Social Conditions for Political Violence: Red and White Terror in the Finnish Civil War of 1918

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Arosalo, Sirkka (1998) Social Conditions for Political Violence: Red and White Terror in the Finnish Civil War of 1918 , Journal of Peace Research 35(2): 3–22.

This article is concerned with the role of social change as a breeding ground for violence. The focus is on the armed organization and especially the terror perpetrated outside of overt military operations both by the Reds and the Whites in the Finnish Civil War of 1918. The statistical analysis aims to find out how the economic and political situation of different social strata, both in industrial and agrarian society, linked up with violence. A total of 164 variables were included in the original analysis (Arosalo, 1994; Appendix 1); this article covers 35. The basic finding is that both terror and armed organization were associated with economic decline. More generally, economic crisis emerges as a prime mover of violence, political organization being a mediating factor: violence increases in conditions of economic decline, but decreases when the economy is booming. The structural analysis is accompanied by an institutional analysis to highlight the situation prevailing in Finnish society at that time. In economic terms, Finland was in a transitional stage, rapidly transforming from an agrarian into an industrial society. This may be compared with recent data (e.g. Wallensteen & Sollenberg, 1997) showing that most recent conflicts are internal and that they occur more frequently in Asian and African countries than in Europe and America. In other words, armed conflicts are more common in transitional societies than in more advanced countries. The systems of interaction in Finnish society are analysed on the basis of Galtung's theory of feudal interaction: power was highly centralized. The results of this investigation are similar to those reported by Rummel, who found that violence during the present century is associated with absolute and authoritarian power. In terms of Dahrendorf's regulation theory, interaction was unregulated; in terms of collective rationality, the interaction system was irrational.

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