"First Up Against The Wall When The Revolution Comes"

What is the origin of the phrase:
“First Up Against The Wall When The Revolution Comes”?

Is it “The HH Guide to the Galaxy” or did Adams take it from somewhere else?

I remember hearing it in the UK prior to HHG.

There was a BBC Comedy about a would-be revolutionary leader in Tooting (that’s south west London) Citizen Smith He repeatedly used the same line (see quotes section for a couple of examples) and it predates HHGGTG.

That particular phrasing may have a specific origin (either Douglas Adams or Citizen Smith), but the general expression probably dates to the mid 1960s (at least). It was a pretty popular sentiment among the the people whom Wolfie Smith was created to mock. It also became a joke almost as soon as it became popular; references to someone being “first” “up against the wall” or “to be shot” (when the revolution comes) were a pretty standard mocking insult when I was in college, although its shorter form is also easy to confuse with the common phrase “up against the wall” that indicated police arresting someone and ordering them to stand spread-eagle facing a wall to be frisked.

There is a Nero Wolfe story from 1939 with a slightly different version of this phrase: referring to a wealthy mans’ fancy town car, Archie says “Come the revolution, I’ll take that”. Referring, presumably, to a redistribution of wealth after a revolution.

So it would seem that phrases like that were in common use. Probably dating from the Communist revolution in 1917, or even back to the French Revolution in the 1700’s.

David Peel used the phrase “Up Against the Wall” back in 1968, in his album Have a Marijuana. It didn’t originate with him, but was a common phrase back then.

That’s what “up against the wall” means? I always thought it meant “assume the proper position for a police search.”
OK, so I’m an idiot…

A lot of great phrases came out of the era of revolution.

Jack London, who died in 1916, used “Yours for the Revolution” instead of “Yours Truly,” at the end of his letters. It was an era when people were poised for a great clearing away. A generation later, when the children of the pioneer Socialists were being targeted by McCarthism, they were known as “Red diaper babies.”

By the 1930’s, the Socialists’ tiresome practice of relating all events and situations along Marxists doctrine of class struggle gave rise to (my favorite) the cynic’s rejoinder “you can’t class-angle a blowjob.”

“To the Wall” goes back as far as the Commune of 1870 Paris, when both sides did exactly that (and the callouses or lack thereof on peoples hands were used as shibboleths to determine if they’d be shot or spared).

The French Revolution gave us any phrase involving “tumbrels,” the refuse carts used to convey the nobility to their deaths.

Back then, the goal was to defeat the radical Communists & Anarchists without alienating the working people they claimed to represent. Today we seem to be doing the same vis-a-vie the radical Islamicists and the ordinary Moslems. I wonder if this will produce any colorful phrases?

It appears that Black Panther Bobby Seale also used the phrase in a speech at the Fillmore East in 1968, saying either “Up against the wall, motherfuckers, we’ve come for what’s ours!” (or “this is a stickup” according to other sources), addressing white society. In addition to police, hold-up men would also tell their quarry to stand against the wall. There was also a radical group in New York called “Up Against the Wall Motherfucker.”

The phrase is also used in the Jefferson Airplane song We Can Be Together (1969).

This implies a meaning similar to both the revolutionary phrase and that of Bobby Seale: it is addressed to capitalist society.

*lyrics sheets say “fred,” or sometimes “my friend,” but “motherfucker” is clearly what’s said.

Doing some more thinking, I remember this phrase in its entirity being used whilst I was at University in the UK- 1971-74, thus predating Citizen Smith.

It was often used sardonically of International Socialists or members of the International Marxist Group (splitters) by liberals or conservatives.

A Marxist would be spouting their repetitive catch phrases, and a non Marxist would say "He’ll be the first up against the wall when the revolution comes.

Of course, I remember ‘Up against the wall M***** F*****’ from the sixties in the US.

The phase reached its apotheosis, of course, in the tune Redneck Mother by Jerry Jeff Walker:

Up against the wall, redneck mother
Mother who has raised her son so well
He’s 34 and drinking in a honky tonk
Just kicking hippies’ asses and raising hell

Actually, Jerry Jeff covered it. It was written by Ray Wiley Hubbard.

D’oh! I knew that…I even had a copy of Viva Terlingua sitting nearby and didn’t bother to actually read the credits…

Well, depending on context, it can mean either, hence my comment that the two phrases can be confused.

“Line up to be shot” or “assume the position” are both pretty hostile expressions; they just both happened to use the image of a wall with the common verb phrase “up against.”

:smack: I missed that! Sorry!

huh, I always assumed it referred to firing squads.

Seems to me there are at least three different antecedents for “up against the wall” based on the above references.

  1. Execution by firing squad (after the revolution).

  2. Being held up by a mugger (Bobby Seale’s usage).

  3. Being frisked by the police.

As an exclamation, these days it seems to refer mostly to #3, as in the song Redneck Mother.

This is what I’ve always thought–the phrase calls to mind the executions of the generals Lecomte and Thomas, who had ordered their troops to fire on the crowds of Parisians who were blocking them from seizing the National Guard’s cannons on the Butte Montmartre. After the troops refused these orders, the generals were taken captive, and eventually forced against the garden wall of a nearby house where they were shot to death.

And, yes, many of the Communards suffered a similar fate when the Commune fell–being lined up against walls (like the Mur des Federes in the Pere Lachaise cemetery) or their own barricades where they were shot by firing squads.

Any relationship to “Watch the wall”? Basically an admonition to deliberately NOT witness when smugglers are doing their thing, so that the smugglers would know they didn’t have to kill you to prevent your being a witness against them.
First verse of Kipling’s “A Smuggler’s Song”:

If you wake at Midnight, and hear a horse’s feet,
Don’t go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street,
Them that asks no questions isn’t told a lie.
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!

Up against the wall (of what used to be the university library) was where the bodies of abortionists, “unwomen,” and “gender traitors” were hung in The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.