Independence and Civil War
In the aftermath of the February Revolution in Russia, Finland received a new Senate, a coalition-Cabinet with the same power structure as the Finnish Parliament. Based on the general election in 1916, the Social Democrats had a small majority, and the Social Democrat Oskari Tokoi became prime minister. The new Senate was willing to cooperate with the provisional government of Russia, but no agreement was reached. Finland considered the personal union with Russia to be over after the dethroning of the Tsar – although the Finns had de facto recognized the provisional government as the Tsar's successor by accepting its authority to appoint a new Governor General and Senate. They expected the Tsar's authority to be transferred to Finland's Parliament, which the provisional government of Russia refused, suggesting instead that the question should be settled by the Russian Constituent Assembly.
For the Finnish Social Democrats it seemed as though the bourgeoisie was an obstacle on Finland's road to independence as well as on the proletariat's road to power. The non-Socialists in Tokoi's Senate were, however, more confident. They and most of the non-Socialists in the Parliament, rejected the Social Democrats' proposal on parliamentarism (the so-called "Power Act") as being too far-reaching and provocative. The act restricted Russia's influence on domestic Finnish matters, but didn't touch the Russian government's power on matters of defence and foreign affairs. For the Russian Provisional government this was, however, far too radical. As the Parliament had exceeded its authority, it was dissolved.
The minority of the Parliament, and of the Senate, were content. New elections promised a chance to gain majority, which they were convinced would improve the chances to reach an understanding with Russia. The non-Socialists were also inclined to cooperate with the Russian Provisional government because they feared the Socialists' power would grow, resulting in radical reforms, such as equal suffrage in municipal elections, or a land reform. The majority had the completely opposite opinion. They didn't accept the Provisional government's right to dissolve the Parliament.
The Social Democrats held on to the Power Act and opposed the promulgation of the decree of dissolution of the Parliament, whereas the non-Socialists voted for promulgating it. The disagreement over the Power Act led to the Social Democrats leaving the Senate. When the Parliament met again after the summer recess in August 1917, only the groups supporting the Power Act were present. Russian troops took possession of the chamber, the Parliament was dissolved, and new elections were carried out. The result was a (small) non-Socialist majority and a purely non-Socialist Senate. The suppression of the Power Act, and the cooperation between Finnish non-Socialist forces and oppressive Russia provoked great bitterness among the Socialists, and had resulted in dozens of politically motivated attacks and murders.
The October Revolution of 1917 turned Finnish politics upside down. Now, the new non-Socialist majority of the Parliament desired total independence, and the Socialists came gradually to view Soviet Russia as an example to follow. On November 15, 1917, the Bolsheviks declared a general right of self-determination, including the right of complete secession, "for the Peoples of Russia". On the same day the Finnish Parliament issued a declaration by which it temporarily took power in Finland.
Worried by the development in Russia, and Finland, the non-Socialist Senate proposed that Parliament declare Finland's independence, which was agreed on in the Parliament on December 6, 1917. On December 18 the Soviet government issued a Decree, recognizing Finland's independence, and on December 22 it was approved by the highest Soviet executive body. Germany and the Scandinavian countries followed without delay.
Finland after 1917 was bitterly divided along social lines. The Whites consisted of the Swedish-speaking middle and upper classes and the farmers and peasantry who dominated the northern two-thirds of the land. They had a conservative outlook and rejected socialism. The socialist-Communist Reds comprised the Finnish-speaking urban workers and the landless rural cottagers. They had a radical outlook and rejected capitalism.
From January to May 1918, Finland experienced the brief but bitter Finnish Civil War. On one side there were the "white" civil guards, who fought for the anti-Socialists. On the other side were the Red Guards, which consisted of workers and tenant farmers. The latter proclaimed a Finnish Socialist Workers' Republic. World War I was still underway and the defeat of the Red Guards was achieved with support from Imperial Germany, while Sweden remained neutral and Russia withdrew its forces. The Reds lost the war and the White peasantry rose to political leadership in the 1920s-1930s. About 37,000 men died, most of them in prisoner camps ravaged by influenza and other diseases.
Finland in the inter-war era
After the civil war the parliament, controlled by the Whites, voted to establish a constitutional monarchy to be called the Kingdom of Finland, with a German prince as king. Despite the bitter civil war, and repeated threats from fascist movements, Finland became and remained a capitalist democracy under the rule of law.
Large scale agrarian reform in the 1920s involved breaking up the large estates controlled by the old nobility and selling the land to ambitious peasants. The farmers became strong supporters of the government.
The new? kingdom faced a dispute over the Åland Islands, which were overwhelmingly Swedish-speaking and sought retrocession to Sweden. However, as Finland was not willing to cede the islands, they were offered an autonomous status. Nevertheless, the residents did not approve the offer, and the dispute over the islands was submitted to a conference between Finland and Sweden. The? conference? concluded that Finland should retain sovereignty over the Åland Islands, but they should be made an autonomous province. Thus Finland was under an obligation to ensure the residents of the Åland Islands a right to maintain the Swedish language, as well as their own culture and local traditions. At the same time, an international treaty was concluded on the neutral status of Åland, under which it was prohibited to place military headquarters or forces on the islands.
Alcohol abuse had a long history, especially regarding binge drinking and public intoxication, which became a crime in 1733. In the 19th century the punishments became stiffer and stiffer, but the problem persisted. A strong abstinence movement emerged that cut consumption in half from the 1880s to the 1910s, and gave Finland the lowest drinking rate in Europe. Four attempts at instituting prohibition of alcohol during the Grand Duchy period were rejected by the czar; with the czar gone Finland enacted prohibition in 1919. Smuggling emerged and enforcement was slipshod. Criminal convictions for drunkenness went up by 500%, and violence and crime rates soared. Public opinion turned against the law, and a national plebiscite went 70% for repeal, so prohibition was ended in early 1932.
Nationalist sentiment remaining from the Civil War developed into the proto-Fascist Lapua Movement in 1929. Initially the movement gained widespread support among anti-Communist Finns, but following a failed coup attempt in 1932 it was banned and its leaders imprisoned.
Relations with Soviet Union
In the wake of the Civil War there were many incidents along the border between Finland and Soviet Russia, such as the Aunus expedition and the Pork mutiny. Relations with the Soviets were improved after the Treaty of Tartu in 1920, in which Finland gained Petsamo, but gave up its claims on East Karelia.
Tens of thousands of radical Finns—from Finland, the United States and Canada—took up Stalin's 1923 appeal to create a new Soviet society in the Karelian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic(KASSR), a part of Russia. Most were executed in the purges of the 1930s.
The Soviet Union started to tighten its policy against Finland in the 1930s, limiting the navigation of Finnish merchant ships between Lake Ladoga and the Gulf of Finland and blocking it totally in 1937.