is irrelevent for the meaning behind the symbol. the hammer and sickle originally were symbols of the laboring workforce– not evil.

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