Farm and worker instruments and tools have long been used as symbols for proletarian struggle. A popular ancestor to the hammer and sickle was a hammer on a plough, with the same meaning (unity of peasants and workers).
In Ireland, the symbol of the plough remains in use. The Starry Plough banner was originally used by the Irish Citizen Army, a Socialist, Republican Workers militia. James Connolly, co-founder of the Irish Citizen Army with Jack White, said the significance of the banner was that a free Ireland would control its own destiny from the plough to the stars. A sword is forged into the plough to symbolise the end of war with the establishment of a Socialist International. This was unveiled in 1914 and flown by the Irish Citizen Army during the 1916 Easter Rising.
In 1917, Vladimir Lenin and Anatoly Lunacharsky held a competition to create a Soviet emblem. The winning design was a hammer and sickle on top of a globe in rays of the sun, surrounded by a wreath of grain, and under a five-pointed star, with the inscription “proletariats of the world, unite!” in six languages (Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Georgian, Armenian, Azerbaijani). It originally featured a sword, but Lenin strongly objected, disliking the violent connotations. The winning designer was Yevgeny Ivanovich Kamzolkin (1885-1957).
On 6 July 1923 the 2nd session of the Central Executive Committee (CIK) adopted this emblem.The Coat of Arms of the Soviet Union and the Coats of Arms of the Soviet Republics showed the hammer and sickle, which also appeared on the Red Star badge on the uniform cap of the Red Army uniform and in many other places.
Serp i Molot (transliteration of Russian: Серп и молот, "Sickle and hammer") is the name of the Moscow Metallurgical Plant.
Serp i Molot is also the name of a stop on the electric railway line from Kurski railway station in Moscow to Gorky, featured in Venedikt Yerofeyev's novel, Moscow-Petushki.
At the time of creation the hammer and sickle stood for worker-peasant alliance, with the hammer a traditional symbol of the industrial proletariat (who dominated the proletariat of Russia), and the sickle a traditional symbol for the peasantry, but the meaning has since broadened to a globally recognizable symbol for Marxism, Marxist parties, or socialist states.
In the Soviet Union the hammer and sickle came to take on a gendered meaning, with the sickle coming to be associated with women, and the hammer men.
Two federal subjects of the post-Soviet Russian Federation use the hammer and sickle in their symbols: the Vladimir Oblast has them on its flag and the Bryansk Oblast has them on its coat of arms, which is also the central element of its flag. In addition, the Russian city of Oryol also uses the hammer and sickle on its flag.
The former Soviet (now Russian) national airline, Aeroflot, continues to use the hammer and sickle in its symbol.
The hammer and sickle can be found as a logo on most ushanka hats, usually the Soviet-styled ones
The de facto government of Transnistria uses (with minor modifications) the flag and the emblem of the former Moldavian SSR, which includes the hammer and sickle. The flag can also appear without the hammer and sickle in some circumstances, for example on Transnistrian-issued license plates.
Three out of the four currently ruling Communist parties use a hammer and sickle as the party symbol: the Communist Party of China, the Communist Party of Vietnam, and the Lao People's Revolutionary Party. All of these use the yellow-on-red colour scheme. In Laos and Vietnam, the hammer and sickle flags party flags can often be seen flying side-by-side with their respective national flags.
Many Communist parties around the world also use it, including the Communist Party of Greece Communist Party of Chile, the Egyptian Communist Party, the Communist Party of Pakistan, the Communist Party of Spain, the Communist Party of Denmark, the Communist Party of Norway, the Romanian Communist Party, the Lebanese Communist Party, the Communist Party of the Philippines and the Shining Path. The Communist Party of Sweden, the Portuguese Communist Party and the Mexican Communist Party use the hammer and sickle imposed on the red star. The hammer and sickle accompanied by the yellow star is used by the Communist Refoundation Party, the main Communist party in Italy.
Many symbols having similar structures and messages to the original have been designed. For example, the Angolan flag shows a segment of a cog, crossed by a machete and crowned with a socialist star, while the flag of Mozambique features an AK-47 crossed by a hoe. In the logo of the Communist Party USA, a circle is formed by a half cog and a semicircular sickle-blade. A hammer is laid directly over the sickle's handle with the hammer's head at the logo's center. The logo of the Communist Party of Turkey consists of half a cog wheel crossed by a hammer, with a star on the top.
Tools represented in other designs include: the brush, sickle, and hammer of the Workers' Party of Korea; the spade, flaming torch, and hoe used prior to 1984 by the British Labour Party (which was a Socialist and not a Communist party); the monkey wrench and tomahawk of the Earth First! movement; the pickaxe and rifle used in communist Albania; and the hammer and compasses of the emblem of the East German flag. The Far Eastern Republic of Russia used an anchor crossed over a spade or pickaxe, symbolising the union of the fishermen and miners. The Fourth International, founded by Trotsky, uses a hammer and sickle symbol on which the number '4' is superimposed. The hammer and sickle in the Fourth International symbol are the opposite of other hammer and sickle symbols in that the head of the hammer is on the right side and the sickle end tip on the left. The Trotskyist League for the Fifth International merges a hammer with the number '5', using the number's lower arch to form the sickle.
The Communist Party of Britain uses the hammer and dove symbol. Designed in 1988 by Michal Boncza, it is intended to highlight the party's connection to the peace movement. It is usually used in conjunction with the hammer and sickle, and appears on all of the CPB's publications. Some members of the CPB prefer one symbol over the other, although the party's 1994 congress reaffirmed the hammer and dove's position as the official emblem of the Party. Similarly, the Communist Party of Israel uses a dove over the hammer and sickle as its symbol. The flag of the Communist Party of Guadeloupe uses a sickle, turned to look like a majuscule 'G', to represent Guadeloupe.
The flag of the Black Front, founded by Otto Strasser, featured a crossed hammer and sword, symbolizing the unity of the workers and military.
The flag of Burma, from 1974–2010, featured a bushel of rice superimposed on a cogwheel.
The flag of Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM, Party of the Revolution in Swahili)- currently the ruling political party of Tanzania - has a slightly different symbol with a hammer and a hoe (jembe) instead of a sickle to represent the most common farm tool in Africa.
The National Bolshevik Party used the hammer and sickle in their flag, but had them colored black instead of yellow and put in the design of the Nazi swastika flag; a black hammer and sickle inside of a white circle on a red banner.
The hammer and sickle has long been a common theme in socialist realism, but has also seen some depiction in non-Marxist popular culture. Andy Warhol who created many drawings and photographs of the hammer and sickle is the most famous example of this.
In several countries in the former Eastern Bloc, there are laws that define the hammer and sickle as the symbol of a "totalitarian and criminal ideology", and the public display of the hammer and sickle and other Communist symbols such as the red star is considered a criminal offence. Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova (October 1, 2012 - June 4, 2013) and Ukraine have banned communist symbols including this one. A similar law was considered in Estonia, but eventually failed in a parliamentary committee.
The foreign ministers of Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic called for an EU-wide ban on communist symbols in 2010, urging the EU "to criminalize the approval, denial or belittling of communist crimes" and stating that "the denial of such crimes should be treated the same way as the denial of the Holocaust and must be banned by law".
In February 2013, the Constitutional Court of Hungary annulled the ban on the use of symbols of fascist and communist dictatorships, including the hammer and sickle, the red star and the swastika, saying the ban was too broad and imprecise. The court also pointed to a judgement of the European Court of Human Rights in which Hungary was found guilty of violation of article 10, the right to freedom of expression. On June 2013, the Constitutional Court of Moldova ruled that the Moldovan Communist Party’s symbols – the hammer and sickle – are legal and can be used.
In Indonesia, the public display of communist symbols like the hammer and sickle is prohibited by decree, after being banned following the 1965-1966 killings of communists. However, the law does not explicitly declare the ban on communist symbols, and therefore considered as a less serious criminal offense.
In Poland, dissemination of items which are "mediums of fascist, communist or other totalitarian symbolism" was criminalized in 1997. However, in 2011 the Constitutional Tribunal found this sanction to be unconstitutional. In contrast to this treatment of the symbolism, promotion of fascist, communist and other totalitarian ideology remains illegal.
In Unicode, the "hammer and sickle" symbol is U+262D (☭). It is part of the Miscellaneous Symbols (2600–26FF) code block.