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Finland, civil war and revolution, 1914–1918 [Encyclopedia article] Frackman, Kyle 2009

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1200 Finland, civil war and revolution, 1914–1918Finland, civil war andrevolution, 1914–1918Kyle E. FrackmanThe revolution or civil war of 1917–18 inFinland is one of the decisive events in thenation’s history. Representing a forceful breakwith Russia, which had controlled Finland since1809, the conflict put Finland on the short pathtoward independence and democratization. Theconcerted movement for independence beganaround World War I, as the Finnish political scenehad previously been absent of plans for separationfrom Russia. The only revolutionary tendencybefore World War I was for a restoration ofFinnish autonomy within the Russian empire.Since the thirteenth century, Finland had beenunder Swedish rule, administered by Swedish-speaking nobles and bureaucrats. For some International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest, ed. Immanuel Ness, Blackwell Publishing, 2009, pp. 1200–1202c06.qxd  3/18/09  7:14 PM  Page 1200Finland, civil war and revolution, 1914–1918 1201time and to varying degrees, many Finns had been dissatisfied with their position underSweden’s control. Finland found itself situatedliterally between these two greater powers.Nonetheless, Sweden-Finland had the benefit ofa strong constitutional government, somethingthat Russia began using to its advantage alreadyin the eighteenth century in order to weaken the position of the Swedish monarch. In 1809, following the successful military efforts ofAlexander I of Russia (1777–1825), Finlandbecame a part of the Russian empire. As part of the Grand Duchy of Finland, Finns werepromised autonomy under the Russian tsars.From Finland’s creation as a Grand Duchythrough the 1880s, Finnish autonomy was largelya reality. As it had before, Russia encouraged the constitutional aspirations of Finns, because it furthered the separation of Finland from its former ruler, Sweden. Alexander III (1845–94),however, who ascended the throne in 1881,grew increasingly critical of Finland’s excep-tional status as an autonomous Grand Duchy. He was not alone, as concerns about Finnish connections to Germany, Sweden, and Britainabounded and agitated Russian nationalists. In1890, Alexander III initiated a series of effortsaimed at bringing Finland under tighter Russiancontrol. After Alexander’s death and the acces-sion of Nicholas II (1868–1918), this period ofRussification continued and expanded through-out the Russian empire. In Finland, this gainedfull force in 1899 when Finnish legislation cameunder the purview of the Russian government,starting the first “period (or years) of oppression”(sortokausi or sortovuodet in Finnish).There were several factors that contributed to the revolutionary climate in Finland in the first quarter of the twentieth century. First and foremost were conflicts and friction betweenFinland and Russia. The aforementioned Russi-fication fomented conflict as it prevented or hindered Finnish control of national legislation.Finns desired representation in the Russian parliament, the Duma, created after the tsar’s 1905 allowance. Largely involuntary support ofthe Russian military was required and simultan-eously offensive to a great portion of the Finnishpopulation. Russian involvement in official usesof Swedish and Finnish fostered Finnish nationalantagonism. Additionally, there was internalRussian discord over Finland’s exceptional statusas a Grand Duchy. Furthermore, Finns wereincreasingly indignant about the poor state of the Finnish economy and the country’s over-whelming poverty. These sources of Finnishrancor led merely to developing support of the restoration of Finnish autonomy; up to 1910 none of the political parties was planning on Finland becoming an independent nation.Two groups were integral in the develop-ments surrounding Finland’s conflicts with Russia.The Young Finnish Party (NuorsuomalainenPuolue) or Young Finns (nuorsuomalaiset) becamea political party in the 1890s, comprising ayounger generation of Finnish speakers as well as Swedish-speaking liberals who sought a constitutional solution to problems with Russia.Many Finnish nationalists were suspicious ofthe Young Finns, because of their willingness to collaborate with the Swedish-speaking upperclass. The Old Finns (vanhasuomalaiset) or themembers of the Finnish Party (SuomalainenPuolue), on the other hand, were concerned that the Young Finns’ desired resistance would further erode the Grand Duchy’s autonomy andwished to cooperate as much as possible with the Russian government. Internal Russian strife,specifically the 1905 Revolution, made it pos-sible for the Finnish Diet (Suomen valtiopäivät)to abolish the system of the four Estates with thecreation of a new unicameral, 200-member legis-lative body, the Eduskunta. Suddenly, Finlandhad a progressive form of government elected by equal and universal suffrage. Despite these advances, Finnish civil rights continued to be threatened until Finland had completeindependence.Again in 1917 internal Russian affairs createda climate in which Finland’s status could change.Following the “March Revolution” in which thetsar was overthrown, political dissidents whohad been living in exile returned to Finlandafter the replacement of the Russian Governor-General Franz Albert von Seyn (1862–1918) by Mikhail Stakhovich (1861–1923). The newprovisional government reinstated Finland’s con-stitutional rights. Simultaneously, parliamentconvened after a 1916 election in which theSocial Democratic Party (Suomen Sosialidemo-kraattinen Puolue) was overwhelmingly victori-ous and elected a government headed by OskariTokoi (1873–1963), who was the first socialist in the world to become prime minister of aInternational Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest, ed. Immanuel Ness, Blackwell Publishing, 2009, pp. 1200–1202c06.qxd  3/18/09  7:14 PM  Page 12011202 Finland, civil war and revolution, 1914–1918the Whites’ efforts to take back Tampere andHelsinki. The latter fell on April 13, 1918 to aGerman expeditionary force led by GeneralRüdiger von der Goltz (1865–1946). The end ofthe civil war was celebrated with a parade inHelsinki on May 16, 1918. It has been estim-ated that around 5,500 men on both sides diedin battles, although this figure does not includenumbers of executions and deaths by neglect or starvation in prison camps. Indeed, anothersource approximates the casualties of the revolu-tion to be 23,000 people, that is, those killedlegally and illegally as a result of battle and actsof “terrorism.”As the violence ceased, the pressing issue facing Finns was how their government would bestructured. The two options under considerationwere monarchy and republic. Not unrelated toGermany’s considerable involvement and supportin the revolution, a German, Prince Friedrich Karlof Hesse (1868–1940), was offered the crown. Theissue became irrelevant after Germany’s defeat inWorld War I. Svinhufvud, who had been regentof Finland, stepped down and was succeeded byMannerheim. Following new elections and anew constitution, Mannerheim lost as the right-wing candidate to Ståhlberg, a leading forcebehind the constitutional reform, who became the first president of the Republic of Finland.SEE ALSO: Anarchism, Finland; InternationalSocialism: Mass Politics; Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich (1870 –1924); Russia, Revolution of 1905–1907; Russia,Revolution of February/March 1917; Russia, Revolu-tion of October/November 1917; SocialismReferences and Suggested ReadingsAlapuro, R. (1988) State and Revolution in Finland.Berkeley: University of California Press.Envall, M. (1998) The Period of Independence I,1917–1960. In G. Schoolfield (Ed.), A History ofFinland’s Literature. Lincoln: University of NebraskaPress.Kirby, D. (2006) A Concise History of Finland.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Laitinen, K. (1998) The Rise of Finnish-LanguageLiterature. In G. Schoolfield (Ed.), A History ofFinland’s Literature. Lincoln: University of NebraskaPress.Schoolfield, G. (1998) A Sense of Minority. In G.Schoolfield (Ed.), A History of Finland’s Literature.Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.Singleton, F. (1998) A Short History of Finland.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Upton, A. (1980) The Finnish Revolution 1917–1918.Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.democratically elected government. On July 18,1917, the Eduskunta passed an Enabling Act or Power Act in order to proclaim Finland’s independence from Russia in all areas exceptdefense and foreign affairs. The Russian provi-sional government, however, did not accept andpromptly dissolved the parliament in favor of newelections, in which the conservatives then tookpower. Leaders of the Democratic Party and theTrade Union Federation called a general strikefor November 14, 1917. According to OskariTokoi, “what ensued was more than a strike; itwas rebellion and revolution” (Singleton 1998:107). A new government, elected by the Edu-skunta, assumed control under the leadership ofa conservative Finnish nationalist, Pehr EvindSvinhufvud (1861–1944). This new parliamentissued on December 6, 1917 a declaration of independence drafted by K. J. Ståhlberg (1865–1952), which Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1870–1924)promptly accepted.Meanwhile, tension grew between two activesegments of the population, namely the Reds(punaiset), the socialists, and the Whites (valkoiset),the non-socialist conservatives. The Finns had no army, due to the waiving of conscription forsoldiers in favor of a monetary contribution toRussian military efforts. In the disorder duringand following the Russian revolutions of 1917, theabsence of force was filled by the Red Guards,formed by the labor movement, and the WhiteGuards, organized and populated by conservativesand nationalist youth, volunteers from Finlandand Sweden, and defectors from the Russianarmy. Some of the Whites had been secretlytrained in the Prussian 27th Jäger Battalion, specially created to support the cause of Finnishindependence from Russian and Germany’sinterests therein.On January 27/28, 1918, civil war finallyerupted. Overnight, the Red Guards took con-trol of Helsinki and declared a revolutionarygovernment, the People’s Commission (Kansan-valtuuskunta), headed by Kullervo Manner(1880–1939). With the Whites headquartered in Vaasa under the command of Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim (1867–1951), an Imperial armygeneral, Finland was effectively divided betweenthe Whites’ area of control in the north and the Reds’ area, including the cities of Pori,Tampere, Lahti, Lappeenranta, and Viipuri in thesouth. In addition to the Finnish Jäger battalion,more German forces arrived in February to aidInternational Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest, ed. Immanuel Ness, Blackwell Publishing, 2009, pp. 1200–1202c06.qxd  3/18/09  7:14 PM  Page 1202


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