The Military Writings of
Leon Trotsky

Volume 2, 1919

How the Revolution Armed

The Fight for Petrograd


A Warning to the Finnish Bourgeoisie

Transcribed and HTML markup for the Trotsky Internet Archive by David Walters

* * *

The garrulous and boastful Lord [sic] Churchill has listed fourteen enemies who have combined against Soviet Russia. Among them is Finland. In recent times the European newspapers have had much to say about the deal that the Entente has made with the Finnish bourgeoisie. The object of the deal is an attack on Petrograd. For this Britain will give £6,000,000, with a corresponding quantity of grain, shells, and all the rest. Churchill also named the date for the realisation of the deal, that is, for the attack; namely, the end of August. In the language of the stock-exchange, that is called ultimo.

Where in all this do lies end and where does half-truth begin?

’Independent’ bourgeois Finland is indisputably a very wretched, down-trodden and enslaved country. Having received independence from the hands of the October revolution in Russia, the Finnish bourgeoisie, after suppressing their own proletariat, at once sold this independence in exchange for foreign bayonets to defend bourgeois property. At first Finland became a petty vassal principality of Hohenzollern’s, then an underling of the Entente. General Mannerheim sold his hangman’s services with equal willingness to the Germans and to the British.

But to whatever depths of political prostitution the Finnish bourgeoisie sank, they could nevertheless not shake off anxiety about some minimum guarantees for the existence of their country. Especially as the mass of the Finnish people, with the exception of a loud-mouthed stratum of petty-bourgeois chauvinist intellectuals, the so-called activists, are not at all disposed to gamble their fate on the card of a military adventure. As for Lloyd George, Clemenceau and the other world-scale swindlers of the League of Nations, who swear by the freedom and independence of small nations, for them, of course, Finland is not an end in itself but merely a third-rate means: to speak plainly, it is an armful of straw which they want to toss on to the Russian bonfire, so as to strengthen the flame of civil war and thereby contribute to the weakening and bleeding of the Russian people. If Finland gets burnt as a result, why should the bandits of imperialism worry about that?

The Finnish bourgeoisie is scared. It is calculating, haggling, asking for a deferment, postulating a better price, agreeing and then again taking fright. This uncertain bargaining has already been dragging on for many months. General Mannerheim was all ready to seize Petrograd in February of this year. He ordered manoeuvres to be held on the Karelian frontier which were to serve as a rehearsal for the attack. However, the affair finished miserably. The Finnish conscripts held meetings. Only two companies turned up for the manoeuvres. We fortified the Karelian Isthmus, strengthened the garrison of Petrograd, put the Baltic fleet on a war footing, and at the same time declared that we would in no case take the initiative in attacking Finland.

That time, the adventure failed to come off. General Mannerheim was defeated in the presidential election. Urged by the compromisers, the Finnish bourgeoisie elected as President the colourless Professor Ståhlberg [K.J. Ståhlberg was elected President of Finland in the summer of 1919 as the candidate of the Progressive and Socialist parties.], whose policy amounts to this, that he trembles equally before Bolshevism, before the idea of getting mixed up in an adventure, and before the admonishing finger of the Entente.

The election of the trembling Ståhlbergand the departure for Italy of the sabre-rattling Mannerheim seemed to signify the liquidation of the plan for armed intervention by Finland. Foreign newspapers even wrote of something like a breach between Finland and the Entente. But the British Government replied to a question in Parliament that the change of Presidents did not mean that there would be any change in the Allies’ attitude to Finland.

And, indeed, great activity is to be observed in Finnish and Estonian waters. The Scandinavian papers, and other sources as well, carry news of substantial transports of military supplies arriving at Finland’s ports. According to the same reports, German factories are supplying Finland with machineguns and explosives. There is a revival of talk about the miserable expedition to Olonets. There are reports that an offensive is being prepared in the Karelian sector, at first in the form of raids by ‘Greens’. As has been mentioned, in Finland only a small group of frenzied chauvinists are keen to join in the brigand schemes of Great Britain. A section of the officers, headed by Ignatius, went so far as almost to threaten revolt in connection with the retirement of Mannerheim. The Finnish activists think that they will most certainly obtain Eastern Karelia and an ice-free port [The ice-free port in question was Pechenga (Petsamo), which is on the shore of the Barents Sea, not the White Sea. It was ceded to Finland by the peace treaty with Soviet Russia in 1920, but taken back as a consequence of Finland’s wars with the USSR in 1939-1940 and 1941-1944.] on the White Sea if they can seize Petrograd as ‘security’. This notion is fully in the spirit of the fantastic Finnish legends of the Kalevala. [Kalevala (‘Land of Heroes’) was the name given to a collection of old Finnish ballads, arranged as a connected poem, which was published in the middle of the 19th century and played a big part in stimulating national feeling in Finland. It was translated into Western Languages, and influenced Longfellow in the writing of Hiawatha (1858). The original of Trotsky’s monster cow is a Great Ox, of which the English translation of the Kalevala says:

ALL day long there flew a swallow
’Twixt the mighty ox’s horn-tips,
Striving through the space to hasten,
Nor found resting-place between them;
Month-long ran a summer-squirrel
From his neck unto his tail-end,
Nor did he attain the tail-tip
Till a month had quite passed over.]

In these legends, as is well known, figure a gigantic duck, from whose eggs heaven and earth are hatched out, and a gigantic cow with a tail such that a bird takes whole days and night to fly from one end of it to the other. The idea of Petrograd being captured by the Finnish activists, to serve as ‘security’, is wholly in conformity with the cycle of images in the Kalevala. Except that in folklore all this has a naively poetic quality, whereas in the policy of the unbalanced chauvinists it amounts to delirious ravings.

The seizure of Petrograd by the help of the Finns would mean, of course, that Finland itself would become an irrevocable ‘security’ for Denikin.

However, the question does not rest with the activists. If we are to believe Churchill, British imperialism has obliged the Finnish bourgeoisie to attack Soviet Russia within the next few days. In any case, we shall soon receive the necessary clarification on this point. Compared with our thirteen other enemies, the intervention of Finland cannot, of course, possess great importance in itself: the military forces which Mannerheim bequeathed to Ståhlberg are extremely insignificant. Nevertheless, the question of Finland has now become a matter of principle. The Entente, which has grown weaker from the military standpoint, Wants to use the teeth of the little dogs it has hired to gnaw and tear the body of Soviet Russia. The open entry of Finland into their company would raise our enemies morale to some degree and drag out the denouément. That is why Soviet Russia cannot any longer permit bourgeois Finland to play with the idea of an attack on Petrograd.

We are waging too great a struggle on the world scale to have any desire to respond to petty provocation. Therefore we repeat: if Finland remains within the bounds of decorum, not one Red soldier will cross its threshold. This decision is firm and inviolable.

So as to help the Helsingfors government to arrive at the necessary decision, we will remind it of a few fundamental facts. Kolchak, the head of the alliance of fourteen, has been completely smashed. The Urals and Siberian volunteers now already number tens of thousands. The mighty reserves which have been released from the East have been applied successfully on the Southern front only to a limited extent as yet. Denikin has been dealt the first hard blows. He is reeling back southward. Within a short time our offensive on the Southern front will become decisive.

Even now, however, we are fully capable of concentrating against Finland forces sufficient not merely to give a rebuff but also to take the offensive. And not only to take the offensive but also to exterminate those guilty of provocation and banditry. We use that harsh word extermination not accidentally. An attempt by Finland’s bourgeois mob to strike a blow at Petrograd will evoke on our part a crusade of extermination against the Finnish bourgeoisie.

We have left a long series of provocations from Helsingfors unanswered, partly because we were too busy in the East and partly because we counted on internal contradictions in Finland itself. If this last factor proved inadequate, and the trembling Ståhlberg were to carry out the insolent schemes of Mannerheim, our most immediate and urgent task would be to lance the Finnish boil with a long, sharp knife.

Our policy is dictated not by feelings of vengeance but by revolutionary calculation. Conditions occur, however, when revolutionary calculation calls for ruthless vengeance. That is the case with Finland. We have to show the venal bourgeoisie of the little states that their Cain-like dealings with Britain will not be profitable to them. This lesson we shall give the little states, using Finland as example. In the event of provocation from Finland we shall set ourselves a small task in relation to that country which we shall perform regardless of the pace at which the solution of the tasks of our major war is proceeding.

We shall find the forces required for the execution of the Finnish bourgeoisie. Soviet Russia has undertaken to organise the independence of the peoples of Asia – the Bashkirs, Kirghizes [In accordance with common Russian practice at that time, Trotsky says ‘Kirghizes’ for ‘Kazakhs’.] and others. These peoples, who have zealously formed their own infantry and cavalry in order to defend the independence they have acquired, know that the Finnish bourgeoisie are Kolchak’s assistants and are helping to establish his autocratic rule over all the peoples of the former Tsarist empire. Among the divisions which we are now transferring to the Petrograd front, the Bashkir cavalry is not the least in importance, and, in the event of an attempt by the bourgeois Finns upon Petrograd, the Red Bashkirs will go forward with the slogan – to Helsingfors. A ruthless campaign of extermination will be waged against the bourgeoisie which is selling the blood of its own people and the blood of the Petrograd workers in the interests of the British moneybags!

Soviet Russia is vigilant, it will not surrender Petrograd. Any attempt on the first city of the proletarian revolution will evoke from us a crusade of death and devastation.

September 1, 1919
Pravda, No.194

return return

Last updated on: 23.12.2006