Why red?

This was motivated by Cecil’s thread today about why red was the color of the Communists. This is really off-topic but the students in Quebec who are revolting (in both senses, over a rise in their college tuition of about $1700 spread over 7 years) have chosen a red square (carré rouge) as their symbol. The reason is that it is supposed to embody their claim: Je suis carrément dans le rouge, I am squarely in the red, a reference to their indebtedness. Note how readily the image translates.

Link to the column: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/792/why-are-communists-so-fond-of-the-color-red

… and, of course, in that era, being a “red state” meant something completely different. :wink:

Another tangentiality, in support of the Teeming Millionaire who responded to the original column:

(Note — all transliterations of Russian are approximate.)

An Intourist guide told me that when St. Basil’s cathedral was built, back in the mid-1500s, it spruced the neighborhood up so much that the reigning czar renamed the square “Krasnaya Ploshad,” or “Beautiful Square.” Back then, the word krasnaya meant both “beautiful” and “red.” Four-hundred-something years later, the place is still called “Krasnaya Ploshad,” but krasnaya no longer means “beautiful;” it just means “red.” So the name of the area is “Red Square.”

Well, ok, but the red flag was the banner of Communism/Socialism long before the Russian Revolution, and, before that revolution, people made no particular connection between Communism/Socialism and Russia or the Russian language. Indeed, most socialists and Communists around the world were quite taken aback when Communists took power in backward Russia, since Marx’s prediction was that Communism would begin in the most economically advanced capitalist countries (where Communists and Socialists had long been active and significant political players).

According to Wikipedia, the Red Flag was first adopted as a socialist symbol during the revolutions of 1848 - uprisings that occurred in many countries, but not, to any significant degree, in Russia - and became associated with Communism during the Paris commune of 1871. The British Labour Party (which has always distanced itself from Communism, but did once consider itself to be socialist) was founded before the Russian Revolution, and used the Red Flag as a party symbol from its inception up until 1986. Red is still the party colour, and I believe that the song “The Red Flag” is still sung at the close of Labour Party conferences (certainly it used to be until fairly recently). The song is full of references to “blood” and “our martyred dead”, so I think it is pretty obvious from that what the red is intended to symbolize. (The tune is better known to Americans as the Christmas song “O Tannenbaum”, and when I lived in the USA I alway had a secret chuckle at hearing the tune of this Socialist anthem played to celebrate America’s hyper-capitalist Christmas.)

If it is indeed the case that the words for “red” and beautiful are the same, or similar, in Russian, that is no more than a coincidence. It is not why red is associated with Communism, and is not the primary reason why the USSR (and, subsequently, other Communist countries) adopted a red flag.


Never said it was. I apologize if it seemed as if I did.

The Labour party did become significantly more centrist under Tony Blair’s administration, revoking Clause 4 of the Labour Party constitution (signalling an end for calls for worker ownership of the means of production). However, they remain a party of the Socialist International group. The father of the current head of the party was a Marxist academic, so I’m assuming he’ll at least have been exposed to the arguments in favour of worker owned factories.

It’s an indirect set of events related to the color of fire trucks.

There are 12 inches in a foot. A ruler is foot long. Queen Elizabeth is a ruler. Queen Elizabeth is also a ship. Ships sail in the sea. Herring live in the sea. Russians eat herring. Russians are red. Fire engines are red because they’re always rushin’.

What about green fire engines? Let’s see you explain that one, smart guy! :wink:

When I was but a wee thing in East Vassalboro, ME, the fire engine was cream-colored.