May 01, 2018

Horse 2406 - A Short History Of The Red Flag

Then raise the scarlet standard high
Beneath it's folds we'll live and die
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer
We'll keep the red flag flying here.

I suppose that the first logical place to look at where the Red Flag was used was in the French Revolution. Just like the American Revolution which was mostly a taxation, slavery, legislation and representation dispute that got out of hand, the French Revolution was an overthrow of the monarchy which was supposed to install a democratic and secular government as a republic but turned into a militaristic authoritarian regime which kind of ended with Napoleon, it other words it was a taxation, legislation and representation dispute that got seriously out of hand.

Also related to the American Revolution, prize agitator Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, or just plain old "Lafayette"; once he had finised waving Betsy Ross’ bit of rag, America’s favorite fighting Frenchman went home to be commander of the National Guard.
Not long after the abolition of the French monasteries, and during a series of protests in which several marches converged on the Champ de Mars, a full on riot broke out in May of 1790 and the Reg Flag was raised by Lafayette that he was now imposing martial law in  central Paris. So much for an auspicious start.

Once the second half of the nineteenth century rolled on and France and Prussia went to war in yet another case of generational hatred, the Second French Empire fell into a bloddy heap and the Third Republic rose out of the ashes and was immediately met with protests from the National Guards and the Communards.
The publication of Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto which had arisen during the 1848 Revolution, Capital which was published in 1861, and the arrival of the  International Workingmen's Association as an organisation in 1864, the Paris Commune in 1871 also flew the Red Flag but like the National Guards and the Communards, was put down.

By now the link between the Red Flag and the economic left was well established, and it became the symbol of communists, socialists and anarchists alike. In fact so dangerous was it seen to be, that when someone threw a dynamite bomb into a workers' march in Chicago's Haymarket district for the Eight-Hour working day on May 4, 1886, this basically saw the end of he Red Flag's use in the United States; hence the reason why the Republican and Democrat parties don't line up with the traditional colours of the left and the right in the rest of the world.
The Red Flag was adopted by many political labour organisations around the world, including the British Labour Party but curiously not the Australian Labor Party.
Of course it goes without saying that the Red Flag was flown by the communists during the mayhem of the Russian Revolution of 1917, and following that revolution although support for socialism grew in the trade union movement around the world, the Red Flag was a bit loathed to be used, in an effort not to be associated with Soviet Communism.

I suspect that the next chapter in the story of the Red Flag will be again in the next series of revolutions, whatever they happen to be because at some point during this new gilded age, when the rewards attributable to capital is outstripping the rewards attributable to real work and when the immediate memory of the Soviet Union has dissipated, will people once again want to rally around a symbol which has more than two centuries of use.

Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer
We'll keep the red flag flying here.

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