How Norman Podhoretz gets Finlandization wrong

...or, Remembering Finland's "red Vichy" regime.

Some weeks ago Norman Podhoretz, one of those American conservative commentators who aren't truly happy unless they're advocating aggressive military action, wrote an article in which he explained how it's vital to bomb Iran in order to win the War on Islam. (Link spotted at European Tribune.) In the middle of the article, he presented some deep thoughts on the subject of Finlandization. It's strange, strange stuff for anyone familiar with the history of Finland.

At certain points in that earlier war, some of us feared that the Soviets might seize control of the oil fields of the Middle East, and that the West, faced with a choice between surrendering to their dominance or trying to stop them at the risk of a nuclear exchange, would choose surrender. In that case, we thought, the result would be what in those days went by the name of Finlandization.

In Europe, where there were large Communist parties, Finlandization would take the form of bringing these parties to power so that they could establish "red Vichy" regimes like the one already in place in Finland--regimes whose subservience to the Soviet will in all things, domestic and foreign alike, would make military occupation unnecessary and would therefore preserve a minimal degree of national independence.
Claims of total subservience are preposterous and comparisons to Vichy France are offensive, but it may be worth pointing out that Communists in Finland never established a regime. The closest they got was the Pekkala government of 1946-1948. The Finnish People's Democratic League, an electoral front combining the Communist Party and some small socialist organizations, contributed six ministers out of 18. The most notable People's Democrats in the government were Prime Minister Mauno Pekkala, a socialist who had earned a modicum of trust by serving as a minister during two wars against the Soviet Union, and Interior Minister Yrjö Leino, a Communist who took orders from Moscow and filled the security police with Communists. The infamous Hertta Kuusinen, daughter of the even more infamous Otto Wille Kuusinen, also served briefly as a minister. Even during that period their power was limited and fragile, dependent as it was on the support of such decidedly non-communist entities as the Agrarian League, the Social Democratic Party, and the conservative President J.K. Paasikivi, who also remained in charge of the country's foreign policy. Leino was eventually turfed out of the government for his abuses and by the end of the following year, nothing remained of his security police appointments.

That was the post-war zenith of Finnish Communism, but Podhoretz can't be talking about the Pekkala government. Aside from the fact that the term "Finlandization" didn't exist yet, in his scenario there was a threat of nuclear war. The Soviet Union didn't have nukes until 1949, at which time the Communists were already in the middle of an 18 years long opposition stint. I suspect, based on his previous works, that he's instead thinking of the period between Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and Ronald Reagan's inauguration in 1981, which further heightens the absurdity of his views. The People's Democrats were in power in the sense that they were a junior partner, with three ministers out of 17, in a government based on the Social Democratic Party and the Centre Party. The Prime Minister was Mauno Koivisto, a moderate Social Democrat, an ex-banker, and a veteran of the Continuation War - the last was considered a selling point, mind you. The President was still Urho Kekkonen, by now in the end stage of his long reign as his health deteriorated and Koivisto was showing signs of independent thought. Consensus politics was officially in effect; the left had given up on nationalization and the right had given up on opposing Kekkonen.

For the Communists, things were looking down during this period. After being in the opposition for nearly two decades, eventually they were brought back to government in 1966 and for the most part remained there till the 1980s. Nevertheless, their influence was permanently on the wane. Cabinets contained about three People's Democrats, four at most, and they held relatively insignificant portfolios like social affairs, transport, or labor. Just as significantly, in the 1960s the Communist Party divided into two camps between Eurocommunists and Stalinist hardliners loyal to the Soviet Union and by the end of the decade, the Eurocommunists had gained the upper hand. The party even condemned the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, which wasn't a very subservient thing to do. For a while, at the turn of the decade, the Stalinists were highly visible in academia and arts, but in politics they never grew very powerful. In the 1979 parliamentary elections the People's Democrats lost five seats, down to 35 seats out of 200, although the real collapse wouldn't come till the next election in 1983. (In contrast, the right-wing National Coalition Party was doing great, gaining 12 seats in 1979.)
In the United States, where there was no Communist Party to speak of, we speculated that Finlandization would take a subtler form. In the realm of foreign affairs, politicians and pundits would arise to celebrate the arrival of a new era of peace and friendship in which the Cold War policy of containment would be scrapped, thus giving the Soviets complete freedom to expand without encountering any significant obstacles. And in the realm of domestic affairs, Finlandization would mean that the only candidates running for office with a prayer of being elected would be those who promised to work toward a sociopolitical system more in harmony with the Soviet model than the unjust capitalist plutocracy under which we had been living.
This sounds more like the actual phenomenon known as Finlandization than what Podhoretz described earlier, but it still goes too far. By the end of the period of Finlandization, Finland's sociopolitical system resembled those of NATO countries like Denmark and Norway far more than the Soviet model. Finlandization was centered on maintaining the foreign policy status quo and, later, keeping Kekkonen in power - the latter was supposed to guarantee the former, the argument went. One's sociopolitical opinions were tertiary at best compared to one's support for those twin goals, although it's true that dissent to Kekkonen's rule mainly came from the right. Certainly support for Soviet-style socialism was never a requirement for being Finlandized. To the contrary, Finlandization's chief selling point for many was that it allowed the country to avoid anything resembling the Soviet model.
Of course, by the grace of God, the dissidents behind the Iron Curtain and Ronald Reagan, we won World War III and were therefore spared the depredations that Finlandization would have brought. Alas, we are far from knowing what the outcome of World War IV will be. But in the meantime, looking at Europe today, we already see the unfolding of a process analogous to Finlandization: it has been called, rightly, Islamization. Consider, for example, what happened when, only a few weeks ago, the Iranians captured 15 British sailors and marines and held them hostage. Did the Royal Navy, which once boasted that it ruled the waves, immediately retaliate against this blatant act of aggression, or even threaten to do so unless the captives were immediately released? Not by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, using force was the last thing in the world the British contemplated doing, as they made sure to announce. Instead they relied on the "soft power" so beloved of "sophisticated" Europeans and their American fellow travelers.
Comparing Finlandization to "Islamization" like Podhoretz does is entirely useless. You can't draw any lessons because the power dynamic is completely different. Finlandization featured a small country with a long border trying to cope with its difficult geopolitical situation as best as it could. In Podhoretz's outlandish concept of "Islamization", Iran, a regional power even if equipped with nukes, by sheer force of will brings to heel distant entities a lot bigger and militarily more powerful than it is. The example of British sailors captured by Iran is something which would have never happened if Britain was "Islamized" (no, I'm not going to use the term without scare quotes), because in any dynamic approximating Finlandization, the two sides will not be openly hostile to each other. After all, if Finlandization doesn't placate the other side, there's no incentive to remain Finlandized.

But hey, at least Podhoretz was spot on about English schools "dropping the Holocaust from history lessons to avoid offending Muslim pupils". Oh, wait.

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