[ End of article ]

For or Against Americanization? The Case of the Finnish Immigrant Radicals

Auvo Kostiainen

The socioeconomic background of Finnish immigrants arriving in America did not differ notably from that of other new immigrant groups. They were mostly peasants or agrarian workers coming from rural Finland. The specific features of the small Finnish immigrant group1 were their language and culture, which shaped their immigrant community in the New World. A special characteristic of the Finns was that they had had to live under the Russification programs of the czarist rule until 1917. At the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century a good number of Finnish politicians escaped from Finland to America, among them several socialist leaders.

Finnish-Americans were employed like other new immigrants in mines, factories, building, fishing, farming, and forestry. Since they were unskilled, they were employed in the lowest paid and more dangerous jobs. However, within each immigrant group soon developed a special immigrant culture including different kinds of societies, literature, newspapers, etc. Among the American Finns the immigrant culture also flourished in a variety of forms and forums. More than 98 % of the Finns were literate, and they were used to fairly democratic ways of handling issues in their autonomous home country, with its rich forms of cultural life. For example, the feudal system of landowning had never really taken root in the north of Europe. This was quite exceptional when compared with the low literacy rates and authoritarian political cultures of immigrants arriving from southern or eastern Europe.2 A coherent cultural background helped the Finns to organize in numerous churches, temperance groups, and, from the 1890s on, in workers' associations. Many studies about Finnish-Americans emphasize the development of Finnish organizations in America and how the immigrants sought a better life through collective effort rather than through individual enterprise.3

This article examines one of these immigrant organizations, the Finnish-American workers' societies, and the attitude of Finnish radicals in America4 toward the process of Americanization. What factors facilitated it? What factors retarded it? The study then proceeds with an examination of Finnish-American labor groups and their activities in the framework of Finnish-American "hall socialism", their activities in educating youth as Americans and internationalists, their attitude toward the environment in the workplace, and their aims in the naturalization process. The main sources for this study were materials produced by Finnish-American radical groups: proceedings, resolutions, and publications.

An effort will also be made to compare the Finnish-American workers' associations with other groups within the Finnish-American community as well as in the immigrant community as a whole. The term "Americanization" in this context means a consciously articulated movement during the period of World War I to strip the immigrant of his native culture and remold him in the form of an American along Anglo-Saxon lines. The term also describes a long-term process of integration of the immigrant worker into American society, primarily into the American working class.5

In the Finnish-American community the church was the most notable and influential institution, particularly in the late 1800s. It reinforced Finnish nationalistic sentiment by keeping contact with parishes in the "old country" and by emphasizing and maintaining contacts with the Finnish church.6 This can also be seen in the name of the largest Finnish church in America, the Suomi Synod (Finland Synod). Contacts with the church in Finland were frequent, but in the twentieth century, with the polarization of the Finnish immigrant community between the churches and the socialists, the church started increasingly to stress loyalty to the United States. This became apparent especially during the time of the great strike waves of 1907 through the establishment of the antisocialist leagues, and during and after World War I, when "loyal Finnish-Americans" made an effort to emphasize contacts with the American community and accused the radicals of un-American revolutionary activities when these wanted to give their support to the ideals of the Russian Bolshevik Revolution.7 John Wargelin, the president of Suomi College, for example, dedicated his book The Americanization of the Finns to this cause.8

Yet. the Suomi Synod was not completely an Americanizing institution. An important analysis by Taisto John Niemi of efforts of the Book Concern of the synod to promote Americanization through its publications finds that these efforts were mainly indirect. The Book Concern was primarily interested in improving the ability of Finns to understand English, yet an overwhelming portion of the literature published by the Book Concern in 1901-50 was in Finnish and dealt not with American society but mostly with religious and ethical questions.9

Set apart from the church and temperance groups stood the Finnish-American labor movement. It was actively supported by about one-fourth of the Finns in America, or about the same number as those actively supporting the churches. The temperance group was notably smaller than those mentioned above, and members of it were usually also members of churches or workers' associations. Those Finnish-Americans who did not belong to any of these three groups were either organizationally inactive or belonged to certain less significant groups.

The most important organizational stages in the development of the Finnish-American labor movement were the creation of the Finnish Socialist Federation (Yhdysvaltain Suomalainen Sosialistijärjestö) (FSF) in 1906, and its subsequent affiliation with the Socialist party of America; and the radical split in 1913-14, when about 3,000 members quit the FSF when its membership was at a peak of 13,500 and joined the syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Following the Russian Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the communist movement began to emerge, and in 1919-21 the majority of the FSF became communist. In the early 1920s the Finns accounted for almost onehalf of the membership of the legal communist party, the Workers party of America.10 When tracing the reasons for the Finns' activities in the radical groups, the old-country background has frequently been referred to: the rising socialist movement in Finland, the effect of "industrial immigrants" from southern Finland, the Finnish labor leaders who moved to North America, and so forth. The effect of the American environment with its labor conflicts and need for associational life has also drawn attention, as well as the influence of the international labor movement deriving its force from Europe and, especially after the Russian Revolution, from Soviet Russia.11

There are several ways to look at the attitude of the Finnish-American radicals toward Americanization. In studies of the Finnish-American working-class movement, a general conclusion has been put forward that its most important aspect was "hall socialism".12 This term indicates a large mix of social and political activities carried on in Finnish workers' halls in North America. For example, in 1912 a report of the Executive Committee of the FSF listed information from 189 Finnish socialist branches with the following subgroups: 86 agitation committees, 12 women's clubs, 107 theater groups, 23 glee clubs, 28 bands, 91 sewing circles, and 53 athletic clubs. In addition, the activities included English courses, summer and Sunday schools for children, and buying, selling, and publishing literature. The branches also provided libraries and reading rooms for the members.13 The workers' associations often owned buildings of their own where activities took place, and which especially in smaller communities served as public meeting places.

When historians claim that the Finnish-American workers' movement was hall socialism, they argue that it expressed a generalized class consciousness within the framework of workers' associations, which also served the immigrants as important ethnic institutions. John I. Kolehmainen says that they never lost that basic orientation and were far richer in social, educational, and cultural uplift than in political achievement.14 This way of thinking emphasizes the sociocultural functions within the Finnish-American labor movement and the concentration of these activities around the Finnish-American community. The Finns worked almost exclusively within their own nationality, and thus hall socialism helped to preserve the old-country background and traditions in the new environment. In other words, hall socialism was ethnocentric and worked against Americanization, assimilation, and the international workers' movement.

The opinion presented above was a major concern of the growing Finnish-American labor movement from its very beginning. When the first Finnish workers' societies in the United States were formed in the 1890s, the question of their relationship to the American and Finnish labor movements was raised. The first of the societies, Imatra of Brooklyn, New York, has always been accused of being a representative of bourgeois reformism relying heavily on Finnish nationalistic ideas. Still, its by-laws provided for contacts with American workers' associations.15 The developments that led to the formation of the Finnish Socialist Federation in 1906 were a result of the growing influence of the supporters of international socialism, which meant above all contacts with American workers and ultimately affiliation with the Socialist party of America. This kind of attitude was seen in, for instance, the resolution accepted at the conference of Finnish workers' associations in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1904, which stated that "only by joining the Socialist Party the Finnish-American laborinovement will have the opportunity to have an effect on the development of the socialist movement in America".16

In the following decades contacts with American labor were a frequent topic of discussion. Thus in 1912 the convention of the FSF urged all branches to cooperate in agitation work with the English language party branches, particularly during elections, although it was recognized that the language difficulties might pose great problems.17 The culmination of demands to "Americanize" (or to integrate) the Finnish-American working-class movement occurred in communist circles. From the early 1920s this aspect was continuously emphasized, and references were made to the Third International, established in 1919 in Moscow to unite the workers of the world in a fight against capitalism. The International, better known as the Communist International or Comintern, flooded workers in other countries with information and demanded international solidarity of them. In the case of America this meant above all that the ethnic minorities should become a part of the larger American society. It was understood that internationalism in America would be achieved through Americanization. Cooperation among ethnic groups was a sign of international solidarity, but according to Comintern orders this was not the final aim. The purpose was to achieve contact with the large American working class, i.e. with English-speaking workers. When all the workers in America were amalgamated into one united working class, they could affect the course of American history and take power. Then they would be able to overpower capitalism; the next step would be the gradual unification of the workers' states of the world and, according to Marxist theory, the dissolution of separate states.

The Comintern also sent occasional messages specifically to Finnish workers in America. They urged the Finns to give up the "nationally concentrated activities" that had been carried on in the Socialist party, a tradition that was continued in the communist ranks.18

In 1924-25 a strong campaign of Bolshevization was conducted by the Comintern to purge the communist ranks of bourgeois elements. One of the primary aims in this campaign was to tighten control of the communist groups in all countries and get them under closer supervision of the Comintern. In the United States Bolshevization meant the move from ethnic-based organization to multinational, or international, party organization, where all the different nationalities could work together and at the same time become Americanized. However, in this process many Finnish-American communists left the party because they did not want to give up the rich social and cultural activities maintained by the Finnish communist branches. Only about one-third of the former FSF (from 1923 called Workers Partyn Suomalainen järjestö, the Finnish Federation of the Workers party, FFWP) joined the international cells. Contact with those members who had left was re-established in 1927 when a new Finnish Workers Organization (Suomalainen Työväenjärjestö) was formed and they again were subservient to the American communist movement.19

Finnish-American communism, however, was still not American enough after these organizational changes. A new crisis was born in the late 1920s, which was connected with the "right-wing deviations" in the Finnish-American radical cooperatives. "Help" was received from the Comintern after a visit of American and Finnish-American communist leaders to Moscow in the winter of 1930. The Executive Committee of the Comintern sent a letter to the central organs of the American Communist party regarding the Finns. It paid special attention to hall socialism and the form it took among Finnish-Americans. On the one hand the Finns were given credit for good organizational ability, but on the other hand hall activities were seen by the Comintern as proof of an inability to get rid of national limits and to assimilate into American society.20 Therefore, contacts with Americans should be established on a more solid basis. The Comintern stated:

Away with national isolation! For that purpose organized contact and brotherhood with other American workers should be established, it should be made a point of honor for the Finnish Federation to take part actively and in large numbers in the class struggles and class organizations of the American proletariat. Special attention has to be paid to the American-born generation to make it active in the proletarian struggle. Finnish workers must necessarily become a part of the revolutionary movement of the American working class. Americanization is for them the most important step in order to become real internationalists.21

Finnish-American communists were thus urged to become part of the American and international working class. However, it is obvious that the purpose was not to become an integral part of the American capitalist system but to prepare for the future American socialist society. But how legitimate actually were the claims of negative attitude toward American society and Americanization by Finnish immigrant workers? It seems that the isolationist tendencies of the hall activities have generally been overemphasized. First, we have to consider that one of the basic themes in the organized socialist movement is internationalism, and a great majority of the Finnish-American workers' organizations saw themselves as part of the American and even the international working class from the very beginning. This tendency was seen in their first efforts to organize in the late 1800s. For this purpose they joined the American socialist and communist ranks and the Industrial Workers of the World.

The fact also remains that, although Finnish-Arnerican workers' organizations were supposed to be in close contact with the rest of society, their functions greatly concentrated on the activities around the Finn halls. But we have to remember that in the halls and in Finnish workers' organizations generally there were several aspects that pushed the members toward American society. The immigrant papers were always a means to make the readers acquainted with the new society. They included news from Finland in varying degrees as well as news dealing with immigrant society. The characterization by P. George Hummasti of the nature of the Finnish-American workingclass newspaper is valid for the functions of all the immigrant press in America:

It helped them [the immigrants] retain important contact with Finland and with other Finns in America, while at the same time introducing them gradually to American moves and politics and to American material goods. Thus it, in connection with other immigrant institutions, made possible their gradual and sane acculturation to a new society and saved them the bewildering, and often crushing, experience of having to adapt to a myriad of new situations simultaneously. Even the working class newspaper, which from the Amerikan Työmies in 1900 on stressed the rapid assimilation of its readers into at least the political and economic life of America, served as a brake on this process by providing these same readers with a source of information and contact within the cultural substance of their Finnish heritage.22

The organization of the Finnish-American workers' movement generally required the participation of the Finns in party activities at many different levels in addition to their own branches. They had to participate in city and district organizations as well as at national conventions, where they could not use Finnish. Here they had contacts with workers of other nationalities, as well as in celebrations held to honor certain international workers' holidays like May Day or the Russian Revolution. In addition, festivities were organized to support workers in different countries or, for instance, to help Soviet Russia recover from the civil war and the famine years.23 In these kinds of activities the feeling of internationalism formed an important ideological basis.

The foregoing makes it clear that the indictment of Finnish-American radicalism, with its attendant hall socialism, as isolated from the rest of society, and from other workers' groups, is indeed one-sided. Actually hall activities were a suitable means of keeping immigrants' cultural and intellectual life alive in a strange environment. It made it easier to adjust to a new language, customs, government, and workplace. It prevented anomie and the loss of worker consciousness. In this way hall socialism prepared a kind of "soft landing" for Finnish immigrant workers in America, and it contributed notably to the Americanization process. Hall socialism also played its part in radicalizing Finnish-American workers. The functions around the halls provided a financial basis for ideological work; without those forms of activity, socialism, communism, and the IWW would hardly have gained so many supporters among American Finns. All three causes derived great strength from Finnish "hall socialism".

During the course of the Finnish-American labor movement the education of young people to be Americans has always held a very important position. As early as 1909 the FSF convention gave a general recommendation to the locals to found young socialist leagues.24 As a sign of growing interest in the education of socialist children in 1912, a resolution was accepted by the FSF that in summer and Sunday schools education of children based on class consciousness should be increased.25 Emphasis was always laid on the fact that the language in young people's and children's organizations should be English, and they should join English-language organizations. Quite early in the Finnish-language socialist papers special sections were reserved for youngsters and children, and the language used there was always English.

F. J. Syrjälä, the Finnish-American social democratic leader, summarized well the ideas of his group about the class education of second-generation immigrants: "In spite of its international basis, socialism in America must have an American interpretation. No Finnish, German or Russian form of socialism will ever have a success in the American working class. Only the American form of socialism, whichever it will be, shall complete that noble ideology in this country .... It is not possible to think that the youth which is born and educated here and gained its experience here, would be the supporter of a Finnish-American working class movement."26

In the 1920s the communist FSF (or FFWP) strongly urged second generation Finnish-Americans to cooperate with the American communist movement proper. In 1924 the convention of the FFWP proclaimed that special attention should be paid to these sections, and financial and other kinds of assistance would be offered by the branches and by the federation itself to the communist Young Workers League. In addition, the children's and youngsters' clubs should use English, if possible.27 These activities among second-generation Finnish-Americans were so successful that Finnish-Americans constituted a large proportion of the Young Communist League. In 1929 it was estimated that about one-third of the league's members were Finns, the second largest nationality group after the Jews.28 In later decades American-born Finns were to gain an even more notable position in the leadership of the Communist party of the United States,29 most prominently the American Finn Gus Hall, who was a presidential candidate in the U.S. presidential election in 1976.

Finnish-American workers were in frequent contact with American society through employment. At workplaces they met with other nationalities and came into contact with trade unions and their representatives. Usually the contacts thus established were more intense during times of conflict, as during the strikes of 1907 and 1916 in the Mesabi range in northern Minnesota, in 1913-14 in the copper country of northern Michigan, or in the great steel strike of 1919. In these conflicts the class consciousness of the immigrant workers was raised, and ultimately Finnish-Americans did join American trade unions in large numbers. Their participation in the American trade union movement remained notably above the average union membership of American workers,30 and also the second generation seems to have been at home in the unions. Many of them held leadership positions during the organizational campaigns of the 1930s and in the AFLCIO.

A concrete example of the attitudes of Finnish-American radicals toward Americanization may be seen in their attitudes toward naturalization. When the immigrants arrived in America, a large number of them planned to stay for only a few years, perhaps somewhat longer, but usually they dreamed of returning to the old country to establish their homes on a solid basis there after having saved some money. However, about 75 % of them remained permanently in America.

Those who stayed in the United States were soon faced with the question of naturalization in order to establish their position in the new society and to vote. Generally American Finns seem to have been quite passive in this respect. For example, in 1910, 45.6 % of all foreign-born adult males31 were citizens, while 30.6 % of all Finnish immigrants were naturalized. In 1920 the percentages were 47.8 and 39.2 respectively.32 During that ten-year period the number of naturalized Finns had grown notably, but they were still less active in seeking citizenship than foreign-born males in general.

William Carlson Smith has observed that ignorance of language is an important barrier to assimilation.33 Because Finnish differs totally from English and other Anglo-Saxon languages, Finnish immigrants faced abnormally great difficulties in acquiring necessary skills in English.34 It also seems that the rank-and-file immigrant knew little about the naturalization process and the requirements connected with it. This became evident, for instance, in the war years when hundreds, perhaps thousands, of immigrants went to Canada to avoid military service in the U.S. Army, among them many Finnish-American radicals. A great number of radicals and aliens were arrested because they were ignorant of the duties involved with military service or did not want to go into the Army.35

For those willing to become naturalized, federal and state programs offered courses that taught the necessary skills. But the immigrants themselves also actively worked toward this goal. John Wargelin says that the Finns in general were "very anxious" to become naturalized, particularly during World War I, when they founded and actively participated in many organizations working toward this goal.36 When we examine the Finnish-American workers' organizations, we find that the question of naturalization was raised for the first time at the 1909 convention of the Finnish Socialist Federation. At that time a general resolution was adopted that each Finnish socialist branch should form a naturalization committee to help persons willing to become naturalized. The resolution grew out of a discussion based on the proposal by a certain A. Pekkola, who demanded that each member of the FSF should become a citizen in order to go to the polls.37

It seems that interest grew as the naturalization statutes and requirements were made known to Finnish workers in America.38 In 1906, 11.2 % of the members of the FSF were U.S. citizens, in 1912, 19.9 % of the members, and in 1920, 22.4 %; in the communist FFWP in 1923 the percentage was as high as 36.1.39 The questionnaires the foregoing numbers are based on were not returned by every branch and thus the percentages must be interpreted with caution. However, they show the same tendency as that presented above in regard to foreign-born Finnish adult males. It is probable that the fast growth in the willingness of the radicals to become naturalized was largely due to the period of World War I, when the pressure against radical and alien elements was growing in intensity. Antagonism against these groups culminated in the famous "red raids" under Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, when thousands of radicals were arrested and many of them deported from the United States.40 This and the drive for restrictions on immigration41 embodied in the laws of the early 1920s further pushed radical Finns toward naturalization.

As practically no new blood was entering immigrant communities, contacts with American society increased with the growing second generation of Finnish-Americans. This happened in the great majority of Finnish-American communities, from the far left to the far right. Table 1 shows at which time a sample of foreign-born Finns in the United States was naturalized. It is divided according to the three major groupings in the Finnish-American community, the "church Finns, "the "labor Finns", and "others" prior to 1939.42

Table 1. Timing of Naturalization for Foreign-Born Finns.

Received after
Residence of



"Other Groups"


10 years or less

50 (27.3)

59 (26.1)

28 (25.9)


11 to 20 years

42 (22.9)

79 (35.0)

30 (27.8)


21 years or more

55 (30.1)

56 (24.8)

25 (23.1)


Year unknown

28 (15.3)

15 (6.6)

15 (13.9)


No citizenship

8 (4.4)

17 (7.5)

10 (9.3)

35 (6.8)


183 (100.0)

226 (100.0)

108 (100.9)

517 (100.0)

In the sample there were 274 women and 243 men, which reflects an unusual division of sex, apparently owing to the greater mortality of men, since males were generally dominant-in Finnish emigration. A total of 43.7 % of the persons were counted as "Labor", while 35.4 % were counted as "Church" people.43

A.William Hoglund has argued that Finnish-American socialists tried to become naturalized as early as possible in order to be able to go to the polls.44 When we examine Table 1, we find that about onefourth of the immigrants were naturalized within ten years of their arrival in the United States. A total of 27.3 % of the "Church" people became naturalized prior to ten years of stay in the country, while 26.1 % of the "Labor" were naturalized within the same period. However, when we look at the first twenty years, we find that 61.1 % of the "Labor" were naturalized compared with 50.2 % of the "Church" people.45 It seems that notably fewer of the "Labor" people were naturalized after 21 years stay or more in the United States than of the "Church" people. These numbers seem to give only weak support to the Hoglund thesis of the readiness of the radicals to become naturalized early.

The question of why there are more "Labor" than "Church" people who did not become U.S. citizens at all still remains. Most of these persons arrived in the country before 1900-1920, but after more than 40 years they were still Finnish citizens. Probably some of them had a kind of emotional attachment to their mother country and decided never to become citizens of other countries. On the other hand, there were language problems that made it difficult to become naturalized, since quite a number of older immigrants had lived for decades in ethnic communities where English was not "necessary". In addition, when we consider Finnish-American radicals, they were perhaps persons so strongly opposed to the American capitalistic system that they never wanted to become citizens within that system. This attitude is reflected by the mass movement of Finnish-American radicals to the Soviet Union in the late 1920s and particularly in the early 1930s, when they wanted to leave the "rotten capitalistic world" and to build a new "labor republic" in the Soviet Union.46

Finally, we can state that there is discernible a certain difference when we compare the process of Americanization in church circles with that in the labor movement: the so-called church Finns were largely "compelled" to assimilate. They were basically nationalistic, but the decision to favor "loyalism" forced them to become more American. At the same time they faced a situation where the younger generation was becoming assimilated, and the Finnish-American church would sooner or later become "American". In the church the transition to the use of English lessened its nationalistic features, and this process was finally completed in the 1960s when major Finnish churches merged with American churches.47

Within organized labor the Americanization process proceeded in different ways. Finnish participation in the IWW diminished clearly in the 1920s with the fading importance of the movement. Douglas J. Ollila states that "the syndicalist Finns Americanized very rapidly be cause the IWW was a completely American organization".48 The core of Finns in the IWW was foreign-born, as was the case for the supporters of the Socialist party of America, who finally during the period of World War II decided to quit all political parties in order to wait for the creation of an "influential political labor movement".49 The social democrats thus seem to have preserved most of the tradition of hall socialism when they stayed out of political parties and directed their attention more purely to their ethnic institutions.

The communist group appears to have been perhaps best assimilated. A great number of them-excluding those who were ousted because of ideological disputes-became members of American radical groups. In the 1940s Finnish-American communists became integrated into the American Communist party, although some degree of ethnic functions still persisted thereafter.50

In the socialist- and communist-dominated cooperative movement, which had a very strong foothold among the American Finns, Americanization also proceeded rapidly. From the beginning the cooperative movement emphasized contacts with international and American cooperative movements. From the 1920s the use of English became more common, and particularly after World War II Americanization proceeded swiftly. Finnish-American cooperative stores gradually merged with the other American stores.51

Some general conclusions may be drawn from the discussion presented above. First, it has to be stressed that the international labor movement in its various forms exercised a strong effect on Finnish-Americans and their willingness to become Americanized. As was pointed out earlier, internationalism was one of the central themes in their minds from the beginning of the organized labor movement. It led them to join American radical organizations and to participate in them, and it made the communist-minded Finnish-Americans obey orders from the Communist International. Consequently, we may, state that radical workers' organizations clearly pushed their members toward Americanization and assimilation. Behind this kind of behavior lay two ways of thinking: immigrant workers should be able to take advantage of the economic opportunities offered by America, and at the same time they should become eligible to go to the polls, which would be the way to influence and change the future course of American society.

On the other hand, the human desires of individuals in many cases slowed down the Americanization process. For example, inability to learn English, contacts with and longing for the old country, or dislike of the American capitalist system often became the final obstacle to naturalization. It is difficult, however, to examine these factors in detail.

But how do the facts that have been presented in the foregoing actually fit in with the general theory of American ethnicity and immigrant culture? Traditionally American history writing stressed the concept of the American melting pot, but in recent decades a growing number of historians have stressed America's cultural pluralism.52 Timothy L. Smith has attacked the pluralist ideas and claimed that assimilationists still persist. Rather than being victims of a coercive Americanization policy, the immigrants pursued assimilation as a means of advancing their fortunes and those of their children, he argues.53

It is not possible, however, to agree completely with Smith, nor with the cultural pluralist theorists. This special group of immigrant workers pursued Americanization and assimilation notably because of their own will and ideology when preparing for the future socialistic America. But their positive attitude toward assimilation was also affected by coercive Americanization: U.S. immigration policy, the question of loyalty, and the attitudes of the mass media and the school system.54 Additional pressure was exerted by employment policy, which dealt with the immigrant workers unfavorably.

The above discussion sheds additional light on the complex process of Americanization of immigrant workers. In this connection we have to remember that Finnish-American radicals were part of a small immigrant group, the fate of which is always somewhat different from that of a large ethnic minority, like the Italians, Poles, and Jews. Also, the radical Finns were unusual in the sense that they were exceptionally active in the political labor movement, although their activities stressed ethnic social functions in addition to political ones. It made it easy for them to adopt attitudes different from those of other workers, who organized only in the "conservative" trade unions or who did not organize at all.


1. The number of Finnish immigrants to North America prior to 1930 was about 350,000. At its peak in 1920 the number of Finns living in the United States was about 150,000. Fourteenth Census of the United States, "Population 1920" (Washington, D.C., 1922), 2:689.

2. Ingrid Lehman has compared the background of the Finns and the Italians more carefully. She has also analyzed the factors influencing the willingness to participate in the radical movements of the United States. See Ingrid Lehman, "Ethnicity and Class Consciousness: Towards a Theory of Immigrant Radicalism in the United States" (M.A. thesis, University of Minnesota, 1974), esp. p. 87.

3. A. William Hoglund, Finnish Immigrants in America, 1880-1920 (Madison, Wis., 1960); John I. Kolehmainen and George W. Hill, Haven in the Woods: The Story of the Finns in Wisconsin (Madison, Wis., 1965).

4. The term "Finnish radicals in America" is used here to describe those who were members of radical political organizations (socialist, communist or syndicalist-oriented Industrial Workers of the World), or were sympathetic to them.

5. For an extensive discussion of the meaning of Americanization, assimilation, and acculturation, see Milton M. Gordon, Assimilation in American Life: The Role of Race, Religion and National Origins (New York, 1964), esp. pp. 60-83.

6. See, e.g., Douglas J. Ollila, Jr., "The Finnish-American Church Organizations", in Vilho Niitemaa et al., eds., Old Friends-Strong Ties (Vaasa, Finland, 1976), p. 169.

7. See Elis Sulkanen, Amerikan suomalaisen työväenliikkeen historia (The history of the Finnish-American labor movement) (Fitchburg, Mass., 1951), pp. 140-43; S. Ilmonen, Amerikan suomalaisen sivistyshistoria: johtavia aatteita, harrastuksia, yhteispyrintöjä ja tapahtumia siirtokansan keskuudessa, jälkimmäinen osa (The cultural history of the Finns in America, pt. II) (Hancock, Mich., 1931), pp. 11-17.

8. (Hancock, Mich., 1924), pp. 103-5.

9. Taisto John Niemi, "The Finnish Lutheran Book Concern, 1900-1950: A Historical and Developmental Study" (Ph.D. thesis, University of Michigan, 1960), esp. the list of published works, pp. 306-18.

10. For a general survey of the history of the Finnish-American labor movement, see Auvo Kostiainen, "Finnish-American Workmen's Associations", in Old Friends-Strong Ties, pp. 205-32.

11. For a discussion of the background of Finnish-American radicalism, see, e.g., Auvo Kostiainen, The Forging of Finnish-American Communism, 19171924: A Study in Ethnic Radicalism, Annales Universitatis Turkuensis, ser. B. pt. 147 (Turku, 1978), esp. pp. 32-37; see also Reino Kero, "The Roots of Finnish-American Left-Wing Radicialism", Publications of the Institute of General History University of Turku Finland, no. 5 (Turku, 1973), pp. 45-55.

12. This view is seen in, e.g., the works by John I. Kolehmainen, the pioneer of Finnish-American history writing. See, for instance, John I. Kolehmainen, From Lake Erie's Shores to the Mahoning and Monongahela Valleys: A History of the Finns in Ohio, Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia (New York Mills, Minn., 1977), pp. 179-212.

13. Suomalaisten sosialistiosastojen ja työväenyhdistysten viidennen eli suomalaisen sosialistijärjestön kolmannen edustajakokouksen Pöytäkirja 1-5, 7-10 p. kesäkuuta, 1912 (FSF Proceedings, 1912), ed. Aku Rissanen (Fitchburg, Mass., n.d.) pp. 53-55.

14. Kolehmainen, Lake Erie's Shores, p. 212. However, it should be borne in mind that, in this connection, Kolehmainen refers only to the Finns in Ohio, western Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

15. See, e.g., F. J. Syrjälä, Historia-aiheita ameriikan suomalaisesta työväenliikkeestä (History of the Finnish-American labor movement) (Fitchburg, Mass., n.d.), pp. 56-57.

16. Quoted from ibid., p. 60.

17. FSF Proceedings, 1912, p. 310.

18. For a more detailed discussion of these developments, see Kostiainen, Forging of Finnish-American Communism, esp. pp. 150-60.

19. See Auvo Kostiainen, "The Finns and the Crisis over `Bolshevization' in the Workers' Party, 1924-1925", in Michael G. Karni, Matti E. Kaups, and Douglas J. Ollila, Jr., eds., The Finnish Experience in the Western Great Lakes: New Perspectives (Vammala, Finland, 1975), esp. pp. 182-85.

20. See Taistelu oikeistovaaraa vastaan: Kominternin opetuksia amerikansuomalaiselle työväelle (The Communist International on the rightwing danger) (Superior, Wis., n.d.), p. 18.

21. Ibid., p. 32.

22. P. George Hummasti, "The Working Man's Daily Bread: Finnish-American Working Class Newspapers, 1900-1921", in Michael G. Karni and Douglas J. Ollila, Jr., eds., For the Common Good: Finnish Immigrants and the Radical Response to Industrial America (Superior, Wis., 1977), p. 180.

23. For the organizational position and duties of the Finns in,, e.g., the communist movement, see Kostiainen, Forging of Finnish-American Communism, pp. 152-58.

24. Kolmannen amerikan suomalaisen sosialistijärjestön edustajakokouksen pöytäkirja, Kokous pidetty Hancockissa, Mich. 23-30 p. Elok., 1909 (FSF Proceedings, 1909), ed. F. J. Syrjälä (Fitchburg, Mass., n.d.), p. 245.

25. FSF Proceedings, 1912, p. 310.

26. Syrjälä, Historia, pp. 219-20.

27. "Workers partyn suomalaisen järjestön maaliskuun 3, 4, 5 ja 6 päivinä 1924, pidetyn edustajakokouksen pöytäkirja" (FFWP Proceedings, 1924), Työmies, 3 Apr. 1924.

28. "Hyne's Exhibit No. 16, D (The Results of National Registration, July-August, 1929, of the Young C.L. of the U.S. of America)", Investigation of Communist Propaganda. Hearings before a Special Committee to Investigate Communist Activities in the United States of the House of Representatives, 71st Cong., 2d Sess. (Washington, D.C., 1930), pt. 5, 4:805.

29. Kostiainen, Forging of Finnish-American Communism, p. 193.

30. At the end of 1911 a total of 27.3 % of the members of the FSF belonged to a union. FSF Proceedings, 1912, p. 54. In 1923 the respective number for the communist FSF was 22.1. "Suomalaisen sosialisti järjestön yhdeksännen edustajakokouksen pöytäkirja. Laadittu Chicagossa, Ill., helmik, 28 p.-4 p. maalisk., 1923 pidetyssä S. S. Järjestön edustajakokouksessa" (FSF Proceedings, 1923), Työmies, 8 Apr. 1923. In 1924 it was estimated that 32.1 % of the members of the Workers party of America were union members. See The Fourth National Convention of the Workers (Communist) Party of America (Chicago, Ill., n.d.), pp. 40-41. In 1930 11.6 % of the total of 29.4 million nonagricultural employees in the United States were union members. Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970, Bicentennial Edition, pt. I (Washington, D.C., 1975), p. 178.

31. Not until 1920 had all the states in the United States ratified the Nineteenth Amendment, which proposed women's suffrage.

32. Hoglund, Finnish Immigrants, pp. 112-14.

33. William Carlson Smith, Americans in the Making (New York, 1970), pp. 147-49.

34. See Jouni Ekonen, "Amerikansuomalaisen työdäenliikkeen suhtautuminen Yhdysvaltain presidentinvaaleihin vuosina 1908-1920" (Finnish-American labor and the American presidential elections) (M.A. thesis, University of Turku, 1973), p. 28; cf. Wargelin, Americanization, pp. 103-5.

35. See, e.g., Douglas J. Ollila, "Defects in the Melting Pot: Finnish Immigrants and the Loyalty Issue, 1917-1921", Turun Historiallinen Arkisto 31 (1976):398-99, and Wargelin, Americanization, p. 171.

36. Wargelin, Americanization, pp. 171-72; cf. Ollila, "Defects".

37. FSF Proceedings, 1909, p. 247.

38. For instance, Köyhälistön nuija 2 (1908):155-75.

39. Information is based on the returned questionnaires. The numbers are from T.H. (Taavi Heino), "Katsaus liikkeeseemme" (Our Movement), Köyhälistön nuija 1 (1907):40-41; FSF Proceedings, 1912, p. 12; Suomalaisen sosialistijärjestön seitsemännen edustajakokouksen pöytäkirja. Laadittu Waukeganissa, Ill. 25-31 P. jouluk., 1920 pidetystä S. S. Järjestön edustajakokouksesta (FSF Proceedings, 1920), ed. Aaro Hyrske (Superior, Wis., 1921), p. 25; FSF Proceedings, 1923.

40. For more on this period, see, e.g., William Preston, Jr., Aliens and Dissenters: Federal Suppression of Radicals, 1903-1933 (New York, 1966), pp. 208-37.

41. For instance, John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism 1860-1925 (New York, 1973), esp. pp. 300-30.

42. The information is derived from the questionnaires returned to the Department of History, University of Turku, in 1968. The first 1,000 questionnaires were examined for this study, 517 of which included data about immigrants arriving in the United States. A total of 439 (84.9 %) of them had arrived in the country prior to 1920. The classification of the persons according to "Church", "Labor", and "Other" groups was accomplished by considering the societies they belonged to and were or had been active in, and the papers they subscribed to, such as the "churchly" Amerikan Suometar, "liberal" New Yorkin Uutiset, socialist Raivaaja, socialist and later communist Työmies, and syndicalist Industrialisti. The sample included several persons who could not be counted as clearly "Church" or "Labor" and they were included in "Others". Thus the division in Table 1 is not on a social basis. Had we used social status as a criterion, almost every person would have been included in the "Labor" group.

43. The proportions mentioned are very different from those given at the beginning of this article, which stated that about one-fourth of the Finns belonged to "Church" and one-fourth to "Labor". The difference is apparently due to the timing of the question: after a long stay in America most Finns had at some time belonged to some organization, even for a shorter period. The same was true with newspaper subscriptions. Most Finns had at some time ordered Finnish-language newspapers. These factors made the proportions belonging to "Church" or "Labor" high, but it is assumed that this does not give a wrong impression in regard to the naturalization problem.

44. Hoglund, Finnish Immigrants, pp. 113-14.

45. The reports of the Immigration Commission of 1910 show that Finns were quite active in becoming naturalized. For example, the report states that 65.7 % of foreign-born male Finns 21 years of age or over at the time of coming to the United States were fully naturalized after 10 or more years in the country. The respective-number for all immigrants was 56.9 %. The Finns also appear to be close to the top among the new immigrant nationalities in seeking citizenship. Reports of the Immigration Commission, Abstracts of Reports of the Immigration Commission (New York, 1970), 1:485-.87.

46. It is estimated that about 10,000 Finns from the United States and Canada left for the Soviet Union in the early 1930s. See, e.g., Reino Kero, "Emigration of Finns from North America to Soviet Karelia in the early 1930's", in Finnish Experience, p. 215.

47. Ollila, "Finnish-American Church", pp. 170-71.

48. Ollila, "Defects", p. 411. However, Ollila's statement appears to be an oversimplification, since the IWW also had a strong immigrant basis and the IWW-Finns had abundant ethnic functions in their halls and particularly around their paper Industrialisti until its death in the 1970s.

49. Sulkanen, Historia, p. 254.

50. Kostiainen, "Finnish-American Workmen's Associations", esp. pp. 230-31.

51. It has been suggested that promoting and developing the cooperative idea was perhaps the most important contribution by Finnish-Americans to the United States. For a general developmental study of Finnish cooperatives in America, see Arnold Alanen, "The Development and Distribution of Finnish Consumers' Cooperatives in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, 1903-1973", in Finnish Experience, pp. 103-30.

52 For a bibliographical survey of the developments of the melting pot and cultural pluralism theses, see Rudolph J. Vecoli, "European Americans: From Immigrants to Ethnics", in William H. Cartwright and Richard L. Watson, Jr., eds., The Reinterpretation of American History and Culture (Washington, D.C., 1973), esp. pp. 82-89.

53. Timothy L. Smith, "New Approaches to the History of Immigration in Twentieth-Century America", American Historical Review 71 (1966): 1265-79.

54. See Smith, Americans in the Making, p. 298.

Published in American Labor and Immigration History, 1877-1920s: Recent European Research, Ed. by Dirk Hoerder. 1983, p. 259-275.

© Auvo Kostiainen

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