Peter Sedgwick

Caucasian Circles

(Winter 1962)

From, International Socialism (1st series), No.11, Winter 1962.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

A Modern History of Georgia
David Marshall Lang
Weidenfeld & Nicolson 16s.

The Caucasian republic of Georgia has contributed an unusually large quota of important figures to the various tendencies of Russian Socialism. Prominent Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. Legal Marxists and less legal terrorists, totalitarian butchers and dissident victims, all have rejoiced in the barbarous Georgian surname-suffixes Lominadze, Tsintsadze, Chkheidze, Ordjonikidze; Ramishvili and Stalin-Djugashvili; Zhordania and Beria. Dr. Lang’s previous books on Georgia have dealt with her feudal and feuding monarchical past, the exotic Gruzhinia of Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle. Well over half of his new book is devoted to the Georgia of this revolutionary century, and his performance is superb. Particularly outstanding is his treatment of the Georgian Mensheviks and their brief hey-day of independent rule from 1918 to 1921. The Bolshevik charges of counter-revolution and imperialist conspiracy are given short shrift (Menshevik Georgia conducted a sweeping land-reform and nationalised most of industry); but the inadequacies and illusions of Zhordania and his colleagues – in particular their positively Balkan nationalism – are not spared either. The tale of the Bolshevik invasion of Georgia and its ruthless aftermath is especially worth the telling, since it forms the backcloth both for Lenin’s deathbed disillusionment with the operation of Soviet nationalities policy, and for the first indications of the specific dominance of Stalin. Dr Lang’s case is that the Soviet takeover of Georgia was a classic piece of oil diplomacy, the result of a hint from Lloyd George to Krassin that Soviet oil which Britain badly needed in 1920 – ‘lost much of its value without complete Russian control of the Transcaucasian pipe-line leading into Batumi over a section of Georgian territory’. The facts of the ensuing massacre, with later repercussions in the liquidation of the protesting majority of Georgian Bolshevik leaders and eventually in the rise of Beria, make harrowing reading. Few leaders in any of the Soviet Party factions emerge from the tale with any credit – with the exception of Lenin, whose realisation of the truth began too late.

Dr Lang has been able to take his history right up to the beginning of the present year and the effects of the 22nd Congress in Georgia itself. His evident love of the Georgian nation and anger against its persecutors do not inhibit him from being both optimistic and thankful for the brighter prospects now actually or potentially open after the passing of the last Georgian dynast, Joseph Djugashvili. His book is dedicated to ‘the Georgian people and the new Georgia’: it is rare to find, in a work dealing with a recent and bloody past, such righteous passion devoid of the least trace of rancorous nostalgia and, in any work of history, such implicit scholarship combined with so much sheer narrative excitement.

Peter Sedgwick

Last updated on 21 February 2010