The Red Flag

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This article is about the socialist anthem. For other uses, see Red flag (disambiguation).
The Red Flag
Lyrics Jim Connell, 1889
Music Ernst Anschütz, 1824
Music sample

"The Red Flag" is a song associated with left-wing politics, in particular with socialism. It is the semi-official anthem of the British Labour Party,[1][2] and the official anthem of the Northern Irish Social Democratic and Labour Party and Irish Labour Party. The song is traditionally sung at the close of each party's national conference.


Irishman Jim Connell wrote the song's lyrics in 1889 in Nicholas Donovan's house.[3] There are six stanzas, each followed by the chorus. It is normally sung to the tune of "Lauriger Horatius", better known as the German carol "O Tannenbaum" ("O Christmas Tree"), though Connell had wanted it sung to the tune of a pro-Jacobite Robert Burns anthem, "The White Cockade".[4] The lyrics of the first verse and the chorus, which are the most well-known parts of the song, are as follows:

The people's flag is deepest red,
It shrouded oft our martyred dead
And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,
Their hearts' blood dyed its every fold.
So raise the scarlet standard high,
Beneath its shade we'll live and die,
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We'll keep the red flag flying here.[5]

"The Red Flag" resonated with the early radical workers’ movement in the United States, and it appeared as the first song in the first edition of the Little Red Songbook of the Industrial Workers of the World in 1909. Only five of the six stanzas were printed, omitting the fourth stanza that begins, "It well recalls the triumphs past."[6]

"The Red Flag" has been the British Labour Party's official anthem from its founding; its annual party conference closes with the song. "The Red Flag" was first sung in the House of Commons on 1 August 1945, when Parliament convened after Clement Attlee's Labour defeat of Winston Churchill’s Conservatives.[7] It was sung by Labour MPs on 27 May 1976, allegedly prompting Michael Heseltine to swing the mace above his head.[8] It was also sung on the evening of 28 March 1979 when a motion of no confidence brought down the Labour Government.[9] It was sung again in Parliament in February 2006 to mark the centenary of the Labour Party’s founding. During the Tony Blair years the leadership sought to downplay its role.[1][10] However, it is often sung at the end of party conferences alongside Jerusalem,[11] and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn sung the song at his victory party.[12]


The People's Flag is deepest red,
It shrouded oft our martyred dead,
And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,
Their hearts' blood dyed its every fold.
So 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 were 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 weak 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 head uncovered swear we all
To bear it onward till we fall;
Come dungeons dark or gallows grim,
This song shall be our parting hymn.

Alternative versions[edit]

"The Red Flag" was parodied by singer-songwriter Leon Rosselson as the "Battle Hymn of the New Socialist Party," also known as "The Red Flag Once a Year" or "The People's Flag Is Palest Pink." It is intended to satirise the perceived lack of socialist principles in the Labour Party. The initial parody was widely known in the 1960s, sometimes sung during late night parties at student conferences. It was revived in the early 2000s in response to the centrist reforms associated with Tony Blair.[13] A version which began "The people's flag is palest pink, mum washed it in the kitchen sink" was popular among schoolchildren in the 1950s, which may have inspired Rosselson's version.

A version of the lyrics sung regularly at the Liberal Democrats' Glee Club, also dated to the mid-sixties, is:

The people’s flag is palest pink,
It's not as red as most think.
We must not let the people know
What socialists thought long ago.
Don't let the scarlet banner float;
We want the middle classes' vote.
Let our old fashioned comrades sneer,
We'll stay in power for many a year.[14]

A version of "The Red Flag" with similar lyrics entitled "We'll Never Die" is the official anthem of Manchester United F.C. A similar version is also sung regularly by supporters of Sunderland AFC. Supporters of Bristol City F.C. (also known as ciderheads) sing their own adaptation of the chorus:

Flying high up in the sky,
We'll keep the red flag flying high,
Ciderheads until we die,
We'll keep the red flag flying high.

Meanwhile, supporters of AFC Bournemouth sing their adaptation of the chorus as:

Flying high up in the sky,
We'll keep the red flag flying high,
Dean Court to Wembley,
We'll keep the red flag flying high.

The melody is used in Harold Baum's "The Michaelis Anthem" in The Biochemists' Songbook.[15]

A famous song of the Italian labour movement has the same title (though in Italian): Bandiera Rossa, but different lyrics and tune.

A parody of unknown origin is known as The Foreman's Job,[16] and this is sometimes considered a rugby song.[17] This has many variants but usually begins:

The working class can kiss my arse
I got the foreman's job at last.
I'm out of work and on the dole
You can stick the red flag up your 'ole.

Fans of Scottish Premier Football League club Partick Thistle have their own take on the song:

Hello, hello. How do you do?
We hate the boys in royal blue (Rangers FC),
We hate the boys in emerald green (Celtic FC),
So fuck the Pope, and fuck the Queen.

This interpretation is considered to be an expression of Glasgow-based Thistle's devolution from the sectarian differences that divide the Old Firm club.


  1. ^ a b "The Red Flag ends Labour rally". BBC News. 1 October 1999. Retrieved 21 December 2011. 
  2. ^ "Labour Party Anthems – Top 10 songs the Labour Party has used over the years". Daily Mirror. 7 April 2010. Retrieved 21 December 2011. 
  3. ^ It first appeared in print in the paper Justice, 21 December 1889, under the heading "A Christmas Carol", with subheadings, "The Red Flag", "Air – ‘The White Cockade'", and was signed "J. Connell".
  4. ^ Jim Connell, "How I Wrote the "Red Flag," The Call, May 6, 1920, p. 5; reprinted in Archie Green, David Roediger, Franklin Rosemont, and Salvatore Salerno, editors, The Big Red Songbook (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr, 2007), pp. 367–369.
  5. ^ Dr Helena Sheehan. "The Red Flag (sound files)". Retrieved 2012-06-02. 
  6. ^ Archie Green et al., eds., The Big Red Songbook, pp. 37–39.
  7. ^ Joe Glazer, Labor’s Troubadour (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001). p. 183.
  8. ^ "UK | UK Politics | Mace - Commons". BBC News. 2008-10-09. Retrieved 2013-09-28. 
  9. ^ "BBC ON THIS DAY | 28 | 1979: Early election as Callaghan defeated". BBC News. Retrieved 2013-09-28. 
  10. ^ Hoggart, Simon (28 September 2007). "Red Flag rises above a dodgy future". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 December 2011. 
  11. ^ "Labour conference closes with Red Flag and Jerusalem". BBC News Online (British Broadcasting Corporation). 30 September 2015. Retrieved 14 November 2015. 
  12. ^ Dearden, Lizzie (16 September 2015). "Jeremy Corbyn celebrates election as Labour leader by singing The Red Flag at victory party". The Independent (Independent Print Limited). Retrieved 14 November 2015. 
  13. ^ The Socialist Party – songs Archived July 28, 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ Liberator Collective (2013). The Liberator Songbook (24 ed.). Liberator. p. 12. 
  15. ^ "The Biochemists' Songbook MP3 Files". California State University, Long Beach. Retrieved 2 June 2012. 
  16. ^ Joe Glazer (2002). Labor's Troubadour. University of Chicago Press. p. 184. 
  17. ^ Bob Liftig (2008). The Baby Bomber Chronicles. AuthorHouse. p. 149. 

External links[edit]