The ‘raised’ or ‘clenched’ fist as a graphic symbol and as a physical gesture can be packed with meaning and intent. It is often understood to suggest determination, resistance, and group solidarity. During the 20th century, it has been adopted by a range of different, and sometimes opposing, causes and movements.
The gesture’s origins as a symbol of defiance and solidarity, particularly for left-wing groups, can possibly be traced to the 1848 revolution in France as depicted in Honoré Daumier’s The Uprising from 1860.1 Later, it was adopted by left-aligned movements, including the Communists in Germany in the 1920s, where it is believed to have partially prompted the Nazi Party to adopt the opposing open-handed ‘Roman’ salute.2
The symbol is understood to express political solidarity, particularly for groups who perceive themselves to be oppressed or engaged in a struggle against a larger institutional force.3 It is usually associated with the left, but it has also been used by the far right, for example, the ‘Aryan fist’ was adopted by white supremacists as a provocative response to black power symbolism.4
Most variations of the symbol display the palm-side of the fist. This begs the question: is this because displaying the knuckle-side carries connotations of aggression without suggesting solidarity? It is also common to see variations with additional ideological symbolism integrated with the fist, for example, the anarcho-feminist symbol where the wrist extends down to form the female gender sign.