Leon Trotsky

Between Red and White

The Internal Regime

In foreign policy strict neutrality, and in home policy, of course, the fullest freedom. How could it be otherwise? ‘The relations between the workers and peasants in Georgia,’ says Kautsky, ‘up to the present are the best possible.’ (p.54) From the Rhine to the Pacific Ocean rage bloody upheavals, while ‘Georgia is the only country which like German-Austria has avoided violent actions.’ (ibid.) The Communists? why, ‘even with the fullest liberty of action they failed to acquire any influence.’ (p.65) The Social Democrats obtain overwhelming majorities at all elections. Indeed, it is the only country of its kind – from the Pacific to the Rhine. And even beyond the Rhine there will hardly be found a country of this kind, except, perhaps, Monaco, as depicted by superannuated French Academicians.

For the moment one gazes with stupefaction upon such political daubing as upon a crude oleograph, where each colour shrieks a lie, and all together blend into a still more outrageous insult to the eye. Everything that we know about the origin of Georgian independence and foreign policy a priori gives the lie to this picture of universal peace which Kautsky observed from the railway carriage between Batumi and Tbilisi. The connection between home and foreign policy was bound to manifest itself all the stronger in Georgia, since her formation took place in such a way that the home questions of yesterday became the foreign affairs of today. Furthermore, under the pretence of solving their internal problems, the Mensheviks invited into the country foreign armed forces, first of Germany and then of England, and here again one may assume a priori that General von Kress and General Walker played by no means a small part in the internal life of the country.

Since, according to Kautsky, whose triteness at times becomes startling, the Hohenzollern generals in Georgia fulfilled the highest function of ‘organizers of the productive forces’ (p.57), without attempting to interfere with the clockwork mechanism of democracy, it would not be superfluous here to recall the severe reprimand administered by Von Kress in connection with the arrest of a group of Black Hundred noblemen who started the organization of pogrom bands. ‘The government’ – was the lesson read by von Kress to Minister Ramishvili – ‘cannot consider the policy of this group of citizens seditious merely because it is directed against the present regime. As long as this policy is not directed against the very policy of the State, it cannot be treated as treason.’ In reply to this classical lesson, Ramishvili humbly reports among other things: ‘I have proposed to the leaders of this association (of landowners), to submit their plans for the amelioration of the condition of the former nobility, which is now being carried out.’ To find any difference in the merits of the organizer of productive forces, Von Kress, and the democrat Ramishvili, would be a different matter. That the British officers interfered in the internal life even more arrogantly than the Germans, we have mentioned already. Yet, leaving out of consideration military bluntness and excessive frankness, the interference of both the Germans and the British on the whole went along the same lines of social and political conservatism as the policy of the Mensheviks since the very beginning of the revolution.

The chief lesson derived by Tseretelli from the experience of the Russian Revolution was that ‘the timidity and hesitancy of democracy in the struggle against anarchy’ ruined democracy, the revolution, and the country, and as the chief inspirer of the government, he demanded from the Tram-Caucasian Diet ‘to make it the duty of the government to resort to the severest measures in the struggle against the manifestations of anarchy.’ (March 18, 1918) Even earlier than this Zhordania had told the Diet (on February 15): ‘Anarchy is on the increase in our country ... the working class are in a Bolshevik mood; even the Menshevik workers are contaminated with Bolshevism.’

The first national Georgian regiments were equally permeated with this spirit. The demobilized soldiers were spreading the revolutionary contagion through the villages. ‘What is now taking place in our villages,’ says Zhordania, ‘is not new; the same thing has happened during all revolutions: everywhere the peasant masses arose against democracy. It is time for us to put an end to the reign of the popular peasant illusions of the Social Democratic Party. It is time to return to Marx, and firmly guard the revolution against the peasant reaction.’ The reference to Marx is nothing but deceit added to folly. During the Menshevik period in question, the Trans-Caucasian peasantry rose, not against the democratic revolution, but against its slowness and hesitation, against its cowardice, particularly upon the agrarian question. It was only after the real victory of the agrarian-democratic revolution that the ground was opened for counter-revolutionary peasant movements directed against the material demands of the city, against the socialist tendencies of economic policy, and finally, against the dictatorship of the party of the working class. While during the first stages of the revolution the dynamic force of the agrarian upheavals were the lower strata of the village, the most oppressed and dispossessed elements, in the second the leading role in the peasant upheavals passed to the upper strata of the village, to the more well-to-do and exploiting elements. But there is no need to dwell upon the point that the Georgian Mensheviks, like the Mensheviks who are not Georgian, do not understand the revolutionary ABC of Marxism. We are content with the admission of the fact that the peasant masses, comprising the overwhelming majority of the population, acted in a Bolshevik fashion against the Menshevik ‘democracy.’ True to the programme outlined by the Diet, the Georgian government, relying upon the support of the petty-bourgeois democracy of cities and upon the upper strata of the working class, which was far from numerous on the whole, waged a merciless struggle against the toiling masses that were contaminated with Bolshevism.

The whole history of Menshevik Georgia is one of peasant risings. They took place in all parts of the little country without any exception, and were frequently marked by extreme stubbornness. In some districts the Soviet regime persisted for months. The risings were liquidated by means of punitive expeditions and disposed of by military courts-martial, composed of officers and landowning princes.

The way in which the Georgian government disposed of the revolutionary peasants is best described in the words of the report of the Abkhasian Mensheviks on the activity of Manniev’s detachments in Abkhasia:

’This detachment, by its cruelty and inhumanity,’ reads the report submitted to the Georgian government, ‘has surpassed the infamous Tsarist General Alikhanov. Thus, for instance, the Cossacks of this regiment broke into peaceful Abkhasian villages, carrying off anything that was of any value and violating the women. Another part of this detachment, under the personal supervision of Citizen Tuldiareli, indulged in bombing the houses of those persons who were pointed out by informers. Analogous deeds of violence were perpetrated in the Gudaut district. The chief of the Georgian detachment, Lieutenant Kupuni – a former police captain at Poti – severely ill-treated the entire rural council of the village of Azy. He compelled all the members to lie down under the fire of machine guns, and then proceeded to walk over their bodies, striking at them with the flat of his sabre; he then ordered the council together into a group, and, galloping on horseback at full speed, he dashed through the crowd, dealing out whip blows right and left. Abuldiva and Dzukuya, former members of the Abkhasian National Council, for protesting against such brutality and violence, were arrested and thrown into a dungeon. The Assistant Commissioner of Gadaut district, Lieutenant Grigoriadi, resorted to the flogging of rural councils, and appointed village Commissioners chosen by him and hated by the people, from among the former Tsarist village elders ...

Does not this corroborate the statement of Kautsky, that the relations between the Mensheviks and the peasants were always ‘the best possible ...’? The Abkhasian suppression resulted in the all but complete desertion of the Social Democratic Party by the Abkhasian Mensheviks (Tarnova, Bazba, Chukbar, Zvizhba, Barzyz and Dzukuya).

Djugeli acted no better in suppressing the Ossetian revolt. Since we have made it our task, for educational reasons, to characterize the policy of the Georgian Mensheviks as much as possible by their own declaration and documents, we will have to overcome our literary fastidiousness and quote from a book published by the prominent ‘knightly’ Menshevik leader, Valiko Djugeli, the former chief of the National Guard. We will quote some passages dealing with the actions of Djugeli in the peasant rising in Ossetia.

’The enemy everywhere is fleeing in disorder, offering almost no resistance. These traitors must be punished severely.’

On the same day he makes the following entry in his diary. (The book is published in the form of a diary).

’Night has fallen. There are fires visible everywhere. They are the houses of the insurgents burning. But I am already used to this, and I can watch the scene almost calmly.’

In the following day we read this entry:

’Ossetian villages are burning all round us ... In the interests of the struggling working class, in the interests of the future socialism, we will be cruel. Yes, we will. I can look on with imperturbed soul and clear conscience at the fire and smoke of the burning houses ... I am quite calm, quite calm indeed.’

On the following morning Djugeli writes again in his diary:

’Fires are growing ... Houses are burning ... With fire and sword ...

A few hours afterwards he writes again:

’And the flames are still glowing, glowing ...’

On the evening of the same day he writes:

’Now the fires are everywhere ... They keep on burning. Ominous fires; some morbid, cruel, eerie beauty ... and gazing upon these bright flames burning in the night an old comrade said to me sadly: “I begin to understand Nero and the great fire of Rome”.’

’And the fires are burning, burning everywhere.’ These ugly mannerisms at any rate enable us to become more convinced that the relations between the Georgian Mensheviks and the peasant remained invariably ‘the best possible.’

After the evacuation of Adjaria (the region of Batumi), by the British in 1920, the Georgian government had to enter into possession of the region by the aid of artillery. In a word, Djugeli had continuous opportunities for displaying his Neronic mannerisms in all corners of Georgia.

Zhordania was succeeded by Ramishvili as Minister for Home Affairs. This was the same Ramishvili who was preoccupied with the question of improving the condition of the former nobles, and who also quoted Marx to justify the White terror against the rebellious peasantry.

One can, however, state quite confidently that in spite of the white terror, supplemented by paper flowers of rhetoric, the Menshevik dictatorship would have been swept away, without leaving a trace, by the rapid current of the revolutionary movement, had it not been for the presence of foreign troops in the country. It was not the German Marx that helped the Mensheviks to maintain themselves through that period, but the German von Kress. [1]

Particularly incongruous is the assertion of Kautsky about the ‘complete liberty of action’ of the Georgian Communist Party. It would have been sufficient had he said that it had some liberty. But, as we already know, if he speaks of neutrality, then it is the strictest, if of liberty, it is the fullest; he does not speak merely of good relations, but ‘the very best possible.’

It is amazing, above all, that neither Kautsky nor Vandervelde, nor Mrs. Snowden herself, nor the foreign diplomats, nor the journalists of the bourgeois press, nor the faithful guardians of liberty – The Times, nor the most upright Temps, in a word, none of those who bestowed their benedictions upon the democracy of Georgia ever noticed there the presence of ... the Special Detachments. Yet such did exist. The Special Detachments, if you please, are the Menshevik cheka. The Special Detachment seized and imprisoned and shot all those that were active against the Menshevik democracy. The Special Detachment in its methods of terror in no way differed from the Extraordinary Commission of Soviet Russia. Where it did differ was in aim. The Extraordinary Commission protected the socialist dictatorship against the agents of capital; the Special Detachment protected the bourgeois regime against the Bolshevik ‘anarchy’. But it was for this very reason that the respectable people who cursed the Cheka, did not notice the Georgian Special Detachment.

The Georgian Bolsheviks could not help noticing it, because it existed mainly for their coercion. Is it necessary to quote the story of the martyrdom of Georgian Communists? Arrests, deportations, handing over to the White Guards, imprisonment, hunger strikes, summary executions. Is it necessary to enumerate all this? Is it not enough to recall the respectful report of Gegechkori to Denikin. ‘With regard to the question of the attitude towards the Bolsheviks. I may state that the struggle against Bolshevism is ruthless on our part. We are crushing Bolshevism by all available means ... and in this respect we have already given a number of proofs which speak for themselves.’ This quotation ought to have been inscribed upon Kautsky’s nightcap if it had not been already covered with a medley of unflattering inscriptions from all directions. when Gegechkori says ‘we crush by all means,’ ‘we ruthlessly suppress,’ Kautsky explains it as meaning fullest liberty. Is it not time to establish a mild and truly democratic guardianship over Kautsky?

As early as February 8, 1918, all the Bolshevik newspapers were suppressed. At that time the Menshevik press in Soviet Russia continued to be published quite openly. On February 10 a peaceful meeting was dispersed by gunfire in the Alexander Gardens, at Tbilisi, on the very day of the opening of the Trans-Caucasian Diet. On February 15 Zhordania thundered in the Diet about the Bolshevik mood of the masses of people, including even the Menshevik working men. Finally, Tseretelli, who, jointly with Kerensky, had charged our party with high treason, in March complained before the Diet of the extreme ‘timidity and hesitancy’ of the Kerensky government in dealing with the Bolsheviks. The German troops were brought into Georgia as into Finland, the Baltic countries and the Ukraine, chiefly against the Bolsheviks. In reply to a question of the American representative concerning the Bolsheviks, the Georgian diplomatic representative Topuridze replied: ‘We have successfully suppressed them. The proofs are self-evident: out of the former territory of Russia, Georgia alone is free from Bolshevism.’ As regards the future, Topuridze gives an equally firm undertaking: ‘by all powers and means our Republic will co-operate with the Entente Powers in the fight against the Bolsheviks.’

The commander of the British troops in Western Trans-Caucasia, General Forester Walker, on January 4, 1919, explained to Zhordania, both orally and in writing, that the enemy of the Entente in the Caucasus is ‘Bolshevism, which the Great Powers have resolved to destroy wherever and whenever it should make its appearance.’ In connection with this, a fortnight afterwards, Zhordania declared to the British General Milne: ‘General Walker ... proved to be the first person that understood the state of affairs in our country.’ General Milne himself summarized his agreement with Zhordania in the following manner: ‘You and we have common foes – they are the Germans and the Bolsheviks.’ All these circumstances together furnished of course, the most favourable conditions for the ‘fullest liberty of action’ for the Bolsheviks.

On February 18, General Walker gives the following order, No.99/6 to the Georgian government: ‘All Bolsheviks entering Georgia must be imprisoned only in the Mskhet (the jail of Tbilisi), and put under a strong guard.’ The reference is to those Bolsheviks who were seeking refuge from Denikin. But, already, on February 25th in order No.99/9, Walker wrote: ‘Arising out of the conversation I had on the 20th inst., with his Excellency M. Zhordania, I have come to the conclusion that it will be necessary in the future to prevent the entrance of Bolsheviks into Georgia by the main road.’ The imprisonment of the Bolshevik refugees in the Mskhet at least preserved their lives for a time. Walker had ‘come to the conclusion’ that it was best to bar their way of escape, thus throwing them back into the hands of Denikin’s executioners. If Arthur Henderson has a few moments to spare from his labours in exposing the cruelties of the Soviet Government, and from his Brotherhood services, he should have an exchange of views with Forester Walker upon this subject.

The matter did not stop at conversations and correspondence between their Excellencies. Already on April 8, 42 people, including Soviet Commissaries of the Terek Republic, their wives and children, Red soldiers, and other refugees, were held up by the Georgian guards at the Deryal Fortress, and after being subjected to insults, assaults, and blows under the direction of Colonel Tseretelli, were driven back into Denikin territory. Zhordania afterwards tried to put the blame for this harmless incident upon Colonel Tseretelli; yet the latter only fulfilled the secret agreement between Zhordania and Walker. It is true that order No.99/9 makes no mention of beating with rifle butts and with sticks over the chest and head, but in what other way could one chase away exhausted and fear-stricken people, driven to madness by despair, and seeking refuge from certain death? Colonel Tseretelli no doubt had learned the lesson taught him by his more famous namesake, that ‘timidity and hesitancy of democracy’ in the struggle against Bolshevism may lead to the ruin of the State and the nation.

Thus from the very outset sworn war against communism was placed at the very foundations of the Georgian republic. The party leaders and the members of the government made ‘the ruthless suppression of Bolshevism’ an essential plank of their programme. To this task were subordinated the most important organs of the state: the Special Detachment, the National Guard and the Militia. The German and then the British officers – the real rulers of Georgia during that period – fully agreed with this part of the social-democratic programme. Communist newspapers were suppressed, meetings dispersed by gunfire, revolutionary villages led by Bolsheviks were burnt down. The Special Detachment conducted wholesale shootings of leaders. The Mskhet was crowded with imprisoned Communists, Bolshevik refugees were handed back into the power of Denikin. During one month, October, 1919, in Georgia, according to a statement by the then Minister for the Interior, over 30 Communists were shot. In every other respect, as we learn from the lips of the pious Kautsky, the Communist Party in Georgia enjoyed ‘the fullest liberty of action.’

It is true that, at the time of Kautsky’s visit to Tbilisi, the Georgian Communists had their legal publications, and enjoyed a sort of liberty of action which could by no means be termed ‘the fullest’. But here it must be added that this temporary regime was instituted after our having defeated Denikin, and as a result of the Soviet ultimatum which led to the conclusion of the peace treaty between Soviet Russia and Georgia on May 3, 1920. During the entire period between February, 1918 and June, 1920, the Georgian Communist Party had to remain underground.

Hence it follows that the Soviets in 1920 intervened in the internal affairs of a ‘democracy’, and a ‘neutral’ one at that? Alas and alack, this cannot be denied. General Von Kress demanded that the Georgian nobles be given the liberty of counter-revolutionary activity. General Walker demanded that the Communists be imprisoned in the Mskhet or beaten by the rifle-butts and handed back to Denikin. We, on our part, having smashed Denikin, approached the boundaries of Georgia, and demanded that the Communists be given liberty of action in so far as it was not directed towards an armed rebellion.

This is a very imperfect world, on the whole, Mr. Henderson! The Menshevik government felt itself constrained to acquiesce in our demand, and, according to their own official statement, at once liberated from their prisons over 900 Bolsheviks. [2]

Not a very imposing figure, after all. Yet one has to take into consideration the number of the population. If for the purposes of justice – even our hearts are not deaf to justice, Oh, Mrs. Snowden – one were to apply the Georgian proportion (900 imprisoned out of a population of 2½ millions) to the Soviet Federation, it would mean that we have the right to put into prisons of the Soviet Republic somewhere about 45,000 Mensheviks. I think that at the most acute and trying moments for the revolution, which were always accompanied by intensified hostile activities on the part of the Mensheviks, we never attained even a tenth part of this very imposing number. And since within the Soviet boundaries one could not collect as many as 45,000 Mensheviks, we can safely guarantee that our practice will never exceed the rate of repression which has been established by Zhordania and Tseretelli and approved by the luminaries of the Second International.

Well, in May – by methods of civil war – we forced the Georgian government to legalize the Communist Party. Those that were shot could not be resurrected, but the imprisoned ones were released. If democracy became slightly more democratic, it happened, as we see, only beneath the fist of the proletarian dictatorship. ‘The revolutionary fist as a democratic weapon’ – here is a fine theme for a Sunday address, Mr. Henderson.

Does this mean that the Georgian policy after the middle of 1920 made a new departure, in the sense of a rapprochement with the Bolsheviks? Not a bit. The Menshevik government passed through a period of acute fear in the spring of 1920, and it gave way. But when it became convinced, not without surprise, that the raised fist was not going to descend upon its head, it came to the conclusion that it had overestimated its danger, and it began to withdraw all along the line.

First of all there was a renewal of repressions against Communists. Our diplomatic representative, by a series of notes, which make tiresomely monotonous reading, protested against the suppression of newspapers, the arrests and seizures of party property, etc. But these protests were now unavailing: the Georgian government had become exceedingly stubborn, co-operating with Wrangel, building hopes on Poland, and thereby accelerating the end ...

To sum up: wherein did the Menshevik ‘democracy’ differ from the Bolshevik dictatorship? First, the Menshevik terrorist regime, while copying many of the Bolshevik methods, aimed at preserving the institution of private property and the alliance with imperialism. The Soviet dictatorship was and remains the organized struggle for the socialist reconstruction of society in alliance with the revolutionary proletariat. Secondly, the Soviet dictatorship of the Bolsheviks will find its vindication in its historic mission and in the condition of its existence, and is acting openly; whereas the Menshevik regime of terrorism and democracy is the unholy fruit of cruelty wedded to hypocrisy.


1. We will not enumerate here all the peasant risings that took place in Georgia. A brief summary of the movement is given in an article by Comrade Misha Tskhakaya (Communist International, No.18, pp.571, etc.)

2. Note by Georgian Minister for Foreign Affairs of June 30, 1920. No.5171.

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Last updated on: 7.1.2007