August 17, 2021
From ML-Theory
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The working class guards were initially created for numerous different reasons.

When the Russian Tsar was overthrown, the Russian police in Finland was also dismantled. Finland had no police force of its own, and for this reason a so-called People’s Militia was created, to serve as a police force. The militia was an officially recognized government organ, but it was very different in composition from a typical capitalist police. First of all, many police officers who had served under the Tsar were seen as unreliable or treasonous, either by the government itself or by the population and were thus not allowed into the Militia or were later kicked out due to public protest. The purging of the Tsarists from the police force allowed new people to get in. The Militia was thrown together very quickly and spontaneously to fill the need for a police force, and these factors allowed for a very large working class representation in it. In some places which did not have a militia, the workers themselves created outright proletarian militias.

“At first, workers played an important role in the people’s militia. Later the workers’ role in the militias decreased due to opposition from the bourgeoisie and the senate… The militia did not become an organ loyal to the bourgeoisie, in order to guard the interests of its members it even utilized such familiar working class methods as strikes.” (Holodkovski, p.9)

The militias sometimes served as a basis for the future red guards. The biggest reason red guards were created, was to keep order during strikes and protests, especially to protect the workers from white guards who tried to smash strikes or to bring in strike breakers. The parliamentary strategy had failed and therefore workers resorted more and more to direct actions like demonstrations and surrounding government buildings, demanding concessions from the government. In these conflicts the white guard tried to rescue to capitalist politicians and the red guard tried to protect the demonstrators. At that point the red guards were still unarmed.

Historians Suodenjoki and Peltola explain:

“Workers had created red guards and order-keeping forces already in the spring of 1917… The worker guards – similarly to white guards – were not originally intended for war, but for local purposes. The worker guards were a credible voluntary force for keeping order, in localities where such a force did not exist. During the year 1917 guards were created in conjunction with strikes and other conflicts, but even then their purpose was clearly self-defense. [Pertti Haapala, Kun yhteiskunta hajosi. Suomi 1914-1920, pp. 238-240]

The social-democratic party was originally not involved in creating guards. Until the end of the summer the majority of party leadership more likely opposed the creation of guards in their attempt to minimize the spread of unrest. However, more guards were created during the summer and radical revolutionism increased, which forced the party to reconsider the situation. The party had to try to gain control of the guards, which were being created regardless. Since the beginning of September party organizations began taking a more active part in the creation of worker guards.” [Klemettilä, 38-40] (Suodenjoki & Peltola, p. 237)

“The October [1917] congress of the Finnish Trade-Union Federation, which discussed the food-crisis had a big impact on the creation of worker guards… [A delegate from Tampere] declared that if nothing else works, the food situation must be solved by creating a workers’ dictatorship. Other delegates voiced similar opinions. [Marja-Leena Salkola, Työväenkaartin synty ja kehitys punakaartiksi 1917-18 ennen kansalaissotaa 2, pp. 17, 53]

As a result of the meeting the SAJ [Finnish Trade-Union Federation] sent a demand to the Finnish government on 20. of October, which called for the trade and distribution of food to be handed entirely to the state. It also demanded price controls for food, prices to be set reasonably low to meet the buying power of the consumers, as well as increasing food production and importing… the SAJ leadership encouraged workers to create order-keeping guards “for self-defense and to prepare for any possible situation.” The message from the SAJ was also accepted by the social-democrat party executive committee. This was the first time the leadership of the working class movement publically encouraged the workers to create red guards.” [Salkola, pp. 17-21](Suodenjoki & Peltola, pp. 237-238)

“The reason behind encouraging the creation of worker guards was the worsening food shortage. The working class movement demanded more effective methods from the government to combat the shortage and prepared for general strike, in case the food question could not be solved satisfactorily.

“SAJ’s sharply worded message… activated the workers significantly… Guards were formed in many places where they didn’t previously exist – with the exception of strike-watch forces and other minor order keeping forces. Red guard organisations existed in at least 17 municipalities and at the start of the general strike on 14. of December there were guards in at least 28 municipalities, that is in 4/5 municipalities of Pirkanmaa…

“In Tampere a local order-keeping force which functioned based on when it was needed, had already been created following the February revolution. In May, a more regular “Militia force of the Workers’ organizations of Tampere” was created, which still remained non-military in character. When the party began observing and guiding the creation of red guards… It got the name “Working people’s organization guard of Tampere”. The guard’s structure was formed by trade-union chapters: members were recruited from the best men of the local chapters.” [Pertti Haapala, Tehtaan valossa. Teollistuminen ja työväestön muodostuminen Tampereella 1820-1920. Historiallisia tutkimuksia 133, p. 313, Klemettilä, Salkola pp. 128-134] (Suodenjoki & Peltola, p. 238)

“…in the rules adopted for worker guard organizations on October 23. their mission was defined as protecting the rights of workers – it was felt that workers… needed guards for their safety, since the bourgeoisie was creating its own white guard forces to safeguard its interests. [Source: Salkola, pp. 33, 37-45]

In some municipalities of Pirkanmaa creation of worker guard organizations was clearly a reaction to the bourgeoisie creating white guards. For example in Orivesi and Hämeenkyrö the workers explained the reason they needed a red guard force was due to the presence of the white guard. It is worth noting that in 2/3 of the municipalities in Pirkanmaa the white guard was certainly formed before the worker guard.” [Salkola, pp. 312-313, 532-533] (Suodenjoki & Peltola, p. 239)

The people’s militia was merged with the red guard in many places, beginning with the December 1917 general strike. An order from red guard leadership read:
“Keeping order is one of the duties of the workers’ guard; the workers’ militia will join the guard.” (quoted in Punakaarti Rintamalla, p. 105)

A number of different stages can be seen in red guard formation: 1. the public militia, 2. then the stage of creating purely proletarian order-keeping forces, 3. the creation of red guards for local self-defense, local strikes and demonstrations, 4. the party and trade-union federation getting involved and guards being formed nationwide in a centrally coordinated way, 5. and finally the red guards becoming a military force.

“In many places the guards were created by local workers’ societies. Social-democratic municipal organizations also often served as the founders. [Salkola, p. 68] Trade-union chapters did this rarely… because they were strongest in large cities where guards were already formed earlier. Passivity of trade-union chapters is also explained by the fact that… municipal organizations and workers’ societies… were the highest local organs, they naturally took responsibility for creating guard organizations. In some cases other types of worker organizations also created guards.

Selection of applicants to the guard was often done in meetings of worker organizations. All volunteers were not necessarily accepted.” (Suodenjoki & Peltola, p. 241)

“According to the rules of workers’ order-keeping guards, only organized workers were to be accepted as members. This happened naturally, as recruits were chosen by workers’ societies and trade-union chapters from their own members. The rules also required that recruits had to be “class conscious, knowledgeable about social-democratic methods and otherwise trustworthy comrades.” (Suodenjoki & Peltola, pp. 241-242)

ORGANIZATION AND STRUCTURE OF THE RED GUARD ARMY:

A military history website explains the organization of the red army as follows:

“Organisation used by Finnish Red Guards was basically borrowed from Battalions from Army of Finnish Grand Duchy, which existed pre year 1900. Red Guard organisation had also battalion – division levels, but in reality its companies fought as independent companies, not as battalions or regiments… In reality the size of Red Guard company varied in between 70 – 150 men.” (Source: https://www.jaegerplatoon.net/FORMATIONS1.htm)

The typical structure was given as the following: A Red Guard rifle company was lead by a company commander and a commissar directly below him, the company was divided into 4 platoons, each lead by a platoon leader, with 2 rifle squads of a dozen men under him.

The structure for a machine gun company is given as the following: A company commander and a commissar, with 3 machinegun platoons under them, 4 machineguns per platoon.

The full army structure was this: 4 companies formed a battalion, 4 battalions a regiment, 2 regiments a brigade and 2 brigades a division. However, the Red Guard typically fought as separate companies (several hundred soldiers) or some times as Battalions (thousand soldiers or even more) but coordinating operations larger then this was practically never done. The larger units served as a command structure and for moving troops around, but had no significance in battle.

Source: https://www.jaegerplatoon.net/FORMATIONS1.htm

Historians corraborate this information, as roughly being true, but there were local differences.

“The most important basic military unit was a company, whose strength was 110 men (2+4+8+96). The company was divided into four platoons, and each platoon consisted of 27 men (1+2+24). However in reality, many companies did not follow these quantities but were lacking. Local units in the rural areas could vary from a few men to hundreds in size. On top of that there were special companies (e.g. machine gun, flying and artillery companies). For example in Virkkala, the flying A-company consisted only of a single platoon (27 men).” (Koskinen, s.61)

“The strength of the guard in Tampere [in late 1917] was apparently around couple thousand. It included three actual battalions and a shorthanded railway workers’ battalion, which were all organized into a regiment a little before the general strike [of December 1917]. On top of that, a few special units were formed in connection with the Tampere guard, such as an espionage and intelligence unit, an orchestra and an ambulance unit. Around October-December a “Workers order-keeping guard’s women’s organizations” was created for the guard’s medical care, which tried to recruit members e.g. through newspaper notices.[Klemettilä, pp. 44-47] In the surrounding municipalities at least in Virrat the guard included a women’s organization.” [Salkola, Työväenkaartin synty ja kehitys punakaartiksi 1917-18 ennen kansalaissotaa 2, p. 76](Suodenjoki & Peltola, p. 242)

In Helsinki the red guard also formed several so-called naval companies from sailors, “for the purpose of acquiring ships for the use of the red guard, and for coastal defense” (Punakaarti Rintamalla, p. 169)

In practice squads of about dozen men formed platoons, which formed companies of around 100 or 200 soldiers. Companies formed battalions which could be almost a 1000 soldiers. They in turn formed regiments of thousands. Capitalist historian Upton writes:

“On paper, the organization of the Red Guard looked like that of a normal army; the men were enlisted in companies of 96 men, four of these formed a battalion, and four battalions a regiment. Thus Helsinki Red Guard began as two regiments in January, and then added three more by the end of March. Viipuri raised 131 companies, all based on workplaces or villages, which formed nine regiments; Tampere, Turku, and Lahti all raised regiments. But the regiments and the battalions were administrative and record-keeping structures; the fighting unit was the company. Only on rare occasions is a battalion found operating as a fighting force. The Red Guard was therefore an army that consisted of hundreds of largely self-governing companies, of very uneven quality and size, and any effective operational orders had to be directed to the company level.”
(Upton, pp. 404-405)

“a genuine comradely spirit did exist, a sense of loyalty to mates, to class and to the cause, which held the Red Guard together in the absence of the usual military sanctions. But it was not always enough.” (Upton, p. 407)

The Red Guard army was under the leadership of the Workers’ Executive Committee, the highest revolutionary authority. The Red Guard had a national general staff, regional staff and local staff. The general staff near front-lines were called “front staff”.

“In many places guard staff was created already weeks before the class war… They carried out various administrative tasks… Though it had been originally planned that they would serve some kind of militaristic functions, their real work turned out completely differently: the original guard staffs became sort of civillian bureaus, committees and for military purposes new committees emerged: the front staffs…” (Punakaarti Rintamalla, p. 163)

The regional front staffs commanded entire army groups, and although the structure fluctuated all the time, there were three army groups and basically three main fronts: so called “Northern Front” near Tampere, “Central Front” around Savonia and “Eastern Front” around Karelia.

“[Front] staffs were chosen via heads of detachments choosing a leader, and one or two assistant leaders, a commander of artillery, commander of machine guns, reconnoisance, food and housing etc… front commanders were appointed by the national general staff.” (Punakaarti Rintamalla, p. 167)

A red guard on the central front explained their command structure as follows:

“The front staff divided its work in the following way: a) war department, b) finance department, c) munitions committee, d) medical department. The war department was split into four parts: 1) Leadership made assault and defense plans, troop movements and maneuvers with the commander. 2) The equipment officer handled acquiring ammunition and other war materials and delivering them to the front… 3) The cartographer prepared battle maps. 4) Rapporteur was tasked to gather reports arriving from different fronts and to unite them to a coherent whole, as well as prepare and deliver all messages from the war department.” (Punakaarti Rintamalla, p. 117)

A red guard on the Eastern front said: “The leaders were elected in mass meetings of soldiers, all the way up to the highest commanders and commanders were changed quite often” (Punakaarti Rintamalla, p. 197)

Local command was typically 5 or 6 people, about half chosen by party organizations and half by the soldiers:

“According to rules the local guard leadership consisted of a five member executive committee. Three members were chosen by the local worker organization delegate assembly [a soviet], social-democratic municipal organization or workers’ society, while the red guard members chose two. In many municipalities the local guard leadership was chosen in this way but not nearly everywhere.[Salkola, Työväenkaartin synty ja kehitys punakaartiksi 1917-18 ennen kansalaissotaa 2, pp. 82-84] For example in Tampere the leadership… which was referred to as central command, included six members. Three had been chosen by the municipal organization, three by the guard members. This was done to insure the guard members had equal influence with the municipal organization.

“According to the guard’s rules, officers were elected by the members. This reflected the guard’s character as originally a non-military organization, familiar methods from working class movement were adopted into their work.”[Klemettilä, p. 46-47] (Suodenjoki & Peltola, p. 242)

A massive book about the civil war by the Finnish ministry of education states:

“The red guard’s organization already existed before the outbreak of war. At the top there was the national general staff, and under it regional and local staffs.”
(Kansanvaltuuskunta punaisen Suomen hallituksena, Osmo Rinta-Tassi, p.188)

That was the original situation. However, as we saw from other sources, to handle actual fighting separate front general staffs were established.

The book by the Finnish ministry of education further states that “The organization of the top military leadership only properly got going in March, when the strategic position of the reds was already weakening.” and “Separation of civillian and military administration advocated… was completed only as late as 20th of March [after it] had been prepared for over a month”. This only goes to show the challenges the reds faced, because they were relatively less prepared for the war then the whites and were amateurs in military matters.

The structure of the red state, consisted of amauters: average workers and peasants, not professional bureaucrats. Their military was really a paramilitary, based on volunteers with no training. As a result the structure and methods of the red guard varied from place to place, there was a lot of confusion about which institution should do what, often times military organizations like the red guard, were forced to carry out purely civillian tasks and even in military matters they acted in very non-military ways. They elected their officers, shared power between red guards and civillian organizations and in many ways behaved exactly like trade-union organizations with guns, rather then a professional army.

“The term “staff” is rather misleading because of its military connotations, since most of these committees had nothing to do with military operations, but were concerned with organization and record-keeping at the rear. They were responsible for internal security, which involved organizing guards and patrols, and making searches and arrests, but these quasi-military functions were really police duties. The civilian character of most staffs was reflected in their membership, which tended

to consist of the older party members, and the mountains of paper that they have left behind them show that they were mainly occupied in calculating pay, distributing food and clothing, arranging accommodation, and issuing endless permits and certificates. The term staff was also misleading because these bodies did not see themselves as the sources of executive authority, but as delegate bodies, elected by and responsible to the mass membership, so that all major decisions had to be referred to general meetings… When companies were brought together for operations, the commanders and their staffs would elect delegates to form a Front Staff, which actually directed military operations…” (Upton, p. 408)

“The red guard consisted of workers and the rural poor.”
“It naturally did not include any bank directors, large landowners, shop-owners etc… 65.63% or two thirds of reds who fell in battle were workers and farm-laborers. With house servants and temp workers included the number is 77.96%. Among whites who fell in battle there were only 17% workers, but there were 45.38% land-owning peasants. The white army also included other members of the wealthier classes – employers etc. Among reds who fell in battle only 5.36% owned their own plot of land. [V. Rasila, Kansalaissodan sosiaalinen tausta, pp. 40-41]” (Holodkovski, p.308)

“Soldier material on the red side was from a military and class standpoints undoubtedly more homogenous then on the white side and there was enough of it voluntarily available. The working population of cities and industrial centers, including its skilled sections, who because of the influence of the working class movement had become used to solid organization and discipline, was ready to step voluntarily into the ranks of the red guard. The agricultural workers and tenant farmers were also voluntarily on the side of the reds.

The red military leadership on the otherhand could not even be compared to the white leadership. After all, military training had not been available in Finland for decades. Learning to use even basic weapons took time, and there were no teachers. The reds had only one officer at their disposal, Russian officer colonel Svetsnikov… the red military leadership practically developed entirely during battle.

The number of soldiers in red guards rose up to 20-30 thousand during the beginning of the civil war. Initially there were insufficient weapons. Enough weapons could be given to frontline troops only after fighting had already begun.

The exact number of fighers in the red guard is not known. At its peak the number was around 70-80 thousand.

While the white forces had already been organized into typical military structure and a hierarchy had been created down to local divisions and squads by the time the battles began, the red guards on the other hand were born out of the members of workplaces or workers’ organizations. Thus, companies could form from the workers of some workplace, or some organization would form its own company, well known were e.g. the company of the Jyry [working class] sports club. Rural workers’ associations formed their own red guard detachments, and often those in the same municipality would form a detachment. This was a natural starting point for the founding of a voluntary class army. Its advantage was the sense of tightly-knit unity in the detachments – after all, everyone knew each other. Leaders were chosen from those people who already enjoyed the men’s trust based on their previous activities. On the other hand, when creating larger army units and when troops were moved away from their homes, the local nature of the units hindered their utilization for broader tasks. The defense of one’s own home was seen as more important, often times people waited for instructions from the command at their home municipality etc. But as the battles went on the red guards formed a comparatively solid foundation for a united army. Military experience was learned in practice and the officer core also grew, so that in a few months the Finnish workers’ red guard could already successfully perform even difficult tasks.” (Hyvönen, pp. 92, 94-95)

WHY DID PEOPLE JOIN THE RED GUARD?

The working class and poor peasantry of Finland joined the Red Guards to fight for their rights. The capitalist government was not willing to grant the workers’ demands, and instead had escalated the situation towards civil war. The workers had only two options: to fight for a better future, or to surrender and live in misery.

The old propaganda narrative of the capitalists, was that people supposedly only joined the Reds, due to communist agitation. However, this has proven to be a lie. The people lived in terrible poverty, had a real threat of starvation, and no political rights. They knew these facts from their own lives, not from the mouths of agitators.

After these capitalist lies were debunked, liberal historians have tried to look for real answers to the question why the workers joined the Red Guards. Let’s look at the answers they provide. One historian from 1998 writes the following:

“… in the entire country, the economic situation was bad, unemployment was high and there was a shortage of food. Poverty and unemployment forced many to consider joining the red guard. In interrogations after the war, when the winning [capitalist] side asked the prisoners’ reasons for joining, this explanation was emphasized. After all, it was a neutral reason for joining. For this reason the significance of unemployment for joining was surely exaggerated.”
(Koskinen p. 63)

He concludes that economic conditions were indeed terrible, people lived in poverty, and there wasn’t enough food. But he also admits, that when questioned by Whites, the workers and peasants naturally would not want to admit to being socialists. They would much rather give more politically neutral reasons. Of course the two questions are interconnected, the workers supported socialism precisely because life in capitalism was so bad for them. But while they could admit that their poverty was bad, admitting that they were socialists usually would lead to their deaths.

So, poverty and unemployment were the most commonly given reasons: “I was forced by poverty”, “I joined for bread”, “I joined since there were no jobs or food”. (Koskinen)

However, it seems clear workers also did not make the decision to join the Red Guard as individuals. They had a sense of community. Though joining the Red Guards was not mandatory, and indeed, only organized workers were even allowed to join, still there probably was some peer-pressure. Many workers considered it obvious to join the Red Guard:

J.E.Palonen: “I joined because everyone else joined”

G.V.Solberg: “There was no particular reason. It was just the general opinion that everyone should belong to the RG [Red guard]”

A.Vilen: “Joined because others joined too and it was said there were no jobs besides the red guard”

K.E.D. Nyberg: “I joined because people looked at you funny if you didn’t join, and because work was stopped at the factory”

“However, many reasons become intertwined and a person makes the decision often without even understanding all the factors. Economic, ideological, psychological or physical pressures blend together.” (Koskinen p. 64)

One worker testified:
“While working as a carpenter in the cement factory shipyard on 5. of February four armed men showed up and said all organized workers had to come to the workers’ club… and others join the guard as soldiers. Admits: joining was partially voluntary and partially necessitated by economic reasons…” (Koskinen p. 64)

“There weren’t many red guards who openly spoke about their ideological views when interrogated [by whites] after the war:
Villehard Virtanen: “Saw the guard’s function as keeping order and wanted to help”
Fredrik-Malin: “Joined to improve workers’ conditions by his own initiative”

Fredrik-Malmstedt: “Joined due to sense of duty and opinion” (Koskinen p. 64)

“At the outbreak of war the membership of the red guard was selectively chosen and in principle voluntary. Membership was only open to members of workers’ organizations.” (Koskinen p. 65)

Another liberal historian writes:”In a factory town like Nokia, it was almost impossible for a factory worker to not join the red guard. The work community had a strong social pressure: joining the guard did not mean taking a strong political stance, instead it was normal to join together with everyone else. Due to its large factories and strong workers’ organizations it was possible in Nokia to recruit large amounts of people to the guard. Recruiting happened largely from trade-union chapters. Almost all of the guard members of Nokia were factory workers or other workers. On top of ideology, especially unemployed people might join because of the wage paid to red guard members.” [Jussi Koivuniemi, Tehtaan pillin tahdissa. Nokian tehdasyhdyskunnan sosiaalinen järjestys 1870-1939] (Suodenjoki & Peltola, p. 241)

“In the treason trials after the war, ex-guard members understandably didn’t want to admit joining the guard voluntarily for ideological reasons. The accused rather justified joining with economic motives: by joining the guard one could get help in surviving the economic difficulties, unemployement and food shortage. Guard members were given a good 15 mark daily wage, a meal and support for their family. This must have impacted at least the youth and unemployed membership…

In the interrogations many ex-guard members also said they had been pressured, for example instructions coming from the trade-union. Beginning in March [when the city was encircled and sieged by the whites] there was also pressure at work sites in the city: men were demanded to join or risk being fired, which lead to the membership increasing. At the end of March the demand to join was extended to all men between ages 18 and 50 living in the city.” (Suodenjoki & Peltola, p. 257, citing Klemettilä)

“Although the Red Guard was both a voluntary and a selective force, and would enlist only organized workers, the initial enthusiasm produced an ample flow of recruits. Recruitment was usually a group decision by a trade union branch or the village workers’ organization, so that many early Red Guard units were simply identified by the trade or workplace of the members.” (Upton, p. 396)

“To the Finnish workers, whose womenfolk commonly labored with them in factory and field, it came naturally to recruit women as well. Women sometimes formed a significant proportion of the membership, as in Tampere, where there were 901 women against 5,094 men; and some of them got into the firing line, to the horror and disgust of the Whites.” (Upton, p. 397)

Unlike the whites, the red government never had a policy of conscription or forcing people to join the red guard. This is another example of the social-democrats’ commitment to only pursue policies democratically, legally and based on voluntary action. The whites increased their army from 10-20 thousand to 70-80 thousand through forced conscription. The reds built a largely volunteer army of the same size (80 thousand). With conscription they could have outnumbered the whites, however the reds never took firm action to implement conscription.

“The population fleeing from the municipality of Virrat intensified after the outbreak of the war, when the whites implemented conscription. The amount of people avoiding the draft was highest in Virtainkylä, 123 men, 107 in Toisvesi and 83 in Vaskivesi… Tens of people fleeing from Virrat fought in the “Wirrat company” which included a total of 300 reds from Virrat… One quarter of the guard members didn’t belong to workers’ associations at all… reason for joining seems to have been to avoid being conscripted [by the whites]. [Nieminen Jaana, Kansallisesta jakautumisesta kunnalliseen eheytymiseen: vuoden 1918 sota Virroilla]”(Suodenjoki & Peltola, p. 263)

Near the end of the war, it was becoming clear that the whites had gained the upper hand. This prompted the red government to take stronger actions. The extent of this was still not conscription. The government only ordered those people who had voluntarily joined the red guard and then left, to rejoin. There were individual cases of local reds pressuring others to join, but this was never a policy.

The reds also considered a plan to recruit those working in unemployment relief-jobs to the red guard, but this was never done except by the city of Tampere during the siege and encirclement. Kuusinen later criticized the red government’s policy for not making it mandatory for unemployed people and especially capitalists, intellectuals and members of the non-working classes to join work-programmes. There should have been an all out responsibility for everyone not serving in the red guard, to work in order to support the war effort. This wasn’t done. Instead capitalists and aristocrats were often left to sit inside their homes, and in several cases, they conducted spying activity on behalf of the whites.

“For example the property owner Arvo Mattila from Southern-Teisko provided information to the whites. He wired his telephone to the telephone line between Kuru and Southern-Teisko and listened to the red’s telephone conversations in his house.[Laitinen Erkki, Kurun historia 1867-1918, Vanhan Ruoveden historia III:5,1]” (Suodenjoki & Peltola, p. 260)

The red guard had a reconnoisance division, but there was no secret police or intelligence service to combat spies. The Russian Bolsheviks and Ukrainian Anarchists had a secret police to combat spying and sabotage, but the Finnish reds didn’t realize the necessity of such a thing.

Upton says:
“The Red government was almost unique among revolutionary governments in never establishing its own political or secret police.” (Upton, The Finnish Revolution 1917-1918, p. 374)

In general the red guard’s activities were characterized by extremely anti-authoritarian policies and measures to the point of detriment.

“Altogether in the first weeks of the war 150 white guards were arrested in the city [of Tampere], but in most cases they were simply let go. The city’s red guard was mainly concerned with confiscating weapons. [Vainio Marko, Yksi opisto – yksi liike. Tampereen teknillisen opiston suojeluskuntakomppania Tampereen suojeluskunnan osana 1917-1918, p. 94]” (Suodenjoki & Peltola, p. 260)

SPYING AND COUNTER-ESPIONAGE

The Reds didn’t have a secret police, but lets discuss the type of reconnaissance and counter-espionage units that they actually did have. A red guard author writes:

“There were two types of reconnaissance divisions, one front-line and the other so-called local divisions. Tampere had both of these. One was called the Northern Front Spy Department, which practiced front-line espionage on the enemy side, and the other was the Tampere Intelligence Department… Before the actual battles, they were tasked with keeping an eye on the enemy’s movements and combat preparations, trying to find out their weapons depots and secret training places, generally to find out what is going on among the counter-revolutionaries… The department also arrested individuals from whom weapons were found or who otherwise acted as counter-revolutionaries.

After general mobilization, the duties of the intelligence department also expanded to include operations throughout the North-West. In this area, it had the right to conduct home inspections, confiscations, and arrests. These measures were assisted by local Red Guards and all the captured whites and other criminals were transported to Tampere, where the intelligence department carried out a preliminary investigation. The resulting protocols were to be sent to the Revolutionary Court, which finally convicted or acquitted the accused. Indeed, in several cases, the verdict was acquittal, even for persons who would have deserved nothing more than to stand in front of a line of rifles. Often, the sentences were such as to be banned from leaving the area and ordered to report to the intelligence department office, some every day, some once a week.

Afterwards, it seems ridiculous that such sentences were given during a revolution, but that is how it was. Those people were thus given full freedom to continue to act as counter-revolutionaries, and this leniency was also one of the factors in our defeat … as far as Tampere was concerned, only two death sentences were given, and the people in question were in the red guard. One was the commander of the Ikaalinen front, Seppälä, who was accused of selling out his troops. It was proved that he had received 40,000 marks for organizing his troops in such a way that the whites had a favorable opportunity to attack … The other was named Anthoon, he was an interpreter for the front staff of the Northern Front, and an enemy agent. He passed all the information he received from the staff to the whites.” (A. R–n., “Punaisten tiedustelutoiminnasta”, Suomen luokkasota: Historiaa ja muistelmia)

British capitalist historian Upton writes:

“The possibility of repression was much reduced because the Red regime had no political or security police… Red security measures were simply incompetent:

[white politician] Louhivuori [who was hiding in a hospital as a patient] was able to go into town, accompanied by a nurse, and conferred with Svinhufvud on three separate occasions. He remembered a house in view of the hospital and of the Red Guard checkpoint outside, which had a stream of young visitors carrying violin cases. “One could observe that what they were carrying was

extremely heavy”; in fact they were smuggling arms into a White Guard magazine and strongpoint… The Whites made brilliant use of telephone monitoring, using friendly telephone staff… The most vulnerable point in White security was the domestic servants, on whom they were wholly dependent… there must have been significant numbers of disaffected servants who could have been used to monitor what went on in bourgeois households, but no effort was made to tap this obvious source. [VA [State Archive], 35-39; Räikkönen, Svinhufvud ja itsenaisyyssenaatti, 298fll., 311; Työmies, 28.3.18.]

In these conditions the White resistance could operate with some impunity. The medical profession abused its immunity to conceal fugitives or provide safe transport in ambulances or under the escort of medical personnel; the foreign consuls, who were usually native businessmen, used their consular status in partisan fashion to claim diplomatic immunity for their premises and communications. [Vyborg] Red Guard pointed out that the Belgian, Italian, and Norwegian consuls were all leading officials in the White Guard, but they were told to leave them alone. [The workers’ Information Bulletin] was justified in claiming, on 15 April, that the Consular Corps had persistently abused their immunities to help the government’s enemies. The Swedish embassy did the same…” (Upton, 384)

Marx and Engels criticized the Paris Commune for being too lax and soft. The same criticism can be made of the Finnish red guard.

The white senators managed to escape from Helsinki to the new white capital of Vaasa. Bourgeois politicians were not arrested like they should have been.

White Guard Senator Talas stated in his memoirs that:
“If the reds had been bolder they probably could have gotten all of the bourgeois senators arrested… Arresting the government could have caused the war to end completely differently. Without the help of the [white] government of Vaasa it is doubtful if Mannerheim could have inspired support among the population of the North which was needed to defeat the reds. The reds would naturally have called Mannerheim’s action a revolt against the ‘lawful government’ by a general coming from Russia. As Mannerheim was still unknown to the Finnish people, such talk could have influenced at least part of the population” (O. Talas, Muistelmia, p. 71)

“Leaders of the bourgeois groups in the parliament were also not isolated [or arrested] but they were able to carry out counter-revolutionary activities. They published appeals to the Finnish people and attacked the revolution as an unheard of act of violence [Talas, p.72] … This helped to direct and organize counter-revolutionary forces” (Holodkovski, p.180)

Svinhufvud, the leader of the white government was trapped inside Red Helsinki, but was able to escape.

“The rescue of Svinhufvud… showed how damaging the hostility of bourgeois experts and technicians, whether Finnish or Russian, could be. Bourgeois officers, sea captains, navigators, engineers, telephonists and telegraphists, doctor and nurses, had to be employed if society was to continue, but none of them could be trusted to be neutral at moments of crisis. Only severe methods of repression could have overcome this menace to the security of the Red regime and it was not prepared to adopt such methods.” (Upton, p. 387)

All talk about the red government being a supposed totalitarian dictatorship is nonsense. It was far more lenient and less authoritarian then the white government, which was attempting to build either military dictatorship or monarchy and which outlawed the communist party and most other leftist organizations during its rule after the war. The red government was democratic, reformist and soft to a degree which hampered the success of the revolution.

Even British bourgeois historian Upton, despite being confused about many other things, says quite correctly that the red government: “in dividing over whether to maintain the closure of the bourgeois press, showed that they had not fully grasped that they were presiding over a war, in which there could be no question of allowing enemy newspapers to be published.”
(Upton, p. 288)

“They did not see that the fact that revolution is an act of violence… They did not see that war, the fact that blood had been shed, shifted the political conflict onto a qualitatively new level.”
(Upton, p. 302)

“In the heat of a civil war, these men who were principled atheists, came near to the Christian ideal of loving their enemies… It was a sentiment that their Christian opponents certainly did not reciprocate. Political realists will question the[ir] wisdom… and they had failed lamentably to grasp what was needed if the revolution was to be carried to a successful conclusion… If their precepts were followed, the revolution was certainly doomed to political and military defeat, but its moral superiority over the victors would be incontestable.” (Upton, pp. 303-304)

“The mildness with which the Whites were treated did not go unnoticed, and some Reds thought it scandalous. They could see the class enemy apparently leading a comfortable, carefree existence, while workers suffered and died for the cause. A report from the front on the mood among Red Guard troops described their bitterness because “the enemy is pampered and protected, and prisoners offered conditions which the men at the front do not even dream of.” The men were saying that when they got back, “We will first of all clear up the rear of Mensheviks who play at revolution, and the more dangerous butchers.” On 4 March a meeting of Red Guard commanders in Helsinki demanded that White prisoners should get no better food and conditions than the Red Guard on active service, and there were press comments on the crowds of idle bourgeois haunting the streets and restaurants. The Labour Department commissioned a report on the problem that was forwarded to the Deputation for consideration on 9 March. The simple proposition was put forward

that the bourgeois would have less time to make mischief if they were put to work, and it recommended the government to “bring into force a duty to work, because of counter-revolutionary sabotage.” The idea was that anyone without a certificate of useful employment would be deprived of his ration card: “The plan is also humane, there is no trace of compulsion in it, everything is voluntary.” This was true in that anyone would be free not to work if he was prepared to do without food. The Deputation approved the idea in principle, but it looks as though the problems of implementation prevented it being put into effect.” (Upton, p. 383)

In conclusion, the Reds were novices in military matters. They had learned to work largely under peaceful reformist conditions and not to engage the capitalists in violent clashes.

The Red leadership had accepted the dogma of the 2nd International, that socialism could not be built in a less developed country like Finland, until the largest industrial powers like Germany became socialist. Therefore the Finnish Red leaders had never seriously prepared for revolution in Finland. When the situation began moving towards a revolutionary crisis, they tried to avoid it. However, as the masses moved further and further Left, so did many of the leaders. When the revolutionary situation was forced upon the Red leaders, most of them accepted the inevitablity of revolution and responsibility of leading it. They did not betray the workers.

However, they were not well equipped to lead. Due to their softness and incompetence, they often resorted to basically anarchistic tactics, although not because they were committed to anarchism, quite the contrary. Instead, it was merely because they lacked the necessary skills to do anything else. They lacked the skills to create solid revolutionary organization, discipline, leadership and decisiveness. Those are skills which they did not originally have, and need to be learned.

They were not real revolutionaries, had no experience of revolution, and did not understand revolutionary theory. The revolution would have to be their teacher. They would have to learn from the revolution and from the masses. They had also not carried out the necessary preparations for the revolution. That is why they seriously lacked weapons and did not have a military organization ready when civil war broke out, while the White Guard had been making decisive preparations, and was already armed and ready for a war.

Since the task had not been completed in advance, the Red Guard would have to be made into an army, during the civil war. The inexperience and theoretical backwardness of the leaders, made this a difficult and slow process, but it was being done. We shouldn’t be too hard on the leaders though, they did not ask to be in that situation. Many times they offered to resign, if better leaders could be found. But there were no other leaders. The working class vanguard does not fall from the sky, but is built and trained over the course of time, together with the masses.

Their task was difficult, but not impossible. The Reds had certain advantages, and their defeat was not inevitable. The whites could not sustain a long war, because they controlled no production centers and their troops were farmers who would try to abandon them en masse by the time Spring sowing came around. The crucial factor was Germany. The Whites were able to focus their forces, while the German invaders stabbed the Reds in the back. The only way for the Whites to achieve a quick victory was with Germany – though, if Finland had had a Bolshevik party they would probably have already taken power in the December 1917 General Strike, and the civil war would might never have happened.

We have now analyzed the Finnish struggle for independence, the conditions of the working class and the peasantry before the revolution, the 1917 December General Strike, the White war preparations and creation of the Red Guard. In the next installment we’ll finally begin analyzing the details of the Revolution and civil war.

SOURCES:

Holodkovski, Suomen Työväenvallankumous 1917-1918

Pertti Haapala, Kun yhteiskunta hajosi. Suomi 1914-1920

Aimo Klemettilä, Tampereen punakaarti ja sen jäsenistö

Suodenjoki ja Peltola, Köyhä Suomen kansa katkoo kahleitansa: Luokka, liike ja yhteiskunta 1880-1918 (Vasemmistolainen työväenliike Pirkanmaalla osa I)

Marja-Leena Salkola, Työväenkaartin synty ja kehitys punakaartiksi 1917-18 ennen kansalaissotaa

Pertti Haapala, Tehtaan valossa. Teollistuminen ja työväestön muodostuminen Tampereella 1820-1920, Historiallisia tutkimuksia 133

Punakaarti Rintamalla

Some basic information about Red troop formations https://www.jaegerplatoon.net/FORMATIONS1.htm

Koskinen, Veljiksi kaikki ihmiset tulkaa

Anthony Upton, The Finnish Revolution 1917-1918

Osmo Rinta-Tassi, Kansanvaltuuskunta punaisen Suomen hallituksena

V. Rasila, Kansalaissodan sosiaalinen tausta

Hyvönen, Suurten tapahtumien vuodet 1917-1918

Jussi Koivuniemi, Tehtaan pillin tahdissa. Nokian tehdasyhdyskunnan sosiaalinen järjestys 1870-1939

Nieminen Jaana, Kansallisesta jakautumisesta kunnalliseen eheytymiseen: vuoden 1918 sota Virroilla

Laitinen Erkki, Kurun historia 1867-1918, Vanhan Ruoveden historia III:5,1

Suomen luokkasota: Historiaa ja muistelmia

Vainio Marko, Yksi opisto – yksi liike. Tampereen teknillisen opiston suojeluskuntakomppania

Tampereen suojeluskunnan osana 1917-1918.

E. Raikkönen, Svinhufvud ja itsenaisyyssenaatti

O. Talas, Muistelmia




Source: Mltheory.wordpress.com