David Marshall Lang (excerpt from the book”A Modern History of Georgia”/NY/1962)
     Maps: Andrew Andersen and George Partskhaladze / 2007






Lenin versus Stalin on Georgia--Revival of Great Russian chauvinism--The insurrection of 1924—The Stalin Era--Industrial development--Georgian agriculture collectivized--The war against the kulaks--'Dizziness with Success'--The rise of Beria--The Five-Year Plans--Georgia under the purges-Political reorganization and the Stalin Constitution--The Georgian émigrés--Georgia during World War II--The final terror--Death of a dictator



Lenin versus Stalin on Georgia

The unexpected mildness of the terms offered by the Georgian Communists to their defeated rivals is to be explained in part by divergent reactions to the Georgian affair within the Politbureau in Moscow. Lenin and his colleagues had only given their sanction to the Red Army's advance when they were assured by Stalin, as Commissar of Nationalities, that a massive Bolshevik uprising had occurred in Tbilisi. According to Stalin and his man on the spot, Orjonikidze, the Mensheviks had already been virtually overthrown by the Georgian masses themselves, and the appearance of a few Red Army soldiers would simply consolidate a victory already won. Both Lenin and Trotsky were appalled when they later heard that heavy fighting was taking place and that the Mensheviks had rallied the nation to their side; they were most apprehensive of the impression which would be created among foreign socialists when it was learnt that the Russian Communists were now overthrowing other, independent socialist régimes by force of arms.


Joseph Stalin (Jughashvili)


The risk taken by Stalin in simultaneously hoodwinking his own comrades and defying world opinion in this fashion is partly to be accounted for in terms of his own past career, and his impatience to settle old personal scores. Twenty years earlier, in the days of the old Mesame Dasi when Social-Democracy was first taking root in Georgia, young Jughashvili-Stalin had been the odd man out. Thrust into the background by Zhordania and the other Mensheviks, Stalin had thrown in his lot with Lenin and the Russian Communist party. In October 1917 he had the satisfaction of seeing his compatriots and rivals Karlo Chkheidze and Irakli Tsereteli, both leading figures in the Kerensky régime, turned out of Petrograd and banished to their native Georgia. But it was a standing affront to Stalin, as Soviet Commissar of Nationalities, to be defied and held up to scorn in his own native Georgia of all places, while his sway extended over most of the other territory of the old Tsarist domains. Georgia must at all costs be brought within the Soviet fold. The Soviet-Georgian treaty of May 1920 was simply a tactical manœuvre; by November, Stalin was declaring: ' Georgia, which has been transformed into the principal base of the imperialist operations of England and France and which therefore has entered into hostile relations with Soviet Russia, that Georgia is now living out the last days of her life.' It was Stalin the Georgian who gave independent Georgia the coup de grâce.



Vladimir Lenin (Ulianov)


In an effort to put a good face on the occupation of Georgia, Lenin wrote to Orjonikidze after the fall of Tbilisi, urging him to come to terms with the fallen Menshevik régime. 'I must remind you that the internal and international position of Georgia requires of the Georgian Communists not the application of the Russian stereotype, but . . . an original tactic, based upon greater concessions to the petty bourgeois elements.' When he learnt that Zhordania and his cabinet declined to enter into a coalition and had embarked for Europe, with the full intention of turning the Georgian issue into an international scandal, Lenin was greatly perturbed. However, the Politbureau was obliged to accept Georgia's annexation as a fait accompli, and Trotsky, though highly critical of Stalin's handling of the situation, wrote a pamphlet in defence of Russian policy towards Georgia. In accordance with Lenin's directive, the Georgian Communist leaders tried at first to win over the people by fair words. However, they met with nation-wide passive resistance. To make things worse, famine prevailed in the towns and during the summer of 1921 an outbreak of cholera carried off thousands of victims. The desperate shortage of food and the breakdown of medical services resulted in heavy mortality, the Georgian Catholicos-Patriarch Leonid being among the dead.

Even those Tbilisi workers who were most sympathetic towards Communist doctrines remained patriots at heart. A mass meeting of 3,000 representatives of the Tbilisi workers' associations took place on 10 April 1921 at the Opera House on Rustaveli Avenue. It passed resolutions calling upon the Revcom to defend Georgia's rights to self-determination and independence; to hasten the formation of a national Red Army of Georgia; to secure for the working masses of Georgia the right to select their representatives by free elections; to ensure that the new Soviet order was introduced into Georgia in such a way as to respect the customs of the people; and to legalize the existence of all socialist organizations not actually engaging in activities directed against the régime. Though acceptable in the main to the local Georgian Bolsheviks, such resolutions as these were not in accordance with the policies of Stalin and his immediate associates. Far from permitting the formation of a Georgian Red Army, Stalin saw that all military formations were disbanded, and posted Russian garrisons at strategic points. Workers' organizations and trades unions were subordinated to the Bolshevik party committees, which received their instructions from Moscow. Russian agents of the political police or Cheka were sent to Georgia to mop up the local Mensheviks, whom the Georgian Bolsheviks would rather have been left to win over or render harmless in their own way.

Stalin also began to toy with the idea of bringing Georgia into a Transcaucasian Federation of Soviet Republics, into which Armenia and Azerbaijan would also be merged. The local Georgian Bolsheviks, on the other hand, preferred to retain the country as an autonomous Soviet Republic loosely associated with Moscow, and possessing its own political and administrative organs. In July 1921 Stalin came to Tbilisi on a personal visit of inspection and addressed a mass meeting in the working-class quarter of Tbilisi, where he had spent so many months of revolutionary activity. As soon as he appeared on the platform, surrounded by Cheka agents and guards, the crowd began to hiss. Old women in the audience, some of whom had fed and sheltered Stalin when he was hiding from the Tsarist secret police, shouted: 'Accursed one, renegade, traitor!' The crowd reserved its ovation for the veteran revolutionary leader Isidore Ramishvili and another of their leaders, Alexander Dgebuadze, who asked Stalin straight out: 'Why have you destroyed Georgia? What have you to offer by way of atonement?' Surrounded by the angry faces of his old comrades Stalin turned pale and could only stutter a few words of selfjustification, after which he left the hall cowering behind his Russian bodyguard. The next day, he stormed into Tbilisi Party Headquarters and made a furious attack on Philip Makharadze, whom he professed to hold personally responsible for his humiliation. Addressing a meeting of Tbilisi Communists on 6 July 1921, he urged them to renounce every vestige of local independence and merge into a single Transcaucasian Federation, in return for which he promised Georgia unlimited free oil from Baku and a loan of several million gold rubles from Moscow. Changing his tone, Stalin went on to attack what he called 'local chauvinism' among the Georgians. The most urgent task of the Georgian Communists was a ruthless struggle against the relics of nationalism. To smash 'the hydra of nationalism', the party must purge its ranks of local patriots and get rid of all who would not subordinate Georgia's interests to those of the entire Soviet Union.



Revival of Great Russian chauvinism

Such language, with its unmistakable overtones of new-born Great Russian imperialism, created a deplorable impression when coming from the lips of a native-born Georgian veteran of the liberation movement. Leading Georgian Bolsheviks like Mdivani, Eliava and Makharadze were dismayed at the abyss which gaped before them and protested vigorously against Stalin's scheme to abolish the autonomy of the non-Russian republics. Stalin was obdurate. Back in Moscow, he ordered the liquidation of all remains of the Georgian Menshevik party and went ahead with his plan for a new, centralistic constitution for the Soviet state. In the Politbureau, the protests of the Ukrainians and Georgians were upheld by Trotsky, who saw in Stalin's proposals an abuse of power which could not fail to offend the non-Russian peoples and expose as a mere fraud the Communist doctrine of self-determination for all national groups. The grip of the Russian Cheka over Georgia was in the meantime greatly strengthened. The Russian secret police brought with them their well-tried techniques of torture and intimidation, in which some of their local recruits proved very apt pupils. The Metekhi fortress jail, which had served the Tsars as a political prison, was crammed with captives, while the most obstinate cases were 'worked over' in the dreaded Cheka headquarters down in the city, where hundreds of miserable prisoners languished and died in conditions of indescribable squalor. The Georgian Church was the object of special attention on the part of Stalin and his henchmen, who egged on mobs of hooligans to attack priests and loot the sanctuaries, in the course of which many historic relics and works of art were stolen or destroyed.

The moral dilemma confronting the Georgian Communists emerges clearly from a report sent by P. Makharadze, then Chairman of the Georgian Communist Party, to the Central Committee of the Party in Moscow on 6 December 1921.

'The arrival of the Red Army and the establishment of Soviet power in Georgia,' wrote Makharadze, 'had the outward appearance of a foreign occupation because in the country itself there was nobody who was ready to take part in a rebellion or a revolution. And at the time of the proclamation of the Soviet régime there was, in the whole of Georgia, not even a single member of the party capable of organizing action or providing leadership and this task had been accomplished mainly by doubtful or sometimes even criminal elements. . . . We must realize that the Georgian masses had become accustomed to the idea of an independent Georgia. . . . We had to demonstrate that we based our position on the independence of Georgia, but this was simply a form of words; in actual fact we were rejecting this and did not have it as our objective at all. This was an intolerable situation, as it is impossible to deceive the masses in a political question of this nature, and especially the Georgian people, who had gone through ordeals of fire and water in recent years. . . . We were announcing that we were working towards the creation of an independent Georgia . . . while taking systematic steps to nullify our promise.'

When Mdivani and Makharadze refused to agree to Georgia's entry into Stalin's new Transcaucasian Federation, Stalin and Orjonikidze discredited them with trumped-up charges of selfishness and treason to the Bolshevik cause. Unable to credit that Stalin would knowingly offend the national dignity of his fellow-countrymen, Lenin upheld him, with the result that Georgia was obliged to enter the Transcaucasian Federation and Mdivani and Makharadze received a stern rebuke.

The excesses committed by the Cheka and the Russian occupation troops in Georgia led to the formation of a wellorganized resistance movement. Guerilla warfare broke out in several regions. In 1922, an underground Independence Committee was formed, consisting of representatives of most Georgian non-Communist parties and organizations. The committee set up a military centre, which was to prepare for a national insurrection. Several members of the former Menshevik government returned clandestinely from exile, including the former Minister of Agriculture, Noe Khomeriki, as well as the commander of the old National Guard, V. Jugheli; both were caught and subsequently shot. A heavy loss was sustained early in 1923 by the Georgian patriots, when fifteen members of the military centre were arrested. Among these were the principal leaders of the resistance movement, Generals Konstantine Abkhazi, Alexander Andronikashvili and Vardan Dsulukidze; they were executed on 20 May 1923. An appeal was addressed by the Georgian Catholicos-Patriarch Ambrosius to the international conference held at Genoa in 1922, in which he described the conditions under which the Georgians were living since the Red Army invasion and begged for the help of the civilized world. Ambrosius was immediately thrown into prison by the Communists and kept there until they imagined that his spirit was broken. The Bolsheviks then staged a public trial, at which the aged and venerated head of the Georgian Church demonstrated such moral fortitude that his ordeal turned into a great victory for his Church and nation. His concluding words were: 'My soul belongs to God, my heart to my country; you, my executioners, do what you will with my body.' The Communists did not dare to execute Ambrosius, who died in captivity in 1927.

Lenin was paralysed during the summer of 1922 by his first stroke and had to delegate much of his authority to Stalin, now General Secretary of the Party. Following a spate of rumours and complaints coming in from Tbilisi, however, an investigation commission headed by Felix Dzerzhinsky, head of the Soviet secret police, was sent to Georgia to report on the position there. Even the hardened Dzerzhinsky was horrified at the excesses committed by Orjonikidze and his associates under Stalin's orders. Dzerzhinsky's report contributed to Lenin's growing distrust of Stalin and his decision to exclude him from the future leadership of the Party. He resolved also to suspend Orjonikidze from party membership. In his Testament and other documents dictated shortly before his death, Lenin wrote that he 'felt strongly guilty before the workers of Russia for not having intervened vigorously and drastically enough in this notorious affair'. He was disgusted at the 'swamp' in which the Party had landed over the Georgian business. Under Stalin and Dzerzhinsky, the small nations of Russia were exposed to 'the irruption of that truly Russian man, the Great Russian chauvinist, who is essentially a scoundrel and an oppressor, as is the typical Russian bureaucrat'. Stalin had let his personal vindictiveness run away with him, showing himself 'not merely a genuine social chauvinist, but a coarse brutish bully acting on behalf of a Great Power'. The trouble was, Lenin shrewdly diagnosed, that Stalin the Georgian and Dzerzhinsky the Pole had gone out of their way to assume true Russian characteristics. 'It is well known that russified people of foreign birth always overshoot themselves in the matter of the true Russian disposition.' On 5 March 1923, Lenin broke off personal relations with Stalin, and urged Trotsky to defend the Georgian 'deviationists' before the Central Committee of the all-Russian Communist Party. The next day he wired a message to the leaders of the Georgian opposition, promising to take up their case at the forthcoming Party Congress: 'I am with you in this matter with all my heart. I am outraged by the arrogance of Orjonikidze and the connivance of Stalin and Dzerzhinsky.' Lenin also prepared to send Kamenev to Tbilisi on another commission of enquiry. In the middle of these moves, on 9 March 1923, Lenin suffered the third attack of his illness, from which he never recovered; his death took place on 21 January 1924.


The insurrection of 1924

Lenin's illness and death saved Stalin from disgrace. In spite of Lenin's warnings and his own fears, Trotsky came to terms with Stalin and his group. He even helped Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev to conceal from the world Lenin's deathbed confession of shame at the intolerant treatment of the non-Russian nationalities, the text of which was not published until 1956. At the 12th Party Congress in April 1923, the Georgian Communists found themselves isolated. With Lenin's notes suppressed, every word uttered from the platform against Georgian or Ukrainian nationalism was greeted with stormy applause, while the mildest allusion to Great Russian chauvinism was received in stony silence. Stalin bided his time before actually striking down his opponents among the Georgian Communist leadership. Budu Mdivani and his associates were not actively molested until 1929, while the real blood bath among the Georgian Old Bolsheviks did not take place until the great purge of 1936-37.

Driven beyond endurance, the Georgian people were now preparing for a last desperate effort to regain their freedom. Plans were laid for a general insurrection, scheduled for 29 August 1924. The plan miscarried. Through some misunderstanding, the mining centre of Chiatura and the surrounding district rose up in arms on August 28 instead of the appointed day. At first the insurgents achieved considerable success. A number of Red Army units were eliminated. But the Russian commander in Georgia, Mogilevsky, reinforced all strategic positions in and around Tbilisi, and repulsed the chief forces of the patriots, led by Colonel Kaikhosro Choloqashvili. Mogilevsky was later killed in a dramatic manner. A young Georgian airman who was piloting his plane crashed deliberately; all the occupants, including the pilot himself, were killed.

The unequal battle raged for three weeks. The rising was crushed and terrible reprisals took place. Conservative estimates place the number of prisoners and hostages killed by the victorious Communists at between 7,000 and 10,000. Many women and children were slain in cold blood. In the village of Ruisi, for instance, every human being carrying the name of Paniashvili was put to death. About 20,000 persons were sent to Siberia immediately after the insurrection. Many months later, foreign visitors to Tbilisi would receive smuggled notes begging them to intercede for individual prisoners held captive in the dungeons of the Cheka, while lorry-loads of prisoners being driven off into exile were a common sight on the roads.

The death of Lenin, the onset of the Stalin era, and the defeat of the 1924 insurrection mark the final establishment of Soviet rule over Georgia. Not one of the great powers which had accorded the Georgian Republic full recognition only three years previously raised a finger to help the Georgian people in their struggle. At the same time, the abominations committed by Stalin against his own people created a deplorable impression on world opinion. As Lenin rightly foresaw, the Great Russian chauvinism of that vindictive Caucasian exposed the Russian Communist party to world-wide opprobrium, and proved a great obstacle to the Soviet government's attempts to come to an understanding with foreign socialist parties and countries abroad.




Industrial development

THE SUPPRESSION of the 1924 uprising was followed by an uneasy calm. Military pacification was soon completed and an appearance of normality returned to the country. The relative prosperity brought to Russia by Lenin's New Economic Policy (NEP), with its tolerance of private enterprise in commerce and agriculture, had a beneficial effect on Georgia. Although the entire land surface had been nationalized following the Bolshevik occupation in 1921, no attempt was made as yet to enforce collectivization, so that the peasants continued for the time being to enjoy the use of the land distributed to them during the period of Georgian independence. The Communist Party of Georgia preferred for a time to use peaceful persuasion rather than armed coercion to extend their hold over the masses. Particular stress was laid on education and the spreading of literacy, while religious teaching was suppressed as far as possible. Far-reaching changes were made in the structure, curriculum and personnel of Tbilisi State University. The Rector, the noted historian Ivane Javakhishvili ( 1876-1940), was dismissed from his post and replaced by a professor more in tune with Communist aims; as it turned out, this eclipse probably saved Javakhishvili's life, since the then Rector of the University was among the purge victims during the terror of 1936-37.

Substantial progress was made with the industrialization of Georgia even during the NEP period. The impressive ZemoAvchala hydro-electric scheme was completed during this time. A British trades union delegation which visited the Caucasus towards the end of 1924 saw the scheme under construction and reported:

'Tiflis, like other towns in Russia, is to have a great electricity power station. Plant that will harness 36,000 horse-power from the River Kura is now being erected. . . . The distance of the power station from the city is approximately twelve miles. . . . Already the work has made such progress that the dam is nearing completion. It will form a huge basin, harnessing the surging waters, which will accumulate in prodigious numbers millions of gallons and tons of weight. . . . The machinery is already in position and a perfect plant has been gathered together. The undertaking has another twelve months to run before completion. Three busy shifts are employing approximately a thousand workers in each shift. The men are housed in the best dwelling accommodation obtainable for such undertakings. . . . The wages rise from a rouble a day to 4 roubles; the food is obtained on a co-operative basis and is cheap. Efforts are being made on a practical and effective scale for the entertainment, training, and even the education of the workers employed. The Delegation saw a most industrious and orderly set of men in full and willing co-operation. . . .'113

The Zemo-Avchala hydro-electric station named after V. I. Lenin was officially opened by M. I. Kalinin on 26 June 1927.

As was the case in England during the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century, the rapid growth of the urban working population of the Soviet Union resulted in a shortage of cheap foodstuffs. The peasants, cherishing their new-found mastery of the land, refused to deliver food to the towns at government-controlled prices. Both in Georgia and in European Russia, the breaking up of the old landlords' estates often resulted in loss of efficiency and a fall in production. Smallholdings operated on a primitive subsistence basis proved less productive than the larger, systematically cultivated estates which had existed prior to the 1917 Revolution. This emerges clearly from figures cited in a recent official history of Georgia, which notes that as late as 1925-26, the acreage under grain in Georgia amounted to only 92.8 per cent. of the pre-1914 average, while the harvest as a whole yielded only 94•4 per cent. of the pre-1914 total. It is instructive to note, however, that the return from 'technical cultures', i.e. sub-tropical and specialized crops such as tobacco, tea and citrus fruits, exceeded the pre-1914 figure by 26.7 per cent.114 This is to be explained by the fact that these crops were grown on lands newly reclaimed from the marshy swamps of Western Georgia, and on plantations exploited as co-operative or state enterprises and equipped with modern tools and machinery.


Georgian agriculture collectivized

The inception of the first Five-Year Plan in 1928, and the great drive towards full-scale collectivization of Soviet agriculture, marked the beginning of a new phase in Georgian as well as in Russian social and economic history. Enterprises like the Chiatura manganese mines, which had for some years been leased on a concessionary basis to the American Harriman interests, were brought under direct state management and expanded at a rapid rate. The Georgian Communist Party resolved to follow the Russian example of large-scale collectivization of agriculture and sent a thousand 'activist' members of the Komsomol or Communist Youth organization to Moscow to study the latest developments in Soviet economic and social theory. When these young enthusiasts returned to Georgia, a propaganda campaign was launched in order to persuade the peasantry of the benefits of the collective farm system. Groups of party workers toured the countryside, urging the people to abandon their antique methods of agriculture and embark voluntarily on the new programme. Special conferences of poor peasants and landless agricultural workers were held, at which their grievances against the more prosperous kulak class were vigorously whipped up.

This initial campaign met with scant success. The Georgian peasantry, to whom such characteristically Russian institutions as the peasant mir or commune were alien, clung with the courage of desperation to their individual small-holdings. Opposition to the new measures was by no means confined to the rich peasants or kulaks, but was met with among the majority of the middling or poorer ones also. This fact was admitted by a number of the leading Georgian Communists, who ventured to express doubt as to whether the elimination of a few socalled kulaks would suffice to bring about agricultural reform in a land which was basically one of middling and poor peasants. Holders of such views were denounced as 'rightist opportunists', and extensive purges of lukewarm officials and party workers took place: the Kaspi and Telavi regional committees of the Communist Party, for instance, were drastically overhauled in 1931, all their leading members being dismissed from their posts.



The war against the kulaks


The Secretary of the Central Committee of the Georgian Communist Party, Mikheil Kakhiani, ordered a ruthless, all-out campaign to be launched to achieve full collectivization of Georgian agriculture by February 1931, the tenth anniversary of Soviet rule in Georgia. He declared: 'The kulaks as a class must be destroyed.' On 19 January 1930, a decree of the plenum of the Central Committee of the Georgian Communist Party was published, containing the following provisions:


1.    All kulaks are to be removed from areas scheduled for complete collectivization.

2.    Agricultural equipment belonging to kulaks is to be turned over to the use of kolkhozes (collective farms).

3.    When wine-growing areas are subjected to general collectivization, wine cellars belonging to kulaks are to be taken from them and handed over to the collectives.

4.    Livestock and implements are to be taken from kulaks.

5.    Lands belonging to kulaks are to be confiscated and given to the kolkhozes.

6.    Economic, administrative and legal sanctions are to be applied against the kulaks, and public trials of them staged; all kulak property must be confiscated; kulaks agitating against collectivization are to be arrested.

7.    Kulaks are to be forced to engage in public works and compulsory labour.

Five thousand agricultural students and young Communist propagandists were recruited for the campaign. One brigade of Party workers, each with a supporting detachment of OGPU guards or Red Army troops, was assigned to each district of Georgia. They undertook lightning campaigns in selected villages, turning alleged kulaks out of their homes and

distributing their goods and chattels to the poorer peasants. No objective criterion existed as to what constituted a kulak. Those luckless families whom local Communist committees chose to brand as such were driven from their native villages with nothing but the clothes they wore, and drifted homeless and starving about the countryside. Party Secretary Kakhiani reported jubilantly to Moscow: 'Collectivization is going full speed ahead, and the new forms of Soviet economy are meeting with a unanimous and enthusiastic welcome from the peasants.'

In reality, the whole Georgian countryside was in turmoil. In Mingrelia and Abkhazia, groups of women armed with sticks marched through the kolkhoz fields, persuading the peasants to abandon work and go home. Oxen were unharnnessed and driven into the woods. The women besieged the offices of the local authorities, demanding the release of their husbands from jail, and the abolition of the kolkhoz system. Violent and sanguinary clashes took place between NKVD detachments armed with machine-guns and angry peasant women armed with sticks and stones. Armed uprisings took place in southern Georgia in Borchalo and Lori, which had to be put down by entire battalions of Red Army troops. Partisans in mountain Svaneti declared Soviet rule at an end and set up their own administration. On the Georgian military highway, in the Dusheti district, the local militia was disarmed by peasants, who then moved south towards Tbilisi in the hope of joining forces with other insurgent groups. Fierce fighting broke out in Kakheti, where a hundred and fifty soldiers were killed. Over a thousand families were deported to Siberia from Kakheti alone. Different tactics were employed by peasants in the Gori district, who agreed to become kolkhoz members and adopted a go-slow policy and sabotaged kolkhoz property. If any Communist foreman displayed an excess of zeal, he would disappear in the night and be seen alive no more.


10 000 000 Transcaucasian Rouble bill of 1923 (source: collection of Dr. George Partskhaladze)


'Dizziness with Success'

Chaotic as was the situation in Georgia, that prevailing in European Russia, especially in the black earth lands of the Ukraine, was far worse. The overwhelming majority of the peasantry confronted the government with desperate opposition. A veritable civil war developed as rebellious villages were surrounded by machine-guns and forced to surrender. Masses of so-called kulaks and their families were deported to remote wildernesses in Siberia and left to starve or freeze to death. Those that remained slaughtered cattle, smashed implements and burned crops. Whole regions were cordoned off by troops and NKVD detachments and starved into submission. At last Stalin himself became aware of the consequences of his impetuous drive towards complete collectivization, which threatened the very fabric of Soviet society. On 2 March 1930, he issued a statement entitled 'Dizziness with Success', in which he blamed all the inhuman excesses which had taken place on over-zealous local officials. Stalin admitted that many of the collective farms which had been set up by force were not viable as going concerns, and pretended that his instructions had been misunderstood. Without consulting the Politbureau and the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party, that same Stalin who had for months been issuing peremptory directives ordering compulsory collectivization at all costs now declared: 'Collective farms cannot be set up by force', and called for a cessation of violence and a pause for peaceful consolidation.

This volte-face caused consternation in Georgian and Transcaucasian Communist circles. A temporary halt in the 'building of socialism' was called while heads of revolutionary committees made a tour of inspection through the villages. An emergency session of the Central Committee of the Georgian Communist Party heard a report by the doyen of Georgian Communists, Philip Makharadze, indicting the local Party organizations for their misplaced zeal. However, the real culprit was the Central Committee itself, whose Second Secretary was forced to admit that local Party committees had been urged to collectivize everything and everybody in a day, 'right down to the last chicken'. The Georgian Communists could not deny that many of those who had been victimized and driven from their homes were not rich kulaks at all. Philip Makharadze stated in the newspaper Komunisti (The Communist):

'It was not only the kulaks but also the smallholders and poorer peasants who were affected by the anti-kulak campaign. A number of facts are now available which prove that a large part of the 'dekulakized' persons were in fact smallholders. . . . During the campaign, whole families were moved from their homes, including old people of eighty and ninety, invalids, women and children. They were moved from their homes, but where to? No one knew where they were supposed to go. Comrades, the result of these mistakes was that in many areas the peasant smallholders expressed their pity for the kulaks. Intimidated by this anti-kulak campaign, the peasants joined the kolkhozes. We were told here that they were enthusiastic about joining the kolkhozes, but this was by no means the case. To crown it all, the cattle taken away from the peasants is being allowed to die off through lack of proper care and their equipment is being allowed to spoil.'

In Moscow, S. Eliava, head of the government of Soviet Georgia, declared at a meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party: 'The situation in Georgia and Transcaucasia in general is very grave. Not one corner of the Soviet Union experiences at the moment such difficulties . . . The Georgian peasantry is only waiting for a chance. . . . Thousands of them have gone into the mountains and forests to wage battle against us.'

It was no secret that Stalin himself was personally responsible for all this misery. However, a scapegoat was found in the person of Kakhiani, who was dismissed from the post of Secretary of the Central Committee of the Georgian Communist Party and sent off to a minor post in Turkestan. When the disturbances eventually died down, the net result of Georgia's first collectivization drive was the creation by 1932 of some 3,400 kolkhozes, incorporating about 17,000 former peasant holdings, representing 36•4 per cent. of the national total. A score or more of Sovkhozes or state farms were also formed. There existed in the whole of Georgia only thirty-one tractor stations, and it was a long time before agricultural production recovered from the chaotic condition into which doctrinaire folly had plunged it.


The rise of Beria

The Georgian Communists could not help resenting the invidious role in which Stalin's bungling had placed them, with the result that mutual antagonisms between him and the local Georgian Party leadership flared up afresh. In 1932, when Stalin's popularity in the Soviet Union had sunk to a low ebb, memoranda on the need to depose him from the post of General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party began to circulate in the highest quarters. Instrumental in the campaign to oust Stalin were the leading Georgian Bolshevik, Beso Lominadze, who had been secretary of the Communist Party of the Transcaucasian Federation, and Syrtsov, premier of the Russian Federative SSR, both of whom had rendered Stalin loyal aid in defeating his Trotskyist and Bukharinite opponents in the Party. Lominadze and Syrtsov were merely urging the Central Committee to depose Stalin constitutionally by voting him down at a meeting of the Committee; however, they were charged with conspiracy, imprisoned and liquidated. Morbidly sensitive to hostility on the part of his Georgian compatriots, Stalin felt it necessary to place in charge of Caucasian affairs an individual on whose unwavering personal loyalty he could count. His choice fell upon L. P. Beria ( 1899-1953), a man who was many years later to be unmasked as an enemy of the people and condemned to die as a traitor to the Soviet fatherland.


Lavrenti Beria (Source: TIME cover / 20 - July - 1953)


Lavrenti Beria came of a poor Mingrelian peasant family living in the Sukhumi district of Abkhazia, near the Black Sea. He joined the Bolshevik party in 1917 while studying at a technical college in Baku, and thereafter took part in organizing an illegal underground group of Bolshevik technicians. His skill in this work led to his appointment in 1921 to a post in the Caucasian Cheka. By the time he was thirty-two, he had been Vice-president of the Cheka in Azerbaijan and Georgia, President of the Georgian GPU, and then President of the Caucasian State Police and chief representative of the OGPU in Transcaucasia. His special task was the elimination of all anti-Bolshevik groups in the Caucasus, for success in which task he was decorated with the order of the Red Banner of the Republics of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. In October 1931, Beria was transferred from his post in the secret police and made Second Secretary of the Central Committee of the Transcaucasian Communist Party, the First Secretary of which, Kartvelishvili by name, strongly disliked Beria's unsavoury personality and methods. Kartvelishvili, a personal friend of the influential Bolshevik leader Sergo Orjonikidze, categorically refused to Beria fabricated a series of untrue charges against Kartvelishvili, who was soon deported from the Caucasus and put to death. The vacant post of First Secretary of the Transcaucasian Party organization was then occupied by Beria himself.


The Five-Year Plans

From 1932 until 1938, Beria exercised dictatorial powers in Transcaucasia. He played a leading role in implementing the Second Five-Year Plan in Georgia between 1933 and 1937. At the cost of immense effort and sacrifice, Georgian industrial development made great strides forward. The Zestafoni ferroalloy plant went into production during this period, as did the Tbilisi machine-tool factory named after S. M. Kirov. Further progress was made in harnessing the power potential of Georgia's rivers. The Rioni, Atcharis-dsqali and Sukhumi hydro-electric schemes were completed and a start was made with the hydro-electric station on the River Khrami. Stakhanovite labour methods were successfully applied in the Chiatura manganese mines and at the Tbilisi locomotive and railway wagon workshops named after I. V. Stalin. By the end of the Second Five-Year Plan, the Avchala cast-iron factory and the Inguri paper combine were in operation, as well as a new chemical and pharmaceutical laboratory in Tbilisi, new industrial plant at Kutaisi, and tea factories in the Black Sea districts of Western Georgia. Drainage and irrigation schemes were carried out. Private enterprise was eliminated from shopkeeping and commerce. Restaurants, hotels and shops were completely municipalized, though this was far from being an unmixed blessing for the consumer and general public.

Beria kept Stalin supplied with secret denunciations of Georgian Bolshevik leaders, officials, writers and teachers. At the 17th Party Congress in 1934 he was elected to the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party; in 1936, he served on the editorial commission for the presentation of the Stalin Constitution. The rise of Beria coincided with the downfall of one of the most distinguished Georgian Bolsheviks, Abel Enukidze, who had begun his career as early as 1904 by running the secret Bolshevik printing press at Baku, and was for years regarded as Stalin's intimate friend. Abel Enukidze was Secretary-General of the Central Executive Committee which was, prior to the promulgation of the Stalin Constitution, the supreme legislative body of the USSR; its decrees bore Enukidze's signature jointly with Kalinin's. Early in 1935, Enukidze was relieved of his post, ostensibly to become Prime Minister of the Transcaucasian Federation. He was shortly afterwards disgraced and suffered death during the purges in 1937. Beria ingratiated himself further with Stalin by building up the famous 'personality cult'. On 21-22 July 1935, he delivered to a meeting of the Tbilisi Party organization a lecture 'On the history of the Bolshevik organizations in Transcaucasia', in which Stalin is given almost exclusive credit for the success of the Caucasian revolutionary movement from 1900 onwards. Beria himself set out to eliminate any of the Georgian Old Bolsheviks who might have felt inclined to challenge the truth of his assertions. The lecture itself was several times republished in book form, each edition containing more adulatory praise of Stalin, and more vitriolic denunciation of Stalin's rivals, many of whom Beria had himself tortured and shot. In the English edition of 1949, for instance, the dead Abel Enukidze is denounced as a 'mortal enemy of the people', while Budu Mdivani, Vice-Premier of Georgia prior to the great purges, is vilified as a supporter of the 'arch-bandit Judas Trotsky' and a fellow-member, with Mikha Okujava, Mikha Toroshelidze, S. Chikhladze, N. Kiknadze and other liquidated Georgian Bolsheviks, of a Trotskyite spying and wrecking terrorist centre, which Beria claimed credit for unearthing in 1936.


Georgia under the purges

Beria was in his element during the great purges of 1936-37. While the unbalanced and degenerate NKVD chiefs Yezhov and Yagoda were torturing and killing millions of high officials, army officers, intellectuals and ordinary citizens throughout Russia, Beria in the Caucasus eliminated every individual whose adherence to the Party Line could be called in question, or whose survival might conceivably challenge the myth of Stalin's infallibility. The Georgian leaders to whom Stalin had extended effusive and hypocritical congratulations on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of Soviet Georgia in February 1936 were by then already marked down as purge victims. Two separate trials of Georgian Communist leaders for 'terrorism and high treason' were held. The first group included Budu Mdivani and the Georgian planning chief Mikha Toroshelidze. The second group was headed by the Georgian Prime Minister, Mgaloblishvili. Among those tortured to death or shot at this time were Mikha Okujava, Mamia Orakhelashvili, Sergi Kavtaradze, Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of Georgia, and Lado Dumbadze, Chairman of the first Bolshevik Soviet in Tbilisi. Only Philip Makharadze, then nearing his seventieth birthday, was spared public condemnation. Makharadze was permitted to save himself by confessing his past guilt and pleading for mercy, in return for which he was appointed Deputy Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, an honorific sinecure which he held until his death in 1941.

As in Russia itself, the holocaust in Georgia was carried to diabolical lengths. Denunciations by personal enemies or the receipt of an innocent letter from some friend abroad were sufficient to bring about imprisonment, exile or death. The witch-hunt was carried to great lengths at Tbilisi University, which lost scores of its most brilliant professors and most promising students. Among those who perished was the famous classical scholar and papyrologist Grigol Tsereteli, guilty of having attended international conferences in which scholars from bourgeois countries also participated. The literary historian Vakhtang Kotetishvili vanished without trace, while the outstanding Abkhazian dramatist Samson Chanba ( 18861937) was also put to death. Universal horror was excited by the execution of two of Georgia's greatest national writers, the novelist Mikheil Javakhishvili and the poet Titsian Tabidze, the latter a close friend of Boris Pasternak, who knew him as 'a reserved and complicated soul, wholly attracted to the good and capable of clairvoyance and self-sacrifice'.115 A close associate of Tabidze was Paolo Iashvili, a remarkable poet of the post-symbolist period, 'brilliant, polished, cultured, an amusing talker, European and good-looking'.116 So horrified was Iashvili at the news of Tabidze's arrest and execution that he went straight to the headquarters of the Union of Georgian Writers, of which he was secretary, and killed himself there.


At a congress of Georgian writers held at Tbilisi in July 1954, the First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party, V. P. Mzhavanadze, referred to the terrorism exercised by Beria's agents and said:

'Comrades, you all know what injury was done to our people by that gang of murderers and spies who now have been unmasked and done away with by our Party. That gang killed many leading and progressive scientists. . . . The Central Committee of the Georgian Communist Party has found out that the outstanding masters of the Georgian language--Mikheil Javakhishvili, Titsian Tabidze and Paolo Iashvili--became victims of the intrigues and terrorism of that abominable gang of murderers. I have pleasure in declaring in the name of the competent organs that these men have been rehabilitated.'

This statement was greeted with loud acclamation, as were the pronouncements of Stalin and Beria in their time; in reality, the fair name of Georgia's great writers does not depend on Mr. Mzhavanadze and his 'competent organs', but is enshrined in the hearts of the Georgian people and their friends.

The Georgian purges were not confined to the capital, but also enveloped the outlying regions, notably the Autonomous Republics of Abkhazia and Atchara on the Black Sea coast. The Abkhazians had long been subject to colonization both by Russians and Georgians: by 1926, autonomous Abkhazia, covering 3,240 square miles, had a population of 174,000 of which the Abkhazians themselves accounted for less than onethird. Under the Second Five-Year Plan, Abkhazia was directed to step up tobacco production substantially, and more Russians, Georgians, Armenians and Greeks were brought in to work on new plantations and industrial projects. The Abkhazians, who resented these encroachments on their cherished autonomy, protested and in the end fell completely into disgrace with the Kremlin. The leading spokesman of the dissident Abkhaz Bolsheviks, Nestor Lakoba, died a natural death in 1936. In the following year, a purge trial was held at Sukhumi, the Abkhazian capital, at which forty-seven of Lakoba's friends, relatives and associates were charged with complicity in an imaginary plot to murder Stalin. Ten of the defendants were executed. A similar mass trial was staged at Batumi, the capital of Atchara. Eleven persons, headed by Zakaria Lortkipanidze, Chairman of the Central Executive Committee of Atchara, were accused of belonging to a 'counterrevolutionary and insurgent organization, engaging in espionage, sabotage and diversion', maintaining contacts with émigré beks, mullahs and kulaks, and destroying crops in plantations and collective farms. The Communist-controlled Georgian Press reported these trials under banner headlines such as: 'Shoot the accused--that is our verdict!' 'Wipe the fascist reptiles off the face of the earth!' 'Death to the despised enemies of the people!' Eight of the accused in the Batumi trial were executed: since Stalin's death, several of them have been posthumously rehabilitated.

Before the Stalin-Beria purges, Tbilisi was famed for 'the high level of culture of the leading section of society--an active intellectual life which, by then, was rarely to be found elsewhere.'117 The events of 1937 resulted in the elimination or demoralization of the élite among the Georgian intelligentsia. The next fifteen years or more were a period of utter stagnation in Georgian literature, in which writers eked out an existence by composing dithyrambs about life in factories or on collective farms, or sycophantic odes to Stalin the superman. It is only today that a new generation of Georgian authors is emerging unscarred by the experiences of that grim era.

A fitting climax to the Georgian purges was provided by the suicide of the eminent Georgian Bolshevik, Sergo Orjonikidze ( 1886-1937), long Stalin's right-hand man, a member of the Politbureau and People's Commissar for Heavy Industry for the entire Soviet Union. Vigorous and ruthless when necessary, Orjonikidze had a reputation for decency and tried to thwart Beria's wholesale executions in Georgia. Beria denounced Orjonikidze to Stalin, who sanctioned the liquidation of Orjonikidze's brother. According to the account given by N. S. Khrushchev, Beria and Stalin between them deliberately brought Orjonikidze to such a state of nervous collapse that he killed himself. He was then accorded a grandiose state funeral and admitted to the pantheon of the great dead Bolshevik fathers.


Political reorganization and the Stalin Constitution

Once he had set in motion the necessary machinery to eliminate all potential opposition in the Caucasus, Stalin dissolved the artificial Transcaucasian Federation into its constituent parts, the Georgian, Armenian and Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republics. To these was granted, in theory at least, a large measure of political devolution, including the right to secede at will from the Soviet Union. This change took place in 1936, when the Stalin Constitution was promulgated. Two years later, Beria was summoned from Tbilisi to Moscow to take over the NKVD in succession to Yezhov and Yagoda, both of whom, after destroying millions of Soviet citizens, had themselves been declared expendable and put to death. The Caucasus was left in charge of officials who owed their promotion to Stalin and Beria, and whose reliability was beyond doubt.


The Georgian émigrés

After Orjonikidze's death and Makharadze's recantation, there was none of Stalin's old associates among the Georgian Bolsheviks who could question his omniscience or bring up the various unsavoury episodes in his revolutionary past. At the same time, the Georgian Menshevik government in exile in Paris continued to present a certain nuisance value. Karlo Chkheidze had died in 1926, and Noe Ramishvili, the forceful Minister of the Interior in the Zhordania government, was struck down in Paris in 1930 by a Georgian assassin reputedly in the pay of the Soviet government. Most of the émigré ministers, however, were distinguished by their longevity, one or two venerable octogenarians being alive even today. For some years after the fall of independent Georgia, until 1933, the Georgian Mensheviks were able to maintain their legation in Paris; the International Committee for Georgia, the president of which was Monsieur Jean Martin, director of the Journal de Genève, kept up a running fight against the admission of the Soviet Union to the League of Nations, which nevertheless took place in 1934. The importance which Stalin attached to the activities of the Georgian émigrés was displayed in 1938, when the Soviet embassy in Paris brought effectual pressure to bear on a pusillanimous French government to ban a celebration of the 750th anniversary of the Georgian national poet Shota Rustaveli, which was to have been held at the Sorbonne. With the rise of Nazi Germany, a number of Georgian exiles joined the Fascist movement. A Georgian Fascist Front was formed, the nucleus of which consisted of a nationalist organization called Tetri Giorgi or White George, after the patron saint of Georgia. The leaders of Tetri Giorgi included General Leo Kereselidze and Professor Mikhako Tsereteli, the former Kropotkinite anarchist, who had in the meantime won a high reputation in the German universities as an expert on the Sumerian and Hittite languages.




Georgia during World War II

After killing Marshal Tukhachevsky and decimating the Red Army high command during the purges, Stalin proceeded in 1939 to make war inevitable by concluding the MolotovRibbentrop pact with Nazi Germany. His inordinate selfconfidence led him to ignore repeated warnings from foreign governments and from his own agents abroad, with the result that Russia was caught largely unprepared when Hitler launched his lightning attack in June 1941. The Georgians contributed greatly to the defence of the USSR during World War II and played an outstanding part in preventing the Germans from penetrating into Georgia from their advanced bases in North Caucasia. German parachutists were dropped at various points in Georgia, but were promptly mopped up by local military units. There were, however, manifestations of unrest within the country which gave the authorities grounds for disquiet. It is said, for instance, that a meeting was held in 1942 in the Tbilisi Opera House at which leaflets were distributed calling on the people to overthrow Russian Communist rule and proclaim Georgia's independence. On the German side, efforts were made to form a Georgian Legion from émigrés living in Western Europe, combined with Soviet prisoners of war of Georgian extraction. This venture was greatly hampered by the intervention of Rosenberg and other exponents of Nazi racism, who wanted all Georgians sent to extermination camps as non-Aryans, along with the Jews and the Gypsies. The Georgians under Nazi domination were saved only by the intervention of Alexander Nikuradze, a Georgian scientist held in high esteem in the German official world. In 1945, a Georgian sergeant hoisted the flag of victory over the Berlin Reichstag in company with a Russian Red Army soldier. The inter-allied agreement concluded at the end of the war resulted in the forcible repatriation to Soviet Russia of thousands of Georgians who had sought asylum in the West, many of whom were shot or exiled to Siberia on their return home.


The final terror

The last years of Stalin's life were marked by an intensification of his personal reign of terror. As N. S. Khrushchev declared in 1956, Stalin carried mistrust to the point of mania. 'He could look at a man and say: "Why are your eyes so shifty today?" or "Why are you turning away so much today and avoiding looking me directly in the eyes?" This sickly suspicion created in him a general distrust even towards eminent party workers whom he had known for years. Everywhere and in everything he saw enemies, two-facers and spies.' In metropolitan Russia, Stalin's fantastic delusions manifested themselves in such sinister incidents as the 1949 Leningrad affair, involving the shooting out of hand of the State Planning Chairman Voznesensky, and the bogus 'Doctors' Plot', in which leading Russian physicians narrowly escaped extermination at the hands of the secret police. In the northern Caucasus, Stalin celebrated the retreat of the Germans by ordering the deportation in 1943-44 of the entire Karachay-Balkar and Chechen-Ingush peoples as a punishment for alleged collaboration with the Nazis; the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous SSR was obliterated from the map of the Soviet Union.

After receiving warm commendation for the successful completion of the Fourth Five-Year Plan between 1946 and 1950, Georgia too fell under the dictator's scourge. In 1951, he claimed to have unearthed a nationalist organization centred on Mingrelia, the Western province of Georgia adjoining Lavrenti Beria's homeland. N. S. Khrushchev stated in 1956: 'As is known, resolutions by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union concerning this case were passed in November 1951 and in March 1952. These resolutions were made without prior discussion with the Politbureau. Stalin had personally dictated them. They made serious accusations against many loyal Communists. On the basis of falsified documents it was proved that there existed in Georgia a supposedly nationalistic organization whose objective was the liquidation of Soviet power in that republic with the help of imperialist powers. In this connexion, a number of responsible Party and Soviet workers were arrested in Georgia. As was later proved, this was a slander directed against the Georgian party organization. . . . There was no nationalistic organization in Georgia. Thousands of innocent people fell victim of wilfulness and lawlessness. All this happened under the "genial" leadership of Stalin, "the great son of the Georgian nation", as the Georgians like to term Stalin.'

Concurrently with the Mingrelian affair, prominent Georgian Communists were accused of embezzling state funds, stealing automobiles and plundering state property. Two Georgian Communist Party secretaries, the Chairman of the Georgian Supreme Court and the Minister of Justice were among those removed from their posts late in 1951. These changes failed to satisfy Stalin. In April 1952, Beria, now Vice-President of the Soviet Council of Ministers, came from Moscow to attend a meeting of the Central Committee of the Georgian Communist Party, at which he subjected the party leadership to severe criticism for failing to instil the Communist creed in Georgian youth and to tear out all traces of local nationalism. A new First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party, A. I. Mgeladze, was appointed, while the Chairman of the Council of Ministers and the Chairman of the Presidium of the Georgian Supreme Soviet were relieved of their posts. Mgeladze set to work to purge the party and governmental apparatus from top to bottom. In six months he replaced half the members of the Central Committee of the Georgian Communist Party who had been returned in the election of 1949, and brought about a complete upheaval in the administrative hierarchy of the Republic. Many chairmen of collective farms and officials of the Comsomol or Soviet Youth movement lost their jobs. The fact that several high officials removed by Mgeladze, notably Valerian Bakradze, Deputy Chairman of the Georgian Council of Ministers, were personal nominees of Beria was taken at the time as a symptom of Beria's waning prestige in the inner circles of the Kremlin, where rising stars such as Malenkov and Khrushchev were supplanting him in Stalin's favour.


Death of a dictator

At all events, Mgeladze and his deputy, the Georgian Minister of State Security, N. Rukhadze, made use of the extensive files of the Georgian MVD to accuse some of Beria's own agents of nationalist deviation and other crimes. It is probable that these denunciations would in time have touched the person of Beria himself. N. S. Khrushchev has said that at the time of his death in March 1953, Stalin was planning the annihilation of many of the veteran Politbureau members: Marshal Voroshilov was under the extraordinary suspicion of being an English spy; Andreev had been dismissed and relegated to limbo; 'baseless charges' had been brought against Mikoyan and Molotov. 'It is not excluded,' Khrushchev told the 20th Party Congress, 'that had Stalin remained at the helm for another few months, Comrades Molotov and Mikoyan would probably not have delivered any speeches at this Congress.' For many leading Soviet statesmen and officials, Stalin's demise thus came in the nick of time. Whether or not it was due to natural causes is another matter.

Stalin's death removed from the world stage the most formidable Georgian of all time, a man who combined almost superhuman tenacity and force of character with quite subhuman cruelty and criminality. He took over a Russia backward and divided, and pitchforked it forcibly into the twentieth century. By methods which cannot be condoned by any standards of human or divine morality, he fashioned the social and industrial springboard from which the Soviet Union today is leaping irresistibly forward as one of the two dominant world powers of our generation.


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113.      Russia: The Official Report of the British Trades Union Delegation to Russia and Caucasia, Nov. and Dec., 1924, London 1925, pp. 230-31.

114.      N. A. Berdzenishvili, edit., History of Georgia. Manual for the 8th and 9th forms, Tbilisi 1960, p. 323.

115.      Boris Pastemak, An Essay in Autobiography, London 1959, p. 114.

116.      Pastemak, An Essay in Autobiography, p. 110.

117.      Pastemak, An Essay in Autobiography, p. 111.