Anarchist symbolism

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Anarchists have employed certain symbols for their cause, including most prominently the circle-A (Ⓐ) and the black flag (⚑/🏴),[1] although anarchists have historically largely denied the importance of symbols to political movement.[2]

Since the revival of anarchism around the start of the 21st century and concurrent with the rise of the anti-globalization movement, anarchist cultural symbols are widely present.[3]


Red flag[edit]

The red banner, which has always stood for liberty, frightens the executioners because it is so red with our blood. [...] Those red and black banners wave over us mourning our dead and wave over our hopes for the dawn that is breaking.[4][5]

Louise Michel

The red flag was one of first anarchist symbols and it was widely used in late 19th century by anarchists worldwide.[6] Peter Kropotkin preferred the use of the red flag.[7]

Use of the red flag by anarchists disappeared after the October Revolution, when red flags started to be associated only with Bolshevism and communist parties and authoritarian, bureaucratic and reformist social democracy, or authoritarian socialism.[6]

Black flag[edit]

A black flag being raised at the G20 Protests

The black flag and the color black in general have been associated with anarchism since the 1880s. Many anarchist collectives contain the word "black" in their names. There have been a number of anarchist periodicals entitled Black Flag.[8]

The uniform blackness of the flag is in stark contrast to the colorful flags typical of most nation states. Additionally, as a white flag has been used to request parley or to surrender, the black flag symbolizes defiance and opposition to surrender.

Historical origins[edit]

The black flag, a traditional anarchist symbol
The red flag, one of the first anarchist symbols
A diagonally bisected red and black flag, also often associated with anarcho-communism, anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism

The black flag represents the absence of a flag and thus stands in opposition to the very notion of nation states. In that light, the flag can be seen as a rejection of the concept of representation, or the idea that any person or institution can adequately represent a group of individuals. Modern anarchism has a shared ancestry with—amongst other ideologies—socialism, a movement strongly associated with the red flag. As anarchism became more and more distinct from socialism in the 1880s, it adopted the black flag in an attempt to differentiate itself.[2]

However, some anarchists at the time such as Peter Kropotkin preferred to continue using the red flag rather than adopt the black.[7]

Subsequent use[edit]

The black flag first became associated with anarchism in the 1880s. The French anarchist paper, Le Drapeau Noir (The Black Flag), which existed until 1882, is one of the first published references to use black as an anarchist color. Black International was the name of a London anarchist group founded in July 1881. However, credit for the first known use the black flag has been reserved for Louise Michel, participant in the Paris Commune in 1871.[9] Michel flew the black flag during a demonstration of the unemployed which took place in Paris on March 9, 1883. With Michel at the front carrying a black flag and shouting "Bread, work, or lead!," the crowd of 500 protesters soon marched off towards the boulevard Saint-Germain and pillaged three baker's shops before the police arrested them.[9] Michel was arrested and sentenced to six years solitary confinement. Public pressure soon forced the granting of an amnesty.[10] According to Michel, the "black flag is the flag of strikes and the flag of those who are hungry".[11]

The black flag soon made its way to the United States. The black flag was displayed in Chicago at an anarchist demonstration in November 1884.[12] According to the English language newspaper of the Chicago anarchists, it was "the fearful symbol of hunger, misery and death".[13]

Bisected flag[edit]

The colors black and red have been used by anarchists since at least the late 1800s when they were used on cockades by Italian anarchists in the 1874 Bologna insurrection and in 1877 when anarchists entered the Italian town Letino carrying red and black flags to promote the First International.[2] Diagonally divided red and black flags were popularized during the Spanish Civil War by the anarcho-syndicalist labor union CNT[2] and are used to this day by anarchist organizations. Similar flags yet with different colors are commonly used to represent specific anarchist ideologies such as black and purple for anarcha-feminism, black and green for green anarchism and black and orange for mutualism.[14]

A similar flag is used by many anarcho-capitalists, using the colors gold and black, representing capitalism and anarchism respectively.[15] However, many anti-capitalist anarchists argue that anarchism is in principle anti-capitalist and that makes anarcho-capitalism an oxymoron.[16]


International Workingmen's Association logo
Stylized Punk Circle-A

The circle-A is almost certainly the best-known present-day symbol for anarchy. It is a monogram that consists of the capital letter "A" surrounded by the capital letter "O". The letter "A" is derived from the first letter of "anarchy" or "anarchism" in most European languages and is the same in both Latin and Cyrillic scripts. The "O" stands for order and together they stand for "society seeks order in anarchy" (French: la société cherche l'ordre dans l'anarchie), a phrase written by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in his 1840 book What Is Property?[17][18]

The 19th century International Workingmen's Association, founded by British and French trade-union leaders,[19] used a circle-A as their logo. The 1970s punk rock and anarcho-punk movement spread the circle-A symbol more widely and raised awareness of it among non-anarchists. This process began with the use of anarchist imagery when members of the band Crass became aware of the symbol while traveling through France.[20]

Black cat[edit]

The black cat, also called the "wild cat" or "sabot-cat", usually with an arched back and with claws and teeth bared, is closely associated with anarchism, especially with anarcho-syndicalism. It was designed by Ralph Chaplin, who was a prominent figure in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). As its stance suggests, the cat is meant to suggest wildcat strikes and radical unionism. The IWW was an important industrial union and was the first American labor union to recruit and organize women and people of color, playing a critical role in the fight for the eight-hour day and in free speech fights all over the country in the early 20th century. Their most famous and influential years were from 1905 until they were largely suppressed by the Palmer Raids in 1919–1920.

The origin of the black cat symbol is unclear, but according to one story it came from an IWW strike that was going badly. Several members had been beaten up and were put in a hospital. At that time a skinny, black cat walked into the striker's camp. The cat was fed by the striking workers and as the cat regained its health the strike took a turn for the better. Eventually the striking workers got some of their demands and they adopted the cat as their mascot.[21]

The name Black Cat has been used for numerous anarchist-affiliated collectives and cooperatives, including a music venue in Austin (which was closed following a July 6, 2002 fire) and a now-defunct "collective kitchen" in the University District of Seattle.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ These characters can be written as Unicode code point U+2691 and U+1F3F4 respectively.
  2. ^ a b c d Mckay, Ian, ed. (2008). "Appendix – The Symbols of Anarchy". An Anarchist FAQ. Stirling: AK Press. ISBN 1-902593-90-1. OCLC 182529204.
  3. ^ Williams, Leonard (September 2007). "Anarchism Revived". New Political Science. Taylor & Francis. 29 (3): 297–312. doi:10.1080/07393140701510160.
  4. ^ Michel, Louise (1981). Lowry, Bullitt; Gunter, Elizabeth (eds.). The Red Virgin. Memoirs Of Louise Michel. Tuscaloosa, Alabama: University of Alabama Press. pp. 193–194. ISBN 0-81730063-5. ISBN 978-0-817-30063-0.
  5. ^ "The Red Flag of Anarchy". April 5, 2011. Retrieved May 23, 2018.
  6. ^ a b "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. Retrieved September 4, 2016.
  7. ^ a b Kropotkin, Peter (1998). Act for Yourselves. Articles from Freedom 1886-1907. Freedom Press. p. 128. ISBN 0900384387.
  8. ^ Evren, Sureyyya (Summer 2014). "Black Flag White Masks: Anti-Racism and Anarchist Historiography". Affinities: A Journal of Radical Theory, Culture, and Action. 8 (1): 23–43. Retrieved April 12, 2018.
  9. ^ a b Wehling, Jason (July 14, 1995). "Anarchism and the History of the Black Flag". Spunk Library. Retrieved October 7, 2020.
  10. ^ Woodcock, George (1962). Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements. pp. 251–252.
  11. ^ Michel, Louise (1981). The Red Virgin: Memoirs of Louise Michel. p. 168.
  12. ^ Avrich, Paul (1986). The Haymarket Tragedy. p. 145.
  13. ^ Avrich, Paul (1986). The Haymarket Tragedy. p. 144.
  14. ^ BDaddyUS (August 12, 2017). "Anarchist Flags: The Symbols of Anarchism". Green is the New Red. WordPress. Retrieved October 16, 2018.
  15. ^ The gold-black flag was first used publicly at a 1963 event organized by the libertarian businessman Robert LeFevre in the State of Colorado. Source: Rothbard, Murray N. (2007) The Betrayal of the American Right. Ludwig von Mises Institute. p. 188.
  16. ^ Bolo'Bolo (2014) "Anarchy 101" (PDF). Bolo’Bolo Anarchist Collective. Retrieved February 11, 2020. p. 215.
  17. ^ Proudhon, Piere-Joseph (1994). Kelley, Donald R.; Smith, Bonnie G. (eds.). Proudhon: What is Property?. Cambridge University Press. p. 209. ISBN 978-0-521-40556-0. ISBN 0-52140556-4.
  18. ^ Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph (1840). Qu'est-ce que la propriété ? ou Recherche sur le principe du Droit et du Gouvernement (in French) (1st ed.). Paris: Brocard. p. 235.
  19. ^ "First International". Encyclopedia Britannica.
  20. ^ Appleford, Steve (June 10, 2005). "The Only Way to Be – Anarchy!". LA CityBeat. Los Angeles, California: Southland Publishing. Archived from the original on December 24, 2005. Retrieved August 30, 2007.
  21. ^ What's this with a black cat & a wooden shoe? What do they have to do with anarchy?

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