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.
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. The Iron Front was regarded as a "social fascist terror organisation" by the communist KPD and its Antifaschistische Aktion (commonly known as AntiFa).
Mierendorf and Chakhotin launched the Three Arrows against the Swastika (Dreipfeil gegen Hakenkreuz) campaign. Chakhotin authored a book by the same name. The Three Arrows were thought to represent the struggle of the social democratic movement against reaction, capitalism and fascism. 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."
The aesthetic of the campaign and the Three Arrows symbol as such drew inspiration from Soviet-Russian avant-garde revolutionary artwork. 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. The Three Arrows were adopted as an official social democrat symbol by the SPD leadership and the Iron Front by June 1932. Iron Front members would carry the symbol on their arm bands. The slogan "neither Stalin's slaves nor Hitler's henchmen" was also used by the SPD in connection with the symbol.
Use outside Germany
In August 1932, the Austrian Social Democrats adopted the Three Arrows as their combat symbol. The Austrian socialist poet Karl Schneller dedicated the poem Drei Pfeile to the 1932 Austria Social Democratic Party congress. The symbol was banned in Austria in 1933. During Nazi regime, the symbol appeared on pamphlets of the Revolutionary Socialists of Austria and was used in graffiti. During 1932–1935, it was also used in Belgium, Denmark and the United Kingdom. After Chakhotin had been forced into exile to France, the symbol became used by the French Section of the Workers International.
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. The Three Arrows symbol remained a prominent Social Democratic Party of Austria symbol until the 1950s.
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.
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. 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.
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