Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Iron in their souls

When historians are good they are really good: Kimmo Rentola, Veli-Pekka Leppänen and other young Finnish historians have done amazing work on the tragic history of Finnish Communism. I still say tragic as hateful as I find their creed: the seeds were sown by the White terror of 1918. Of course they had a heavy responsibility in the events that led to that terrible time, but nothing justifies the crimes then committed, and a tradition of hate was understandably created by that awful repression. Iron entered their souls. Thousands, tens of thousands escaped to the promised land, the Soviet Union which in its Leninist phase was still not completely psychotic, it still contained some genuine optimism and progress. For a few years: then the full darkness descended.

Stalin slaughtered the Finnish Communists, scattered and demoralized the remnants. The paradise turned out to be a bloody, hysterical nightmare. But iron was in their souls. They had embraced the awful doctrine voluntarily, out of hatred. Those that survived (mostly in prison in Finland or fighting in Spain, some random people in Comintern and around Kuusinen) by and large did not give up the faith. And that is were my sympathy leaves them: Elvi Sinervo composing lines for the two persons killed in the Kemi strike of 1949 – what did she write of the millions murdered, that were still being murdered? Tuure Lehén, Armas Äikiä, so shrill in the service of Stalin, the killer of countless of their comrades, actively working to stalinize the democratic and Nordic Finland which would have resulted in unimaginably more suffering than the White efforts in 1918 (which ended in the democratic and orderly elections of 1919).

Their much worshipped hero Stalin was their undoing: the whole Communist movement was paralyzed and traumatized by his insanity and paranoia. The Red Army did not, was not risked to do the work for them in Finland - at every point the Communists were outplayed in non-violent parliamentary politics. The deadly pincer movement of Paasikivi and Kekkonen at the state level and the militant, self-confident social democrats in the labour organizations, work places and factories was too much for the rigid, orthodox Stalinist leadership of SKP.

Leninist flexibility and daring had been bloodily purged out of the Party, those that remained always waited for instructions, always covered their backs, never deviated from the orthodoxy even if the local reality was demonstrably not conforming to it. They had iron in their souls: first planted by the White terror, but the most awful aspect was hidden, denied, a dirty family secret – that Stalin had proven to be a far worse, far bloodier enemy of the Marxist-Leninist left than Mannerheim ever was. You could not talk about that, not really even after 1956. When the rift between the "euro communists" and the orthodox minority became institutionalized in the early 70’s, the famous big wave of the youth radicals entered a paralyzed tradition with a dead void in its centre. So much energy wasted into so worthless, so hateful ideology


helsinkian said...

What is it in hateful ideologies that attracts people? I guess politics is always essentially about compromise and those who don't want to compromise support extremist movements. Communism and fascism are essentially anti-political.

Today it seems like almost the whole political class in Finland accepts democracy and the inevitable imperfections that come with it. Still, it's not so long ago these pro-USSR youths were quite a significant group in Finnish society.

But one good thing about the 1970s is that unlike 1918 and some other times in Finnish history, the resurgent Communism did not lead to violence. The supporters of Taisto Sinisalo turned their energies into politics and they never had a chance of coming to power through elections. In other countries like Germany, France and Italy there were these misguided communist youths who turned their energies into terrorism (RAF, Action Directe, Brigate Rosse).

Of course we're always talking about small groups of extremists when talking about terrorists. It's just interesting how Finland with the terrible history of political violence culminating in a civil war would later become a country where the prospect of political violence is very unlikely compared to most other European countries.

stockholm slender said...

I have often wondered about the same thing. I suppose what these ideologies give to you is certainty, a fixed purpose - basically a faith. The modern world is unmoored, chaotic, full of insecurity and danger. In these conditions the call of certainty, of these terrible simplifications, is surely very attractive, however mistaken.

Anonymous said...

You did a masterful job in managin to get so much information in such a short space about the issue that I have wondered for...well for ever.

Those early sympathizers of Communism were mostly idealistic men and women with the aim to correct the prevailing and rampant injustices and thus I can not have an animosity towards them. To me so many of them exhibited noble traits such as that there must be something else out there than just trying to take the biggest peace of the cake for myself. We have entered into a very greedy and selfish times again, and I can easily feel something they must have felt at the time. Naturally, having a wisdom of a hinsight and lots of books to read about subject I will not turn to Communism in order to solve the problems but then again if it was a year 1918, I am not so sure. Those early pioneers were, in my mind, not only heroic but profoundly tragic.

stockholm slender said...

Oh yes, it is a huge tragedy - what makes it so bitter is that they certainly did not reserve the awful second repression that basically destroyed the activist part of the tradition. In the Soviet Karelia there was much optimism, even utopianism led by the Finnish refugees. This was so brutally destroyed in few years in the 30's. Bitter harvest. The movement remained in Finland with much vitality but ever after the leadership was paralyzed and the ideology dead at heart.