Historically, and most generally, the red flag is an international symbol for the "blood of angry workers."[citation needed]

Although much older than socialism, the flag has mainly been a socialist and communist emblem associated in particular with those ideologies' revolutionary left and Radical Left sections.

A plain red flag has often been raised or carried by socialists, left-wing radicals, and communist groups. Such groups have used both plain red flags and red flags superimposed with the names or emblems of their parties, or social movements. Red flags are often seen at protests, demonstrations and left-wing rallies such as May Day.

The red flag is most strongly associated in public consciousness with communism. It forms the backdrop to the flag of the People's Republic of China and the flag of the Soviet Union. The red flag has also been associated with social democratic and labour traditions, having been a banner used by parties such as Labour in Britain, France's SFIO and similar groups throughout the world. But its use by social democrats declined sharply over much of the 20th Century as many such people moved away from the left.

Also, "waving a red flag" is a euphemism for incitement (see bullfighting), and red is the "colour of defiance." In the same vein, a signal of danger or a problem can be referred to as a red flag, and the United States Air Force refers to their largest annual war game as Operation Red Flag.



From as early as the 15th century the red flag was known as the "flag of defiance"[1]. It was raised in cities and castles under siege to indicate that there would be "no surrender" [2] [3].

It is known that from about 1300, Norman ships would fly red streamers to indicate that they would "give no quarter" (take no prisoners) in battle. This usage persisted into the 17th century, when the flag was adopted by Buccaneers, who were pirates of French origin operating in the West Indies. Buccaneers would initially hoist the Jolly Roger to intimidate their foes. If the victims chose to fight rather than submit to being boarded, the pirates would then raise the red flag to indicate that once the ship had been captured, no man would be spared.Template:NamedRef

The red flag first became associated with revolutionary left-wing politics during the French Revolution, when it was adopted by the Jacobin Club.Template:NamedRef The Jacobins controlled the insurrectionary Paris Commune during the assault on the Tuileries, the September Massacres, and throughout the Reign of Terror.

In 1797, when sailors of Britain's Royal Navy mutinied at the Nore on the mouth of the River Thames, they hoisted the red flag on several of the ships.

The flag became the symbol of the Merthyr riots of 1831, in South Wales, when workers took over the town for five days, until they were massacred by soldiers. Their flag is said to have been a shirt soaked in calf's blood by Dic Penderyn.

Socialists and radical republicans in the 1848 French Revolution adopted the red flag, ostensibly as a symbol of "the blood of angry workers." Supporters of the more moderate French Second Republic, which had been established in the first phase of the revolution, rallied to the tricolore. The red flag subsequently became the banner of the Paris Commune in 1871, at which time it became firmly associated with socialism. This tradition was bolstered in the rallies in Chicago in 1886, which resulted in the execution of some of the Haymarket Eight (cf. Haymarket Riot).

File:Reichstag flag.jpg

In pre-civil war Russia the Red flag was used as a symbol of warning. Villages that were afflicted by disease or plague would fly the Red flag from the highest building in the village or town. The use of the Red flag by the Red army in the civil war confused White army soldiers, who supposedly, upon seeing a Red flag flying from a village or town held by the Bolshevik forces, would believe that place to be diseased and would leave it alone.Template:NamedRef

After the October Revolution, the red flag with a hammer and sickle was adopted as the official flag of the new soviet government and was used by the Communist movement internationally. Accordingly, a number of Communist and socialist newspapers have used the name The Red Flag (perhaps most famously including Die rote Fahne, the newspaper of the Spartakusbund and subsequently the Communist Party of Germany).

One of the most famous images of the flag is of it being raised over the Reichstag building by the conquering Red Army during the Battle of Berlin.

The red flag, and the colour red generally, was adopted by the Communist Party in China, where it interacted in complex ways with the cultural meanings that the Chinese had traditionally attributed to the colour.

The British Labour PartyEdit

The red flag was the emblem of the British Labour Party from its inception until the Labour Party Conference of 1986 when it was replaced by a red rose. The red rose has subsequently been adopted by a number of other socialist and social-democratic parties throughout Europe. Members of the party would also sing the traditional anthem The Red Flag (see below) at the conclusion of the annual party conference, but this was also dropped following New Labours turn against socialist ideas. In October 2003 the song made a return and was sung along with Jerusalem. In February 2006 the Red Flag was sung in Parliament to mark the centenary of the Labour Party's founding.

The anthemEdit

The anthem The Red Flag was written by Irishman Jim Connell in 1889. Connell was born in County Meath and as an adult moved to Dublin where he worked as a docker until he became blacklisted for attempting to unionise the workers. He came to live and work in London and was inspired to write a socialist anthem after attending a lecture at a meeting of the Social Democratic Federation. He set down the words whilst on a bus (no. 28) journey to his home in New Cross, South London. It is normally sung to the tune of the German carol O Tannenbaum (also used for the state song of Maryland), though Connell had wanted it sung to a tune he called The White Cockade [4]. Billy Bragg recorded a version of the song for his mini-album The Internationale to this tune. This version, which is probably the best known version in English, uses the lyrics printed below with the exception of the verse beginning "Look round...". Another left-wing musician, Robert Wyatt recorded the song (with the O Tannenbaum tune) for his album "Nothing Can Stop Us", although he didn't use the full lyrics [5].

In 1920 in "How I wrote The Red Flag" Jim Connell wrote:

"Did I think that the song would live? Yes, the last line shows I did: "This song shall be our parting hymn". I hesitated a considerable time over this last line.
I asked myself whether I was not assuming too much. I reflected, however, that in writing the song I gave expression to not only my own best thoughts and feelings, but the best thoughts and feelings of every genuine socialist I knew . . . I decided that the last line should stand."

There are some alternate versions (for example, "The workers' flag" is sometimes sung in place of "the people's flag", or "beneath its folds" instead of "within its shade"). There are a number of satirical alternatives, such as "The People's Flag is Palest Pink". The longest-standing satirical tradition is within the Liberal Democrats who can often be heard singing variants in the bars at their annual conference. The humour derives from mockery of either the absence of socialism from the modern Labour Party or of the Lib Dems' own Social Democrat roots.

The Red FlagEdit

Often only the first verse and chorus are sung. Lyrics are by Jim Connell.

The people's flag is deepest red,
It shrouded oft our martyr'd dead
And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,
Their hearts' blood dyed its ev'ry fold.
Then raise the scarlet standard high,
Beneath its folds we'll live and die,
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We'll keep the red flag flying here.
Look round, the Frenchman loves its blaze,
The sturdy German chants its praise,
In Moscow's vaults its hymns are sung,
Chicago swells the surging throng.
It waved above our infant might
When all ahead seemed dark as night;
It witnessed many a deed and vow,
We must not change its colour now.
It well recalls the triumphs past;
It gives the hope of peace at last:
The banner bright, the symbol plain,
Of human right and human gain.
It suits today the meek and base,
Whose minds are fixed on pelf and place,
To cringe before the rich man's frown
And haul the sacred emblem down.
With heads uncovered swear we all
To bear it onward till we fall.
Come dungeon dark or gallows grim,
This song shall be our parting hymn.

Laws to ban red flagsEdit

During the First Red Scare in the United States, many U.S. states passed laws forbidding the flying of red flags, including Minnesota, South Dakota, and Oklahoma. Most of these statutes have been repealed by state legislatures, but Oklahoma statute still provides that flying "any red flag or other emblem or banner, indicating disloyalty to the Government of the United States or a belief in anarchy or other political doctrines or beliefs, whose objects are either the disruption or destruction of organized government, or the defiance of the laws of the United States or of the State of Oklahoma" is a felony with a possible 10 year prison sentence and a $1,000 fine. The constitutionality of this statute is in question but has not been tested in the courts to date.

References in popular cultureEdit


  • The Canadian alternative Rock band Billy Talent's song, Red Flag, contains lyrics that reference this symbol, and is also the second single on their new album "Billy Talent II".
  • In Britain, 'flying the red flag' has been used as a tongue-in-cheek expression for menstruation - and hence, having 'fallen to the communists'.


See alsoEdit

External linksEdit


es:Bandera roja fr:Drapeau rouge it:Bandiera rossa he:הדגל האדום ja:赤旗 nn:Det raude flagget nn:The Red Flag pl:Czerwony sztandar (flaga) pt:Bandeira vermelha

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