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Raised fist

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Performer raising a fist at Woodstock Festival Poland

The raised fist, or the clenched fist, is a long-standing image of mixed meaning, often a symbol of solidarity, especially with a political movement. It is a common symbol representing a wide range of political ideologies, most notably socialism, communism, anarchism, and trade unionism, and can also be used as a salute expressing unity, strength, or resistance.


A painting of a man at the forefront of a crowd raising his fist.
This painting by Honoré Daumier of the French Revolution of 1848 includes a possible early example of a "political clenched fist," according to curator Francesca Seravalle.[1]
A red fist rises from a large crowd outside a factory, and Hungarian text directs workers and citizens to join a mass strike in Budapest, 1912.
This 1912 poster by Mihály Bíró uses the fist as a symbol of the collective power of the massed workers from whom it rises.

The origin of the raised fist as either a symbol or gesture is unclear. Its use in trade unionism, anarchism, and the labor movement had begun by the 1910s. William "Big Bill" Haywood, a founding member of the Industrial Workers of the World, used the metaphor of a fist as something greater than the sum of its parts during a speech at the 1913 Paterson silk strike.[2] Journalist and socialist activist John Reed described hearing a similar description from a participant in the strike.[3] A large raised fist rising from a crowd of striking workers was used to promote a mass strike in Budapest in 1912.[4] In the United States, clenched fist was described by the magazine Mother Earth as "symbolical of the social revolution" in 1914.[5]

The use of the fist as a salute by communists and antifascists is first evidenced in 1924, when it was adopted for the Communist Party of Germany's Roter Frontkämpferbund ("Alliance of Red Front-Fighters"). In reaction, the Nazi Party adopted the well-known Roman salute two years later.[6] The gesture of the raised fist was apparently known in the United States as well, and is seen in a photograph from a May Day march in New York City in 1936.[7] It is perhaps best known in this era from its use during the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939, as a greeting by the Republican faction, and known as the "Popular Front salute" or the "anti-fascist salute".[8]

Children preparing for evacuation during the Spanish Civil War (1930s), some giving the Republican salute. The Republicans showed a raised right fist whereas the Nationalists gave the Roman salute.[9]

The graphic symbol was popularised in 1948 by Taller de Gráfica Popular, a print shop in Mexico that used art to advance revolutionary social causes.[10] Its use spread through the United States in the 1960s after artist and activist Frank Cieciorka produced a simplified version for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee: this version was subsequently used by Students for a Democratic Society and the Black Power movement.[11]

The raised right fist was frequently used in posters produced during the May 1968 revolt in France, such as La Lutte continue, depicting a factory chimney topped with a clenched fist.[12][13][14]

A raised right fist icon appears prominently as a feminist symbol on the covers of two major books by Robin Morgan, Sisterhood is Powerful, published in 1970,[15] and Sisterhood Is Forever, in 2003.[16] The symbol had been popularised in the feminist movement during the Miss America protest in 1968 which Morgan co-organised.[8]

A raised fist incorporates the outline of the state of Wisconsin, as designed in 2011, for union protests against the state rescinding collective bargaining.[17]


The raised fist logo generally carries the same symbolism as a hand gesture. It was an important symbol of workers rights and labor movements, as well as specific labor actions, such as strikes, boycotts, and walk-outs.

Notable examples include the fist and rose, a white fist holding a red rose, used by the Socialist International and some socialist or social democratic parties, such as the French Socialist Party and the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party.[8] The fist can represent ethnic solidarity, such as in the Black Power fist of Black nationalism and the Black Panther Party, a Black Marxist group in the 1960s,[18] or the White Power fist, a logo generally associated with White nationalism.[19] A Black fist logo was also adopted by the northern soul music subculture. Loyalists in Northern Ireland occasionally use a red clenched fist on murals depicting the Red Hand of Ulster, which is also featured on the flag of Ulster.[20] Irish republicans, on the other hand, have been seen displaying raised fists.[21]

The image gallery shows how a raised fist is used in visual communication. Combined with another graphic element, a raised fist is used to convey polysemous gestures and opposing forces.[22] Depending on the elements combined, the meaning of the gesture changes in tone and intention. For example, a hammer and sickle combined with a raised right fist is part of communist symbolism, while the same right fist combined with a Venus symbol represents Feminism, and combined with a book, it represents some librarians who oppose digital rights management. The Gonzo fist emblem, characterized by two thumbs and four fingers holding a peyote button, was originally used in Hunter S. Thompson's 1970 campaign for sheriff of Aspen, Colorado. It has become a symbol of Thompson and gonzo journalism as a whole.

The Unicode character for the raised fist is U+270A RAISED FIST.


Different movements sometimes use different terms to describe the raised fist salute: amongst communists and socialists, raised right fist is sometimes called the red salute, whereas in the United States it is widely known as the Black Power salute due to use by many African-American activists. The Rotfrontkämpferbund paramilitary organization of Communist Party of Germany used the right hand fist salute as early as 1924.[23] By this time, the Soviet Union had already established the use of a traditional Russian military salute. During the Spanish Civil War, it was sometimes known as the anti-fascist salute. A letter from the Spanish Civil War stated: "...the raised fist which greets you in Salud is not just a gesture—it means life and liberty being fought for and a greeting of solidarity with the democratic peoples of the world."[24]

At the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, medal winners John Carlos and Tommie Smith gave the raised fist salute during the American national anthem as a sign of black power, and as a protest on behalf of the Olympic Project for Human Rights. They were banned from further Olympic activities by the IOC, as the rules then in place prohibited any political statements at the Olympics. The event was one of the most overtly political statements[25] in the history of the modern Olympic Games. Tommie Smith stated in his autobiography, "Silent Gesture", that the salute was not a Black Power salute, but in fact a human rights salute.[26]

Nelson Mandela also used the clenched right fist salute upon his release from Victor Verster Prison in 1990.[8]

The raised right fist is used by officials in People's Republic of China when being sworn into office.[27]

Psychologist Oliver James has suggested that the appeal of the salute is that it allows the individual to indicate that they "intend to meet malevolent, massive institutional force with force of (their) own", and that they are bound in struggle with others against common oppression.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Seravalle, Francesca (2017). "The Fist Photos: On the Polysemy of the Fist". Photographic Museum of Humanity. Retrieved July 2, 2019.
  2. ^ Gurley Flynn, Elizabeth (1977). Memories of the Industrial Workers of the World. New York: American Institute for Marxist Studies. p. 6.
  3. ^ Reed, John (June 1913). "War in Paterson". The Masses.
  4. ^ Simmons, Sherwin (2000). "'Hand to the Friend, Fist to the Foe': The Struggle of Signs in the Weimar Republic". Journal of Design History. 13 (4): 319–339. doi:10.1093/jdh/13.4.319. ISSN 0952-4649. JSTOR 3527066.
  5. ^ Berkman, Alexander (July 1914). "The Lexington Explosion" (PDF). Mother Earth. IX: 155 – via Libcom.org.
  6. ^ Korff, Gottfried (Fall 1992). "From Brotherly Handshake to Militant Clenched Fist: On Political Metaphors for the Worker's Hand". International Labor and Working-Class History. 42: 77. doi:10.1017/S0147547900011236. S2CID 144046575 – via JSTOR.
  7. ^ "May 1 Labour Day: What is International Workers' Day?". Al Jazeera. May 1, 2019. Retrieved July 2, 2020.
  8. ^ a b c d e Kelly, Jon (17 April 2012). "Breivik: What's behind clenched-fist salutes?". bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 7 July 2018.
  9. ^ Calleja, Eduardo Gonzále (2005). "The symbolism of violence during the Second Republic in Spain, 1931–1936". In Ealham, Chris; Richards, Michael (eds.). The Splintering of Spain. pp. 23–44. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511497025.005. ISBN 978-0-511-49702-5. The Roman salute characteristic of Italian fascism was first adopted by the PNE and the JONS, later spreading to the Falange and other extreme right groups, before it became the official salute in Franco's Spain. The JAP salute, which consisted of stretching the right arm horizontally to touch the left shoulder enjoyed only relatively little acceptance. The gesture of the raised right fist, so widespread among left-wing workers' groups, gave rise to more regimented variations, such as the salute with the fist on one's temple, characteristic of the German Rotfront, which was adopted by the republican Popular Army.
  10. ^ "Mexican posters on social and educational themes". docspopuli.org. Archived from the original on 5 May 2007. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  11. ^ Patton, Phil (10 January 2006). "Not Your Grandparent's Clenched Fist". American Institute of Graphic Arts. Archived from the original on 9 September 2011. Retrieved 7 July 2018.
  12. ^ Hird, Alison (4 April 2018). "France May 68: the art of revolution". rfi.fr. Retrieved 7 July 2018.
  13. ^ Considine, Liam (Autumn 2015). "Screen Politics: Pop Art and the Atelier Populaire". Tate Papers (24). ISSN 1753-9854. Retrieved 7 July 2018.
  14. ^ Rubin, Alissa J. (4 May 2018). "Printing a Revolution: The Posters of Paris '68". NYTimes.com. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  15. ^ Author's website Archived 2020-11-27 at the Wayback Machine, as accessed September 5, 2012.
  16. ^ Author's website Archived 2021-02-25 at the Wayback Machine, as accessed September 5, 2012.
  17. ^ "The Story Behind the Blue Fist - Wisconsin State AFL-CIO Blog". Typepad. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  18. ^ "History: USA: The Black Panther Party".
  19. ^ "Anti-Defamation League - Aryan Fist".
  20. ^ "Does Northern Ireland need Red Hand sculpture?". Belfast Telegraph. 2010-05-10. Retrieved 2020-07-23.
  21. ^ Whalen, L. (2007). Contemporary Irish Republican Prison Writing Writing and Resistance. Palgrave MacMillan US. p. 91.
  22. ^ Calbris, Geneviève (1 January 2011). Elements of Meaning in Gesture. John Benjamins Publishing. ISBN 978-9027228475. Retrieved 16 January 2017 – via Google Books.
  23. ^ Korff, Gottfried: "Symbolgeschichte als Sozialgeschichte? Zehn vorläufige Notizen zu den Bild- und Zeichensystemen sozialer Bewegungen in Deutschland", in: Warneken, Bernd Jürgen (Hg.): "Massenmedium Strasse. Zur Kulturgeschichte der Demonstrationen." Frankfurt/Main 1991. S. 27–28. Cited in: Schulte-Rummel, Sven "Die politische Symbolik der Kommunistischen Partei Deutschlands in der Weimarer Republlik" [1]. "Im Gegensatz zu den meisten anderen Symbolen der Kommunisten beginnt die Geschichte der geballten Faust in der Ära der Weimarer Republik. Sie war prägendes Symbol bei Straßenaufmärschen, Spiegel der gewaltbereiten Demonstranten, die voller Frust über das System dem Staat die geballte Faust zeigten." Translation: "Unlikely the most of other Communists symbols, the history of Raised right fist started in the era of Weimar Republic. It was a definitive symbol of street marches, reflection of the marchers who were ready for violence, who were disappointed by the whole system of the state and showed their clenched fists to it."
  24. ^ Rolfe, Mary. Letter to Leo Hurwitz and Janey Dudley, 25 November 1938. Reprinted in Cary Nelson and Jefferson Hendricks, eds. "Madrid 1937: Letters of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade from the Spanish Civil War," Routledge: 1996. [2]
  25. ^ Lewis, Richard (2006-10-08). "Caught in Time: Black Power salute, Mexico, 1968". London: The Sunday Times. Retrieved 2008-11-09.
  26. ^ Silent Gesture – Autobiography of Tommie Smith (excerpt via Google Books) – Smith, Tommie & Steele, David, Temple University Press, 2007, ISBN 978-1-59213-639-1 pg. 22 quotes: "To this very day, the gesture made on the victory stand is described as Black Power salute; it was not." "We were students, and we were dedicated to the Olympic Project for Human Rights."
  27. ^ "State Council holds first swearing-in ceremony to uphold Constitution". The State Council of the People's Republic of China. Sep 18, 2016. Retrieved 16 January 2017.

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