History Worth Remembering
Professor Stephen F. Jones, Mount Holyoke College
After the end of the Cold War, social democracy lost its global appeal. It was tarred with the same brush as communism. Like communism, it was an ideology of the left – anti-market, antiquated, and a threat to our liberties. But coupling communism with social democracy is like linking liberalism with fascism. It is misleading and manipulative. In Georgia, neo-liberal politicians use the association to condemn any attempt at greater state involvement in the economy, such as better protection of employees’ rights or better protection of the environment. But the manipulation goes deeper, burrowing into the country’s past. Eric Hobsbawm wrote that history is “selected, written, pictured, popularized and institutionalized by those whose function it is to do so.” In Soviet Georgia, creating history was the function of the party and the well-behaved intelligentsia who told us, among other things, that the Georgievsk Treaty was a progressive act reflecting centuries of Russian-Georgian friendship. Soviet ideology dictated such a historical assessment. Today in Georgia, we see a similarly ideologically determined view of the past. If neo-liberalism is good, then anything in the past that was on the left, from social democracy to communism, must have been bad. That includes, of course, the Georgian Democratic Republic of 1918-1921.
Often mislabeled as Menshevik, the Georgian Democratic Republic today is either ignored (a deliberately forgotten history), or condemned as a Marxist state that betrayed Georgian national interests. Georgian Social Democrats are considered too left-wing to be patriotic; their commitment to socialist ideas is seen as both anti-national and anti-rational. Their social democratic policies, it is argued, prevented them from creating a strong national state and from effectively resisting Bolshevik Russia. A good example of this approach was recently displayed in the Georgian Journal (7-13 October, 2010, p.15), which suggested that the Russian-Georgian Treaty of May 7th, 1920 was a betrayal, and possibly treasonous. Noe Jordania is portrayed as hopelessly naïve, weak, and responsible for the fall of the First Republic. We are told that he “turned Georgia into a haven for socialists and communists,” and “forced the French and English military units and fleet to withdraw from Georgia.” The interview suggests that in the spring of 1920, instead of signing the Treaty, the Georgian military could have liberated the South Caucasus from Russian troops.
These are fantastic claims. After the signing of the May 1920 Treaty, despite the Communist party’s legalization, the position of the Bolsheviks worsened, in part due to Georgian government repression, in part due to the local Bolsheviks own demoralization following what they saw as capitulation to the Georgian government. It was not a “haven” for Bolsheviks (it is unclear who is meant by “socialists”). Second, the French and English were not forced out by the Georgian government’s actions in May; they had already announced their intention to leave Georgia and hand over the mandate to the Italians, something the Georgian government supported. Third, despite Bolshevik losses in Ukraine at this time, the Georgian Army and the National Guard did not have the resources to exploit Bolshevik weakness and expel Russian forces from the Caucasus. Such a war would have weakened an already financially bankrupt state and inflamed Georgia’s national minority areas in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In 1920, Jordania needed peace, and the Georgian people needed peace.
The Georgian Journal article characterizes Grigol Uratadze, who negotiated the treaty with Russia, as inexperienced and not a “political figure” in the Georgia social democratic movement. This is inaccurate – after his leadership role in the Gurian rebellion in 1904-1905, he was a longtime party activist who played a visible role in the life of the Georgian Democratic Republic. The treaty he negotiated with Russia was imperfect, but surely even President Saakashvili would agree that institutionalizing diplomatic relations with Russia is an important first step in securing stability at home. The Treaty did not reflect Noe Jordania’s left-wing sympathies, but his middle of the road pragmatism.
The Soviet legacy in Georgia has been deep and prolonged. But enough time has passed (20 years) to reconsider the Georgian Democratic Republic without the emotional and negative bias associated with anything left of center. Any fair analysis of the First Republic would acknowledge the extraordinary complexities faced by Noe Jordania’s government – compromise was inevitable for a small and weak state like Georgia, both in domestic and foreign policy. A proper and temperate study of Georgian Social Democrats between 1918-1921 would show they were as patriotic as anyone else; many sacrificed their lives for the continued independence of Georgia. Georgian Social Democracy was not unpatriotic and, as the Georgian Social Democrats demonstrated during their struggle with Bolshevism, had little to do with communism.
In 1888, Ilya Chavchavadze warned: “a nation which begins to forget its history becomes diluted, degenerates, and loses its face.” Georgia has a rich history, a multicolored history, and the current consensus among political elites on the correctness of neo-liberalism should not blind Georgians to the constructive national policies of past social democratic leaders like Noe Jordania, Akaki Chkhenkeli, Karlo Chkheidze, and Noe Ramishvili. They were the “founding fathers” of the modern Georgian nation and the republic, and they deserve to be remembered as patriotic Georgians too.
The staff of the National Guard – 1st row: at the center Noe Jordania, to his left Valiko Jugheli and Noe Ramichvili; 2nd to his right, Noe Homeriki
The People’s Guard set up at the initiative of the Georgian social democratic party before the independence was renamed the “National Guard” when the Republic of Georgia proclaimed its independence
The 12 of december 1917, the people’s Guard seized the Arsenal of Tiflis and its weapons in order to defend the homeland. this day became a National Day during the independence, the second to be celebrated, after the 26 of May.
At the very difficult times when the Democratic State of Georgia was shaped, and the young Republic had still neither regular army nor organized militia, the People’s Guard was the only effective force that the founders of the Georgian Republic could oppose to the anarchical and anti-statist elements.
The leaders and organizers of the “armed forces of the proletariat” were “Valiko JUGHELI, Chief of staff, one of the few intellectuals included in the squad; Alexander DGUEBOULADZE, Socialist worker, Valiko CHARACHIDZE, soldier, he had earned four crosses of St. George and had refused to be promoted officer to remain with his fellow soldiers. He created the artillery of the People’s Guard and was killed by the Tatars. Sandro MAISSOURADZE, worker locksmith, he died during the Armenian-Georgian war, on the battlefield of Ekaterinfeld, when he tried to take back a battery”. W. Woytinski in” La Démocratie Géorgienne” – Edition Alcan Levy – Paris 1921.
Noe Jordania (in the middle, with a white beard)
January 15th 1868, Lantchkhouti, Georgia – January 11th 1953, Vanves, France.
Seminary student in Tbilisi, Noe Jordania distinguished himself very early by a critical manner of thinking. He devoted his time to the study of natural sciences and sociology, while leading a clandestine student group.
In 1891, he is a student at the Veterinary Institute in Warsaw. He studies also the European socialist and revolutionary theories and movements.
Back in Tbilisi in 1893, he presides over the birth of the Georgian Social Democratic party, and then leaves in a study tour to Switzerland, France, Germany, England. From there, he sends articles to his country’s press: about Georgia’s national past, European workers movement, rural organization, etc. So, when he returned in Georgia, four years after, he was recognized by all as a highly talented journalist and writer.
A year later, he takes the directorship of the newspaper “Kvali” (The Furrow), which become the rallying point of the young generation in revolt against the Tsarist regime. He was arrested and imprisoned. In 1902, he launched the idea of a confederation of the peoples of the Caucasus.
In 1917, after the Russian defeat, he is the President of all the revolutionary organizations of the Caucasus and of the Georgian National Council.
On May 26, 1918, Noe Jordania, leader of the Social Democratic party, in behalf of the National Council proclaims the independence of Georgia.
The independent Georgia made Noe Jordania its head of State. Under his enlightened leadership the State of Georgia revives. At the head of the government, he undertook the national reconstruction, the reforms which must bring Georgia to prosperity.
Social and educational action, defense of democratic freedoms, agrarian reform, a foreign policy carried out for building alliances, for obtaining the recognition of the independence of Georgia and the recovery of the provinces ceded by Russia to Turkey by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (1917) had developed in the Georgian population a strong sense of national ownership.
However, Soviet Russia armies invaded Georgia, in violation of the Treaty of May 7, 1920 and without declaring war. After a valiant resistance, Georgia, also attacked by Turkey, fells to the Russians. On March 17, 1921, the legal Georgian Government, Noe Jordania at his head, is charged with the mission to defend the sovereign interest of Georgia before foreign powers and public opinion.
Acting on the decision of the Constituent Assembly, they sailed for France which officially welcomed the Government in exile. They defended with unflagging energy the rights of Georgia to the official representatives of the nations, Socialist parties, public opinion.
Up until the end of his life, Noe Jordania kept clandestine personal contacts with Georgia for he is convinced that in Georgian people’s heart must be preserved the national flame in order that, when the time comes, Georgia restores its independence.
Stephen F. Jones – “Socialism in Georgian colors” . Harvard University Press- 2005:
“There was Jordania’s authority and leadership. Wladimir Woytinski, a prominent Menshevik who fled with Irakli Tsereteli on the perilous journey to Georgia from Petrograd in 1918 and who edited “Bor’ba”, the Georgian Social Democrats’ Russian-language newspaper from 1918-1919, remarked :
“In Georgia, he (Jordania), looked taller, his voice was stronger, and a slight stammer added weight to words. There seemed to be the halo of the tribal prophet around his majestic head with its thin gray hair and full beard. indeed he was more than the head of a political party. He was the uncountested leader of his small nation, surrounded by love and devotion, and the remarkable unity of the Georgian people stemmed largely from his influence.” ( W. Woytinski in ” La Démocratie Géorgienne” – Edition Alcan Levy – Paris 1921.)
Sir (John) Oliver Wardrop (10 October 1864 – 19 October 1948) was a British diplomat, traveller and Georgian scholar, primarily known as the United Kingdom’s first Chief Commissioner of Transcaucasus in Georgia (1919-21), and also as the founder and benefactor of Kartvelian studies at Oxford University.
After traveling to Georgia, then part of Russian empire in 1887, O. Wardrop wrote his study The Kingdom of Georgia, published in 1888. In 1894 during his second journey to Georgia he mastered the Georgian language and published a series of books on Georgia, including his translation of Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani’s The Book of Wisdom and Lies.
In July 1919, the British Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon offered O. Wardrop the post of the first British Chief Commissioner of Transcaucasus in Tbilisi. The government of independent Georgia and its head Noe Jordania welcomed Sir Oliver’s return to Georgia. O. Wardrop tried to promote Georgian culture and gather all the support from the west for the newly formed country under the threat of Bolshevik aggression.
After Soviet Russia’s Red Army’s invasion of Georgia in 1921, O. Wardrop organized the set-up of the Georgian Society and the Georgian Committee in London. In 1930, along with William Edward David Allen, politician and historian of South Caucasus who published in 1932 A history of the Georgian people, he formed the Georgian Historical Society which published its own journal Georgica.
O. Wardrop also catalogued the Georgian manuscripts at the British Museum and continued to add to the Wardrop Collection of Georgian books and manuscripts at the Bodleian Library.
His sister Marjory Wardrop (1869–1909) was an English scholar. Fluent in seven foreign languages, she also learned Georgian and traveled to Georgia in 1894, 1895 and 1896. She translated into English prose the 12th-century Georgian epic poem by Shota Rustaveli, The Knight in the Panther’s Skin, published after her death by Oliver Wardrop in London (1912). She translated and published Georgian Folk Tales (London, 1894), The Hermit by Ilia Chavchavadze (London, 1895), The Life of St. Nino (Oxford, 1900), etc.
After her death, Sir Oliver created the Marjory Wardrop Fund at Oxford University “for the encouragement of the study of the language, literature, and history of Georgia, in Transcaucasia.” In 2003, based on the legacy left by Sir John Oliver Wardrop and his sister Marjory, the Oxford University Georgian Society was founded.
The Times Sept. 17, 1924
To the Editor of The Times
With regard to the report received by the League of Nations Council at Geneva that a national rising is taking place in Georgia against the Bolshevist rule of tyranny and oppression there, may I quote from an article written in the Glasgow Labour weekly, Forward, by Mr. Ramsay MacDonald in 1921, before he became Prime Minister and after his visit to that ancient and Socialist Christian country:
“I see that the campaign of calumny and untruthfulness designed to cover up the iniquity of the Bolshevist tyranny in Georgia is being continued, a further installment having appeared in a Labour paper within the last few days. My readers can take it without a tremor of hesitancy that Georgia was overrun by an army while it was too weak to fight successfully, and it is to-day being held down by force, and by committees of directors, backed by the Eleventh Army of the Moscow Republic … It is estimated that 100,000 Russian troops are now required to hold down the country. Freedom of press and speech does not exist. Sir Basil Thomson, Mr. Shott, and Sir Archibald Bodkin are angels compared with their Third international duplicates in Georgia. These are facts. This is the kind of crime that finds both apologists and defenders amongst our Left in this country. To the Socialist it must be a crime, a wanton piece of military aggression, something which he must do everything to undo.”
The world is now expectantly watching how Mr. MacDonald will use his present position of influence and power at Downing Street and Geneva in remedying that great injustice done to Georgia, which his soul yearned so ardently to redress when he had neither their means nor the power to do so.
I am, Sir, &c.,
B. J. WILDEN-HART
Overseas Club, Park-Place, St. James’s, S.W.1
Note : Bernard John WILDEN-HART was Master of Arts, of Keble College, Oxford, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and of the Royal Historical Society. Professor of Economics.