More about The Hand Has Five Fingers
John Heartfield’s work The Hand Has Five Fingers is a perfect example of the Heartfield's political engagement and how it influenced his art.
John Heartfield created The Hand Has Five Fingers for the KPD – the German Communist Party – during the 1928 Reichstag electoral campaign. German cities were covered in posters encouraging people to vote for the party. When translated into English the German writing on the image says: “5 fingers has the hand. With 5 you seize the enemy. Vote list 5 Communist Party.” The indicated boiler suit and the hand stained with soot immediately evoke images of a worker making a living by doing manual labor.
The leader of the German Communist Party, Ernst Thälmann, personally agreed to Heartfield’s image becoming the campaign poster. Apparently, Ernst Thälmann was a pretty intense guy and allegedly once said: “You can break one finger, but five fingers make a fist.” The election day came and the Communist Party received 10.6 percent. Heartfield had to go into exile in Prague, and the KPD was banned five years after the election, the timing of which is kind of ironic considering the poster’s slogan.
As critic and arts journalist David D’Arcy pointed out, the hand creepily reaching out is something you usually see on a poster for a horror movie. He wrote: “Take out the politics, and the image could also be a movie poster for “The Thing.”" Since it’s not entirely clear whether the hand in the image is reaching out for help or trying to grab someone, the work would really make an ideal horror movie poster. John Heartfield even retouched the original photo of the hand to emphasize the hand’s grasping motion.
Today, John Heartfield is better known for making fun of Adolf Hitler in his other works. The Hand Has Five Fingers, though, is unique in that it was so politically engaged that it simultaneously functioned as a campaign poster.
- Britannica, “Germany - Years of economic and political stabilization.” Accessed August 21, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/place/Germany/Years-of-economic-and-politica….
- D’Arcy, David. “MoMA Fills a Collection Gap, Showing off New Acquisitions of Photomontage.” Observer, December 12, 2020. https://observer.com/2020/12/moma-engineer-agitator-constructor-exhibit….
- Hake, Sabine. “Proletarian Modernism and the Politics of Emotion: On Franz Wilhelm Seiwert and John Heartfield.” Modernism/modernity 27, no. 4 (November 2020): 735-767.
- Zervigón, Andrés Mario. John Heartfield and the Agitated Image: Photography, Persuasion, and the Rise of Avant-Garde Photomontage. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.