on November 15, 2017
Congratulations to Eric Lee for having written one of the most important books coming from the democratic Left in a long time, one that is excellently researched and, stylistically, a pleasure to read. This is the story of the short-lived Menshevik-led, democratic socialist Georgian Republic (in the Transcaucasia region of Eastern Europe), that existed only between 1918 and 1921, eventually to be crushed by Russia's invading Red Army. Georgia’s most infamous son, Joseph Stalin, sharpened up his claws destroying that Georgian “experiment,” assisted by yet another monster, Lavrentiy Beria. At the time, Lenin is said to have known nothing about the Red Army's invasion, while Trotsky supported the decision of the Bolsheviks to help “consign" those Mensheviks--who had no interesting in joining the newly formed Soviet Union--to the “dustbin of history.”
One can imagine how Georgia would have been a considerable thorn in the side of the Russia’s Bolsheviks: Here was a a group of anti-Lenin orthodox Marxists aligned with Julius Martov and Georgi Plekhanov in Russian, with Karl Kautsky in Germany, and with (unfortunately not as well known) Noe Zhordania in Georgia, who created a liberal democratic society that respected and encouraged free trade unions, free elections, and allowed freedom of the press and the freedom of other political parties to elect representatives to the government. The Bolsheviks had very little popular support but had the right to organize--something they did quite well, creating what the author refers to as a “fifth column,” that would eventually help in the overthrow of the new Republic and the execution of untold thousands of those opposed to the Bolsheviks. Georgia showed the world what a democratic socialist republic looked like, as Russia showed us how to assemble a totalitarian monstrosity.
There are some fascinating oddities about the Georgian Republic, including their own version of agrarian reform that included promoting—surprisingly—food and farm cooperatives, allowing poor peasants to lease land and wealthier peasants to purchase it. In some cases, nobles were allowed to keep some of their property. While this was unorthodox, it did allow the land to become quite productive and the well-fed Georgians avoided the mass starvation created by the Russian Bolsheviks who expropriated and nationalized all land, creating a de facto civil war between the Kremlin and the peasantry that resulted in millions of deaths by starvation and, of course, by execution.
When I joined the Young Peoples Socialist League in 1972, I entered having read Michael Harrington’s “The Other America,” some essays by Bayard Rustin, and some Lenin (that’s where I first learned of the “renegade” Kautsky!) and Trotsky. Gradually, I expanded my reading to include Rosa Luxemburg (“The Russian Revolution”) and Kautsky (“The Dictatorship of the Proletariat”), and eventually Julius Martov (“The State and Socialist Revolution”). It was in Martov’s monograph that I first learned of the 1922 Kursky letter, where Lenin searched for a formula through which he could expedite the execution of their political opponents, including Mensheviks. (Did I mention that Bolsheviks seem to be particularly fond of executing their opponents? Far easier than having to deal with them through the democratic process.)
It was also strongly suggested to me by a group of older, "more mature" comrades to read Solzhenitsyn’s “Gulag Archipelago” and Wittfogel’s “Oriental Despotism,” both books becoming critical in my own political development.
For our younger recruits and those of “more mature” stature, myself now among the ranks of the latter, I’d like to add this book to the list of essentials. Most leftists have never heard of the Georgian Republic. However, with this book, I hope that situation will change. We democratic socialists have very little to point to and say, “This is what we would like a socialist society to look like.” Here! Now we have a book about “The Experiment: Georgia’s Forgotten Revolution” and one that should be “required reading” among all leftists of all ages!