Yellow Socialism vs. Fascism

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Fascism had a big impact on the world, but where did it come from? In this lesson, we'll look at some of the unexpected roots of Fascism and compare some related ideologies.

Moving Away From Democracy

Does democracy work? Most people in the world would agree that it does. Historically, however, some saw democracy as fundamentally flawed and weak. They believed that only a strong, authoritarian government could guarantee the survival of the state and that war was often a necessary tool for a country's growth.

So, how did people come to the conclusion that authoritarian control was better than democracy? The foundations may not be what you'd expect.

Socialism Stagnates

Our story begins in the 1880s and 1890s. Karl Marx's theories about the oppression of the working class and the inevitability of an international proletariat revolution were well known by this point. The problem was that the workers seemed to be struggling to gain any momentum.

In Marx's theory, capitalist nations were supposed to first transform into socialist ones, and then advance to communism. There were socialist parties in Europe, but they weren't overly successful.

In France, Italy, and Austria, some people started questioning why socialism had stagnated, and ultimately came to blame one main source: democracy. In their opinions, socialism was failing because of the belief that it and democracy could co-exist, at least in this stage of history.

However, to these new thinkers, the workers could advance only under a strong, totalitarian regime, and only by embracing a strong sense of nationalism as well. This new socialism was quickly moving away from Marx's vision.

Yellow Socialism

This emerging ideology was solidified by French politician Pierre Biétry, who founded a new organization called the Fédération Nationales des Jaunes de France in 1904. This new party would be a champion of what he called Yellow socialism (a term meant to distinguish it from the ''Red socialism'' of Marxism).

Pierre Bietry founded a new party that championed Yellow Socialism
Pierre Bietry

Yellow socialism believed in elevating the oppressed proletariat but rejected the focus on class warfare. Instead, Yellow socialists believed workers and companies could coexist. There was no need to create a classless society as long as both had their own means of organization, which could be achieved through unions.

The key to all of this, according to Yellow socialists, was the government. A weak government could not regulate the economy enough to preserve the relationship between trade and company unions, nor could it keep the nation secure. Thus, a heavily centralized, authoritarian government was a necessary part of Yellow socialism.

Yellow socialism became quickly obsessed with the concept of national strength, emphasizing stability and nationalism over workers' riots or the international focus of Marxism. Along these lines, Yellow socialist parties supported anti-immigration policies (because immigration brought in too many workers and undermined the organizing power of native-born laborers) and also became anti-Semitic, blaming Europe's Jewish population for economic crises that kept the working class oppressed.

From Yellow Socialism to Fascism

Many of these ideas had been circulating around Europe for a while, but the Yellow socialists were the first to really put them into practice. They wouldn't be the last.

French author Charles Maurras had described a form of socialism ''which, when stripped of its democratic and cosmopolitan accretions, would fit in with nationalism just as a well-made glove fits a beautiful hand''. The concept of a national socialism was embraced particularly in Italy, where author Enrico Corradini implied that imperialism would strengthen the nation and ultimately benefit the proletariat.

In 1915, these ideas were solidified under Benito Mussolini, whose supporters started calling themselves ''fascists''. While Yellow Socialism faded away after World War I, Fascism became a new model for several European nations.

The Fascists believed in hyper-nationalism, very strong borders, a large military, and the unquestionable superiority of their country. They were anti-immigration and generally anti-Semitic, but still identified themselves with socialism (or at least Biétry's form of Yellow socialism).

In Germany, this was taken even one step further and formally codified into a policy of National Socialism, more commonly known as Nazism.

Like Yellow socialism, Fascism celebrated the cult-like status of its dictators like Mussolini

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