Published portion from Crossroads: An International Socio-Political
Journal, Number 17, 1985
reformatted in HTML [with additional material 1972]
by Gene Keyes, cc 2007-10-26
Paper first presented at 1981 Annual Meeting
of the International Studies Association, Philadelphia, 1981-03-19
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[Part 1: article reprint]
Stalin's Finland Fiasco:
The Kuusinen Government Reconsidered
[former Asst. Prof., Political Science,
Brandon and St. Thomas Universities]
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Abstract Stalin's attempted conquest
of Finland in the 1939-40 Winter War, if successful, would
have produced a puppet government—or even a Soviet republic—headed
by O. W. Kuusinen. Allusions to the Winter War often cite Stalin's
defense-of-Leningrad motive and denigrate the abortive Kuusinen
government as a soon-forgotten pratfall. This paper stresses
that the so-called "Democratic Republic of Finland" was a very
near miss, averted only at the last minute in a complex whirlpool
of realpolitik, including the fantastic Anglo-French attempt of March
1940 to invade Sweden and attack the Soviet Union. Unlike the Baltics,
Finland fought a legendary war, preserving its democratic government
and national integrity, despite large human and territorial losses.
Nonetheless, the Finnish experience is compatible with a morale-oriented
theory of strategic nonviolent defense against imposition of an alien
The name Otto W. Kuusinen is not as notorious
as János Kádár or Vidkun Quisling. But
if things had gone otherwise—and they
almost did—he would have headed one of the first of the USSR's
communist puppet governments, imposed after an invasion by the Red
Army had militarily crushed the existing government. The country
was Finland; the year was 1939; the occasion was the Winter War, Russia's
frost-bitten Vietnam. According to Joseph Stalin's best-laid plan,
Finland was to be the fourth domino in Russia's defensive/offensive strategy
against Germany in the Baltic area. In September and October 1939, Foreign
Minister Vyacheslav M. Molotov had performed shotgun weddings that
brought first Estonia, then Latvia, then Lithuania into the Soviet Union's
defense perimeter. The marriages were not consummated with communism—yet.
Now the skids were greased for Finland.
This paper reconsiders the Kuusinen menace
to Finland as a case history of outright political-military
aggression by the Soviet Union. I do so in order to raise questions
about strategic nonviolent defense for analogous circumstances.
It may seem a futile inquiry, because there could hardly be a more
clear-cut case of a democracy facing attempted totalitarian conquest
but repulsing it by gallant and brutal warfare. Yet some aspects
of the Finnish experience can also provide clues for a morale-oriented
theory of strategic nonviolent defense.
When the Red Army crossed the borders on
November 30, 1939, what was Stalin's objective? To incorporate
Finland into the USSR? To establish a satellite government? Or
merely to protect Leningrad and the USSR's northwest defenses by
forcibly seizing Finnish buffer territory that could not be secured
diplomatically? Outward appearance and closer examination show the same
answer: "All of the above." Or, to pose a rhetorical question, was the
abortive Kuusinen government a strategy or a tactic, a pratfall or a
preview? Likewise, the answer is, "All of the above."
Fears and Spheres
Finland (population 4.7 million now, 3.8
million then) is one of those small, vigorous nations, like
Israel, which, because of critical location and skilled leadership
and national fiber, has attracted disproportionate attention. Many
books have focused
on Finland or on one facet or another of the Winter
War and its follow-through (e.g., 1-18,
whereas only a handful of titles consider the hapless Baltics (e.g.,
On August 23, 1939, Finland was assigned
to Russia's sphere of influence by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact,
as were Estonia and Latvia. Shortly afterward, Poland was dismembered,
and Lithuania was added to the Russian sphere. Germany dutifully
evacuated thousands of its nationals from the Baltics. With Reich
support gone, and with Britain, their erstwhile patron too far and
too busy, the three Baltics were now doomed to fall back under Russian
domination. In addition, Russia regarded Finland as a Baltic, not
a Scandinavian, state.
Joseph Stalin's inexorable gradualism rolled
into action. As Louis Fischer put it, "Stalin was a master
of dosage, of politics by installments" (25:
372). One by one the fascist governments of the three Baltics were
compelled to allow the Soviet Union to garrison them, but with their
sovereignty otherwise unimpaired. Whether or not eventual direct
annexation was intended all along, it was ostentatiously avoided
so far. Strategy and security were clearly the decisive factors;
Stalin was boarding up the frontiers and invasion routes against his
new German bedfellow. Now that the south shore of the Gulf of Finland
was under Russian control, it was time to secure the entire gulf with
a naval base on its north shore, on the Finnish coast. Also, Leningrad
was so close to the border of Finland as to be within artillery range.
Despite Finland's neutrality and its 1932
nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union, Moscow was fearful
that Finland would either go fascist or, in any event, be used
as a welcome mat for Big Power aggression aimed at the Soviet Union,
putting Leningrad in immediate danger. Andrei Zhdanov had voiced that
suspicion in a speech on November 29, 1936, when he mentioned Finland
among countries where "we can hear, ever more loudly, the howling
of the fascist beasts and the snapping of their jaws" (22:
226). He warned Finland and the Baltics not "to make their territory
available for aggressive action by fascist Powers." Although Finland
had flirted with domestic fascism in the early 1930s, by 1937 liberal
and social democratic elements were well in control. However, two of
the figures most cordially hated by
the Kremlin were still influential in Finnish politics:
the semi-fascist, somewhat Gaullist figure of General Carl
Gustaf Mannerheim, then chairman of the Defense Council; and
Väinö Tanner, then finance minister and leader of the
Mannerheim, a former tsarist general, had
led the White Guards who, with German help, had crushed the
Red Guards in Finland's 1918 civil war. Thousands of the Red sympathizers
had then been starved to death or executed. He had gone on to lead
Finland into the White fight against Soviet Russia itself before
a standoff was arranged in the 1920 Treaty of Dorpat. Tanner was
the Bolsheviks' favorite kind of bete noire, a right-wing Social Democrat
who had not joined his party's Red uprising. He was also one of
the negotiators of the 1920 treaty, which had set Finland's generous
boundaries with Russia. Afterward, Tanner had picked up the debris
of the Social Democratic Party and brought it back to respectability
and eventual power, while vigorously excluding the Communists.
Besides building a strong cooperative movement, he had been prime
minister during 1926-27 and finance minister prior to the Winter
War. As the wartime foreign minister, Tanner was to be a central personage
in the Finnish defensive effort, along with Mannerheim—a "clique,"
in Soviet invective.
As early as April 1938, Moscow agents had
been dropping secret hints to Finnish officials that Finland
ought to accept a more active Soviet defense presence and relationship.
These hints were turned aside on grounds of Finland's neutrality
by Prime Minister Aimo Cajander and Foreign Minister Eljas Erkko.
Their official policy was to hold both Germany and Russia at arms
length while seeking greater cooperation with the Nordic countries,
especially Sweden. But there were certain symptoms of friendliness
to Germany that fed Soviet paranoia. For example, on June 30, 1939,
the German Chief of Staff, General Franz Halder, had been cordially
received, and decorated, as a guest of the Finnish government; he was
taken to watch maneuvers on the Karelian Isthmus. Two months later,
Finland's largest army maneuvers ever were staged along the Soviet border,
with all the military attaches except those from the Soviet Union as
observers. Earlier in the year, fortifications on that isthmus had
been demonstratively strengthened by a thousand student
volunteers of the Academic Karelia Society, an expansionist
and anti-Russian group (7: 46).
By October 1939, the Allies were stalled
in the Phony War, Poland was gone, and the Baltics had just
been signed over to Stalinist mercy. Now, on October 5, Molotov
peremptorily summoned Foreign Minister Erkko to Moscow to deal
with "concrete political questions." Instead, Finland mobilized
and, without haste, designated a special diplomatic emissary instead
of Erkko. Chosen was Juho Paasikivi, then 69, the minister to Sweden
and, like Tanner, one of the original negotiators of the 1920 Treaty
of Dorpat. A banker, a scholar, and a conservative, Paasikivi unlike
most Finns was nevertheless in favor of concessions to Soviet defense
obsessions. Ultimately he was to become Finland's president, 1946-56,
and author of the "Paasikivi Line" by which Finland ardently deferred
to Soviet security needs yet remained an independent country. But in
1939 Paasikivi was regarded as too much of a dove by the cabinet, and
his instructions left little room for concession or maneuver. He did
cultivate good personal relations with Molotov and the Soviet powers
that be; he enjoyed their confidence and was the kind of bourgeois whom
the Kremlin preferred to deal with, rather than with a Social Democrat
such as Tanner (13).
Actually, Mannerheim himself had strongly
urged that Finland offer Russia some of its Gulf islands as
well as a frontier change when he learned of the initial Soviet
feelers; as an ex-tsarist general, he could appreciate Russia's
defense wants (6: 63). Also, he saw that Finland was in a
strong position in 1938-39 to obtain Soviet goodwill by timely concessions,
because that was momentarily "the period when the Soviet Union felt
itself abandoned by the Western Powers and threatened by Germany"
302). But the political leadership, Cajander and Erkko, ignored
his advice. One writer summed up their ineptitude by quoting the
instruction Erkko had given Paasikivi when he departed for the Moscow
talks: "Forget that Russia is a great power" (13:
99). Now, following his deal with Hitler, Stalin was in a position to
demand rather than request. But negotiations continued
by intervals over a month, from October 12 to November 13.
At the first session, Stalin himself, with
Molotov and others, met Paasikivi and his aides. Stalin outlined
his fear of naval intrusion in the Gulf of Finland by Britain
or Germany and recalled how "Yudenich attacked through the Gulf
of Finland and later the British did the same" (5: 27).
Therefore, he wanted to lease a naval base on the Hanko peninsula
of Finland, plus four Finnish islands in the gulf. He wanted the
border on the Karelian Isthmus moved back to a distance of 70
kilometers from Leningrad, instead of 32 kilometers as it was
then. (Such a rollback would have erased the Finnish fortifications
that were later dubbed "the Mannerheim Line.") Also required was
to nick off the Finnish tip of the Rybachi Peninsula, the better to
protect Murmansk. In exchange Stalin offered Finland double the
amount of (nondescript) territory from Soviet Karelia, saying, "Does
any other great power do that? No. We are the only ones that simple"
While these demands may have been reasonable
from a Soviet security perspective, the Finnish leadership
feared they would prove appetizers to further demands or even
Sovietization, and Finland would meanwhile be in a much weaker military
position than before. Paasikivi was only authorized to make rather
token concessions, so further talks were put off till he returned
from consulting Helsinki for new instructions. This time Paasikivi
asked that he be accompanied by a cabinet member—Finance Minister
Tanner. His addition proved a mistake; as noted above, Tanner the
anticommunist Social Democrat rubbed Soviet leaders the wrong way. Relative
to the Finnish cabinet, Tanner may have been a dove, but his stance
was tougher than Paasikivi's, and with a foot in his mouth: "Tanner
greeted the Soviet dictator with the proud confession: 'I am a Menshevik.'
It does not require much imagination to conceive of the impression
this made on Stalin" (13: 62).
Subsequent negotiating sessions produced
only trifling adjustments on either side; the talks were not
formally broken, but they ended on November 13. The Soviets later
absolved Paasikivi and scapegoated Tanner for the failure of the negotiations.
apparently startled that Finland had been so slow and
stubborn; unlike Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, Finland
had not responded with a snappy "yessir."
So, on the day the talks petered out, Stalin
began preparation for a sure cure of his security problem:
a quickie invasion of Finland that not only would gain the
areas requested, but would install a government compatible with
the Soviet Union to boot.
The Kuusinen Government
On November 13, Otto W. Kuusinen, a key secretary
of the Comintern, wrote a letter to Arvo Tuominen, the secretary
general of the (illegal) Finnish Communist Party. Tuominen was
then living in Stockholm. He was instructed to rush back to Moscow
for an important job in connection with "forceful measures" that
Russia was about to undertake against Finland. Tuominen balked. On
November 17 he wrote back refusing to heed the Comintern summons. Then
on November 21 a courier direct from the Kremlin brought Tuominen
an order issued by the CPSU Politburo itself demanding that he fly to
Moscow at once. The courier told Tuominen that Russia was on the
verge of war with Finland and that he was to be prime minister in a government
of Finnish emigres in Russia; Kuusinen was to be president; and they
had to choose a cabinet right away (5: 104-5).
Once again Tuominen turned down the order. Though long a loyal Communist,
he was becoming discouraged by the purges, the Hitler-Stalin pact, and
now the threat of Russian imperialist war against Finland. Consequently,
he also urged the underground Finnish Communist Party to do as he had,
thereby considerably undermining any support the local Party might have
given to the Russian invaders (6: 146-47).
The political solution was already off stride,
but the military solution lurched forward. On November 26
the Soviets staged a shelling incident near their town of Mainila
on the Karelian Isthmus, blamed it on the Finns, and demanded
a troop pullback. The Finnish cabinet assumed it was only diplomatic
whip-cracking in a war of nerves. In a reply note delivered at midnight
November 27, they offered a mutual pullback and joint border
investigation in accord with a 1928 treaty. The next
day Molotov denounced the 1932 Russo-Finnish non-aggression
and conciliation treaties (1: 23-27,
73). Then Finland decided to pull back its troops unilaterally.
However, before the Finnish minister in Moscow could deliver the
message on November 29, he was given a note at 10:00 P.M. which alleged
that Finnish attacks were continuing and broke off diplomatic relations
with Finland (1: 73; 6:
403). On the morning of November 30, the invasion itself began
by land, sea, and air. Helsinki was bombed. Soviet troops attacked
in the north and midsection of Finland and through the Karelian Isthmus.
Moscow demanded unconditional surrender (19:
On the same day, November 30, the Moscow
press claimed to have received from an "unknown radio broadcast"
somewhere in Finland a declaration by the Finnish Communist
Party (20: 133). It called for the overthrow of the
Finnish government and its replacement by a "People's Government" based
on a "broad people's front of toilers" (20: 137).
Perhaps in deference to Germany, it denied that a Soviet regime ought
to be set up (yet) or that Finland should join the USSR. It called for
"Immediate peace, the conclusion of a Soviet-Finnish pact of mutual assistance,
annexation by Finland of Soviet Karelia, the creation of a People's Army"
and a host of domestic reforms, such as the eight-hour working day—already
in effect since 1917 (20: 137).
Sure enough, the next day, December 1, 1939,
a "People's Government of the Democratic Republic of Finland"
was proclaimed—allegedly in the liberated village of Terijoki
near the Soviet border on the Karelian Isthmus. "Mr." Otto W. Kuusinen
was chairman and foreign minister, with a cabinet of half a dozen
Finnish nobodies. Its program was published the next day by Tass,
again as "received" and "translated" in Moscow from an unknown
radio transmitter in Terijoki (full text in 2:
425-30; excerpted in 20: 138-39). The nine-point program followed
the same lines as the preceding day's call by the Finnish Communist
Party. Yet as John Scott, a Western correspondent in Moscow noted:
There was no radio station in Terijoki which could have broadcast
the declaration of the new government; Kuusinen had not been
Finland in two decades, and until quite recently had headed the
Anglo-American section of the Comintern. These facts were
widely known among Moscovites. (19:
The Terijoki Government may have been composed
of Finnish figments, but Kuusinen himself was no lightweight.
Besides his high positions in the Comintern, he was reputedly
"Stalin's ideological adviser and ghost writer" (6: 145).
In one book he is thereby called "perhaps the most powerful Finn
who ever lived" (13: 5n.). According to Max Jakobson, Kuusinen was
"one of the foremost theoreticians of Marxism-Leninism, on whom
first Lenin himself and then Stalin relied to provide doctrinal justification
for their policies" (6: 165).
As recently as 1961 he was the principal author and compiler among
the apostles who produced the Soviet Union's new testament, Fundamentals
of Marxism-Leninism (47).
From 1957 until he died at 83 in 1964 he was a member of both the Presidium
and the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the CPSU (11: viii).
Kuusinen had been minister of education in
the short-lived Finnish Soviet Republic, January-March 1918;
upon its collapse he and several thousand Finns had fled to Russia.
He did not return to Finland for the rest of his life (unless,
mayhap, to Terijoki). It is he, together with Zhdanov and the self-deluded
Soviet minister to Finland, Vladimir Derevyansky, who are generally
credited with having given Stalin the crazy advice that Finnish
workers would rally within days to the Red cause.
No such thing happened. Russia was Finland's
hereditary enemy (18:
7). Tuominen and the Finnish Communist Party had gagged at the
Kuusinen scheme. Former Red Guards were seeking to enlist in Finland's
defense (7: 62). The country reunited as never before.
The "Democratic Republic of Finland" was a mockery; it prompted an
emigre Russian suggestion that Trotsky and Kerensky be invited to
establish a provisional government in Finland (5:
On November 30, the Cajander-Erkko government
received a vote of confidence by the Diet, even though its policy
had brought the Soviet Union crashing down on Finland, but
the vote proved only a gesture. Cajander and Erkko were dumped
the next day in favor of a new cabinet: the better to sue for peace?
wage the war? Or both? It was Tanner who called the
signals for the shake-up. He persuaded Risto Ryti to be prime minister and
named himself foreign minister. Paasikivi became minister without portfolio.
This new cabinet, ready to make new concessions, was supposedly a peace signal
to Russia, as relayed by way of America and Sweden. But seeing
archfoe Tanner now serving as foreign minister only fanned
the Kremlin's contempt.
Meanwhile, the Kuusinen government, as Alexander
Werth snickered, "was going from strength to strength" (23:
89). Born on December 1, this "Democratic Republic of Finland" on December
2 signed a Treaty of Mutual Assistance and Friendship with the
Soviet Union. It was published the next day in Pravda, together
with a front-page photograph of Kuusinen signing while Molotov,
Zhdanov, Kliment Voroshilov, and Stalin watched (photo in 2: 242;
15: 112; for three different translations
of the treaty, see 5: 101-3 or 8:
238-40; 19: 322-25; 22: 407-9).
The treaty not only embodied all of Stalin's original demands, but also
reunited to Finland much of the ethnically related area of Soviet Karelia—nearly
half of the Karelian Soviet Republic—heretofore an unthinkable thought
in Russia (6: 166-67; 20:
139). This bestowal was intended to be the biggest sweetener of all in
the treaty, but the document proved as much of a dud as the Terijoki
The Mutual Assistance Treaty had promised
ratification "in the shortest possible time in … Helsinki."
It seems clear from all accounts that the USSR expected a waltz-in
once the war began. At the outset, the Soviet press said the Red Army
would reach Helsinki within ten days (19:
104). Even that was a conservative estimate, as Stalin and others
were said to have thought the episode would take only three days
to a week at the most. A Soviet official in Berlin told William Shirer
that "it will be all over in three days" (Berlin Diary,
[New York: Knopf, 1941] quoted in 20:
142). Mannerheim reported that early in the war Russian orders had been
captured warning Red Army soldiers not to violate the Swedish frontier
329). According to another account, "In some sectors Soviet troops marched
over the border with flags fluttering and brass bands playing, as though
envisaging a popular welcome" (41:
33). On December 15, the Russian-
speaking Baltic correspondent of the Christian Science
Monitor wrote that Russian POWs
had been totally unprepared for real war. "Our political commissar
told us," they said, "that we would be in Helsinki by December
21, Stalin's birthday." The Red Army, we were told, planned
to make Stalin a birthday present of Finland. (2: 372)
And, as "Khrushchev remembers,"
All we had to do was raise our voice a little bit, and the Finns
would obey. If that didn't work, we could fire one shot and
the Finns would put up their hands and surrender. Or so we thought…
. Like everyone else I was confident that our advantage would prove
immeasurable and that our dispute with the Finns would be solved
quickly, without many casualties for us. So we thought, and so
we hoped. (29: 152-53)
It is also widely accepted that Zhdanov,
the Leningrad boss, was the chief hawk behind the Russo-Finnish
war; the initial military efforts (and fiascos) were the doing
of third-rate troops from the Leningrad military district (e.g.,
373 or 39: 27). Zhdanov may even have fallen into
disfavor for a time during the debacle; he was not featured among
the well-wishers on Stalin's sixtieth birthday (2: 373).
If security was indubitably the horse of
Stalin's policy, the Terijoki government was the cart. But
for all that, the cart might as well have been the juggernaut
itself. The war had begun on November 30. It was not until fully
two months later, on January 30, that Foreign Minister Tanner learned
secretly through Sweden that Molotov would negotiate at all with
the "Ryti-Tanner government" instead of the puppet. More rivers of
blood and a further six weeks of diplomatic intricacies followed.
Meanwhile, the Soviet war effort finally began to prevail, with
mass artillery and first-line forces under Marshal Semyon Timoshenko.
The few troops of the "Kuusinen People's Army" had joined the battle
on February 25, and the "Democratic Republic of Finland" remained an
active threat and an acute danger till the moment Molotov and Zhdanov
signed a peace treaty with the real
Helsinki government on March 12. Even then the specter
of a Kuusinen conquest remained a live possibility for several
The Quickfrozen/Quicksand War
The military courage and heroism by which
the ski-mobilized Finnish Army held off and decimated the enormous
Soviet war machine has been widely celebrated, and I need not
repeat the saga here. For the Soviet Union, as for Finland, the
casualties were staggering. Molotov at the time admitted to nearly
50,000 killed and 160,000 wounded (22:
442). Mannerheim estimated that the Red Army had suffered 200,000 killed
114). Western correspondent John Scott wrote:
Neutral military observers in Moscow considered Mannerheim's
estimate of Soviet casualties to be conservative. While I have no basis for
forming an intelligent opinion on the subject, a number of Russians, participants
in the Finnish War, with whom I subsequently talked all spoke
of casualties so great—whole regiments, even divisions, annihilated
to a man—that I cannot but conclude that Mannerheim's figure
was at least more accurate than Molotov's. (19:
As if to corroborate Scott, almost three
decades later, came this statement in Khrushchev's memoirs:
"I'd say we lost as many as a million lives" (29:
And Finland: Mannerheim immediately afterward
spoke of "more than 15,000" dead (Time, March 25, 1940,
p. 26), and Helsinki officially announced 19,576 (20:
191). Then in his 1950 memoirs, Mannerheim brought the figure to about
25,000 dead (4: 370). More than 43,000 were wounded. Molotov
said the Red Army general staff had estimated 60,000 Finnish dead; and
the military staff of the smarting Leningrad district claimed the Finns
had lost "not fewer than 85,000 dead and 250,000 wounded" (20:
442). Naturally, Molotov and company had to exaggerate; they need
not have bothered. Relative to one-fortieth of the population, Finnish
fatalities equaled the Soviet loss of one million.
Update 2007: Krushchev's "million" figure
is now seen as an exaggeration. Citing a post-Soviet declassified Moscow
source*, a casualties page of a Winter War website by
Sami Korhonen gives a grand total, killed and missing, of 126,875, on the
Russian side. Korhonen also lists the final Finnish losses as 26,662 men,
including MIA's. **
* Colonel-General G.F. Krivosheev, "The
Secret stamp has removed: casualties of the Soviet Armed Forces in wars
and military conflicts", Moscow, 1993
For two months the Kremlin simply refused
to deal with the "Mannerheim-Tanner clique"; they had a very cooperative
arrangement with "Mr." Kuusinen. Peace talks with the "Finnish White
Guards" could not even be considered. Nevertheless, Tanner kept
up a diplomatic campaign to restore communication with Moscow, through
the United States, Sweden, and Germany. With Molotov playing incommunicado,
Finland turned to the moribund League of Nations, and for what
it was worth, the League's dying act was to expel the Soviet Union
on December 14 (1: 76-111). Molotov refused to attend the Geneva
proceedings on the ground that the USSR was at peace with the Democratic
Republic of Finland. Then Tanner appealed directly to Molotov in a
December 15 radio broadcast urging a resumption of negotiations, but
there was no response (Text, 1: 111-14).
Meanwhile, Tanner was also rounding up as
much military assistance as possible. He constantly pressured
Sweden for military intervention, but could only obtain moral and
material support and several thousand volunteer soldiers. Mannerheim
and other Finnish diplomats began to encourage signs of military
intervention by England and France. Tanner, at least by his own
account, had to send out the peace signals behind the back of a hawkish
cabinet, but Mannerheim was also maneuvering and pressuring to
obtain a quick negotiated end to the war.
As early as January 7, 1940, Molotov hinted
to the German ambassador that peace might be possible if Tanner
were dropped (41: 105). Tanner does give a vague and undated
report of a preliminary Soviet peace feeler that came through
the Estonian foreign minister. The conditions included the Hanko
naval base—which so far Finland had adamantly refused to cede—and
now also Tanner's removal. Tanner vigorously rejected both conditions
116). Contact with Moscow, tenuous and indirect, was not established
until January 30, when Tanner received word that Molotov had notified Sweden
the day before that, "The USSR has no objection in principle to concluding
an agreement with the Ryti-Tanner government," but demanding to know what
concessions Finland would make, blaming Finland for the war, and
denying it the largess offered to the Kuusinen government
(5: 125). At least, and at last, this was the first
confirmation that Moscow might be willing to bypass its Terijoki
The mechanism of contact was highly roundabout.
On January 1, Hella Wuolojoki, a left-wing Finnish playwright,
had written Tanner offering to visit her friend Alexandra Kollontai,
the Soviet ambassador to Sweden and a luminary of the Bolshevik
revolution. Tanner agreed. From the Wuolojoki-Kollontai conversations,
Sweden emerged as the middleman in the complicated exchanges between
Helsinki and Moscow that finally resulted in Moscow peace talks starting
March 8 and the peace treaty of March 12. However, these maneuvers were
entirely secret, even from the Finnish cabinet, in the early stages.
Publicly, Moscow backed the Kussinen government
to the very end. On February 26, Komsomol'skaya Pravda
had said there would be no deal with Helsinki and that the Soviet
Union was aiming for complete victory of the Kuusinen government
186). As late as March 7, the (U.S. Communist) Daily Worker
had an eight-column, page-one feature spread in praise of the
Terijoki government, drawing in turn from the March 1 issue of Kansan
Valta, the newspaper of the People's Government. On March 8, with
the Moscow talks already underway, "Kansan Valta published an
appeal to the Finnish people 'to turn their backs on the Mannerheims
and Tanners' who were 'doomed to extinction' " (20:
194). Also on March 8, Komsomol'skaya Pravda reprinted a similar
long article by Kuusinen "in which he boasted that the 'bankrupt government
of Mannerheim, Ryti, and Tanner is on its way to the bottom. Its days
are numbered'" (14: 210). Even on March 10—two days before the peace—Krasnaya
Zvezda (Red Star, the army paper) printed an editorial noting
the "exceptionally great significance" of the Soviet Union's treaties
with the Baltics and the "Finnish Democratic Republic" (14:
210). People's Government propaganda broadcasts had been briefly suspended
when the Finnish delegation arrived in Moscow on March 7, but suddenly
resumed on March 10: "'Comrades,' the Moscow radio broadcast in
Finnish, 'lay down your arms and join the Kuusinen People's Army'"
By February 23 the precise Soviet peace terms
had finally been relayed to Tanner through Sweden: cession
of the Karelian Isth-
mus, including Finland's second largest city, Viipuri,
and restoration of Peter the Great's 1721 border by cession
of the northeastern shore of Lake Ladoga, including the town
of Sortavala. Russia also wanted Finland in a defense treaty.
If these conditions were not accepted now, there would be more
later—and there were (5: 172).
Finland's military defense by then was all
but shattered. At the same time the Finns were also being pressured
by France and Britain to hold out and not negotiate with the Soviet
Union, so that they could send an expeditionary force to Scandinavia
(see below) (6: 240). But on March 3 Tanner notified Molotov
through the Swedish foreign minister that Finland would accept the
conditions if they could keep Viipuri and Sortavala (5: 204;
168). On March 5, Molotov's answer came through Stockholm: not only
must those two cities be ceded with all the rest, but the terms would
grow worse if they were not accepted now. The Red Army, he said, was
demanding permission to sweep forward. And, unless Finland gave in
on those terms at once, the Soviet Union would sign a final treaty
with Kuusinen (5: 212-13).
The cabinet accepted and asked for an armistice
during the negotiations. Molotov replied on March 6 denying
an armistice but inviting a delegation to Moscow while the war
proceeded. On March 7 a delegation secretly left for Moscow by way
of Stockholm, consisting of Prime Minister Ryti, Paasikivi, and
two others. This time Tanner was omitted from the team.
The talks began on March 8. Molotov and Zhdanov
at once upped the demands to include parts of the districts
of Kuusamo and Salla so as to give the Murmansk railroad better
protection. Finland was also ordered to build a railroad across the
wilds of its northern central waist, from the USSR to Sweden, by
the end of 1940, and give the Soviets transit rights. On March 10
Molotov warned repeatedly that the talks would be broken off unless
the demands were acceded to (5: 234).
As described by Anthony F. Upton:
The Treaty of Moscow was a dictated peace. From the start the
Soviet representatives made it clear that there could be
no concessions and no haggling. They took the line that Finland
was fortunate to be let off so lightly, and that if the terms were
not accepted at
once, any future settlement would be harsher. If the Finnish
government tried to fight on, it was made clear that the Soviet government
was prepared to proceed with the total conquest of Finland, and the imposition
of Kuusinen's government. (39:
Nonetheless, Moscow did not press for the
defense alliance, agreed to return the Petsamo district which
it had captured, and allowed some changes on minor details. Alexandra
Kollontai during the initial contacts had kept trying to put the
best face on Stalin's demands, even hoping that once the Finns were
in Moscow he would make a "grand gesture." With all their amputations
—a tenth of their territory lost, instant relocation needed for 450,000
evacuees —the Finns did not see any such magnanimity. But apparently the
Soviets considered their relinquishment of Petsamo to be exactly that.
Not only did the region have an ice-free harbor, but it was also one of
the world's few sources of militarily important nickel. H. Peter Krosby,
who stresses the Petsamo aspect much more than the other writers, points
out: "Molotov seemed anxious to make his Finnish visitors understand
the magnitude of this grand gesture. 'No other great power would have
agreed to withdraw its troops from an ice-free harbor,' he said…" (43:
This may hardly have been sheer generosity.
Krosby (and Mannerheim) speculate that it was the foreign nickel
interests in Petsamo that made the Soviets fearful of provoking
foreign intervention, now that the Anglo-French landing had been
so narrowly averted. Indeed, the nickel mines were soon to figure
in a long tug-of-war between the Soviet Union, Germany, and Finland,
as well as British and U.S. mining interests. Earlier, when handing
back Petsamo, "Soviet officers explained that they had orders to return
this 'American [mining] property' exactly as they had found it, and
they made the Finns sign a protocol certifying that fact" (43: 10).
Such was America's inadvertent influence
on the war's outcome. Otherwise the United States had been
but peripherally involved in the peace efforts, through abortive
mediation offers. Also, on March 7, Secretary of State Cordell Hull
had authorized Ambassador Laurence Steinhardt in Moscow to "intimate"
Molotov that a "generous attitude" toward Finland would
facilitate U.S.-Soviet trade relations (37:
34). Max Jakobson writes that Molotov was unimpressed by the U.S.
appeal for leniency (6: 251). Douglas Clark suggests that "it is
most improbable that it made the slightest difference" (41:
215). Andrew J. Schwartz notes that Prime Minister Ryti told Hull on
May 9 that only Steinhardt's move had effectively moderated the Russian
demands (37: 36). Allen F. Chew regards the Ryti remark as
a diplomatic white lie (14:
296, n. 66).
At a Supreme Soviet Presidium meeting on
March 18, Molotov announced that the People's Government
had agreed to dissolve itself "of its own volition" (20:
190). Chew quotes a similar Molotov statement in Pravda of March 30,
averring that the "People's Government of Finland" had
been consulted about the peace treaty, which it had "welcomed" (14:
Why the Kuusinen Government Was Aborted
Two complementary questions can be posed
at this point: (1) If, pragmatically, the Terijoki government
had proved such a farce and the war itself such a dangerous and
humiliating hemorrhage, why didn't Stalin cut his losses and drop
Kuusinen by, say, the end of December, instead of March? Or, (2)
assuming Stalin was going to ride it out and impose Kuusinen on Helsinki
at the cost of Soviet Russia's remaining moral prestige and hundreds
of thousands of casualties—yea, a million dead—why did he suddenly
stop when military victory was in sight?
The answer to the first question might have
something to do with the Red Army high command. Having been
so devastated by a tiny country in December, they could hardly quit
while they were behind. They spent all of January massing and organizing
just to even the score, and by February 1 they had begun to lower
the boom, restoring their prestige in their own eyes. By this reasoning,
even if Stalin had wanted to forget about Terijoki as 1940 dawned, he
would have felt obligated to the military to stay the course while they
retrieved the situation and their prestige—as well as the USSR's reputation
as a great power (6: 218-19). That the war was continued so as
to salvage the Red Army's face
(while savaging Finland's) was implicitly known at the
time, whether mentioned by Elliston or Kollontai, Hitler or
Newsweek. As Max Jakobson put it, "Probably the Soviet
marshals were demanding a chance to prove their worth. They must
have been deeply embarrassed, to put it mildly, by the ridicule
heaped upon their performance in Finland" (6:
219; cf. 48).
As noted previously, Molotov had said the Red
Army was "demanding permission" to triumph when he denied the
armistice. And when Molotov restored Petsamo to Finland, he told
their delegation that "'significant, very significant military
circles' had insisted that Petsamo be retained by the Soviet Union"
9). As it turned out, the truncated borders of Finland gained by the
Treaty of Moscow were what the military had wanted in the first place
back in October 1939 (5: 26-27).
Emphasizing the Red Army's role in prolonging
the Winter War—and willy-nilly the Kuusinen pretendership—would
correspond to a similar interpretation offered by Leslie Bain about
the Hungarian uprising. Bain, a journalist, was a firsthand observer
of the events in Hungary in 1956. He speculated that the Kremlin
had in fact decided to pull out of Hungary but that the Soviet Army,
stung by excesses of the freedom fighters, had itself decided to smash
the revolution. Then, "the political leadership of the Soviet Union fell
in line" (45: 161).
The answer to the second question, why Stalin
quit when he was already winning, has to do with the imminence
of a large Anglo-French expeditionary force that was on the verge
of coming to the aid of Finland—departing March 12, the day the peace
treaty was signed. How had that come about?
In the lull of the Phony War, Finland's heroic
resistance had been widely trumpeted and admired. As it soon
became apparent that Russia was a pitiful helpless giant and Germany
a quiescent foe, the risk of fighting both together seemed feasible.
A set of diverse popular pressures and political (mis)calculations
eventually led Britain and France to make ill-coordinated and variable
pledges of somewhere between 6,000 and 57,000 men for an expeditionary
force to be sent to Finland through Norway and Sweden—if Finland would
openly request it. And if Norway and Sweden would assent. Altogether,
the premises and the planning for this strategic folly were so harebrained
as to leave historians
gasping. A. J. P. Taylor said its motives "defy rational
analysis" and were "the product of a madhouse" (40:
469). Douglas Clark writes that "if madness is to be defined as an
inability to consider the consequences of one's actions, British ministers
on the 12th fell out of their senses" (41: 181;
for a contemporary eight-point rationale, however, see 2: 400-404).
This projected Anglo-French intervention was
perhaps the most complex and hair-curling episode of realpolitik
in modern history. The cross-purposes and out-manipulations
were multilateral and murderous. The following brief synoposis
is largely based on lakobson (6) and
Clark (41), who give the best overview among the various
works cited below.
We know what Stalin and Kuusinen were after.
Tanner and Mannerheim wanted the threat of an Anglo-French
landing as a weapon for a diplomatic settlement with Russia—and
got both; They did not want the landing—it would have been too
little and too late—but kept beckoning for it. French Premier Édouard
Daladier wanted to move the war front far away from France by compelling
Scandinavia to become the battleground; perhaps he even wanted a switch
of enemies, the Soviet Union for Germany. In his scheme, moreover, the
USSR's Baku oil fields were to be bombed at the same time by General
Maxime Weygand's French forces in Syria, with Turkey's cooperation, thereby
cutting off Soviet oil export to Germany. Winston Churchill, then first
lord of the Admiralty, wanted to capture the Swedish iron mines and
halt their shipments to Germany by using a popular expedition to heroic
Finland as a pretext. (A Petsamo landing directly in Finland was ruled
out because it would miss the iron mines, confront the Soviets too soon,
and entail other logistic difficulties.) Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain
hardly knew what he was doing, except to specify that Finland would have
to appeal for the expedition publicly, and that Sweden and Norway would
have to agree to let it through. Sweden and Norway did not even want
to be asked such permission to donate themselves as a Big Power battlefield,
lest Germany pounce as it had threatened, and as it soon did in Denmark
and Norway. But Finnish leaders
wanted Sweden and Norway to take the onus of preventing
the expedition, so that the politically unbearable peace treaty
could be passed by the Diet. The Finns had sought in vain for
meaningful military aid; they had pressed for the expedition such
as it was; they had gotten the expected denial of transit rights
from their neighbors; and, in their time of maximum peril on March
11, they were even offered the expeditionary force in the teeth
of Scandinavian resistance. Yet in the absolute crunch they did not
formally request the Anglo-French intervention!
It was an extremely close shave for everyone.
The Allies had set first March 5, then March 12 as the deadline
for Finland to quit the peace talks and sound the summons. Until
March 11, Chamberlain had adamantly respected the neutral rights
of Scandinavia; that day the Allies decided to launch the expedition
regardless. As Douglas Clark depicts the situation,
The fighting ships, the transports, were massed in the Clyde;
the men were embarking. The button was under Finland's finger;
she had only to press it. The Winter War had entered its last
and most fantastic phase during which, for thirty-six hours, the
colossal issue of whether the Western Powers were to become involved
in simultaneous war with Hitler and Stalin rested solely on her
decision. (41: 180)
Churchill's Hinge of Fate might best have described
that moment of World War II. On March 11, however, unknown to the Allies,
the Finnish delegation had been authorized to sign the treaty. They did so
shortly before midnight on March 12-13. The cease-fire began at 11:00 A.M.
on March 13. The expedition suddenly and ignominiously had to be canceled.
Daladier was toppled by Paul Reynaud shortly afterward. Chamberlain fell
in the backwash, when Hitler, seeing Britain's obvious design on Scandinavia,
grabbed Norway and Denmark.
The Kuusinen Government Reconsidered
"Remember," said [ex-Foreign Minister] Erkko, … "that the Russian
is a Tartar, and that when the Tartar was a nomad, and wanted
protect his camp, he always sought to clear a protective zone
for about five hundred kilometres all around." (2: 160)
To raise again the question of the Kremlin's
motive for fighting the Russo-Finnish War: Was it only a matter
of extending Russia's defense perimeter, or was revolutionary
conquest via Kuusinen the key element of the campaign? The journalist
H. B. Elliston (who quotes Erkko above), writing in January 1940,
mentions that he had queried many Scandinavian and Baltic statesmen
about the Soviet motive. He found them equally divided between two
schools, which he named after Paasikivi and Erkko:
Mr. Paasikivi believes that the Soviet aim is primarily military,
or defensive—pathologically defensive, if you like. Mr. Erkko,
on the contrary, thinks that the aim is primarily political,
or world revolutionary, and that the essence of the Bolshevik drive
is to bring other peoples under Soviet sway, Finland first of all.
Elliston favored Paasikivi's explanation, because
Erkko himself had supplied the Tartar analogy, but Elliston
added that the Finns were more likely to get outside aid on the
basis of the world-revolution supposition.
In any case, what came of the purely defensive
rationale Stalin had for launching the Winter War? It turned
out to be strategic stupidity by at least three different indictments.
(1) By the very process of having inflicted such a brutal war
and harsh peace on Finland, the USSR helped create precisely what
it had most feared and tried to prevent: a staging base (and cobelligerent
besides) for a German attack on the Soviet Union. (2) Even what Stalin
gained after hundreds of thousands of casualties is scoffed at by
Jakobson: the Hanko naval base proved worthless against Germany and
had to be evacuated because the invasion came by land. Actually, Finland
resisted German pressure to join the attack on Leningrad (6: 118).
And, (3) as Louis Fischer points out, everything Russia had annexed
by Hitler's permission was overrun within a week in June 1941. The
Finns reoccupied their lost territories. The Germans swept through
Russia's war effort would have been furthered if no Soviet boot
had ever trod there. Those regions served not as a buffer but
as a catapult accelerating the Wehrmacht's progress to the great
population centers of Russia. (25: 462)
Disaffected populations were not the only factor.
Fischer quotes a Soviet writer who admits that by the summer
of 1941, "the new national frontiers had only the most primitive
field fortifications" because there had been insufficient time
to build them; yet the old 1939 border defense had been weakened
or dismantled in the meantime (25:
So much for the defensive motivation, even if
that was in fact the overriding concern. What about the "Democratic
Republic of Finland"?
Soviet history itself consigns the Kuusinen
government to the memory hole. Nowhere in the Moscow-published
sources cited is it ever mentioned (27; 28).
Khrushchev reiterates, "I repeat: our only goal was to protect
our security in the north" (29:
152). Immediately after the Winter War references to the Kuusinen government
were dropped from schoolbooks (19:
Although Tanner and another writer each assert
that the Terijoki regime had "enriched political science with
a new concept," soon followed by Quisling, they seem to be overlooking
numerous puppet precedents (3:
101). What was Napoleon's stock in trade? More recent were the establishment
of Manchukuo in 1931 and Soviet Russia's own earlier attempts in
the same vein. During their counterinvasion of Poland in 1920, the
Bolsheviks had formed a Revolutionary Government of Poland on July
31, seated in Bialystok, with Julian Marchlewski as president. The
Provisional Polish Revolutionary Committee also included GPU head Felix
Dzerzhinsky and two others. A similar pattern was used in Outer Mongolia
in 1921. But the Polish venture had been launched on the heels of the
invasion rather than beforehand; its collapse was partially attributed
by Marchlewski to that delay (20:
135). For Finland, then, the political objective ostensibly preceded
the military lunge, so to speak.
Therefore, seen only as a tactic, the Kuusinen
government served these purposes:
It would "call in" the onrushing Russian
troops, as did Kádár in 1956.
It would preclude the need to declare
war on Finland, because Molotov would allege that the Soviet
Union was at peace with the "Democratic Republic of Finland,"
as he did when summoned by the League of Nations (22:
410-11). The United States utilized this charade in order to avoid
applying the neutrality laws and declaring the Soviet Union a belligerent;
Hull wanted to avoid driving the USSR and Germany still closer together
It would provide the propaganda figleaf
for Soviet Russia's debut in naked international aggression,
because the USSR "could not wage a conventional, bourgeois war
against another state" (6:
168-69). The invasion required "ideological camouflage," as Max Jakobson
In general, the People's Government, by
Anatole Mazour's description, "was a convenient agency which
could perform a multitude of things or contribute nothing" (8: 111).
However, if the Kuusinen Government had indeed
been only a wartime tactic, then it would have been stupid to
rely on it for long. It united the hard-fighting Finns into a
desperate battle for independence, yet was a butt of world-wide
ridicule, even in the Soviet Union itself. Neither liability would have
mattered in the end if Kuusinen had gained the quick victory programmed
for him, or even a delayed victory. Therefore, it is evident that
once Stalin decided to go for a military solution in the matter of
reinforcing the northwest defenses, he seized the opportunity to
set up simultaneously a communist government, as he would in the Baltics
in 1940 and in eastern Europe after 1945.
At the last minute, on the verge of victory,
Stalin did prove willing to drop the People's Government as
if it had been a mere propaganda tactic all along. However,
I would say that this creature was not just a tactic; it was
the strategy. The Soviet Union's public objective throughout the
entire three and a half terrible months of the Winter War had been
to disestablish the "Mannerheim-Tanner Gang" and install the Kuusinen
government. Only the looming danger of Anglo-French intervention had
caused the sudden suspension of that objective. And however
asinine that intervention would have been, it was a fresh disaster Stalin
did not need.
Clearly, then, the Terijoki government, as Max
Jakobson writes, was "not a harmless hoax" (6: 167).
For nearly two-thirds of the war, the Soviet Union had refused
to negotiate at all with the "White Finnish Clique." It is not
enough simply to point out, as do Alexander Werth, C. Leonard Lundin,
and others, that the Terijoki government was "an absurd experiment"
or "an extraordinarily stupid move" that delayed a negotiated settlement
62). It was; and it did; but raw power can vindicate itself anyway.
The Mutual Assistance Treaty was almost ratified in Helsinki,
except that Stalin suddenly had bigger worries. Even then, only
hours before the end of the war, Stalin was still using the Kuusinen
government as a negotiating knout, threatening to finish the job
unless Finland took a dictated peace at once. The "Democratic Republic
of Finland" was a very near miss.
What's more, after the Treaty of Moscow, Finland
still appeared to suffer the predicament of being an extra tough
bone which a dog is saving for a little later when the other dogs
move away. On March 31, 1940, the Supreme Soviet established the Karelian-Finnish
Soviet Socialist Republic as a twelfth union republic of the USSR,
including the newly won territories. On July 10, it elected as president—Otto
W. Kuusinen! (20: 193-94; 39:
87) Meanwhile in June, as the world reeled at the fall of France, Stalin
cashiered the sovereign governments of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania and
bear-hugged the Baltics into the USSR. Then the Soviet Union invaded Rumania
to repossess Bessarabia, with a wink from Hitler. The Finns suspected that
Kuusinen's new union republic was to be fleshed out with the rest of Finland
in due course. As Anthony Upton writes, "Their suspicions were almost certainly
correct" (39: 87).
During the Winter War, Hitler had scrupulously refrained
from interfering with the Soviet war effort. Now as 1940 caromed
from one shock to another, power relations changed greatly. When
Molotov went to Berlin in November 1940 he sought clearance from
Hitler to apply the "Bessarabia solution" to Finland: annexation
240; 36: 217). Hitler vetoed the Russian takeover.
Chief of Staff Halder wrote in his diary, "'Finland:
any further Russian action casus belli' " (39:
177). Finland became one of the main bones of contention between Germany
and the Soviet Union. By this time Hitler was interested in Finnish
nickel (Petsarno) and timber; and, more critically, Finland had granted
transit rights to both Soviet troops (bound for Hanko) and German troops
(bound, at first, for Norway). Finland was a chief cause of the souring
of Nazi-Soviet relations after November 1940.
(Finland's role in the rest of World War II
and its escape from Soviet occupation then is beyond the scope
of this paper. Suffice it to note that Finland fought the USSR as
a nonallied cobelligerent with Germany, regaining its lost lands and
more. In 1944 it had to change war-horses in the middle of the stream,
driving German troops out of Lapland after another dictated armistice
with the USSR. The 1940 boundaries were restored, and the Soviet Union
got Petsamo as well, plus an enormous indemnity.)
Considered both as a strategy and a preview,
the Kuusinen government can best be summed up in H. B. Elliston's
observation of January 1940:
Security is the means uniting both defenders and expanders
the moment an aggressor passes over a national frontier.
Moreover, this "preventive encirclement strategy" of the Soviet
Bear brings along in its train the Soviet system. (2: 171;
Was it a pratfall? Yes, of course. But while
Terijoki may have proved a grim joke, canceled only at the last
minute, the various people's republics of slightly more recent
vintage were not so fortunate. (Nonetheless, one could argue that
the German Democratic Republic was itself only a bargaining chip, to
be traded for a neutral, disarmed, united Germany; but events have brought
it to stay.)
Defeated but Not Conquered
The political and strategic ramifications of
the Winter War are fascinating; the what-ifs are horrifying;
and there is much room
for speculation and comment on many of its political
and military fine points. For example, was the Mannerheim Line
or the Paasikivi Line more important in saving Finnish independence?
And why did Finland remain free, in contrast to the three Baltic
states that were so easily annexed in June 1940? While not delving into
this last question, in fairness to the Baltics we can point to—if not
necessarily concur with—an explanation advanced by Albert N. Tarulis:
None of the Baltic States was in a position to offer effective
resistance. Finland's example is not conclusive. Nowhere on
the Baltic south of the Gulf of Finland were there natural obstacles,
similar to the wide swamps and thick woods in Karelia… . Furthermore,
the Baltic States were completely isolated from the rest of the world
by the Soviet Union, with its naval bases all the way from Hangoe
to Keipaja. (32: 197)
Nevertheless, the Winter War seems vividly to
demonstrate the efficacy of bloody war and threat of larger
war as a means of resisting Soviet Russian expansionism. That moral
is drawn most explicitly by John H. Wuorinen, who writes:
There is no doubt but that the USSR intended to crush Finland
once and for all—Molotov had made that clear in Berlin—and that
annexation would have been carried through if the Finns had
not fought appears certain. That independence was saved by fighting
is equally clear. (10: 387)
In reality, Finland was also saved by its geography
and by power politics, which were both the cause and cure of
the Winter War. But the tenacious fighting, which produced a "victory
in defeat," looms large in any consideration of Finnish independence
from the Soviet Union, as compared to the Baltic states or other
areas absorbed into the Soviet Union or its sphere. (Indeed, the
word "Finlandization" is a slur on Finnish heroism and wisdom. If we
must utter that term at all, would that Poland or the GDR could be
"Finlandized".) The Finns lost a tenth of their territory and suffered
tremendous casualties, but they succeeded
in staving off the Kuusinen government. As Max
Jakobson said, "Finland was defeated. But she was not conquered"
In this paper my major focus has been the precise
nature of the threat posed by the Kuusinen government—and its
ilk—as well as the means by which it was negated: the awesomely
slaughterous Winter War. The question might be posed: is there a
way to defend national integrity without killing a million people
in the process? Would the same Finnish fortitude and tenacity, which
the Finns call sisu, alternatively suggest a nonviolent defense
strategy and ethos? Elsewhere, I have presented a morale-oriented theory
of strategic nonviolent defense against military imposition of alien
government (51; see also 49 and
In an unpublished paper I have looked at "nonviolent defense clues
from the Winter War" (52). There I hardly suggest that the Finns
could have won by a Gandhian strategy about as unknown then as it
is today. What I do argue is that national morale is the sine qua non
of strategic nonviolent defense.
In the Winter War, Finnish morale was the major
clue. Militarily, Finland lost the war. However, it was able
to unhorse Stalin's puppet, and to sue for peace with its morale
intact; its national integrity and democratic government preserved.
[This unpublished appendix now included below—gk]
In each category entries are chronological by
date of authorship (bracketed if necessary).
1.Finland, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, The Development of
Finnish-Soviet Relations, During the Autumn of 1939 in the Light of Official
Documents (Helsinki: 1940), 114 pp. U.S. ed., The Finnish
Blue Book (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1940, with March 1940
peace treaty added), 120 pp. [December, 1939].
2. H. B. Elliston, Finland Fights (Boston: Little, Brown,
1940), 443 pp. [January, 1940].
3. Anon., Finland and World War II, 1939-1944, trans.
and ed. John H. Wuorinen (New York: Ronald Press, 1948), 228 pp.
4. Carl Gustaf Mannerheim, The Memoirs of Marshal Mannerheim,
trans. Court Eric Lewenhaupt (New York: Dutton,
1954), 540 pp. .
5. Väinö Tanner, The Winter War: Finland Against
Russia 1939-1940 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press,
1957, orig.; Finnish, 1950), 274 pp.
6. Max Jakobson, The Diplomacy of the Winter War: An Account
of the Russo-Finnish War, 1939-1940 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard
University Press, 1961), 281 pp. Drab title; spell-binding book;
tragic and comic by turns .
7. C. Leonard Lundin, Finland in the Second World War (Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1957), 303 pp. In part, an extended commentary
on the major works published thus far about the Winter War and its sequel
8. Anatole G. Mazour, Finland Between East and West (Princeton,
N.J.: Van Nostrand, 1956), 298 pp.
9. G. A. Gripenberg, Finland and the Great Powers: Memoirs
of a Diplomat (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1965),
10. John H. Wuorinen, A History of Finland (New York: Columbia
University Press, for the American-Scandinavian Foundation, 1965), 548 pp.
11. John H. Hodgson, Communism in Finland: A History and Interpretation
(Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1967), 261 pp. Astounding
for its omission of any mention whatsoever of the Kuusinen government
and Tuominen's defiance of Soviet orders to be its prime minister.
12. Oliver Warner, Marshal Mannerheim and the Finns (London:Weidenfeld
and Nicolson, 1967), 232 pp.
13. Marvin, Rintala, Four Finns: Political Profiles (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1969), 120 pp. Political-leadership
essays on Mannerheim, Tanner, Stahlberg, and Paasikivi.
14. Allen F. Chew, The White Death: The Epic of the Soviet-Finnish
Winter War (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press,
1971), 313 pp.
15. Eloise Engle and Lauri A. Paanan, The Winter War: The Russo-Finnish
Conflict 1939-40 (New York: Scribner's 1973), 176 pp. (Nevakivi 
says U.K. ed. published 1972; not mentioned in this edition.)
16. Jukka Nevakivi, The Appeal That Was Never Made: The Allies
Scandinavia, and the Finnish Winter War, 1939-1940, trans.
Mrs. Jukka Nevakivi (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press,
1976), 225 pp. Orig. Finnish, Apu Jota ei pyydetty, 1972. Uses more
primary documents (and interviews) than earlier books, but lacks
the coherent narrative of, e.g., Jakobson (6), Lundin (7), or Clark
(41). Clumsy footnotes; abbreviation referents buried or missing.
17. Anthony F. Upton, Finland 1939-1940 (London: Davis-Poynter,
1974), 174 pp.
18. L. A. Puntila, The Political History of Finland 1809-1966,
trans. David Miller (London: Heinemann, 1975), 248 pp. Orig.
Finnish, Suomen polittinen historia 1809-1966, 1975. Contains,
on p. 7, a vivid set of nine small maps showing areas lost to Russia/USSR
in 1323, 1595, 1617, 1721, 1743, 1809, 1920, 1940, and 1944.
19. John Scott, Duel for Europe: Stalin versus Hitler (Boston:
Houghton Mifflin, 1942), 381 pp.
20. David 1. Dallin, Soviet Russia's Foreign Policy, 1939-1942.
trans. Leon Dennen (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press,
1942), 452 pp.
21. Max Beloff, The Foreign Policy of Soviet Russia, 1920-1941,
vol. 2, 1936-1941 (London: Oxford University Press, RIIA, 1949),434
22. Jane Degras, ed., Soviet Documents on Foreign Policy
(London: Oxford University Press, RIIA, 1953), 500 pp.
23. Alexander Werth, Russia at War, 1941-1945 (New York:
Avon, 1965; orig. Dutton, 1964), 1,000 pp.
24. Adam B. Ulam, Expansion and Coexistence: The History of
Soviet Foreign Policy, 1917-67 (New York: Praeger, 1968),
25. Louis Fischer, Russia's Road from Peace to War: Soviet
Foreign Relations 1917-1941 (New York: Harper, 1969), 499
26. W. P. Coates and Zelda K. Coates, The Soviet-Finnish Campaign:
Military and Political, 1939-1940 (London: Eldon Press,
1941), 172 pp. Largely an attack on British press coverage of the
27. Ivan Maisky, Memoirs of a Soviet Ambassador: The War, 1939-43,
trans. Andrew Rothstein (New York: Scribner's, 1968; orig. Moscow, 1965),
28. History of Soviet Foreign Policy, 1917-1945, ed. B.
Ponomaryov, A. Gromyko, and V. Khvostov; trans. David Skvirsky
(Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1969), 498 pp.
29. Nikita S. Khrushchev, Khrushchev Remembers, trans.
and ed. Strobe Talbott (Boston: Little, Brown, 1970), 639 pp.
30. Gregory Meiksins, The Baltic Riddle: Finland, Estonia,
Latvia, Lithuania—Key-Points of European Peace (New York:
L. B. Fischer, 1943), 271 pp. Not quite pro-Soviet, but takes a
permissive view of Russian aims and a skeptical view of the Baltics'
31. John Alexander Swettenham, The Tragedy of the Baltic States:
A Report Compiled from Official Documents and Eyewitnesses'
Stories (London: Hollis and Carter, 1952), 216 pp.
32. Albert N. Tarulis, Soviet Policy Toward the Baltic States,
1918-1940 (South Bend, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press,
1959), 276 pp. Abominable footnotes: a thicket of inaccessible
op. cit's. Draws heavily from the 1954 hearings of the U.S. House
Select Committee on Communist Aggression.
World Political Focus
33. Harold Lavine and James Wechsler, War Propaganda and the
United States (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press,
for the Institute for Propaganda Analysis, 1940), 363 pp.
34. Winston S. Churchill, The Gathering Storm (Boston:
Houghton Mifflin, 1948), 784 pp.
35. Nazi-Soviet Relations, 1939-1941: Documents from the Archives
of the German Foreign Office, eds. Raymond J. Sontag and
James S. Beddie (Washington, D.C.: Department of State, GPO, 1948),
362 pp. Cold-war effort to put some diplomatic egg on Russia's face,
much of it well-deserved. On p. 240 appears the critical passage
citing Molotov's query to Hitler, November 13, 1940, about Russia
taking over Finland in toto, "on the same scale as in Bessarabia," from
a memorandum by Hitler's interpreter Paul Schmidt (see 36).
36. Paul Schmidt, Hitler's Interpreter, ed. R. H. C. Steed
(London: Heinemann, 1951), 286 pp. Schmidt was the note-taking
witness on November 13, 1940, when Molotov let the cat out of
the bag regarding Moscow's wish to absorb Finland. This work, on
p. 217, covers similar ground to Schmidt's memo cited in 35 above,
without the "Bessarabia" remark. "Final settlement of the Finnish
question" is the locution.
37. Andrew J. Schwartz, America and the Russo-Finnish War
(Washington, D.C.: Public Affairs Press, 1960), 103 pp.
38. Sir Edmund Ironside, The Ironside Diaries, 1937-1940,
ed. Roderick Macleod and Denis Kelly (London: Constable, 1962),
39. Anthony F. Upton, Finland in Crisis, 1940-1941: A Study
in Small-Power Politics (Ithaca, N. Y.: Cornell University
Press, 1965), 318 pp.
40. A. J. P. Taylor, English History, 1914-1945 (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1965), 708 pp.
41. Douglas Clark, Three Days to Catastrophe (London: Hammond,
1966), 228 pp. Like Jakobson (6), a nonfiction thriller marbled with dry
42. U.S. Department of State, Finland-USSR Boundary (International
Boundary Study No. 74, Office of the Geographer, (February I,
1967), 19 pp. Includes background commentary and texts of boundary
protocols since 1940; plus a small-scale map, 1/3.5 million, of
no great usefulness.
43. H. Peter Krosby, Finland, Germany, and the Soviet Union,
1940-1941: The Petsamo Dispute (Madison: University of Wisconsin
Press, 1968), 276 pp.
44. Roger Parkinson, Peace for Our Time: Munich to Dunkirk—The
Inside Story (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1971), 412 pp.
Uses newly released British Cabinet papers (cf. Nevakivi, 16).
45. Leslie B. Bain, The Reluctant Satellites: An Eyewitness
Report on East Europe and the Hungarian Revolution (New
York: Macmillan, 1960), 233 pp.
46. Leonard Schapiro, The Communist Party of the Soviet Union,
2nd ed., rev. (New York: Vintage, 1971; orig. 1960), 686
47. O. W. Kuusinen, et al. Fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism
Manual, trans. Clemens Dutt (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing
House, 2nd impression, 1961), 891 pp.
48. Harrison E. Salisbury, War Between Russia and China
(New York: Bantam, 1970; orig. Norton, 1969), 210 pp. Three months
before the Winter War, the Red Army had routed Japan in an unsung,
undeclared war in Mongolia (pp. 128-131).
49. Adam Roberts, "Civil Resistance as a Technique in International
Relations," in The Yearbook of World Affairs, 1970 (London:
Stevens, 1970), 25-39. Brief introduction to the subject.
50. Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action (Boston:
Porter Sargent, 1973), 902 pp. Paperback ed., 1974, 3 vols.,
same pagination. Exhaustive introduction to the subject.
The Winter War would seem an especially
forbidding locale to seek out the possibilities of unarmed resistance.
But it contains certain clues for the nonviolent defense analyst
to consider. The themes may be roughly divided into categories of
the defender's strength, and the aggressor's weakness, however much
the military balance may be overwhelmingly the opposite. The crux is
1) Demoralization of Red Army troops when employed in a
I have previously noted how the wounded pride
of the Red Army may have created the need for a smashing comeback
before a political settlement could be considered. This
was achieved at gruesome cost to the defenders and invaders alike.
Still, one of the most salient features of the first half of the
War was the unpreparedness and demoralization of the second and
third rate troops that were thrown into battle. Leonard Schapiro
speaks of "the reluctance of the Soviet troops to fight a war of invasion
with which they had little sympathy… " (46:
494) John Scott observed that
In a good army the soldier is cocky and the staff is sober, modest,
and realistic. In Russia in 1939 the soldiers were indifferent
and cynical while the staff was arrogant and cocksure. (19:
Max Jakobson emphasizes the difference between
the effectiveness of the Red Army when its role is that of the
defender rather than the invader. In World War II after June 1941,
Instead of attacking a small neighbor for reasons that even to
the cowed and indoctrinated Soviet citizen could hardly appear
inspiring, the Russian soldier was then called upon to defend
his own soil against a cruel invader. (6: 220)
Also, only three months before the Winter War,
the Red Army had performed far more effectively in the decisive
and defensive battle of Khalkin-gol (in Mongolia) against
Japanese incursion from Manchuria. (48: 128-31)
A nonviolent defense strategy would strive to
exploit and foster demoralization and defection among the invading
troops. Scattered instances of both were also noted during
Soviet repressions in East Germany, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia,
but these tendencies could not be reinforced because hostility
or shooting aimed at the Red Army shored up its justification
for 'doing its job'. If the defenders could absorb substantial casualties
while demonstratively not shooting back, there could be greater
latitude for using the leverage of troop demoralization, defection,
2) Demoralization on the Soviet foe's home front
John Scott describes the considerable dislocations
within Russia caused by the Winter War: food shortages, runs on
banks, rising prices, transport breakdowns, and the "detrimental
effect on Soviet morale" of Finnish broadcasts whenever they got
through the jamming.(19: 107) "Krushchev remembers" a dramatic
episode showing how close to the top the tension and bad morale had
… Stalin jumped up in a white-hot rage and started to berate
Voroshilov. Voroshilov was also boiling mad. He leaped up, turned red, and
hurled Stalin's accusations back into his face; "You have yourself
to blame for all this!" shouted Voroshilov. "You're the one who
annihilated the Old Guard of the army; you had our best generals
killed:" Stalin rebuffed him, and at that, Voroshilov picked up
a platter with a roast suckling pig on it and smashed it on the table.
It was the only time in my life I ever witnessed such an ourburst.
3) Covert passive resistance by the Russians
"Covert passive resistance" should not be confused
with the dynamic strategy of unarmed defense being indicated
here. However, an observation by John Scott suggests another aspect
of home-front demoralization brought on by the Finnish War:
There were no strikes. The Russians went to work in the morning,
they stayed at work all day, yet somehow not as much got done.
The Russian people have a genius for this method of expressing
their dissatisfaction or irritation with something. (19:
Again, symptoms such as these are to be welcomed
and fostered as part of a multi-pronged nonviolent defense effort.
4) Russian ridicule of the Kuusinen government
Still another report by John Scott shows that
the Kuusinen affair had opened Stalin to a most devastating
weapon against a tyrant's pretensions: open laughter.
The whole Terioki fiasco was so transparent and crude that the
simplest Moscovites were skeptical, even amused, when Pravda
front-paged a photograph of Stalin and Kuusinen after the signature
of the pact… . It was the only instance I can remember in nearly a
decade in Russia when large numbers of average Soviet citizens actually
laughed at Stalin's government. At various times Stalin had been
praised, maligned, worshiped, cursed, feared, and hated, but the Terioki
performance made him an object of ridicule for many streetcar conductors,
plumbers, and other ordinary citizens. (19:
5) The defection and noncoopereration of Arvo Tuominen
As noted previously, Tuominen's defiance of
Politburo orders to accept the premiership of a highly illegitimate
Communist government helped to unhorse the scheme. This was a
remarkable instance of the kind of high-level defection that would
be sought among the aggressor's leadership, by a nonviolent defense
Peculiar to the Finns' national character, but
adaptable to the elan of a nonviolent defense posture, would be
the quality of sisu. Untranslatable, it has been described
as "determination to succeed despite overwhelming obstacles" or
a "taciturn Finnish self-confidence, resembling the American 'can-do'
spirit without braggadocio." H.B. Elliston writes that "The miracle
of fighting a lost cause as if the cause were going to be won is to
be explained in terms of sisu." (2:
365) Elsewhere he describes the "sissi-men":
In Finland they are not what you think they mean, but the bravest
of the brave, the corps d'elite, the suicide corps, the men
who volunteer to get behind the enemy to do their fighting. (2: 340-41)
Compare, incidentally, a report by Mannerheim
showing the kind of bravery a nonviolent defense corps would
need, hopefully not wasted in this fashion:
It happened in the initial fighting in December that the Russians
would advance in close formation, singing, and even hand in
hand, against the Finnish minefields, apparently indifferent to
the explosions and the accurate fire of the defenders. (4: 367)
2) Sankarillinen itsemurhe—heroic suicide
This is not kamikaze, bet more in the nature
of Patrick-Henry-ism, or perhaps another variation of sisu.
Anthony Upton writes, concerning the Finns' defiant diplomatic
posture in August 1940 despite lack of German or other outside support:
It was true that the Finnish government was well aware that to
fight the USSR in isolation would lead to the country's destruction.
But despite what Ryti said about the Finns being realists, they
also had astrong idealist-romantic strain in their make up. They
genuinely thought death preferable to dishonour, preferred to risk
having to go down fighting rather than submit to live in bondage. There
was always the hope that something would turn up. Later on, a phrase
was coined to describe this attitude, sankarillinen itsemurhe—heroic
suicide—and this irrational element in Finnish policy-making deceived Molotov
[who thought Germany must be backing them]. (39: 131)
3) Admiration from abroad
The Finns' David-Goliath struggle electrified
many other countries and prompted all kinds of assistance,
from the editorial to the material, plus many foreign volunteer
soldiers. Militarily, all the aid was skimpy and semi-helpful
at best, but diplomatically it turned the trick. And however deficient
the material aid, this international esteem fortified Finnish morale
4) Sweden's nonviolent neutrality-defense threat
National self-interest dictated that the Swedes
emphatically reject the splay-footed Anglo-French attempt to
carry their war effort across Swedish territory. Obviously Britain
would seize their iron mines, and provoke a German attack.
The Swedish motives can be faulted or upheld on several different
levels. What is important for this discussion is that for good reasons
and/or bad, the Swedes decisively threatened to render impossible rail
transit by the Allies: and there was no other way to get the expeditionary
force through Sweden to Finland! As Tanner was told by Foreign Minister
Günther on March 5, "'The whole [Allied] plan is childish.
We won't leave a single rail in our ports or on our railways.'"
213; emphasis added.)
And so it was, in this particular geopoIitical
case, that the Swedes had it within their power to literally
derail an invasion of their homeland by using nonviolent tactics,
Q.E.D. The British Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Edmund Ironside,
had worried about this from the very outset, and the compiler of his
diaries summarized the problem thus:
If, as seemed likely, the Swedes opposed the transit of our troops
through their territory, the electric current might be cut off,
the railway staff forbidden to co-operate, and the rolling stock
removed. (38: 184)
As early as December 28, Ironside himself had
noted in his diary "'we may find the electric railway from Narvik
out of order for several years at least. Without the railway we
cannot go… . (38: 190) The next day he cited the "severe climatic
conditions" and the 1ack of any road from Narvik to the iron mines
It would be a simple matter for the Norwegians and Swedes to render
the railway running inland from Narvik useless to us, either by removal of
rolling stock, or the cutting off of electric power. (38:
On February 5 he wrote "what I most fear is
a passive resistance—a strike amongs the officiaIs of the railway."
The Swedes were not so defiant when it came
to giving the Germans transit rights and iron ore. But this
situation does illustrate one of many possibilities available
to nonviolent defenders, and its actual application by a successful
threat in a complex war crisis.
I hardly suggest that the Finns could have won
the Winter War by resort to a Gandhian strategy that is all but
unknown today, much less then. Even in a conventional military
sense, however, the Finns "lucked out"—luck which was earned to the
last drop of blood. What I do suggest is that this type of clue can
be abstracted from the Russo-Finnish War and similar cases: adding
perspective to doctrines of strategic nonviolent defense against
the imposition of alien government by military invasion.
Militarily, Finland lost the Winter War by March
1940, but was able to sue for peace with its morale intact, its
democratic government preserved, and its national integrity
retained despite large human and territorial losses. National morale
is the sine qua non of strategic nonviolent defense. In the Winter
War, Finnish morale is the major clue.
* * *
[Part 3: map appendix, from same 1972 paper,
This set of four sketch maps was adapted and
compiled by Gene Keyes in 1972 from various references above:
primarily 3, with additional data from 27,
then computer-adapted in 2007 with ClarisWorks 5,
and help from Mary Jo Graça, who also assisted with