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Finland gained its independence from Russia in 1917. The influences that Russia had upon the Finnish Revolution and subsequent civil war were many. The Tsar of Russia and his ruling policies towards Finland, the events of World War I, and the rise of Soviet communism all played important roles in guiding Finland towards revolution, and in shaping the nation after independence had been declared. Each of the influences affected a different aspect of the process leading to the formation of an independent Finnish Republic. Finland was a part of the Swedish Empire from the middle of the twelfth century until 1809, when Russia conquered Finland in a war with Sweden. When Finland was under control of the Swedes it was a group of provinces and not actually a country. After being joined with Russia these provinces gained a national character. The ruler of the Russian Empire, Tsar Alexander I, made Finland into a Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire. This meant all the lands of Finland were joined together as one autonomous unit. The ruler of the Russian Empire would be given the title Grand Duke of Finland. He would be represented in Finland by an appointed Governor General. The Finns were allowed to rule themselves under the Governor General through a Senate, made up entirely of Finns. There was little interference from the Tsar in the governing of Finland. By 1863 Finland acted like a normal independent country, it had its own language, army, legal system, and religion and was a separate economic entity from Russia, with its own currency and the ability to collect taxes and impose tariffs. Although Finland had its own language, Swedish was the predominant language of the ruling class. Society in Finland was similar in structure to Sweden, where there was a ruling upper class with farmers and workers in a fixed position under them. Society stayed this way until the 1870’s when the senate passed legislation permitting free enterprise and social mobility. This led to the introduction of capital into the country and a boom in industry and population. Finland was allowed to operate freely without interference from Russia until 1899, when Tsar Nicholas II imposed laws that encroached upon the autonomy of the Finnish state. The laws that Nicholas II imposed upon the Finns were written in an Imperial Manifesto of February 15, 1899. These laws dealt specifically with the governmental procedures of Finland. It was felt that the government of Finland must be more closely tied to that of Russia. All the doings of the Finnish government were examined by the Russian Council of Ministers, and then approved by the Tsar himself. This policy shocked the Finnish people, but not as much as the laws placed upon the country as a whole. There was legislation passed which made Russian an official language in Finland, the granting of full rights of citizenship in Finland to Russian nationals, and made the ruble official legal currency in Finland. Although these laws took away the Finnish identity from the people, most seemed not to care. Finnish was still a national language, and the Finnish mark was still a usable currency, so the first Russification policies didn’t affect the average Finn. This apathy was changed to anger in 1901. The Russian government introduced a law that dissolved the Finnish army, and required Finnish men to serve as conscripts in the Russian army. These laws which were imposed led to the beginnings of a feeling of Finnish nationalism, at first it was only the members of the ruling class who showed their displeasure with the Russians, but the new conscription law gave everyone a reason to despise the Russians. In 1902 over half the Finnish conscripts refused to report for duty. To counter this defiance the Tsar suspended the Finnish constitution, and gave the Governor General complete dictatorial power. He remained in power as a dictator for a little over a year. On June 3, 1904 he was assassinated by the son of a former senator named Eugen Schauman. Some of the Finnish people followed their political leaders in joining active resistance movements against the Russians. At the same time groups of workers joined together into labor unions. The formation of these labor groups was accompanied by the formation of a socialist party in Finland. As was the case with the Nazi party in Germany, the Finnish Social Democratic Party (SDP) started out small and grew to become the most powerful party in Finland. The SDP went around Finland trying to recruit new members to their party, but found it difficult in rural areas. This was because they tried to recruit small land owners to join their cause. This posed a problem because these people did not want to give up their status as land owners. The SDP also made the mistake of stressing its atheism and materialism to those people of the countryside who were set in their rather humble ways and attached to their religion. This would come back to haunt the socialists, these country folk later became their enemies in the Finnish Civil War.

The Russians continued to pose a threat to both the bourgeois and to the workers in Finland, but for different reasons. The ruling bourgeois were threatened by the Russians because they prevented from ruling the country the way they saw fit, and the socialists felt that the Russians were supporting the capitalist factory owners who were keeping the workers down. The advent of World War One put the Finns in an interesting position. The SDP played little part in the politics of World War One because it was seen as an Imperialist war, “in which the worker should have no interest.” It was the ruling upper class who seemed more interested with World War One. There was a division in the country on which side to pull for in the war, many wanted to be quiet because they feared if they acted up and Russia won they would deal harshly with the country, while others supported the German cause, believing that the Finns were more closely related to the Germans than to the Russians. So Finland was forced to play a guessing game as to which side to support. As was the case during the Napoleonic wars they tried to align themselves with the country that looked like it was going to win. Early on in the war the members of the Finnish bourgeoisie made a deal with the Germans which allowed for the training of Finnish men in Germany. These men were formed into a battalion of the German army and only used in battle when Finnish interests were directly involved. The Russians used Finland as their gate to the west after the Germans had cut off the major Russian shipping lanes of the Baltic Sea. Most of the Russian fleet was moved to Helsinki and the Russians were stationing men throughout Finland. With the dissolution of tsarist rule in Russia and the formation of the Provisional Government the upper class Finns were placed in an interesting situation, they had already asked for the support of the Germans, but were also receiving help from the Russians in gaining back political power they had lost to the SDP. The workers in Finland began violent protest in the form of strikes in the early months of 1917, after a short time the workers demands were met and laws were passed protecting their rights. After this was settled the Senate entered into negotiations deciding what the future status would be between Russia and Finland. There was one political group in Russia at this time that would let the Finns decide what their future status with Russia would be after the war. The Bolsheviks, led by V.I. Lenin were willing to cut all ties with Finland, and grant them full independence from Russia. The Finnish socialists played a big role in this scheme. Lenin believed that a strong socialist party in Finland would help out in strengthening the socialist party in Russia. The socialists in Finland had been getting ready for independence and had been building up forces, called Red Guards, to fight against the nationalist Protective Corps when the time came. As one might have guessed the Red Guards were allied with the Bolsheviks and would receive aid from them in the upcoming civil war. The Finnish government declared itself independent from Russia in December of 1917, and almost immediately called for the evacuation of Russian troops from Finnish land. Along with the expulsion of Russian troops from Finland, the Finnish Senate passed legislation calling for the formation of a “protective force” in Finland. This force was the Finnish Army, dubbed the White Guard by the socialists. It was with this force that the Red Guard would fight in the civil war. The civil war began by the Russians refusing to leave Finland. The Finnish Army went to force them out, at this time the Red Guard seized control of Helsinki. The Civil War was very short, only two months long, but in that time both sides suffered tremendous losses. The Finnish Army, supplied by Germany defeated the Soviet backed Socialist Red Guard and placed a republican government in charge of the country. It is interesting to note that the socialists were allowed to participate in the new government of Finland, albeit in a minority role.For over five hundred years Finland had been the lapdog of the Swedish and Russian empires. It more than likely would have continued to be so if the Bolsheviks had not come to power in Russia, the Finns would have had a difficult time in gaining its independence from the remnants of the Russian empire. It is also unlikely that Finland would have gained the help of the Bolsheviks if they did not show strong tendencies towards socialism. The Finns took a number of cues from the Russians in their push for independence.


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