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Jukka Rantala:

Sopimaton lasten kasvattajaksi!
Opettajiin kohdistuneet poliittiset
puhdistuspyrkimykset Suomessa 1944-1948

Bibliotheca Historica n:o 26
ISBN: 951-710-071-X (painettu versio)
ISSN: 1238-3503
Hinta: 120 markkaa.
297 sivua, valokuvia.

Attempted Political Purges of Teachers in Finland from 1944-1948


After the Second World War the Finnish Far Left, the Finnish Communist Party and the Finnish People's Democratic Union, insisted on the democratization of the school system, one of their targets being the comprehensive school. In addition to changing the system, they also called for an expurgation of textbooks and a reform of the spirit of education. Teachers were accused of incompetence, and in some cases of political bias and the oppression of working-class children. In this study I concentrated on the measures directed at teachers in connection with these efforts at democratization. I examined why democratization escalated into attempted purges and how these were experienced by the teachers. In addition I studied the purges as a phenomenon and why they ultimately failed. I also assessed the extent to which these purges were organized, and whether they were a controlled mass movement or the spontaneous acts of individuals. As the attempts to reform the school system and curricula have been studied before, I shall look at them only so far as they shed light on the demands of the Far Left.

Purging the teachers of Finland, or any other body of civil servants, was by no means the prerogative of any one party or group. Members of the Finnish Communist Party, the Finnish People's Democratic Union and the Finnish-Soviet Society took part in the efforts, as well as uncommitted individuals. These parties and organizations demanded purges quite vociferously from time to time, but they lacked a clear plan of action. Because of the modesty of the phenomenon, no unified body of documentation remains. In the spring of 1946 the Communists organized citizens meetings, where those civil servants whom the Far Left had condemned were listed for dismissal. Detectives filed official reports, which are now located in the archives of the Security Police and which also contain useful information. As there are hardly any records on the informers involved in the efforts, I had to concentrate on the teachers and the extant material about them. Some finds however, led me to study the purgers motives and the consequences of their endeavours.

To introduce the context of the phenomena studied, I describe the relations between teachers and the working classes in the decades 1910-1930, and also the political situation in post-war Finland. In the first chapter I will look at the effects of the purging policies on society and the attempts of the Peoples Democrats to influence the school system. In the study proper I explain who was targeted and why, and I examine from a macrohistorical point of view why the efforts failed. I look at the purge efforts both regionally and locally at the parish of Vampula to get a microview of the phenomenon. In the concluding section I combine the macro- and microhistorical results and evaluate the success The purge attempts seem to have failed if one looks at the phenomenon The Accusations

The purge attempts directed at teachers in the parish of Vampula were significant for the entire local community. In the bitter struggle to dismiss teachers, the ability to control local power structures was at stake, and the events were remembered half a century later.

The demands for dismissal had their beginning in a citizens meeting held at the Workers Association. The Communist Party District Secretary for Satakunta arrived from the local capital Pori and whipped up a purging mood among the working people of Vampula. The headteacher at the Kukonharja village primary school was especially targeted, and the local council was expected to dismiss him. However, the council had no mandate for dismissal, and the purgers had to turn to the Ministry of Education, from where the matter was transferred to the Board of Education. The Inspector for Primary Schools held interviews at the school and tried to clarify the accusations of political bias directed at the teacher. In the 1930's the teacher had participated in the extreme rightist Lapua movement and acted as the local commander of the Civil Guard, which partly explains the revulsion felt by workers. In fear of pressure, very few locals dared to stand up for the teacher. When the Inspector for Primary Schools seemed unable to dismiss him, the teacher was accused of assault, and the inspector was threatened. The police investigated the assault charges, but found that the crime had fallen under the statute of limitations. Other instances having proved equally unwilling to dismiss the teacher, the People's Democrats turned to the Security Police. They received a mandate from the head office of the People's Democrats in Helsinki. However, even the Security Police was unable to push the teacher into resigning. A two-year process of investigating information resulted in the teacher being admonished for using the word ryssä - a derogatory term for Russians.

In Vampula, as elsewhere in Finland, the workers had a negative view of the school system and its servants. Their respective sets of values were diametrically opposed. After the Civil War of 1918 the schools had been used in an effort to unify the nation, which had resulted in attempts by the middle-class, conservative teachers to suppress the working-class pupils outlook. Especially in the 1930's the establishment had attempted to uproot deviant views through a strict policy of control and education. The extreme rightist Lapua movement had won the sympathy of many teachers in its efforts to save society from such decadent influences as Communism. At the end of the decade the Board of Education had attempted to prevent the spread of political dissent among the youth by forbidding teachers to bring forth their political views. Although many obedient teachers had considered themselves apolitical, the workers believed that they still stood for a right-wing, Christian and patriotic outlook. The participation of many teachers in the activities of the Civil Guard and the various Lotta Svärd women's auxiliaries did not help, as such groups were seen by the Communists as enforcing the violent heritage of the Civil War of 1918. In the fall of 1944, after Finland's capitulation to the Soviets, the Far Left called for a democratization of society, which entailed that teachers would have to respect working-class values. The success of the Finnish People's Democratic Union in the elections of 1945 seemed to signal a reform of society and the school system.

The Communists believed that under the circumstances all parties would have to co-operate in popular front policies of the People's Democrats. These expectations were shared by Colonel General Zdanov, the Soviet spokesman of the Allied Control Commission in Finland. He saw the popular front as a way to guide Finland into a new democracy. The Democratic Union, the Social Democrats and the Rural Party held a three-fourths majority in Parliament and were thus expected to bring about such a process. This was not to be, for the Social Democrats and the Rurals were unwilling to carry out the reforms demanded by the Communists. Outwardly the parties in power seemed to co-operate, but the Social Democrats and the Rurals were using delay tactics.

The post-war politics called for changes of personnel in the upper echelons of society. Lobbying the government departments and central administrative boards with representatives of the New Direction was a display of political reorientation. The Communists believed in democratization from above; the heads of departments were to reform their entire staff. The whole populace was to be re-educated, and education did figure strongly in the public statements of the Communist Party and the People's Democrats. However, by the end of 1945 the Far Left became aware of a resistance to change. They had their men at the head of the school system, but they were not able to influence grass-roots education. In the Ministry of Education and the National Board of Education the People's Democrats were mere figureheads, whereas the real power was wielded by the conservative-minded chief secretaries and other civil servants. This was made clear in the case of the inspectors of the Board of Education, who were unwilling to work in the spirit of their Director General, who was a People's Democrat.

By 1946 the Communist Party leadership gave up trying to impose its outlook through the school system and lost its enthusiasm for educational questions. Other issues were considered more pressing. The Finnish People's Democratic Union still tried to work on education through its information department. Members were advised to work on the teachers outlooks and to influence the elections of teaching offices.

The Far Left decided to get tough when it became clear that it could not reform society with help from its coalition partners. In the spring of 1946 the Communist Party tried to use a mass movement to pressure the Social Democrats and the Rurals into a declaration of co-operation. The body of civil servants, which had proved slow in changing its political outlook, was also attacked.

The Communist Party organized citizens meetings, in which 40 teachers were listed for dismissal. Teachers were the second largest group on the lists, after the police. The lists were not extensive, as the participants of the meetings had been told to limit themselves to such persons as might really retard the processes of reform with their sway. Teachers were usually to be dismissed on the grounds that they were unsuited to educate children in the new political situation. The mass movement failed, however, and the Communist Party had to revert to conventional policy. The party leadership worried over the coalition co-operation, and the Soviet Union made it clear that the movement was not called for at that time. The change in policy was not communicated to the membership, which was told to continue the present course of action. However, no practical guidelines were given, which caused confusion and uncertainty among the membership.

By the fall of 1946 the attempted purges had mainly failed, but the Far Left was still clamoring for a cleanup of the civil service. On one hand the demands were pure rhetoric, aimed at keeping the opposition under pressure and thus on the defensive. On the other hand there was the new committee report concerning the Civil Servants Act, which would have enabled the purging of the civil service. When this was delayed, some extreme leftists became frustrated and started working on their own initiative. Thus the attempts to purge the teaching profession were mainly the work of individuals, fired up by the loud demands of the Far Left leadership.

As the integrity of the popular front had to be protected, illegal measures could not be adopted. The help of the Security Police was needed, as they were expected to compromise opponents. The Communist-controlled Security Police started to receive information on the sins of civil servants. Teachers were claimed to have pressured working-class children, spread fascist propaganda or to have belonged to organizations banned in the armistice. Many informers were certain that the detectives of the Security Police could pressure civil servants to resign. Thus it had been in the early 1930's, when the predecessor of the Security Police, the Central Investigative Police, had lent its support to extreme rightist terror. In the post-war situation however, the Security Police was widely opposed and could not visibly abuse its power. The detectives had to use unofficial methods of pressure, which seldom produced results. But the lives of some teachers were made difficult by the detectives and the public. In spite of this, the majority of the teachers investigated by the Security Police kept their jobs, as they could not be officially accused, and school officials punished teachers only for professional misconduct.

The informers had expected fast results, and the impotence of the Security Police disappointed them. Still, the information enabled the newly recruited detectives of the Security Police to show the Communist leadership that they really were working to reform society. The detectives were hindered because President J.K. Paasikivi managed to prevent the enactment of the new law, and thus the collected information could not be used to purge the civil service. During 1947 opposition to the Communists increased. The 1948 parliamentary elections created a Social Democrat minority government and put an end to the Far Left's era of opportunity.

Reasons for the purge Attempts' modesty and failure

Neither the Communist Party nor the Finnish People's Democratic Union had a clear plan of action for purging the body of teachers. In fact the Communist Party tried to restrain its radical elements from illegal actions which would have endangered the coalition. The People's Democrats advised their membership on changing the school system within the law. The parties advice to their members didn't bring about a reform of the teaching profession, however, and the efforts were modest and isolated. The laws that protected the offices of civil servants blocked and blunted the demands for the dismissal of teachers and other civil servants. The attempted purges of teachers were part of an attempt to purge the entire civil service and thus have to be looked at in a wider context. However, there are aspects in the attempt to purge teachers that demand a scrutiny of their own.

The attempt to purge the civil service failed partly because the Soviet Union did not demand it more aggressively. The armistice entailed purges, but the Control Commission concerned itself mainly with the war guilt trials, in which the Finnish war-time leadership was sentenced to prison. The Communists who had counted on Soviet support were disappointed, as the Soviets put their faith in the conservative Prime Minister J.K. Paasikivi, who later became president. Thus the Communists were unable to monopolize relations with the victors, and were forced to rely on the success of the popular front policy. The tactical insistence of the Communist Party on securing the co-operation of the popular front dampened the ardor of those working for a quick, comprehensive purge. In the 1930's the far right Lapua movement had endeavoured make an imaginary national majority responsible for its actions, including purges. In the post-war purge attempts the responsibility was once again shifted onto the masses. However, in the latter case the people were not up against the government, taking the law into their own hands as in the 1930's. The Communist Party was manipulating the government as well as the popular movement. Those attempting the purges had no leaders working independently of government policy, which limited the chances of success. Lacking leadership, the activists also lacked a clear agenda.

The Lapua movement had succeeded in bringing about the anti-Communist laws of the 1930's, but the Finnish Communist Party missed its chance to change the Civil Service Law. The organized pressure and illegal measures of the Lapua movement had forced the government and parliament to pass the anti-Communist laws in order to keep a minimum of law and order in the land. The Communist Party was unable to exert similar pressure, and the mass movements of the spring of 1946 withered away. In the 1930's the Lapua movement had collided with a government trying to protect the rule of law. The movement had overstepped the legal boundaries, which had been drawn on the basis of the rights of the victor in the Civil War and the sanction of white, right-wing Finland. The Communist Party on the other hand kept within the law, for it was after more than the elimination of opponents. The Communists sought to establish themselves, after which they would be able to reform society. The Lapua movement had not been able to question the legitimacy of the white Finland which had given it considerable freedom of movement. Such harmony was not possible after the war, as many accepted the new direction solely as a result of external pressure. Thus the Communist Party had to walk softly towards its goals.

The Lapua movement had influenced local politics in many places by pressuring Communists and even some Social Democrats to resign from their local offices. At citizens meetings Communists had been named and told to resign in the spirit of the times. After the war the Communists were rousing people to action. In the towns, organized Party groups sent agitators to the countryside. But where the Lapua movement had spurred the more impatient elements to direct action, the post-war Communists were satisfied with meetings. As the party was attempting to change the structures of society, the burden of decreasing the influence of the old order on a local level was borne by individuals. Although this made the supervision of the attempted purges difficult, the party tried to control them through the press and the information departments of the Far Left.

The Information Department of the People's Democrats managed to instigate the People's Democrat members of school boards to influence the filling of offices and the actual work of the teachers. It gave advice on whom to turn to in order to get rid of reactionary teachers and how reaction could be rooted out of schools and teachers. In addition activists started demanding the expurgation of textbooks. The pioneering role of the People's Democrats is shown in how, as dismissals on legal grounds failed, some activists turned to the party for advice about carrying out the purges in other ways. But even though the local elections of 1945 brought about a leftist majority in over 200 councils, the People's Democrats on the school boards failed to reach their goal. The struggle between Social Democrats and the Far Left also affected school boards, in which the Social Democrats usually held the upper hand. On a national level the Social Democratic Party opposed the educational reforms proposed by the People's Democrats.

The inflexibility of the legislation prevented the purge of the civil service, but it was also made impossible by the resistance of the service itself and the support of the political right. The loss of the war did not affect the Far Left's expectation of a thorough political reorientation. The attempts to purge the teaching profession were blocked by educational officials, as the conservatively inclined body of civil servants in the Ministry of Education and the National Board of Education resisted the ministers and the Director General. The primary school teachers were supported by the inspectors, who prevented the dismissals demanded by school-board activists, and stood by the teachers through the purges. Grammar school teachers were aided by the heads of divisions at the National Board. In the private schools the boards of trustees stood by their teachers. The body of teachers could have been changed legally, but it would have meant changing the officials of the National Board of Education. Headteachers and headmasters also played an important role. If the Far Left had infiltrated such offices, the purges might have gone ahead.

The modesty of the attempts to purge the teaching profession is explained by the lack of an agenda on the part of either the Finnish Communist Party or the Finnish People's Democratic Union. Their purge-orientated rhetoric inspired some activists into action. The Information Department of the People's Democrats gave advice to those that asked for it, but especially the Communist Party tended to concentrate on more crucial matters. The importance placed on popular front politics restrained the Communist Party. The Finnish-Soviet Society was involved in a few isolated cases. On the other hand, the Far Left was vociferous in demanding a reform of the school system. Its demands, the uncertainty in foreign affairs, and the changes in the upper echelons of the establishment made the purge attempts possible.

The Far Left did not get the educational reforms it wanted. If one considers the goals of the People's Democrats, the attempts at democratization failed. According to the official documents nothing happened - schoolwork went on as usual. Although the teachers seem to have emerged relatively unscathed, the accusations and investigations affected their status; their integrity had been violated. The pupils knew about the accusations, which eroded the teachers' authority. The political situation after the war gave the working classes a chance to interfere in the teachers' work. The teacher could be criticized and judged unsuited to educate children.

Jukka Rantala

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