Thousands of people in Finland joined over a dozen demonstrations with multiple perspectives on the meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin which took place in Helsinki on 16 July. The biggest of these was the left-led “Helsinki against Trump and Putin” which drew 2,000 people on a platform of opposing war, xenophobia, sexism, and homophobia.
The run-up to the demonstration was difficult. Leading members of the Finnish Communist Party initially convinced leftists to work with ‘Helsinki Calling’, which was organized by the journalist Jessikka Aro. With just a week to go, though, leaders of ‘Helsinki Calling’ changed the date of their event and packed the speaker list with Russophobic neo-liberals such as author Sofi Oksanen, Green MEP Heidi Hautala and- astonishingly- Angry Birds multi-millionaire, Peter Vesterbacka. These changes also pushed out all immigrant voices and all but one anti-Trump speaker, making the event purely about the “Russian hacking” narrative.
With this, broad layers of the left came to agree with our argument: that there needed to be a demonstration giving voice to the working class on a clear left-wing basis of opposition not just to Trump and Putin, but the system that makes them possible. Though time was short, CWI members were instrumental in assembling these forces and convincing them to put forward a progressive, positive political line. These politics resonated and, even with the short timeframe, ‘Helsinki Against Trump and Putin’ was a third bigger than ‘Helsinki Calling’.
This success was despite media hostility. While Swedish-language media and local media in Turku, Savonia and other outlying areas of Finland covered our preparations, YLE and Helsinki-based newspapers ignored it entirely until the day. Some of these media outlets went so far as to claim the demonstration had only fifty participants – a ridiculous claim contradicted even by these newspapers’ own photographs.
The event itself went smoothly. An attempt by three members of the neo-Nazi PVL (Nordic Resistance Movement) to disrupt the march was fought off by Antifa members and the march grew as it traveled from Kaisaniemin Puisto to Finlandia-talo, with appreciative waves given by onlooking construction workers.
At the rally, a wide swathe of activists called for strikes and organized action to stop Trump and Putin. Speakers from Palestine, Syria, and Ukraine called for an end to the ongoing wars fueled by the United States and Russia around the world. Many others proclaimed solidarity with refugees, immigrants and political prisoners in both Russia and the US. The message was clear: Trump and Putin must be resisted, but that resistance will only be effective if it comes from the ground up, not from other big capitalists or their agents.
The rally was not perfect. The trade unions, too shackled by their bureaucracies to act, did not mobilize their support and the mid-July date meant many workers were on vacation. But the fact that the demonstration was so successful brings important lessons. Firstly, it indicates that such events will be more successful, not less, if they put forward a clear platform aligned with the interests of the working class; secondly, the narratives of “Russian hacking” and homophobic jokes about Trump and Putin having a sexual relationship are of far less interest to ordinary people than honest discussion of political questions; and that the established leadership of the main left parties in Finland are not up to the task of organizing the working class for action, even in this golden opportunity to resist the biggest of big capital.
For the future, we must build the CWI and Sosialistinen Vaihtoeht to provide an alternative, fighting leadership for the working class and an alternative to the world of despicable billionaires like Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.