The Red and the Black

The workers's flag is deepest red,
It shrouded oft our martyr'd dead
And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,
Their hearts' blood dyed its ev'ry fold.

Black is the traditional color of anarchism, and red is the traditional color of socialism. The red-and-black flag was first flown by anarchists during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. At that time, George Orwell served with the P.O.U.M. (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification) and witnessed the Stalinist repression of the movement, which would form his anti-authoritarian ideas in later life. Since 1936 the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSUC) was the local equivalent of the Communist Party of Spain.

In ‘Homage to Catalonia‘, George Orwell describes the flying of the Red and Black Flag:

“The P.O.U.M. and P.S.U.C. flags were red, those of the Anarchists red and black; the Fascists generally flew the monarchist flag (red-yellow-red), but occasionally they flew the flag of the Republic (red-yellow-purple).”

“I turned round and saw some youths, with rifles in their hands and the *red and black* handkerchiefs of the Anarchists round their throats, edging up a side-street that ran off the Ramblas northward.”

“Unlike most of the churches in Barcelona it was not damaged during the revolution–it was spared because of its ‘artistic value’, people said. I think the Anarchists showed bad taste in not blowing it up when they had the chance, though they did hang a *red and black* banner between its spires.”

“It is all mixed up with sights, smells, and sounds that cannot be conveyed in writing: the smell of the trenches, the mountain dawns stretching away into inconceivable distances, the frosty crackle of bullets, the roar and glare of bombs; the clear cold light of the Barcelona mornings, and the stamp of boots in the barrack yard, back in December when people still believed in the revolution; and the food-queues and the *red and black flags* and the faces of Spanish militiamen; above all the faces of militiamen–men whom I knew in the line and who are now scattered Lord knows where, some killed in battle, some maimed, some in prison–most of them, I hope, still safe and sound.” 

The Black flag was first flown by the anarchist Louis Michel on March 9, 1883, during a demonstration of the unemployed in Paris, France.   However around the time of the Paris Communes (1848 and 1871) anarchists widely used the red flag.

As Orwell testified, syndicalism was always strong in Spain.

Locally, anarcho-syndicalism has been weak among anarchists here in Queensland, especially since the demise of the Self-Management Group in the late 1970s.

However anarchists (among many others) did help make the Red Contingent the biggest contingent in the 1978 Brisbane May Day march. It was over 10,000 strong. In following years ‘the left’ maintained a presence, but numbers fell away in the late 1980s making it virtually irrelevant today. here’s a pic of those heady days, we were so much older then, younger than that now!

Red contingent in May Day 1982 - 2
May Day March, Brisbane 1982 (click to enlarge)

Ian Curr
March 2014

Homage to Catalonia is @

Red and black is most commonly used by anarcho-syndicalists, anarcho-communists and libertarian-left unions or labour activists. Matthias Speer, 05 Feb 2003

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