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The history of the red flag

First May and other days of major socialist demonstrations and meetings, red flags are seen in Norway and all over the world. What is the reason for this use of the red flag in the socialist movement around the world? Erling Outzen has made history easy.


In ancient times red was seen as a special color, like the color of fire, blood and battle. But it is during the great French revolution of 1789 that the red flag is given its modern meaning as the collective mark of the working people. First, it was used by the new, bourgeois-revolutionary rulers against The "fourth class" (the workers and the petty bourgeoisie) – as a sign of a state of emergency and martial law to prevent demonstrations to expand the social base of the revolution. This is how the red flag was used by government troops on the Champs-de-Mars near Paris in June 1791 when 50 protesters were killed. In view of this, it is perhaps strange that the flag was soon used by precisely those to whom bourgeois repression was directed. The explanation is as follows:

On August 10, 1792, representatives of the Paris City Council occupied the town hall and attacked the Tuileries, where the king conspiring with foreign princes was located. The famous French socialist Jean jaures, who was assassinated by a nationalist fanatic in 1914, describes the events as follows: “On August 10, the red flag hoisted over the troops of the revolution. It meant: We, the people, are here according to our right. We are now the law, with us lies the rightful power. It is the king, the court and the "moderate" bourgeoisie who betray the constitution and are rebels. That is why we declare war on them. In the name of freedom, we are turning the banner of the legal force against these rebels. " (Jaures: Histoire socialiste). The red flag was conquered. But the "sans-culottes" were soon outmaneuvered by the bourgeois "Jacobins", who under their tricolor introduced the terrorist empire in 1793, which in turn paved the way for the reaction.

In 1848, the red flag returned to the political arena in earnest. Its political significance had now taken hold, and when the working people of Paris in February 1848 took to the streets for a democratic and social republic, with the right to vote and work for all, it was under red flags. The situation has been described something like this: "Soon hundreds of barricades raised red flags and the air roared with the shout: Vive le drapeau rouge!" France got a new government, by bourgeois republicans and some socialists. It was with difficulty and hardly that the bourgeois poet and now Minister Lamartine managed to prevent the tricolor from being replaced with the red flag as the French flag. Socialist leader Louis Blanc appealed in vain to the government to keep the red flag. Likewise Pierre Joseph Proudhon: “That is the social question you are abolishing! The red flag is the banner of the community of mankind! ” From 1848, the use of the red flag also spread internationally. During the uprisings in Germany, Austria and Italy it was used. Likewise by the British labor rights movement and by Thranerørsla in Norway.

After the Franco-German war in 1871, the working people of Paris were back on their feet. The municipality of Paris arises. The 28. In March, the municipality was proclaimed from the town hall. The red tab overlaid the town hall roof, and in front of the grandstand it was teeming with red flags. But this democratic and socialist municipality was drowned in blood after just over two months, when the bourgeois French government, in agreement with Bismarck, sent in the army to massacre the red workers and petty bourgeois of both genders who had pleaded guilty to the challenge of challenging the sovereignty of the ruling bourgeoisie. But the Paris municipality had shown that ordinary people could control one of the world's largest cities, and govern it well and justly. And the red flag was finally consolidated as the working and freedom symbol of the working people.

After Thranerørsla had been oppressed, and the leaders imprisoned or emigrated, socialism returned to Norway via Denmark, where a branch of the first international had been founded in 1871. This Danish association had a red flag, with the inscription "Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood" ”. Danish artisans who came to Norway took the socialist ideas with them and contributed greatly to the re-establishment of the socialist movement in this country. In 1885, the Social Democratic Association was founded in Kristiania, and it inaugurated its red flag on 17 May 1886, with the inscription "Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood". On that occasion, the Social Democratic Association in Stockholm greeted its Norwegian comrades with the following words: “Happiness, success. May the fraternal peoples who want to divide the reaction agree under the red flag ”. The solidarity attitude of the socialists in Sweden was also strongly expressed in 1905, when the Swedish Social Democratic Youth Union spread a petition in a hundred thousand copies where it was called (somewhat summarized): “As it goes on every day it becomes increasingly clear that the Swedish upper class and the reactionary newspapers seek to stir up a mood to meet Norway with force of arms in its struggle for its freedom, so state Sweden's working youth: That it is a crime to incite war against the fraternal people, that it is Sweden's workers' decision to never comply with an appeal to weapons, that Sweden's workers are prepared to stop working to prevent a war… .Our solution is: Peace with Norway! ” The author of the petition was sentenced to 6 months in prison by the civil authorities in Sweden.

In 1889 the Other adopted international that May 1, 1890, should be the common day of demonstration of the entire international socialist movement, and the red flag the common symbol of all socialist parties. At the beginning of the 1900th century, the use of the red flag spread rapidly throughout the world. The power of the symbol is shown by its use in a variety of poems and songs, where the flag has been called for example "the banner of the world", "the banner of humanity", "the banner of freedom and equality", "the banner of struggle", the "banner of unity" and the banner of love. ”. Even the use of the red flag as a national flag of the totalitarian Soviet state did not succeed in destroying this symbol of democratic socialists around the world. The Jewish Socialist Movement Waist, who stood strong in Poland, the Baltics and Russia, and who was crushed by both Stalinist and Nazi terror, swears, for example, in his song "Di Shvue" ("The Promise") by the red flag to stand together in the struggle (retold in Norwegian by Erling Outzen):

Sisters and brothers in daily diligence

Scatteredly, we are weak in the class struggle

Stand together! Together!

Keep the flag steady

Barking in the wind, pure and red

Our time is born

Earth and sky hear

Be witnesses, stars clear

Our promise is as before

Together we will answer

We swear, injustice will be fought

And workers will win

His right to work and to peace

And money power is going to wane

Go out in this good fight

Be proud of honest profession

For now, the time of unity begins

Where weakness becomes strength

We swear to stand together now

Together for our cause

The red flag reminds us

Our promise here today

The red flag was and is the symbol of internationalism in the socialist movement, that all people are equal sisters and brothers, regardless of race, nationality or religious background, that all people must and should have full political and social human rights. The red flag also carries with it the value base on which the socialist movement is based, and is inextricably linked to the movement as such. As the French libertarian socialist Proudhon pointed out: Abolish the flag, abolish the socialist movement itself. A widely used Irish / British socialist song says it this way:

“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 color now

Then raise the scarlet standard high

Within its shade we'll live or die

Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer

We'll keep the red flag flying here! ”

Sources: Yearbook Work History 1992 (art by Lill-Ann Jensen), Workers' Lexicon (Pax), etc.

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