Thursday, 17 May 2018


First published and distributed in 1909 by the Wobblies of Spokane, Washington, the Little Red Songbook—officially Songs of the Industrial Workers of the World—was a rousing compilation of standards meant to engender solidarity and lift the spirits of the marginalised. Nearly two hundred different songs were captured in editions that ran until 1973, including the anthem “The Red Flag,” which was adopted in 1945 by the British and Irish Labour parties—later in translation by the North Korean armed forces. Traditionally sung at the conclusion of every party congress—though under the leadership of Tony Blair the practise was discouraged. With the chorus:

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.

Sung to the tune of O Tannenbaum! (“Oh Christmas Tree” rather disconcertingly) the song’s stanzas (with the choral refrain in between) 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.

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 ‘til we fall;
Come dungeons dark or gallows grim,
This song shall be our parting hymn.