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 the Finnish Communist Party is, however, a necessary prelude to a discussion of the present situation.

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 capitalism was hard, but deliberately selective: it did not suppress all labour organizations as such, but carefully permitted the development of a reformist social-democracy, while persecuting and banning communism. Most important of all, an agrarian reform was implemented which detached the Finnish small peasantry from the labour movement, by abolishing its ties of dependence on the landowning class and rich peasantry in the countryside. The result was to capture the allegiance of the rural masses for the bourgeois Agrarian Party, and to deprive Finnish socialism thereafter of its political hinterland in the countryside.

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 forces’ were in power anyway, and had no intention of relaxing the ban on the skp—let alone of co-operating with it. Meanwhile, in the ussr, a yet grimmer tragedy overtook Finnish Communism than it had suffered in Finland itself. After the Civil War in 1918, tens of thousands of Finnish workers had fled to Russia, and the exodus continued even later. Finnish Communism thus was a mass phenomenon in the ussr itself, where not only the leadership of the skp but a very numerous border and exile population existed. In 1920 this community was granted a highly autonomous republic, the ‘Karelian Commune’ on the Finno-Soviet frontier. It was led by Gylling, a personal friend of Lenin, and even during the first decade of Stalin’s rule remained relatively unbureaucratized. But after the assassination of Kirov in 1934, and the onset of the Great Terror, the new Leningrad Party leadership started ominous denunciations of ‘bourgeois nationalism’ in Karelia. In 1935, the leaders of the Republic, including Gylling, were evicted, and subsequently imprisoned for ‘espionage’. Then in 1936–7, the whole Karelian Commune was Russified and 20,000 Finnish Communists and other emigrants were deported to labour camps or shot. The whole leadership of Finnish Communism—accused of ‘immorality’ by Dimitrov—was destroyed, with the single exception of Stalin’s acolyte Otto Kuusinen. footnote1 By 1938, the entire first generation of Finnish Communists—except those in bourgeois prisons in Finland—had been eliminated. The continuity of the skp as a revolutionary party was definitively broken. From 1937 onwards, Russian financial aid to the skp inside Finland was frozen, and for the next seven years it existed on paper only: from 1937 to 1944, the skp ceased to function as a real political party in Finland. It was not consulted by Stalin when the ussr declared war on Finland in 1939, nor was it even nominally associated with the client Terijoki government which he briefly created and then shut down as a propaganda office for an advance of the Red Army—which, in the event, failed to occur. Thus, even after the outbreak of the Second World War proper in the Baltic theatre, with the Nazi attack on Russia in 1941—flanked by the troops of the Finnish regime in the North, the skp was never able to build a Resistance movement in any way comparable to that in France, Italy or Czechoslovakia. Extremely tight police controls, and German military presence in Finland, kept Communist activity within narrow limits—confining it essentially to scattered acts of sabotage and (later and more effectively) calls for desertion.

The military collapse of the Finnish Army in late 1944, however, objectively created a pre-revolutionary situation in Finland, posing the most acute crisis for the bourgeois social order since 1917–18. The ruling-class was gripped with fear, in what it has since always referred to as the ‘years of danger’ from 1944 to 1948. There was a massive flight of capital, considerable emigration, and widespread secret stocking of arms for a domestic show-down, as peace was signed between Finland and the ussr. The discredit of the war regime, in which the Social-Democrats had been prominent, led to a huge popular swing to the left. The skp gained 50,000 new members by 1946; successive sectors of sdp deputies and militants went over to Communism; trade-union membership trebled; working-class strikes and demonstrations mounted in numbers and scale, in the capital and other cities. The skp won some 25 per cent of the vote in the first post-war elections, and controlled about a third of Cabinet posts in the government, including the Ministry of the Interior. No British or American troops were present to provide an external guarantee for the capitalist order, as they were in France or Italy: on the contrary, a ‘control commission’ for the implementation of the peace treaty headed by no less a dignitary than Zhdanov exercised rights of direct intervention in Finland, while a Soviet military base was stationed at Porkkala near Helsinki. Thus the skp, despite its far weaker record as a party of the Resistance, had a much better political opportunity for winning power than the pcf or pci after the Second World War. But its own policies precluded any chance of it taking this opportunity. These policies, of course, were themselves not determined in Helsinki or even merely in Moscow: they were decided at the big auctions in Teheran and Yalta, where Finland had been allocated to the ‘right’ side of the international divide for the skp in terms of zone of influence, but the wrong side in terms of social system.

The skp’s objectives were thus set within extremely narrow limits, whose very restrictions proved self-defeating: Finnish peace and amity with the ussr, ‘democratization’ of Finnish society, and the rebuilding of the Finnish economy to furnish reparations to Russia. For this task, the party devised a specific organizational structure to include a multilinked chain of democratic, more democratic and most democratic allies: a form of political fancy-dress absent from most other European cp’s, with perhaps the partial exception of the Greek. This was dubbed the Finnish People’s Democratic League (skdl), founded in 1944 at the advice of Zhdanov. The peculiar structure of this organization was later to be an important cause for the subsequent difficulties of Finnish Communism. The skdl was to be a polyclass front of all those ‘democratic’ forces—bourgeois or socialist—willing to work for the immediate tasks of peace, democracy and reconstruction. No ‘divisive’ socialist aims were to be taken up within it. The skp’s posture was that of the representative of the working class inside the skdl, and ever since 1944 it has participated in elections only through the skdl. The new apparatus was carefully planned. Its inner centre was composed of the exile leaders and underground militants of the old skp (some 1,500–2,000 cadres). This group took all significant decisions, transmitting them as a ‘general line’ downwards in the organization. The second circle in the skdl was composed of the 50,000 or so new members who had joined the skp in 1944–6—most them inexperienced and untrained, forming a politically and theoretically inferior mass, which the inner circle could easily manipulate as a transmission mechanism of skp policy into the factories and mass organizations. The third circle was composed of various youth, women’s and students’ organizations, and local branches of the skdl largely recruited from former socialdemocrats or other socialists outside the skp. The latter were naturally prevented from developing any political profile of their own, since the skp did not want any reformist competitors to it within its own ‘democratic front’: thus for long, these elements remained colourless accessories of the skdl. But the absurdity and impossibility of the whole scheme on which the skdl was erected was clear from the start, for despite the hopes of the skp, no ‘bourgeois-democratic’ forces ever contemplated joining the skdl, which remained a mere front between Stalinists and left reformists, controlled by the former. (Under the pressure of later events, both the ‘second-class’ Communists and the ‘non-party’ Socialists in the skdl were to acquire their own political views to such an extent that the skp could eventually become a sorcerer’s apprentice within its own creation). For the moment, however, the skdl was an obedient but not very successful instrument of Communist expansion in the political arena.