The Capitalist government of Svinhufvud prepares for a war against the working masses and builds their dictatorship (1917-18).
The Regency: First Attempt at Capitalist dictatorship
A regent is a person who rules temporarily in place of a monarch because the monarch is dead or absent. Essentially he is a dictator. The preferred choice of the capitalist class was to create a three member regency (three member dictatorship) to rule Finland. They did not want democracy.
A white guard author writes:
“On December 8. chairman of the parliament Johannes Lundson presented for the parliament the secretariat’s proposal that the power previously held by the Tsar grand-duke be given to a regency created for this purpose” (Erkki Räikkönen, Svinhufvud ja itsenäisyyssenaatti, p. 10)
“The next day after Soviet power had been established in Russia, the bourgeoisie raised the question of power in the parliament. The presidium of the parliament proposed the creation of a three member regency. The social-democrats proposed… calling a constitutional assembly… [which] was defeated with 106 against and 90 in favor… Therefore the parliament decided to create the three member regency which in actuality held dictatorial power. Originally its members were to be Svinhufvud [bourgeois], Alkio [agrarian league] and Tokoi [social-democrat]. But since social-democrats and the agrarian league had opposed creating the regency, they were to be replaced [with bourgeois politicians]…”
[source: E. W. Juva, Suomen kansan historia, V. Tie itsenäisyyteen ja itsenäisyyden aika (1899-1956), p. 146]
(Holodkovski, Suomen työväen vallankumous 1918, pp. 45-46)
In the internal power struggles the regency project was still eventually defeated, largely because the capitalists were forced to capitulate during the December 1917 general strike. The capitalists held power in the Senate, which was a remnant from the time of Tsarism. They only had a slight majority in the parliament, so they always saw preserving the Tsarist senate as their best bet. The petit-bourgeois Agrarian league supported parliamentarism and opposed the regency idea, while the social-democrats preferred the parliament to dictatorship or to the Tsarist senate, but really wanted a constitutional assembly which would overhall the entire Finnish state, dismantle the Tsarist senate etc.
A white guard propaganda work “Svinhufvud and the independence senate” published in 1935, laments the failure of the regency. The author wants to point out that Finland had a Tsarist monarchist constitution and for this reason, making the parliament the ruling body was wrong:
“Since the regency… couldn’t be created yet the parliament decided for now, to use the power previously held by the Tsar Grand-duke… Until the last moment the right-wing parliament members had tried to prevent the passing of this law, but the parliament desired to take this power into its own hands even though it was against the spirit and purpose of our constitution. Right-wing representative Antti Mikkola gave his opposition to the law in strong terms. “The parliament has been made into the ruling body, which history has demonstrated to be the worst of all government systems and particularly prone to oppress the people and individual liberty.”
(E. Räikkönen, Svinhufvud ja itsenäisyyssenaatti, pp. 20-21)
The same white guard author quotes the capitalist leader Svinhufvud as saying:
“”In my opinion, the parliament shouldn’t have become the wielder of the highest power, and instead since the monarch is absent [the Tsar was overthrown] it should have chosen a regent for the country,” said Svinhufvud.” (Räikkönen, pp. 36-37)
The capitalists went back and forth about the idea of establishing a monarchy. Finland had been under Swedish and Russian monarchist rule for centuries, so this seemed fitting to some capitalists. There were pro-Swedish, pro-Russian and pro-German factions within the capitalist class, as well as supporters of monarchy and supporters of military dictatorship. They did not have a consistent plan on what kind of dictatorship they wanted or how to establish it, but the one thing they did consistently was oppose democracy. At minimum they would hold on to the Tsarist era senate and not give full power to the parliament. At most they would establish full monarchy or dictatorship if they could get away with it. (About bourgeois monarchism see Talas, Suomen itsenäistyminen ja Mannerheimin muistelmat p. 61)
“Strong rule of Law”: Second Attempt at Capitalist dictatorship
At the beginning of 1918 the capitalist government of Svinhufvud adopted the slogan of “Strong rule of law” which meant giving the right-wing senate special powers, crushing the red guards and establishing white guards as the official state military of Finland. The capitalist class was tired of the power vacuum and no longer tolerated any challenge to its power. The capitalist class had been caught off guard by the December 1917 general strike and realized that if the workers decided to rise up, the capitalists needed to be armed and prepared to crush the workers. The capitalists wanted to disarm the workers and establish the class army of the capitalists, the white guard, as the only armed power. The workers and poor peasants would no longer have any ability to demand change. No solution to the food crisis, no solution to unemployment, no land reform. The capitalists were not willing to grant the demands of the people, instead they would cling to their privileged position through force of arms.
“The bourgeoisie attempted… to pass a bill for the creation of a standing army. The issue was discussed in the parliament on 9. of January 1918. In the vote almost half (91 against 94) of parliament members opposed handing the bill to a committee, i.e. opposed passing the bill. The bourgeoisie chose to pursue the matter a different way: it was proposed to give senate special powers to create a strong policing force solely under the senate’s control, which supposedly was needed to smash the spreading “anarchy”. According to senator Castren, the parliament should give the senate the authority for all those actions it sees necessary for creating strong rule of law.” (Holodkovski, pp. 140-141)
“After Finland was granted independence by Soviet-Russia at the beginning of January, the internal situation of the country had developed to an explosive point… The armed forces of the bourgeoisie had been mobilized and were being gathered especially in Southern Ostrobothnia. In mid January all over the country white guards began systematic attacks on workers’ organizations and individual small red guard organizations.
In the parliament the working class leadership attempted to impeach the [capitalist] government of Svinhufvud, but in vain, because that government had turned into an outright dictatorial organ, not accountable to the parliament after the agrarian league party had abandoned the struggle for the Power Act [which made the Finnish parliament the highest governing organ, as opposed to the senate that had been established by the Tsar] and began to support the government of “strong rule of law”. The slogan of “strong rule of law” proclaimed by the Svinhufvud government, together with the bourgeois class militias, the white guard, being declared the only legal armed forces clearly signified a declaration of war against the working class.” (Hyvönen, p. 95)
In order to establish its full power and dictatorship, the capitalist class prepared for civil war, a military attack against the working class. The capitalists began to secretly build a network of white guard organizations throughout the country, and a white army in Southern Ostrobothnia, a kulak region in the middle of Finland. The working class was not preparing for war, the capitalists were. The capitalist government of Svinhufvud decided to establish their secret capital in the city of Vaasa, where they would lead their attack. They needed weapons and funding. For money they turned to the bankers and capitalists. For weapons they turned to the governments of Germany and Sweden. Finnish officers from the old Tsarist army would serve as their commanders.
“A former Tsarist general G. Mannerheim was appointed supreme commander of the whites on 16. of January. Two days later he travelled to Vaasa in Southern Ostrobothnia, which the whites had already beforehand chosen as the base area of their war effort. The bourgeoisie’s war preparations had advanced the furthest in Southern Ostrobothnia. 60 jägers [i.e. soldiers trained in Germany] and others had already worked there for quite some time training white troops. A white military academy was functioning in Vöyri [in Southern Ostrobothnia]. Large amounts of food supplies had also been stored in Southern Ostrobothnia for the war.
Southern Ostrobothnia was suitable as a white base area also because there were no large working class centers, instead the majority of the population were independent landowning peasants, who e.g. didn’t share the oppression of the tenant-farmers. In selecting Southern Ostrobothnia as their base, the bourgeoisie also split the country in half and calculated that they could defeat the red guards near the coast of Southern Lapland soon after the beginning of the war. This would get them in immediate connection with Sweden, whose military aid the whites put great hopes in.”
(Hyvönen, pp. 95-96)
“[Later] on 26. of January the senate [would] relocate… itself to Vaasa where the white guards had already began their attack… Agreeing to the demand that the red guards be dismantled, would have meant surrendering to the mercy of the armed bourgeoisie. Among the party leadership and working class population this was clearly understood and opposed… The party committee… declared on 15. of January… “The senate plans to attack the working class with its white guards – The workers’ guards are absolutely necessary for the self-defense of the workers… Due to the bourgeoisie’s blatant policy of coup’de’tat class struggle in the country may greatly escalate…”
(Hyvönen, pp. 96-97)
The social-democrat minority in the parliament attempted to stop the capitalists from establishing their dictatorship. The effort was unsuccesseful. The social-democrats still hoped the conflict could be avoided.
“Working class [parliamentary] representatives warned the bourgeoisie to not embark on this road. They showed that the white guards had been created as the fighting force of the bourgeois class and they had been used in many provocational attacks against the working class. Recognizing them as the official state army of Finland would mean an outright declaration of class war.
The bourgeoisie had already chosen the path of attacking the workers and poor peasants. It did not want to heed any warnings” (Hyvönen, p.84)
“Social-democrats warned that granting the senate the special powers it requested would mean a declaration of war against the working class. The warning did not work however. After a tremendously stormy debate… the parliament granted the senate special powers on 12. of January. The decision sparked a storm of denounciations by the social-democrats… Social-democrat Pärssinen said that as he looks upon the gloating bourgeoisie he is reminded of the words of the Bible: “Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep.” Parliament member Kujala warned the bourgeoisie to remember: he who sows wind, reaps poison. [source: minutes of the 2. Finnish diet 1917, I p. 944]
The decision by the bourgeoisie in the parliament to give senate special powers was seen as a preparation for civil war by the working class press. Later the swedish newspaper “Dagens Nyheter” [daily news] compared the decision to a coup’de’tat. [source: Dagens nyheter, 26.III.1918] On January 13. large worker demonstrations took place against the parliament’s decision…
The same day a youth demonstration of 15,000 participants took place in Helsinki with slogans: “Down with the bloodthirsty bourgeois representatives!”, “Down with militarism!”, “No military of any kind!”” [source: P. Notko, Katsauksia Suomen työtätekevän nuorison luokkataisteluliikkeen historiaan, I osa, p. 159, Известия Гедьсингфорсского совета (Proceedings of the Hedsingfors Soviet) 14(1).I.1918] (Holodkovski, pp. 142-143)
“Immediately after receiving the special powers from the parliament, the senate created two new police organizations and began hurriedly to look for weapons. Svinhufvud sent a coded message to Gripenberg the Finnish representative in Stockholm: “I ask that you immediately authorize Thesleff… [who was in Germany] to begin purchasing weapons. Advise him to make an arrangement for sending those citizens of free and neutral Finland back home, who are currently in the German military [the jägers], arrange their travel to Finland without delay on the first ship and the purchased weapons to be brought with them.” [source: “Kommunisti”, 1933, no.1, p. 42] Another telegram to Gripenberg said: “Hurry with sending the weapons bought from Sweden to Vaasa [the future white capital].” [source: “Vapaus”, 1918, no. 1, p. 7] The Finnish delegates in Germany Hjelt, Erich and Sario turned to Ludendorff on 19. of January and requested the Finnish jäger battalion as well as weapons and military supplies to be sent to Finland soon.” [source: Y. Nurmio, Suomen itsenäistyminen ja Saksa, p. 59] (Holodkovski, pp. 143-144)
“The government had already been preparing for civil war. The counter-revolution chose as its base the middle and northern regions of the country, where the population mainly consisted of landowning peasants. Stores of food and military supplies had been collected in Southern Ostrobothnia and the white guard nucleous gathered there, funds from the Finnish national bank were secretly shipped to Kuopio [in Northern Savonia, in the middle of Finland]. [source: Erinnerungen, G. Mannerheim, p. 167] Ex-members of the Tsarist military were given secret orders on 6. and 7. of January to immediately take leave on “personal reasons” and travel to Southern Ostrobothnia… [source: “Työ”, 29.I.1918] Svinhufvud secretly appointed general Mannerheim as the supreme leader of the Finnish armed forces on 16. of January.” (Holodkovski, p. 144)
The capitalist class had a skillful conspiracy under way. They were collecting millions of marks, thousands and tens of thousands of riffles, millions of bullets, food supplies for an entire army. They were gathering officers trained in Germany or in the Tsarist military, requesting aid from the governments of Sweden and Germany. They had a network of conspiratorial white guard groups all throughout the country. The capitalists were armed to the teeth and prepared to attack the working class, to install a dictatorship and strip the workers of any power to demand rights.
“The bourgeoisie in the parliament were building police forces and a military… The bourgeoisie’s talk about building up strong law and order caused uneasiness in workers around the country… The fears of the working population were intensified when on 12. of January the parliament authorized the senate to create a government organ for this purpose. The social-democrats opposed this as they feared it would turn into a class-police, aiming at subjugating the workers.
“The working class movement leadership’s relationship with violence varied. A minority supported embarking on the path of violent revolution, but the majority of the parliamentary group and trade union leaders as well as party leaders were clearly against revolution. [Source: Aimo Klemettilä, Tampereen punakaarti ja sen jäsenistö, p. 60, Hannu Soikkanen, Kohti kansan valtaa I. 1899-1937. Suomen sosiaalidemokraattinen puolue 75 vuotta, p. 270]
However the parliament’s decision to create a strong police force played a part in influencing leading party figures… to slide towards the supporters of an armed solution. As the party council met in Helsinki on 19. of January news began to come from Vyborg about white guard mobilization. The news sharpened the opinions of several members of the council… Grip of the working class movement began to shift to the radical elements, and revolutionary activity ended up being only a matter of time. In the end only very few of even the moderate socialist leaders refused to join or support armed struggle.” [sources: Turo Manninen, “Tie sotaan” Teoksessa itsenäistymisen vuodet 1917-1920. 1. Irti Venäjästä, pp. 407-409, Jaakko Paavolainen, Poliittiset väkivaltaisuudet Suomessa 1918 I. “Punainen terrori”, p. 80, Mikko Uola, “Seinää vasten vain!” Poliittisen väkivallan motiivit Suomessa 1917-18, p. 206
(Suodenjoki & Peltola, Köyhä Suomen kansa katkoo kahleitansa: Luokka, liike ja yhteiskunta 1880-1918 (Vasemmistolainen työväenliike Pirkanmaalla osa 1). pp. 253-254)
“The attempt to create this strong police authority made civil war inevitable, because under the conditions of Finland at that time it could only mean the violent disarming and dismantling of the workers’ guards, which could only be done through armed battles. At the same time the bourgeoisie couldn’t avoid taking this step, because it considered that not taking decisive action against the growing workers’ guards would mean to surrender to the mercy of their class enemy and to be a policy of suicide, which would inevitably lead to the destruction of the bourgeois system.” (Holodkovski, p. 142)
WHO WAS MANNERHEIM – “THE WHITE GENERAL”?
“Earlier Baron Kustaa Mannerheim had achieved fame… through his loyalty to the Tsar who oppressed Finland. This guard officer who had achieved success in his career (In the coronation ceremony of Nicholas II he had the honor of standing next to the throne) didn’t have any second thoughts about the violence the Tsar was carrying out against his homeland Finland. The illegal [nationalist newspaper] “Fria Ord”… had included Mannerheim’s name among those shameful Finnish officers in the Russian army who had not resigned due to the Tsar’s Russification policy. Even Mannerheim’s own family was not safe from the Russification policy: his older brother bank director Carl Mannerheim was deported from Finland to Sweden where his youngest brother Johan also saw best to move. When Kustaa Mannerheim decided to participate in the Russo-Japanese war his family expressed their surprise that he could join a war on behalf of the Tsar that oppressed his homeland. [source: Historiallinen aikakauskirja, no. 1, pp. 40, 41.]
However Mannerheim participated both in the Russo-Japanese war and the First World War. After the February Revolution he resigned from the military with his rank of general and returned to Finland. Then he realized that the Finnish bourgeoisie needed a “strong hand”… and since then it became as favorable for him to disguise himself as a patriot as it had previously been to reject patriotism. The bourgeoisie turned the old loyal servant of the Tsar, to a leader of a patriotic movement, even though the general had to talk with Finnish people using some other language, because his Finnish was poor. While talking to his subordinates during the war he had to rely on an interpreter. [source: E. Heinrichs, Mannerheim Suomen kohtaloissa, I. Valkoinen kenraali 1918-1919, p.101; M. Rintala, Four Finns. Political Profiles, p.20.]
Many Finnish bourgeois were unhappy about this, and about the fact that Mannerheim still had a Russian soldier [Ignat Kondratjevitš Karpatšev] who only spoke Russian as his soldier-servant.” [source: S. Jägerskiöld, Gustaf Mannerheim 1918, p.34]
(Holodkovski, p. 145)
“Soon after returning to Finland, Mannerheim who at the beginning of January 1918 had been made chairman of the Military Committee [white guard organization consisting of ex-Tsarist soldiers] explained to the Committee that revolutionaries could arrest them at any time in Helsinki, and therefore it was necessary without delay to travel North and create an army and central command there. [source: Jägerskiöld, pp. 27-29]“
“According to senator Arajärvi Mannerheim had already been appointed head of all armed forces by the senate. During war conditions all officials and citizens had to obey his orders and instructions at once… [cf. A. Beranek, Mannerheim, p. 120]The bourgeoisie voluntarily handed power to a military dictator, who was to crush the revolutionary working class with an iron fist and create “order”. Mannerheim being appointed supreme commander was kept secret for some time, it was announced only on 27. of January.
On 18. of January 1918 Mannerheim traveled to Southern Ostrobothnia under a false name, to finalize war preparations… At the same time the so-called Military Committee [organization of ex-Tsarist officers], which became the White central command also traveled to Southern Ostrobothnia…
Mannerheim called Axel Ehrnrooth the head of Privatbanken in Helsinki on 19. of January, and said he needs 3 million marks in Vaasa immediately. A special fund had already been created in Privatbanken on 9. of October 1917 where big capitalists donated money for the suppression of “anarchy” i.e. to protect against revolution. By 19. of January the fund had 5,676,239 marks.
Ehrnrooth… considered it necessary to receive guarantees from the senate that after “order” had been established the state would refund the money of the bank and the “donors”… Ehrnrooth waited over two and a half hours to speak to Svinhufvud and only gave instructions to send the money after Svinhufvud had said “of course everything will be paid back to you”… (After the revolution had been crushed, literally few hours after Mannerheim had arrived to Helsinki Ehrnrooth came to hand him a bill of 9,019,330 marks. Mannerheim had received this sum from Privatbanken during the civil war. Already on 27. of May the bank was repaid the money to the last penny. [source: Jägerskiöld, p. 405] The victorious bourgeoisie paid the war expenses from the state treasury.)” (Holodkovski, pp. 145-148)
Erkki Räikkönen, Svinhufvud ja itsenäisyyssenaatti
Holodkovski, Suomen Työväenvallankumous 1918
E. W. Juva, Suomen kansan historia, V. Tie itsenäisyyteen ja itsenäisyyden aika (1899-1956)
Hyvönen, Suurten tapahtumien vuodet 1917-1918
Minutes of the 2. Finnish diet 1917
Dagens nyheter, 26.III.1918
P. Notko, Katsauksia Suomen työtätekevän nuorison luokkataisteluliikkeen historiaan, I osa
Известия Гедьсингфорсского совета (Proceedings of the Hedsingfors Soviet) 14(1).I.1918
“Kommunisti”, 1933, no.1
“Vapaus”, 1918, no. 1
Y. Nurmio, Suomen itsenäistyminen ja Saksa
Erinnerungen, G. Mannerheim
Aimo Klemettilä, Tampereen punakaarti ja sen jäsenistö
Hannu Soikkanen, Kohti kansan valtaa I. 1899-1937. Suomen sosiaalidemokraattinen puolue 75 vuotta
Turo Manninen, “Tie sotaan” Teoksessa itsenäistymisen vuodet 1917-1920. 1. Irti Venäjästä
Jaakko Paavolainen, Poliittiset väkivaltaisuudet Suomessa 1918 I. “Punainen terrori”
Mikko Uola, “Seinää vasten vain!” Poliittisen väkivallan motiivit Suomessa 1917-18
Suodenjoki & Peltola, Köyhä Suomen kansa katkoo kahleitansa: Luokka, liike ja yhteiskunta 1880-1918 (Vasemmistolainen työväenliike Pirkanmaalla osa 1)
Historiallinen aikakauskirja, no. 1
E. Heinrichs, Mannerheim Suomen kohtaloissa, I. Valkoinen kenraali 1918-1919
M. Rintala, Four Finns. Political Profiles
S. Jägerskiöld, Gustaf Mannerheim 1918
A. Beranek, Mannerheim