Nationen i klasskampen


20th century
minority nationalism
labour movement
Swedish-speaking Finns


Nation and class struggle: Minority nationalism in the 20th-century socialist labour movement

Informed by historiographical critique, new theoretical perspectives and two empirical case studies, this essay examines the relationship between socialism and nationalism in the Finland-Swedish socialist labour movement. Relative to theory and historiography, the essay focuses on two connected problems in the history of the socialist labour movement: (i) nationalism beyond the paradigm of nation states and (ii) nationalism as an integral element in the class struggle for minority rights.

Addressing the former problem, we argue that it is profitable to use examples from the history of the multinational Finnish labour movement. Here, questions about nationalism were not synonymous with concerns for the nation state. Our case studies make it possible to delineate a clear analytical division between the concepts of nation and nation state in the history of the socialist labour movement – a division often neglected in the historiography. Addressing the latter problem, we introduce (in a Swedish context) the concept of minority nationalism, a concept that partly transcends the dichotomy between class struggle and nation state loyalty. The concept of minority nationalism has great heuristic value for understanding how it was possible for the agents of the socialist labour movement to combine nationalist projects with an ongoing class struggle against the bourgeoisie.

Two empirical case studies of minority nationalism in the FinlandSwedish labour movement provides analytical depth. The first examines the notion of “nation” in the political work of K.H. Wiik, one of the main protagonists of the socialist labour movement in Finland. In the second, we examine how minority nationalism was the catalyst for the establishment of a unified socialist organization for the education of Finland-Swedish workers. Both case studies show how questions of a minority national identity were seamlessly integrated with the class struggle for a socialist Finnish society. By studying cases of minority nationalism in correlation with majority nationalism we gain a deeper understanding of the complex interrelations between nationalism and socialism in the history of the labour movement.