Red flag

From Academic Kids

The red flag has been used in many contexts.

The red flag is a socialist and communist emblem associated in particular with the revolutionary left, but has also been associated with social democratic and labour traditions having been a banner used by parties such as Labour in Britain, the Socialist Party in France and similar groups throughout the world. Usage by social democrats has waned in recent years, however, as many of them have moved away from the left. On the other hand, the flag's radical symbolism is much older than socialism.

A plain red flag has often been raised or carried by socialists, left-wing radicals, and communist groups. They have used plain red flags as well as red flags superimposed with the names or emblems of their parties, movements, organisations or trade unions. Red flags are often seen at protests, demonstrations and left-wing rallies.

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. Also, "waving a red flag" is a euphemism for incitement (see Bullfighting), and red is the "color of defiance" as well as a symbol for the collective blood of the international working class, or proletariat.



One of 's iconic images is this photo of the Red flag being flown over the  as Berlin falls to the .
One of World War II's iconic images is this photo of the Red flag being flown over the Reichstag building as Berlin falls to the Red Army.
Missing image
French socialist leader Jean Jaurs haranguing workers from under a red flag.

It is known that from about 1300, Norman ships would fly red streamers to indicate that they would "take no quarter" in battle. This meaning continued into the 17th century, by which time the flag had been adopted by pirates. Pirate ships would initially hoist the Jolly Roger to intimidate their foe. If their 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.

Later it came to symbolise a less bloodthirsty message and merely indicated readiness for battle. From the early 17th century the red flag became known as the "flag of defiance". It was raised in cities and castles under siege to indicate that there would be "no surrender".

The flag began to take on the revolutionary meaning in the late 18th century. In 1797, when sailors of the Royal Navy mutinied at the Nore on the mouth of the River Thames, they hoisted the red flag on several of the ships. Socialists and radical republicans in the 1848 French Revolution adopted the red flag as a symbol of their cause, "the blood of angry workers," while 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 and became firmly associated with socialism.

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 Labour Party

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. In October 2003 the song made a return and was sung along with Jerusalem.

The Anthem

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 whist on a train journey from Charing Cross station to his home in New Cross, South London. It is normally sung to the tune of the German carol Tannenbaum (also used for the state song of Maryland), though Connell had wanted it sung to a tune he called The White Cockade.

In 1920 in "How I wrote The Red Flag" he 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 Flag (words by Jim Connell)

Often only the first verse and chorus are sung.

Missing image

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,
Within its shade 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 around 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.

See also

it:Bandiera rossa ja:赤旗


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools