Finnish North American Literature Association
Nelson Brothers: Finnish American Radicals. Mendocino, CA: Mendocino County
Historical Society and the Mendocino County Museum in association with the
Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota, 2005.
Nelson Brothers: Finnish American Radicals
By Beth L. Virtanen, PhD
Allan Nelson writes a moving account of the lives of two Red Finns, Enoch and
Arvid Nelson, who were born in California and grew up in Mendocino County,
California, in the early part of the last century. These young men were committed
to the communist ideals of a workers’ utopia, where workers were paid fairly and
lived respectable lives, rather than enduring the living hell that we have come to
know through the histories of mining, logging and sweatshops in which the working
classes have toiled throughout the history of the US.
The author, son of Arvid, and nephew to his uncle Enoch, can not be cited for
ideological sympathy for his subjects, as the story is told without a misleading
fervor. Instead, Allan Nelson, a career diplomat in the American Foreign service,
puts a human face to an era in American history that deserves our attention and
which has not been chronicled as a human event peopled with individuals who
yearned and aspired until now.
The Nelson Brothers is supported by the Immigration History Research Center at
the University of Minnesota, the Mendocino County Historical Society, and the
Mendocino County Museum, established and renowned institutions in the field of
immigrant history and its preservation. Because of these connections, the text’s
illustrations draw on family photos as well as historically preserved illustrations and
research documents. As well, its veracity and authenticity is documented.
In the text, Allan Nelson presents socialism on the home front through Arvid’s
continued involvement in the American Socialist movement; Allan Nelson also
draws linkages between the US front and the larger global scene through the story
of Enoch who migrated to the USSR and joined the Russian Socialist Movement
and became enmeshed in its political scenes during the era of the New Economic
Policy in the post-Civil War USSR and in the first of the Soviet five-year plans from
1928 to 1933.
The introduction to the text, written by R. H. Bartley, PhD, and S. Erickson Bartley,
M.A. (also the editors of the text), note that a significant contribution of this work to
scholarly understanding lies in the texts’ insight “into the worldview, shared
commitments and social relationships that bound socialist-minded “Red” Finns
together across time and space” (xv). They credit this text with bringing to light the
everyday concerns and aspirations of “Red” Finns, broadening the focus of
historians to include the personalities and the motivations of these people as well
as the support networks that existed for the movement of Finns from the US to the
This text is well done and informative, the kind of work that interests both the
scholar and the history buff for its detail, humanity, and personality. Throughout
the text, the reader feels moved by the hopes and aspirations of both Arvid and
Enoch as they make their way from youth into manhood and beyond, developing
against and in concert with the backdrop of world affairs.
The text was published in 2005 by the Mendocino County Historical Society and
the Mendocino County Museum in association with the Immigration History
Research Center at the University of Minnesota. Check with North Wind Books on
the campus of Finlandia University for your copy.