1930s >> 1939 >> no-423-november-1939

Finland, The Balts, and the Baltic

Finland was for centuries a vassal to the Swedes, and the lands of the conquered were given to the powerful and faithful of the conquering baronage.

In 1809 the Russians seized Finland, and by possession of the Gulf, made safe the channels of St. Petersburg. Apart from this purpose, Russian Governments left the economic and political dominance of Finland to the Swedish barons, or came in only to buttress their oppressions.

The Swedish overlords had nothing but contempt for the conquered race. Its language was ostracised, its literature suppressed. Official positions were the perquisites of the Swedo-Finnish upper class. The holders were unimpeachable. The language, even of the courts of law, was Swedish, and into these courts the Finnish people had to take their interpreters or learn the language of the master class.

The Government was Parliamentary. Parliament consisted of four Houses. It was a delusive democracy.

1st, The House of Nobility, in which sat the Swedo-Finnish feudality—hereditary, non-elective, self-appointed.

2nd, The House of Clergy—elected by the clergy.

3rd, The House of Burghers—elected by property-holders within the cities.

4th, The House of Peasants—elected by property-holders outside the cities.

The nobility and clergy were, as usual, the two arms of tyranny. They exercised the veto against even the few upon whom the pretence of self-government had been conferred. The labouring, wage-earning mass had no vote.

In 1906 the Finnish workers revolted. The Four-house Parliament was swept out of existence, and the first reformed Parliament of Finland contained 20 Social Democrats out of a total membership of 200.

At the 1916 election the Social Democrats won a majority of seats (103 to 97), and from their membership formed the first Social Democratic Government of Finland.

In July, 1917, the Finnish Parliament carried an “Independence Bill.” The Russian Government (the Second Provisional) vetoed the Bill and dissolved the Parliament.

No sooner did the November Revolution take place in Russia than the reactionaries in Finland jumped to arms, overthrew the Finnish Government elected by the votes of the people, set up an arbitrary Government, in which there was not one Social Democrat. But, in a few weeks the Finnish militia and Labour organisations consolidated their forces, rose up, smashed the reactionaries, and restored to power the men elected in 1916.

Parliament reassembled. It declared for a Finnish Republic. Karl Manner, the Speaker of the 1916 Parliament, was made first President, and Oskar Tokoi, first Prime Minister.

Mr. Frank Anstey, M.P., member of the Australian Parliament, states in his book, “Red Europe” : “This Government the Allies refused to recognise, but they did recognise and subsidise every conspiracy for its overthrow.”

The Baltic being then controlled by Germany, and the Arctic ports icebound, the Allies could not send troops. The Swedish Government would have put in troops, but the Swedish Labour organisations threatened a general strike. The reactionary factions in Finland appealed to Germany.

In March, 1918, German warships and transports appeared off Helsingfors, and German troops were landed.

In April the Republic was overthrown and a Dictatorship set up under the protection of German bayonets.

Mr. Anstey, referring to this episode, says: “Thus once more was it demonstrated that the capitalist and landed classes, the master class in every form, prefer the occupation of their country by a foreign foe, to the government of their country by a working class that in any way threatens their predatory powers.”

In this same month, April, 1918, Mr. Haines, the United States Consul in Finland, made a report to the American Government. He reported that the landowners and money classes of Finland had asked the Swedish Government for assistance, but that the Swedish Labour organisations threatened a general strike if Swedish troops were sent to Finland. He stated that the help of the Allied Powers had been sought, but for various reasons was not available, and then he added:

“Therefore there was no alternative but to fall back upon Germany.”

No sooner was the German-sustained capitalist Government established in Finland than the British Government intimated its readiness to recognise it and to enter into diplomatic relations with it.

The united action of the reactionary White Guards and of the German army of occupation in Finland was secured by a united command. The supreme command was held by the German General, Von der Goltz, and command of the Finnish reactionary regiments by the Swedo-Finn, General Mannerheim.

Mannerheim used the German-trained Jaegers and men of the land-owning class, with such of their servitors as they could certify as safe. These made a force of about 50,000, and these, supported by the Germans under Von der Goltz, put the rebellious population to the sword. David Soskice told the Manchester Guardian there was “terrible slaughter,” and the London Times, referring to the ‘splendid’ work of Mannerheim, says that it broke the back of the rebellion, and that “the Germans quickly finished the job.” Te Times casually mentions that, “out of about 80,000 prisoners, 30,000 are dead.” “Dead” is a sweet and luscious word for wholesale slaughter of rounded-up human sheep. Out of a population of 3,000,000, over one hundred thousand perished.

The Germans smoke-screened behind a so-called “Finnish Government,” rounded up and wiped out in cold-blooded “law and order” slaughter thousands of men, women and children. They arrested and imprisoned 80 members of the 1916 Finnish Parliament. Only one got out alive. Some were executed and others were reported “dead.”

In the latter part of 1918, when the German overlords found their populations were rising, their ships of war flying the Red Flag, and their warriors declining to fight, then they opened negotiations for an armistice. Allied commanders stipulated many things for Germany to do, but there was one thing it stipulated that Germany should not do. It was not to withdraw any more troops from the occupation of Finland or the Baltic Provinces.

From Finland the Germans had begun the withdrawal of their troops in September, and it became evident that without foreign bayonets the local reactionaries could not exist. In early October, while the war was still on, and weeks before the declaration of any Armistice, the Finnish butcher, General Mannerheim, left Finland, came to England, was the guest of the Government and, interviewed by the English Press, he spoke of the “splendid work done by the Germans.”

The working class crowds of Stockholm howled at Mannerheim, “You murderer,” and in Norway the Government so feared a popular rising that they asked him to keep out of the country, but Havelock Wilson’s Union carried this man backward and forward without protest.

It is to the credit of the Finnish working class that they have kept the spirit of class-consciousness alive.

In March, 1919, on a jerrymandered franchise, with 100,000 of their best dead, or in gaols, or off the rolls, with no free speech and with a rigid suppression of working-class newspapers, they scored 80 out of 200 seats.

They have learned much by bitter experience. If they had got a majority their representatives would have been imprisoned or shot.

The working class of Finland are still doing their best in the circumstances in which they find themselves; they still lean too much to reformism, but they have a noble record, and in the coming struggle we can depend upon them to continue to do their bit.

The chief seaports and cities of the Baltic Provinces were founded by German traders in the thirteenth century. From that date they have been the master class, controllers of land, finance and industry, the exclusive holders of local political power, and the imposers of economic slavery upon the local races.

For two centuries the German Balts were the staunch supporters of Czarist Governments. In return they were permitted to be sole rulers in the Baltic Provinces, and Czarist soldiery were always at their disposal for the subjection of the rebellious workers.

The Baltic masses, therefore, staggered under a double yoke, that of the German Balts and that of the Russian bureaucracy—the former were the economic taskmasters, the latter the military oppressors. The German Balts and Russian autocracy were akin, but since the Balts came closer to the daily life of the people, the Baltic masses had a more implacable hatred against the German Balts than even against the Russian autocracy.

The Russian revolution of 1905 showed how intense was the hatred of the Baltic peasants to their brutal Teutonic landlords, and only the influx of many Cossack regiments saved the Baltic Barons from utter extermination.

On April 12th, 1917, the first Provisional Government of Russia granted “Home Rule” to the Baltic Provinces, and as such autonomy meant government by peasants and proletarians, the Baltic baronage of landlords, trade lords and financiers saw their robber power disappearing. Thus they agitated for intervention, annexation, salvation of their perquisites and possessions from the wrathof the Baltic people, and their cry for liberation was taken up by Germany.

On January 2nd, 1918, Herr Vorst, the correspondent in Russia of the Berliner Tageblatt, put the case thus: “Should the Baltic Provinces remain united with Russia or obtain self-government, the social and economic predominance of the German Balts will be abolished through the uprising of the people. The German Balts look to Germany for protection against the local proletariat.”

The Brest Treaty (March, 1918) left the Baltic Provinces of Esthonia and Livonia within the Russian State, and Soviet Russia left to these Provinces self-government. At once a deputation of Baltic capitalists visited Berlin and appealed for the occupation of their country by a foreign State. The German Government complied, and thereafter German steel and German guns kept the people in subjection.

And when Germany could no longer do the work Britain took up the task, and either acted alone or in collaboration with Germany.

On Sunday, December 29th, 1918, the local Lithuanian regiments held a meeting in Riga and declared for Lenin and the Soviet Government of Russia.

On December 30th the joint action of German and British troops was agreed to by their respective Governments.

On January 1st, 1919, the Lithuanian troops were designated “mutineers,” and German and British troops marched out against them, overcame them, and compelled the survivors to carry arms against their own race and country.

On January 2nd the working population rose en masse; the German soldiery refused to fight and the British were compelled to evacuate Riga and the surrounding country.

In this situation it was determined to secure high-priced “volunteers” for the unreliable conscript armies. The “National Committee” of German Baltic Barons, the Committee that twelve months previously had petitioned Germany to annex the Baltic Provinces, were heavily financed by the Allied Powers to organise a German volunteer force, and recruiting offices were at once established in Berlin and other cities. The Manchester Guardian, January 8th, said, “The irony of the situation is that the German Baltic Barons are the most reactionary gang to be found anywhere in the world.”

In the middle of January came the Spartacist risings in Germany, as a protest, amongst other things, against the German-British intervention in the Baltic Provinces.

During January and February, 1919, British ships of war were convoying German troops from one part of the Baltic to the other. Von der Goltz was invited across from Finland. He took charge of the Baltic land operations while the British Fleet protected his rear.

What has followed is now current history.

The working men of the Baltic and Scandinavian countries are well informed, and are watching the events now transpiring with intense interest.

They, like us, are caught in the web of conflicting imperial interests; the dropping of the mask by Soviet Russia has caused a hurried regathering of forces.

The present line-up is not likely to be permanent; a regrouping of Powers may be expected before the war is over. The class-conscious know where they stand and those who are not at present in that category will by hammer-blows be driven into an understanding of their position.

LESTOR.

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