Finland 1917 – A centenary in the shadows of independence celebrations and civil war commemorations

Spring 2018

In 2017 there was worldwide commentary on the centenary of the Russian October revolution, not least in the Finnish daily press. The centenary of 1917 was also celebrated in Finland as a commemoration of one hundred years of Finnish independence. As many press reports note, the Russian October revolution was perceived in Finland as a unique moment to push for this independence. At times, however, these celebrations have been disconnected from the Russian revolution, focusing instead on Finnish nationalist activism. The question of how the Russian revolution is related to commemorations of the independent nation remains ambiguous, and is largely left in the shadows of more forward-looking independence celebrations and the bitter remembrance of the subsequent civil war of 1918. In interpreting Finnish perceptions and commemorations of 1917, one should bear in mind that until December 1917, Finland was part of the Russian empire. As an autonomous Grand Duchy of the Russian empire, it had been the victim of harsh Russification and diminishing self-determination during the preceding decades. During the second half of the nineteenth century, both the labour movement and the Finnish independence movements developed as powerful elements of Finnish civil society. On the one hand, the labour movement strove for better working and living conditions for the growing Finnish working class. On the other there was a quest for self-determination from the Russian regime. The national question was also of importance for the labour movement. Among the major debates at the time was over the question of whether social revolution should come first – directed against the ruling classes of Finland – or whether the labour movement should postpone its socialist demands and first form a broad alliance with the upper classes to make a common bid for independence. As long as tsarist Russia stood intact, both hopes seemed no more than distant dreams.

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Twentieth Century Communism 14: 1917 in 2017