Direct Action – Lesson from Finland

Nowadays, Finland is a boring Nordic social democracy, often touted as an example by the likes of Bernie Sanders. However, what a lot of people don’t know is that Finland has a colorful history of direct action and terrorism. So colorful is it that Russians referred to Finland as a “den of bombers”. Today, a lot of Finns like to pretend—especially with the situation in Ukraine—that they have always hated the Russians. To some extent this is true.

However, after the great Finnish statesman Count Gustaf Mauritz Armfelt convinced the Russian tsar to give Finland autonomy within the Russian empire, 99% of Finns were content to happily sleepwalk through life. They gave no thought to actual independence. Yet, as is often the case, a tiny core of hardcore activists kept the dream of Finnish freedom alive. Just like in the Third Reich, when the actual independence was achieved, everyone pretended they had always supported it. It reminds me of Horst Wessel, who told a friend who abhorred direct action: “when the Third Reich is here, you will have always said it will come, and you will walk around with the swastika and shout Heil Hitler — but you still won’t have understood what I just told you.”

For a long time, Finnish independence activists were slandered as “bomb throwers” and “terrorists”, that is, until they achieved their dream of independence. Overnight, once the bloody and deadly battle for independence was won, they became heroes.

The story begins in 1899–1905, when the Tsar ordered Russification, conscription, deportations to Siberia and the removal of the autonomy Finland enjoyed within the Russian Empire. A movement of so-called “Young Finns” formed a society for the preservation of the autonomy. They gathered half a million signatures to oppose the measures. They took the signatures to be respectfully delivered to the Tsar. If you are reading the “Futurist”, you can probably guess how much that helped. The Tsar proudly refused to even receive the signatures. However, the most farsighted activists saw that only direct action could resolve the situation. For this true view, they expelled from society by the “respectable” Young Finns.

Oppressive and unjust measures were personified in Governor-General Nikolai Bobrikov, who was granted the powers of a dictator. Among the radical activists, it was clear that as long as he breathed, the oppressive measures would continue. It was Eugen Schauman who heroically murdered Bobrikov in 1904, although many other radical groups were simultaneously plotting the murder.

After being apprehended, Schauman was dumped in a nameless grave. Yet, as so often happens, Schauman would become one of the greatest heroes of Finnish history. Once the Russians left, he was reburied with great fanfare and tremendous respect. Of course, the “Old Finns” who wanted to appease the Russians denounced Schauman as a terrorist. However, the judgement of history would not be kind to the cowardly appeasers; their wretched name is now a curse word.

One of the men plotting to kill Bobrikov, Lennart Hohenthal, instead now aimed for the second highest ranking servant of the Tsar: procurator and arch-traitor and appeaser Eliel Soisalon-Soininen. Hohenthal successfully murdered Soisalon-Soininen in 1905. That assassination was quickly followed by the attempted murder of governor Nikolai Mjasojedov by Matti Reinikka and the murder of Russian gendarmerie leader Vladimir Kramarenko by Kalle Procope. In 1905, secret societies called the Bloodhounds and “Might of the Karelians” were formed; these would be responsible for assassinations of collaborators, police officers, robberies of armories and bombing of Russian targets. The murders, combined with the fact the radical wing of activists were quietly arming the population, led to the Bobrikov follower Ivan Obolensky reversing the Russification measures due to fear. Direct action prevailed once again.

However, the Russification measures would be re-started by Prime Minister Pjotr Stolypin in the 1910s. In response, the radicalized activists formed the Central Committee for Independence. They realized that Finland’s problems could only be solved by a total Finnish revolution. Above all, what would be needed was a vanguard of revolutionaries and a group of crack troops, well trained and dedicated to total victory.

As always, fortune favored the bold. A few years later, Gavrilo Princip would murder Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Germany and Russia would be at war. Kaiser Wilhelm was eyeing the Finns as a potential Fifth Column. He offered to train a few thousand Finns who would then be sent back to incite revolution against Russia. Of course, this was extremely dangerous; Finns caught by Ohrana would be hanged like common criminals.

In 1918, when the training was complete and the so called “Jägers” in Germany had had their baptism of fire, they went home to Finland. However, shocking news would be delivered to the Jägers: Communists, following the example of the Bolsheviks, had declared a revolution of the proletariat and taken control of a large chunk of their country. Jägers arrived to Vaasa and immediately formed the core officers of the White Army.

The reds would be no match for the vanguard of Jägers and the White Guard they led. By May of 1918, Finland had been liberated from both Russians and the Red Plague. Instead of the firebombs of direct action, there were fireworks of freedom among the Finnish people. Independence could truly be celebrated. Those who had been “traitors” to the Russian Empire—bomb throwers, revolutionaries, and terrorists—became glorified White heroes overnight. Finland purged itself from subversives. Reds and their sympathizers were interned in prison camps and executed in large numbers.

Many of the Jägers would later become National Socialists. In fact, the head of the Finnish Red Army would be personally executed by later National Socialist leader Colonel Hans Kalm.

Yet, the legacy of this War of Freedom would be betrayed by scheming politicians. In a few years, the Reds would be pardoned in a misguided attempt at national reconciliation. Immediately, they would start subverting the young republic. On the 15th of November, 1929, communists gathered at the People’s House of Lapua and insult Mannerheim and the White army. In response, Vihtori Kosola gathered brave men who beat up the communists, tearing off their red shirts, and running the socialist MP Emil Tabell out.

This was the birth of so called “Lapua Movement”. Since the government was unwilling to put an end to communism, it would be up to the people to do so. Next, they would attack the printing presses of the “Voice of the People” newspaper and totally destroy them. Asser Salo, a lawyer and Communist MP, filed a lawsuit on behalf of “Voice” for damages against the Lapua Movement and some of its members. Five men took responsibility for the action.

On the court date, as witnesses tried to make it to court, a mob attacked them, beat them up, and tore their clothes. Salo was grabbed, shoved into a car, and kidnapped. He would be taken to a remote location and threatened. Eventually, he was let go but only after he promised to renounce treasonous activities and to never to step foot in Lapua again. The media would start speaking of frontier justice

As the “Law of Lapua”. The Lapua movement became aware of its own strength. Several leftist members of parliament would be kidnapped, beaten up, driven to the Soviet border, and told to keep walking. Several of the kidnappings turned deadly, with the leftist politicians Onni Happonen, Erik Mättö and Yrjö Holm being killed.

After these shows of power, the leadership of the Lapua movement would become an unofficial shadow government of Finland. It dictated to the government, who, fearing for the loyalty of the army and the White Guard, obeyed. President Relander chose to appease the movement and outlaw certain newspapers. This was not enough for the Lapua movement, however. On the 7th of July, 1930, 12,000 Lapua members marched on Helsinki to pressure the government to outlaw communist parties. The government capitulated and banned communist parties. A lot of the men were armed and Colonel Susitaival had even brought machine gun trucks. His men were prepared to arrest the government and execute the remaining leftist MPs.

However, the leadership of Lapua made a fatal mistake by choosing not to overthrow the government when it easily could have. The government acquiesced and outlawed communism, but the rot and fester of liberalism remained because a fully fascist government wasn’t in place. A few years later, elements of the Lapua movement started an uprising in Mäntsälä in response to a leftist gathering; they shot up the house they had gathered in. The leadership and national organization was not behind the uprising. It dried up in a few short days. The Lapua movement would never again enjoy the power they did just a few years ago. They reformed into the Patriotic People’s Movement party, which enjoyed some electoral success. However, they would remain an opposition party, not the dominant one.

In 1939, Finland would become the target of Soviet aggression. This further pushed the underground communist movement even deeper underground. The 1940s were a quiet time for direct action since the men were fighting on the front. However, after the shameful peace treaty with the USSR, which legalized the hated communist party, anti-communist terrorism flourished. Gathering places were torched. Communist newspapers were bombed. One such newspaper, the “Free Word”, was blown up by a gang of nationalist youth using IEDs built from artillery shells. The latter half of the 40s would be quiet however, as Finland struggled to maintain independence from USSR. They kept one foot in the West and one foot in the East. Eventually, Finland prevailed and the threat of communist takeover passed, although Finland would suffer for decades from a delayed Finlandization corrupted by proximity to Communist influence.

One of the main figures of the Lapua movement and Patriotic People’s Movement, Colonel Susitaival summed up his life, and the life of many of his comrades thus: “Three wars, two rebellions, four prison stints. Unfortunately, once in parliament as well.”