Strongly associated with socialism and communism during the 20th century, the red star was one of the most visible symbols of the Cold War and was used extensively as part of the Soviet Union’s state iconography. A red star on its own or part of a more elaborate motif, however, does not automatically signify allegiance to left-wing ideology as the symbol’s use is widespread.
The symbol was used by the Bolshevik movement from 1917 but its origins as a sign of communist allegiance possibly date earlier. Some claim its origins lie in a 1908 Russian novel Red Star, which describes a utopian communist society.1 However, others believe it was initially used as a marker to distinguish pro-Bolshevik Moscow-based troops from soldiers returning from the front in the first world war.2
The red star is recognised as representative of left-wing ideology, and is still seen on a number of national flags, notably North Korea. There are a number of allegorical meanings attributed to it, including that its five points represent a worker’s five fingers or each of the five continents. These seem contrived and it is difficult to verify if the symbol was popularly understood as having either of these meanings.3
Well known variants of the star symbol include those on the Chinese and Vietnamese flags, where the star is yellow and displayed on a red background. During the Cold War period, many organisations and states adopted the red star and incorporated it into their official iconography. It is interesting to note that the red star on Heinekin's logo was changed to a red bordered star with a white fill from 1951 until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.4