Since March 1966, Finland has been governed by a Popular Front coalition which includes the agrarian Centre Party, the Social-Democratic Party, and the Communist Party. The Finnish Popular Front is so far a unique phenomenon in Europe: it is the first time for 20 years that a Communist Party has held Ministerial positions in a Western government. The great historical importance of this experience is evident. For the present aim of the two great Communist Parties of the Western European mainland, the French and Italian parties, is to achieve what already exists in Finland today. The origins, evolution and outcome of the Finnish Popular Front thus have a significance that far surpasses the borders of Finland.

There is a second reason why the ‘Finnish model’ is of extraordinary interest to Marxists everywhere in Europe. After their achievement of a government coalition, the Finnish Communist Party, a mass party proportionately as large as the French or Italian CP’s, is now split from top to bottom, with two warring factions of equal size fighting for the loyalty of its members. This too is a unique experience. The May upheaval produced no serious dissension in the French Communist Party. Indeed it unanimously opted against driving the situation in a revolutionary direction precisely because to do so would have meant compromising its long-cherished strategy for a peaceful Popular Front. Ironically, the goal of the French and Italian parties has become the nemesis of the Finnish party. Perhaps Communists in France, Italy and other capitalist countries today may ask themselves to what extent they can glimpse their own future in the Finnish looking-glass?

It will be seen that the national peculiarities of Finland have been crucial determinants of the birth of the Popular Front there. But it would be wrong therefore to interpret it as merely the product of an idiosyncratic corner of Northern Europe. In fact, it is probable that the particularity of the Finnish situation has only released ‘prematurely’ a logic inherent in broad tendencies of contemporary capitalism and Western European Communism. It is essential both to do justice to the complexity of the Finnish situation and to its wider international significance. To do this it is necessary to explain how the present cooperation started. For the fact is that Communist participation in the Finnish government was not a result of any great ideological conversion in the leading lights of the Social-Democratic and Centre parties. This co-operation was born in 1966 because of the conjunction of the peculiarities of the political system with new structural problems of Finnish capitalism.

Three big parties, the Centre, the Social-Democrats and the Communists, have since the war each received 20 per cent or more of the electoral vote. The main bourgeois party, the conservative National Coalition, is much smaller than any of these three, and was discredited after the Second World War because of its record of anti-Soviet foreign policy: between the wars the Finnish Right pursued a violently anti-Russian and revanchist course, which eventually produced a military alliance with Nazi Germany and the invasion of Russia. This record politically disqualified the Conservatives after 1945, when the ussr showed implacable hostility to them, which no Finnish government could afford to ignore. Presidents Paasikivi and Kekkonen systematically tried to avoid inclusion of this party in post-war Cabinets.

This situation allowed the Centre Party, formerly the Agrarian Union, to become the dominant party in Finnish politics. Since 1956 it has controlled the Presidency in the person of Kekkonen, an extremely able politician who has exploited the considerable power which the Finnish constitution gives the President, while pursuing an external policy of very close and warm relations with the ussr. The dominance of the Centre Party throughout the ’fifties and ’sixties was thus both cause and consequence of the underdevelopment of Finnish capitalism. Industrialization has not been so advanced as in other Western and Northern European countries and the Centre has consciously delayed this process for electoral reasons. For its voters are mainly from the country—different kinds of farmers. The combination of domestic immobilism and external amity with the Russian neighbour has been the defining characteristic of the party.

The Finnish Social-Democratic Party appears to be a paradox. How is it to be understood that the same party which in 1961 made a pact with three bourgeois parties to the right of the Centre to defeat the Centre’s candidate Urho Kekkonen for the Presidency, five years later accepted Communists into a government presided over by a Social-Democratic Premier? Is the move from the right to the left as large as it would appear? To understand the peculiarities of the Finnish Social-Democratic Party compared to other European Social-Democratic organizations, it is essential to remember the role of foreign affairs in domestic politics. It is above all because of the latter that the SDP has not been able to pursue any coherent line. It has been very much a passive object of history and when it has tried to rise against historical realities—for example during the Presidential campaign of 1961–62 when it refused to heed the importance of Soviet interests—it has suffered heavy blows. The conflict between the anti-communist line of international Social-Democracy and the demands of the Finnish geo-political situation has often been so arduous that it has caused many sudden fluctuations in the SDP’s policy.

During the Second World War, the Finnish SDP was the only Social-Democratic Party in the world which fought side by side with the Nazis. Väinö Tanner, the Social-Democratic leader and Prime Minister during the invasion of the ussr, was the notorious symbol of this alliance of social-democracy and fascism. After the war, Tanner was jailed, under Soviet pressure. Thereafter for three years the sdp participated in a coalition government of ‘national reconstruction’ with the Centre Party and the Communists, similar to the tripartite governments in France, Italy and other European countries. The sdp emerged strengthened from this period, after a long fight with the cp in the trade-union movement. But its successes after the Communists were ousted from the government in 1948 caused new divisions within the party. Its trade-union leaders now considered they were entitled to increased power in the party. They formed the nucleus of the so-called Skogists (the party chairman was Emil Skog). Their opponents were dubbed Leskists, after the party general secretary Väinö Leskinen. Skogists started to co-operate with Communists against the Leskists in the trade-unions and mass organizations like the sports movement. In 1957, the Skogists were defeated by one vote at an extraordinary party congress and marched out of the party. They then formed the Workers’ and smallholders’ Social-Democratic League (tpsl), which remained a small party that vaguely tried to follow the ideological and political line of left socialist parties of Western Europe such as the psiup in Italy, and the psu in France. This process was mainly a matter of sending telegrams to the congresses of these parties. Today, the membership of the tpsl can generally be distinguished from that of the sdp only on the question of relations with the ussr.