More alternative Finnish history

It's book report time. I recently read "Entäs jos... - Lisää vaihtoehtoista Suomen historiaa" (2006), or "What If... - More Alternative Finnish History" in English, edited by Markku Jokisipilä and Mari K Niemi. (The name is an allusion to a previous book called "What If... - Alternative Finnish History" by Niemi and Ville Pernaa, which I haven't read.) It features 12 essays: an introductory one from the editors plus the following 11 scenarios.

  • "Finnish History in a Greater Finland" by Osmo Jussila, in which history records Finland's unstoppable march to Eastern Karelia.
  • "Bluestockings' Mixed Choir - What If Finnish Women Hadn't Gotten the Vote?" by Maria Lähteenmäki, in which a divided women's movement falls.
  • "Far Right '30s - What Would Have Kosola's, Svinhufvud's, or Mannerheim's Dictatorship Been Like?" by Vesa Vares, in which aforementioned gents' chances are evaluated.
  • "Sports Nationalism's Brave Entrance - Vignettes from the 1940 Helsinki Olympics" by Jokisipilä, in which the war is temporarily put on hold long enough to have the Olympics.
  • "'I'm Not in Favor of Signing the Treaty' - What If the Winter War's Peace Hadn't Been Made?" by Lasse Laaksonen, in which the author argues that signing the treaty was for the better.
  • "Patriotism's Dark Threads - Finland's Moments of Destiny in the Late Summer of 1940" by Sirpa Kähkönen, in which the Baltic Road is found to be a bad option.
  • "Armor Bridge to New Europe - Finnish National Theater Conquered Berlin in 1943" by Hanna Korsberg, in which the National Theater suffers after the war for having visited the Nazis.
  • "When Kekkonen Spoiled Zhdanov's Intentions" by Lasse Lehtinen MEP, in which Kekkonen blocks the war guilt trials and suffers no repercussions.
  • "If the Agrarian League Hadn't Been So Strong - Speculation on the Alternatives to Finnish Social Security" by Olli Kangas, in which the Agrarians are shown to be the labor unions' best friends.
  • "Karjalainen... Karjalainen... Karjalainen... or Someone Else After All? - The UKK Emergency Law Falls in the Parliament in January 1973" by Jukka Tarkka, in which Päiviö Hetemäki (National Coalition Party) is crowned the best president ever.
  • "Northern Albania or Germany's Arctic Province - What If Finland Hadn't Joined the European Union in 1995" by Sami Moisio, in which mid-'90s Eurosceptics' arguments are found wanting.
There was wide variance in intention and presentation. Jokisipilä - who incidentally has a pretty good blog (fi) - and Lehtinen opted for fiction, but most of the authors stuck to factual argumentation. A few of the essays were pretty clearly intended to make some point other than to examine what might have happened. For example, Lähteenmäki argues for six pages that conservative suffragist Alexandra Gripenberg (Finnish Party) wasn't a true friend to working class women, but devotes barely half as much space to actually discussing the effects of not giving women the vote in 1906. Several authors don't bother to come up with a plausible point of departure. They ask themselves, "What if this had happened?" without asking how it could have happened. Nevertheless, nearly all of them are interesting on their own terms, as long as you don't judge them purely as works in alternative history. I'll describe two of my favorites in more detail.

Vares, while pointing out that Finnish politics in fact moved to the left in the 1930s, sees three possibilities for a right-wing dictatorship: a "Lapua" dictatorship with Vihtori Kosola or some successor in charge; an authoritarian state led by Pehr Svinhufvud; or the emergence of a "strong man", most likely Gustaf Mannerheim. Vares finds Kosola's odds poor. The Lapua Movement, should it have tried to stage a revolution, would probably have been defeated by the army; the events would have resembled a bloodier, large-scale Mäntsälä rebellion. Especially during the time Svinhufvud was either the Prime Minister (from July 4th 1930 to 1931) or the President (1931-1937) they would have been up against a hero of the independence struggle - an obstinate obstacle respected in right-wing circles, whom it would have been difficult to defy.

A more likely eventuality would have been an authoritarian state set up by the forces that defeated the rebellion. In Svinhufvud's case, this would have been done through the Parliament, with the understanding that it was a temporary solution, but such temporary solutions have a tendency to prolong themselves. There's always some danger around the corner that needs to be defeated before things can return to normal. Another possibility would have been to bring Mannerheim to power to solve the conflict between the government and the Lapuans. In each case Vares sees a worse outcome during the wars. In Kosola's and Svinhufvud's case military performance would have suffered from a divisions between the right and the left; in Mannerheim's case the wars might have been survivable, but a post-war swing to the left would have taken the country all the way to socialism.

Kangas's essay on the history of the Finnish social security system works better if you forget that it's supposed to deal with alternative history. It probably has the most implications for politics today. His central argument is that by preventing the creation of a state-run social security system, the Agrarian League/Centre Party facilitated the creation of a system run by corporations, namely labor unions and employers' unions, and that this has significantly contributed to the strength of Finnish labor unions. Aside from winning certain specific legislative battles, the Agrarians' political power meant that the Social Democrats couldn't assume that they controlled the state, like for example their Swedish counterparts could, which lessened their will to change the system to increase state power at the expense of labor unions.
The Finnish labor union movement can largely thank the Agrarian League for its enlargement. It's also true that the solution midwifed in special by the Agrarian League created those institutions which activities the Centre Party has most strongly attacked in the Parliament. The politically strong and skilled Agrarian League won the battle, but lost the war.
Kangas sees the current corporatist welfare model as a problem because risks aren't shared widely enough. For example, if some line of employment collapses in Finland due to globalization, the labor union in that field can't pay unemployment benefits to everyone. He predicts that socialization of the welfare system - something that's supported by the right in Finland - will happen sooner or later.

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