The most important task of the new government consisted of clearing away the remains of feudalism. The abolition of serfdom and the creation of a free peasantry happened in Georgia between 1864 and 1871, somewhat later than in Russia.
As in Russia this reform was carried out in such a way that the peasant lost land. He only received, in the capacity of proprietor, a small portion of the land to which he was attached as serf. The largest and best part remained with the feudal lords, from whom the peasant was obliged to lease the land, if he wanted to live. In this way the system of small holdings arose, similar to what exists in Ireland and South Italy, which makes any rational agriculture impossible, and yields a scanty living to the countryman.
It was left for the revolution to take the land from the feudal nobles, to provide the poor peasant with land, and to change the leaseholder into a freeholder. This was no socialistic but a middle-class revolution, but the conditions rendered it necessary, and it took place. We Marxians are distinguished from utopian socialists by the fact that we recognise that Socialism is only possible under specific circumstances. What it is incumbent on us to do is always suggested by the circumstances which arise.
The Agrarian Revolution was rendered necessary by a set of circumstances similar to those existing in Russia.
It came to the same end under democracy as under dictatorship. But under democracy the revolution was carried out more peacefully, systematically and consciously, in a less chaotic and disturbing manner, and less to the special advantage of favoured or reckless sections of the peasantry.
The Agrarian Reform was introduced by a decree of the 16th December 1917 of the first provisional government in Transcaucasia (Georgia, Aserbaijan and Armenia) which was formed after its separation from Russia. The Social-Democratic Party of the Transcaucasian Parliament, which met in February, 1918, introduced an Agrarian law which was passed on the 7th March. This was valid for the whole of Transcaucasia. But it was only carried out in Georgia, which soon separated from Aserbaijan and Armenia. The law expropriated every large landowner. No compensation was paid to him, but he was allowed to retain as much land as he could till, with his family, that is a medium-sized peasant holding. The maximum extent of land which a single family could own might not exceed seven dessjatinen (one dessjatin equals two and a half acres) of gardens or vineyards, fifteen dessjatinen of arable land, or forty dessjatinen of pasture land. All estates which exceeded these dimensions are taken into the possession of the State, and form a land reserve.
Well conducted, intensive large-scale cultivation is maintained as far as possible, and is either carried on under the auspices of the State, or devolved upon the local assemblies. The remainder, consisting of gardens and arable land, is used to increase the holdings of poor peasants.
The peasant, who was formerly a tenant, obtains possession of the land which he cultivates. Pasture land is chiefly given up to common usage.
The Act passed on the 7th March, 1918 prescribed that poor peasants needing land could only lease portions of the land reserve from the State. But a new Act, passed on the 29th January, 1919, specified that they could purchase the State land at a moderate price. This is certainly not a Socialistic step, but it was rendered unavoidable by the pressure of the peasants. It was also expected that the peasant, when he became the owner of his land, would more readily make improvements and adopt a rational system of cultivation than when he was a mere tenant. Bolshevism must likewise compound with this settlement. Both Georgia and Russia are now in the same economic stage as was France in the beginning of the Great Revolution. Peasant proprietorship is not, however, completely free in Georgia. In every sale of land, the State has the first right of purchase. In this manner about two million dessjatinen of gardens, and arable land, pastures and woods have been acquired, of which the cultivated land amounts to about half a million dessjatinen. Pasture land is almost one million dessjatinen. In addition, the woods and domains of the old Russian State and of the Czarist families have reverted to the Georgian State, which has thus become possessed of an enormous extent of land. Including woods which formerly belonged to the Russian State or Czarist families, the whole of the forests of Georgia comprises two million dessiatinen), or one-third of the exploitable land of the country, and this land remains in the hands of, and is managed by the Georgian State.
In addition, there are great model undertakings which are either managed by the State or by the local councils, and numerous mineral springs, some of which are equipped with adequate technical apparatus. These also have passed into the possession of the State, which has likewise sequestrated all water power. The latter will become a source of immense wealth in the future. Its average mechanical power is estimated at two million and a quarter horse power, of which only three thousand four hundred are actually exploited. All harbour sites belong to the State, and last, but not least, the revolution has made the State the master of all mineral wealth.
Hitherto the State has not been able to secure the needful staff and machinery to work the mines to advantage itself, but the coalfields of Tkvibuli are directly exploited by the State. Other mines are leased, such as the manganese deposits of Tschiaturi and the copper mines of Allaverdi to a French company, and others in the district of Batoum to a German company (Shuckert).
Nationalisation has not been undertaken so energetically and consciously in the manufacturing industries, as in the mining and agricultural branches. Their present stage of development is little suited to State management. Only isolated undertakings among them have been nationalised, not because of the principle, but for special reasons.
Generally speaking, it may be said that all that can be nationalised under existing conditions has been nationalised, and no further progress can be made.
According to statistics of the Ministry of Labour, there were 73,486 workers engaged in large industrial undertakings in Georgia in 1920. Of these 38,743 (52.7 per cent) were occupied in State undertakings; 20,592 (28 per cent) in municipal, co-operative and local undertakings, and only 14,151 (19.3 per cent) in private undertakings. This will show how insignificant private industry is in Georgia at the present time.
In regard to commerce some export monopolies have been introduced, such as manganese, tobacco, silk, and wool. These are fiscal rather than Socialistic measures, and it remains to be seen how they succeed. For export trade, a State bureaucracy is as unsuitable an agent as is possible; the Georgian bureaucrats are very inexperienced, and the traditions left behind by their predecessors, the Czarist bureaucracy, are the worst possible. The world market is at present, as difficult to survey as ever it was.
To enable Georgia to thrive, it is necessary to open up many new branches in trade as well as in industry. In the state in which the country finds itself, private capital cannot be dispensed with in the establishment of such new branches.
In this economic reconstruction a great part may be played by county councils, communes and co-operative societies, the administrations of which are more flexible and capable of a greater initiative than the lumbering, economic machinery of the State.
The revolution has brought complete self-government to the counties and municipalities of Georgia. This self-government had to be created de novo in place of the centralised, bureaucratic tutelage from above. All experience was lacking, and sometimes the necessary resources. In spite of this, the young institutions have developed a vigorous life, and we have already seen that some large agricultural undertakings have been transferred to the municipalities. The provincial assemblies have also established their own dispensaries, and mills, spinhouses and other undertakings for working-up and completing the raw products of the province. In addition, draining and irrigation works have been taken in hand by them. Likewise, the regulation of the medical service. The twenty-one assemblies are combined in a union, which holds congresses for the exchange of experiences, and the collection of information. The Union has appointed a committee of experts which overlook the individual undertakings of the municipality, and tender advice.
These institutions are too new to allow a decisive judgment to be passed on them, but a healthy life pulses though them, and the course they have followed is already full of promise.
The above applies equally to the co-operative societies. They are depreciated by many Socialists, owing to the fact that they are represented by the advocates of harmony as a panacea to cure the evils of Capitalism. This is nonsense. The great capitalist monopolies can be dealt with only by the power of the State when it is directed by the proletariat. In those spheres where the monopolistic character of capital has scarcely made itself felt, the production carried on by organisations of consumers can create socialistic conditions of production, if these consumers' organisations are dominated by the socialist outlook, and thus are in the hands of proletarians conscious of their part in the class struggle.
In this sense the consumers’ co-operative societies may become of special importance in countries where industry is as yet undeveloped, but where a class-conscious proletariat already exists. In such places the co-operative societies may take in the peasantry, which has not yet become consciously antagonistic to the proletariat, as in Western Europe, and make its purchasing power of service in building up the co-operative industry which will arise in competition with the capitalist industry, and tends to restrict and moderate the influence of the latter ever workers and consumers.
In such a country as Russia the co-operative societies may assume unsuspected importance for the proletarian class-struggle, and the establishment of Socialism. This also holds good for Georgia. Its co-operative organisations were first formed in the Czarist period, but only since the revolution have they been able to develop freely, and they have expanded rapidly.
Already in May 1916 the consumers’ societies of Transcaucasia (Georgia, Aserbaijan, and Armenia), to the number of 126, united to form a wholesale buying agency. 565 societies were attached to this union in 1917, and in 1919, in Georgia alone, there were 989 societies, with about 300,000 members.
The Union of Co-operative Societies began to produce on its own account in 1919. A silk factory is established, a sausage factory, engineering works, which turn out agricultural implements; then vegetable and fruit preserving factories, and finally a printing-press.
None of these undertakings works at a loss, and most of them yield a surplus.
It is all to the good that the co-operative societies have proceeded slowly and cautiously in laying the foundations of their productive activities. The stormy movement, which corresponds to the revolutionary temperament and is in place when hostile positions are to be captured, is not advantageous in the founding of economic organisations.
In this case it is necessary to make careful preparation to be sure of the ground before advancing, and not to go farther than is allowed by the available resources. In economics it is not the same as in war, where a vigorous offensive often obtains the best result, but not in every case. The Bolshevist outlook, which envisages the socialistic reorganisation of the processes of production as a problem in military tactics, is generally doomed to failure. In the economic domain over-hasty procedure always leads to disasters, which may sometimes jeopardise the whole movement, and entails the buying of experience very dearly.
The Georgian methods of socialisation are, with all their energy, quite free from over-haste and the danger of reaction. Thanks to the fact that they are based on democracy, they have kept clear of that species of State and Barrack Socialism, which imagines that social production can be introduced by rigid centralisation of the entire productive forces, and their subjection to the dictatorship of a small committee, excluding all self-government.
Our Georgian comrades know that many roads lead to Socialism as well as to Rome. The problem of social production may be attacked from many sides, and State control forms only one of those starting points. Finally, socialistic production is impossible without the fullest development of the capabilities of the workers, which can be attained only by the complete liberty of political parties, trade unions, co-operative societies, the municipalities, and provinces. The stretching of all these institutions upon the Procrustean bed of an all-oppressive and all-reaching centralised dictatorship means death to that kind of Socialism which signifies the emancipation of the proletariat. The latter Socialism is what we should aim at.
Democracy, and that alone, can provide for the complete liberty and possibilities of development of the workers, individually and as a class.
The Communists think that they are uttering deep wisdom when they speak of “formal democracy.“ They teach us that the equality of citizens under democracy is but a formal equality, as economic inequality is not thereby removed. That the mere casting of a vote is an empty form, as the economic relations of power are not thereby disturbed. We knew all this: quite well at a time when the present Communists were still in their cradles, but it has not prevented us from agitating for democracy. For it spells freedom of investigation, of discussion, of propaganda; the freedom of public meeting, and of organisation; the fullest participation in the self-government of municipalities and provinces, in the legislation of the State, and in the control and determination of the Government.
Only a fool can assert that all these liberties and possibilities are of a merely formal nature, and make no difference to the position, the capacities, and strength of the proletariat, and the labouring masses.
In lucid moments the Communists themselves recognise the importance of democracy and believe it will be of use to them, as they say that the proletariat needs democracy – which in their eyes is an instrument of capitalist domination – only so long as the capitalist class rules. So soon, however, as the proletariat has captured the power, democracy ceases, according to Communist doctrines, to be a means for the development of proletarian strength and capacity. Then it becomes a danger for the proletariat; henceforth the proletariat must renounce all independence, and submit itself blindly to the absolute domination of the Government which it has placed in power. According to this conception, the proletariat needs democracy only when it is in the fighting stage, but when it is successful it requires an Absolutism, which is different from Czardom only by its communist enlightenment. It may well be wondered how such a doctrine could find disciples outside Russia. But it should not be forgotten that the enlightened Absolutism of Russia in former times understood how to arouse enthusiasm for its social institutions and actions among naive spirits in Western Europe, and especially in France.
If a Diderot and a Voltaire could be inspired by Catherine the Second, why should not the far less witty Cachin and Loriot perceive in the dictatorship of the Moscow party leaders – over Europe the way to the emancipation of the proletariat and the progress of mankind.
Last updated on 1.3.2017