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Finnish Ideologies of Socialism and Communism in the early 20th Century


Politics and religion had always been important to the Finns for it shaped and controlled their lives. It’s no surprise then that it was also an important part of their new life in the small Finnish communities of Brantwood, Clifford and Tripoli and surrounding areas. 


Finns were socialistic by nature, that is ~ they were accustomed to working together for the benefit of their communities. The socialist ideology of the early 20th century spurred an effort to improve the condition of the working class and the poor farmers.


As the Lutheran church in America grew, it became apparent to many Finns that it was working against the Finnish immigrants by supporting the large industries. Socialism was viewed quite differently prior to World War I than it was in later years and had the support of many who wanted better wages and working conditions.  As the world evolved and changed, so did the ideology.


In February 1907 a local branch of the Social Democratic Party was organized in Brantwood with six members and in May a Finnish branch was organized with fourteen members. The Party’s primary focus was improving working conditions and protecting worker’s rights so people could earn a better living.  By June, the erection of a large hall had begun just a little south of town. The Prentice Calumet advertised a grand picnic to be held at the hall on July 4th hosted by three local branches of the Social Democratic Parties.


The newspaper boasted the success of the July 4th picnic as follows: “The greatest number of Socialists ever gathered together in Price county at one time attended the picnic here on the Fourth. Altho the day was somewhat rainy, over two hundred persons turned out and made the day a success. The program lasted for six hours and was good throughout. An unusual sight was the grand parade, one hundred strong, who made the three-mile march  in good order, singing all the way, with two large red flags and the stars and stripes heading the procession. Over $30 was cleared.”


In 1941, John I. Kolehmainen and George W. Hill interviewed many Brantwood Finns while doing research for their book, A Haven in the Woods The Story of the Finns in Wisconsin (Arno Press, 1979).  Although they wrote about several Finnish communities in Wisconsin, the book gave a glimpse of the mind-set of the Brantwood Finns who helped to shape the community during the first half of the 20th century. Quotations in the following paragraphs are from their book unless otherwise noted.


Even before the Great Depression slammed into America, Finnish immigrants were working hard to make a better life for themselves in the land of opportunity. Three working class leaders in the world: Eugene V Debs, William D Haywood and Lenin shared their visions of a socialistic commonwealth “in which the state would efficiently and benevolently operate the economy for the benefit of all” and Finns nationwide responded to the ideology. 


The movement began as early as 1905 when socialist organizers poured into the state “proclaiming the gospel of freedom”.  The Wisconsin Finns disagreed violently among themselves whether Socialism was a red ogre or a gallant knight-errant.” Brantwood Finns were as deeply affected by differences in opinion as were Finns in the larger cities in Wisconsin.


Religious leaders feared the socialist ideas and tried to scare Finns away from it with threats of fire and brimstone. It created a separation within communities as some Finns remained loyal to the Lutheran church who supported capitalist ideals and activities while others turned their backs to it. In some communities this separation led Finnish immigrants to be separated into “churched Finns” and “un-churched Finns”. The ‘un-churched’ Finns organized and built the socialist halls of Brantwood and Clifford.


In 1908, an article published in the Prentice Calumet newspaper on April 10th attempted to clarify the differences between the Socialist and the Communist party ideals:


“People have Socialism and Communism mixed. Communism stands for the ownership of all things by all the people; all things to be produced in common and used in common. Socialism stands for public ownership of public property, that is, all things the people depend on, which is the machinery of production and distribution, and private ownership of private property, which is anything used privately. If the government owned the trusts, with pure democratic control, we would have social democracy which is socialism.”


As the socialist movement grew within the Finnish communities across the nation, the Finns built one of the largest labor movements in the world.


Brantwood_Socialist_Hall.jpgBy the autumn of 1912, another local branch of the Socialist Party built a hall in Brantwood that opened on October 6th. In addition to an address to the community members by Carl D. Thompson, the Social Democratic candidate for governor of the state, the Brantwood Echo Band provided music for a grand ball.


The Socialist movement spread to every Finnish community in the state however, the Brantwood-Clifford community seemed to be one of the strongest for several years. In 1912 and 1914, the Socialist Party won every town office position. 


The Finnish Socialists enjoyed entertaining activities as much as political ones. Their political meetings frequently included Finnish songs, recitations, games and dancing along with dramatic plays that fascinated community members and drew much community support. 


The Finns involved in these activities were deeply focused on preserving their Finnish culture and language to the extent that they were often criticized for their lack of focus on the class struggle. These Finns became known as “Hall Socialists” or the “Hall Finns”.


All across the Midwest disagreements over the level of socialism raged throughout 1914. The Proletarian Revolution was born of the Russian Revolution and moved many Finns toward Communism. Superior’s Finnish newspaper, the Työmies, “…took the lead in calling for the abandonment of the American Socialist Party and the adoption of the Communist program”.


In 1920 and 1921, twelve of the Wisconsin socialist parties turned to the Communist party with the intent to further their working class struggle with the new power they thought to acquire with the Red Party.  They were unaware of the severity of the newer communistic ideology.


As the communist movement heated up, many Finns realized even more that they were less interested in the proletarian movement and more interested in nurturing their communities with cultural and social endeavors while maintaining their own language.


When they realized the Communist Party would take over their businesses, halls and newspapers and absorb them into a greater movement they realized the blatant violation of their social democratic procedures and hesitated.


This hesitation allowed many Finns to reconsider what it was they really wanted for themselves and their families and caused them to change their minds about joining the Communist Party and signing membership cards. However, several Finns remained committed to the Communist party well into the 21st century.


To learn more about the Socialist and Communist movements as well as the Emigration of Finns to Karelia, click on the titles of the following articles.



Disillusionment on the Grandest of Scales:
Finnish-Americans in the Soviet Union, 1917-1939
By: Emily Weidenhamer


Price County Finnish-American Emigrants to Soviet Karelia in 1930s

  The Canadian Finns in Soviet Karelia in the 1930s by Reino Kero  


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last edited

24 Apr 2011 

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