The Soviet Conflicts in Finland and Poland

Date: 31 October 2023

Author: Michael C.

Tags: Europe, Internationalism

Propaganda designed to equate the Soviet Union with the barbarism of the Nazi Reich is not a new phenomenon. Rather, as monuments and memorials to the millions of Soviet soldiers and civilians martyred in the great Anti-Fascist War are destroyed and desecrated across Europe—none more famous than the Motherland monument in Kiev, which was subject to whitewashing in early August 2023—the historical revisionism and ideological propaganda of the anti-communists has found a new life in the imperialist West’s hybrid war against both Russia and China. Some of the greatest examples of this ideologically motivated re-imagining of history can be found in 1939 with the Winter War, and the invasion of Poland.

The Bourgeois Deception

First, it is necessary to briefly revisit the bourgeois conception of history, as it is both the ideological lens through which such events are (mis)interpreted, as well as the method by which this distorted vision of the past is fermented and spread throughout society. In essence, it is the ideological swamp from which all modern anti-communist propaganda is derived. The bourgeoisie views, and explains, history through a metaphysical lens:

[The average American] cannot put a name to the system of thought that they are implicitly taught to believe—metaphysics—and many cannot correctly explain the same topics that they are taught to hate such as socialism. Living under capitalism, the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, teaches and reinforces the thinking that things are stagnant, unchanging, and isolated… 

Metaphysical thought holds that all things are static, isolated, one-sided, and that the qualities of things are stagnant. Thinking in a static way implicitly upholds bourgeois rule, for example the belief that there will always be and have always been rich and poor groups in society. 

The vision of these events derived from this ideological swamp, or the metaphysical re-interpretation of history, is clear: the 1939-1940 war between Finland and the Soviet Union, it is said by the capitalists, was an act of imperialism, devoid of greater rationale or context than the mere bloodlust of the (judeo-)bolshevik hordes (a fascist, anti-semitic and orientalist trope). So the popular telling goes, this naked aggression was directed solely by one J. V. Stalin, and was likewise hobbled to a halt due to his singular incompetence, paranoia, and lust for power. In this telling of events, the grand defense of Finland was single-handed, and only ultimately overwhelmed as a natural consequence of the Soviet Union’s superior numbers—the human wave trope that is then recycled and repeated by imperialist propagandists for all Soviet and Communist military victories from the Eastern Front to the Indochina Wars, and most recently recycled and repeated once again in American propaganda against Russia in the ongoing war in Ukraine. This Sparta-esque revisioning of the Finns as a proud people who fought bravely to defend their democratic homeland against the incompetent-yet-overwhelming Soviet war machine is likewise echoed in the vision of Poland; the Soviet invasion characterized as a joint-invasion, a cooperative conquest, between the friendly powers in the Soviet Union and nazi Germany, united by their equally tyrannical leaders Stalin and Hitler. 

This is the circular and metaphysical logic at the basis of the bourgeois deception: the Soviet Union was evil because its leader Stalin was evil, and Stalin was evil because he was the leader of the Soviet Union. Stalin and Hitler were necessarily friendly, as both men were evil. As the enemies of the Soviet Union (evil), this means that Finland and Poland are automatically assumed to have been good: a logic that has justified American support for Ukrainian nazis, anti-communist fundamentalists later known as the Taliban, most recently Ukrainian neo-nazis, and many more. The bourgeois analysis does not extend beyond a surface-level understanding and fails to consider the history behind any happenings. At its furthest extent, and natural conclusion, the bourgeois deception builds towards a conception of the Soviet Union and nazi Germany historically—or Communism and fascism ideologically—as fundamentally identical. Expressed in the notion of horseshoe theory, this pervasive revising of both history and ideology asserts that not only are Communism and fascism fundamentally equal, but further, naturally lends to a rehabilitation of fascist ideology through such phenomenon as the double genocide theory. In this way we see that not only is the bourgeois reinterpretation of history through metaphysics a way to reproduce the bourgeois class’ own power, but, more and more, it lays the seeds for its own regression towards fascism. 

The Loon Star State: Republican Education | Ben Sargent / The Texas Observer

Killing an Empire

On 25 October 1917 (07 November in the Gregorian calendar), the October Revolution led by Vladimir Lenin saw the overthrow of the provisional government of the Russian Empire and its replacement with the world’s first Socialist State. The old forces of bourgeois power and Tsarism would not be easily dislodged, though, and the ensuing period of revolutionary and civil war would last for nearly a decade, with the last occupied territories being returned to the Soviet Union by Japan in 1925. While generally envisioned as a two-sided conflict between Bolshevik Reds and Tsarist Whites, the realities of the period are far more complex. The birth of the Soviet Union marked not only the ascension of a new government in Russia, but the ascension of popular and revolutionary forces throughout the entire empire—and the world beyond—into a new phase of open class warfare. On the basis of the right of nations to self-determination, the occupied peoples of the Russian empire were actively encouraged to stake their claims to nationhood, while simultaneously, on the basis of Communist internationalism and, at later stages, the policy of exporting revolution, Communist forces maintained a constant role in those ensuing national revolutions, creating a situation not of two-sided conflict, but, especially with the introduction of foreign interventionist forces from the United States, Germany, Japan, and others, a multifaceted maelstrom. 

As the Russian empire collapsed, three general forces attempted to seize the vacuum it left behind: the Reds, generally referring to both the Bolsheviks and other Leftist forces; the Whites, generally referring to both Tsarist and reactionary nationalist right-wing forces; and foreign interventionists, generally aligning with amenable White forces. Other forces, such as the Anarchist Black army and the agrarian Green forces would also arise and fall, and each side would include a notable degree of in-fighting. This chaos would intensify as Red forces coalesced in supporting the establishment of independent nations formerly under Russian imperial control, and White forces entered conflict between nationalists and Tsarists, with foreign interventionists generally supporting coalescence in order to combat Red forces. As a result, reactionary nationalism would emerge with force.

In order to form a proper view of history, rather than a metaphysical bourgeois misinterpretation of history, it is necessary to look at both what happened before, and what happened after major events. In this spirit, we will here evaluate the two areas of interest: Finland and Poland. 

Imperial German forces in Helsinki, Finland. April 1918.

The Wars in Finland and Poland

Emerging from the implosion of the Russian empire during the period following the great October revolution, the newly-formed and ill-defined country of Finland was immediately recognized by Lenin and the Soviet government on the basis of every nation’s right to self-determination. However, a portion of the local peoples forwent joining Finland, instead remaining as part of the new Russian Soviet and establishing the Karelian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (KASSR). The Republic of Finland would swiftly fall into its own civil war, with the White Finns enjoying support from the German empire and other White forces from the Russian empire, and the Red Finns supported by the young Soviets, recognizing the 1918 establishment of the Finnish Socialist Workers' Republic (FSWR). While the FSWR maintained different policies from the Soviet Union itself, its proximity to Leningrad and friendly disposition made it strategically important to the emerging Union—simultaneously, western powers in Germany, the USA, and Britain, and others, viewed Finland as a strategic bridgehead for striking at the emerging Soviet power. As part of this, White Finns and Germans joined with the British, French, and American invasion of Arkhangelsk from 1918 until late-1919. Thus, while the pan-Finnic Greater Finland ideology began to be propagated by the White Finnish leader, Baron Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim—who remains a national icon and is regarded as the Father of modern Finland—calling for the unification of Finnic peoples not only in Finland, but likewise in the Soviet Union and Estonia, some Soviet-aligned Red Finns began vying for the integration of Finland proper as a Soviet Republic. By mid-1918, the overwhelming power of imperial German forces had brought the Finnish civil war to a close. While the White Finns had won the war with the support of their new German benefactors, support for the FSWR and integration with the Soviet Union remained among some segments of Finnish society and exiled Red Finnish leadership—quickly establishing the Communist Party of Finland (SKP) which would be banned and persecuted by the White Finn government. While tensions would remain high between the German-aligned new Finnish Republic and the Soviet Union, Baron Mannerheim would resign from politics following his electoral defeat in 1919. He would, however, return in 1931, after having been appointed to the Chairmanship of the Finnish Defence Council.

Simultaneously, as the Austro-Hungarian empire began unraveling itself in the waning days of 1918, the Austro-Hungarian territory in Eastern Galicia declared its independence as the West Ukrainian People’s Republic. The neighboring Ukrainian People’s Republic itself, having arisen from the Russian empire, was embroiled in the ensuing civil war. In the state of confusion and open warfare, the newly-established 2nd Polish Republic, in the pursuit of Polish nationalism and establishing a stable “borderland” (Polish: Kresy) to form a cushion between itself and its eastern neighbors, invaded territories now corresponding to Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania. With the support of Hungary, Romania (who were likewise fighting over control of Bessarabia) and France, this Polish invasion soon developed into the Polish-Soviet War. In the same region, German imperial forces attempted to exert control over Ukraine in the same manner as they had in Finland. As a result, the year 1919 saw Ukraine as the battlefield between local nationalists, Reds, Whites, Anarchists, the French, Germans, Romanians, Moldovans, Poles, and more. In 1921, the treaty of Riga brought the war to a close, with Poland annexing the Kresy, including the territory of Galicia, and Soviet Russia annexing Ukraine. This would lead in the following year to the establishment of the Soviet Union, with the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic as a constituent Republic (equal to Russia, Belarus, and Transcaucasia; the other constituent Republics at the time), while in the ethnically-Ukrainian territory of eastern Galicia, under Polish occupation, the Ukrainian Military Organization would be established; later evolving into the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). 

Polish forces during the Battle of Warsaw. 12-25 August 1920 | Wikimedia

Preparing for the Storm

While the Soviets, following the policy of exporting revolution would continue supporting the SKP, the White Finn government would begin courting not only the bourgeois powers of France, the UK, and the US, but also the rising fascist regimes in Italy and Germany. These conditions of political repression, continued conflict around the borders between White Finland and Soviet Karelia, and direct military threat from foreign powers, formed the basis for what would come to be known in late-1939 as the Winter War wherein the Soviets invaded Finland in a defensive manner, both against the growing possibility of a fascist alliance and the ongoing conflicts around the Soviet Karelia-Finland border. When viewed within the context of the period, the war with Finland appears not as merely an ideologically-motivated continuation of revolutionary activity, nor (as it is most often depicted) as a mere nationalistic pursuit of conquest. Rather, viewed alongside the non-aggression agreement signed in August (the “Molotov-Ribbentrop pact”), and the simultaneous decimation of advancing Japanese forces at Khalkhin Gol and liberation of territories occupied by Poland (the “Soviet invasion of Poland'') in September of the same year, the overall strategy of the Soviet Union appears as a combination of both ideological and geopolitical interests. These interests culminated in a material drive to both fulfill the revolutionary movements that had been suppressed in much of eastern Europe following the collapse of the Russian empire, as well as to prepare and shape the battlefield for the impending global anti-fascist struggle—World War II. 

While the Soviet war with Finland would end on 13 March 1940, the following month, in April, German fascist forces would invade Norway and Denmark. In May, those same forces would initiate their western campaign, raging through Belgium, the Netherlands, and France. Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, and the United States would all maintain their neutrality in the wake of the nazi advance. As the French capitulation loomed in June, the Soviet Union would further liberate Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, which had followed the same track as Finland during the revolutionary period. Likewise, shortly following the capitulation of France in late-June, the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic (MSSR) was formed from concessions by the axis-aligning Romania. With all mainland European resistance to the fascist advance effectively defeated in the west, and the victories of the Communist-aligned forces in the east, Hitler was left with only one direction towards which to turn the fascist war machine; a fact that would not have been overlooked by the Soviets. Rather, the forced concessions from Romania forming the modern-day countries of Moldova and Transnistria, linking with the Carpathian mountains forming a natural border between the Ukrainian SSR and the then fascist-aligned Hungary, indicate once again a Soviet orientation combining both ideological-revolutionary intentions, and the need to form defensive positions in preparation for a looming fascist invasion.

Soviet 122mm M.1909/37 howitzer | Russian Army Photo

Operational map of the Winter War | Jewish Virtual Library


While popular mythology holds that the Soviet Union was caught completely by surprise by the German invasion in 1941, even sources aligned with the American CIA offer a more pragmatic—albeit still biased—interpretation. When viewed in light of the real material realities of the period, the looming reality of war not only hung over the head of the Soviet Union, but had never materially dissipated in the first place since the 1917 October Revolution. 

While the Continuation War is generally denoted in western historiography as a separate conflict, in reality the Finnish government collaborated directly with the German fascist regime, and joined them in their surprise invasion of the Soviet Union in hopes of achieving a greater Finland. It was nothing more or less than the Finnish front of the fascist invasion of the USSR. With this context of both prior and future events, it becomes readily apparent that not only were the USSR’s actions in liberating the occupied “Kresy” territories of eastern Poland completely reasonable, but further, the Soviet Union’s actions regarding both Poland and Finland likely saved the Union from the nazi-fascist invasion of 1941, and in turn, saved the whole world from fascism.

While it remains unlikely that the Soviet administration under Stalin would have had the foresight to see just how consequential their actions in 1939 would be to world history, by conducting a materialist investigation of the realities of the period, we gain a vastly different perspective of these events than the one provided by revisionist historians and imperialist propagandists.

Soviet and Polish soldiers at the liberation of Warsaw, 1945 | Luzskaya BIS