Leon Trotsky

Between Red and White

The Georgian Gironde as a Political Type

Georgia played a most important part in the history of Russian Menshevism. [1] It was in Georgia that Menshevism became the most potent and obvious form of the adaptation of Marxism to the requirements of the intelligentsia of a backward and eminently pre-capitalist people. The absence of industry meant the absence of a native bourgeoisie. Commercial capital was mainly in the hands of Armenians. Spiritual culture was represented by the intelligentsia, mostly small landed proprietors. Capitalism, which was beginning to work its way into the life of the people, had not yet created any new culture, but had already given rise to new requirements, which the Georgian nobles could not satisfy from their vineyards and goat-herds. The discontent with Russian officialdom and Tsarism became associated with the resentment against capitalism, personified by the Armenian merchant and usurer. Concern for the future and the search for an outlet made the young generation of the noble and petty bourgeois intelligentsia susceptible to the ideas of democracy and anxious for the support of the toiling masses. Yet at that time – towards the end of the last century – the programme of political democracy, in its old Jacobin or Manchester Liberal shape, had long since been compromised by the march of historical development, and had surrendered its power over the consciousness of the oppressed masses of Europe to various socialistic theories, which, in their turn, gave way to Marxism. The aspirations of the rising generation of the cities and villages towards wider literary, political and other activities, coloured by envy and hatred of capitalism; the first manifestations of the movement among the artisans and the small numbers of industrial workers; the muffled discontent of a slave-driven peasantry – all these found their expression in the Menshevik version of Marxism, which, at one and the same time, persistently inculcated the recognition of the inevitability of capitalist development, gave new sanction to the ideas of political democracy that had long since been discredited in the West, and prognosticated for the dim distant future the predominance of the working class as an organic and painless outcome of democracy.

Small nobles by extraction, petty bourgeois by their mode of life and psychological make-up, the Georgian Menshevik leaders entered upon their revolutionary political career with false Marxian passports in their pockets. Southern emotionalism and adaptable versatility made them the leaders of the students and the general democratic movement; imprisonment, exile, and the platform of the Imperial Duma intensified their political authority and established a certain tradition for Menshevism in Georgia.

The vapid and petty bourgeois nature of Menshevism, particularly of its Georgian wing, became all the more evident as the revolutionary wave grew in volume and internal and international problems became increasingly more complex. Political cowardice is a very important feature of Menshevism, and revolution does not tolerate cowardice. During periods when great events are taking place, the Menshevik represents a very sad figure. One perceives, in this peculiarity of the Menshevik, the social awe of the petty bourgeois before the big bourgeois; of the civilian intellectual before the military Generals; of the petty attorney before the ‘real’ diplomat; of the sensitive and vain provincial before the Frenchman or the Britisher. Their cowardice in cringing before the authorized representatives of capital is the counterpart of their proud condescension towards the workers. Tseretelli’s hatred of Soviet Russia is nothing but indignation against the daring attempt of the worker to take power into his own hands, a thing which at best should have been tackled only by himself – the educated middle-class man – and with the permission of the big capitalist at that.

When Chkhenkeli or Gegechkori speak of Bolshevism, they gather their epithets from the fishwives, not only of Tbilisi, but also of the whole of Europe. When they ‘converse’ with the Tsarist General Alexeev, or the German von Kress, or the British Walker, they do their best to maintain the high-toned manner of a Swiss head waiter. They are particularly afraid of Generals. They plead with them, they endeavour to convince them and explain to them politely that Georgian Socialism is altogether different from the other varieties of Socialism: the latter cause destruction and disorder, but theirs is a guarantee of order. Political experience can make the middle class more cynical, but it cannot teach them anything.

In a previous chapter we opened the diary of Djugeli, and beheld one of the ‘knightly’ Mensheviks in his own description of himself. He burns Ossetian villages, and in the manner of a corrupted schoolboy describes in his diary his elation at the beauty of the conflagration and his kinship with Nero. This repulsive mountebank was obviously impressed by the Bolsheviks, who do not hush up the facts of civil war and the severe measures which they are compelled to adopt in retaliation against their enemies. Djugeli, in common with his teachers, absolutely fails to see that behind this frank and fearless policy of revolutionary violence there lives the consciousness of their historic vindication and their revolutionary mission, which has nothing in common with the unbridled cynicism of the ‘democratic’ provincial satrap, who burns peasant villages and at the same time examines himself in the mirror to confirm his likeness to the enthroned degenerate of Rome.

Djugeli is no exception, and this is best illustrated by the fact that a very flattering preface to his book was written by the former Minister of the Interior, Gegechkori. Ramishvili, the successor of Zhordania as Minister of the Interior, with feigned solemnity, proclaimed the right of democracy to the use of ruthless terror, quoting Marx as authority. From Nero to Marx ...! The quick-change mimicry of these provincial bourgeois, their superficial and purely ape-like imitativeness, are a loud testimony to their emptiness and vapidity.

When the complete helplessness of ‘independent’ Georgia became increasingly evident even to the Mensheviks themselves, and when, after the defeat of Germany, they were compelled to seek the protection of the Entente, they more carefully concealed the instruments of their Special Detachment, and instead of the shoddy Djugeli-Nero mask, they put on the no less shoddy Zhordania-Tseretelli-Gladstone mask, thus associating themselves with the great herald of Liberal platitudes.

A counterfeit of Marxism was a psychological necessity to the Georgian Mensheviks, particularly in their young days, as this reconciled them to their essentially bourgeois position. But their political cowardice, their democratic rhetoric – the pathos of platitudes – their instinctive aversion from everything exact, finished and well-defined in the domain of ideas, their envious cringing before the outward forms of bourgeois civilization, all combined to produce a psychological type which is the direct opposite to the Marxist. When Tsereteli speaks of ‘international democracy’ (at Petrograd, Tbilisi, or Paris) one never knows whether he means the mythical ‘family of nations’, the International, or the Entente. In the last resort he always addresses himself to the latter, but speaks in such a manner as though at the same time embracing the world’s proletariat. The confusion of his ideas, the haziness of his conceptions, are excellent means for this sleight-of-hand trick. When Zhordania, the leader of the clan, speaks of international solidarity, he at the same time makes allusion to the hospitality of the Georgian Tsars. The ‘future of the International and (!) the League of Nations is assured,’ announces Chkhenkeli upon his return from Europe. National prejudices and scraps of socialism, Marx and Wilson, flights of rhetoric and middle-class narrow-mindedness, pathos and buffoonery, International and League of Nations, a small dose of sincerity and a large dose of chicanery, put together with the smugness of a provincial apothecary – this mixture, ‘well shaken before use’ by the tossing of events, is the soul of Georgian Menshevism.

The Georgian Mensheviks hailed with glee the 14 points of Wilson. They welcomed the League of Nations. First they had welcomed the entry of the Kaiser’s troops into Georgia, then they welcomed their departure. They welcomed the entry of the British troops. They welcomed the friendly assurance of the French Admiral. It goes without saying that they welcomed Kautsky, Vandervelde, Mrs. Snowden. They are ready at any time to welcome the Archbishop of Canterbury, if the latter is willing to hurl a few extra curses at the Bolsheviks. By this conduct these gentry hope to prove that they are ‘part and parcel of European civilization’.

Menshevism reveals its true character in the Memorandum presented by the Georgian delegation to the League of Nations at Geneva.

’Having rallied to the banner of Western democracy’ (reads the concluding part of the Memorandum), ‘the Georgian people naturally views with exceptional sympathy the idea of establishing such a political system as, being the direct outcome of war, would at the same time serve as a means for paralyzing the possibility of future wars. The League of Nations... embodying such a system, represents the most fruitful achievement of mankind on the road to the future unity of the race. In asking for admission into the League of Nations ... the Georgian government thinks that the very principles which are to regulate international life, henceforth directed towards solidarity and collaboration, demand the acceptance into the family of free European nations of an ancient people, once the vanguard of Christianity in the East, now become the vanguard of democracy, a people which only strives to freedom and persevering labour in its home, which is its legitimate and indisputable heirloom.’

Nothing should be added or detracted. It is a classical document of shallowness. This can be safely adopted as a criterion: the socialist who does not vomit on reading this Memorandum should be ignominiously and finally expelled from the labour movement.

The main lesson drawn by Kautsky from his study of Georgia is this, that, unlike the whole of Russia, with its factions, schisms and inward strife, unlike too, this whole sinful world, which in this respect is no better than Russia – only in the mountains of Georgia do you see the undivided sway of genuine, undiluted Marxism. At the same time Kautsky does not conceal the fact that in Georgia there was no big or medium sized industry, and consequently no modern proletariat. The majority of the Menshevik deputies to the Constituent Assembly was made up of school-masters, physicians, and officials. The bulk of the electors were peasants. Kautsky, however, does not go to the trouble of explaining this striking historical miracle. He who, with the rest of the Mensheviks, accuses us of parading Russia’s backwardness as her supreme virtue, finds the ideal specimen of Social-Democracy in the most backward corner of old Russia. Indeed, the fact that for some time Georgian ‘Marxism’ was free from that schism and factional strife experienced by other less fortunate countries, furnishes the very proof of a most primitive social environment and a belated process of differentiation between the bourgeois and the proletarian democracies, which, consequently, means that Georgian Menshevism had nothing whatever to do with Marxism.

Instead of answering these fundamental questions, Kautsky haughtily declares that he had already learnt the truths of Marxism when many of us were still in our cradles. I make no attempt to dispute this assertion. The wise Nestor (of Shakespeare, not of Homer), boasted of his advantage over his enemy in the fact that his sweetheart had once been more beautiful than the grandmother of his enemy. And everyone is welcome to find his solace in his own way. Yet it is possible that, just because Kautsky learnt the ABC of Marxism so very long ago, he is unable to apply its very first letters to Georgia. He interprets the more stable and prolonged sway of Georgian Menshevism as the result of higher tactical wisdom, and not as a result of the fact that the era of revolutionary socialism had begun much later in backward Georgia than in the other parts of old Russia. Disgruntled by the march of historical events, Karl Kautsky arrived at Tbilisi to quench his spiritual thirst in the last days of the Menshevik era, three-quarters of a century after Marx and Engels had written their manifesto. Also Mrs. Snowden arrived at this pleasure resort to air her spiritual wardrobe. The common sense of the truly Fabian gospel according to Zhordania, which clasped in its wide embrace both the Georgian Tsar and M. Huysmans, was destined by Heaven to please the high ideal of the official leaders of British socialism.

How stubbornly stupidity survives when it has social roots!


1. The exact list of these considerable stores is based on original documents mentioned in I. Shaffier’s book Civil War in Russia and Menshevik Georgia, Moscow 1921, p.39

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Last updated on: 3.1.2007