The Crushing of Finland
By Harold Kellogg
[The Outlook; June 19, 1918]
In connection with this article the attention of the reader is directed to an article by Mr. Herman Montagu Donner entitled "The Tragedy of Finland," in our issue for May 15, in which Mr. Dormer defends the White Guards, and also to the editorial "Finland, Oppressed and Distracted," on another page of this present issue.—THE EDITORS.
The Finnish debacle occurred at a time when the eyes of the world were turned on the blood-drenched fields of Flanders, and thus the tragic denouement of the war in Finland has received little attention in the press. The fact is that the German occupation of Finland was accompanied by the most brutal slaughter of the population. Men and women in the political groups that were opposed to German control were lined up by the thousands and shot by the German soldiery. Finland became another Belgium, another Armenia.
The dramatic events on the western front have incidentally obscured the real significance of the occupation of Finland. This occupation places Germany within striking distance of the Russian Arctic ports of Kola and Archangel, the capture of which is part of her imperialistic plans. With these ports in German possession, Mittel-Europa will extend from the Mediterranean to the Arctic, Russia will be completely cut off in the west from direct contact with the Allied nations, and German submarines will have new bases on the open sea to menace Scandinavian shipping and control the great fishing banks off the coast of Norway.
The current news from Finland indicates that the Finnish Junkers, in alliance with Germany, are attempting to overthrow all the democratic institutions, including the single-chamber Diet based on equal suffrage, and set up a monarchy, with Duke Adolph Frederick, of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, the most reactionary of the German states, on the throne.
The average American knows little about Finland. It is a small country of three and a half million people off the main lines of travel. Our newspapers have had fragmentary reports of the "White" and "Red" struggles, but have given no clear idea of their significance. It is known that Finland was the first country to adopt the principle of proportional representation for its legislature, the first country to grant votes to women on equal terms with men, the first country to return a Socialist majority in its legislature.
Perhaps the fact that the majority of the Finnish people are Socialists makes it more difficult for many Americans to understand the situation there. The democratic movement in Finland takes the form of a Socialist movement because no mere political reconstruction would serve to overthrow the rigid feudal structure of society which, in spite of apparent advanced institutions, has endured up to to-day. A complete social and economic readjustment is necessary. The producing classes of Finland well realize that.
Up to 1905 the workers, of Finland were wholly without political rights. A great co-operative movement had grown up, I welding the mass of the people together. The labor and Socialist movement had fostered a popular culture and strongly organized the masses, so that the Revolution of 1905, which failed in Russia, secured a democratic Diet in Finland and certain other reforms.
n the first Diet the Socialists elected forty per cent of the members, by far the largest bloc, and increased this strength steadily in subsequent elections until at the last legal election, in 1916, they had a clear majority. But the Finnish Junkers managed to block most remedial legislation by utilizing the veto power of the Russian Czar. The Junkers, forming for the most part a Swedish-speaking aristocracy, still held all administrative and judicial offices by hereditary right in life tenures, and the big landed Junkers managed to exact compulsory labor from their tenants. Moreover, there were no local democratic institutions.
After the fall of the Czar the Socialist Diet of Finland, in accordance with the Constitution, declared the independence of the country, on July 18, 1917. The junkers, seeing in this the end of their feudal privileges, managed to persuade the then Russian Government to dissolve the Diet. This wholly illegal action was carried out by the sending of Cossack troops to Helsingfors to crush the representatives of the Finnish people. As a result of this coup the White Guard Government was formed, composed largely of Germanophile elements, for after the downfall of the Czar the Finnish Junkers realized that the Kaiser, as the only remaining feudal monarch, was their sole hope. The White Guard Government immediately set about negotiating for a German invasion to keep it in power, and incidentally began its attacks on the democratic electoral machinery. The Finnish people bitterly resented the usurpation, and the actions of the White Guard Government deepened their anger. Late in January of this year a great uprising of the people took place, beginning in a general strike. The White Guard Government fled to the sparsely settled northern part of Finland, leaving the capital and all the agencies of government, as well as the populous manufacturing districts, in the hands of the people's forces. A People's Republic was declared and a Provisional Government formed, headed by the Prime Minister of the Government formed by the 1916 Diet and other former officers. This "Red Guard Government," as it is popularly called, was immediately recognized by the Soviet Government of Russia.
The civil war that followed was exceedingly bitter. Beyond doubt there were numerous acts of violence on both sides. Germany was paving the way for her invasion with a skillful propaganda designed to show that the White Guard forces were defending law and order against the Red Guard bandits, and German agents flooded the news sources in Stockholm and other points with tales of Red Guard atrocities. Mayor Lindhagen of Stockholm, headed a committee that went to Helsingfors to investigate these stories, and he reported that the Red Guard Government was conscientiously repressing with a strong hand all acts of violence, which were being conducted by Anarchists and hooligans who were taking advantage of the disturbed state of the country. Incidentally Oskari Tokoi, the Red Guard Prime Minister, was compelled to protest to the Powers that General Mannerheirn, the White Guard leader, was having all captured Red Guard officers shot, as well as every fifteenth man in the rank and file.
The White Guard apologists in this country make the point that their Government is not really pro-German, but that it only invited the Germans in "to restore order" after Sweden had failed to come to their aid, and because Allied aid was unavailable. It is true that Sweden was asked to aid the White Guards and intervention was pressed by the leaders of the pro-German party in Sweden, but the anti-German Swedish leaders made it plain that intervention was a trick to drag Sweden into the war on the side of Germany, and Hjalmar Branting, the strongly pro-Ally Swedish Socialist, denounced the scheme to have Sweden act "as the creature and ally of Germany." Branting has stigmatized the story that the White Guard faction only turned to Germany in despair as "gross hypocrisy," and has expressed the belief that a secret agreement existed between Germany and the White Guard Junkers long before the civil war began.
There are many proofs of this. As early as last October the head of the Russian Bureau of Counter-Espionage in Finland spoke of the White Guard chasseurs returning from Germany as the vanguard of the German army," and noted that quantities of munitions, were being landed for the White Guards from German submarines. Indeed, about the time of the German landing the White Guard leaders threw off the mask. On March 1 of this year the White Guard Prime Minister sent a long telegram to the German Chancellor (which was printed in the White Guard press) lauding the Kaiser and his "victorious troops," and thanking Germany "for all she has done for our Finnish chasseurs, who three years ago voluntarily entered the German army."
A typical expression of White Guard opinion is contained in an editorial that appeared on March 8, on the eve of the German landing, in "Valkonen Suomi" (White Finland), the official White Guard organ, published at Vasa. It reads:
HAIL GERMANS! Friends, allies! Welcome to our shores! You, Germans have been our teachers in the arts of peace and war. And when the terrible trial of strength with arms and all means began between the nations, our most enthusiastic young men hurried to you to learn, while battling in your ranks, the glorious art of victory....
We come to your side as allies, friends. We have seen that in this battle of nations your, and only your, arms have opened ways of freedom for oppressed nations. Your steely strength, has smashed, and will further smash the powers of the egotistic nations and rulers of oppressors.
The Red Guards, a volunteer force of Finns poorly armed and more poorly fed, put up a stubborn resistance, but proved no match for the well- equipped German war machine. Finland is another, small nation fallen into the clutches of the German power. But, as the Finnish Junkers well know, only a German victory in the war and a German peace can make permanent the results of their unholy alliance with Germany. The producing classes of Finland, the great mass of the people, strongly organized in every town and village, highly literate, trained in twelve years of parliamentary achievement, will never rest until they have cast off the incubus of German-White Guard rule and re-estabJtehed, under the more favorable conditions of a world purged of Junker Dom, the ordered progress of that democratic evolution for which they have so valiantly striven. Though the Germans and their White, Guard allies are utilizing the system of Sulla—the system of proscription lists and wholesale murder—to enthrone autocracy in Finland, they cannot kill off enough of the inhabitants to crush. The desire of the Finnish people for a co-operative democracy in which neither social, economic, nor political exploitation has place.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013.
If you appreciate the articles, read the e-novel informed by them —
THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald