May 15, 1939
Hannu and Eero walked through the woods, spring mud squishing under their boots. Long dusk and the weight of wet leaves dampened sounds and they moved slowly through the forest like wandering moose. Eero broke the silence first.
“So what do you think about the Civic Guard?”
Hannu turned back to look over his shoulder but kept walking.
“Yes, you need to make a commitment.”
“Why, have I done something wrong?”
“No, but you’re getting to the age where you should think of your future. Civic guard time would be good for you.”
“Magnus has already signed up for that work in Summa.”
“Good for him.”
They crested a small hill to see their farm in the distance, dim lights in the windows and smoke floating around the roof.
“Hannu. Are you going to stay home and read? What about the war? Finland needs you.”
“Me? They’ll get Magnus, isn’t that enough?”
“You two would be useful, preparing in case the Soviets get any ideas. Listen, Hannu,” Eero stopped.
“Mother and I are worried about both of you. We don’t want you in the army getting shipped off to the front to die like lambs. If you make a place for yourselves working behind the lines, if war comes, you may not be called to the front.”
Hannu turned and began to walk away. “I’m getting cold.”
“Hannu, this is important.”
“Fine. But I’m not joining the army or digging ditches. I want to go to school. I’ve decided. Let Magnus be the hero.”
May 19, 1939
Hannu sat in the coffeehouse with a stack of books beside him and a large mug of coffee, steam spiraling up from the ebony surface. This is far better than walking behind a plough, or throwing haybales, he thought with a smile. Let Magnus do the back-breaking work.
He opened up the first book, The Poverty of Philosophy, then glanced around and moved the book to his lap. Lasse at the neighboring farm said he got them from some old Red soldier from the Civil War. He flipped through the yellow pages expecting something like pornography. These books were hard to come by and had to be kept secret.
The bell on the door jingled as a young family came in shedding coats and hats. Hannu flushed and turned the spines of the book in towards his body. The translation was Swedish, so he struggled to remember his vocabulary and grammar from school. The first page was a struggle, the second went by faster, then a half hour went by and he was beginning to hear the voice of the Marx rising in shouts from the pages. His coffee, untouched, grew cold in the mug.
It made sense, so far. He slid the second one from the stack, the prize of the stash–The Communist Manifesto. Surely, he thought with a sideways smile, this would be the one filled with outrageous claims, fiery vitriol, and drum banging.
“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”
This was radical? It seemed obvious: class means money, and people argue over money and status. How could this have caused Finland’s Civil War? He read on.
“But not only has the bourgeoisie forged the weapons that bring death to itself; it has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons–the modern working class–the proletarians.”
It was right, it was true. Hannu nodded in agreement as he read further. There wasn’t anything radical, if anything it was a bit dry. People should be made to read this before condemning it, he thought. Hating it was an action of scared ignorants, the false intellectual bourgeoisie. The message was still as fresh as when it had flowed out the tip of the pen. He reached for the cold coffee and took a long gulp, his eyes unmoving from the pages.
The family finished their supper and packed up, passing Hannu curled over the book. He felt them walk by but was too locked into the voice rumbling from the pages in his hands. It was past midnight when he packed up and wandered out into the cool of the spring night, his books pressing into his side through his canvas shoulder bag.
How is this something to fight over, he wondered? Magnus should see this, it’ll make him think twice about fighting Russians who are just trying to take back the benefits of proletariat work. Maybe even Finland’s people could still learn something from these books, if only they weren’t so hateful and ignorant about them.
“Magnus. I have something to show you.”
The boys were up in their room, a space carved out of the attic with two small cots and accessible by a steep narrow stair. A kerosene lamp sputtered on a wall shelf, adding sooty streaks to the reflector.
Magnus rolled over from his bed where he’d been thumbing through a gun and hunting supply catalog.
“I got some books from Lasse.”
“He can read? Or are they naked picture books?”
“Of boys, you wish. No, it’s something else.”
Hannu reached under his bed and pulled out his canvas bag. Wrapped in an old shirt were the books, and he pulled out one, its Russian title in fading gold lettering.
Magnus frowned and grabbed the book.
“What, are you kidding? How did you even get this?”
“I told you, Lasse got them. From some old guy who fought in the war.”
“You shouldn’t have this. Father would cut a long switch if he knew you had it.” He handed it back to Hannu with a shake of his head.
“Hey, molopää, you don’t even want to look at it? It’s not bad at all. Actually it makes some sense.”
“No listen! I swear it! I don’t see what all the fuss is about anyway. Just read it.”
“It’s this kind of thing that got us fighting in the first place. People read this and get ideas that they can change everything, then they fight the people in charge. In the end it all goes helvetti in some new way.”
“Well, people aren’t reading it right, then. Or they’re fighting for the wrong thing. Come on, read it.” Hannu tossed it back at his brother who batted it out of the air.
“Get that paska commie book out of my face!”
“Boys?” A voice rose up the staircase.
Hannu scowled at his brother and retrieved the book from the corner.
“Hannu, if father finds out you’re reading that…”
“…what? He’ll beat me? He should read it then. Why is everyone getting so mad when they haven’t even seen this? It’s not bad stuff, it’s just not!” Hannu whispered.
“It’s that people see Communist and they think you’re a Red, some crazy leftover from the war.”
“Then don’t call me a Red. I’m just…just… a proletarian.”
“Oh, so now you believe it? You’re just buying the whole thing? You want the workers to rise up and ruin everything?”
“That’s not what it’s about. See, you should read this instead of rushing out to join the Army like a stooge.”
Magnus rolled his eyes. “So that’s it. You refuse to join and father can’t take it?”
“And you’ll do it just because he says?”
“I want to do the right thing. I think this would be good. For Finland.”
“Jumalauta, you sound like him now!” Hannu yelled.
Magnus lunged off his bed and knocked Hannu off the bed with a flying tackle, landing them on the floor with a thunk.
Hannu struggled under Magnus’ thick forearm, then kneed him in the stomach and rolled away.
“Stupid ass, you should learn better defense in the Army. Some Russian will do that to you.”
Magnus pivoted on his stomach and grabbed at Hannu who pulled away with a grunt. Heavy footsteps clumped up the stairs and Eero’s head popped up in the attic from the stairwell, brows thrust together.
“You’re disrupting mother. Any more wrestling and you’ll be moved to the barn.”
“I tried to calm him down, father, but you know Magnus. He should just enlist tonight and get that aggression out.”
Magnus got up and walked past Hannu, pulling back his arm for a quick punch but Eero raised a finger.
“No. Don’t let him get to you, Magnus. For the Lord’s sake, you two, go to sleep.”
He glared at them both for a second before dropping out of sight. As he clumped back down the stairs, Hannu lay back in bed and made a face at Magnus.
“You’re stupid, you know. Father’s going to be happy to send you off to the army.”
Magnus shook his head in return.
“And you’re stupid times ten, thinking you can read your way out of service. You’ll be digging ditches with me this summer whether you like it or not.”
Hannu huffed once and pulled his blanket over his shoulder.
© Peter Soutowood 2010