The plain red flag is often used at socialist or communist rallies, especially on International Workers' Day.

In politics, a red flag is predominantly a symbol of left-wing ideologies, including socialism, communism, anarchism, and the labour movement. The originally empty or plain red flag has been associated with left-wing politics since the French Revolution (1789–1799).[1] The red flag and red as a political color are the oldest symbols of socialism.

Socialists adopted the symbol during the Revolutions of 1848 and it was first used as the flag of a new authority by the Paris Commune of 1871. The flags of former Soviet Union introduced after the Russian Revolution and many other subsequent communist states are explicitly inspired by the plain red flag. Many socialist and socialist-adjacent political parties, including those of democratic socialists and social democrats, have adapted and adopted a red flag as their symbol. The plain red flag was an official symbol of the Labour Party in the United Kingdom until the late 1980s. It was the inspiration for the socialist songs The Red Flag and Bandiera Rossa.

Prior to the French Revolution and in some contexts even today, red flags or banners were seen as a symbol of defiance and battle.[2]


"Lamartine, before the Hôtel de Ville, Paris, rejects the Red Flag," February 25, 1848. By Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux (1815–1884). Lamartine said that the red flag represented revolutionary violence, and "has to be put down immediately after the fighting."
Plain red banners for the Sultan's retinue. From the Turkish Costume Book by Lambert de Vos, 1574

Red color as a combat or revolt symbol in Europe goes back to the turn of the millennia and before. In the Middle Ages, ships in combat flew a long red streamer called the baucans to signify a fight with no quarter.[3]

The red cap was a symbol of popular revolt in France going back to the Jacquerie of 1358. The color red became associated with patriotism early in the French Revolution due to the popularity of the tricolour cockade, introduced in July 1789, and the Phrygian cap, introduced in May 1790. A red flag was raised over the Champ-de-Mars in Paris on July 17, 1791, by Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette, commander of the National Guard, as a symbol of martial law, warning rioters to disperse.[4] As many as fifty anti-royalist protesters were killed in the fighting that followed.

Inverting the original symbolism, the Jacobins protested this action by flying a red flag to honor the "martyrs' blood" of those who had been killed.[5] They created their own red flags to declare "the martial law of the people against the revolt of the court."[6]

British sailors mutinied near the mouth of the River Thames in 1797 and hoisted a red flag on several ships.

Commemoration March of the 1831 Merthyr Rising in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, 2012

Two red flags soaked in calf's blood were flown by marchers in South Wales during the Merthyr Rising of 1831. It is claimed to be the first time that the red flag was waved as a banner of workers' power. The red flags of Merthyr became a potent relic following the execution of early trade unionist Dic Penderyn (Richard Lewis) in August 1831, despite a public campaign to pardon him.

During the Battle of the Alamo in March 1836, General Antonio López de Santa Anna of Mexico displayed a plain red flag (approx. 10 feet square) from the highest church tower in Béjar. The meaning of this display – directed to the Alamo defenders – meant "no surrender; no clemency." [citation needed]

The flag of the Colorado Party during the Uruguayan Civil War.

At much the same time, the Liberal "Colorados" in the Uruguayan Civil War used red flags. This prolonged struggle at the time got considerable attention and sympathy from liberals and revolutionaries in Europe, and it was in this war that Giuseppe Garibaldi first made a name for himself and that he was inspired to have his troops wear the famous Red Shirts.

The Ottoman Empire used a variety of flags, especially as naval ensigns, during its history. The star and crescent came into use in the second half of the 18th century. A buyruldu (decree) from 1793 required that the ships of the Ottoman Navy were to use a red flag with the star and crescent in white. In 1844, a version of this flag, with a five-pointed star, was officially adopted as the Ottoman national flag.

In 1870, following the stunning defeat of the French Army by the Germans in the Franco-Prussian War, French workers and socialist revolutionaries seized Paris and created the Paris Commune. The Commune lasted for two months before it was crushed by the French Army, with much bloodshed. The original red banners of the Commune became icons of the socialist revolution; in 1921, members of the French Communist Party came to Moscow and presented the new Soviet government with one of the original Commune banners; it was placed (and is still in place) in the tomb of Vladimir Lenin, next to his open coffin.[7]

With the victory of the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution, the red flag, with a star symbolizing the party, hammer to symbolize the workers and sickle to symbolize peasants, became the official flag of Russia, and, in 1923, of the Soviet Union. It remained so until the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Red flags in Tian'anmen Square in the front of Great Hall of the People.

After the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) came to power in 1949, the flag of China became a red flag with a large star symbolizing the CCP, and smaller stars symbolizing workers, peasants, the urban middle class and rural middle class. The flag of the CCP became a red banner with a hammer and sickle. In the 1950s and 1960s, other Communist governments such as Vietnam and Laos also adopted red flags. Some Communist countries, such as Cuba, chose to keep their old flags; and other countries used red flags which had nothing to do with Communism or socialism; the red flag of Nepal, for instance, represents the national flower.

Eastern Arabian tribal federations used a red standard as their flag. These federations later developed into sheikhdoms and emirates. The red standard is adopted as one of the early Islamic flags, which included a red standard such as the prominent Arab military commander Amr ibn al-As, who used a red banner.[8] Examples of Arabian red standards include the flag of the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman, the individual flags of the emirates of the United Arab Emirates, the original flag of Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar.

Symbol of communism and socialism

During the 1848 Revolution in France, Socialists and radical republicans demanded that the red flag be adopted as France's national flag. Led by poet-politician Alphonse de Lamartine, the government rejected the demand: "[T]he red flag that you have brought back here has done nothing but being trailed around the Champ-de-Mars in the people's blood in [17]91 and [17]93, whereas the Tricolore flag went round the world along with the name, the glory and the liberty of the homeland!"[9]

The flag of the Soviet Union, adopted in 1936. This version was famous for its photograph in Berlin in the closing months of World War II and was used until 1955, when the flag was modified slightly. It lost official status in 1991 when the Soviet Union dissolved.

The banner of the Paris Commune of 1871 was red and it was at this time that the red flag became a symbol of socialism and communism. The flag was flown by anarchists at a May Day rally for an eight-hour workday in Chicago in 1886. A bomb blast killed a policeman and the Haymarket Eight were arrested and five were executed. This event, considered the beginning of the revival of the international labor movement, is still commemorated annually in many countries (although not in the U.S.A.). The red flag gained great popularity during the Russian Revolutions of 1917,[10] being used in both the February Revolution and the October Revolution; it was the political color of socialists on several opposed sides in the revolutions, including but not limited to the Bolsheviks, the Esers and the Petrograd Soviet. The Soviet flag, with a hammer, a sickle and a star on a red background, was adopted in 1923.[10] Various communist and socialist newspapers have used the name The Red Flag. In China, both the Nationalist Party-led Republic of China and the Communist Party-led People's Republic of China use a red field for their flags, a reference to their revolutionary origins.[citation needed]

The building to have had a red flag flying for the longest period of time and to still have one is the Victorian Trades Hall in Melbourne, Australia. It is the world's oldest trade union building. The flag has been flying for over a century.

Usage by anarchists

The red flag was one of the first anarchist symbols worldwide prior to the October Revolution, after which red flags started to be associated with Bolshevism and authoritarian socialism.[11]

British 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, itself a variant of the fist and rose, then in wide use by left of center parties in Europe. The more floral red rose design has subsequently been adopted by a number of other socialist and social-democratic parties throughout Europe. Members of the party also sing the traditional anthem "The Red Flag" at the conclusion of the annual party conference. In February 2006, "The Red Flag" was sung in Parliament to mark the centenary of the Labour Party's founding. The flag was regularly flown above Sheffield Town Hall on May Day under David Blunkett's Labour administration of Sheffield City Council during the 1980s.

Communist and socialist red flag as name or title

Order of Red Banner of Soviet Union

It has been common to find streets, buildings, businesses and product brands named after the Red Flag in nominally socialist countries as a result of recuperation.[citation needed] For example, a famous line of limousine cars manufactured by China FAW Group Corporation has the brand name of Red Flag. In 1967 during the Cultural Revolution, Pilal in Akto County, Kizilsu, Xinjiang, China was renamed Hongqi Commune (红旗公社), meaning 'red flag commune'.[12] In 1968, Baykurut Commune in Ulugqat County, Kizilsu, Xinjiang, China was also renamed Hongqi Commune.[13][14]

Historical laws banning red flags

After the suppression of the 1848 revolution, the red flag and other insignia dominated by the colour red were banned in Prussia, as was the case in France after the demise of the Paris Commune.[15] During the persecution of communists and socialists amid the Red Scare of 1919–1920 in the United States, many states passed laws forbidding the display of red flags, including Minnesota, South Dakota, Oklahoma,[16] and California. In Stromberg v. California, the United States Supreme Court held that such laws are unconstitutional.[17]

In Australia the red flag was similarly banned in September 1918 under the War Precautions Act 1914. This ban would be an arguable cause of the Red Flag riots. The ban ended in Australia with the repeal of the War Precautions Act in 1920.

See also


  1. ^ Brink, Jan ten Robespierre and the Red Terror, (1899).
  2. ^ Cited in "red flag," Oxford English Dictionary.
  3. ^ Flags of the World, "Baucans (or Bauccedillian)".
  4. ^ Thomas Carlyle, French Revolution, p. 408.
  5. ^ Flags of the World, "French Revolution"
  6. ^ "Socialist History of the French Revolution"
  7. ^ von Geldern, James (1993). Bolshevik Festivals 1917–21. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 178. Archived from the original on November 26, 2018. Retrieved November 26, 2018.
  8. ^ Nour, “L’Histoire du croissant,” p. 66/295. See also Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddimah, pp. 214–15.
  9. ^ Flags of the World, "France"
  10. ^ a b Flags of the World, "Soviet"
  11. ^ "Barwy anarchistyczne: Skąd czarne i czarno-czerwone flagi?" [Anarchist colours: Where are black and black-red flags from]. (in Polish). Centrum Informacji Anarchistycznej. June 19, 2012. Archived from the original on February 24, 2021. Retrieved September 4, 2016.
  12. ^ 1997年阿克陶县行政区划 [1997 Akto County Administrative Divisions] (in Simplified Chinese). December 31, 2010. Archived from the original on January 22, 2020. Retrieved September 30, 2020. 皮拉勒乡 1958年成立皮拉勒公社,1967年更名红旗公社,1984年改设皮拉勒乡。
  13. ^ 乌恰县行政区划和居民地名称 (in Simplified Chinese). June 4, 2018. Archived from the original on October 8, 2020. Retrieved October 21, 2019 – via Google Cache, Internet Archive.
  14. ^ 1997年乌恰县行政区划 [1997 Ulugqat County Administrative Divisions] (in Simplified Chinese). December 31, 2010. Archived from the original on October 15, 2017. Retrieved October 5, 2020. 巴音库鲁提乡 {...}1950年成立巴音库鲁提三乡,1962年建巴音库鲁提公社,1968年更名红旗公社,1984年改设巴音库鲁提乡。
  15. ^ Balz, Hanno. "'Hostile take-over'. A political history of the red flag". Socialist History. 59: 8–30.
  16. ^ Zechariah Chafee, Jr., Freedom of Speech (NY: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920), 180ff., Appendix V
  17. ^ Stromberg v. California, 283 U.S. 359 (1931).

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