Thus Georgia lacks nothing to make her not only one of the most beautiful, but also one of the richest countries in the world. But the material position of the Georgians does not depend merely upon the richness of the land in which they live; it is also determined by the manner in which they have made use of it, and the relations they are obliged to enter into with their neighbours. In other words, it depends not only upon the natural, but also upon the social and economic conditions in which they exist. And during recent decades these conditions have been anything but brilliant in Georgia.
For about a thousand years Georgia was indeed favoured by its geographical position, in that it came into contact with Greece through the Black Sea.
The soil of many Greek States was too stony and sterile to support their growing populations. As seafaring progressed the Greeks, learned to fetch the corn which they needed from Southern Russia. Thus they came into contact with the coasts of the Black Sea. They were also attracted to Georgia by the gold which was then found there. As early as the eighth century B.C. colonies were planted by Greek towns along the Black Sea. The Georgians became acquainted with Greek civilisation at a time when the Germans, or their predecessors, living in primeval woods, stood on no higher plane of civilisation than the savage Indians of North America when they were discovered by Europeans.
Even more than by gold, the Greeks must have been attracted to Georgia because it provided so good a route, from the West to the East, to the then rich territories of Persia and Central Asia. Eastern and Western civilisation met in Georgia, and stimulated its intellectual development.
But highways to rich countries attract not only the merchant, but also the warrior, whether he be plunderer or conqueror. In the degree in which the connection between West and East, Greece and Central Asia, developed in Georgia, the clashes of Western and Eastern armies became more frequent, and Georgia suffered devastation from being made a theatre of war. But it always recovered speedily, so long as it remained a highway of world commerce.
When, however, the Turks put an end to the Byzantine Empire, conquered not only Asia Minor and Constantinople, but also the Balkan Peninsula, and dominated the Black Sea, Georgia was cut off from Europe.
Henceforth the trade route from West to East was across the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. At the same time, Persia and Central Asia fell to pieces. Georgia lost more and more the capacity to make good the consequences of the everlasting state of war. Its civilisation, its prosperity, and even its population rapidly diminished. The only thing that persisted throughout the perpetual feuds on its soil was the feudal exploitation of the masses of peasants by numerous petty princes; an exploitation which became more oppressive in the degree that the peasant became poorer.
The consolidation of Russia brought about a change. The struggle of the West against the robber nomads and conquerors who had penetrated into Europe during the middle ages was first successfully undertaken by Russia.
First the Tartars, and then the Turks, were pressed back by the Moscow Czars who established their own authority over the territory thus vacated. At the end of the eighteenth century they had been driven back as far as the Caucasus.
In 1783, Catherine the Second concluded with the Georgian King, Heraklius II, an agreement under which the latter accepted the protection of the Empress. This protection did not save Georgia from being again plundered by the Persians, but it prepared the way for the complete subjugation of the country by the Russians, who annexed Georgia as a province to their Empire in 1801.
The internal feuds and the hostile invasions now gradually ceased. Still more important was the fact that Georgia was once more able to enter into relations with Europe. But the representatives of European civilisation were practically confined to Russian officials, generals and aristocrats, who brought from Europe what they themselves had assimilated, the external gloss which did not always sufficiently hide Asiatic barbarism. The feudal oppression and exploitation was not lightened, but even made heavier by the military and bureaucratic regime.
Meanwhile the Russian autocracy did not remain completely unchallenged. The economic development created in the Russian Empire revolutionary sections, which eventually became strong enough to give battle to Absolutism, although, at first, only by means of underground warfare.
In many of the Border States, which formerly had known a separate political life, the struggle against Russian Absolutism became especially intensive owing to the fact that it signified not merely the breaking of the fetters of Absolutism and Feudalism, but also the casting off of the foreign tyranny.
This was the case in Poland and also in Georgia. In these countries all classes felt the pressure of the foreign bureaucracy in the most severe form. In Poland the peasants were played off against the large landowners, and sometimes favoured, but nothing like this happened in Georgia. Those who were not masters of the Russian language were everywhere degraded and excluded from all offices. Even in the factories of Georgia a worker who had not undergone an examination in Russian was liable to be refused employment. The growth of Georgian resistance to the foreign yoke was assisted, for a time, by the practice of the Russian Government in banishing to Georgia, as well as to Siberia, its subversive subjects, such as Poles. This practice did not last long, as Georgia commenced to mutiny in the middle of the last century. It was then the turn of the Georgians themselves to be banished, and they shared this fate in the fullest measure. The struggle against Czardom had to be carried on with the aid of the ideas of the more highly developed West. Not only the officials, the military and the aristocrats, but also the revolutionaries of Russia drew their knowledge and methods of thinking from Western Europe.
This occurred at a time when the revolutionary movement of Russia received such an accession of strength that the Liberals had become Conservative, and only the Socialists represented revolutionary thought. Thus the Russian Revolutionaries became Socialists, in spite of the weakness of the proletariat and its class struggle in the Russian Empire. And just as the capitalists of Russia chose the more perfected forms of European technique for the industry which they founded, so the Socialists of Russia chose the most perfected form of Socialism, the Marxian.
This also applied to Georgia. There only for a short time the Opposition movement was led by the aristocracy, as in Poland, and possessed a purely nationalist character. At the time when serfdom was abolished in Russia an echo was heard in Georgia in the form of peasant unrest, which was suppressed with bloodshed.
The Opposition movement first became strong and systematic when industrial capital was attracted to Georgia by the building of a railway from Tiflis to Baku (commenced in 1880); by the increasing significance of petroleum production in Baku, and its growing exports of that article. Although capitalism was still in an undeveloped stage, Socialism of the Marxian kind took root in Georgia at this time. In the ten years between 1890 and 1900 the Socialist movement rapidly gained in strength.
Its first champions were the practical organisers and agitators Sylvester Jibladse and N. Tcheidze, with whom was soon associated the publicist and theoretician, Noe Jordania, who did even more for Georgia than Plechanoff did for Russia, as he remained in the country instead of working from a place of exile, and as he united the talents of the practical fighter with the activities of the thinker and publicist.
The first strike in Tiflis took place in the year 1896, and the First of May was celebrated in that town from 1899 onwards.
In the following year, on May 1st, 1900, a workers’ festival was arranged, at which about five hundred workers were present. The most hopeful outlook prevailed, and for the first time revolutionary songs were heard in the Georgian language, in the midst of banners with the portraits of Marx, Lassalle and Engels.
In the same year the Socialist organisations of Georgia joined up with the Social-Democratic Party of Russia, which was formed at that time.
The Georgian Socialists did not desire that local particularism should cut them off from the mass of the struggling proletariat of Russia. From the very first they attached importance to the ideal of international solidarity as opposed to Georgian nationalism. Without depreciating the demand of the Georgian nation for self-determination, they believed this would be most effectually promoted within the sphere of the Russian Social-Democracy, which stood for universal self-determination. Unlike the Polish Socialists, they entered the International as Russian Social Democrats.
The International did not include any separate Georgian Social-Democratic Party. By adopting this course, however, the Socialists of Georgia became involved in all the errors and confusions through which Russian Socialism has passed.
In contrast to Georgia, where the Proletarian movement has nearly always remained true to Marxian Social-Democracy, the Socialist movement of Russia has been split into various sections.
On the one hand was the Social-Democracy, with tendencies in line with the thought of Western Europe, and postulating an advanced stage of capitalism as the indispensable preliminary to Socialism; and, on the other hand, was the Social Revolutionary Party with a specific Russian Socialism, which it sought to base rather upon the peasants and the vestiges of village communism than upon the proletariat. These doctrines could scarcely find any support in Georgia, as in that country village communism had completely disappeared.
An antagonism soon arose within the ranks of the Russian Social-Democracy between divergent conceptions of Marxism. The first conception, which may be called that of Western Europe, emphasised the importance of the economic movement, and the other, or Russian conception perceived in force not merely the midwife but the creator of a new society. The first conception involved, in particular, the development of the self-consciousness and the independent activity of the proletariat, and consequently favoured Democracy, which alone formed the groundwork for this development; and the other conception saw in the proletariat merely a tool to be wielded by a small and resolute organisation of Socialists. Those holding the first condition remained true to the Marxian method, which they consistently employed in spite of all the difficulties which arose from the economic and political backwardness of the country; those holding the other conception began by substituting the dictatorship of a conspiracy society for democracy within the party organisation; and from this point they tended to move farther away from the Marxian method towards the pre-Marxian ideas of Blanqui and Weitling. The more the members of this section deviated from Marxian methods, the more obstinately they clung to Marxian phrases the better to exploit the repute in which the name of Marx was hold in Russia, and they expended all their energies upon learning by heart such phrases as suited them, which they interpreted in their own way. In place of Marxian science they set up Marxian scholastics.
In the early days of this split, which occurred in 1903 the Georgian Social Democrats ranged themselves on the side that was dominated by the Marxian and Western European outlook, that is, on the side of the Mensheviks.
They soon became the strongest element in this section, to which they remained absolutely loyal. In Russia, on the other hand, there were constant fluctuations in the relative strength of the Menshevists and the Bolshevists. Yet the general tendency of the Russian proletarian movement showed itself to be very favourable to Bolshevism. Certainly the Bolshevists were the worst Marxians, but their preponderance was to be explained on Marxist lines by the special conditions in which the class struggle was carried on in Russia. In Georgia, and also in Poland, which stood in national opposition to Russia, the special Russian form of Marxism found no foothold. The Georgian Social-Democrats were the picked troops of Russian Menshevism. Consequently, from the commencement Georgia appeared to Bolshevism as the enemy deserving the most bitter hatred, and to-day it has become the hereditary enemy. After the first Russian Revolution, Georgia was the country which constantly returned the largest Menshevist majority in the Duma Elections since 1906, and which furnished many of the Menshevist martyrs.
Scarcely one of the leading comrades in Tiflis whom I have recently met has not made acquaintance with Siberia.
Georgia also provided the Russian Party with a series of its best leaders and representatives. Jordania, Ramishvily, Tsereteli, Japaridze, Tcheidse, Lomtatidze, Gegetchkori, Macharadze and Tchenkeli played in Petrograd a political role not less important than in Tiflis.
The Social-Democratic fraction of the last Russian Duma before the October Revolution chose the same Tcheidse to be its leader. It voted against war credits and adhered to the Zimmerwald Conference. It was Tcheidse who read the Zimmerwaldian manifesto in the Duma. And when the 1917 Revolution created the Workers’ Councils, Tcheidse was chosen President of the Petrograd Workers’ Council – a product of the confidence reposed in him by the Russian proletariat through his parliamentary activity.
By the side of Tcheidse in the Petrograd Workers’ Council was the Georgian Tsereteli, who had hastened there from his Siberian place of exile.
The Menshevists were not able to assert themselves in Russia. They were too weak to carry out their peace policy in opposition to the war policy of the Cadets, in coalition with whom they had formed a ministry, of which Tsereteli was a member; and, they could not decide to support the Bolshevist agitation, which aimed at the dissolution of the Army before the conclusion of peace, and the complete sacrifice of Russia to German, Austrian and Turkish invasion, plundering and conquest.
The middle course which the Menshevists would have pursued was well conceived. But as is so often the case in history when great and irreconcilable oppositions come into conflict, those who worked for the final result which was given by the parallelogram of forces were paralysed by the clash of the antagonisms, and only after the strength of the two extremes had been exhausted was this object of the middle party to be finally attained.
Thus the Menshevists were soon eclipsed in Russia, but not in Georgia. In that country there were no Cadets, and no Bolshevists of importance. The majority of the Socialists of Georgia, supported by Jordania, had been unfriendly to the Coalition policy, and demanded a purely Socialist ministry. The Revolution brought the Social-Democracy of Georgia, as a compact and resolute party, to a dominant position, which was not seriously contested from any quarter in the country.
But it was a bad heritage into which this party entered. The immediate situation was desperate, in view of the masses of Russian soldiers, filled with Bolshevist hatred against Menshevist Georgia, which in their retreat from the yet more hostile and ferocious Turks, broke up into plundering bands and swarmed into Georgia.
Apart from this, the economic position of the country was grievous in the extreme, and its enduring power was slight. Even before the war it had suffered considerably from the neglect of its agriculture and its industry, and the inadequacy of its means of communication. And to this was now added the devastation of four years of war, and protracted isolation from the industry and civilisation of Europe.
Last updated on 28.2.2017