Home | Songs By Year | Songs from 1889

The Red Flag

Buy The Red Flag now from Amazon

First, read the Wikipedia article. Then, scroll down to see what other TopShelfReviews readers thought about the song. And once you've experienced the song, tell everyone what you thought about it.

Wikipedia article

"'The Red Flag'" (Roud V45381) is a socialist song, emphasising the sacrifices and solidarity of the international labour movement. It is the anthem of the British Labour Party, the Irish nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party in Northern Ireland, and the Irish Labour Party. It was formerly used by the New Zealand Labour Party until the late 1940s. The song is traditionally sung at the close of each party's national conference.

Translated versions of the song are sung by the Japanese Communist Party and Korean People's Army.


Irishman Jim Connell wrote the song's lyrics in 1889 in Nicholas Donovan's house.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". 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".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. 367369. When Billy Bragg recorded the song in 1990 with Scottish folk singer Dick Gaughan, he sang it to this original "White Cockade" melody. 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.'

"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."Archie Green 'et al'., eds., 'The Big Red Songbook', pp. 3739. In a 1913 article for the Industrial Worker, the celebrated IWW bard Joe Hill rejected the category of "the people" as middle class, and suggested a further change to the song. Referring to his experiences in the Magonista rebellion of 1911, he wrote:
When the Red Flag was flying in Lower California there were not any of "the people" in the ranks of the rebels. Common working stiffs and cow-punchers were in the majority, with a little sprinkling of "outlaws," whatever that is. [...] Well, it is about time that every rebel wakes up to the fact that "the people" and the workingclass ['sic'] have nothing in common. Let us sing after this "'The Workers' flag is deepest red'" and to hell with "the people."
"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. Dockers in London were regarded as militant socialists ever since their strike in 1889 for the "dockers' tanner." In the 1950s, at the end of public meetings with management, dockers filling the main floor of the hall sang "The Red Flag" while superintendents and managers (usually segregated in the gallery) simultaneously sang "God Save the Queen". "The Red Flag" was sung by Labour MPs on 27 May 1976, allegedly prompting Michael Heseltine to swing the mace above his head.

It was also sung on the evening of 28 March 1979 when a motion of no confidence brought down the Labour Government.

It was sung again in Parliament in February 2006 to mark the centenary of the Labour Party's founding. It was sung again in the House of Commons in September 2019 to protest the prorogation of parliament.

During the Tony Blair government it was claimed the leadership sought to downplay its role, however, it is often sung at the end of party conferences alongside 'Jerusalem'. Following the 2015 election of veteran socialist Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition, "The Red Flag" was sung as he and his supporters celebrated in The Sanctuary, a public house in London.

In 1982, Shakin Stevens recorded a rock & roll cover of the song known as "Red Flag Rock".


: 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.


:: Then 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.

: 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

A famous song of the Italian labour movement has the same title (though in Italian): 'Bandiera Rossa', but different lyrics and tune, as does the French song 'Le drapeau rouge', known in English as 'The Standard of Revolt'.

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


"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.[http://www.thesocialistparty.org/spo/archive/songs/battle.html The Socialist Party songs] 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 can be found as far back as 1920 in 'Through Bolshevik Russia' by Ethel Snowden.

A version of the lyrics sung regularly at the Liberal Democrats' Glee Club, also dated to the mid-1960s, 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.'

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

:'The working class can kiss my arse'

:'I got the foreman's job at last.'

:'You can tell old Joe I'm off the dole'

:'He can stick his Red Flag up his 'ole!'.

Football chants

A version of "The Red Flag" with similar lyrics entitled "We'll Never Die" is the official anthem of Manchester United F.C.:

:'Well never die, well never die'

:'Well never die, well never die'

:'Well keep the red flag flying high'

:'Cos Man United never die'

A similar football chant is also sung regularly by supporters of Sunderland AFC:

: 'Flying high up in the sky,'

: 'We'll keep the red flag flying high,'

: 'Wherever you go you're sure to know,'

: 'We'll keep the red flag flying high.'

Supporters of Bristol City F.C. (also known as ciderheads) sing the same version with a third line of '"Ciderheads until we die"'. AFC Bournemouth fans sing the third line as '"Dean Court to Wembley"', and Wrexham A.F.C. supporters end with:

: 'On the road to victory,'

: 'We'll keep the Welsh flag flying high.'

Chelsea F.C. fans sing a version of the song called 'The Blue Flag':

: 'From Stamford Bridge to Wembley'

: 'We'll keep the blue flag flying high'

: 'Flying high up in the sky'

: 'We'll keep the Blue flag flying high'

: 'From Stamford Bridge to Wembley'

: 'We'll keep the blue flag flying high'

Northampton Town F.C. supporters have their own adaptation "The Fields Are Green":

: 'The fields are green, the sky is blue'

: 'The River Nene goes winding through'

: 'The Market Square is cobblestoned'

: 'It shakes the old dears to the bones'

: 'No finer town you'll ever see'

: 'No finer town they'll ever be'

: 'Big city lights don't bother me'

: 'Northampton Town, I'm proud to be!'

The Net Flag

A version of "The Red Flag" with similar lyrics entitled "The Net Flag" was introduced near the inception of the World Wide Web:

: 'The people's web is deepest red,'

: 'And oft it's killed our routers dead.'

: 'But ere the bugs grew ten days old,'

: 'The patches fixed the broken code.'

: 'So raise the open standard high'

: 'Within its codes we'll live or die'

: 'Though cowards flinch and Bill Gates sneers'

: 'We'll keep the net flag flying here.'

In popular culture

"The Red Flag" was sung in the 2018 film 'Red Joan' at a Cambridge University socialist meeting circa 1938 attended by the young protagonist (portrayed by Sophie Cookson) and her romantic interest Leo (portrayed by Tom Hughes).


*Billy Bragg

*Dick Gaughan


Buy The Red Flag now from Amazon

<-- Return to songs from 1889

This work is released under CC-BY-SA. Some or all of this content attributed to http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?oldid=1107009731.