Iron Front

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Iron Front
Eiserne Front
Active regionsGermany
Social democracy
Opponents Nazi Party
Communist Party of Germany

The Iron Front (German: Eiserne Front) was a German paramilitary organization in the Weimar Republic that consisted of social democrats, trade unionists, and liberals. Its main goal was to defend liberal democracy against totalitarian ideologies on the far right and left, and it chiefly opposed the Sturmabteilung wing of the Nazi Party and the Antifaschistische Aktion wing of the Communist Party of Germany.[1]

Formally independent, it was intimately associated with the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). The Three Arrows, originally conceived for the Iron Front, became a well-known social democrat symbol representing resistance against Nazism, communism, and monarchism during the parliamentary elections in November 1932, and was adopted by the SPD itself.[2]


The Iron Front was formed on 16 December 1931 in the Weimar Republic by the Social Democratic Party (SPD) with the Allgemeiner Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund (ADGB), the Reichsbanner, and workers' sport clubs.[3] The Iron Front chiefly opposed the paramilitary organisations of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) and the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). Its initial purpose was to counter the right-wing Harzburg Front. The organization sought to engage the old Reichsbanner, the SPD youth organization and labor and liberal groups as a united front. The SPD rallied to the Iron Front, held mass demonstrations, fought Nazis and Communists in the streets, and armed themselves. This is more than the SPD leaders wanted, but SPD workers grew increasingly militant in their resistance against the authoritarian and totalitarian movements threatening the Weimar Republic.

The Iron Front was regarded as an anti-communist and "social fascist terror organisation" by the KPD, who regarded the social democrats as their main adversary.[4] In response to the formation of the Iron Front, the KPD founded its own activist wing, the Antifaschistische Aktion (Antifa), which opposed social democrats and Nazis.[5]

The day Hitler was declared chancelor, January 30th 1933, the communist party KPD asked the social democrats of SPD, the general trade union association ADGB and their organisations, Iron Front and "Reichsbanner schwarz weiß rot" to declare a general strike against Hitler. They declined and issued a call to "all comrades of Iron Front and reichsbanner" February 2nd, "warning of wild actions" such as strikes and any militant opposition to Hitler.[6] The opposition to a general strike of Iron Front was part of the "adaptation course of the branches of the general trade union association (ADGB) in the beginning of 1933". [7] At march 3rd the Iron Front planned a march in the city Kassel, but was hindered by regular police. As the trade unions, to which it was close, it was finally dissolved by force together with all trade union structures at May 2nd by SA troops. [8] Until the mid 1930s and in some cases until the war years some local branches of Iron Front and the former trade union organisations continued with resistance, mostly by spreading leaflets, organizing secret meetings but also with sabotage. [9]

Its logo, the Antifascist Circle (three-lined-arrows, pointing southwest/to the lower left inside a circle) was designed by Sergei Tschachotin, former assistant to the physiologist Ivan Pavlov in 1931.[10][11][12] Designed so as to be able to easily cover Nazi swastikas, the meaning of the three arrows has been variously interpreted. The present-day Reichsbanner association says the arrows of the logo stood for the SPD, the trade unions, and the Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold as well as for the political, economic, and physical strength of the working class.[13] The symbol was used on a November 1932 Reichstag election poster of the SPD to represent opposition to the Nazi Party, the Communist Party, and the monarchist wing of the Centre Party.[14]

About its formation, Karl Höltermann, chairman of the Reichsbanner, commented: "The year 1932 will be our year, the year of victory of the republic over its opponents. Not one day nor one hour more do we want to remain on the defensive - we attack! Attack on the whole line! We must be part of the general offensive. Today we call—tomorrow we strike!".[15]


The Three Arrows became a symbol of the social democratic resistance against the totalitarian ideologies of Nazism and Soviet State Socialism.[2] More recently, the symbol has been adopted by the American Antifa movement, along with flags historically derived from the German communist party's Antifaschistische Aktion.[16] The Antifaschistische Aktion opposed the Iron Front, whom they regarded as bourgeois, and Three Arrows was used to represent resistance also against Antifaschistische Aktion's affiliated party, the KPD.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Harsch, Donna (2009). The Iron Front: Weimar Social Democracy between Tradition and Modernity. Between Reform and Revolution: German Socialism and Communism from 1840 to 1990 (1 ed.). Berghahn Books. pp. 251–274. ISBN 978-1-57181-120-2. JSTOR j.ctt9qcp9v.
  2. ^ a b c Potthoff, Heinrich; Faulenbach, Bernd (1998). Sozialdemokraten und Kommunisten nach Nationalsozialismus und Krieg: zur historischen Einordnung der Zwangsvereinigung. Klartext. p. 27.
  3. ^ Andreas Linhardt (2006). Die Technische Nothilfe in der Weimarer Republik. Dissertation: Braunschweig University of Technology. p. 667. ISBN 978-3-8334-4889-8. Retrieved 6 August 2011 (in German).
  4. ^ Siegfried Lokatis: Der rote Faden. Kommunistische Parteigeschichte und Zensur unter Walter Ulbricht. Böhlau Verlag, Köln 2003, ISBN 3-412-04603-5 (Zeithistorische Studien series, vol. 25), p. 60|quote=Thälmann hatte die SPD als „Hilfspolizei für den Faschismus“, als „verräterische und volksfeindliche Partei“, ihre Führer als „berufsmäßige Arbeiterverräter“, „Kapitalsknechte“ und „Todfeinde des Sozialismus“, die Eiserne Front als „Terrororganisation des Sozialfaschismus“ beschimpft und die „Liquidierung der SAJ als Massenorganisation“ gefordert. [Thälmann had insulted the SPD as "auxiliary police for fascism", as a "treacherous and anti-people party", its leaders as "professional traitors", "servants of capital" and "mortal enemies of socialism", the Iron Front as "terrorist organization of social fascism" and that the "Liquidation of the SAJ as a mass organization" was required.]
  5. ^ Langer, Bernd (2012). 80 Jahre Antifaschistische Aktion (PDF). Göttingen: Verein zur Förderung antifaschistischer Kultur.
  6. ^ Hessischer Volksfreund 2.2.1933, In: VVN-BdA, Das Jahr 1933,
  7. ^ Heinz, Stefan, historian, Interview with Gerda Henkel Stiftung, 15.12.2015,
  8. ^ VVN-BdA, Das Jahr 1933,
  9. ^ Heinz, Stefan, historian, Interview with Gerda Henkel Stiftung, 15.12.2015,
  10. ^ Friedrich-Wilhelm Witt (1971). "Die Hamburger Sozialdemokratie in der Weimarer Republik". Unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Jahre 1929/30 – 1933 ("Hamburg Social Democracy in the Weimar Republic". With special consideration of the years 1929/30 – 1933). Hannover. p. 136.
  11. ^ Sergei Tschachotin (1933). Dreipfeil gegen Hakenkreuz ("Three Arrows Against the Swastika"). Kopenhagen. Book was reviewed by Dieter Rebentisch (1972) in the periodical Archiv für Sozialgeschichte ("Archives for Social History"). No. 12. p. 679–???. ISSN 0066-6505.
  12. ^ Richard Albrecht (January 2005). "Dreipfeil gegen Hakenkreuz" – Symbolkrieg in Deutschland 1932 ("Three Arrows Against the Swastika" – symbol war in Germany 1932". Historical Case-Study in Anti-Nazi-Propaganda Within Germany and Western Europe, 1931-35).
  13. ^ "Die Eiserne Front". Archived 7 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine Bundesverband Reichbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold, Bund Aktiver Demokraten e. V. Retrieved 6 August 2011 (in German).
  14. ^ "SPD poster for 1932 elections". Retrieved 6 August 2011 (in German).
  15. ^ Werner K. Blessing (2003). "Dok. 9 Aufruf des Bundesvorsitzenden Karl Höltermann, Anfang Januar 1932". Bayerische Landeszentrale für Politische Bildungsarbeit. Die Weimarer Republik Band III. Retrieved 6 August 2011 (in German).
  16. ^ Friedmann, Sarah (August 15, 2017). "This Is What The Antifa Flag Symbols Mean". Bustle. Retrieved 16 April 2019.