Forward, Comrades! A May Day Journey Through the History of Obama’s Slogan

Yesterday, the Obama campaign unveiled its new slogan, "Forward." As we pointed out here at Breitbart News, the slogan borrows not just from left-wing cable network MNSBC's "Lean Forward," but also from decades of communist iconography.

The poster above, "Forward, to the Victory of Communism," by Veniamin Briskin and Konstantin Ivanov (and available at auction here), is typical not only of Soviet propaganda but also of propaganda throughout the communist world, from the 19th century to the present.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, for example, published several articles in 1844 in the pages of the short-lived Vorwärts! ("Forward!"), an important radical journal that was later emulated by communist and socialist publications throughout Europe.

Decades later, for example, the German Social Democratic party launched the Vorwärts.  It was banned, along with the party, by Hitler, but it re-emerged after the Second World War and is available on the web today.

In Italy, the late nineteenth-century socialists borrowed the term "forward" for their own newspaper, Avanti!, which was later edited by Benito Mussolini before he was expelled from the Socialist Party--whereupon he started a rival publication and began plotting the rise of fascism.

Communist leaders frequently used--and still use--the word "forward" as an imperative verb, not as an adverb, usually at the conclusion of speeches or articles. It conveys a spirit of collective action and unity--as well as the conviction of the left that its ideas represent progress.

The term also has military connotations, evoking an order to charge on the battlefield--and it has been used that way, both for good and ill. Stalin, for example, exhorted his nation in the closing days of the Second World War: "Forward to the final rout of Hitlerite Germany!"

As with many other things in Stalin's Soviet Union, peacetime resembled wartime, both in its material shortages and its political deprivations. The Cold War-era USSR exhorted its people to join together in fighting for communism (and against the West), just as they had united to fight for the motherland a few years before.

China's Chairman Mao Zedong took the communist aesthetic even further in the Great Leap Forward of the 1950s, during which each household was urged to become an industrial unit. Millions melted their farming implements and cutlery to produce the requisite steel output, and many died of famine as a result.

Like their Soviet counterparts (and rivals), China's leaders portrayed ordinary economic activity in military terms, depicting a nation marching "forward" to work, together, as if to battle--and always with smiles and patriotic slogans on their lips.

The term "forward" became part of the jargon of the myriad communist movements of the Third World and their fellow travelers. Even after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and even in democratic states, Soviet-aligned liberation parties--such as South Africa's African National Congress--echoed the "forward" cry.

President Thabo Mbeki, the successor to Nelson Mandela--and more closely aligned wth his party's communist wing--used "forward" frequently, as in a 2005 speech to his party's National General Council, entitled: "Forward to the People's Contract!"

In the United States, immigrants steeped in the heady politics of late nineteenth-century European socialism founded the Forward, a Yiddish newspaper that added an English component nearly a century later. Today, the Jewish Daily Forward remains in publication as a left-leaning, though officially non-partisan, newspaper.

The left does not have a monopoly on the use of the word "forward," of course--it has been appropriated for political causes from left to right. Yet its use is most noteworthy among the movements of the left and far-left, who believe that progress comes through collective action led by the government--with an obedient people.

Just as MSNBC used images of grand government projects like the Hoover Dam in promoting its "Lean Forward" campaign, the Obama campaign is attempting to evoke the romantic sentiments that "forward" excites in the left-wing imagination, promoting collective responsibility and action as the answer to America's challenges.

As Marc Levin points out in his recent book Ameritopia, the founders of our Republic opposed flawed and fallible utopian visions, preferring an emphasis on liberty and limited government--leaving the pursuit of happiness to the individual, not to government to decide. That remains a winning formula--if Republicans can embrace it.