Dead martyrs and living leaders: the cult of the individual within Finnish communism (Twentieth Century Communism 1, Summer 2009)

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Format: Article

Publication date: July 1, 2009

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Tauno Saarela

The efforts of the Finnish communist movement to select political leaders for veneration changed significantly over time. This article explores the process through which leading cadre were identified and promoted as ‘model’ communists between the 1920s and 1960s. It examines the grounds on which individuals from within the movement were selected; the attributes that the individuals were heralded as exemplifying; and the extent to which the specific (and often atypical) national conditions of Finland shaped the processes of selection and promotion. Early attempts strove to create communist exemplars from amongst the movement’s dead cadre (often stressing the state’s apparent complicity in their death). Later efforts sough to eulogise living communist leaders, notably Otto Ville Kuusinen, with the clear aim of encouraging the respect and obedience of party members towards the SKP leadership. As conditions demanded, Kuusinen’s status within the international communist movement or his national standing within Finland was promoted. In the 1950s and 1960s, pressure to move away from the ‘cult of the individual’ communist led to a downgrading of such endeavours. 

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