The Social-Democrats of Georgia are pacifists in the sense that they abhor war and avoid it as much as possible, but not in the sense that they refuse to meet force with force and deliver themselves unarmed into the hands of their opponents, merely seeking to influence them by words. Where it is threatened by force, Democracy also requires to defend itself by force.
Thus, when the Social Democracy of Georgia became a power, it was obliged to provide itself with weapons. In the Revolution of 1905, the Georgian Social-Democrats urged the arming of the proletariat, but events taught them greater wisdom. The possession of arms by the proletariat causes some of them to have the feelings of bandits, and leads them to individual acts of violence and crime. The question once again became acute in the Revolution of 1917.
When the delirious joy which marked the beginning was followed by a soberness, many comrades, even in Georgia, discussed the question of how the Revolution could be defended against a threatened armed attack from the counter revolution. It thus appeared to be necessary to arm the working class, but not all workers without distinction.
Only tried and disciplined comrades should receive arms.
The workers’ guard was founded on the 5th September, 1917.
At the beginning it was of slight account, as it lacked arms. In December the necessity and likewise the possibility of arming a larger body of men arose out of a conflict between the workers of Tiflis and the soldiers’ council there.
In Tiflis, like everywhere else in Russia, a workers’ council had been formed, and Noe Jordania, afterwards President of the Republic, chosen as president.
The whole power in Tiflis devolved on the workers’ council, when, after the Bolshevist coup d’état, the Russian armies dissolved, and came swarming over the Turkish border. Georgia, whose language they did not understand, appeared to the Russian soldiers as a foreign country. Naturally inclined to plunder, as is every army whose discipline has disappeared, they were all the more eager for plunder in a district where they felt they were foreigners. Moreover, as the soldiers were dominated by the spirit of Bolshevism, which at that time meant the complete surrender of the country to the hostile armies, they were not favourably disposed towards the Georgian Menshevists, who did not consider the senseless retreat from the by no means victorious Turks to be necessary, however much they were convinced of the need for an immediate armistice and peace. As a matter of fact, the Menshevist Transcaucasian Commissariat succeeded in concluding an armistice with the Turks on the 18th December.
At the beginning of December the disorganised masses of returning soldiers threatened the security of the population of Tiflis to the utmost. In order to protect the population, the Tiflis Workers’ Council demanded arms for the workers’ guard. The arms could be obtained only from the Arsenal, which was in the hands of the returned soldiers. The Menshevist Workers’ Council requested of the Bolshevist Soldiers’ Council the delivery of weapons for arming the workers’ guard. This the Soldiers’ Council refused.
Thereupon, the Workers’ Council decided to help themselves and to capture the Arsenal. It was a hazardous enterprise. Only 225 armed men were at its disposal, whereas the Tiflis garrison numbered 20,000 men. Nevertheless, the stroke was successful. In the early morning of the 12th December they attacked the Arsenal and captured it after a short struggle, in which only one soldier fell. This success revealed the great war weariness, apathy and demoralisation which had overtaken the Russian Army, as well as the fearlessness and defensive capacity of the Georgian proletariat. We have already noted that all sections of the population of Georgia are characterised by the economic carelessness and love of enjoyment which is a heritage of Feudalism. To this heritage must also be added a striking valour in the best sense of the word.
After the 26th May, the date of the Declaration of Independence, the 12th December is celebrated in Georgia as a national holiday. On that day the Georgian Social-Democracy captured the arms to defend itself against subsequent attacks.
The Workers’ Guards now disposed of sufficient arms, and were able to organise themselves in battalions. Their name varied; first they called themselves the revolutionary militia, then the Red Guard, and finally the People’s Guard.
From Tiflis they spread themselves over the whole of Georgia. They constituted a volunteer army of tried Socialists and numbered about 30,000 men.
Only a part of them were armed in time of peace, the majority being on furlough and following their callings. If the Republic had been in danger, they would have been called up by the General Staff, supplied with arms, and allotted to their places.
The constitution of the Guard was democratic. Its affairs were decided by Congresses, to which every 200 men sent a delegate. The Guard belonging to a district selected its officers. Likewise, the General Staff is chosen for one year. Its Supreme Commander was Valike Jugeli, who was the leader in the bold stroke of the 12th December 1917.
The Guard was not under the control of the War Minister, but of the President of the Republic.
The military training of the Guard was zealously fostered, but the troops did not develop a military spirit. The people’s Guards in the barracks remained the same Social-Democratic proletarians as they were outside it, and their interest was occupied, not by military, but by social questions.
The General Staff has formed two sections; one for education, and one for agriculture. The former takes care of the continued education of the guards, the increase both of their civil knowledge and of their technical capabilities. The other section pursues agricultural activities, upon some large estates, which are put at its disposal.
The Austrian Popular Militia also contains, an educational section, but the agricultural section is a special feature of the Georgian Guard. This undertaking is not to be confused with Russian compulsory labour. The Georgian organisation signifies the civilising of militarism, but the Russian organisation is the militarising of civil work. In the People’s Guard, the workers who would prefer to be outside the army are not subjected to military discipline, which would compel them to undertake specific work; but soldiers who would otherwise stay in barracks without occupation are provided with the opportunity of breaking the monotony of an unproductive existence by useful and various activities. Only experience can show whether the Guards can do more productive work on these large estates than as private workers, but even if this should not be the case, they will certainly be able to reduce the cost of their maintenance.
The large estates cover a part of the requirements of the Guards. We have here a very interesting experiment, the extension of which deserves serious consideration. Its maintenance and successful accomplishment in Europe might lend a more reasonable and tolerable aspect to the enormous European armies. It is not a specially socialistic measure it could be accepted by any middle-class government, but if this were done, what would become of the military contractors? How many European Officer Corps would not find employment in useful work below their dignity?
It is not a Socialistic measure to set to work upon State land soldiers who are undergoing their period of training, but it might be of importance for the development of Socialism, as a starting-point for the establishment of one form of Socialist agriculture.
In spite of their pronounced peaceable disposition and employment, the People’s Guard have shown their readiness for fight on every occasion that has arisen. Unfortunately, such occasions have not lacked, as we have seen.
Voluntary armies alone cannot permanently suffice for the Socialist Republic. The spirit of democracy required participation, in military service, of all capable of bearing arms, which was equally reinforced by the necessity for securing the Republic against its mighty external enemies.
Thus, by the side of the People’s Guard, arose the army of general military service. Its definite shape represents a militia, similar to the Swiss militia, and is under the control of the War Minister. In the event of war, the regular army and the volunteer army are united under the same supreme command. In the general conscript army, the War Ministry zealously foster educational activities, and the democratic principle has been widely applied, for the first time, among these troops. Yet in this case, the officers are not chosen by the soldiers, but are appointed by the War Ministry. The majority of the officers are Social-Democrats. As regards the military feeling of the troops and the relations of the separate sections of the army, a reasoned judgment cannot be passed by a layman, especially one who is not familiar with the language, and has not had the opportunity for a lengthy observation. I was assured, on various sides, that no jealousy existed between the Guard and the regular Army.
One thing is certain, that until February the whole army had been entirely successful in its campaigns; the entire army was feeling a great enthusiasm for the independence of the Fatherland. It suffered severely from the lack of arms and munitions.
Last updated on 1.3.2017