The implication of the raised fist goes a long way back into history. The invention of the famous symbol of revolt against oppression dates to as early as 1913. The representation of strength, power and vigour to fight back against oppression was used in several major revolutions, from the protest of workers to protest against Fascism.
The first time the symbol of lifted fist was used-
‘Big Bill’ Haywood was one of the founding members of the union of Industrial Workers of the World. The main aim of the organization was to seek the unity of all people of working-class all over the US and seek certain rights or workers.
During the Paterson silk strike in New Jersey, Haywood motivated the strikers with his speech of the fist.
Symbol adopted by RFB or Red Front Fighters
One of the military groups of Germany was the Red Front Fighters who had the aim to destroy the enemies and establish communism. They were loyal to the KPD or Communist Party of Germany. Also known as Roter Frontkampferbund, this militant party was founded in July 1924 and headed by Ernst Thaelmann and Willy Leow. They led RFB in their clash against Social Democratic Party of Germany.
In 1932, the new title, Antifaschistische Aktion was given to the combatant group. Although RFB was later dismantled by Social Democratic Party.
Symbol of Anti Fascism.
After RFB’s fight with the socialists, the Nazi’s oppression and fascism spread across Germany. It was hated by communists, socialists, liberals and democrats who decided it was time to kick out the fascism. The highly anti-fascist group called Popular Front came to existence which majorly aimed at destroying fascism.
Example of one of the strengths of the anti-fascist party was displayed in 1936 when the British Union of Fascists tried to walk through a Jewish neighborhood to establish their supremacy. But over 100,000 Jews proudly displayed their symbol of courage and unity against fascism, the lifted fist and made the fascists turn out.
Nevertheless, over time the Nazis successfully silenced many who spoke against communism. Adolf Hitler put Thalmann and his comrades who were a part of RFB in concentration camps and were eventually killed.
Spanish Civil War and return of the symbol to the US.
Another serious oppression by the Nazis was in Spain that led to the Spanish Civil War, eventually. Catholic fascists backed by Mussolini and Hitler attacked the Popular Front Government. 45,000 anti-fascists immediately travelled to Spain to support the Popular Front Government, including 2,800 Americans who formed the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.
It was then that the lifted fist became a powerful symbol of solidarity among the democratic people of the world, united against fascist rule and oppression.
Eventually, the anti-fascists did lose the Civil War in Spain and the Lincoln Brigade returned home to the US. In the US, they were questioned over their political beliefs but they hung on to the unity and solidarity they had learnt in Spain.
What is the symbolism of Lifted Fist in modern times?
Currently, once again the lifted fist is a symbol against oppression. The oppression this time is in the form of systemic racism. After the murder of African Americans over trivial incidents like holding a toy gun in the park and sleeping in their own homes, the American citizens are angry about the injustice. From Eric Garner and Philando Castile to Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, every murder of harmless African Americans in the US by the police is met with aggressive protests and demand for justice. From walls being spray-painted with graffiti of fist to thousands gathering on streets with lifted fists, once again the symbol of unity against oppression is alive.
Banaras Hindu University
2nd Year, English Hons.
Varanasi, UP. Mohona is an avid reader and equality seeker. She takes a keen interest in painting and finds solace among books, coffee, nature and dogs.