We have seen that Georgia participated in the March Revolution of 1917 as a part of the Russian Empire. Then came the Bolshevist Dictatorship, which at once began to exercise a repulsive influence on the Russian Border States. This movement spread to Georgia, which declared its independence on May 26th, 1918. Its Government was Socialistic.
But this does not mean that a Socialist mode of production could be introduced into the country. The economic foundation for this transition existed in Georgia less than in Russia, where large-scale production had notably developed, in spite of the agrarian nature of the country.
The Socialistic character of the regime after the revolution in Georgia consisted in the fact that the country was ruled by its industrial proletariat. If one likes, the phrase Dictatorship of the Proletariat can be used in this connection.
Even more than in Russia, was it the dictatorship of a minority. But quite different from Russia, it has been carried out on the basis of democracy, and without the exercise of any terrorism, as all classes have assented to it.
There was grumbling from all classes, even from those who ruled. This is not to be surprised at in view of the already indicated lack, on the one hand, of bread, and on the other, of industrial products, clothes, and tools; and as we shall see, of houses. But no party has arisen which professes to be able to cope with this condition of scarcity more effectively than the party till February last in power.
Thus the discontent had nowhere assumed the shape of an attempt to overturn the democratic government. What did appear in this guise emanated not from the country itself, but was fed by foreign money, and, in spite of the most lavish subsidies to the Communist Press and to Communist branches, gained no influence.
What is the explanation of the extraordinary phenomenon of a dictatorship of the proletariat on a democratic basis in an agrarian country without any industry worthy of the name?
The basis of all politics is the struggle of classes. Not every class, however, is able to maintain an independent policy. The three great leading classes in modern society, each of which follows it special class policy, are the receivers of ground rents, profits on capital, and the wages of labour. They form the three great fundamental parties, which we find in every modern country; that of the large, land-owners, or Conservatives, that of the Capitalists or Liberals, and that of the Proletariat or Socialists.
Between these three classes there are intermediate sections, which are not capable of following any class policy; partly because the conditions of work isolate their members too much from each other and from the seat of politics, which is especially the case with the peasants; partly because their intermediate position touches various class interests at the same time, as is the case with the small handicraftsmen and likewise with the peasants. They live from the labour of their hands, like the wage workers, and yet receive an income from their property, like the capitalist or the landowner. They are neither mere workers nor mere capitalists or landowners, and at times they feed with the one class and at other times with the other classes.
As the third of these intermediate sections, we have to mention the Intellectuals, composed of such diverse elements that at the most they can only feel professional interests, such as those of doctors, lawyers, professors, engineers, but never a common class interest. Apart from their professional interests, they always become the champions of the interests of another class, which appear to them to be synonymous with general social progress. Some attach themselves to the landowners, others to the capitalists, and again others to the Proletariat. And it is the same with the peasants and lower middle-class. The attempt to create special parties of the peasants or the small middle-class have always ended by such parties becoming subservient to alien class interests.
Now in Georgia we find the peculiar phenomenon that of the three great leading classes only one exists. After the Agrarian Reform of 1918 there were no large landowners in the country. There is also no capitalist class of any importance. The nucleus of an energetic and independent capitalist class has always been bound up with industrial capital. This condition has almost completely been wanting in Georgia. Money and trading capital is found to be represented there more strongly, but this is mostly in the hands of foreigners, and cannot therefore enter directly into the struggle of parties.
Thus the proletariat remains as the only class which is capable of conducting an independent and leading policy. But this capability is not possessed by the entire proletariat of Georgia. We find in Georgia two sharply separated kinds of the Proletariat, an oriental and a modern. In the Georgian proletariat we perceive distinctly that here we stand on the boundaries of two very different worlds.
The oriental proletariat deserves in reality the name of a vagabond proletariat. It lives from hand to mouth in the greatest poverty, but by no means only from begging and stealing. The number of beggars is great. Yet among the oriental type of the proletariat there are many who live from the labour of their hands. Being possessed of no implements of production, and often without any technical training, they earn their scanty bread mostly as carriers. Corn, wood, vegetables, and other products of the country are transported to the towns in oxen-spanned wagons and on the backs of asses. Within the town the means of transport are mostly the backs of men. In Tiflis a furniture van is unknown. When a family changes its dwelling 60 to 80 muschas (carriers) are hired, who carry the furniture from house to house, piece by piece. Even pianos are removed in this manner.
This class of proletarians is not organised, and is politically indifferent. They are proletarians of the same kind as we find in antiquity, for example, in Rome. They are without the capacity to engage in independent politics.
In sharp contrast to them is the proletariat composed of the wage-workers of the large undertakings. The important difference between the two kinds of the Proletariat, of which we have hitherto only read in books, can be seen in Tiflis.
The wage-workers in the large undertakings are quite steeped in modern ideas; above all, the railway workers, who are the proletarian elite in economically backward countries, where Capitalism has commenced to penetrate. The railway is responsible for carrying the modes of thought and the struggles of the modern proletariat to the farthest corners of the earth.
I also remarked scarcely any difference from their prototypes in the West among the other members of this class of the proletariat whom I learned to know, such as printers, metal workers, employees in the electricity works, tobacco factories, and commercial clerks. They were well disciplined and had learned to think socialistically, but also on economic lines, so that Socialism does not appear to them as a mere question of power, but also, one of economic conditions.
They are organised in Trade Unions as well as in the Social-Democratic Party. Of course, such Trade Unions are very young. During the first Revolution numerous unions were formed in Georgia, as in Russia, but in the reactionary period they were mercilessly suppressed, more so than in Russia itself, as Georgia always returned Social-Democratic deputies to the Duma. Only after the March Revolution of 1917 was it possible for Trade Unions to be formed again in Georgia.
The printers were the first to make use of this opportunity. They were followed by the commercial employees. Forty-one Trade Unions, with 29,000 members, were represented at the first Trade Union Congress in Tiflis at the end of December 1917. At the next Congress in April 1919 there were 85 Trade Unions, and at the end of 1920 there were 113, with 64,000 members. The great majority of the wage workers of Georgia, numbering about 100,000, of whom 73,000 are employed in large undertakings, are consequently organised in Trade Unions. The Trade Unions are neutral, but 95 per cent of their members belong to the Social-Democratic Party. This party itself has a higher membership (80,000) than the Trade Unions, an unusual circumstance, as, in addition to the Trade Unionists, peasants and intellectuals are represented. The Party controlled four daily papers, five weekly papers and two monthly reviews; the Trade Unions controlled two general Trade Union organs, and the railwaymen had also two special papers. Most of them appeared in both the Georgian and the Russian languages.
The Trade Unions are organised on an industrial basis, and not on vocational lines. Yet this principle is not rigidly applied. In Tiflis they own their own premises, and a theatre and meeting place, the Plechanoff House, which the workers have lately built for themselves, at great sacrifice. The railwaymen own a special building for their union. The tendencies and institutions of the Trade Unions are quite those of Western Europe, but they seemed to me to suffer somewhat from divisions. But a movement which is only three years old would not be perfect. It is perhaps due to the youth of the organisation that the spirit which prevails in it is in no way narrow and professional, but is concerned with the interests of the whole, not merely of the workers, but of society.
This is exhibited, for example, in the attitude of the Trade Unions towards the strike. They regard the strike as the sharpest weapon in the proletarian class struggle. How highly they esteem it is shown by the fact that they demand the establishment of the right to strike in the Constitution. But they are quite clear on the point that this formidable weapon is only to be used in case of direst need.
The present condition of general economic exhaustion appears to them as singularly unsuitable for a strike, which is not urgently called for. It would disturb production, diminish the number of products, and thus increase the suffering of the proletariat. To increase production is the most urgent need. Under these circumstances, the Trade Unions consider piecework and the system of bonuses to be permissible. On their proposal, a Board of Wages was formed as part of the Ministry of Labour, to which workers and masters each nominate ten members. The President of this Board is the Minister of Labour, last winter, M. Eradse. This Board of Wages has to follow the movement of the cost of living and of the wages of labour; to investigate the grievances of workers; to discuss collective agreements and carry them through to a conclusion, and finally to act as mediator in disputes between workers and masters.
This office has hitherto succeeded in averting the outbreak of any open conflict. Since it began to function in May, 1919 the Trade Unions of Georgia have not found it necessary to declare a single strike, although they were hindered from doing so by no prohibition, as in the case of Bolshevist Russia. In this respect Georgia is unique.
The avoidance of strikes was made easier, apart from the exertions of the Board of Wages, and such Labour protection as the eight hours day, by the Government’s care for the sustenance of the worker. Vital necessaries such as bread and salt, at low prices, were provided for every worker, and every member of a family receives a certain quantity. The difference between the price paid by the Government and the price at which the goods are sold was made up by the employer with whom the worker was engaged.
This peculiar system of a sliding-scale of wages which varies with the changes in the prices of the necessaries of life has been found to work quite well.
The wage workers are the only organised and resolute class in Georgia. They know exactly what they want. They know not only their special interests, but also the common interests of the community, which they allow to guide them.
This enables them to exercise an influence on the best sections of the numerous intellectuals, such as teachers, doctor, engineers, artists – Tiflis is a very artistic town – lawyers, etc. The revolutionary section of the intellectuals was inclined to Socialism during the struggle against Czarism.
Among the one hundred and two members of the Social-Democratic Party in the Constituent Assembly are thirty-two workers, the rest being intellectuals; twenty teachers, fourteen journalists, thirteen lawyers, seven doctors, three engineers and thirteen officials.
Nearly all of them are elected by peasants, who form over eighty per cent of the population. The Social-Democratic deputies are dearly eighty per cent (one hundred and two out of one hundred and thirty) of the whole house.
In the February 1919 elections to the Constituent Assembly the Social-Democrats received eighty-two per cent of all votes cast in the country, on a total poll of seventy-six per cent.
In the towns they received seventy-two per cent on a total poll of only fifty-two per cent. The heavy peasant vote for the Social-Democrats is partly explained by the system of small holdings which prevails in Georgia. Most of the peasants cannot live from agriculture alone; many of them must seek to supplement their scanty income by casual labour. It was not difficult to accustom this class to proletarian modes of thought. Add to this the fact that the Social-Democracy carried on a powerful agitation for the expropriation of the large estates. Thus the industrial wage earners have shown themselves the best champions of the small peasants.
The Socialists would not have gained their dominating influence over the minds of the revolutionary peasantry if they had been divided. They were only able to prevail by means of democracy, and without terrorism, because they were united, and formed an overwhelming Menshevist majority. In this respect Georgia was fundamentally different from Russia.
Even the Russian Socialists could have dominated the minds of the peasants and governed by means of democracy, if they had been united, or if the Bolshevists could have resolved to form a coalition government, with the Menshevists and the entire party of the Social Revolutionaries.
It was not to hold down the capitalists that they needed to abrogate all the democratic rights of the masses of the people, but to hold down the other Socialists. In order to hide the real state of affairs, the Bolshevists have promptly labelled the Menshevists and Social Revolutionaries of the right as lackeys of the bourgeoisie and counter-revolutionists.
Thus the Bolshevist regime has been based on a lie from the commencement, and that has become decisive in determining the direction of its further policy.
Quite different conditions and quite another policy in Georgia have permitted the small minority of the industrial wage workers, on the basis of democracy, and without exercising any terrorism, to capture the political power of the country, and successfully to maintain their government without any serious internal opposition until February of this year.
Last updated on 1.3.2017