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The “prehistory” of Puolakkaism

A break during a summer camp in 1973.
A break during a summer camp in 1973. © New History Association.
Written by Heli Santavuori

Many members of the New History Association have been involved in the movements led by Matti Puolakka since the early 1970s. The specific characteristics of these movements are not generally known even in Finland: they were completely isolated from public debate.

The persecution of opinion in matters related to the Soviet Union and foreign policy is described in more detail here:

We consider the 1970s and 80s the prehistory of Puolakkaism. The deepest impulses of Marxism’s critique date back to those times, but the break with the Marxist philosophical system was gradual until the late 1980s. It was not until the early 1990s that the task of creating a new universal history was set.

The following is a brief summary of the main points.

The Marxist-Leninist period

The MLG (Marxist-Leninist Groups 1973–77) was the only “Maoist” organisation in Finland in the 1970s. However, it differed substantially from all the other radical youth movements of its time, including those with the same ideologico-political premises.

Our discussion practice adhered to extreme freedom of opinion: articles by our toughest opponents were published in our journals and examined in our study groups. In addition, we always invited opponents to our debate events. The same practice was followed in our internal disputes.

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We were to make a revolution. Everything went well, except that we were operating in the wrong century, or at least on the wrong side of the globe.

Culture was at the heart of our activities. We took an interest in both classical music and rock, the most important works of world literature, as well as modern poetry, theatre, film, etc. Own cultural production was also central. In terms of lifestyles, we resisted puritanistic double standards and considered, for example, the issues raised by the hippie movement with an open mind.

Self-portrait by Inari Heinonen, 1982. © New History Association.

Our attitude towards China was independent and, in some respects, very critical. Regarding culture, the view of human nature, and moral philosophy, we took an opposite stand. While absolute selflessness was insisted in China, the MLG emphasised self-knowledge and self-deception in explaining human good and evil. It was from that perspective that, from 1977 onwards, the key to unravelling the causes of the catastrophic failure of the Cultural Revolution was found.

However, we supported the original idea of the Cultural Revolution and the socio-philosophical lines related to it: the task was to prevent the rise of a new oppressive upper class within the party – that is, a development similar to that in the Soviet Union. Therefore, Mao’s philosophy was an important subject of study.

Self-criticism. The MLG was disbanded by a conscious decision as early as 1977 because it was considered that Marxism could not explain the new kinds of problems raised by the era but had to be overturned as a system.

Itu: the search for ideas and modes of action at the turn of the era

The Alternative Movement Itu (1978–89) continued the research on the Soviet Union carried out within the MLG. It was the initiator, among other things, in establishing the Finnish support movement of Solidarnosc in Poland. However, cultural pursuits and philosophical discussions were at the forefront of the activities. 

The Finnish word “itu” means a sprout, but also an idea. If something “has itu”, that means it contains a worthwile idea.

Itu was also deliberately disbanded, as no practical forms of action were found to match its most profound aspirations: the era had raised the problems of human’s ultimate psychological liberation.

But ideas had evolved to a whole new stage: socialism in any form was no longer a goal. After Itu, Matti Puolakka took on himself the task of creating a new universal history.

We will provide more details on this background and our experiences after the closure of Itu in our future publications.

Meeting of Alternative Movement Itu in the 1980s, Matti Puolakka speaking.
Meeting of the Alternative Movement Itu in the 1980s, Matti Puolakka speaking. © New History Association.
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A break during a summer camp in 1973.

A break during a summer camp in 1973. © New History Association.

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