David Marshall Lang (excerpt from the book”A Modern History of Georgia”/NY/1962)
     Maps and Illustrations: Andrew Andersen / 2003-2007






Continued from here



Tsarism under pressure--Accession of Nicholas II--'Gri-Gri' Golitsyn--A Georgian anarchist--Populists and Marxists-The Third Group--Sweated labour--Stalin's revolutionary youth--'Legal Marxism' and the fighting underground--'Down with autocracy!'--Plehve and the Black Hundreds


Tsarism under pressure

ALEXANDER III died in 1894. By sheer strength of character and by refusal to make any concession to the new social forces and political trends stirring in the Russian empire, Alexander had succeeded in maintaining some semblance of order and stability. At the same time, he left a legacy of resentment among both the masses and the élite which was finally to bring down in ruins autocracy itself. The government had seemed to take pleasure in humiliating the educated classes. In 1884, the University Statute of Alexander II had been replaced by another which robbed the universities of their autonomy. Student clubs and fraternities were banned, on pain of conscription into the ranks of the army. Political trustworthiness was made a criterion for the granting of bursaries, while the children of the 'lower orders' were excluded from secondary schools. The censorship brooded over the Press, and the law courts fell more and more under government control.

In rural Russia, the growth of the population resulted in acute land hunger among the peasantry. Particularly vexatious to the mass of the peasants was the law of 1889 instituting the land captains. These officials were appointed by the Minister of the Interior from among the poorer gentry, and charged with supervising every detail of peasant life and activity. The land captains were justly regarded as agents of a new system of serfdom. They took over the functions of justices of the peace and controlled the decisions of the peasant judges and village elders, who ruled their fellows not by common law, but by communal custom. To deal with rural unrest, the government evolved a code of 'exceptional' or 'abnormal' law. There were three grades: 'exceptional protection', 'increased protection' and martial law. Scarcely ever was there not some province of Russia under one or other of these states of emergency.

During the second half of the nineteenth century, Russia's retarded industrial revolution gathered pace. The growth of industry created a factory class, the nucleus of a true urban proletariat. Conditions in the factories run by Russian and foreign entrepreneurs were bad. The industrialists of Moscow, where hordes of workpeople poured in from the surrounding countryside, paid low wages. The workmen were ignorant and clumsy, so that productivity was low; in fact, it often took three or more persons to carry out tasks which a trained Western worker could perform single-handed. Between 1882 and 1886, the enlightened Finance Minister, N. Kh. Bunge, enacted a series of factory laws designed to suppress the more scandalous forms of exploitation, restrict the hours worked by children and progressively remove causes of unrest and discontent. Under pressure from the employers, Bunge was driven from office on the charge of promoting 'socialism', and there was a return to full-scale laissez-faire. Children of ten to twelve years of age could now be employed on night work, while the manufacturers could resort to abuses such as substituting payments in kind for wages in cash, imposing arbitrary fines, and forcing workers to buy their supplies from the factory shop.

Such conditions provided a natural breeding ground for radical agitation. The world of the factory, where masses of men and women are herded together, and the spirit of disaffection can spread with lightning speed to produce strikes and civil commotion, is more congenial to revolutionaries than the rustic environment of the village community. The Populists of the 1870's had discovered to their cost how difficult it was for the town-bred intellectual to win the confidence of the muzhik, whose main aim in life was to turn himself into a petty-bourgeois proprietor rather than contribute to the consummation of any socialist utopia. The concentration in urban centres of hosts of underfed and disgruntled factory workers provided a hotbed, in which the seeds of sedition were not slow to take root.


Accession of Nicholas II

On succeeding to the Russian throne in November 1894, Nicholas II took over no comfortable heritage. Not devoid of courage and integrity, Nicholas had been overshadowed all his life by his domineering father, and had become in many respects vacillating and easily influenced. He had the fatal knack of following wrong-headed or biased counsel and would sometimes dismiss loyal ministers in obedience to some whim of his foolish consort, the Empress Alexandra. In January 1895, he received from the Zemstvo or provincial assembly of Tver a congratulatory address on his marriage, in which the hope was expressed that the voice of the people would be listened to, and that the rule of law would stand above the changing views of the individual instruments of the supreme power. Under the influence of his mentor Pobedonostsev, Nicholas in his reply denounced 'senseless dreams as to the participation of the Zemstvos in the internal affairs of the State', and reaffirmed his unswerving adherence to the principle of absolute rule.

Pronouncements such as these, far from intimidating the Russian public, merely exacerbated opinion. Liberals, moderate socialists and clandestine revolutionaries alike set to work with a will to undermine the Russian leviathan and topple it from its throne.

The development of a revolutionary situation in metropolitan Russia necessarily affected Georgia and the Caucasus generally. Unrest when it arrived was bound to assume an acute form in this imperfectly pacified area, where Orthodox Georgian, Gregorian Armenian and Muslim Tatar had a long tradition of mutual dislike, though sharing for the most part a common animosity towards the alien overlord. In Georgia, of course, there had been many sporadic rebellions against Russian rule, as well as peasant insurrections against the landed proprietors. At the close of the nineteenth century, there were many who had witnessed or heard tell of the conspiracy of 1832, the Gurian uprising of 1841, and the Mikava revolt in Mingrelia in 1857. Several leading Georgian writers had been imprisoned for their part in the student demonstrations at St. Petersburg in 1861. The movement of national revival headed by Ilia Chavchavadze, Akaki Tsereteli, Niko Nikoladze and others naturally fostered an attitude of mind highly critical of Russian autocracy.


'Gri-Gri' Golitsyn

Nicholas II and his advisers brought trouble upon themselves by a particularly inept choice of Governor-General for the Caucasus. When the Grand Duke Michael retired from the viceroyalty in 1882, Alexander III down-graded the post and appointed Prince A. M. Dondukov-Korsakov to be merely Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief in the Caucasus. Dondukov-Korsakov was succeeded in 1890 by General S. A. Sheremetev, whose governorship continued until 1896. Both these administrators were well acquainted with the spirit of the Caucasian peoples and made themselves popular in Tbilisi by gracious behaviour and lavish entertainments. Prince Grigory Golitsyn, who was appointed governor-general in December 1896, was an individual of very different stamp: nicknamed 'Gri-Gri' in St. Petersburg society, he was a man of the narrowest upbringing and outlook, owing his appointment to the personal patronage of a member of the imperial family. He had no understanding of the multiracial structure of Caucasian society and of the flexible tactics needed to maintain peace and harmony. His one idea was to russify the Caucasus politically and culturally, not by persuasion and example, but by the crudest police methods. Within a few years Golitsyn was as much loathed as his forerunners had been respected, and the basis of Russian rule in the Caucasus was fatally undermined.

By the time Golitsyn was appointed, the roots of the Georgian revolutionary movement were already strong.


A Georgian anarchist

One of the first Georgian professional revolutionaries was the anarchist Varlam Cherkesov or Cherkezishvili 62 ( 1846-1925), a native of Kakheti. As a student at St. Petersburg, he associated with Karakozov, who made an abortive attempt on the life of Tsar Alexander II in 1866. Later he joined the Nechaev group, who planned a nation-wide plot against the government. Tried with eighty-six others, Cherkesov was sentenced to forced labour in Siberia. Escaping in 1876, he made his way to Switzerland and joined in the literary and conspiratorial work of the Russian émigrés there. However, he parted company with his Russian associates over the issue of Georgian independence. He became a great friend and disciple of Prince Kropotkin the anarchist. Cherkesov favoured the anarchist creed because it promised greater freedom to small nations than did Marxist dictatorship and centralist rule. From 1903, he and Kropotkin assisted another Georgian revolutionary, Kamando or Giorgi Gogelia, alias 'K. Orgeiani', to edit one of the first Russian anarchist papers, Khleb i Volya or Bread and Liberty. Smuggled into Russia, this paper had an influential following. Its open advocacy of terrorism later alarmed Kropotkin, who had relapsed in his old age into a more abstract and contemplative approach to the revolutionary question. In 1907, Cherkesov helped to organize a mass petition of the Georgian people against Tsarist oppression, which was presented, though with scant result, to the International Peace Conference at The Hague. Cherkesov and his Dutch wife, Freda, had many friends in English society and in European political circles. An uncompromising critic of the doctrines of Marx and Engels, he is excluded today from the Russian revolutionary pantheon. He died in London at an advanced age.


Populists and Marxists

During the 1870's, the Russian Populist or Narodnik movement made considerable progress in Georgia, where the Populist dream of social progress via the destruction of the Tsar's government and the realisation of the moral and economic potentialities of the peasant class seemed highly attractive. The Tbilisi Narodnik group held meetings in 1872 which were attended by students and others, who studied forbidden political tracts, particularly the writings of the Russian Populists. By 1874, the group counted about a hundred members; they had a small secret printing press on the bank of the River Liakhvi, in the quarters of a priest named Samadashvili, who had learnt type-setting at the Tbilisi Theological Seminary. In 1876, the Georgian Narodniks held a conference at which, according to police reports of the time, speakers proclaimed the impending destruction of the autocratic régime, following which everyone would be equal, and all property would be shared out equally.--Why, the Narodniks demanded, should the famished masses bow down to kings, and themselves groan in poverty and squalor? They should get rid of the Tsar and his agents and laws, and then no one would extort taxes from them any more. Nor should the priests be believed when they asserted that the Tsar was a protector set over the people by God. This was a monkish lie inspired by the priests' desire to curry favour with the government. In furtherance of their programme, emissaries of the Tbilisi Narodniks visited outlying districts, particularly in Mingrelia and adjoining areas, and urged the peasantry to hold themselves in readiness for a general uprising. This movement was, however, soon nipped in the bud. At the end of 1876, the government arrested over fifty of the Georgian Narodniks, and many were exiled to Siberia.

Those Narodniks who escaped exile turned from radical agitation and conspiratorial plotting to more peaceful methods of furthering their ideals. They briefed advocates to defend peasants who were oppressed by their squires, and campaigned actively against individual perpetrators of injustice. In 1881, the Georgian Narodniks started to publish a journal under the title Imedi (Hope), in which they inveighed against the liberal bourgeois intelligentsia headed by Ilia Chavchavadze, whose ideas they regarded as outmoded. The advance of Russia and Georgia along the path towards modern capitalism and an industrial society eventually rendered obsolete the ideology of the Narodniks themselves, who were increasingly thrust into the background by the more sophisticated adepts of Marxism. However, many of the Narodnik ideas were subsequently revived by the Russian and Georgian Socialist-Revolutionary parties. The 'S.-R.s', as they were called, to distinguish them from the Marxist Social-Democrats or 'S.-D.s', were later to feature prominently as champions of peasant ownership of the land, and opponents of the townbred Marxists and their schemes of forced industrialization.


The Third Group

The first systematic Georgian Marxists were a band of young intellectuals known as the Mesame Dasi (Third Group), which set out to supersede both the so-called First Group, the movement headed by Ilia Chavchavadze and his contemporaries, who had led the crusade against serfdom a generation before, and the liberal Second Group of Giorgi Tsereteli and Niko Nikoladze. Among the leaders of the Mesame Dasi were Silibistro (Sylvester) Jibladze, an erstwhile pupil at the Tbilisi Theological Seminary, expelled for assaulting the Russian rector of that institution; Nikolai ('Karlo') Chkheidze, who was to become the Menshevik President of the Petrograd Soviet in 1917; and Noe Zhordania, the future President of independent Georgia.

In later years, Zhordania published informative memoirs, which provide a wealth of insight into the mental evolution of Georgian radical youth of that period. 63 Born in 1868 near Ozurgeti (now Makharadze) in the south-western Georgian province of Guria, Zhordania came of a well-known local family of petty gentry. Like Stalin after him, he received his education at the Tbilisi Theological Seminary; but although destined for the priesthood, he early lost faith in Christianity and found himself drawn step by step into the role of a political agitator and reformer. He recalls how, at the age of sixteen, he chanced on a Russian treatise on natural philosophy, which convinced him that

'God is Nature herself; as for a white-bearded deity, seated upon a throne, such a personage simply does not exist'. 'I thought to myself: If Nature's lord and master is Nature herself, then who is the rightful lord and master of mankind? The general opinion was that the Tsar was lord over the people, and that the Tsar was himself appointed by God. But if God did not exist any more, the Tsar could not be His representative. I was therefore at a loss to understand by whose command and authority he sat upon his throne.'

While still a prey to doubt, Zhordania made the acquaintance of the Tbilisi publisher Zakaria Chichinadze, who lent him two numbers of Herzen Kolokol (The Bell). The fiery utterances of that stormy petrel of Russian radicalism dispelled the Georgian student's last misgivings. 'The Tsar, I now realised, was just as much a faked-up authority as God, and I looked upon them both with the same sceptical eyes. Atheism and republicanism commended themselves to me as twin doctrines of equal validity.' 64

While continuing with his classes at the Tbilisi Seminary, Zhordania joined various clandestine discussion groups and took a leading part, together with the future Bolshevik leader Philip Makharadze ( 1868-1941), in student strikes and demonstrations against the Russian management. To begin with, he and his friends came under the influence of the agrarian socialism of the Narodniks. He read with avidity such books as Chernyshevsky famous revolutionary novel Chto delat'? (What is to be done?). But somehow the doctrine of the Narodniks failed to satisfy him. In Russia, as Zhordania saw it, rural life revolved round the peasant commune of the mir or obshchina; in Georgia, all the emphasis among the peasantry was on individual private proprietorship of the land. The Narodniks' mission was to preach the gospel of peasant revolt against the established hierarchy. But the peasant himself was nearly always a monarchist at heart, a petty bourgeois in mentality, incapable of response to the revolutionary vision of a new, socialist society. In short, the achievement of democratic socialism through the agency of a mass of benighted muzhiks seemed to the young Zhordania a highly dubious undertaking.

A like dilemma had already helped to produce a split within the revolutionary movement in metropolitan Russia. In 1879, a secret conference of the Narodniks held at Voronezh divided into two factions. One stuck to the time-honoured agrarian programme; the other, led by G. V. Plekhanov, set out to graft on to the Russian revolutionary movement the ideas of Western industrial socialism. Plekhanov soon established himself as the foremost exponent of Marxist philosophy and sociology in Russia. He became the teacher of Lenin and of a whole generation of Russian, as well as of Georgian revolutionaries. Plekhanov foretold that capitalist industrialism was about to invade Russia and destroy the patriarchal-feudal attitudes and relationships and the primitive rustic communes on which the Populists desired to base their socialism. An urban proletariat would arise in Russia, which would embark on a struggle for industrial socialism very much on the Western European pattern. The vision of a peculiarly Slavonic rural socialism springing straight from pure feudalism and serfdom Plekhanov dismissed as utopian. The revolutionaries, he urged, must prepare themselves without delay to organize the urban working class of the future.

These ideas soon spread to the outlying regions of Russia, especially to Georgia. During the 1880's. the Georgian intelligentsia began to study Marx Das Kapital. The book was read even by Georgian political prisoners exiled to Siberia. In 1886, the Georgian journal Teatri (The Theatre) published a favourable review of the second volume of Marx's great book. Plekhanov's own writings also became known in Tbilisi, where they provoked lively discussion among the young intellectuals.

Meanwhile Noe Zhordania ended his studies at the seminary. Refusing to enter the priesthood, he went instead to Warsaw to attend the veterinary institute there. One of his fellow students introduced him to the writings of Karl Kautsky, the German socialist. Kautsky's writings helped to produce a radical change in Zhordania's outlook. 'I now realized for the first time that Russian socialism was a thoroughly utopian and reactionary movement, and that if it should ever be put into operation anywhere, we should be plunged back into barbarism.' In Tbilisi, there existed only the rudiments of a working class, its habits and outlook still coloured by the traditions of the Oriental bazaar world. In Warsaw, on the other hand, Zhordania found himself in a Western environment, where he could see with his own eyes something of the life and manners of the industrial working class of which Marx and Engels had written. Again, the Poles' deep-rooted antagonism to Russian ways, language and religious dogma, more intense than anything Zhordania had seen in Georgia, made him see that 'in subjugated countries there must first of all take place a political revolution; democracy must be established first, and only afterwards, by the furtherance of economic progress and by extensive organizational work, can we proceed towards social revolution'. The failure of the Narodniks to reach any form of understanding with the inherently passive and bourgeois-minded peasantry made it imperative to operate first on the more receptive mind of the factory worker. Once the town worker was indoctrinated with the new ideas, he could himself propagate them among his rustic cousins in terms they could understand. 65

From Warsaw, Zhordania kept up a clandestine correspondence with friends in Georgia, such as Sylvester Jibladze and the proletarian writer Egnate Ninoshvili (Ingoroqva), whom he also kept supplied with Russian subversive political literature. With Philip Makharadze, Zhordania formed a socialist group among the young Georgians living and studying in Warsaw. Other Georgian student groups operated in the various Russian university centres. In 1892, a conference of Georgian students was held at Kutaisi in Western Georgia. In the following year, they founded a League for the Liberation of Georgia, whose programme sought to reconcile the 'bourgeois-nationalist' and the Marxian 'class-struggle' trends in Georgian progressive thought.

Zhordania returned to Tbilisi in August 1892. After what he had seen in Poland, he brought with him the conviction that the Georgians must make common cause with their Russian and Polish brethren and work towards revolution on an allRussian scale. By herself, Georgia could never vanquish the Russian dragon. There was no sense in struggling in isolation against the common foe--the Tsarist imperial régime.

In December 1892, there took place at Zestafoni in Western Georgia the first meeting of the so-called Third Group, out of which was to grow the Georgian Social-Democratic Party. The main organizer of the conference was Egnate Ninoshvili, the young Georgian radical novelist. Ninoshvili, whose real name was Egnate Ingoroqva, occupies an important place in Georgian literature and social thought, as the first truly 'working-class' writer, in which respect he may be compared with Maxim Gorky in Russia. Born in 1859 of a poor Gurian peasant family, Ninoshvili worked for a time as a village schoolmaster. He then moved to Tbilisi and became a type-setter in a printing house. After many setbacks, he left Tbilisi for Batumi on the Black Sea, where he worked as a dock-labourer and then in the Rothschild oil-drum factory. A contemporary who saw him at work there was shocked to see this frail young intellectual dragging great planks about the factory, with blood dripping from his torn fingers. Later on, Ninoshvili was employed as a clerk at the manganese works at Zestafoni, where the fumes and dust finally undermined his health. Meanwhile, Ninoshvili had been working at his remarkable stories, which he used to read aloud to his fellow-workers. Their publication won him fame, and permitted him at last to enjoy a little relief from manual labour. But it was too late to save his life. In 1894, he returned desperately ill to his native village in Guria, where he died in the same year from tuberculosis.

Ninoshvili's stories give a vivid picture of the life of the Georgian workers and peasants of that time and of their struggle against bailiffs, landlords and officials. His historical novel, The Revolt in Guria, brings to life the events of the Gurian peasant uprising in 1841 directed against the feudal magnates and the Russian occupying power. The story, Gogia Uishvili, tells of a poor peasant flogged for defending his wife and children from insult at the hands of the police, and then committing suicide rather than survive such shameful punishment. Other tales treat of such themes as a peasant knocked down and run over by a train while engaged on forced labour on the railway, and of boatmen drowned while shipping timber over a lake during a storm. The story, A Hero of Our Land, tells of a parasitical debauchee squire, by name Tariel Mklavadze, who finally meets his just deserts at the hands of a poor village school-teacher for whose wife's death this Mklavadze is responsible. It is hard to read Ninoshvili's stories without a feeling of indignation against the system which produced such abuses and injustices. There is no doubt that they helped to produce in public opinion a state of mind receptive to the socialist ideas which Zhordania and his associates, with the active encouragement of Ninoshvili himself, were preparing to propagate in Georgia.

At that first gathering of the Mesame Dasi at Zestafoni in December 1892, the Narodnik element gained the upper hand. The majority of the group felt unable to share Zhordania's confidence in the possibility of effecting revolution through the medium of the yet immature Georgian proletariat, and stuck to the old Populist formula of socialism via the peasant commune. Undeterred by this, and encouraged by the support of Ninoshvili and Jibladze, Zhordania wrote a comprehensive exposé of Marxist economic doctrine, as applied to specifically Georgian conditions. This document, entitled Economic Progress and the National Question, was presented to the next meeting of the group at Tbilisi in February 1893, and met this time with unanimous approval.

'The current evolution of Georgia,' Zhordania wrote, 'involves two aspects, both of them fundamental, and closely interdependent --namely the economic and industrial development of the various regions of Georgia, together with a growing inequality in the material living standards of the Georgian people. Both of these trends arise from the stimulus of commercial and capitalistic enterprise. In the early stages, a nation achieves unity on the basis of the ideology of self-conscious nationalism; subsequently, however, that same nation is bound to find itself divided through self-conscious economic sectional interest. These two trends are born the one from the other; the first summons the second into being, while the second contributes to the development of the first. . . . The core of our present-day life consists in economic growth, which in its turn has given birth to national unity as well as to social cleavage. Georgia is one and indivisible; nevertheless, she is divided into two sections in regard to wealth and to poverty. If on the first point we are united, on the second we are divided. If on questions relating to our internal way of life we are at loggerheads, nevertheless we stand united against the external foe. . . . Capitalism has changed the customs and manners of nations, destroyed the ancient juridical and political framework, overturned idyllic patriarchal relationships, united each individual nation as a separate entity, and brought the nations into contact with one another. On the other hand, that same capitalism has divided the nation into two factions-rich and poor, landowner and landless peasant, bourgeois and worker--and implanted social friction, given birth to the class struggle and summoned the working class into the political arena.'

Zhordania went on to stress that in the new conditions created by capitalism, it was the town and not the village which led the way towards economic progress and social change. Once new ideas took root in the towns, they would soon spread out into the villages of their own accord. Georgia, he foresaw, was entering on the age of urban capitalism. This did not mean that the peasant and the village community had no part to play. But it had to be recognized that even village life was becoming to some extent coloured by urban influences. The life of the Georgian people generally was being Europeanized.

This meant that Georgians must think increasingly in terms of new social philosophies--such as Marxist socialism--which had been born in the economically more advanced West, but were becoming steadily more relevant to Georgian conditions.

No sooner had Zhordania's programme been adopted as an ideological basis for the new revolutionary school in Georgia than its author was forced to flee the country. The Warsaw police rounded up many Georgian and Polish students there on suspicion of subversive activity. Zhordania received warning in time, and sailed from Batumi to Europe in May 1893, some weeks before a warrant arrived for his own arrest. He remained abroad for over four years, until his return to Georgia in October 1897. He visited Switzerland, one of the main refuges for Russian revolutionaries, and met Plekhanov and the redoubtable Vera Zasulich in Geneva. In 1895, he went to Paris and worked at the Bibliothèque Nationale, as well as making the acquaintance of Jules Guesde, Paul Lafargue and other French socialists. Later he went to Stuttgart to visit Karl Kautsky, who became an enthusiastic supporter of the Georgian socialist movement. ' Kautsky,' Zhordania recalls, 'made a deep impression on me by his modesty, simplicity, clarity of thought and great knowledge.' Zhordania also made the acquaintance of the political adventurer and financier Alexander Helphand, known as Parvus, who was to play a leading part in international politics during the World War and the revolutionary period. Early in 1897, Zhordania left Germany for London, where he met the Georgian revolutionary Varlam Cherkesov, whose anarchist views did not entirely coincide with his own; he also frequented the British Museum. He sent back to Georgia favourable reports on the British way of life, some of which were printed in the Tbilisi journals, and contrasted the benevolent British policemen with their less kindly counterparts in Russia.

Wherever he went on his travels, Zhordania was seeking for solutions to Georgia's many political and social problems, such as the national question, land tenure, the political role of the urban proletariat and so on. Much of what he saw was irrelevant to Georgian conditions. The countries of Western Europe (apart from special instances like that of AlsaceLorraine) were free from foreign domination and the handicap of a colonial régime. Individual liberty and national independence were, broadly speaking, assured. Like other visitors before and since, Zhordania found the structure of English society particularly baffling. Where were the peasants? He found dukes and aristocratic grands seigneurs, middle-class farmers who looked and behaved like members of the bourgeoisie, and hordes of farm-labourers who were merely rustic proletarians. But of true peasants on the Russian or Georgian model, no sign was to be seen. However, Zhordania's years in Western Europe had considerable significance for the future development of socialism in Georgia. The personal contacts which he made enabled the Georgians to drink direct from the wellsprings of European socialism, rather than simply imbibing the muddy puddles of Russian revolutionary ideology. He brought back with him the conviction that Georgia's political and economic progress could not be assured without direct contacts with Western European culture, and a break with the mingled Persian, Turkish and Russian influences in which the people and even the intelligentsia had for so long stagnated.

Within Georgia, the young Marxist intellectuals were in the meantime gaining strength and adherents. They embarked both upon open literary work of a more or less innocuous nature, and upon the formation of clandestine Marxist study circles and revolutionary societies among workers and students. When Egnate Ninoshvili died in 1894, his funeral was turned into a public demonstration at which Sylvester Jibladze and other leaders of the movement boldly expounded their social and economic theories and set forth the remedies they proposed for the ills of Georgia. The liberal writer Giorgi Tsereteli, prominent as leader of the so-called Meore Dasi ('Second Group'), declared that a new epoch in Georgian social and intellectual life had begun, and hailed the birth of this new school of economic and political thought--the Mesame Dasi or 'Third Group'. Within a decade, this group was to occupy a dominant position in the country's whole political and social evolution.


Sweated labour

It may seem strange at first sight that a people so largely made up of peasants and mountain clansmen, with a small industry and a comparatively negligible and uneducated proletariat, should be attracted to Marxian socialism. However, there were several factors which contributed to this leaning. Following the abolition of serfdom and the break-up of feudal and patriarchal forms of social organization, Georgia, along with other regions of the Caucasus, was undergoing commercial development on an increasing scale. As Lenin put it, 'The country, sparsely populated in the years after the Reform, inhabited by highlanders and staying aloof from the development of world economy, aloof even from history, was becoming a country of oil industrialists, wine merchants, grain and tobacco manufacturers.' 66 The rich manganese ore deposits of Chiatura and the oil industry of Baku and Batumi were being developed, largely by foreign capital. Whereas in 1886-87, the total value of industrial production in the regions of Tbilisi and Kutaisi amounted to little more than 10,000,000 rubles, by 1891-92 the figure had risen to 32,000,000. In the same short period the number of full-time industrial workers rose from 12,000 to 23,000, in addition to those employed on the railway. By 1900, the number of Georgian industrial workers was reckoned at about 35,000, or up to 50,000 if one includes the railwaymen. It may be reckoned therefore that industrial workers with their families formed scarcely a tenth part of the population. But the fact that the workers were concentrated at key centres of transport and communications gave them an importance out of all proportion to their numerical strength. Tbilisi was the main junction on the railway connecting the Caspian coast with the Black Sea. The railway yards of Tbilisi and the oil-fields of Baku were the birthplace of the militant proletariat of Transcaucasia. As Tbilisi and Baku were also the leading cities of the land, strategic hubs of administration, education, journalism, publishing and commerce, they were places from which industrial unrest could be stirred up and socialist propaganda diffused in a most effective manner.

The conditions of work in the mines and factories of Georgia themselves fostered dissatisfaction and discontent. A twelve-hour working day was common. Workers were often forced to clean and repair their machines and tools in their own time and without extra payment. Many workshops were situated in ill-ventilated, noisome cellars or overcrowded sheds, without adequate lighting or heating. Canteen and restroom facilities were non-existent, and the workers ate and rested beside their machines. All the classic abuses of old-style capitalism flourished unchecked. Arbitrary fines were imposed by the management for minor misdemeanours; the factory hooter was sounded half an hour before the official time in the morning, an hour late at closing time in the evening; vouchers for monopoly-owned factory shops were issued in lieu of wages in cash. Pitiable was the lot of the manganese miners of Chiatura, who worked their seams with primitive instruments down narrow shafts, in the light of open, unguarded kerosene lamps, and on a diet of bread and water and maize porridge. Many observers commented on the squalor prevalent in the Tbilisi match and cigarette factories, the dye works, tanneries, and weaving mills, where frequent epidemics undermined the workers' health. With unguarded and ill-maintained machinery and overtired, underfed workers, accidents were common. The Batumi correspondent of Ilia Chavchavadze's paper, Iveria, reported in 1890 that 'not a day goes by without one or two workers being maimed and losing an arm or a foot. The crippled victim is mercilessly kicked out into the street, like a piece of useless old rubbish. . . .' 67 The active working life of a Georgian industrial labourer averaged little more than fifteen years. Trade unions were proscribed, strikes forbidden and suppressed by the police and militia. The appeal of the 'class struggle' was reinforced by feelings of national solidarity. Few of the Caucasian industrial magnates were Georgians. It was therefore all the easier to whip up hatred of the Armenian merchants and money-lenders, the British, French and Jewish capitalists, and the Russian officials who, so it was represented, formed an unholy alliance to exploit the Georgian workers and peasants, and draw fat dividends from their sweat and tears.

It is true that industrialization affected as yet only a relatively small proportion of the population and that Georgia was still a predominantly agricultural and pastoral land. But the agrarian problem itself had revolutionary potentialities. The reforms of the 1860's, while abolishing serfdom as an institution, did virtually nothing to improve the peasant's economic lot. A striking proof of this is the fact that the system of 'temporary obligation'--a form of servitude to which a peasant was subject pending final settlement of redemption dues in respect of land acquired from his former lord--was not abolished until as late as 1912, many years later than in metropolitan Russia. In 1891, the peasants of Eastern Georgia possessed 134,796 desyatins of land (1 desyatin = 2.7 acres), whereas the landowners had 961,502; the peasants of Western Georgia owned 210,779 desyatins, the landowners 815,321. This was at a time when the peasantry formed 85 per cent. of the population of Eastern Georgia and 86 per cent. of that of Western Georgia. The landowning gentry, on the other hand, made up only 2.89 per cent. and 6.78 per cent. of the populations of Eastern and Western Georgia respectively.

However, the largest landlord of all in Georgia was the Russian crown. In 1900, after just a century of occupation, the Russian government had swallowed up more than half the landed estates in the country. Statistics of the time reckoned Georgia to contain some 6,120,000 desyatins of exploitable land, or about 16,524,000 acres. This was distributed as follows:

Russian government:                                                      3,535,544 des.

Landowners:                                                                    1,914,214 des.

Peasants:                                                                         382,697 des.

Merchants and others:                                                     148,885 des.

Russian imperial family:                                                  116,299 des.

Church domains:                                                             22,361 des.

                                                                                         6,120,000 des.

These figures show that the Russian imperial government owned some 58 per cent. of the land, the landed proprietors 31 per cent.; of the remaining 11 per cent., a substantial slice, as will be seen, belonged personally to individual members of the Russian imperial family. The peasants, forming some 85 per cent. of the population, had to content themselves with just over 6 per cent. of the land, and were weighed down into the bargain by redemption payments, tithes and sundry taxes. They were in fact caught in a vicious circle. For the most part, they could afford neither to increase their holdings nor to introduce improved methods of cultivation. Pauperization of the villages was accompanied by a drift of dispossessed peasants into the slums of the towns, where they lent a ready ear to socialist agitators. Nor did the attitude of the Georgian landed gentry do much to alleviate the position. To quote a presentday Georgian writer by no means friendly to Communist ideas:

'If our princes and country squires had renounced their sectional interests in time, and risen to the occasion by making some genuine response to the general interests of the nation, Marxist ideas could never have taken root. Our aristocracy prepared the ground for socialism by its own policy. Its many oppressive acts cleared the way for Socialist propagandists. In the end, the impoverished squirearchy itself became the backbone of this movement, in the person of its most eminent representative, N. Zhordania.' 68

Like many middle-class socialists, however, Zhordania and his associates failed to realise that the 'class struggle', for the intensification of which they enthusiastically campaigned, would result in a holocaust of which they themselves would be among the victims.

Under the promise of an amnesty, Zhordania had returned to Georgia from Western Europe in 1897. He and his friends soon gained control of the liberal newspaper Kvali (The Furrow), which became the regular organ of Georgian 'legal Marxism'. In this paper Zhordania and his disciples proclaimed that bourgeois capitalism had already taken root in Georgia, and that the country was thus in the intermediate stage between feudalism and socialism. They criticized the older generation of Georgian patriots who concentrated their efforts on a revival of the use of the Georgian language, on cultivating Georgian literature, and on supporting the Georgian national Church as a focus for the country's moral and spiritual life. The young socialist zealots depicted even the great Ilia Chavchavadze as a dyed-in-the-wool reactionary and criticized the management of such institutions as the Land Bank of the Nobility, the Society for the Spreading of Literacy among the Georgians, the National Theatre and the independent, voluntary Georgian schools as 'bourgeois' or 'aristocratic'. In Zhordania's view, the idea of a Georgian national revival within the framework of Russian tsardom was absurd. The salvation of Georgia lay, he believed, in solidarity between the Georgian and the Russian and international working classes. Implicit in Zhordania's reasoning-- though such ideas could not be expressed openly in print--was the conclusion that only after the overthrow of the Russian imperial system could Georgia hope to achieve national fulfilment through democratic socialism, in which 'effete elements' such as princes, priests and capitalists would have no share.

Such views were anathema to Ilia Chavchavadze and the other leading Georgian nationalists, who were not slow in taking up Zhordania's challenge. In a series of outspoken articles, published pseudonymously in 1900, Ilia roundly castigated Zhordania and his followers, whom he declared to be ignorant, illiterate, conceited and infantile. Zhordania, in Ilia's view, was nothing but a charlatan, a man claiming to be 'sent into the world to alter the axis on which the globe revolves, and make heaven and earth turn according to his will and pleasure'. 69 It is ironic therefore to note that while reeling under Ilia's thunderbolts, Zhordania, Chkheidze and the other 'legal Marxists' who formed the majority of the Mesame Dasi group were simultaneously being assailed by the extremist wing of their own party as lukewarm intellectuals, unable and unwilling to lead the nation in an active revolutionary campaign against Tsardom. They were wrong, it was said, to bide their time while limiting themselves to the peaceful propagation of Marxist ideas, and to ignore the need for setting up illegal, revolutionary printing presses, instigating violence, and organizing a massive political upheaval of the working classes against the Tsar and the bourgeoisie.


Stalin's revolutionary youth

Prominent among the left-wing, extremist minority of the Mesame Dasi was Lado Ketskhoveli, the future friend and mentor of Stalin. Expelled with more than eighty other students from the Tbilisi Theological Seminary in 1894, Ketskhoveli went to Kiev, where he made contact with clandestine groups of Russian socialists and became initiated into the underground revolutionary movement. Arrested in 1896, he was sent back to his birthplace to be kept under police surveillance. He came back to the Caucasus eager to free the revolutionary movement in his homeland out of its provincial swaddling clothes by setting up a secret printing press and embarking on terroristic campaigns. In 1898, another former student from the Tbilisi Theological Seminary joined the militant wing of the group. His name was Joseph Jughashvili-the future Stalin. The nineteen-year-old novice was immediately taken in hand by Ketskhoveli and another thorough-going revolutionary, Alexander Dsulukidze, and set to work on running Marxist study circles for the Tbilisi industrial workers. His task was to lecture on socialism to the tobacco workers, masons, shoemakers, weavers, printers and the conductors of the local horse trams. The workers met in small groups, a dozen or a score in each, in some obscure slumdwelling, while one member watched outside to make sure that the police had not got wind of what was afoot. In those days, education was the privilege of the few, so that the young student volunteers were treated with respect by the workers, often older men, and accepted as mentors and guides.

It was not long before Ketskhoveli, Dsulukidze and Stalin constituted a well-organized 'action' group within the Tbilisi Social-Democratic organization, parting company more and more with Zhordania and the other moderates. A positive impetus to their movement was provided by a series of well planned strikes which broke out from 1898 onwards in various sectors of Georgian industry. In December 1898, the main Tbilisi railway depot came out on strike in protest against a reduction in wages, the abolition of free railway passes for railwaymen and their families, and other vexatious measures. The strike was directed by both the local Georgian socialists and by workers of revolutionary sympathies who had been deported from Russia; it lasted a week and led to the arrest of forty-one ringleaders. The following year was marked by strikes in a Tbilisi tobacco factory, at the horse tram depot, at the Adelkhanov shoe factory, at the Sharadze printing works, as well as in Batumi at the Rothschild oil refinery. The first of May 1899, was celebrated by the first May Day demonstration to be held in the Caucasus. Between seventy and eighty railway and industrial workers and socialist agitators assembled at a spot called Ghrma-Ghele (Deep Ravine) on the outskirts of Tbilisi. They were addressed by Lado Ketskhoveli and other orators, who stressed the significance of May Day as a symbol of the international solidarity of the toiling masses. The participants took a solemn vow beneath a red flag to close their ranks and fight with all their strength in the death struggle against Tsarism and capitalist exploitation.


'Legal Marxism' and the fighting underground

The only leading member of the Mesame Dasi who was equally at home in the militant underground and in the more respectable world of 'legal Marxism' was Sylvester Jibladze. The other legal Marxists, such as Zhordania and Chkheidze, took no direct part in the strikes and other incidents. Their aloofness provoked accusations of 'opportunism' and faint-heartedness on the part of the revolutionary agitators, and signs of an impending breach between the moderate wing, the future Mensheviks, and the militant revolutionary wing, the future Bolsheviks, were already apparent. The Russian authorities, curiously enough, showed an amazing degree of toleration towards Zhordania and his group, who were now in control of the newspaper Kvali, in the columns of which they preached the forthcoming collapse of capitalism and the intensification of the class struggle. The Russian Governor-General of the Caucasus, Prince Golitsyn, was more concerned with combating Georgian nationalism and 'separatism' than with preventing the spread of economic doctrines, however potentially explosive. It is known, indeed, that the Tbilisi censors received a special circular from St. Petersburg, directing them to pay exclusive attention to manifestations of local nationalism. They devoted their attention to harassing patriotic citizens like Prince Ilia Chavchavadze, men of substance and respectable liberals, whose demands amounted to little more than home rule for Georgia, education in the national language, civic rights, trial by jury, and so on, within the general pattern of the existing imperial system. The authorities failed to see that the revolutionary ferment spreading all over Russia was a greater danger to the régime than any such symptoms of local pride. 'It was clear that the Censorship Committee was far more afraid of patriotic verses than of discussions on economics.' 70 This situation, with its paradoxical features, was aptly summed up by a contemporary foreign observer who wrote:

'We find in Georgia the same tendency to encourage Socialism as an antidote to middle-class Constitutionalism and Liberalism as in Russia itself, where the famous Zubatoff movement of the Moscow workmen was actually organized under the auspices of the secret police. Prince Golitsyn and the bureaucrats of the Plehve school were less afraid of Social Democracy than of the Nationalism of the Georgian nobles and intellectuals, whose aims were in the direction of constitutional government, and therefore incompatible with autocracy, of national autonomy which might lead to separatism and the break-up of the Empire, and of an autocephalous Church, which naturally aroused the fears of M. Pobiedonostzeff. . . . 71 Prince Golitsyn hoped to create a breach between the Georgian Nationalist upper classes and the peasantry, and to introduce a mild milk-and-water Socialism, sufficient to weaken the autonomists, but docile and friendly to the authorities.' 72

This strange and uneasy alliance between the Tsarist gendarmes and the Georgian leaders of the labour movement could not last. Whenever it came to a clash, it was the workers and not the nobles or capitalists whom the Cossacks attacked with their guns and whips. From 1900 onwards, Georgia, like the rest of Russia, was caught up in the backwash of a worldwide economic depression. This had a catastrophic effect on Georgia's budding industrial enterprises. The output of manganese at Chiatura was drastically curtailed. The export of petroleum products from Batumi was reduced and the workers put on to short-time working. Many factories in Tbilisi, Batumi, Kutaisi, Poti and Chiatura had to close down. In the Tbilisi province alone there were over 4,000 unemployed. To make things worse, the harvest in 1901 was bad. Starving peasants invaded the towns in search of work, adding to the chaos and misery.

The manufacturers cut wages and laid off staff, which in turn provoked a wave of strikes and boycotts. In March 1901, the police rounded up and imprisoned the leaders of the militant socialist wing in Tbilisi, including Lenin's disciple Victor Kurnatovsky. Among the few who escaped arrest was young Jughashvili-Stalin, then a clerk at the Tbilisi Observatory, who now went into hiding. From the 'underground', he played a prominent part in organizing opposition to the authorities. Many of his comrades being under arrest, it fell to him to carry through the plans which had been made for a May Day demonstration far more audacious than the inoffensive gatherings of 1899 and 1900.

'The workers of the whole of Russia,' declared a revolutionary broadsheet of the time, 'have decided to celebrate the First of May openly--in the best thoroughfares of the city. They have proudly declared to the authorities that Cossack whips and sabres, torture by the police and the gendarmerie hold no terror for them! Friends, let us too join our Russian comrades! Let us join hands, Georgians, Russians, Armenians; let us gather, raise the scarlet banner and celebrate our only holiday--the First of May!' 73

The demonstration was fixed for 22 April 1901 (Old Style). At midday, the sounding of the noon cannon shot from the Tbilisi arsenal gave the signal for action. The red flag was unfurled on the Soldatsky Bazaar (the present-day Kolkhoz Square), near the Alexander Garden. The fiery words of revolutionary orators were acclaimed by some 2,000 workers with cries of 'Down with Autocracy! Up the Republic! Long live Liberty!' Before the demonstrators could march on the main boulevards, they were set upon by police and Cossacks. A savage battle ensued. The Governor of Tbilisi hastened to the scene. Reinforcements were called in. At the end, fourteen workers lay dead on the square. Fifty arrests were made. Abortive though it was, this demonstration was of great significance. Lenin commented in his paper Iskra (The Spark): 'The event which took place on Sunday 22 April, in Tiflis is of historic import for the entire Caucasus: this day marks the beginnings of an open revolutionary movement in the Caucasus.' Following the disturbance, the police rounded up many leading socialist intellectuals whom they had previously treated with tolerance, including Noe Zhordania, who spent several months in the Metekhi fortress jail in Tbilisi.

Despite all repressions, the Georgian revolutionary movement continued to gather momentum. Lado Ketskhoveli proceeded to Baku, the great oil-producing centre in Azerbaijan on the Caspian, and set up an illegal printing press on which he produced the first issues of Brdzola (The Struggle), the organ of the Tbilisi Social-Democratic organization. Ketskhoveli also made Brdzola into a local mouthpiece of the all-Russian SocialDemocratic movement, adopting the programme of Lenin's Iskra, with its emphasis on the creation of united all-Russian party to co-ordinate political agitation and work for the dictatorship of the proletariat. Ketskhoveli and his assistants printed broadsheets addressed to the army, inciting the troops to mutiny--'which manifestoes,' according to a gendarmerie report of the time, 'were very widely circulated among the troops'. 74 Ketskhoveli soon afterwards handed over the Baku secret press to another Georgian revolutionary, T. T. Enukidze who passed it on in 1904 to his namesake, Abel Enukidze. This Abel Enukidze later became a close friend of Stalin, who betrayed him and had him shot during the purges of 1936-37.

On 11 November 1901, the first conference of the Georgian branch of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers' Party took place in Tbilisi. The personnel of the branch was virtually identical with that of the Georgian Mesame Dasi or Third Group, though some members had reservations about joining any organization with an all-Russian label. The committee of nine elected at this conference included Stalin and Sylvester Jibladze, though the latter was soon afterwards arrested and exiled to Siberia. Stalin was sent to Batumi to stir up revolutionary activity among the workers at the important Black Sea port and oil-refinery. It was a promising assignment. The oil pipe-line between Baku and Batumi had recently been completed. Batumi counted over ten large industrial enterprises, including the petroleum container factories of Rothschild, Mantashev, Nobel and others, two tobacco factories, an iron foundry, a nail works, a mineral water bottling depot and several oil loading stations. There were some 11,000 industrial workers, a motley, polyglot mixture of Christians and Muslims, with some of the riffraff always to be found in ports and dockyards. Conditions of life were generally poor. The working day averaged fourteen hours, compulsory overtime bringing it at times up to sixteen hours. Wages were from sixty kopecks to one ruble per day. There was obvious scope for socialist agitation. In fact, a small Russian Social-Democratic committee had functioned in Batumi for a time, until broken up by the police in 1898. The promotion of the workers' interests was then taken over by two founder members of Zhordania's Mesame Dasi party, Karlo Chkheidze and Isidore Ramishvili, 'legal Marxists' who abstained from violent measures and engaged for the most part in work of an educational nature and in practical welfare.

When Stalin arrived in Batumi, he was welcomed coldly by Chkheidze and Ramishvili, who were opposed to clandestine conspiracies and acts of terrorism. Nothing daunted, Stalin convened a meeting of militant elements among the local workers and intellectuals, who assembled on New Year's Eve, 1901. A Batumi Social-Democratic organization was formally constituted on the Leninist model, and eleven workers' circles set up in the principal factories. Stalin set to work writing leaflets and printing them off on a primitive hand press in his lodgings. His efforts soon produced results. In January 1902, a strike at Mantashev's ended in victory for the workers, the management being forced into important concessions.

In the following month, a strike broke out at Rothschild's over the dismissal of nearly four hundred workers suspected of subversive activities. The Military Governor of Kutaisi arrived on the spot and ordered the arrest of thirty-two ringleaders. Stalin and his associates organized a mass demonstration of workers, who paraded through the streets on 8 March 1902, demanding the release of their comrades. Three hundred arrests were made. When it was learnt that all the detainees were to be deported from Batumi, an even larger crowd of demonstrators, including workers from the Rothschild and Mantashev factories, the docks and the railway yards, in all about 6,000, set out for the barracks where the prisoners were held. The military commandant refused to hand over his charges and ordered the workers to disperse. A company of the 7th Caucasian Rifles were called out to clear the square, but were met with jeers and stones. Then the prisoners inside managed to break out and join their comrades outside the barracks. Finally, the troops opened fire, killing fourteen workers and wounding many others. The incident was widely reported in the Russian and foreign press.

The Tsarist secret police or Okhrana redoubled its efforts to track down the leaders of the Batumi revolutionary cell. In the end, they succeeded in discovering and raiding a meeting of the Batumi revolutionary committee. Stalin and others were arrested. After spending eighteen months in various Caucasian jails, Stalin was deported for three years to the Irkutsk province in eastern Siberia. However, he promptly made his escape and was back in Tbilisi early in 1904, ready to play his part in the upheavals which shook the Caucasus during the revolution of 1905. In the meantime, his comrade Lado Ketskhoveli, who had been seized and confined in the Metekhi prison at Tbilisi, was shot dead in his cell by the Tsarist police. Another leading Georgian Bolshevik and friend of Stalin, Alexander Dsulukidze, died of consumption in June 1905, at the age of twenty-nine. At the same time, daring and determined young men were continually reinforcing the revolutionary wing of the Social-Democratic party in the Caucasus. Particularly militant were some of the Armenian revolutionaries, who formed several secret societies, some of a nationalist and others of a socialist hue. The animosity of the Armenian community, normally reserved for the Turks, was vented on the Russian government also after 1903, when Prince Golitsyn confiscated the property of the Armenian national Church and perpetrated other discriminatory measures against the Armenians, who were very numerous in Tbilisi itself. The ineptitude of Tsarist policy in Caucasia was strikingly exemplified by this decree of confiscation, which was signed by Tsar Nicholas II at the insistence of Golitsyn and the minister Plehve, but against the vote of a majority of the imperial council of ministers, who justly regarded the proposal as iniquitous and fraught with political danger. The result of this measure was that Stalin's group was reinforced by several daring Armenian terrorists, including the celebrated TerPetrossian, known as Kamo. In 1903, Kamo caused a public sensation by scattering socialist leaflets among the audience at the Tbilisi Armenian theatre. He led the hold-up of the Tbilisi State Bank in 1907, and followed this up by a series of escapades which won him an international reputation. 75

Side by side with the revolutionary movement among the industrial workers, a spontaneous and concerted resistance campaign was gathering momentum among the villagers. Losing hope in a solution from above to the problems of land tenure and the general impoverishment of the countryside, the peasants began to impose their own solution from below. They would make life unbearable for the local squire by various forms of boycott and provocation, until he left of his own accord for the nearest city. In some cases, they would politely escort their former feudal master to the railway station and bundle him on to the next train for Tbilisi. The movement was particularly strong in the south-western province of Guria, where the small size of the peasant allotments gave rise to an often quoted saying: 'If I tie up a cow on my bit of land, her tail will be in someone else's!' To keep themselves and their families, 80 per cent of the Gurian peasantry were forced to look for permanent or seasonal jobs in the towns, in search of which they travelled as far afield as Odessa and Rostov in southern Russia. Guria was directly affected by the strikes and socialist agitation which were convulsing nearby Batumi. It was not mere coincidence that Guria produced the first Georgian proletarian writer, Egnate Ninoshvili, and the founder of Georgian Marxism, Noe Zhordania.

In 1902, matters came to a head with a direct challenge thrown down by the Gurian peasantry to the Russian authorities and to their own landed proprietors. The Gurian movement began with a series of demands for reduction of rent, and with protests against the usurpation of peasant land by the state. The peasants refused to pay taxes to the government or tithes to the priests. They boycotted unpopular squires as well as all organs and representatives of the Russian administration. The village headmen were powerless to keep order, and were in any case overwhelmingly in sympathy with their stubborn compatriots. The Russians reacted at first with mass arrests and repressions. They sent troops to round up the ringleaders, who included the majority of the local village schoolmasters and a number of socialist agitators who had arrived from the towns. Noe Zhordania, who had just been released from custody and returned to his native Guria, was rearrested; Noe Khomeriki the agronomist, future Minister of Agriculture of independent Georgia, was also taken into custody. The fortresses were filled with captives and many were sent into Siberian exile.


'Down with autocracy!'

The Cossacks and gendarmes could not be everywhere at once. The ferment spread throughout the province and into neighbouring regions as well. Mansions were burnt down. Demonstrations took place, red flags were waved, and the cry of 'Down with autocracy!' was repeatedly to be heard. The priests were forbidden by their flock to repeat in church the prayer for the imperial family, and portraits of Tsar Nicholas II were torn down and burnt. Bodies of murdered policemen and soldiers were refused church burial and had to be discreetly interred by the police themselves. In those centres where the district governor, chief of police, magistrates and other paraphernalia of Muscovite bureaucracy managed to survive at all, they were paralysed and ineffective. The people set up their own popular tribunals, which dealt with all forms of crime and immorality in an effective if rudimentary fashion. They worked in shifts to maintain the roads and bridges. Nobles, priests, peasants and shopkeepers all manfully did their turn of work.

The success of this peasant communism in Guria gave a sudden stimulus to those Georgian revolutionaries who harked back in their outlook to the old Narodniks or Populists, and whose programme was based on agrarian socialism of a utopian variety, with emphasis on peasant ownership of the land. These agrarian revolutionaries formed the Georgian Socialist-Federalist Revolutionary Party, allied to the Russian Social-Revolutionaries or 'S.-R.s'. The leading spirit in this party was Archil Jorjadze, who convened its first conference at Geneva in 1904 and brought out a newspaper Sakartvelo or La Géorgie which appeared at Paris in Georgian and French. Proscribed in Georgia itself, the fiery pamphlets of the Social-Revolutionaries were smuggled in, and contributed to exacerbate the growing tension in the Georgian countryside.


Plehve and the Black Hundreds

All these local developments in Georgia must, of course, be viewed against the general background of Russia's general political state. Throughout the empire, the situation was deteriorating under the vacillating yet oppressive rule of Nicholas II. A key factor in the situation was the rivalry between the able Minister of Finance, Count Sergius Witte, and the sinister Von Plehve, Minister of the Interior. Plehve's recipe for maintaining authority was compounded of pogroms against the Jews and the forced russification of other national minorities, floggings and shootings of unruly peasants and factory workers, combined with a programme of chauvinistic militarism in the Far East, whereby patriotic zeal would be rallied to the Tsar and attention diverted from troubles at home. In July 1903, a general strike broke out in the southern provinces of Russia, beginning at the great oil city of Baku.

Soon the provinces of Kiev, Ekaterinoslav, Odessa and Nikolaev were largely strike-bound, as well as the Georgian governorates of Tbilisi and Kutaisi. The Tsar sent the Governor-General of the Caucasus, Prince Golitsyn, a personal telegram, demanding 'the most energetic action' to put an end to the disorders. In several Georgian towns, strikers engaged in violent combat with Cossacks and gendarmes, casualties being heavy.

These outbreaks helped to bring about Witte's dismissal from the Ministry of Finance in August 1903. Plehve's influence now became dominant. All criticism of the government was suppressed. Students were forbidden to gather or converse in the streets. Espionage was rampant in universities and schools, and agents provocateurs were active in industry and in society. Before any social gathering could be held, permission had to be sought from the police. Witte declared that such policies would one day bring about Plehve's assassination. To this, the all-powerful minister retorted that the country was now on the verge of revolution, and that the one way to avert it was 'a small victorious war'. In the meantime, he kept up the pressure on Russia's minority peoples. By persecuting the Georgian Church and ignoring the warnings and representations of the moderates among the Georgian aristocracy, Plehve and Prince Golitsyn between them effectively rallied all classes of Georgian society against the régime.

When war broke out between Russia and Japan in February 1904, the Georgian Social-Democrats immediately set to work to exploit the new situation. Leaflets were distributed wholesale, denouncing Tsarist militarism and calling on the workers to rally against the chauvinistic and ultra-patriotic Russian movement of the 'Black Hundreds', which the local authorities frequently incited to acts of violence against the minority communities of the empire.

'During the entire month of February,' we read in a document of the time, 'there was evidence of the growth of the revolutionary activity of the Social-Democratic organization, political meetings were held with increasing frequency, broadsheets with various titles in Russian, Georgian and Armenian have been scattered about not only in the streets, in factories, schools, and in the main workshops of the Transcaucasian railways, but even in churchyards and inside the churches themselves. . . . The local Social-Democratic organization has renewed its criminal activity among the workers of the main railway depot, the printing works in the city of Tbilisi, among the salesmen of various shops, in the Adelkhanov tannery and other factories. Propaganda is carried on, as before, at gatherings in which people debate from every angle the burning question of today--Russia's war against Japan; in the same spirit, the Russian government is condemned in all the printed manifestoes. The immediate aim of this propaganda is the desire at all costs to hold an anti-government demonstration on or about 18 April (Old Style: i.e. the First of May), to show that the workers censure the government for pursuing an unnecessary war with Japan, and that they have only one aim: "Down with autocracy!"' 76

By placing the city under martial law, the authorities in Tbilisi nipped in the bud the projected May Day procession there. Numerous incidents and strikes took place in other Georgian centres, leading to clashes with the police and the military in which a number of workers and peasants lost their lives.

In July 1904, Governor-General Golitsyn, who had been wounded in a terrorist attack, left the Caucasus on leave, never to return. On the 28th of that same month, the minister, Plehve, was assassinated in St. Petersburg by the SocialRevolutionary, Sazonov. Russia and Caucasia alike were sliding fast down the slope leading to revolution.

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62.   It was fashionable in the nineteenth century to replace the Georgian name endings in -shvili and -dze (both meaning 'son of') with the Russian termination in -ov, e.g. Baratashvili into Baratov, Tsitsishvili into Tsitsianov, and many others.

63.   Noe Zhordania, Chemi dsarsuli. Mogonebani (My Past. Reminiscences), Paris 1953.

64.   Zhordania, Reminiscences, pp. 11-12.

65.   Zhordania, Reminiscences, p. 26.

66.   Quoted by I. Deutscher, Stalin. A Political Biography, Oxford 1949, P. 20.

67.   Quoted by I. A. Chakhvashvili, The Working-class Movement in Georgia 1870-1904, Tbilisi 1958, p. 63.

68.   A. Manvelishvili, Sakutreba; Midsis sakitkhi Sakartveloshi (Property; The Land Question in Georgia), Paris 1956, P. 42.

69.   Ilia Chavchavadze, Tkhzulebata sruli krebuli (Complete Works), tom. VI, Tbilisi 1956, p. 242.

70.   Zhordania, Reminiscences, p. 48.

71.   K. P. Pobedonostsev ( 1827-1907), Head Procurator of the Russian Holy Synod; a well-known obscurantist.

72.   L. Villari, Fire and Sword in the Caucasus, London 1906, pp. 75-74.

73.   Quoted by L. P. Beria, On the history of the Bolshevik organigations in Transcaucasia (English edition), Moscow 1949, p. 33.

74.   Beria, On the history of the Bolshevik organizations in Transcaucasia, p. 60.

75.   See David Shub, "Kamo--the Legendary Old Bolshevik of the Caucasus", in Russian Review, Vol. XIX, No. 3, July 1960, pp. 227-47.

76.        Chakhvashvili, Rabochee dvizhenie v Gruzii p. 303.