The black flag, and the color black in general, have been associated with anarchism since the 1880s. Many anarchist collectives contain the word "black" in their names. There have been a number of anarchist periodicals entitled Black Flag.
The uniform blackness of the flag is in stark contrast to the colorful flags typical of most nation-states. Additionally, as a white flag is the universal symbol for surrender to superior force, the counter-opposite black flag would logically be a symbol of defiance and opposition to surrender.
The black flag represents the absence of a flag, and thus stands in opposition to the very notion of nation-states. In that light, the flag can be seen as a rejection of the concept of representation, or the idea that any person or institution can adequately represent a group of individuals. Modern anarchism has a shared ancestry with – amongst other ideologies – socialism, a movement strongly associated with the red flag. As anarchism became more and more distinct from socialism in the 1880s, it adopted the black flag in an attempt to differentiate itself. Some anarchists at the time, such as Peter Kropotkin, preferred to continue using the red flag rather than adopt the black.
Both the black and red flags first gained notoriety for their use by Buccaneers, who were pirates of French origin operating in the West Indies. The black flag (later the "Jolly Roger") was displayed, or 'run up' the mast, first as an indication that the lives of the crew would be spared if they surrendered. If the crew resisted, the red flag would then be displayed to indicate that the offer of amnesty had been withdrawn; no prisoners would be taken (see also Jolly Roger/Pirate flag below).
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Category: Political Symbols.
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