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 right and left, and it chiefly opposed the Nazi Party with their Sturmabteilung wing and the Communist Party of Germany with their Antifaschistische Aktion wing.
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 reactionary conservatism during the parliamentary elections in 1932, and was adopted by the SPD itself.
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. 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. 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.
In 1933, the Iron Front was banned by the Nazis.
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. 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. 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.
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!".
The Three Arrows became a symbol of the social democratic resistance against the totalitarian ideologies of Nazism and communism. More recently, the symbol has been used within the American Antifa movement, along with flags historically derived from the German communist party's Antifaschistische Aktion. The Antifaschistische Aktion opposed the Iron Front, whom they regarded as fascist and bourgeois, and Three Arrows was used to represent resistance also against Antifaschistische Aktion's affiliated party, the KPD.
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