Three Arrows

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A widely publicized election poster of the Social Democratic Party of Germany from 1932, with Three Arrows symbol representing resistance against reactionary conservatism, Nazism and Communism, and with the slogan "Against Papen, Hitler, Thälmann."

The Three Arrows (German: Drei Pfeile) is a social-democratic political symbol associated with the Social Democratic Party of Germany. It was used in the late history of the Weimar Republic; first conceived for the social democrat-dominated Iron Front as a symbol of the social democratic resistance against Nazism in 1932, it became an official symbol of the Social Democratic Party during the parliamentary elections the same year that represented the resistance against Nazism, communism and reactionary conservatism.[1]

Weimar Republic[edit]

Cover of Chakhotin's book Three Arrows against the Swastika

The Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) was opposed by both the Nazi Party (NSDAP) and the Communist Party (KPD). In this setting, the SPD organizer Carlo Mierendorf recruited Russian exiled physiologist Sergei Chakhotin as the propagandist of the paramilitary Iron Front and together the two developed propaganda initiatives to counter the NSDAP and the KPD in early 1932. Together, the two launched the Three Arrows as a symbol for the social democrat militancy.[2] The Iron Front was regarded as a "social fascist terror organisation" by the communist KPD and its Antifaschistische Aktion (commonly known as AntiFa).[3]

Mierendorf and Chakhotin launched the Three Arrows against the Swastika (Dreipfeil gegen Hakenkreuz) campaign.[4] Chakhotin authored a book by the same name.[5] The Three Arrows were thought to represent the struggle of the social democratic movement against reaction, capitalism and fascism.[6][7] On a widely used and publiziced election poster of the SPD for the Reichstag election on 6 November 1932, the Three Arrows were used to represent opposition to the Communist Party, the monarchist wing of the Centre Party, and the Nazi Party, accompanied by the slogan "Against Papen, Hitler, Thälmann."[8]

The aesthetic of the campaign and the Three Arrows symbol as such drew inspiration from Soviet-Russian avant-garde revolutionary artwork.[4] According to Chakhotin, he found inspiration for the Three Arrows from a swastika that had been crossed over by chalk in Heidelberg. Per Chakhotin's argument, with the Three Arrows and the swastika it would always appear as the three lines would have been imposed over the swastika rather than the other way around.[2] The Three Arrows were adopted as an official social democrat symbol by the SPD leadership and the Iron Front by June 1932.[2] Iron Front members would carry the symbol on their arm bands.[9] The slogan "neither Stalin's slaves nor Hitler's henchmen" was also used by the SPD in connection with the symbol.[1]

Use outside Germany[edit]

In August 1932, the Austrian Social Democrats adopted the Three Arrows as their combat symbol.[7] The Austrian socialist poet Karl Schneller dedicated the poem Drei Pfeile to the 1932 Austria Social Democratic Party congress.[7] The symbol was banned in Austria in 1933.[6] During Nazi regime, the symbol appeared on pamphlets of the Revolutionary Socialists of Austria and was used in graffiti.[7] During 1932–1935, it was also used in Belgium, Denmark and the United Kingdom.[2][4] After Chakhotin had been forced into exile to France, the symbol became used by the French Section of the Workers International.[2]

After World War II, the Three Arrows became the official party logo of the Social Democratic Party of Austria in 1945. The symbol had been modified to include a circle and the symbolism changed to represent the unity of industrial workers, farm workers and intellectuals.[6] The Three Arrows symbol remained a prominent Social Democratic Party of Austria symbol until the 1950s.[6]

The Three Arrows remained the symbol of the French socialists until the 1970s, when it was substituted by the fist and rose symbol.[10]

The current logo of the Social Democratic Party in Portugal, inspired by the German Social Democrats' Three Arrows

The Portuguese Democratic People's Party, created in 1974, in the aftermath of the Carnation Revolution that put an end to the 48-year-long fascist dictatorship in Portugal – renamed Social Democratic Party in 1976 –, uses as its logo an adaptation of the Three Arrows since its foundation (they're pointing upwards instead and each has a different colour: previously, black, red and white, the white having been replaced by orange). According to party members involved in the discussions about the choice of the symbol, the Arrows were chosen as a way to differentiate the party from its main rivals' easily recognizable logos – the Socialist Party, which still uses the raised clenched fist and the rose, and the Communist Party and its hammer and sickle – and to stress the resistance to and rejection of fascism and Nazism.[11]

The three arrows symbol is popularly used within the modern American AntiFa movement, along with flags based on the Antifaschistische Aktion (AntiFa) of the German communist party.[12] The Antifaschistische Aktion opposed the Iron Front in the interwar period, whom they had regarded as fascist and bourgeois, and Three Arrows was used to represent resistance also against Antifaschistische Aktions affiliated party, the KPD.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Potthoff, Heinrich; Faulenbach, Bernd (1998). Sozialdemokraten und Kommunisten nach Nationalsozialismus und Krieg: zur historischen Einordnung der Zwangsvereinigung. Klartext. p. 27.
  2. ^ a b c d e Dan S. White (1992). Lost Comrades: Socialists of the Front Generation, 1918-1945. Harvard University Press. pp. 94–95. ISBN 978-0-674-53924-2.
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^ a b c Richard Albrecht (2007). 'Dreipfeil gegen Hakenkreuz' - Symbolkrieg in Deutschland 1932. GRIN Verlag. p. 2. ISBN 978-3-638-67833-9.
  5. ^ Michael W. Berns; Karl Otto Greulich (2007). Laser Manipulation of Cells and Tissues. Elsevier Academic Press. p. 731. ISBN 978-0-12-370648-5.
  6. ^ a b c d Drei Pfeile
  7. ^ a b c d Bund Sozialdemokratischer Freiheitskämpfer/innen, Opfer des Faschismus und aktiver Antifaschist/inn/en. Unser Zeichen
  8. ^
  9. ^ Georg Franz-Willing (1982). 1933, die nationale Erhebung. Druffel-Verlag. p. 20. ISBN 978-3-8061-1021-0.
  10. ^ Annette Becker; Evelyne Cohen (2006). La République en représentations: autour de l'œuvre de Maurice Agulhon. Publications de la Sorbonne. p. 44. ISBN 978-2-85944-546-1.
  11. ^ Marujo, Miguel (4 April 2016). "O que explica as setinhas e a cor laranja do símbolo" [What explains the arrows and the orange of the symbol]. Diário de Notícias (in Portuguese). Retrieved 18 January 2019.
  12. ^ Friedmann, Sarah (15 August 2017). "This Is What The Antifa Flag Symbols Mean". Bustle. Retrieved 16 April 2019.