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Socialist Workers Party/Workers Party Split

Party Opinion: An Editorial on Finland

The New International

October 1939

Written: February 1940
First Published: February 1940
Source: The New International, New York, Volume VI, No. 1, February 1940, pages 4-7.
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Daniel Gaido and David Walters, November, 2006
Public Domain: Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line 2006. You can freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Marxists Internet Archive as your source, include the url to this work, and note the transcribers & proofreaders above.

Finland, the “Belgium” of the Second World War —Why the Invasion? —Military Aspects of the Invasion — On the Economic Front — The Probability of Intervention — Bourgeois Propaganda — Defense of the Soviet Union The role which Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland failed to play—the “criminally assaulted Belgium” of the second World War—may well prove to be the role of Finland. The occupation by the Red Army of some 5,000 square miles of Finnish territory, an area about the size of Connecticut, has already aroused a wave of emotional fury, patriotism, war fervor, condemnation of Bolshevism as imperialism such as has not been witnessed for years in the capitalist press. From the Communist Party on the other hand, which only yesterday licked the blood-spattered boots of capitalist democracy, shrieks of outraged protest symmetrically supplement this rabid campaign.

It is necessary for the class-conscious militant to draw back a bit from the tendentious headlines of the Stalinist and capitalist press alike in order cool-headedly to analyze exactly what has been happening in Finland, exactly what is involved in reality behind the barrage of propaganda, and exactly what is required in this situation from a proletarian revolutionist.

Why the Invasion?

So far as Stalin is concerned, the determining factor in his foreign policy, one of the consequences of his abandoning the policy of extending the October revolution upon a world scale, is fear of war, and fear of working class revolution as a consequence of war. All his efforts are bent towards averting war, keeping it away from his doorstep, skating around it, ducking through it. This fear took him into the League of Nations, that “thieves’ kitchen at Geneva” as Lenin called it, into a pact with France, and finally into a pact with Hitler, bloody executioner of the German labor movement.

For the first time in the history of his foreign policy, the pact with Hitler, precisely because world capitalism totters at the brink of a cataclysmic war, enabled Stalin at the expense of world revolution and consequently at the cost of the basic defense of the Soviet Union to make a few conjunctural gains of a diplomatic-military nature. Until, Hitler sees fit to resume his march eastward, Stalin feels relatively safe. At the same time his pact with Hitler has brought measurably closer the hour of mortal danger to the Soviet Union and consequently to the Stalinist regime resting upon it. This danger is so real that not even Stalin can keep his hands over his eyes any longer. He must protect himself. As always, Stalin took the bureaucratic road. Under the breathing spell given him by the pact with Hitler, he forced Esthonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to concede military bases; he moved against Finland with the same purpose; since Finland, especially in relation to the Aaland islands between the Gulf of Bothnia and the Gulf of Finland holds the strategic key to the defense of Leningrad from invasion of the foe to the west. The bloody slaughter of the second World War, the murderous whine of enormous air fleets, the ground-shaking tread of monster tanks, all the horror, destruction, and desolation of war remind Stalin . . . that he had better close the gate to his front yard.

Stalin at the outset was not bent on invading Finland. He wanted to make a deal with the Finnish bour¬geoisie. This is absolutely clear from the deal he made with the bourgeoisie in the three Baltic states, from his first proposals to the Finnish bourgeoisie, from his entire course of action in relation to Finland which cries out for everyone to see—Allies, Finnish bourgeoisie, and even Hitler, “I don’t want to spread nationalization of property: if it goes too far it will destroy me. I only want to protect myself from Hitler.” Stalin is not the politician of wars and revolution; he is a horse-trader; he is concerned only with preserving himself, his privileges and his rule. A “good” agreement with Finland appeared to him far more substantial and far less dangerous than the uncertain hazards of even a little war.

But, as the reactionary Washington, D.C. Army and Navy Journal, semi-official organ of the professional American military forces, puts it (Dec. 9, 1939), “the sturdy bourgeoisie of that country refused to bow to threat.” That this “sturdiness” was due to British and American encouragement as Moscow insists is indubitable. The Allies as well as Hitler are highly interested in involving the Soviet Union deeper in the war, in discrediting the Soviet Union, and laying the basis for intervention. Nevertheless Stalin demonstrated that his need was great and pressing. He massed troops at the border. Still the Finnish bourgeoisie refused to concede. With the realization that enmeshed in this situation he might have to go through to the end—even provoking civil wars—if the spine of the Finnish bourgeoisie proved too responsive to the Allied pressure, he set up a “Peoples’ Government” at Terijoki and moved troops along the eastern border of Finland. In the opinion of the Army and Navy Journal, which has special sources of information in Washington, “No one doubts that he would discard it (the Kuusinen government) promptly, and treat with the Helsinki government in preference to a lengthy war. It is this conviction that was responsible for the decision of the President not to withdraw our Ambassador from Moscow.”

That Hitler was highly gratified by Stalin’s becoming involved in war with Finland was clearly shown at the time of the invasion by the Berlin press which congratulated Stalin! Stalin’s involvement in the war strengthens Hitler’s western front, gives him greater bargaining power with the Allies, more thoroughly entangles Stalin in the pact, opens wider the channels to the resources of the U.S. S.R. (new and important trade agreements have just been signed between Moscow and Berlin). Nor would an early “peace” at the expense of the Soviet Union go counter to anything written down in Mein Kampf.

In addition to this, the Nazi war machine requires complete control of the British and Canadian owned nickel deposits in Finland. Nickel like manganese is one of the “strategic” war materials, a material that is absolutely necessary in the manufacture of arms. The fact that most of the world’s nickel comes from Canada sheds an interesting sidelight on the Finnish invasion. Hitler could only gain enormously both politically and economically by giving Stalin, his ally, a push in the direction of Finland.

“Since 1933,” says the Annalist, the highly conservative economic weekly published by the New York Times, (Dec. 7, 1939), “expenditures on this property (of the International Nickel Company) have totaled almost $3,000,000 and capital expenditures during 1939 are estimated at $4,300,000. Inasmuch as 90 per cent of the world’s nickel production is produced in Canada, the strategic importance of this Finnish deposit to Russia and its friend Germany is self-evident. In view of Russia’s puppet, socialist state projected for Finland, what will happen to these Canadian and British-owned nickel properties is equally self-evident.”

But the nickel mines of Finland and Hitler’s strategic interests in setting Stalin against Finland, or Great Britain’s desire to make Finland a testing ground if it must be lost anyway, are not what budged Stalin out of the Kremlin and into the forests of Finland. It was fear of war. It was to protect himself from Hitler and the Allies, in his own bureaucratic hangman’s way, that Stalin invaded Finland.

Military Aspects of the Invasion

The propaganda machine of the Finnish bourgeoisie, ably supported and supplemented by the world-wide propaganda machine owned and operated by the Bourse, the City, and Wall Street, have “annihilated” almost a Russian division a day, “wiped out” Red Army bases, inflicted “crushing defeats,” and on the side “deliberately bombed” hospitals and civilians for feature stories to tug democratic heart and purse strings. Out of the maze of contradictions it is difficult to piece together the story of what is really happening on the military front in Finland. The first job is to cut through the propaganda. Declares the Army and Navy Journal, which is interested in the struggle from the viewpoint of military tactics (Dec. 30, 1939): “There appears to be no ground for the large number of reports reaching this country that the Russians are inadequately equipped and fed and that many are freezing to death because of inadequate clothing and shelter. As a matter of fact it is quite likely that the losses have been considerably less than contended in dispatches. As a matter of fact, the entire Russian invading forces numbers only some 200,000 men.”

What has really been happening in Finland? The military situation can be outlined approximately as follows:

The Finnish war machine consists of a regular army of only 25,000 but this is supported by a Civic Guard of about 100,000 which was organized in 1918 to fight the Bolsheviks. These men together with reserves give Finland an army of about 400,000 men.

This bourgeois army enjoys the advantages of good internal communications and fighting on familiar soil, but it is far from being motorized. In the view of military experts, Russia could have reduced the Finns in a “few days” had Stalin decided to do so. But Stalin, apparently hopeful of arriving at an “understanding,” even up to the last moment and thus avoiding the hazards of civil war in Finland, or because the campaign was badly organized—or both!—sent not more than 200,000 men in his first ignominiously unsuccessful drive. Even this army would have been sufficient under normal weather conditions and under fair generalship, but the heavy artillery necessary to back the drive was completely inadequate.

This army faced unfamiliar and bad terrain, swamps that were not frozen solidly and in which equipment bogged down, extremely foggy weather which reduced the effectiveness of the air force, one driving storm after another, long lines of communications to the rear. Finland is a country of 200,000 lakes, innumerable forests with only defiles between them easy to defend; roads are extremely rare and readily blocked; there are almost no towns, few villages, only scattered habitations, making it most difficult for large forces to move, bivouac and get up supplies. Even the snow, instead of the normal dry snow, was wet and heavy. On top of all this a cold wave swept down from the polar regions bringing sub-zero temperatures unprecedented in fifty years.

The press reports are not credible that Stalin hoped to carry out a “Blitzkrieg” tactic like that of Hitler’s in Poland where swift motor units were driven like long needles into the enemy territory to be just as swiftly followed by heavier mopping up units. For the Polish campaign was conducted on flat territory similar to our own plains, in fair weather over dry ground and with full visibility for the air force which wiped out the Polish air fleet and smashed internal communications. It is obvious that Stalin never planned a “Blitzkrieg.” He was trying to force a deal with the Finnish bourgeoisie, and at the same time carrying out in routine fashion the steps to show that it was not just pure bluff.

The Finnish bourgeoisie, outpost of world imperialism, decided to give the much-boasted and untested Red Army of Stalin a test. Such a test would settle a lot of long-hanging questions in the mind of world imperialism. What effect did the purges have on the Red Army? What is its actual fighting strength?

It is absolutely undeniable that the Finnish bourgeois generals succeeded in revealing shocking weaknesses in the Red Army command. The crushing of Finland, which should have taken a “few days” under normal weather conditions and not a great deal longer under the bad conditions that were encountered, is yet to be accomplished.

The first plan of operation apparently envisaged three lines of attack against Finland. One in the south against the so-called Mannerheim line, one in the center from Salla towards Tornea to cut Finland in half, one in the North to reduce that section and help the center in cutting connections with Sweden. The main drive was in the center and in the north, operations in the south against and flanking the Mannerheim line being conducted mainly to divert Finnish troops from the other sectors—reports that the Russian troops are digging trenches and constructing shelters here would confirm this view. The drive across the center was intended to cut Finland in half, breaking her internal lines of communication, preventing supplies from the Allies from reaching her, making it possible to starve out the southern section. Finland in the “waist line” is only 120 miles wide. Moscow reports that the Red Army has penetrated 75 miles, the Finnish generals concede 65 miles.

This sector incidentally was very sympathetic to communism in 1918—and again in 1930 at the height of the fascist movement in Finland. The press reports that the 163rd and 44th divisions in this sector were “annihilated” are pure fabrications although a defeat was undoubtedly inflicted upon them. In the opinion of American Army strategists the Red troops made a well-ordered retreat from Salmijaervi where the Finns had blown up valuable nickel mines, and are now consolidating their forces and waiting for artillery to come up for a renewed thrust.

The greatest successes of the Red Army appear to have been in the north where they set out from Murmansk, but the press has been almost silent on happenings on this front.

In the air, activity has not been great. Almost constant fog has prevailed and daylight at this time of year lasts only a few hours. The stories of deliberate civilian bombings can be discounted. Certainly such bombings would not help out Stalin’s appeals to the Finnish masses and would only enrage them against the Red Army. Stalin intends to handle the masses later. Stalin’s first objective, as revealed in the reports of air raids, is Finnish airports and the Finnish air force (recently reinforced with 30 Bristol Blenheims from England and 80 Savoia-Marchettes from Italy); his second objective, communication lines, especially with Sweden (Tornea and Abo for example); and only in third place harrying of the ranks of the Finnish bourgeois army. This strategy conforms with that employed by the Allies and by Hitler.

Whatever the reason—whether Stalin still hoped that the Finnish bourgeoisie would meet his terms when they became convinced that he was serious and would actually carry out his threats or whether it was the fault of the Moscow staff, or a combination of the two, Stalin failed to provide his army with adequate artillery support necessary to blast a way for the infantry. From a purely military standpoint, and not taking into account sheer generalship or the abnormal weather conditions, this weakness of the artillery accounted for the ignominious Red Army setbacks.

Press dispatches at this writing report that the Red Army is now utilizing heavy artillery, which would indicate that Stalin is starting a second, better-prepared campaign.

As for the fate of Finland, all the military experts unite in predicting that unless she receives major aid from the Allies, or Stalin withdraws, leaving this, front “stalemated,” which is unlikely, she will inevitably be defeated and crushed, in which case we can expect civil war in conjunction with the advance of the Red Army and the nationalization of the property of the Finnish bourgeoisie.

On the Economic Front

One of the aspects of Stalin’s invasion of Finland which has not been greeted with streamers of screaming ink but which nonetheless explains a good deal of the furiousness of world imperialism, is the prospective expropriation of the Finnish bourgeoisie, as in Poland, with the advance of the Red Army. Of all Stalin’s crimes to date, not a single one in the eyes of the bourgeoisie has rated such condemnation as this one. When Stalin, most reluctantly, is forced to extend the economic base upon which he rests, he twists the sword in the wound dealt by October, and the pain reminds world capitalism not only of days that are past but of days that are to come.

“The Soviet imperialism,” says the bourgeois Annalist (Dec. 7, 1939), “also provides a clue to the sluggishness of the stock market. The failures of stocks to maintain their customary relationship with business is one of the leading economic mysteries of the day, not only in the United States but in Canada as well. The stock market is definitely behind industrial production whether or not one holds to the view that a business recession will set in during 1940. The advance of communism into Poland and now Finland and the abolition of private property in those areas, actual or eventual, (our emphasis) is certainly not a development likely to encourage enhancement of stock values. An eventual collapse of Germany may likewise see communism spring up in Europe’s leading industrial country. In that event, the active cooperation between Germany and the Soviet, which is now conspicuous by its absence, may have implications that are not at all pleasant to visualize. The seriousness of Russia’s invasion of Finland appears to have been minimized by most commentators, but it has certainly been recognized by the stock market.”

Marxists do not discount the positive gain of the expropriation of private property in Poland and its expropriation, in Finland behind the bayonets of the Red Army despite the blows which Stalin’s choice of methods in realizing this end deal to the world revolution and. the real defense of the U.S.S.R. Stalin’s methods repel and alienate the sympathy of workers throughout the world The bourgeoisie views the situation only from the standpoint of their basic interests. Stalin’s methods are indeed their own and they have no quarrel with his methods—not the bourgeoisie, who with bombs and machine guns oppress hundreds of millions of colonial people! The key question to them is private ownership of the means of production, and if Stalin is compelled to destroy the capitalist forms of property, that makes him a Bolshevik with a bomb in each hand in the eyes of any member of the Sixty families. But more deliberate and more pernicious than this conscious reaction of the bourgeoisie is the attempt to make out the U.S.S.R. as an “imperialist” state in the eyes of the working class and to blur the distinction between the soviet forms and the capitalist forms of the ownership of property. This is the blindfold which the bourgeoisie wish to place over the eyes of the working class before arming them to fight for Wall Street in the second World War.

Increasing indications of a new and precipitous industrial slump for the coming period, occurring at the same time as the Finnish invasion, tended to add venom to the pens of the bourgeois hacks in their editorials against the U.S.S.R. Stock prices have declined sharply and a number of issues have fallen to the lowest 1evel in the past several months, steel stocks among them. According to the Annalist, (Dec. 21, 1939) a “cyclical recession of unknown proportions” faces American industry. And “certain adverse factors have now developed tendencies almost as pronounced as those which preceded the 1937-38 depression by six to nine months.” (Jan. 4, 1940). So shortly upon, the heels of the war boom! Indeed the stalemate on the western front, “the possibility that agreement might yet be reached with the German bourgeoisie, have placed a heavy strain on the feverish upswing that followed the outbreak of war and the flurry of getting ready for war profits. Only the continuation and extension of the war can revive the American industrial machine —that, or a major attack against the Soviet Union and its reduction to a colonial status. This sensitive reflex in industrial production is most striking proof of how intimately the capitalist system in its death agony is bound to war, its profits to slaughter, its hopes to destruction its way out through violent suppression of the working class including the basic conquests of the proletariat in the Soviet Union.

The Probability of Intervention

The stupidity of Moscow, the blockheadedness of the generals who replaced, those slaughtered by Stalin, the weakness of the decapitated Red Army—all this glaringly revealed in the Finnish campaign, has injected a feverish vigor into the sclerotic arteries of decaying capitalism. Rumania, vulnerable from all sides to attack, dared to hurl diplomatic defiance at Stalin; Mussolini drew a sharp line on what constitutes his share of the Balkans.

London, Paris, Washington, and all their lesser satellites have hurled anathema after anathema upon the Soviet Union; Herbert Hoover who drove the starving veterans out of Washington at the point of the bayonet has piously arranged “relief” for the poor Finnish bourgeoisie. The League of Nations has placed its technical staffs at the disposal of the Helsinki government. (Something it did not do, for example, for Ethiopia ... or China . . . or Czechoslovakia). Great Britain and France have begun sending help and support; and Roosevelt has even suggested a direct loan to the Finnish bourgeoisie from public funds—the unemployed of course can afford it.

There is not a class-conscious worker who has not asked himself the question—what does all this mean?

It is worthwhile to see what the class enemy has to say about the possibility of intervention. The Annalist affirms (Dec. 7, 1939): “The current imitation of Hitler by Stalin cannot go unheeded, and may eventually lead to war between Russia and Britain... Man power will be greatly needed if Britain is forced to lock horns with Red Russia....”

“We will know in a short time,” comments the Army and Navy Journal, (Jan. 6, 1940) “whether the Allies and Russia are to continue their uneasy relation or whether they will engage in war.”

And in analyzing the meaning of the battle of three British cruisers with the German pocket battleship Graf Spee, the Army and Navy Journal as long ago as December 16, 1939, suggested a possible line of attack against the Soviet Union: “To the gratification of Germany, Russia was involved in war with Finland, and Great Britain and France, threatening to support the invaded Republic, were facing war with the Soviet government. . . . This situation demanded a demonstration of British sea power, and the battle with the Graf Spee furnished it. ... To exposed countries like Italy and Japan, the threat to their security has been revived, to Russia there is the prospect that in case of war against her, a fleet can penetrate through the Dardanelles, held by their ally Turkey, and destroy the Soviet Black Sea Fleet.” (Our emphasis).

That in these calculations Germany is taken into consideration is shown by the analysis of this same authoritative journal (Jan. 13, 1940) upon the reasons for the stalemate upon the western front: “Despite statements to the contrary, there is little doubt but that both sides hope peace will be attained without a major military offensive. To embark on large scale air operations, they feel would arouse the military spirit of the enemy and burn the bridges to an early peace.”

And even more openly, the Research Institute of America, Inc., one of Wall Street’s confidential analytical services, in its Business and Legislation Report dated January 20, 1940, in commenting upon the prognosis that American participation on the European battlefields will most likely take an economic form rather than military (as the aid for Finland) and that the United States will participate in the war in a military sense most likely in Asia, particularly against Japan in order to free French and British military forces for the western front if the present alignment of powers continues, makes this significant comment:

Will there be peace? The only real possibility at the present time of avoiding this economic participation is a peace arranged before the threatened spring offensives become real. That peace could take two shapes: First, a real peace with all European nations ending the conflict. (And if this can be said to be in the cards, almost all Washington observers have been glancing at the wrong deck). Second, a complete re-alignment of the present belligerents—a juggling with England, France, Italy, Germany and their satellites in a holy war against Russia. And this would be a potential possibility upon the suicide, death, or resignation of Hitler.”

Thus it is clear that the danger to the Soviet Union is the greatest it has been since the early years. A new catastrophic depression if war is not deepened and extended or socialist revolution if it is extended and deepened—twisting and turning on the needle-sharp horns of this dilemma, world imperialism casts its eyes on the Soviet Union.

Bourgeois Propaganda

It is in the light of the above analysis that we must approach the dark stream of propaganda spewing from the capitalist press. It flows in two directions. On the one hand, Allied propaganda, of which the Finnish is a part, is using Finland as an object lesson to make the wavering smaller states of Europe, Rumania, Turkey, Scandinavia, etc. increasingly apprehensive of Russia and more ready for a, tight-knit alliance with the Allies. This propaganda is powerfully reinforced by condemnation of the Soviet Union from Washington and by the measures of assistance. This propaganda likewise is calculated to frighten Stalin with the possibilities of an intervention in agreement with Hitler, and hence to loosen up the Hitler-Stalin pact if it turns out that the main fight for the time being must be directed at Hitler. All this indicates that the second World War is still in its preliminary stages where alliances have not yet become rigidly interlocked and military encounters may be considered incidents in comparison with the titanic conflicts ahead. On the other hand, this propaganda provides the basis for intervention in the U.S.S.R. either now or eventually. (When Hitler has been taken care of either through annihilation or through a temporary deal). The best variant of course for both Hitler and the Allies is to stave off major conflict and the certain consequent socialist revolutions by an agreement at the expense of the Soviet Union.

That this variant has come measurably closer as a result of the weakness displayed in the Finnish invasion is demonstrated in itself by the strength of the propaganda against the Soviet Union, the campaign to identify Stalinism with communism, the dubbing of the Soviet Union as imperialist, the attempts to line up the working class through such agents of the capitalist class as Lewis, Green, the New Leader, and their ilk. “Thus there is clearly developing a situation which may largely affect the European war,” says the Army and Navy Journal. (Jan. 6, 1940).

This propaganda has served at the same time to bring the United States considerably closer to active participation in the war. “If ever the nation, individually and officially, has taken sides in a European war it is now. . . .” says the Annalist, (Dec. 21, 1939). “. . . It is certainly a violation of the interest of our neutrality legislation, whatever the technicality that Finland is not a belligerent.” The New York Times comments (Jan. 21, 1940): “In the United States . . . strategic considerations have carried comparatively little weight (?), but feeling for Finland has run high, compounded of hostility to communism and sympathy for the little fellow in a fight.”

And Herbert Hoover declares: ( New York Times, Jan. 21, 1940): “Up to the present the emotions of the people of this country have not been aroused (!?). If the war is not ended soon, the horrors that are bound: to ensue will so shock us that unless we feel that we are helping in some way we shall be carried into the maelstrom. We are an emotional people. By helping a small country which has been attacked by a nation whose entire system is hateful to us, we are supplying an outlet for feelings which might well otherwise lead us into war.” This is the hoary formulation of all patriotic demagogues. Under the guise of keeping us out of war, they take the very steps that will plunge us into war.

Defense of the Soviet Union

Stalin’s attempt to gain military and strategic advantages through his invasion of Finland has so far succeeded only in demonstrating the incredible stupidity of Moscow and deep weaknesses in the beheaded Red Army. The socialization of property following the Red Army’s occupation of Finnish areas, indubitably progressive despite the manner of achieving it, is far outweighed in real value by the blow Stalin’s invasion deals to the world socialist revolution. By his procedure in Finland Stalin has still further alienated the sympathy of the workers and oppressed peoples for the Soviet Union and thus further undermined its real defense. He supplies ammunition to the imperialists and all their lackeys for a new campaign to overthrow the Soviet Union and restore private property. But the fresh crimes of Stalin do not alter the basic nature of the first workers’ state created by a proletarian revolution; they only accentuate what the Fourth International has always contended: the perfidious and criminal Stalinist bureaucracy must be overthrown. But this task cannot be farmed out to world imperialism. On the contrary, the renewed and greatly intensified danger of intervention by the imperialists, of which the army of Mannerheim is an integral part, places the defense of the Soviet Union on the order of the day for the class conscious workers of the entire world. The political and material intervention of American imperialism in the present conflict only underscores this obvious duty for American militants. For the defense of the Soviet Union—against Stalin! For the world socialist revolution! These are the slogans of the revolutionary vanguard—in the Soviet Union and everywhere else.


Last updated on 01.19.2006