Leon Trotsky

Between Red and White

The Period of Caution

The overthrow of the militarism of the Central Empires and the revolution in Germany brought about a great change in the world situation. The Tbilisi politicians were looking for a new orientation. They adopted cringing before the Allies as its simplest form. Nevertheless they were uneasy about the future. The vassal alliance with Germany had for a time provided safe guarantees for Georgian integrity, in view of the fact that Germany was throttling Soviet Russia by means of the Brest-Litovsk noose, and that the latter’s downfall seemed inevitable. But such a vassal subjection to Great Britain did not promise any such guarantees; Soviet Russia was in a state of war with the latter, and, independently of the final result of the struggle, Georgia might easily receive its death blow at one of the sharp turning points. An Entente victory meant a Denikin victory, and consequently the liquidation of the Menshevik rule. In the mean-time, in 1919, the Denikin campaign was making great progress. The victory of the Soviet Power was also fraught with peril; but in 1919 the Soviet forces were driven out of the Caucasus. The Tbilisi politicians became more cautious and more anxious to conceal their connections with the counter-revolution, but not more far-sighted nor more honest. Moreover, the trend of the whole Labour movement in Europe could not but be somewhat disgusting to Menshevik minds. 1919 was a year of stormy revolutionary outbursts. The thrones of the Hohenzollerns and the Habsburgs had been overthrown, and the much more powerful throne of the bourgeoisie was tottering to its fall. The parties of the Second International were cracking at their seams. The Russian Mensheviks, while not ceasing to denounce and to lecture the Communists began to talk of ‘the period of social revolution,’ renounced under some plausible pretext the watchword of the Constituent Assembly, and condemned their Georgian followers for their political alliance with Anglo-American imperialism. These alarming symptoms also demanded greater caution.

Except in the beginning of that year, the Georgian Mensheviks in 1919 did not hasten to Denikin’s support on their own initiative, nor indeed did he stand in need of their help as much as before. Neither did they boast of their support to the Whites. On the contrary, they deliberately made it appear that this support was given under the great pressure of the British officers. This, however, did not give their co-operation with the Entente the character of a business compromise between two hostile parties. It completely retained its character of spiritual and political bondage and dependence. They translated the liberating rhetoric of the ‘Western democracies’ and the stale Wilsonian commonplaces into the language of Georgian Menshevism, and bowed down before the grandeur of the idea of the League of Nations. In practice they became more cautious, but not more honest.

We have a strong suspicion that Mrs. Snowden is burning with curiosity to know what we, who deny God and His commandments, understand by ‘honesty’. We even suspect that Mr. Henderson puts this question to us not without irony, that is if irony can be at all compatible with piety.

We confess that we are not acquainted with the Absolute Morality of the Popes, either of the Church or of the University, of the Vatican or of the PSA. [1] The Categorical Imperative of Kant, the Transubstantiation of Christ, and the artistic virtues of a religious myth are as unknown to us as the old hard and cunning Moses who found the treasure of eternal morality on Mount Sinai. Morality is a function of living human society. There is nothing absolute in its character, for it changes with the progress of that society, and serves as an expression of the interests of its classes, and chiefly of the governing classes. Official morality is a bridle to restrain the oppressed. In the course of the struggle the working class has elaborated its own revolutionary morality, which began by dethroning God and all absolute standards. But we understand by honesty a conformity of words and deeds before the working class, checked by the supreme end of the movement and of our struggle: the liberation of humanity through the social revolution. For instance, we do not say that one must not deceive and be cunning, that one must love one’s enemies, etc., for such exalted morality is evidently only accessible to such deeply religious statesmen as Lord Curzon, Lord Northcliffe, and Mr. Henderson. We hate or despise our enemies, according to their deserts; we beat them and deceive according to circumstances, and, even when we come to an understanding with them, we are not swept off our feet by a wave of forgiving love. But we firmly believe that one must not lie to the masses and that one must not deceive them with regard to the aims and methods of their own struggle. The social revolution is entirely based upon the growth of proletarian consciousness and on the faith of the proletariat in its own strength and in the party which is leading it. One may play a double game with the enemies of the proletariat, but not with the proletariat itself. Our party has made mistakes, together with the masses which it was leading. We have always quite openly acknowledged these mistakes to the masses, and, together with them we have made the necessary changes. What the devotees of legality are pleased to call demagogy is merely truth, too plainly and too loudly expressed. This, Mrs. Snowden, is our conception of honesty.

The entire policy of the Georgian Mensheviks has been a series of roguish tricks, petty cunning devices and sharp practice, which were not only intended to deceive the enemy, but also to dope the masses. Bolshevik tendencies were prevalent among the workers and peasants, and even among the Menshevik workers. They were forcibly suppressed. At the same time the masses were being demoralized, by making them believe that their enemies were their friends. Von Kress was represented to them as their friend, and General Walker as an upholder of democracy. Accommodation with the Russian White Guards was arrived at, now quite openly to please the Entente, and now secretly in order not to alarm the masses.

1919 was for the Georgian Mensheviks a year of extreme caution and secrecy, but for all that their policy was not any the more honest.


1. Pleasant Sunday Afternoon – societies formed in the 1880s by Nonconformist sects to bring unreligious workers around the church through social activities – Editor

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Last updated on: 28.4.2007