Leon Trotsky

Between Red and White

Georgia and Wrangel

During the last month of 1919, a radical change took place in the military situation of the Soviet Federation. Yudenich had been annihilated, and Denikin had been first driven back to the South, and then completely defeated. Towards the end of the year Denikin’s forces had been broken up into several demoralized groups. The Entente seemed to have cooled down towards the Whites. The extreme wing of the Anglo-French interventionists had transferred its attention to the border states. Poland was to be given first place in the periodical attacks on Soviet Russia. This new plan allowed Anglo-French diplomacy to steer clear of the imperialist pretensions of the Russian White Guards, and enabled it to recognize the independence of Georgia.

Under these circumstances, the Soviet Government proposed to Georgia an alliance against Denikin. There was a two-fold reason for this proposal: firstly, to make the Georgian government understand that, in the event of altering its international orientation, it need not depend on the military support of von Kress and General Walker, but would have the support of Budenny. Secondly, to hasten, with the help of Georgia, the liquidation of the remnants of Denikin’s forces, in order to prevent them forming a new front.

This proposal was categorically rejected by the Georgian government. After all we have learned about the relations of Georgia with the Germans, Turks, Denikin, and the British, it is hardly necessary for us to pay too much attention to the too-ardent Kautsky, who explains this refusal of Georgia by her concern for neutrality. All the more so as Zhordania himself, who in those days was by the sweat of his brow obtaining recognition by the Entente, and sufficiently divulged the main springs of Menshevik policy.

On January 14, he declared in the Constituent Assembly: ‘You know that Soviet Russia has proposed a military alliance with us. We have point blank declined. Our answer must be known to you. What would this alliance mean? It would mean that we severed our connections with Europe ... Here the ways of Georgia and Russia part. Our way leads to Europe. Russia’s way to Asia. I know that our enemies will say that we are on the side of the imperialists. Therefore I must say here most emphatically: that I prefer the imperialists of the West to the fanatics of the East.’ These words from the lips of the head of the government certainly cannot be considered ambiguous. It means that Zhordania was delighted with the opportunity of not only stating, but shouting at the top of his voice, that in the new military campaign of the ‘imperialists of the West,’ Georgia would be whole-heartedly on the side of Pilsudski, Take Ionescu, Millerand, and the rest of them. No one can deny Zhordania the right to ‘prefer’ imperialist Europe, which attacks, to Soviet Russia, which is defending itself. But in that case, we, the fanatics of the East, must also not be denied the right to smash, when necessary, the counter-revolutionary heads of the petty bourgeois lackeys of imperialism. For we too can most ‘emphatically state’ that we prefer an enemy with a broken head to an enemy who is able to attack us and do us harm.

The least disorganized remnants of Denikin’s army had taken refuge in the Crimea. But what is the Crimea? It is not a fortress, but a trap. In 1919 we ourselves escaped from the trap in which Denikin, from the Ukraine, was endeavouring to bottle us up there. Nevertheless, Wrangel established himself in the Crimea and began to build a new army and a new government. He was only able to do so because the Anglo-French fleet was entirely at the disposal of Wrangel. But the Entente warships, as such, did not solve the question. They supplied Wrangel with clothes, arms, and a certain amount of food, but it was men he needed most. And of course, he got them in sufficient numbers – from Georgia. Even if there was no other sin to Georgia’s account than this, its fate should have been considered sealed. It is no use referring to the pressure of the Entente, as Georgia did not resist the pressure, but met it halfway. But, from the political point of view, the question is much simpler and clearer. If the independence of Georgia consists only in the fact that at the demand of the Turks, Germans, Englishmen and Frenchmen, it is compelled to set fire to the house of Soviet Russia, we certainly cannot expect to become reconciled to such independence.

Wrangel had entered the Crimea with not much more than from 15 to 20 thousand soldiers. The mobilization of the local population was not very effective, for the mobilized did not feel inclined to fight, and many of them went into the mountains, forming detachments of ‘greens’ (peasant brigands). Owing to the limited character of the place d’armes and his resources, Wrangel stood in need of first-rate fighting elements. These were the White officers, the Volunteers and the rich Cossacks, all of them irreconcilable enemies of the Soviet power, who had already gone through the school of civil war under the command of Kolchak, Denikin, and Yudenich. The ships of the Entente were bringing them from every direction, but their chief nest turned out to be Georgia. The right-wing of Denikin’s defeated army fled into the Caucasus, pursued by our cavalry, and sought refuge within the frontiers of the Menshevik Republic. This, of course, did not take place without the inevitable performance of some rites of so-called international law. As a ‘neutral’ country, it received the retreating White forces, and naturally, interned them in ‘concentration camps’. But in its capacity of a country which claimed greater kinship to the Western imperialists than to the fanatics of the East, it arranged the ‘camps’ in such a way that the Whites could reach the Crimea without any loss of time.

According to a preliminary agreement with the agents of the Entente (the documents proving this are in our possession), the Menshevik government carefully seized the healthy members of Denikin’s forces who were capable of bearing arms, and concentrated them in Poti on the sea coast, where the ships of the Entente fetched them. And, in order not to do any damage to Pontius Zhordania’s reputation of ‘neutrality’, the agents of this government demanded from the captains of the British and French steamers written statements to the effect that they were taking the refugees to Constantinople. And so, if they were taken to Sebastopol (in the Crimea) this was entirely due to a breach of faith on the part of the captains of those steamers.

Not less than 10,000 such picked Denikin men were transferred to Poti. Among the documents found in Georgia are some very illuminating minutes of the government committee on military refugees. The Governor of the concentration camp, General Ardzhavanidze reported: ‘The camp is at present unoccupied, in consequence of the departure of the Volunteers from Poti.’ It was resolved ‘to accept the report’.

Several months later, 6,000 Cossacks were brought back, under similar conditions, from Gagri to the Crimea, after an unsuccessful military occupation. The chief of the Gagri district militia, the Menshevik Osidze, a minor official who was not initiated into the secret of the Tbilisi government, reported with some amazement to his chiefs: ‘We have allowed Wrangel’s agents a free hand by arresting the Bolsheviks in Gagri’. These two important events happened in June and October, but already, at the beginning of the year, the liberation of the interned soldiers of Denikin’s army and their despatch to Batumi was in full swing. This was borne out of Tbilisi documents dated January, 1920. Wrangel’s recruiting agents were acting quite openly, and there was a large influx into Georgia of White officers, eager for engagement. Here they found a well-organized White agency, and were transferred to the Crimea with the greatest ease. Whenever necessary, the Georgian government lent financial aid.

The Socialist-Revolutionary Chaikin, the chairman of the Black Sea Liberation Committee (an organization which organized the rising of the local peasants against Denikin), described the policy of Denikin in an official communication, addressed to the Georgian government, in the following terms: ‘It is self-evident that such facts as General Erdeli’s free departure from Georgia, the arrival from the Crimea of Denikin’s recruiting generals, who were not interned on their arrival in Georgia, and finally the propaganda and recruiting campaign in Poti of General Nevadovski, and others, most certainly constituted an infringement of Georgian neutrality in favour of the Volunteer Army (Denikin’s forces), and was a hostile act towards those forces which were in a state of war with the Volunteer Army.’ This was written on April 23, 1920, and consequently before the mass transference of the picked followers of Wrangel from Poti to the Crimea. On September 6th, the Georgian General Mdivani reported to the chief of the French Mission that the Georgian authorities did not only not hamper the removal of Denikin’s men, but were even giving the ‘widest possible assistance, including financial aid to the refugees at the rate of 1,000 to 15,000 roubles per head.’ There were on the whole from 25,000 to 30,000 Cossacks and about 4,000 Denikin Volunteers in Georgia. A considerable number of them were transferred to the Crimea.

Georgia’s support to Wrangel was not limited to men, but also included providing him with the necessary war materials. From the beginning of 1919, and right up to the defeat of Wrangel, Georgia provided him from her own stores with coal, oil, aviation benzene, kerosene, and lubricating oil. Even the treaty with Soviet Russia in May 1920 did not put a stop to these activities. They were only conducted more secretly, through the medium of so-called ‘private individuals.’ On July 8, Batumi, which was to all intents and purposes in British hands, was transferred to Menshevik Georgia. But even after that the port of Batumi continued to be at the disposal of Wrangel.

Our Mission reported at that time in full detail on all these events, and its report is now before us. [1] The documents which were subsequently found in Batumi, in Tbilisi, and in the Crimea, fully bear out this report, giving the names of the steamers, the nature of the cargoes, and the names of the agents (for instance the well-known Cadet Paramonov). The most important extracts of these documents have already been published, and more of it will be published in the near future.

One might endeavour to reply to the above that Georgia did not aid Wrangel with its own army. But it could not have done this in any case, as the purely Menshevik National Guard was not numerous enough, being hardly sufficient to maintain even public order. As to the National Army, it was to the very last a fictitious unit, as its badly organized detachments were politically unsound and not in fighting trim. For this reason the Menshevik government did not do for Wrangel what, as became known later, it could do for its own defence, viz., put an armed force into the field. But evidently Georgia did everything for Wrangel that it could possibly do. One can say without exaggeration, that Menshevik Georgia created the Wrangel army. Those 30,000 picked officers, non-commissioned officers, and fighting Cossacks, who were transferred from Georgia to the Crimea, burned their boats and sold their lives dearly. Without them Wrangel would have been obliged to evacuate the Crimea as early as the summer months. With them he carried on a stubborn fight until the end of the year, and at times dealt us very heavy blows. The liquidation of Wrangel exacted heavy sacrifices. How many thousands of worker and peasant youths fell in the wider sector which runs out from the narrow Isthmus of Perekop?

If there had been no Georgia, there would not have been a Wrangel army. Without Wrangel, Poland would not have perhaps taken the field, and, even if it had done so, we should not have had to split our forces, and the Riga Treaty would have borne a different aspect. In any case it would not have given millions of Ukrainian and White Russian peasants to the Polish landlords.

The Crimea for the Georgian Mensheviks was a connecting link with the imperialists of the West – against the fanatics of the East. This link cost us many thousands of lives. It was at that price that the Zhordania government bought recognition de jure of the independence of its Republic. We consider that they gave too high a price for such shoddy goods. During 1920 the Soviet Federation, with its face to the south-west, was striking with the right fist at the West at its chief enemy – bourgeois Poland – and with its left fist at the South – at Wrangel. Being fully aware of the above-mentioned facts, was not Soviet Russia justified in kicking the Menshevik head of Georgia? Was not that a legitimate act of revolutionary self-defence? Is the right of national self-determination equivalent to the right of doing mischief with impunity? If Soviet Russia refrained from dealing a blow at Menshevik Georgia in 1920, it was not because it had any doubts about its ‘right’ to strike at the malicious irreconcilable and treacherous foe, but because of political expediency. We did not want to make it easier for Millerand, Churchill and Pilsudski, who were endeavouring to drag the border states into war against us. On the contrary, we were endeavouring to show to these latter that under certain conditions they could live in peace side by side with the Soviet Republic. In order to win over the small republics, governed by petty bourgeois with thick skulls, we were prepared more than once during these years to make enormous concessions, and show very great leniency. To take a recent example, has not the Karelian adventure of the Finnish bourgeoisie given us every right for an armed invasion of Finland? If we did not proceed with it, it was not because we did not have a perfect right to do so, but because, by the very nature of our policy, we only resort to armed force when there is no other way.


1. As an example we quote from one of these reports, dated July 14. ‘At the beginning of last week the following vessels laden with war material, left for the Crimea: Vozroshdenie, Donets and Kiev. On the 7th the Margarita left with ammunition and motor cars, the Zharki with cartridges and a submarine Utka. These vessels had on board over 2,000 volunteers and the official representatives of the Volunteer Army, headed by General Dratsenko, etc.’

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Last updated on: 3.1.2007