A brief history of the “clenched fist” image


“A persistent symbol of resistance and unity, the clenched fist (or raised fist) is part of the broader genre of ‘hand’ symbols that include the peace ‘V,’ the forward-thrust-fist, and the clasped hands. The clenched fist usually appears in full frontal display showing all fingers and is occasionally integrated with other images such as a peace symbol or tool. The human hand has been used in art from the very beginnings, starting with stunning examples in Neolithic cave paintings. Early examples of the fist in graphic art can be found at least as far back as 1917, with another example from Mexico in 1948. Fist images, in some form, were used in numerous political graphic genres, including the French and Soviet revolutions, the United States Communist Party, and the Black Panther Party for Self-defense. However, these all followed an iconographic convention. The fist was always part of something – holding a tool or other symbol, part of an arm or human figure, or shown in action (smashing, etc.). But graphic artists from the New Left changed that in 1968, with an entirely new treatment. This ‘new’ fist stood out with its stark simplicity, coupled with a popularly understood meaning of rebellion and militance. It was easy to reproduce at any scale and modify (long lines of fists, sun rays of fists, etc.) Michael Rossman and I have concluded that, to the best of our knowledge, the moment this first occurred was a poster by San Francisco Bay Area graphic artist Frank’s Cieciorka for Stop The Draft Week, for actions January 14, 1968 protesting the arrest of the ‘Oakland Seven’ This poster was adapted from one he had done earlier for Stop The Draft Week (10/17/1967) that used a large, blocky figure wielding a fist (which, in turn, had been preceded by a poster with no graphic at all, and a less encompassing slogan). That second poster took the fist and used on its own. This fist (or versions of it) was adopted by ‘the movement,’ appearing in numerous posters and flyers for student, antiwar, women’s, and other political activities within the United States. It showed up almost immediately within the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS, which used it in a flyer for the 1968 Chicago National Democratic Convention protest). A virtually identical fist used in the 1969 Harvard student strike traces its design to School of Design student Harvey Hacker. …”
Docs Populi
W – Raised fist

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

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