Finland today presents the unique spectacle within the advanced capitalist world of a mass Communist Party that is now vertically divided into two hostile blocs on a semi-permanent basis. For over six years, Finnish Communism has lived amidst institutionalized schism, but has not yet formally split—unlike Greek or Spanish Communism. At the same time, Finland has witnessed the bizarre paradox of a youth radicalization that since 1968 has taken the form of a virulent Brezhnevism—something unknown beyond the shores of the Baltic. The lessons of this experience for an international typology of the decomposition of latter-day Communism are important for socialists everywhere; while for Finnish Marxists, an uncompromising historical balance-sheet of the whole record of the major party of the national working class is a precondition of any revolutionary advance at home. This article will be somewhat more limited in scope, devoted mainly to analysing the peculiarities and deformities of the Janus-phenomenon of the dual Communism that has developed in the last decade. Some recapitulation of the principal phases of the prior experience of
In the epoch of the Second International, the Finnish labour movement was in numerical terms the strongest in Europe. In the last decades of the Russian Empire, of which Finland was a subject province, Finnish Social-Democracy rallied not only the still small native working class, but also the far larger mass of poor tenants and agricultural labourers in the countryside, oppressed by a rural regime of harsh semi-feudal character. In 1907, it captured 80 out of 200 seats in the first election with universal suffrage; and in 1916, an outright majority in Parliament—the first to be won by a socialist party anywhere in the world. However, in every other respect, the Finnish sdp was a typical Second International Party with a formally ‘orthodox’ Marxist ideology and no strategy beyond a minimum programme. Its ideological level was extremely low. Despite the party’s formal participation in the Zimmerwald Conference during the First World War, it had minimal acquaintance with the writings of the European Marxist Left; nor did the extremely close objective connection between the Finnish and Russian Revolutions in both 1905–7 and 1917–18 ever lead the Finns to collaborate actively with the Russian revolutionaries (as did the Poles), or to learn anything from Bolshevik theory. The virtually complete absence of any intellectual component in the party was partly responsible for this: the Finnish intelligentsia was overwhelmingly wedded to bourgeois nationalism. However, it was just this nationalism—aimed, of course, against Russian Tsarism—to which the sdp anyway adapted, in the absence of any real tradition of revolutionary internationalism, co-operating with bourgeois parties in a form of ministerial socialism as late as 1917.
In that year, the October Revolution suddenly plunged the sdp into the turmoil of a revolutionary crisis, when it was still wavering between its traditional parliamentary orientation and a thunderous mass movement from below, which soon spontaneously threw up Red Guards on the Russian model. In January 1918, Civil War erupted: a Workers’ Republic was proclaimed in Helsinki and the South, while the White Guards of the landowners and bourgeoisie mobilized in the North. Four months later, the counter-revolution had triumphed—largely through the aid of German imperialism, which dispatched an expeditionary under General Von der Goltz across the Gulf of Finland to strike at the fragile revolutionary State in the rear. The leaders of the workers’ Republic fled to Russia, where in late 1918 they founded the Finnish Communist Party or skp. The Finnish bourgeoisie, meanwhile, exploited its fortunate military victory in the Civil War with great political skill and shrewdness. The collapse of its German protector at the end of the First World War obliged it to abandon its plans for a Teutonic-style monarchy. But the State over which the White general Mannerheim now became President, was soon a formidable apparatus in its own right. Throughout the next decade, it maintained—in addition to its permanent army—an Armed Civil Guard of 100,000 men. Execution and imprisonment accounted for the lives of 25,000 revolutionaries in the immediate reprisals after the Civil War. Thereafter long jail sentences for ‘treason’ were regularly imposed on underground militants. At the same time, the police repression of Finnish
During the 20s, the skp leadership remained based in exile in Russia, while the party operated through various front organizations in Finland. It succeeded in winning informal dominance of the Finnish trade unions, where its industrial militancy gave it an advantage over the Social-Democratic Party. Electorally, on the other hand, its average score of some 9–13 per cent of the vote was well below that of SocialDemocracy. The onset of the Great Depression of 1929–30, however, abruptly transformed the political situation in Finland once again. Just as the ‘Third Period’ was triumphantly proclaimed by the Comintern in 1928, and the skp was concentrating its fire on ‘social fascism’ in the ranks in the working-class movement itself, the Finnish bourgeoisie started to batter down strikes and unleash genuine rural fascism to break the resistance of labour to a reorganization of capitalist production, imposed by the economic crisis. In 1930, the Lapua movement—the Finnish version of petty-bourgeois agrarian fascism, created by the new and acute social stresses in the countryside—marched its armed brigades on Helsinki, and dictated the illegalization of all Communist front activity, the imprisonment of covert Communist deputies, and the dissolution of the Communist-dominated trade-union federation. Its task completed, the Lapua phenomenon was phased out by the conservative governments of the early 30s: but the hardened capitalist State it had helped to construct lasted until the end of the Second World War. The Finnish debacle was, in fact, the first major disaster of the Third Period line in Europe. Instead of drawing any lessons from it, the Comintern hypocritically blamed—not its own directives—but the skp’s failure to abandon ‘legal cretinism’ in time.
The political success of the prompt para-military crack-down of 1929–30 by the Finnish bourgeoisie permitted Finnish capitalism to stage a comparatively rapid economic recovery from the slump in the 30s. This upswing in turn allowed a shift from hard-line rightism to a centreleft formula at the governmental level, with the entry of the SocialDemocrats into a ministerial coalition in 1936. The shattered skp, after having denied the seriousness of fascism when it was genuinely rampant in the backwoods of Finland during the Third Period, was now obliged by the Comintern to switch to Popular Frontism—against the danger of fascism, just when the latter had ceased to be of direct importance in Finland any longer. Appeals to social-democrats and bourgeois constitutionalists to unite against the menace of fascism were naturally futile when both these newly baptized ‘progressive