Russian anarchists in Finland 1917-1918 - Ari Vakkilainen

Short article on anarchist activity in the Finnish Civil War, originally published in 1989.

Translator's notes:

This text was translated from Finnish to English language in June 2012. It originally appeared in Kapinatyöläinen #2 in 1989, but is here translated from the collection of Ari Vakkilainen's anarchist texts from 1989-1999 called Suikassa Hurisee, released by Työväen Tuotantokomitea in 2010.

Regarding the translation I feel that some points could have been rephrased to sound better in English, but I have chosen to stay as true to the original text as possible, altering punctuation and phrasing as little as possible while still keeping the text readable.

Not much information is available on anarchists in the Finnish Civil War, and even if this text is far from filling that gap in history, I feel it is satisfying to have something that speaks for there being anarchist activity at all in the country at the time, and so maybe give interested people a starting point or an inspiration to find out more about the mater.

Frimod Fredriksson,
Finland, June 2012.

Russian anarchists in Finland 1917-1918

Lenin is known to have suggested that the "October revolution" should be made cautiously only in Helsinki1. The most adamant bolsheviks rejected the idea. When the so called provisional government took power in February 1917, Finland was one of many places where the authority of the government was implausible, to say the least. About 50 of the most hated officers where shot in February. The russian soldiers didn't obey their officers anymore, but anybody who managed to evoke respect and trust.

Did lenin make the "October revolution"? In reality the revolution was made by unknown conscripts, who were tired of the war. The revolution would have started even without the bolsheviks. Lenin and his friends started claiming to be the "government". The power of this government was in reality just as insignificant as that of the previous one. The official history of the Soviet Union makes the slip of telling us, that of Russia's army merely 30 000 men were loyal to the bolsheviks. These were either Latvian snipers or Siberians. Not one Russian or Ukrainian unit was loyal to the bolskeviks, the revolution was supported but not the bolshevik "government".

Lenin, in his "Collected Works", states that that "the revolution could not have been made without the Latvian snipers."

According to the official history of the Soviet Union the red army was initially attempted to be set up on voluntary basis. Only 160 000 members turned up. In Finland the red guards had over 100 000 mostly voluntary members. Lenin with friends made the easiest trick possible. The red army was established by force in the summer of 1918. The Latvians executed everybody who refused to take up arms.

What about the happenings in Finland? In summer 1917 an "anarchist club" was formed in a former gasfactory2. At the turn of November-December the same year a black flag decorated with a skull was raised on the flagpole of Katajanokan Kasino3. 4.2.1918 the bolsheviks of Helsinki telegraphed St. Petersburg crying for "a disciplined Latvian regiment and two or three armoured trains" to put down the anarchists. The reason: the anarchists tought the bolsheviks were going to "oppress the workers". Damn them for exposing that!

The Finnish bourgeoise and "socialists" had for years been using the word "anarchism" for terrorism. 9.3.1918 the chief of the red militia of Helsinki decided to attack the anarchists. One Russian and one Finn was killed without any evidence of anarchist involvement in political murders4.

After this the anarchists tried to issue a declaration in Finnish, but a hero named Sirola5 stopped it from being printed in the journal called Työmies6.

250 anarchist sailors clashed with the Lapua Civil Guard7 in Ruovesi8 in February. The anarchist attack over a snowy field failed, because "graduate Roos got to whipe out the 'barbarians' with a machine gun from a good spot". Following this the disappointed anarchists travelled to St. Petersburg. Two friends with their black skull and crossbone flags stayed at the front for some time trying to wage guerilla war.

24.4.1918 Lenin sent the Latvians against the anarchists. According to official Soviet Union history, the reason was that the anarchists tended to rob rich people. What would become of that, if the poor was allowed to steal from the rich? So the "communists" hurried to protect private property! Official Soviet history exposes marxism's complete senselessness.

It wasn't until summer 1918 that the bolsheviks started to gain real power. All the former units of the army were either merged to the red army or crushed. The show was ran by the noble lawyer Lenin. Not one single worker or poor peasant belonged to the leading bolsheviks. Even according to the official history of the Soviet Union 200 000 poor people fought the bolsheviks with arms during the civil war. Half of these were led in Ukraina by an anarchist, the worker Nestor Mahno9. The anarchists that had dwelled at Katajanokan Kasino finally died in St. Petersburg, shot by the Latvians. Even so, it is rather surprising to find, that there seems to have been more anarchists than bolsheviks among the russian soldiers in Finland, seeing as the bolsheviks had to ask (in vain) for backup from St. Petersburg10. As we follow the current happenings in the Soviet Union, let's remember that the anarchists that lodged at Katajanokka declared:

"If an angel was given power, even it would grow horns and claws"

Ari Vakkilainen

  • 1. Capital of Finland. -F.F.
  • 2. In the original it is explained that this former gasfactory was located where the main postoffice of Helsinki is located today, this part was omitted because the wording was hard to translate without major changes in phrasing, and because it probably is of little relevance for international readers. -F.F.
  • 3. Katajanokan Kasino was a casino/club for russian officers built in 1913. It was occupied by the red side in the civil war. After the war it was used by Finnish officers, and it is today a restaurant. -F.F.
  • 4. This seems to imply that the official "reason" for attacking the anarchists would have been a fabricated claim about anarchists beeing involved in political murders. The original text isn't very clear in this passage, as it also doesn't clearly state wheter the two deaths were anarchists or "reds". -F.F.
  • 5. The original reads "sankari nimeltä Sirola". Used in this context the word hero is in Finnish spoken language used as an insult. -F.F.
  • 6. Työmies is Finnish for "working man".-F.F.
  • 7. Part of the white guards, who represented the interests of land-owning farmers and the middle and upper-classes in the Finnish Civil War. -F.F.
  • 8. A municipality in Finland. -F.F.
  • 9. Mahno is the correct way to spell Makhno in Finnish. -F.F.
  • 10. The translator would like to note that there were many more groups than simply anarchists and bolsheviks in the revolution, and assuming that everyone who didn't support the bolsheviks was an anarchist is certainly an overstatement. -F.F.