The Soldier and The Revolutionary. From a Semiotic Angle

Essay, 2017

9 Pages


The most common definitional difference between a soldier and a revolutionary is that a soldier is a person who serves in an army and obeys orders given to him by a government, and a revolutionary is someone who is involved in causing a complete or dramatic change in a society, country or in the international sphere. My concern, here, is the projection of a soldier who is a part of a national government and a revolutionary in both national and international sphere. The word ‘soldier' is used, almost unanimously, in a positive sense. But the word ‘revolutionary' is used in both positive and negative sense. The reason is, a soldier is always on the government's side, whereas a revolutionary stands against the government. I am not here taking into account the notion of ‘government-in-exile' as I am, here, dealing with a country's electorally elected government, and a government-in-exile is also a revolutionary government or organization and it stands on the opposite side of an electorally elected government.

A soldier works for the Government and fulfils the activities that the Government asks them to achieve for them. A soldier works as a medium to stabilize the Government when the Government feels insecure or threatened. His/her own identity as an activist (soldier) is controlled by the Government. His/her gun aims at the target that the Government feels threatened of. His mission route is the pathway where the enemy of the Government lies. Each and every soldier is a figment of their government in disguise. And this disguise is very much perceivable. The layers of perception include uniform, badges, particular missions, particular flags etc.

A revolutionary is someone who stands on the exact opposite side of a soldier. A revolutionary tries to find scruples and immorality in the activity of a government and rebels against it. He/she does not follow the duties that are prescribed by the government as a soldier does. A revolutionary does not let his/her identity as an activist (revolutionary) get controlled by the government, but he/she stands as an independent identity. His/her identity is a structure that has as its nucleus anti-Governmentality (the one against which the person is fighting) or government-reformation (if the rebel-cum-revolutionary had been a part of the same government he/she is now fighting against). The multidimensional differences between a revolutionary and a soldier are visible in the visually perceivable myth lie in the same substances or perceptions that are previously mentioned as the layers of perception for the soldier. Uniforms, badges, flags are not just indicators of any particular materialistic thing, but the isolated parts of a whole identity that are central in identifying the differences between a revolutionary and a soldier.

Below are two paintings that depict scenes from two different occurrences in the world history. First one was painted by Geli Mikhailovich Korzhev-Chuvelev, titled Picking up the Banner. Second one was painted by Gilbert Rogers, titled World War I: stretcher bearers of the Royal Army Medical.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

1 Painting from:

2 Painting from:;_stretcher_bearers_of_the_Royal_Army_Medical_Wellcome_L0050214.jpg

First painting presents the picture of a worker picking up the flag from a fallen co-worker in Petrograd. Second one is a scene from First World War that shows two soldiers of the Royal Army Medical Corps helping an injured co-soldier by moving him to a place where he could get proper medical attention or where he could be safe.

In the first painting, both the workers are wearing civilian clothes that are part of their daily lives. One worker is picking up the flag from the ground which was deserted by another co-worker who is dead. In contrast, in the second painting, the soldiers are wearing army uniforms which are not part of their daily lives, and additionally they are wearing Red Cross badges that depict their exact responsibility. Any kind of flag is absent from the second painting.

Uniform. Uniform is a marker through which a soldier can be identified as a soldier. Uniform is an instrument for the government to put its identity on the soldier. It mythifies a soldier and turns him/her into a part of the government. Without the uniform, a soldier is just another person in the society. But, uniform absorbs his/her commonness and this commonness is replaced by, what Roland Barthes called, Governmentality (a government is presented the way it wanted to be presented). Here, uniform works as form that impoverished the meaning; commonness, and Governmentality as concept put a new identity to it; government’s man/woman. Obviously, that does not mean a soldier no longer remains a common man. But, this newly attached identity as a soldier is made socially visible through uniform which materialises primarily the identity that he/she has acquired.

In the first picture, absence of uniform builds an unbroken link between a person’s life before and during the act of revolting. This absence marks the unchanged commonness during this process of transformation from just a man of the society to a revolutionary. Here, uniform could not absorb the commonness and meaning stays. Meaning as a part of the identity overcomes form and this process turns meaning into an instrument against concept; Governmentality. Meaning as a stable identity uses form to prevent concept. As meaning did not let form to absorb the way it does, form-less presence of the entity/being/thing works as a negative field for concept to enter and more precisely rejection of form naturally turns meaning-full presence of an entity/being/thing against concept; Governmentality.

Arm bands and Flag. In the first picture, any kind of arm bands is missing from the extension of visual myth, whereas in the second picture, no flag is present as a part of the multidimensional extension of visuality of perception.

Arm bands in the arms of the soldiers make them entitled to the particular task they are supposed to do (in this case, it is Red Cross; medical assistance). Presence of arm bands is not just another layer of myth on the soldiers, but it also works as an indicator for the viewers (other soldiers during war, or any person who sees this picture or any other picture that has the presence of arm bands). In short, arm bands symbolise the exact duty of the soldiers who wear it. It also acts as a representation of visual myth over another already recognised myth; uniform. Uniform, as mentioned before, works as form and impoverishes meaning and concept takes its place. Here, arm bands signify a particular responsibility (as a medical man) along with the particular identity (as a soldier). So, arm bands as another mythical layer attach another identity to the person (who is a soldier). But this layer or identity does not contradict with the previously identified layer. That is because; this second myth (arm bands) is more preciously a sub-myth to the primary myth (uniform) than a separate myth. It not just attaches a new identity to the person, but also strengthens the primary myth. This sub-myth is an instrument that categorises where to put what, so that primary myth could get stronger. Sub-myth can be of various types (there are many other responsibilities in an army other than medical assistance).

In the first painting, the particular thing in the whole painting that separates it from other scenes of daily life is the presence of the flag. The dead man and the forward-looking man are parts of daily life who are attached to a non-daily life existence of the flag. The flag plays the role of a connector between two men present in the picture. This connector shows the unchanged state of their clothes in this transformation, which is evident in pointing out that the attachment of the non-daily life existence of flag did not impoverish the meaning. Flag has its separate identity. One is picking up the flag as the other is no longer holding it. The act of picking up the deserted flag symbolises its belonging to both of them. So, in their act of revolution, the flag acts as an absolute universal for the two, and its presence seems fixed in the context of revolution. According to the painter, Geli Michaelovich Korzhev, the presence of flag in the painting depicts a universal identity that is prevalent ubiquitously. The painter said, "I depicted a heroic act common to all mankind. The flag could be any color."

Plain clothes. The workers’ clothes in the first painting signify the natural state in which they were before they had transformed into being a revolutionary. More significantly, the unchanged clothes indicate a myth-less existence. Unchanged clothes stand as a symbol of uniqueness in a war. It represents the urgency that dragged daily-life (represented by clothes) into war. And this urgency breaks the traditional norm of war where war and uniformity are equivalent to each other. Here, plain clothes separate the people wearing it far from the traditional war pictures. And this urgency is the theme that prevented the myth from affecting any existence.

Also, there is a difference between the plain clothes worn by the people before revolution and during revolution. The clothes worn before revolution were a traditional part of a daily system. They were wearing this particular type of clothing because this is what everybody in that particular culture wears. They were being a part of the traditional culture by wearing those kinds of clothes. But, when they were wearing the same clothes during revolution, they were no longer maintaining the tradition. They were now wearing plain clothes whereas war only means uniformed soldiers as active participants. Here, though the clothes remain same, but a recognizable development happened. Plain clothes, in the first painting, are the materialised representation of urgency that prevents myth from entering. It carries the theme of uniqueness that keeps the commonness by maintaining the unchanged state of the daily-life by developing it (the previously mentioned difference between plain clothes before and during revolution).

The differences between the ideas behind our perception of a soldier and a revolutionary are multi-dimensionally visible.

The flag, in the first picture, is not just a mere emblem, but stands in analogy to the arm bands in the second picture. As the arm bands show the particular duty/responsibility that the soldier wearing it is supposed to do, the flag as an inseparable part of a continuing revolution also sygnify the duty/responsibility that a flag-bearer should do (to carry the flag). Though there are some substantial differences between the two layers of perception. In the second picture, the arm bands were indicators of the previously existed form; uniform, but in the first picture flag has its own existence. The flag stands without the presence of any uniform and this combination (-uniform, +flag) implies the independence of the flag that the arm bands lack. Because, arm bands as sub-myth are entitled to strengthen the primary myth; uniform, whereas flags do not need to strengthen anything, because plain clothes, through transformation, as developed layer are already stronger, and flags come into existence afterwards.


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The Soldier and The Revolutionary. From a Semiotic Angle
University of Calcutta  (Indian Statistical Institute)
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soldier, revolutionary, from, semiotic, angle, First World War, Russian Revolution
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Sayantan Dasgupta (Author), 2017, The Soldier and The Revolutionary. From a Semiotic Angle, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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