Finns, Reds, Miners and Indians
hunterbadbear at earthlink.net
Wed Aug 28 07:23:20 MDT 2002
Note by Hunterbear:
About a year ago, I published a couple of List things on Finns and
Finnish-Americans, labor, and radicalism. This led to more in that general
context, and then more -- and eventually I polished and added and placed it
all on one page on our large website www.hunterbear.org
Here it is as it now stands in that setting.
This particular webpage of ours, according to the data provided by Earthlink
[host], is a well visited page -- often a dozen or more folks per day.
We've gotten many positive comments -- although one person, who identified
herself as an American who was partly Finn, objected to my statement
indicating that many Finns have some Mongoloid ancestry. Many of them do --
and, in addition to all I've seen and heard, my wife, Eldri, is
substantially Finnish and Saami [Lapp] and supports me in that contention.
Some on this list may have seen a piece or two of this a year or so ago --
but I've finessed those, adding a bit of new stuff. Other stuff is
Comments would be welcome.
In Solidarity - Hunter [Hunterbear]
REFLECTIONS ON FINNS AND FINNISH-AMERICANS
AND A WORD ON THE MINE-MILL UNION AND THE TITO FACTOR AT BUTTE / ANACONDA IN
AND MYRON BERCIER -- AND GUS HALL
Note by Hunter Gray: These are posts that I made on a number of Discussion
Lists on August 24 and August 25, 2001. The story involving my very good
friend, Myron Bercier, is a special insert.
NEW! MY EXTREMELY POSITIVE REVIEW OF LYNN MARIA LAITALA'S DOWN FROM
BASSWOOD [HUNTER GRAY 4/4/02]
Duane, noting my comment that Gus Hall [ Finnish-American and the late head
of the CPUSA] had liked to hunt and fish, wondered
casually if he liked good whiskey. On that one, I really don't know; but
it would seem logical to conjecture that, as a Minnesota working-stiff, Gus
Hall started out in that vein -- but shifted in time to things more
characteristic of his special Red East Mecca. [I, myself, certainly
appreciate a bit of good Scotch and always will.]
Although, in the 1950s, I encountered Finns here and there in what was left
of the really old-time IWW in the Pacific Northwest and in Mine-Mill in the
Intermountain West -- always appreciating the inherent toughness and
enduring commitment to militant labor and radicalism of these extremely
solid people -- it wasn't until I spent some very interesting time in the
Duluth / Superior area in late 1960 and early 1961 that I encountered very
large numbers of Finns. And, early on, I got to know a great many
Finnish-Americans in labor and radical circles and their families extremely
well. A large number of those in the radical world were Wobblies or former
Wobblies and/or democratic socialists -- but another large contingent were
in the Superior-based Tyomies [worker] Society, which was CPUSA -- though
always characterized by stubborn and feisty Finnish exceptionalism.] I got
on very well with all of these people -- and, although the IWW/socialist
contingent and the Communists in Tyomies officially -- I say officially --
did not get on at
all well with each other, they were, under and above all ideology, very
much Finnish people together. From my Native perspective, I had no
difficulty recognizing an inherent family and national tribalism in all of
this -- and I had also, early on, (long before I got to Duluth/Superior),
become cognizant that the Finns are not "Nordic" and are frequently heavily
mixed with Asiatic Mongoloid strains, generally via certain "dark" Saami
[Lapp] tribes. I learned a good deal about the substantial ethnic
discrimination visited upon the Finnish immigrants and their descendants in
the United States [sometimes, still, into the present day], the legacy of
the Finnish churches and the vigorous co-op movements, the development of
very substantial socialist and Wobbly contingents, the effects of the
Bolshevik Revolution and the Comintern -- all of this in the context of a
generally strong commitment to Finnish socio-cultural traditions.
Frequently, this was mixed, with whichever specific radical tilt, in the
ethos and activity of local Red Halls in the predominately Finnish-American
communities in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Northern Wisconsin, and much
of Minnesota and elsewhere. And I became and remain a devotee of Finnish
Much of all of this has survived generations of inevitable acculturation.
At one point, I was asked to talk at length as principal speaker at a large
affair sponsored by the Finnish Wobblies and socialists in Duluth. Here,
where until the end of the '30s, the IWW had maintained a very effective and
well organized workers' education program -- the famous Work People's
College, the IWW Finnish daily, Industrialisti, was still being published.
It died later in the '60s and, if there were efforts to revive it, they did
not endure. I have some of the fascinating and impressive curricular
materials from Work People's College [ The Tyomies Society published its
Finnish language newspaper, Tyomies-Eteenpain, into contemporary times.]
This was my first talk at a mass meeting of Finnish people. About two
hundred and fifty of all ages were gathered to hear me -- on a very cold
late 1960 winter night in an ancient but very warm labor hall. Two good
friends of mine were chairing this gathering -- a young guy my age and a
much older man -- and each told me that, although everyone present knew
English, the old people would never concede this to a relative newcomer
such as myself. Consequently, everything would have to be translated into
Finnish. As an Indian, I could understand this situation congenially and
I talked for over two hours on labor defense matters, mixed with a
discussion of the incipient civil rights movement -- and everything was
meticulously transposed into Finn by my age peer. Many of the older
faces -- often very Asiatic, Mongoloid -- looked at me impassively until my
words were translated. Then, and only then, did they nod, almost
imperceptibly. When I was finished, there was light applause and some
people tapped their feet back and forth on the hard, wooden floor.
Used to more enthusiastic responses, I suddenly felt I'd bombed out on this
one. People were moving toward strong coffee and rolls. Still at the front
speaker's table, I turned to my two friends -- the co-chairs. "Christ, how
did I go over? Did I go over at all?"
And they laughed, heartily. "You went over very well," said the older man.
"You were the best speaker in months." I still looked puzzled.
"You've learned something new tonight." said the guy my age. "You got a
lot of Finn applause. " "Our people," he continued with understatement,
"are not particularly demonstrative in public. " And then he added
grinning, "Except in things like strikes."
Not very long thereafter, I married my wife, Eldri -- who had been born at
Moose Lake, MN -- and is Finnish and Saami with some Norwegian. We did
this at Duluth/Superior and then we went off to Mississippi. And we are
still very much together .
I would never be so presumptuous to profess to be an authority on Finns and
Finnish-American radicalism and culture. But our ASDNET list and DSA are
very fortunate to have connected with them Niilo Koponen of Alaska -- and
also, through Niilo, the wide-ranging world and cyberspace traveler, Harri
Siitonen of the Bay Area. Each of these excellent persons is an authority
and, if you have any interest in Finns and Finnish radicalism, questions to
them would pay off richly.
Niilo sent a fine, essentially socialist book to Eldri and myself:
Blueberry God: The Education of a Finnish-American by Reino Nikolai Hannula
[San Luis Obispo: Quality Hill Books, 1979 and 1990.]
Another very solid work is For the Common Good: Finnish Immigrants and the
Radical Response to Industrial America [Superior, Wisconsin: The Tyomies
There are fascinating sections by Professors Michael G. Karni,
Douglas Ollila, Jr., A. William Hoglund, Michael Passi, Hilja Karvonen,
Arthur Puotinen, George Hummasti, and Auvo Kostiainen
The late Professor Douglas Ollila, Jr., was a
brother of one of Eldri's closest friends.
In Solidarity -
Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]
Some excellent questions were then asked by my good friend, John Lacny, of
I know you just said you weren't an authority on Finns or on
Finnish-Americans, but do you know anything about political divisions
among Finnish-Americans? I knew -- as you've pointed out -- that many of
them were part of a radical tradition, and that that was the milieu Gus
Hall came from. But there must have been conservative elements, too; what
was the typical political stance of religious Lutherans, for example?
What kind of effect did the 1940 Soviet invasion of Finland have on all of
I imagine this latter event must have been traumatic, though perhaps
not as traumatic as the Tito-Stalin split was among South Slav-American
Very good questions indeed, John.
First, the Finnish-American Lutheran -- and related churches -- tended and
still tend to be very small [frequently splitting], and based in any one of
a number of small synods, and sometimes just locally independent in every
sense. So you have minimal bureaucracy and a great deal of grassroots
Eldri -- far more the authority than I -- is fairly sure that, in the
earlier part of the 20th Century and certainly later on -- and especially at
the grassroots level --Finnish radicalism and the church thing could coexist
together fairly easily. This has been my relatively contemporary
observation. [In many settings with which I'm familiar, say, a
Southwestern copper town, local Catholicism wasn't and isn't that much of a
problem for militant, radical labor -- but the Church hierarchy further up
definitely could and can be problematic.]
There certainly are many conservative and generally bourgeois
Finnish-Americans -- and with them some very rough arguments and fights.
Some have grown "far and away" from the Finnish grassroots and even from
their Finnish roots. Others have remained in the general Finnish-American
communities -- often as a local component of "the other side" of the class
struggle. In short, there is certainly a class structure in the
Finnish-American [and Finland] world and thus there is very much a class
At the beginning of the 1930s, as many as 10,000 American Finns went to
Soviet Karelia -- immediately adjacent to Finnish Karelia -- in response to
the Soviet Union's urgent request for developmental assistance. This was
a tough and "mixed" kind of experience. In the 1939-40 war situation [the
"Winter War"], the Soviet Union bombed Finnish cities and seized Finnish
Karelia -- leading to a situation where thousands of refugees fled westward
in order to remain in Finland. All of this was followed by the
"Continuations War" -- in which most Finns in Finland sought to maintain and
recoup their territory
and also avoid getting too close to Germany. Much of this was clouded by the
predominate role in military and political affairs of Marshal Gustav
Mannerheim whose "White" background during the World War I era and the
Bolshevik Revolution raised questions about fascist sympathies. But all of
this, in Finland, was far, apparently, from sharp dichotomization: it was
not a clear-cut line between "Mannerheim Finns" and "Red" Finns. Many in
the Mannerheim camp were uneasy about the Marshal; many of the Reds --
especially in the non-Communist Left -- were extremely angry with the
conduct of the Soviet Union while also extremely suspicious of Mannerheim
et al. This oft-ambiguous situation was reflected abroad -- i.e., the U.S.
and Canada -- where the issues were often publicly confused by non-Finns
with vigorously partisan positions. At the end of the War, Finnish Karelia
remained in the hands of the Soviet Union.
As far as I know, there was no significant Finnish defection from the CPUSA
as a result of this. In the United States and Canada, there was certainly no
significant pro-German sentiment among Finnish-Americans [or anyone else],
young Finnish men were entering the armed forces in large numbers, there
were urgent defense buildups, and big union labor developments. Many of the
older people really do not seem inclined to talk too much about this period
and the situation abroad -- and, frankly, very few of them are now left.
History moves and the world with it, leaving people with memories and the
compelling challenges of the moment. The historians pick up the broken
pieces of glass and try to find meaning. Radicals try like hell to keep on
keeping on -- right into the future.
So, as far as I know, there was certainly nothing comparable in the Finnish
situation to the impact of the Tito / Stalin split -- and definitely nothing
with that event's clear-cut ideological implications.
I know virtually nothing, John, about the impact of the Tito split in, say,
the industrial cities of Pennsylvania where I'm sure it could be
heavy -- and I have a hunch you know much of historical nature about that.
There is one United States labor situation where that issue was involved and
of which I do have considerable knowledge: Butte and Anaconda in 1953-54.
At that time, I was still in the Army but fairly soon thereafter -- as a
civilian, working-stiff, and up-and-coming young Red -- heard the
particulars in great contemporary detail from key Mine-Mill officials at
several levels, and also, some years later, from a still very radical
Montanan who had been for many years head of the state CPUSA. In addition,
until fairly recently,
a son of mine ran the Anaconda office of the Montana Standard [published at
Butte] and provided me with considerable media material on this historic
As part of its general campaign to "get" Mine-Mill, the United Steelworkers,
CIO, levied an intense raiding campaign focused on the miners at Butte [
Mine-Mill Local 1] and the smeltermen at Anaconda [Mine-Mill Local 117]. The
prize was 5300 Butte miners and 2600 Anaconda smeltermen -- and the symbolic
heart of IUMMSW.
A secession move to Steel was led by Bill Mason [and some others in his
family], a renegade district [International] executive board member whose
ethnic background was Slavic, whose sympathies were with Tito, and who was
seeking to carve out a pie-card sinecure in the Steel union. Steel levied
an intense Red-baiting campaign and the Mason faction seized the historic
hall of Butte Miners Union #1. Each side paid for an endless flow of free
drinks in Butte's then 167 saloons. Although Irish outnumbered Slavs at
Butte, the Slavic population was very heavy at Anaconda -- and Bill Mason
used the Tito factor in every direction and at every level while CIO
continued a massive Red-baiting campaign.
Thousands of loyal Mine-Mill members marched through Butte in late January,
1954 and retook the Union Hall. In late March, 1954, Butte miners and
Anaconda smeltermen voted two to one to stick with Mine-Mill. [The vote
tally was 4,099 for Mine-Mill and 2,185 for Steel -- with only 60 "no
union" ballots, 17 "challenged" and 28 "void."]
In retrospect -- both chronologically near and far -- the broad opinion is
that, whatever Bill Mason's sympathies for Tito may have been, his [Bill
Mason's] primary goal was to feather his own nest. In any event, the Tito /
Stalin split did not appear to play any significantly tangible
role in the Butte/Anaconda vote -- although it obviously had to have had
Now, of course, with the ore gone, both towns have only the unpredictable
tourist industry for their primary economic sustenance.
Hope this has been helpful -
Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]
AND NOW, A VERY SPECIAL STORY ABOUT A DAMN GOOD FRIEND: MYRON BERCIER --
AND MINE-MILL AND BUTTE
One of my very best and most creative students was Myron Bercier [Bercy], a
Turtle Mountain Chippewa from Belcourt, North Dakota.
A genuinely free spirit and a very gifted poet and writer, Myron was
virtually everyone's good friend -- except bigoted and Machiavellian
I consistently secured the resources which got Myron out of Stir and fully
Once, in 1986, Myron and I were sitting in my office at the University of
North Dakota, drinking coffee. He picked up a book. Mike Solski's fine Mine
Mill: The History of the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter
Workers in Canada -- Since 1895. Mike had inscribed it and sent it to me
as a very welcome gift.
Myron leafed through the photo-rich book.
"Interesting," he said. "My Dad used to be a miner."
I perked up sharply. "Where?"
"Butte," he said. "A long time ago."
Now I was very interested. "When?"
"All through the 1950s," Myron said. "And then we went back to Turtle
"Were you there in 1953, '54?" I asked.
"Oh sure," he said. "I was about seven, eight years old."
Now I took a another step. "Do you remember the big fight between the
unions at Butte? Back then -- right about that time?"
"Sort of," he said. "But it was a long time ago." Then he went on, "Dad
always supported the unions. Always did."
Taking the biggest step of all, I now asked, "Do you remember which union
your Dad supported in that big fight at Butte?"
Myron thought hard. "No," he said, "I really don't." And then, suddenly,
his dark eyes blazed and fire flashed from his face -- and then his eyes
"But it sure as hell wasn't that Goddamned sonofabitch racketeer outfit
from way back East."
"It was the other one. Dad supported the other one."
And I grinned at Myron. "Your Dad was a good Mine-Mill man," I said, "and I
'm not one damn bit surprised."
Myron smiled, continued to look through Mike's great book, and we drank more
Myron was killed a few years ago in an accident on the reservation. I miss
---- Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]
Initially vis-a-vis ASDNET, in response to a post which took the position
that the late Gus Hall, CPUSA leader, might have been what is sometimes
called a " Swedish Finn."
The lingering interest in Gus Hall is -- interesting. On the matter of his
ethnicity and cultural origins, Hall was certainly very much a Finn/Finn.
While, admittedly, the original name, Halberg or Hallberg, could indicate a
thread to the "Swedish/Finns," it would have very probably been in a far off
century. The move, by a Swedish minority, into Finland took place ages and
ages ago -- and was characterized, among other things, by "taking things
over" and even, for a long time, forcing Swedish as the ostensibly
"official" language of Finland! Of course, the real Finns resisted all of
this vigorously. The emergent "Swedish/Finns" became a major and
continuing component of the aristocracy and, as clear an example as any,
would be the quite dubious Marshal Gustav Mannerheim who I mentioned in a
previous post yesterday as a "White" during the Bolshevik revolutionary
period and as the predominate military/political figure in Finland during
the World War 2 epoch. The Swedish/Finns tended very much to marry and
produce within their own upper/upper circle. [Mannerheim consistently
showed every indication during his long life as someone who would have been
quite at home in the Tsar's court -- especially if he were the Tsar.] Gus
Hall's father was an iron miner and logger in the rough Mesabi country of
Northern Minnesota. The family could not have been more proletarian in its
nature -- and obvious origins -- and Hall was culturally Finnish/American
through and through.
I had some very interesting conversations in years past with prominent
Finnish-American Communists around these matters -- and Gus Hall, of course,
came up frequently in the context of bona fide Finnish and Finnish/American
I am in large part indebted to my wife, Eldri, for the fine points in the
foregoing analysis. And, as I mentioned earlier, she is very much Saami
[Lapp] and Finnish -- with a bit of Norwegian.
In Solidarity -
Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]
MY EXTREMELY POSITIVE REVIEW OF LYNN MARIA LAITALA'S DOWN FROM BASSWOOD
[HUNTER GRAY 4/4/02]
Our very good friend indeed, Niilo Koponen, one of several Alaskan
socialists we know -- and a Great Finn as well -- has sent us a splendid
book. We -- Eldri and I -- recommend it vigorously.
Our little family here in Idaho is pretty well mixed ethnically. I'm Native
on one side and Scottish [with a bit of Swiss] on the other; Eldri is
Scandinavian, Finnish, and Saami [Lapp]. My orientation is basically
Iroquois and her focus is a good blending of Norwegian and Finn with many
currents of Lapp in both. And she grew up in Northern Minnesota with Finns
and Chippewas and I in the Southwest -- in the Navajo country. To our
[obviously and often crudely surveilled] Idaho mail box comes all sorts of
things -- Native newspapers from Canada and the 'States, tribal things,
Scandinavian and Finnish genealogical materials, lots of socialist stuff,
union newspapers and other publications, Scottish clan membership doings,
left-wing Catholic papers, the excellent newspaper New World Finn -- and
much more indeed.
The book Niilo Koponen has sent covers a number of dimensions that strike a
very powerful note of strong resonance with all of us -- and will with many
others. DOWN FROM BASSWOOD, written by noted Finnish-American writer, Lynn
Maria Laitala and based primarily in the Iron Range country of Northern
Minnesota, is a collection of wonderful stories. And they're much more than
just stories. They are closely linked and very real oral histories [27 of
them] in fictional clothing, involving two groups perceived as "marginal" by
the Establishment folks -- Finns and Chippewas. They cover three
generations from the beginning of the 1900s to Mid-Century.
They're drawn from many years of careful work under the aegis of the
Minnesota Historical Society. This is very solid human material.
In case you don't know it, Finns and Chippewas [like all Natives, I should
add] are feisty as hell. [The old, timeless Regular Army guard duty adage
comes to mind here: "I walk my post in a military manner and don't take
s___t from the Company Commander."]
And so you have the Finns working in the iron mines and doing timber work
and the Indians -- the Chips -- are hunting and guiding -- and then you have
some Indians in timber and some Finns on the trail of our Furry Friends.
And there's lots -- lots indeed -- about immigrant poverty and Native
poverty and poverty for almost everyone in the Depression days.
Lots of exploitation by the Bosses.
And so there is much, much indeed about Wobblies and Socialists and strikes
and great courage and tenacity deep and high, and fighting -- real fighting
against powerful adversaries and forces. Some victories, some set-backs,
more fighting and more victories -- always keeping on, keeping on. Red
Halls -- Dark Red.
Good writing -- stuff that's alive -- has to be based most of all on people:
they're the Headwaters and the River's Flow -- and they're the Goal.
Ideological tracts don't catch Soul.
A great radical journalist was my Great Mentor: Fred Thompson -- originally
from the Canadian Maritimes [St. John, NB] and Scottish mixed with Micmac.
Very soon, Fred had all sorts of close Finnish family connections. A Left
socialist of ecumenical bent who was a very deep and committed Wobbly all
the way through [Fred died in 1987 at a very old age indeed], he was an IWW
organizer, writer, and editor -- who served a prison hitch in San Quentin in
the 1920s under California's vicious anti-labor "criminal syndicalism"
statute. These repressive laws were enacted widely in the Western states in
their attack on the IWW. Idaho's especially encompassing one -- which also
jailed famous Wobbly [and later Mine-Mill] organizer Sam Embree for four
years in the 1920s -- is still on the books. I -- in Arizona -- wrote many
things for Fred when he edited the Industrial Worker out of Chicago.
Characteristically and early on, ca. 1956, he wrote to me -- a very hot-eyed
kid. "You certainly have what it takes," he said. "But to be really
radical, you don't have to rant and rave. You only have to accurately
describe the massive injustice all around you and sensibly discuss the basic
curative approaches and solutions."
I've always tried to follow that advice.
And that's exactly what Lynn Maria Laitala does -- with her arrow straight
to the mark.
The people in Lynn Maria Laitala's DOWN FROM BASSWOOD are individuals who
live -- in timeless and vital fashion. Because of that, their Vision
Lynn Maria Laitala, DOWN FROM BASSWOOD [Beaverton, Ontario: Aspasia Books,
2001] 210 pages. Available from Lynn Maria Laitala / BASSWOOD / Box 25 /
Hawthorne, Wisconsin 54842 -- Tel: 715 / 3752261 lml at centurytel.net
The book is $17.00 Paper, Postpaid.
In Solidarity -
Hunter Gray [ Hunterbear ]
www.hunterbear.org ( social justice)
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