The Finnish government collapsed on Monday, June 12, as the traditional right-wing parties – Keskusta and Kokomus – announced there was no further basis for cooperation with the far-right True Finns Party (PS).
The breakdown came two days after an openly racist MEP, Jussi Halla-Aho, won the True Finns’ leadership race following the retirement of PS founder, Timo Soini. On Tuesday, the coalition was reborn as the PS split and a “New Alternative” (UV) around Soini went into government on the original programme with a hard-right PS under Halla-Aho as leader.
Keskusta and Kokomus initially claimed the division came over differences on immigration policy. However, the rightward turn of PS presented an opportunity for the traditional right to divorce themselves from an inconvenient alliance: PS ministers have made embarrassing, even bizarre statements such as demands for huge territorial concessions from Russia. It is telling that, even with extreme-right elements gone, the continuing government shows no sign of easing its attacks on asylum-seekers and refugees.
Halla-Aho has quite consciously pushed the PS out of government. Upon leaving the government, he made a statement saying he stands by his previous claims that African people are genetically less intelligent than Europeans. While he lacks the charisma and populist appeal of Timo Soini and PS’s popularity has been tumbling due to the party’s support for the government’s agenda of austerity and privatisation, Finland has a party with openly fascist elements in it taking to the national stage.
A weakened coalition of austerity
Indeed, leaving the government stands to benefit the new PS: Halla-Aho, as Left Alliance leader Li Andersson noted, is now posing as a “martyr” and distancing himself from government cuts. Released from the burden of government, the continuing PS is already making more extreme statements and has brought to the fore figures like Laura Huhtasaari, who rejects the theory of evolution, and Juho Eerola, who has made statements openly admiring Mussolini.
While the Keskusta-Kokomus-UV coalition has a diminished majority, it has been able to carry on, without the government even going through the formality of resigning. Thus, attacks on the public sector like the Sote “reform” of the health care system, which opens health care up to privatisation, can continue uninterrupted.
Sosialistinen Vaihtoehto correctly saw that the PS being in the government would cause them to lose support from working-class people looking for an alternative to austerity. We also correctly saw the likelihood of Halla-Aho’s election as PS leader and that this would throw the government into crisis. What has caught all of Finland by surprise is the speed with which Timo Soini and the populist elements of the PS have been able to split away; it seems likely that the Soinists have been planning for Halla-Aho’s takeover for a long time, and reportedly they have managed to take PS’s treasury and much of their party apparatus with them. It will be telling, over the coming days, whether the PS’ 770 local councillors remain with Halla-Aho or themselves defect to the UV.
The Social Democrats (SDP), Greens and Left Alliance have all called for new elections, and many people support this call. We must be sober and say that without a positive, socialist programme – without organising the mass anger against austerity, the way Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has in Britain – the opposition would probably lose the election. And, even if they won, supporting an SDP or Green government would be supporting continued austerity.
The only way to bring about new elections is if the Left Alliance and other left-wing parties mobilise the mass of the population in order to stop and reverse the cutbacks, not just with petitions but with demonstrations and coordinated strike action. The Joukkovoima movement, which brought thousands to the streets over the past two years against austerity, has considerable potential. But, organising along so-called horizontal (essentially liberal) lines, it has frozen itself with endless meetings and a fixation on appearing “apolitical”. At the same time it is failing to create links with the trade union movement. If Joukkovoima cannot seize this opportunity to push against a weakened government, it may well be swept aside.
The left parties are unfortunately frozen, as well, by their own internal struggles. The Left Alliance, despite its success in local elections on a programme of developing health care, housing and education, is weighed down by a bureaucratic right wing. As a result, they continue to support austerity and collaboration with right-wing parties in local government. The Finnish Communist Party meanwhile is collapsing with most of its elected representatives lost and it branches acting more or less independently.
If Li Andersson, or some other figure, makes a “Corbyn” turn and aggressively campaigns against austerity and to reclaim lost reforms, while simultaneously working to build a mass party solidly rooted in the working class, they might make an enormous breakthrough. As the matter stands, the mission for socialists in Finland remains: build a mass socialist party of the working class.
Sosialistinen Vaihtoehto demands:
- No austerity government – no support by opposition parties for austerity
- Local councillors should refuse to implement the Sote ‘reform’ and vote against cutbacks to public services
- Stop the deportations – solidarity with refugees, no cooperation with NATO
- Build a mass democratic socialist party of the working class – bureaucrats out, workers in