As the curtain falls on Sanna Marin’s tenure as prime minister of Finland, the need for a mass working-class socialist party in Finland to provide an alternative to capitalist stagnation and militarism has seldom been more pronounced. Last Sunday’s election brought the conservative National Coalition Party (NCP) back to power just a day after the parliament of Turkey ratified Finland’s accession to NATO.
Many workers turned to Antti Rinne and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) at the 2019 election out of disgust at the outright attacks by Juha Sipilä’s, Centre (Kesk) government. Nonetheless, the SDP, claiming the smallest mandate in their party’s history, made the choice, as we predicted, to continue these attacks and handed over control of the economy and state finances to the Centre party.
This sudden but inevitable betrayal was made plain when Rinne, a former union boss elevated to the role of Prime Minister, was forced to resign in disgrace after his conspiring with postal bosses to force hundreds of workers onto a worse contract triggered nationwide strikes. Sanna Marin continued the campaign of direct attacks on workers: the COVID pandemic became an excuse to lay off thousands in the state-run parts of the transportation sector; the forestry industry now openly operates as a cartel against lumber and paper workers and the unemployed now must brave additional layers of time-wasting bureaucracy to claim benefits.
There have been major strikes in every sector over the past four years of the SDP government. The final weeks of the government saw a train strike that was declared ‘open-ended’. Nurses would have taken indefinite action too, But the Marin government joined forces with the Conservatives to push through a bill depriving nurses of their basic right to strike! By any standard, the Social Democrats’ first government since 2003 was a sham, destroying any illusion of “Nordic socialism.” Officially, the economy remains merely precarious, with no government body willing to admit that rising unemployment, double-digit food inflation, and layoffs across the country all point to an economic downturn, in every way that matters.
The new government
Thus Marin’s defeat was not hard to predict, even as the SDP gained a few seats in the election. Voters punished many of the junior partners in the coalition government harshly but deservedly, with the Greens’ and Centre’s votes collapsing. It is simplistic to say that voters, lacking anywhere new to turn to, voted not for the Conservatives but against the SDP, and this is evidenced by the depressed turnout compared to 2019.
But underlying the defeat is the conclusion of a twenty-year-long realignment in Finnish parliamentary politics. The Left Alliance’s candidate lists formerly attracted trade union and community activists and it at least refused to participate in national austerity; this year its candidates were nearly all party functionaries, and its manifesto called for a billion euro worth of state spending cuts. It is not out of the realm of possibility that the Left Alliance might be on a trajectory to dissolve into the SDP. The Greens, long perceived as being a “left” party, now openly advertise themselves as “liberals.”
Most importantly though, the Finns Party (PS), which has a fascist core and uses openly racist campaign materials, is the second-biggest party and is likely to once again lead the opposition. The Finns Party, like many parties of the far right, are consummate opportunists: while loudly proclaiming themselves to be anti-austerity, while in opposition, as soon as they joined the 2015 Sipilä cabinet they endorsed every cut that the government made. The cycle is liable to repeat itself as the Finns Party will continue pretending to champion white, native Finnish workers until an opportunity for power arises. If the Finns Party joins the National Coalition Party government, which is unlikely but cannot be ruled out, they will certainly show themselves to be most compliant with the desires of austerity capitalism, while at the same time deflecting blame for every woe they create onto their long list of enemies: leftists, LGBT people, feminists, migrants, and ethnic and religious minorities.
Against this background, the National Coalition Party have already announced their intentions: cutbacks to all public spending other than the military, whose budget is already set to balloon under the SDP’s last budget; continued privatization and diminution of health services; and increased barriers to access to state support for the unemployed, parents and students. While this is surely a loss for the working class across the board, it is also only a difference in degree from the practices of the SDP. The NCP and SDP will not find difficulty in forming a partnership against the working class.
An illustration of this continuity is Finland’s process of joining NATO, which began and essentially concluded under the SDP’s watch. NATO membership had been an NCP policy for years, but it was the SDP that initiated the legislation. Only a month ago, foreign minister, Pekka Haavisto, continued to promise Finland would wait for Sweden, so the two countries could join NATO together; this pledge has been abandoned without comment.
The SDP also broke the longstanding promise that joining NATO would be put to a referendum. And the entire Finnish establishment united to claim there was no opposition to the idea of joining NATO. The supposedly-neutral SuPo, the Finnish intelligence service, stated there was no point in campaigning against NATO membership, as a way to discourage public dissent.
Just like the leaders of the USA, 20 years ago, perverted outrage at the 9/11 terror attacks into an excuse to launch an imperialist war against Iraq, the righteous mass anger at Russian aggression in Ukraine has been diverted by Finland’s ruling class to bind themselves ever closer to US imperialism and militarism. Many voters from Finland’s depressed north and east suffered economically from Finland’s abandonment of neutrality. Without meaningful compensation from the state, many turned to the radical right.
Little on the Left
Meanwhile, protests against NATO membership, mainly led by Finland’s large and well-organized Kurdish diaspora, have come under even greater political attacks from the police during the NATO accession process. The police have seized Kurdish political flags and arrested peaceful protestors who might offend the Turkish government. These protests, which CWI members in Finland have supported and worked to promote, are laudable but have remained isolated.
The reality is that while forces on the far left in Finland have generally been growing since 2019, in particular, with the Finnish Communist Party showing some signs of emerging from its near-terminal malaise, most of the Finnish left remains enamored of Stalinist habits of bureaucratism and contempt for the mood of the working class. An internationalist and Marxist approach is necessary to break out of the ‘left bubble’ and begin influencing the majority of the working class. Finnish trade unions, for their part, are increasingly fed up with being used and thrown away by the SDP, and they are treated to only academic condescension from the Left Alliance.
The coming years must be years of organization and resistance — to neoliberal austerity, to racism and fascism, and to the passivity suffusing the Finnish political canvas. The working class in Finland must, after a century of accommodation, recover its proud socialist voice.