The Reds were wrong

Looking at the calendar, this seems like a good day to write something right-wingish.

Matti Viialainen is the deputy director of the Central Organization of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK). He's a former Communist who has nowadays become a right-wing Social Democrat and a notable supporter of uniting the Social Democratic Party and the Left Alliance. Last week he made some interesting comments (fi) on the Finnish Civil War.

The two issues that received most prominence are his call for the labour movement to apologize to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland for a handful of murders committed in 1918 and his opinion that said events can be properly called a rebellion. The former I believe to be a well-meaning attempt to build bridges between SAK and the church - Viialainen made these comments in an interview given to the religious Kotimaa magazine - but considering the magnitude of death and destruction in the war, I'm not sure why the church of all entities should receive an apology at this late date. The latter is pointless given how entrenched the name Civil War is at this point. Both names are defensible, as the rebellion turned into a war, but I think the term "civil war" better encompasses also the rebellion than vice versa.

Viialainen's greater point, and one that has gone without much comment, is a good one: namely, the Reds' decision to rebel was a mistake with terrible consequences. Viialainen describes it as the labour movement's most tragic decision. I'm hard-pressed to think a decision with more ruinous consequences in the history of independent Finland. The Social Democratic Party could have implemented many of its demands by simply cooperating with centrists and liberals in the Parliament. After all, it managed to do that even after the war, which had driven a big wedge between it and moderate non-socialists. There are some things in the Reds' stated goals (fi) that they didn't achieve later through parliamentary means: bank capital and the industry were not nationalized and the judiciary remained independent. Most social democrats these days seem to agree that this state of affairs is for the best.

Is there any point in discussing this almost 90 years after the fact? Red nostalgia isn't quite as common as, say, the disgusting Confederate nostalgia in the United States. Revolutionary socialism has lost its luster both in voting booths and on the streets. However, analysis of the events sometimes overemphasizes the pox-on-both-their-houses angle. The recognition that this was a rebellion against a democratically elected government that resulted in nothing but misery can be lost in cataloging the entirely understandable reasons for why it started and what awful acts Whites and Reds did to each other. The whole sorry event could and should have been avoided and one side bears the greater responsibility for that not happening.


Emanuel L. Paparella said...

A response from the author of the Levinas article in Ovi magazine:

I bumped into this acerbic response to my article on Levinas while surfing the internet. It is intriguing to me that it was not placed in the comment box of Ovi where it properly belonged if a dialogue was indeed desired. As is, without the assumption of a full name under it, it takes on the characteristics of the hand that throws the stone and then hides itself.

Be that as it may, what is perplexing to me is that the simple point I was attempting to put across in perusing Levinas' philosophy was wholly missed. One wonders why. The point was this: the Nazis who planned the Holocaust in little more than an hour and executed it in little less than four years all had "cool" Ph.D. after their names. It would appear that all that schooling and all that cleverness was harnassed for the wrong cause and ideology. If would have been better had they never gone to school. As it was, it they were able to rationalize what ought never have been rationalized.

That simple musing on European nihilism hinted at by Husserl's quote at the outset of the article, never mind Levinas's complex philosophy, ought to give some pause to all those enamoured of rational "cool thinking," or "hot thinking" as the case may be, devoid of an ethical component. If it does not, I am afraid that no argument will ever persuade them of how misguided their ideological orthodoxy is. Atheism and technological prowess are indeed a fatal mix and Jung was on target when he offered us the insight that Man is religious by nature and when he throws religion out the window, it promptly comes back as a cult or as an ideology via the back door.

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