Finnish Revolution of 1918

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Finnish Revolution of 1918


a workers’ revolution that took place in Finland from January to May 1918.

The revolution broke out during an upsurge that had developed in the Finnish revolutionary movement at the end of 1917 under the influence of the October Revolution in Russia. In response to terrorist acts by White Guard units, the buildings of the Senate and other central institutions in Helsinki were occupied in the early morning of Jan. 28, 1918, by detachments of the Red Guard, which had been established in the summer of 1917. This action of the workers of Helsinki was quickly followed by the workers’ seizure of public buildings in such cities as Turku, Tampere, Pori, Kotka, Lahti, and Viipuri. The revolution was confined primarily to southern Finland, which was the most industrially developed part of the country. The north, along with the greater part of central Finland, to which several members of the bourgeois Senate had fled from Helsinki, remained under the control of the reactionary forces.

A revolutionary government—the Council of People’s Commissioners—was formed in Helsinki on January 28. Members of the council included the Social Democrats K. Manner, who was its chairman, Y. Sirola, and O. Kuusinen. The Chief Workers’ Council was established as the supreme body of power. It had 35 members: ten from the Party Council of the Social Democratic Party of Finland, ten from the trade unions, ten from the Red Guard, and five from the Helsinki diet of workers’ organizations, which had been established in March 1917.

The Council of People’s Commissioners published a program on January 29. Democratic in character, the program called for the preparation of a socialist revolution. Industrial committees were formed. The bodies actually implementing the dictatorship of the proletariat were the diets of workers’ organizations; these diets had been set up in March 1917 to defend the economic interests of the working people.

On January 31 the Council of People’s Commissioners adopted a law granting to the poor peasants the lands they rented; all obligations of the peasants to the landowners were annulled. On February 1 the council took control of the Bank of Finland and passed a provisional law on revolutionary courts. The private banks still operating were placed under state supervision on February 12. Many industrial establishments were taken over by the state.

Soviet Russia helped with food supplies by allowing the Council of People’s Commissioners to dispatch Finnish trains to Siberia, where grain could be purchased.

A draft of a democratic constitution was published on February 23. The constitution proclaimed Finland a republic, in which all power belonged to the people. Finland’s independence was provided with a firm foundation by the conclusion on March 1 of the Treaty on Strengthening Friendship and Fraternity between the RSFSR and the Finnish Socialist Workers’ Republic, as the country was called in the text of the treaty at V. I. Lenin’s suggestion.

Unable to put down the revolution, the Finnish bourgeoisie began a civil war and turned for help to the German imperialists. On Mar. 7, 1918, a treaty was concluded in Berlin between the German government and the counterrevolutionary government of P. Svinhufvud, which had its seat in the city of Vaasa. The treaty reduced Finland to complete political and economic dependence on Germany. The first German detachment reached Ahvenanmaa (Åland Islands) on March 5, before the treaty was signed. On April 3 the Baltic Division, which numbered 12,000 men and was led by R. von der Goltz, landed at Hanko in the rear of the Red Guard forces. On April 7 a detachment of 3,000 men landed near Loviisa.

Despite the heroic resistance of the 80,000 men of the Red Guard, which, at the request of the Council of People’s Commissioners, had received arms and equipment from Soviet Russia, the counterrevolutionary forces prevailed. On April 6, White Finnish troops under the command of General C. G. von Mannerheim gained a decisive victory near Tampere and occupied the city. On April 14, German troops captured Helsinki. Viipuri fell to the Germans on April 29. After the final defeat of the revolution in early May, the Finnish bourgeoisie dealt harshly with its participants and their families. According to the most recent Finnish studies, as many as 90,000 persons were imprisoned or put into concentration camps, and more than 8,000 were executed. Some Red Guard units managed to escape to the RSFSR.

The leaders of the Finnish workers’ movement analyzed the failure of the revolution and concluded that one reason for its defeat was the country’s lack of a genuinely revolutionary, mass-scale Marxist-Leninist party. Accordingly, they undertook the establishment of the Communist Party of Finland. The party’s founding congress was held on Aug. 29, 1918.


Lenin, V. I. “Pis’mo finskim tovarishcham.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 35.
Lenin, V. I. “Doklad o ratifikatsii mirnogo dogovora [14 marta 1918 g.].”lbid., vol.36.
Kuusinen, O. V. Revolutsiia v Finliandii: Samokritika. Petrograd, 1919.
Siukiiainen, I. I. Revoliutsionnye sobytiia 1917–1918 gg. v Finliandii. Petrozavodsk, 1962. (Contains bibliography, pp. 301–10.)
Kholodkovskii, V. M. Revoliutsiia 1918 goda v Finliandii i germanskaia interventsiia. Moscow, 1967. (Contains bibliography, pp. 359–77.)
Paavolainen, S. Polittiset väkivaltaisundet Suomessa 1918, parts 1–2. Helsinki, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Otto Kuusinen was one of the leaders of Finnish social democracy, and of the abortive Finnish Revolution of 1918 that followed shortly after the declaration of independence.
The Industrial Workers of the World became a force to be reckoned with as a result of a fortuitous convergence of events, the arrival in northern Ontario in the late teens and early twenties of two groups of immigrants: Finnish "Reds" fleeing "White" repression during and following the Finnish Revolution of 1918, and Finnish American Wobblies fleeing the draft and state repression in the United States.
Following the Finnish Revolution of 1918 he became an organizer of, and leading figure in, the Communist Party, not a Wobbly.
(35) Here we see the ideas of the IWW dovetailing with the legacy of recent Finnish history, as the Wobbly questioning of leaders bears a striking resemblance to the attitude of many Finnish workers toward the actions of Social Democratic leaders both before and during the Finnish Revolution of 1918.
In the years prior to 1918 the great majority of these Finnish leftists were members or supporters of the Social Democratic or Socialist Party of Canada, but after the Finnish Revolution of 1918 they quickly shifted their allegiance from the Social Democratic Party and the Socialist Party to the One Big Union (OBU), and just as quickly from the OBU to the Wobblies and the Communist Party.
According to McDonald all the waitresses were members of the IWW, and one of the cooks was a woman who had served a year in a Finnish prison for her activities on behalf of the Reds during the Finnish Revolution of 1918. One of the waitresses he describes as "the greatest dramatic artist I have seen for many years on any stage," and McDonald was equally impressed by a Miss H.

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