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.