Against the wall

It's book review time. I've been reading "Seinää vasten vain!" - Poliittisen väkivallan motiivit Suomessa 1917-18 by Mikko Uola, which concerns the motives for political violence in Finland prior to and during the Finnish Civil War. I found it be an interesting look at well-known events from a different perspective as usual. The book focuses on the question of how the Reds and the Whites justified their own or their side's actions. Quite a bit of material from the era is quoted - newspaper articles, diary entries, letters, speeches.

Uola seems to see the Reds as aggressors - appropriately, in my opinion - who were driven to violence by their ideology in combination with circumstances that made them believe the revolutionary moment had come. He points at lies and exaggerations told about bourgeois violence in socialist newspapers, and how these stories were used to justify violence directed against the bourgeois. Työmies, the former Social Democratic Party organ that ceased operation after the Civil War, is not painted in flattering light by its own articles.

One tangible aspect of the conflict highlighted in the book is the importance of the police. The non-socialists saw setting up a police force loyal to the government to replace the prior arrangement of workers' guards policing the cities as imperative to maintaining order and protecting themselves. The Reds, by contrast, were strongly opposed to the idea and became especially fearful after they lost the 1917 parliamentary election and the right-wing Svinhufvud Senate took power.

Joseph Stalin makes a cameo to tell a Social Democratic meeting that "In the climate of war and decadence, the revolutionary movement about to be ignited in the West, and the Russian workers' revolution's growing victories, there are no such dangers and difficulties that could withstand your onslaught." Good one, Joe.

The final chapters of the book, dealing with events of the war itself, are tragic. The events make for a text-book example of a circle of violence.

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