Per Olsson, Rattvisepartiet Socialisterna (Sweden)
The October socialist Revolution in Russia was met with enthusiasm from workers and the oppressed around the world. Not least in neighbouring Finland which was under Russian control since 1809. It was a large principality of the Tsarist Empire, an empire which the Bolsheviks referred to as the “prison of nations”. One week after the October Revolution (which took place in early November according to today’s calendar), the Finnish workers’ movement launched a general strike and for a few days workers held power in most parts of the country.
The general strike in Finland, from 14-19 November, was a powerful demonstration of strength of the working class and poor. The domestic bourgeoisie, which was already terrified after the October Revolution, was increasingly shaken to its core. But because the general strike was called off just on the verge of a revolutionary breakthrough, it meant that the weakened government was given time to recover and to prepare its revenge.
The class war, the Finnish Civil War from late January to May 1918, was a direct consequence of the bourgeoisie’s fear that the October Revolution in Russia would be followed by a socialist revolution in Finland. The Whites, the counter-revolutionary forces, supported by German imperialism, sent weapons and 10,000 soldiers to Finland, and the 1917-18 Finnish revolution was defeated. The terror of the Whites, which “would turn the Reds into a pariah caste”, during and after the Civil War, provides a horrific example of how far reaction is prepared to go. The extent of the violence and terror can only be compared to the massacre that ended the Paris Commune in 1871, when more than 30,000 people were killed.
In Finland, 1918, 30,000 workers were killed, of which 10,000 were executed in the weeks following the end of hostilities. Around 13,000 died in the concentration-like prison camps set up after the Civil War. An estimated 80,000, close to 3% of the country’s population, were imprisoned.
What happened in Finland more than 100 years ago also gives a terrifying picture of what would have happened in Russia and the other newly formed Soviet republics if the White counter-revolutionary troops, supported by 21 foreign armies, had won the Civil War that broke out in 1918 after the October Revolution.
The counter-revolution’s blind fury in 1918 marked the culmination of a revolutionary crisis that had arisen in Finland immediately after the February Revolution and the Tsar’s fall in Russia in March 1917. The dramatic development of events in Finland 1917-18 is a story filled with dearly bought lessons that can be summed up with the conclusion that the socialist revolution needs a party and a leadership in order to win.
Since 1809, Finland had been under Russian sovereignty. In both Russia and Finland, the first years of the 20th century were marked by workers’ increasing organisation and struggle. In 1899, Finland’s workers’ party was founded before later changing its name to Finland’s Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1903. The SDP quickly became a mass party.
Outbreaks of struggle in Tsarist Russia and Finland influenced each other. The Russian Revolution in 1905, when the masses rose against the Tsar, became the starting point of an extensive struggle in Finland for democracy, national self-determination and huge social reforms.
“On 13 April 1905, 11,000 Helsinki workers demonstrated in favour of universal suffrage. It was, up to that point, the biggest demonstration in the history of Finland. The closing meeting gathered 35,000 participants.” (Finland’s röda garden [Finland’s Red Guard] by Carsten Palmær and Raimo Mankinen).
At the end of October and early November 1905, Finland’s workers launched a general strike to put pressure on the Tsar to make concessions. Even the wealthy joined in, but the class divisions were obvious. It was Finland’s workers and the poor in rural areas who were at the forefront of the struggle for independence and democracy. The local bourgeoisie, those who owned the factories and the land, tended to time and time again unite with the Russian Tsarist regime against the masses.
Workers’ defence forces
During the general strike and the subsequent strike wave in 1906, workers were forced to form their own defence forces. The Finnish bourgeoisie and the big landowners also armed themselves and built so-called Protection Corps which were also used to attack workers’ struggle.
“During the years 1906-07, Protection Corps were formed in order to smother the left’s revolutionary aspirations. The Protections Corps and the Tsarist government in Russia were thus on the same page” (Finland 1917-20, Volume 1).
As a result of the revolutionary struggles in Finland and Russia in 1905 and 1906, the Tsar’s regime was forced to make concessions. For Finland, it meant that the old Diet (based on the Estates) was abolished and replaced by a new parliament where the 200 members would be elected by universal suffrage with equal voting rights for men and women. Finland therefore became the first country in Europe where women also had the right to vote and the first country in the world where women had the right to stand in elections.
The Finnish parliament was the most democratic parliament of its day. “Fear of the discontent of the workers and the reaction in Russia meant that not even the conservatives dared to delay the reform”(Finland 1917-20, Volume 1).
The years 1905 and 1906 also became years of rapid organisation and the influx of new members pushed the workers’ movement to the left. Several of the people who would play an influential role in the Finnish Revolution 1917-18 – OW Kuusinen, Kullervo Manner, Edvard Gylling, Yrjö Sirola and others – joined the SDP in 1905.
The workers’ fear of armed attacks against their struggle proved to be justified when a bourgeois militia attacked striking workers at Hakaniemi Market Square in Helsinki in August 1906. After that, the bourgeois Protection Corps became “slaughter corps” in the eyes of workers.
The first free elections in 1907 were a huge success for Finland’s Social Democratic Party which, at its congress the year before, had taken several steps to the left and adopted a programme that united the social struggle with the struggle for national self-determination. The Social Democrats became the largest party in the election and won 80 of the 200 seats in the parliament. With dismay, both the Tsar and the local bourgeoisie were able to state that the Social Democrats and the workers’ movement had succeeded in winning a very strong position.
The SDP’s growing strength was also reflected by very rapid growth in its membership figures. “By the end of 1906, the organised workers were stronger than ever. In 1904, the Social Democratic Party had 16,600 members and in 1906, just over 85,000.” (Finlands röda garden [Finland’s Red Guard).
In relation to its population, at least, the Finnish workers’ movement was, at that point, the strongest in the world. However, the democratic breakthrough and increased self-determination that the masses won would not be permanent. When the revolutionary wave ebbed, Tsarism was able to once again consolidate its totalitarian rule. The parliament was continually dissolved and Finland was subjected to several ‘Russification’ campaigns.
Again and again, the hopes for profound social improvements and, in particular, an end to the tenant farmers’ forced tenancies, as well as the difficult situation faced by farm workers, were extinguished. It was through, among other things, its struggle for the rights of hundreds of thousands of tenant farmers and farm workers that the early social democracy was built, something which is masterfully portrayed in Väinö Linna’s trilogy, “Under the North Star”.
Within the Finnish workers’ movement, bureaucratism and parliamentarianism had not found the same foothold as it had, for example, in the Swedish workers’ movement, which was also strong and had enormous weight in society even before the revolutionary years of 1917 and 1918. There were parliamentarians and trade union officials in Finland who tended to distance themselves from the conditions of their members and see themselves as mediators in the class struggle.
Even if Finland was the first country to introduce universal suffrage for men and women, the parliament was shut down time and time again and increased autonomy existed only on paper. Municipal voting rights were still severely limited and that, together with the fact that the Finnish workers’ movement was forced to contend with both Tsarism and the resistance of the local capitalists and landowners, meant that the strong fighting traditions that emerged in 1905-06 were kept alive even after the situation had ebbed after 1907 and activity had decreased.
Outbreak of war
The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 led to increased repression in Finland with a ban on strikes and more and more Russian troops were stationed in the country. Finland was, in practice, placed under a Russian military dictatorship.
Finnish workers, however, escaped being called into the military, though the sons of the upper class, who served as officers of the Russian army, took part with enthusiasm in the war being waged by Russian imperialism. One of those Finnish officers was Gustaf Mannerheim, who would later become the commander of the White Guard and its chief executioner.
During the first years of the war, the Tsar’s investments and constructions projects in Finland, which were designed to make a German invasion more difficult, gave rise to an economic boom and continued industrialisation. But alongside the war boom, there was also a shortage of goods and prices continued to rise. The lack of provisions in the big cities led to a particularly deep crisis. In 1917, the war boom came to an end and tens of thousands of workers were forced into unemployment.
In the 1916 election, the Social Democrats won a historic election victory, winning a majority – 103 seats – in the parliament, but it would be a while before the parliament, closed on the orders of the Tsar, would open again.
It was not until the 1917 February Revolution in Russia (which took place in March, according to today’s calendar) that the Finnish parliament met. Its socialist majority was a direct threat to both the capitalists and big farmers in Finland and eventually to the Provisional Government that had been formed in Russia after the February Revolution. This government was initially met warmly by workers and the rural poor in Finland who jubilantly united with the revolting Russian soldiers in Finland.
The fall of the Tsar opened the way for an offensive from Finland’s workers to recapture what had been lost during the years of the war, as well as for an eight-hour working day and municipal voting rights.
The new Provisional Government in Russia, which the bourgeoisie today praises as “democratic”, insisted on the formation of a coalition government in Finland and announced that the parliament would remain a non-sovereign assembly. The Provisional Government’s ‘Great Russian’ attitude and its willingness to continue the war meant that it quickly came into conflict with the masses in Finland, as well as in Russia.
The parties making up the Provisional Government were only prepared to give Finland severely limited and conditional autonomy. In Russia, it was only the Bolsheviks who fully supported Finland’s right to self-determination, including the right to form an independent state.
The leadership of the Finnish Social Democrats, despite extensive internal opposition to “ministerial socialism”, eventually agreed to enter a coalition government. The government that was formed, known as the Senate, was made up of an equal number of members from parties of the bourgeoisie and the Social Democrats, but on the side of the bourgeoisie, there was also the Russian Governor-General who held a casting vote. The coalition government was thus a bourgeois government, despite the SDP’s majority in the parliament.
The late spring of 1917 saw strikes for an eight-hour working day and collective agreements, as well as local general strikes for municipal voting rights. The metal workers were the first to come out on strike in April and they decided that from then on, they would only work eight hours per day.
“When the workers in many places decided to apply the eight-hour day, the bourgeoisie had nothing to oppose them with. The Finnish military had been dissolved by the Tsar in 1901 and the hated gendarmerie was dissolved after the March (February) Revolution. The bourgeoisie was left without a police force and a military, and in Helsinki, for example, the city council was forced to declare that the eight-hour day had been implemented locally”. (Finland’s röda garden).
The situation was also developing in the countryside; tenant farmers and rural workers launched an offensive for reduced working hours.
Through local general strikes, the workers won representation in the municipal assemblies. One bourgeois minister said that it was no longer about normal strikes, but “about an uprising” and the big bourgeois newspaper, ‘Helsingin Sanomat’, wrote in terror that the masses had begun to “unilaterally change conditions.”
It was a time of developing workers’ organisation and struggle. By the end of 1917, the Social Democrats had 120,000 members, an incredible figure, and the Finnish trade union federation, had 160,000 members. The new members tended to be more left-wing, and an impatient opposition to the leadership’s willingness to cooperate began to emerge.
The workers’ movement and the bourgeoisie were engaged in a decisive battle about what class should form the new state power after the fall of the Tsar. There was no police or domestic army. In the cities, the workers’ militias formed the new police force and the bourgeoisie hurried to form Protection Corps that would protect their class interests.
The battle of how the new state power was to be formed, and by which class, inevitably led to the class struggle becoming increasingly irreconcilable, without room for compromise.
The Finnish bourgeoisie also had an ally in German imperialism, which sought to expand eastwards and planned to take control of Finland, as part of the war against Russia. Of course, German imperialism tried to conceal its plans for conquest by supporting Finland’s independence efforts. These were empty promises, but the Finnish bourgeoisie were satisfied because they could now expect military support from the Kaiser in Germany in their attempts to build a military force to be used against Finland’s workers.
Alongside new weapon deliveries and the support that Germany would contribute, it should also be noted that a number of years previously a Finnish Army Ranger battalion had been formed and trained in Germany, and had fought on the side of the Kaiser in the war against Russia. About 1,000 men from this Ranger battalion, after those who were suspected of having left-wing sympathies had been purged, were sent back to Finland at the beginning of 1918 to join the counter-revolutionary White Army.
At the same time that the revolutionary crisis was coming to a head in Finland, the influence of the Bolsheviks was growing in Russia and among the Russian soldiers in Finland which, not without reason, was known as the Russian revolution’s ‘Red Flank’.
The Social Democrats’ conference in June 1917 was attended by Russian revolutionaries, both the Bolsheviks and the right-wing social democratic Mensheviks. The Bolsheviks were represented by Alexandra Kollontai who, “at the behest of Lenin, supported the demand for immediate Finnish independence, while criticising the Russian Provisional Government for oppressing small nations and peoples. Her speech received a huge response from many delegates. The Menshevik, Lydia Cederbaum, was met with much less enthusiasm when she said in her that speech that the issue of Finland’s independence should instead be settled by a future Russian National Assembly”, according to Tobias Berglund and Niclas Sennerteg in their recently published book, “Finska inbördeskriget” [The Finnish Civil War], which will be reviewed in a forthcoming issue of Offensiv.
At the same conference, a decision was made that the SDP should join the Zimmerwald movement which had united the social democratic parties and activists who, after the collapse of the Socialist International at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, had raised a socialist, internationalist flag against the war.
Unfortunately, the authors, in their depiction of Russia and Finland in July 1917, reiterate the lies told in the official histories. The July Days in Russia, which were preceded by the Kerensky government’s devastating new war offensive, are described, for example, as “Lenin’s failed coup in Petrograd,” and the “Power Act” (the declaration of sovereignty made by the SDP-dominated parliament in July) is reduced to “the debacle in the shadow of the Bolsheviks’ first failed coup attempt”.
The July Days were not, just like the October Revolution was not, “a coup”. The July Days showed that the Bolsheviks had majority support among the workers in Petrograd and other cities, as well as a majority in the Soviets established by the Russian troops in Finland. But the Bolsheviks were aware that this was not enough for the oppressed to be able to seize and retain power. It was necessary to also win over the masses in the countryside, as well as those who were still prepared to follow the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries.
Trotsky writes in his, ‘History of the Russian Revolution’ (Volume 2): “The workers and soldiers under the leadership of the Bolsheviks would have conquered the power – but only to prepare the subsequent shipwreck of the revolution. The question of power on a national scale would not have been decided, as it was in February, by a victory in Petrograd.”
To describe the July Days as a “failed Bolshevik coup” is a shameful crime against both the truth and history, and it only serves to excuse the repression that Kerensky’s Provisional Government initiated against the Bolshevik and Russia and Finland’s fighting workers. Kerensky’s government, a government of Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, arrested Trotsky and other Bolshevik leaders. Lenin was forced to flee. With the help of the bourgeois press, a huge smear campaign was launched against the Bolsheviks with the aim of preventing a socialist revolution.
The July Days in Russia and the subsequent repression against the Bolsheviks also made an immediate and obvious impression on developments in Finland.
In July, the majority of the parliament voted for the so-called ‘Power Act’, a declaration of sovereignty that gave power to the Finnish parliament on all issues except foreign and defence policy. At the same time, the parliament also decided to introduce a law on an eight-hour working day and municipal voting rights. But the Provisional Government in Russia completely rejected the parliament’s declaration of sovereignty and once again showed its hostile attitude towards Finland’s claim to national self-determination.
This government, which the bourgeoisie describe as “democratic”, was prepared to respond to the Power Act by introducing military rule in Finland. New troops were also sent to Finland to replace those regarded by the Kerensky government as “unreliable” and under the influence of Bolsheviks. But even these new troops would soon support the Bolsheviks and, as a result, they did not become the instruments of repression that Kerensky had hoped for.
The Finnish bourgeoisie worked in tandem with the Kerensky government. It was also on the advice of Finland’s capitalist class that the Provisional Government dissolved the parliament and announced new elections in October. Together with the Provisional Government’s highest representative in Finland, Governor-General Stahovich, the Senate voted to dissolve the parliament and repeal the Power Act, which also stopped the introduction of the eight-hour working day and universal suffrage in the municipal elections.
“Now we can finally put an end to the socialists’ intrigues with the Bolsheviks,” said KJ Ståhlberg, the leader of the bourgeois Young Finnish Party, afterwards. Ståhlberg became Finland’s first president after the Civil War.
The Power Act received an enormous response in Finland. A picture of the hope that it awoke is given in Volume 2 of Väinö Linna’s, “Under the North Star”: “Now liberation had come. There were meetings all the time. With cheers of hurrah and singing: ‘Long love the eight-hour working day law, ‘long live municipal voting rights’. But the most powerful cry was reserved for the Power Act: ‘Long live the Power Act. Now we are all emperors.'”
But after the Finnish bourgeoisie and the Provisional Government came together to oppose the Power Act and democracy, meetings were held where the speaker began like this: “Comrades, once more I must inform you that we have been deceived again. The bourgeois senators, together with the Governor-General, have promulgated the dissolution manifesto. Once again, the people of Finland have witnessed how their lords have sold their country for the right to keep slaves”.
The Socialist Democratic majority in the parliament, however, refused to subordinate itself to the dictates of the Provisional Government and the bourgeoisie. No social democrats participated in the puppet government / Senate that was formed after the parliament was dissolved and which served as a caretaker government in advance of the October elections. These elections were announced in order to remove the Social Democratic majority and give the united bourgeois front a chance to mobilise before the election.
During the autumn, the situation became much tenser, on all fronts. The food shortages increased and the struggle for which class should form the basis of the new state came increasingly to a head. In 1917, around 500 strikes took places and from these bitter battles, workers’ militias emerged once again, especially in the industrialised areas of southern Finland.
The bourgeoisie’s Protection Corps were police forces that protected the big farmers and capitalists, and when necessary, they would attack strikes. This had already happened in 1906-1907, and it was repeated again in 1917, for the first time in July when armed landowners opened fire against strikers.
Sometimes the Protection Corps claimed to be fire brigades or the “forces of order”. But regardless of the name, they would become the backbone of the counter-revolutionary army. The bourgeois militias were initially more in number than the workers’ militias. After more than one hundred Protection Corps were formed in both August and September 1917, there were Protection Corps in at least two thirds of the country’s municipalities.
The election in October resulted in the Social Democrats losing their majority, despite gaining more than 60,000 more votes than in 1916.The Social Democrats, who declared the election illegal after the dissolution of the parliament but who still participated, also had to deal with the fact that many workers and the poor in the countryside began to think it was not worth voting; it took more than parliamentary seats to win social and national liberation.
Or as Victor Serge points out in his book, ‘Year One of the Russian Revolution’: “But just as the Finnish proletariat could scarcely resign itself before this electoral defeat, so the Finnish bourgeois could as little remain satisfied with such a precarious ‘victory’.
Matters had to be settled with an extra-parliamentary conclusion. The bourgeois had long foreseen this outcome, and made conscientious preparations for a civil war. It was a showdown which the Finnish Social Democratic Party, formed over twenty years in the mould of German Social-Democracy, had hoped to avoid.”
The new parliament and the bourgeois Senate/government were unable to and uninterested in solving any social problems; their focus was on trying to consolidate a bourgeois state power. This, in turn, inevitably led to a sharpening of the revolutionary crisis and escalating bourgeois attacks against the workers and their organisations.
Class struggle and radicalisation
The election was followed by a sharpening of class struggle and radicalisation; society and the workers’ movement turned to the left. In October, the workers’ movement began to seriously take on the task of forming workers’ militias in response to the growing number of Protections Corps and the emergence of the White Army that was under construction. But it did not happen in a coordinated and conscious way, and not as part of a conscious political move as part of the preparations for a revolutionary socialist struggle.
That the bourgeoisie in autumn 1917 began preparing to drown the workers’ movement in blood is shown not least by the fact that the capitalists were prepared to finance a massive programme for the military rearmament of the Protection Corps.
On 3 October, a meeting was held between Helsinki’s largest capitalists and bankers and the future staff of the White Army, where it was claimed that the country could only be “rescued” by armed troops. The big financiers immediately promised a loan to be used for the purchase of weapons and which the government promised to pay back with tax money, as soon as it had defeated the working class. That same month, weapons from Germany began arriving for the counter-revolutionary forces.
The October Revolution in 1917 quickly pulled the Finnish workers’ movement to the left, at least at the grassroots level, and parts of the leadership saw the October Revolution as an example that should be followed immediately, and they wanted to begin a struggle for power.
The right-wing of the Social Democrats and the ever-wavering centre opposed a revolutionary insurgency with the excuse that the time was not ripe, which was completely false, or with claims that “we might not win”. But in November 1917, time was more than ripe, and in order to implement the relatively modest, ‘We demand’ programme’s call for social reforms that the workers’ movement put forward on 8 November – such as that the already decided upon eight-hour day should come into force along with municipal voting rights, that measures should be introduced to deal with food shortages and that the bourgeois Protection Corps should be disarmed – a revolutionary seizure of power was necessary.
The influence of the October Revolution was also reflected by the leadership of the SDP and the trade union congress. In the joint Workers’ Revolutionary Central Council that they formed, one of the three members supported the demand for a revolutionary takeover, and the union congress called for a revolution if the parliament did not accept the We Demand programme. The general strike that the leadership agreed to call for did not initially have the character of a struggle for power, but rather it was limited to a demonstration of strength. This would turn out to be a disastrous decision that also split the workers’ movement, even if the left avoided challenging the right and the centre. As a result, this false striving for unity allowed the wing within the workers’ movement that opposed revolution to set the tone.
The general strike that the union congress and Social Democrats called for was reduced to a show of strength instead of a revolutionary struggle for power. During the general strike that began on 14 October, which the trade union congress had made a decision on in the days beforehand, the workers actually took over large parts of Finland. By this time, the counter-revolution had not yet established its military superiority. The bourgeoisie was paralysed and confused. The Protection Corps that existed could have been disarmed.
But the strike’s success also frightened the right wing of the workers’ movement, which quickly wanted end the strike and, most of all, to find a way back to parliamentarism and cooperation with the bourgeoisie. Unfortunately, there was no alternative leadership that could accomplish the urgent task of consolidating the power that the workers had conquered during the five-day general strike.
“The general strike is over – the revolution continues!” With that slogan, the strike was ended and in order to at least give the impression that they were prepared to continue the struggle, the strike leaders promised also to work to form a Red Senate/government in the parliament. A Red Senate, which would be formed with the bourgeois parliament as its basis, was wishful thinking. The slogan also contained the hopes of the right wing Socialist Democrats that they would be able to form a new coalition government with the political representatives of the ruling class.
But the bourgeoisie had no interest in cooperating with the right wing Social Democrats who they believed could no longer control the workers, particularly the workers’ movement’s armed militias. The bourgeoisie instead used their majority in the parliament to advance the counter-revolution and formed a White Army, which inevitably led to the bourgeois Senate/ government, under the leadership of Prime Minister P.E. Svinhuvfud, becoming more authoritarian, something which even the official histories acknowledge.
“In practice, the supreme power was, with the appointment of Svinhufvud’s senate (15 November 1917), transferred from the parliament to the Senate, which was a bitter loss for the SDP. The bourgeoisie gained new self-confidence with the ending of the general strike, and this self-confidence made it possible for the bourgeoisie to maintain its leadership”, writes the Finnish Parliament on its website.
During the general strike, the parliament and the Senate rushed to introduce the eight-hour working day and universal suffrage in municipal elections, and they even introduced their own Power Act. This was done in order to, if possible, cut across mobilisation to the general strike but it failed. The general strike was enormously successful and even the leadership was infected by the growing revolutionary mood.
The demand that the workers should take power was discussed at the Revolutionary Central Council on 16 November. It won a majority at first, but after pressure from the right, it was rejected in a new ballot by a single vote. Just a few days later, the same assembly, with a small majority, voted to end the strike.
The general strike was ended after a majority of party members had said no to forming a new workers’ government on the basis of the strike committees and the workers’ control that had begun to be established locally. The workers had power, but the decisions of the leadership meant that the bourgeois power was given time to recover and to arm itself. This was devastating at a time when the threat of civil war was on the agenda.
There was also widespread criticism over the fact that the general strike had been called off before it had really begun, and that the leadership was retreating when the conditions for a revolutionary breakthrough were best. The leadership “gave the order for retreat at the moment when the workers seemed to be on the edge of victory”, wrote some critical workers in Turku, and correctly so.
Even bourgeois historians are forced to admit this. “The strike was successful and almost assumed the character of a revolution, even though no one actually led the events. In many places, the strike committees took power, work stopped in particular at industrial sites, and the power of the workers’ militias increased. The powerless and paralysed opposition could only follow the course of events. The aim of the moderate socialist leaders was, through the strike, to divert the people’s attention away from revolution and instead create a situation where conditions could be improved through reforms. However, this failed, and instead, the leadership of the party lost further control over the masses (Finland 1917-20, Volume 1).
The right wing of the workers’ movement, supported by the centre’s constant wavering alongside a lack of confidence in the strength of the working class, reduced the general strike to a mobilisation that had barely begun to be felt before it was called off. In the absence of a revolutionary alternative, like the Bolsheviks in Russia, this paved the way for the bloody defeat of the working class during the class war in 1918. Before that, and frightened by both the general strike and the October Revolution, the bourgeois senate had announced Finland’s independence at the beginning of December, officially on 6 December. The Social Democrats voted against the bourgeoisie’s declaration of independence and put forward their own, which also included recognition of the Soviet government. The bourgeoisie opposed this declaration since they assumed that such recognition would make it difficult to overthrow.
It was the struggle of the workers in Finland and the October revolution that gave Finland independence. When the Finnish government finally requested independence at the end of December, it was immediately accepted by the Soviet government on 31 December 1917.
After that, the countdown towards civil war began. The workers’ movement was divided, albeit not formally. A revolutionary wing had strong support in the larger cities, especially among the Red Guards that the Social Democratic leadership had lost control of.
But after the general strike, the ruling class had been given the time they needed to, at first secretly and then openly, prepare for class war. In mid-January 1918, the Bonapartist Senate handed over power to Mannerheim, who was given free rein to “restore order.”
What happened after that will be discussed in future articles. But the breakthrough of the workers’ movement in Finland, despite an increase in both national oppression and brutal class oppression, is both a source of inspiration and a powerful example of the strength of collective struggle.
But when Finland officially celebrates its 100th anniversary on 6 December, it will not be workers’ struggle or the October Revolution that is celebrated, but rather the bourgeois government and ruling class who bear responsibility for one of history’s greatest crimes – the massacre of 30,000 workers in 1918. This should never be forgotten.
In today’s struggle for socialism, the memory of previous generations’ struggles should be honoured and kept alive. It is only through the workers and the oppressed taking power, as we saw in Russia, October-November, 100 years ago, that the world can be freed from all class violence, exploitation and oppression.