Finland and the Politics of Crises

The discourse on the Left is one of reluctantly having to make difficult but, nevertheless, absolutely necessary decisions. The Finnish Left has bought into the discourse of economic necessity and the way in which the situation is being framed, i.e. that everyone will have to bear responsibility and everyone will be hurt by the difficult times ahead. There is a demand for unity and sense of responsibility in the face of the crisis. Yet, the call for everyone to take responsibility for the situation obscures the fact that the political decisions being made affect the distribution of wealth unevenly. As such, the discourses of crisis, responsibility, and economic necessity function only to legitimate policies that the Left has thus far opposed, to the extent that they themselves now drive those policies. What these discourses also (re)produce is a certain order of intelligibility within which Finns are encouraged to understand the crisis, and to subscribe to a regime of truth about the crisis that, through ‘responsibilisation,’ involves their pacification also.

When looking for counter-discourses or manifestations of resistance, what is quite evident in Finland is the inability of the traditional Left to offer any alternatives. One channel through which mass discontent has been expressed during the past years, is the rising popularity of populist and xenophobic Finns party (formerly known as True Finns) which gained a massive win in the last 2011 parliamentary elections, gaining 19% of the votes and becoming the country’s third largest party. The popularity of the Finns party can partly be explained by the way in which they have been able to mobilise various forms of discontent in the Finnish society. Those who have been disappointed with the traditional leftist parties have turned to the Finns, as have those holding anti-Europe and anti-immigration sentiments. Furthermore, those who traditionally supported the Finnish conservative/right-wing party, but felt that it turned too liberal and abandoned its conservative values, now feel close to the Finns too. Hence, the Finns party and the social movements surrounding it are a curious combination of different forms of discontent.

When it comes to discontent that does not express itself through the process of representation, things have been relatively quiet in Finland. The kinds of social movements that have been happening elsewhere in the past years – Occupy, for example – have not received the kind of broad-based popularity as they have in many other countries. There was an Occupy Helsinki camp erected across the street from the House of Parliament between October 2011 and June 2012, for example. However, what is distinctive of Occupy Helsinki, is that it lacked the kind of local focus that both Emma Dowling and Michael Hardt pointed out in their lectures as characterising many of the other protests around the world. Whereas in London, for example, Occupy was supporting the student action as well as actions to defend health services, welfare, education and employment, Occupy Helsinki’s Initial Statement made no national demands. While there certainly was a sense of urgency to the protest, it was rather a sign of solidarity with those struggling elsewhere, and an expression of the need to find an alternative to global capitalism in general.

During the Summer School, a question was raised about the conditions of possibility for the emergence of new forms of organisation and democracy. In the Finnish context, one condition prohibiting the emergence of such new forms of organisation has been the strong tradition of the tripartite system where wages and conditions of work are decided on the national level between the labour unions, the employer unions, and the government. Although the tripartite system officially ended in 2008, it is considered to be one of the most important reasons for why there has been so little social unrest in Finland during the entire post-war time. Isabell Lorey spoke in her lecture about the way in which Occupy, for example, terminates the social contract that blocks agency in order for other types of social organisation to emerge. In Finland, the crucial point has been that because of the tripartite system where the unions are so intimately tied to the government, the social contract has been perpetuated through the organisation of labour. However, it will be interesting to see what happens if unemployment rises significantly, as then the organisation of labour will lose its significance as a means of perpetuating the social contract, possibly creating the kinds of conditions that have already given rise to new forms of organisation elsewhere in Europe.


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