Leon Trotsky

Between Red and White


While supplying Wrangel with men and war material during 1920, Georgia was at the same time a conspiracy centre for the various Russian, and especially Caucasian, White Guard groups. It served as an intermediary between Petlura, the Ukraine, Kuban, Daghestan and the counter-revolutionary mountain tribes. After their defeat all these people took refuge with the Mensheviks, and there established their general staffs from which they conducted their operations. From Georgia they directed the counter-revolutionary divisions to the territories of the Russian Soviet Republic by the following routes:

  1. Sukhumi-Kale-Marukh, and then into the Upper Kuban and the River Laba.
  2. Sukhumi-Kale-Gagri-Adler-Krasnaya Polyana, via Aishkha the upper reaches of the River Laba.
  3. Kutais-oni-Nalchik.

They acted more or less secretly, but only to the extent necessary for preserving a certain amount of diplomatic decorum, while all their movements were perfectly well-known to the Georgian Special Detachment. ‘My presence in Georgia,’ wrote a White Guard lieutenant to the Special Detachment on November 12th, 1920, ‘will not create any difficulties whatever with the Soviet Mission, as my work will be carried on with still greater secrecy. If any guarantors for my reliability should be required, a sufficient number of prominent Georgians will be ready to come forward.’ This document was found among others in the Menshevik archives by the committee appointed by the Communist International. The secret White organizations were closely connected with the Entente Missions, and especially with their Intelligence Departments. Should Henderson have any doubts on this matter, he could find full information in the archives of the British Intelligence Department. We sincerely hope that his reputation for patriotism may prove an open sesame to this holy of holies.

At that period Batumi was the most important centre for the intrigues and conspiracies of the Entente and its vassals. In July, 1920, Great Britain handed over Batumi to Menshevik Georgia, which at once found itself compelled to find the way to the hearts of the Adjarian population with the aid of artillery. In evacuating Batumi, after first destroying its naval defences, the British command proved its complete confidence in the goodwill of Georgia as far as Wrangel was concerned.

The annihilation of the Wrangel army brought about a complete change, for the Entente generals and diplomats were too well aware of the true character of the relations between Georgia, Wrangel, and the Soviet Republic, to have any doubts concerning the desperate position in which the liquidation of Wrangel had placed the Georgian Mensheviks. One may also take it for granted that the Georgians themselves did not remain silent, but demanded ‘guarantees’. The British governing circles raised the question of a renewed occupation of Batumi, under the guise of ‘lease’, ‘free port’, or some such label, of which the diplomats have as many as a cracksman has skeleton keys. The leading Georgian press mentioned this occupation with demonstrative satisfaction, rather than with alarm. It was self-evident that the creation of a new front against us was contemplated, and we declared that we should consider the occupation of Batumi by the British as an act of war.

About that time the fate of independent Georgia began to awaken the interest of the acknowledged protectress of the weak, M. Millerand’s France. On his arrival, ‘the Trans-Caucasian High Commissioner,’ M. Abel Chevalier, hastened to send the following message through the Georgian Telegraph Agency: ‘The French have a fraternal affection for Georgia, and I am very glad to be able widely to proclaim this. The interests of France are absolutely identical with the interests of Georgia ...’ The interests of that France which encircled Russia by a hunger blockade and let loose a number of Tsarist generals against her, were ‘absolutely identical’ with the interests of democratic Georgia. It is true that after a few lyrical and rather silly speeches about the ardent love of the French for the Georgians, M. Chevalier, as fitted a representative of the Third Republic, explained that ‘all the world powers at the present time were craving for raw materials and manufactured goods, and Georgia was an important and natural route between the East and the West.’ In other words, the sentimental friends of M. Millerand were attracted to the Georgians not as much by love as by the smell of the Baku oil.

Almost on the heels of chevalier there arrived in Georgia the French Admiral Dumesnil. The man of the seas was an emphatic as the dry land diplomat in his declarations of ardent love for the fellow-countrymen of Noah Zhordania. At the same time the Admiral declared that, as France ‘did not countenance the seizure of other people’s property’ (who would have thought it?), he, Dumesnil, being on the territory of ‘independent’ Georgia, would not allow the Soviet Government to seize the Russian ships which were then in the Georgian port, and which were destined for Wrangel or his successors. The path of justice is indeed strange and devious!

The co-operation of the representatives of French democracy with the Georgian democrats assumed vast dimensions. The French torpedo boat Sakiar fired on and burned the Russian schooner Zeinab. The French Intelligence Department, in conjunction with the agents of the Georgian Special Detachment, attacked the Soviet diplomatic courier, and robbed him. The French torpedo boats screened the removal to Constantinople of the Russian steamer Printsip, which was stationed in the Georgian port. The organization of insurrections in the adjacent Soviet Republic’s territory was carried on energetically. The importation of arms into Russia from Georgia increased enormously. The hunger blockade of Armenia, which by that time had become a Soviet Republic, was continued, but Batumi was not occupied. Perhaps at that time Lloyd George had given up the idea of a new front, and perhaps also the ardent love of the French for Georgia deterred the British from manifesting similar feelings. Our declaration concerning Batumi did not remain without effect. Having at the last moment paid Georgia for all its past services by an ephemeral recognition de jure, the Entente resolved not to build anything on the hopeless foundation of Menshevik Georgia.

After the relentless struggle which the Georgian Mensheviks had conducted against us, they, even in the spring of 1920, had no doubts whatever but that our forces, having beaten Denikin, would march on Tbilisi and Batumi, and sweep the Menshevik democracy into the sea. We, on our side, not expecting any important revolutionary results from the Soviet revolution in Georgia, were quite prepared to tolerate by our side the Menshevik ‘democracy’ provided it formed a united front against the Russian counter-revolution and European imperialism.

But it was just this accommodating spirit, dictated by political expediency, which was interpreted in Tbilisi as a sign of our weakness. Our friends in Tbilisi wrote to us that from the beginning the ruling Mensheviks refused point blank to understand the motives of our pacific attitude. They, the Mensheviks, perfectly understood that we could occupy Georgia without a battle. They soon brought forward the fantastic explanation that Great Britain insisted on our pacific relations with Georgia as a preliminary condition of any negotiations with us. Be that as it may, their original nervousness was turned into insolence, and provocative acts followed each other in rapid succession. During the period of our military failure on the Polish front, and of our difficulties on the Wrangel front, Georgia quite openly joined the ranks of our enemies. This miserable petty bourgeois democracy, without any broad political and revolutionary outlook and perspective – one day cringing to the Hohenzollerns, and the next day ready to go on all fours before Wilson – supporting Wrangel, but ready to desert him when it suited it – entering into an agreement with Soviet Russia with the hope of deceiving her – this cowardly ‘Menshevik democracy’ got itself into a hopeless tangle, and sealed its own fate.

As we have already stated, we did not consider the military liquidation of Menshevik Georgia politically expedient, although such an act would have been perfectly justifiable. We were, of course, aware that the Menshevik politicians would raise a hue and cry in all the languages of democratic civilization, if we were to tread on their corns. For they were not mere Rostov, Novocherkask or Ekaterinodar workers whom Denikin’s followers, aided by the friendly neutrality and practical co-operation of the Georgian Mensheviks, murdered in hundreds and in thousands, and who fell uncomplainingly and uncelebrated by Europe. Was it not clear from the first that the Georgian Menshevik politicians, being all intellectuals, ex-students at various European universities, and hospitable hosts of Renaudel, Vandervelde, and Kautsky, were bound to wring the hearts of all the organs of social democracy, liberalism and reaction? Was it not perfectly clear that all the politicians who had disgraced themselves by supporting the imperialist slaughter, all the worn-out deserters of official socialism, would answer the complaints of their injured Georgian brothers by indignant howls, in order to show how ready they were to listen to the voice of Justice, and to show their devotion to the ideals of democracy, all the more so as they could do this without any cost to themselves? We knew them too well not to have known that they would not let pass such a splendid opportunity for resolutions, manifestoes, declarations, appeals, memoranda, articles, and speeches, all delivered with the most pathetic tremolo in their voices. Even for this reason alone, only from the desire not to give any occasion for international ‘democratic’ hysteria, we were prepared to leave the Menshevik leaders of the counter-revolution severely alone in their Georgian refuge.

We would have acted thus even if we did not have other more weighty reasons. We wanted to come to an agreement. We proposed to the Mensheviks joint action against Denikin, but they refused this proposal. We made an agreement with them, which interfered much less with their independence than the protectorate of the Entente. We insisted on the carrying out of the agreement, and we denounced the hostile attitude of the Georgian Mensheviks in a long series of notes and protests. Through pressure by the Georgian working masses, we were endeavouring to secure in Georgia a neighbour who could even be a useful intermediary for us between the Soviet Federation and the capitalist West. Such was our political orientation with relation to Georgia. But there was no longer any turning back for the Mensheviks. In studying today the documentary evidence of our relations with the Menshevik government, I have often wondered at our patience, and at the same time I could not help paying a tribute of recognition to the gigantic bourgeois machine of falsifications and lies, by which the inevitable Soviet revolution in Georgia was represented as a sudden unprovoked military attack, as a descent of the Soviet wolf on the innocent Red Riding Hood of Menshevism. Ah! you poets of the Stock Exchange, you romancers of diplomacy, you mythologists of the big press – you lackeys of the boss!

* * *

Kautsky, with the penetration peculiar to him, has exposed the devilish mechanism of the Bolshevik revolution in Georgia, as follows: The rising did not have its beginning in Tbilisi, as would have been the case if it had come from the working masses. It took place on the borders of the country, and in proximity to the Soviet forces. It developed from the periphery to the centre. Was not this a conclusive proof that the Menshevik regime fell a victim to military violence from outside? Such reasoning would do credit to a newly selected JP, but it is not an explanation of historical events.

The Soviet revolution at the beginning spread from the Petrograd and Moscow centres throughout the former Tsarist Empire. At that time the revolution had no army. Its pioneers were the detachments of hastily armed workers, who, without any opposition, entered the most backward provinces, and who built up the Soviet power with the sympathy and support of the working masses. In those parts where the bourgeois and landowners had taken possession of the centre, as for instance on the Don or the Kuban, the revolution moved from the periphery to the centre, often with the collaboration of agitators and fighters from the capitals.

However, the counter-revolution, with help from outside, succeeded in regaining possession of the more backward border provinces, and firmly established itself there, as happened on the Don and in the Kuban, in the Caucasus, in the Volga regions, in Siberia, on the White Sea, and even in the Ukraine. The revolutionary and counter-revolutionary armies were being built up simultaneously. The question of the limits of the Soviet revolution was beginning to be decided by means of regular battles and military campaigns. The armies were not introduced from ‘outside’, but were created by those classes which were conducting a life and death struggle throughout the whole length and breadth of the former Tsarist Empire. This revolutionary class struggle, that is to say, began to express itself in regular military campaigns. It is true, that the counter-revolution was to a great extent supported by military forces from outside. But this fact makes our deductions all the more convincing. Without Petrograd, Moscow, Ivanovo-Voznesensk, the Donets Basin, and the Urals, there would have been no revolution. The Donets region itself would have never established the Soviet Power. Neither would it have been established by the rural districts of the Moscow province. But as the Moscow villages, the Kuban Cossack Settlements, and the Volga Steppes had always formed one state and one economic whole, they were drawn with the first into the whirlpool of revolution, and the revolutionary leadership of the towns and the industrial proletariat was established over all of them. The spread and the victory of the revolution was not guaranteed by plebiscite in every part of the country, but by the incontestable hegemony of the proletarian vanguard throughout the country. Some of the border provinces in the West succeeded, with the aid of armed forces from outside, not only in getting temporarily out of the whirlpool of revolution, but even in maintaining a bourgeois regime for a considerable length of time. The ‘democracies’ of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and even of Poland, owe their existence to the fact that, at the critical moment of their creation, foreign military forces were supporting the bourgeoisie and oppressing the proletariat. It is just in those countries adjoining the capitalist West that the inter-relation and the co-operation of the revolutionary forces were prevented by the massacre, the incarceration and the deportation of the best proletarian elements by the military forces which had been brought in from outside. It is only in this way that in these countries a temporary equilibrium of a democracy on a bourgeois basis was established. By the way, is there any reason why the righteous members of the Second International should not bring forward the following programme: the evacuation of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, etc. by the bourgeois armies which have been formed with the aid of forces from outside, the liberation of all those who have been arrested and the return of all exiles (since it is not possible to resurrect those who have been killed); and a referendum?

The position of Trans-Caucasia was different, in that it was separated from the centre of revolution by the Cossack Vendée. Without Soviet Russia the petty bourgeois Trans-Caucasian democracy would have been immediately crushed by Denikin. Without the White Guards on the Don and in the Kuban it would have been at once dissolved in the Soviet Revolution, for it was kept in existence by the strenuous civil war in Russia and by foreign military aid in Trans-Caucasia itself. As soon as the civil war was ended by a victory for the Soviet Republic, the overthrow of the petty bourgeois regime in Trans-Caucasia became inevitable.

As early as February, 1918, Zhordania was complaining that the Bolshevik spirit had taken hold of the rural as well as the town population, and even of the Menshevik workers. There were perpetual peasant risings in Georgia. While in Soviet Russia the legal Menshevik newspapers were not interfered with until the rising of the Czechoslovaks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks in May, 1918, in Georgia the Communist Party was driven underground as early as the beginning of February. Notwithstanding the fact that Soviet Russia was entirely cut off, and that the continuous presence of foreign armies was terrorizing the workers of Trans-Caucasia, there were many more Red risings in Georgia than White risings on Soviet territory. Repression was practised to a much greater degree by the Georgian government than by the Russian Soviet government.

Our victory over Denikin, which was at the same time a victory over the all-powerful Entente, made an enormous impression on the Trans-Caucasian masses. At the approach of the Soviet armies to the frontiers of Azerbaijan and Georgia, the working masses of these Republics, who had never ceased to be at one with the Russian working masses, were caught up on the wave of the revolution. Their temper may be compared to that which had seized the masses of East Prussia and to a great extent of the whole of Germany, at the time of our advance on Warsaw, and of the approach of the left wing of the Red Army to the German frontiers. In Germany, however, it was only a passing phase, while the annihilation of the Denikin armies in the sight of the Entente was decisive, and imbued the working masses of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia with the conviction that the Soviet government to the north of them was henceforth firmly established.

In Azerbaijan the Soviet revolution took place almost automatically at the approach of our armies to the frontiers of the Republic. The ruling bourgeois-landowner, ‘Musavat’ party did not have the traditions and the influence of the Georgian Mensheviks. Baku, which plays a much more important part in Azerbaijan than Tbilisi does in Georgia, was an old stronghold of Bolshevism. The ‘Musavatists’ ran away, leaving the power in the hands of the Bolsheviks without a fight. The part played by the Armenian ‘Dashnaks’ (the corresponding Armenian party), was not more dignified. In Georgia events developed in a more orderly fashion. The repressed Bolshevik tendencies began to assert themselves. The Communist Party, as an organization, grew rapidly, and still more rapidly attracted to itself the sympathies of the working masses. The journal of the Georgian Socialist-Federalists Sakastvelo, on December 7, 1920, contained the following statement:

Today the power of the Communists in Georgia is something quite different from what it was a few months ago. At that time there were no Bolsheviks near Georgia, and we were surrounded by independent nationalist republics. Our economic and financial position was comparatively much better than today. Today, however, we have a different picture, and the change is all in favour of the Bolsheviks. In Georgia, the Bolsheviks have now party organizations, and in some working class circles, for instance, in the printers’ trade union, they have a majority. Generally, Bolshevik activity is assuming large dimensions. Inside we witness the growth of the Bolshevik forces, and outside we see their complete domination. Such is the present situation in Georgia.

These complaints of a hostile paper, which reflect real facts, are of great importance to us, for they categorically refute Kautsky, who not only testified to the ‘complete freedom’ for Communists but also to their complete impotence, and basing himself on this, represented the Soviet revolution in Georgia as a result of violence from outside. At the same time the statement of the Nationalist paper: ‘Inside – the growth of Bolshevik forces; outside – their complete domination,’ constitutes a clear expression of the impending Soviet revolution. The hopelessness of their position drove the Georgian Mensheviks to the path of open reaction. The brusque and provocative refusal by the Zhordania government of an alliance against Denikin had already shaken the position of the Mensheviks with the masses. The continuous infringements of the agreement with Soviet Russia, to which of course we gave the greatest publicity, operated in the same way. Realizing that after the victory of the Soviet power in the remaining south-eastern parts of the former Tsarist Empire, an independent existence would be impossible, the Mensheviks made desperate attempts to aid Wrangel, and to obtain the military co-operation of the Entente. In vain! For the Crimea campaign decided not only the fate of Wrangel but the fate of Menshevik Georgia as well.

Our Caucasian army received some reinforcements in the autumn of 1920, at the time of the Wrangel descent on the Kuban, and of the persistent rumours of the occupation of Batumi. The concentration of our forces had a purely defensive character. The liquidation of Wrangel and the armistice with Poland caused a revival of Soviet opinion in Georgia, but the presence of Red regiments on the frontiers was nothing but a safeguard against foreign intervention in the event of a Soviet revolution. The Red forces were not required for the overthrow of the Georgian Mensheviks, but for the prevention of the possibility of a British, French, or Wrangel descent from Constantinople against the Soviet revolution. The Mensheviks themselves with their praetorian National Guards and their fictitious National Army, made only a feeble resistance. Having begun in the middle of February, the Soviet revolution was towards the middle of March already completed in all parts of the country.

We have no occasion to conceal or minimize the role which the Soviet Army played in the Soviet victory in the Caucasus. In February, 1921, it did great service to the revolution, although this service was not as great as that received by the Mensheviks in the course of three years from the Turkish, German and British armies, not to mention the Russian White Guards. The fact that the revolutionary committee, which directed the rising, began its activity not from Tbilisi, the centre of the Menshevik National Guard, but from the borders, with the Red Army at its back – is only proof that the revolutionary committee possessed political sense, which can certainly not be said of Kautsky, who, rather late in the day, is endeavouring to dictate to the Georgian revolution an entirely different strategy. With all due respect, we refuse to accept these lessons. We wish to learn and to teach how to beat our enemies, while the apostles of the Second International are propounding the art of being beaten.

What took place was the result of long preparation. It was what, owing to the logic of events, could not but take place. The history of the relations between Georgia and Soviet Russia is only a chapter in the book of the blockade of Russia, of military interventions, of French gold, of British ships, and of the four fronts on which the best elements of the working class have been sacrificed. This chapter cannot be eliminated from the book. The Georgia which is being described today by the beaten Menshevik commanders of the civil war never existed. There has never been either a democratic, or a peaceful, or an independent, or a neutral Georgia. There was a Georgian fortress in the all-Russian class struggle. That fortress is today in the hands of the victorious proletariat.

And after the Menshevik leaders in Georgia had helped to massacre, to freeze to death, and to hang tens of thousands of Red soldiers and thousands of Communists (and to inflict wounds on us which it will take years to heal), after we had come victoriously out of the struggle, notwithstanding our losses and sacrifices, and after the workers of Georgia had kicked them into Batumi harbour, they ask us to consider the game lost, and to begin again from the beginning. Their democratic chastity, which had been violated by Russian, Turkish, Prussian, and British officers, is to be rehabilitated by MacDonald, Kautsky, Mrs. Snowden and other learned accoucheurs and midwives of the Second International. After this, Menshevik Georgia, the most democratic, most free, and most neutral country in the world, will be resuscitated in all its glory, under the protection of the British fleet, with the help of subsidies from the British oil magnates and the Italian manganese dealers, with the approval of The Times, and even with the blessing of the new Pope of Rome.

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Last updated on: 3.1.2007