Hands off Georgia!

As a democratic socialist, I have to say that I am very concerned by reports that Russian tanks have entered Georgia.
You might think — what an odd topic to comment on? After all, I don’t normally address current affairs issues on this blog.
But a quarter century ago I began a love affair with Georgia — a country I’ve never seen whose language I do not understand.

I fell in love with the country because of something that happened 90 years ago.
Back in 1917, when the Russian empire collapsed, a number of the border regions were spun off and allowed to become independent. In some cases, like Finland, the independence was permanent. In others — like the Transcaucasian republics of Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan, it was more transient. By 1921, all three were back under Russian rule.
The case of Georgia intrigued me because it was the only part of the Russian Empire in which the Mensheviks came to power — and held power.
The society they established was a multi-party democracy with a free press. Independent trade unions thrived. The “commanding heights of the economy” were nationalized. Peasants were given control of their land. It was not a perfect society, and Georgia lived under constant threat of invasion — from the Russians, the Turks and others. The Georgians sought safety in the embrace of greater powers, first Germany, later Britain.
The more I read about the independent Georgian republic, the more I understood the enthusiasm shown by democratic socialists at that time for this new society. Side by side with the Leninist-Stalinist regime in Russia, which established its secret police force and Gulag at the very dawn of the revolution, here was an example of an alternative form of socialism, one with a human face.
In the spring of 1921, Stalin — himself a Georgian, but an outsider — organized a Red Army invasion of the country and brought it under Russian rule. For many years, it was a difficult country for the Russians to control. At one point, in 1924, the underground Menshevik party carried out a large armed insurrection, nearly ending Soviet rule then and there.
For decades, socialist and labour parties in the West knew about the Georgian experiment and honored Georgian socialist leaders in exile.
But historical memory fades over time, and few socialists today have any recollection of this extraordinary experiment in democratic socialism.
The Mensheviks are long gone, though Georgia does honor the memory of its brief independence from 1918-1921.
As I read of Russian tanks pouring across the Georgian border, once again the great power to the north putting pressure on its little neighbor, I feel sad that there is no longer the kind of sympathy on the Left for Georgia that there once was.
Of course we should oppose a Russian invasion of Georgia; that goes without saying.
But we should not only oppose it because countries should not invade one another.
We should also oppose it because it reminds us of one of Stalin’s first great crimes, the crushing of what was at the time a great hope.
Independent Georgia did not deserve that fate in 1921 and Georgia does not deserve that now.
Hands off Georgia!

4 Comments on "Hands off Georgia!"

  1. Chris Ford | 08/08/2008 at 20:40 |

    Georgia was a colony of the Tsarist Russian Empire and of that Empire in its new Stalinist form. The International labour movement owes the Georgian working class its solidarity in the face of this aggression by Russian imperialism. The post-1991 Russian state has consistently attempted to undermine Georgias new won independence and regain its hegemony. – Hands Off Georgia!

  2. Eric – and indeed Chris Ford in his comment above, are concerned that Russia should not violate Georgia’s right to self-determination, but have failed to also oppose the vicious attack of the Georgian Saakashvili regime on South Ossetia. This provocation – a denial of the South Ossetians’ right to self-determination – must also be opposed, as must the joint US-Georgian military training. Our guiding principles here need to be: 1. opposition to US and Russian imperialism’s designs for the region and 2. support for the right of nations to self-determination, including the South Ossetians. This means calling not only for Russian troops out of the region, but for Georgian troops to get out of South Ossetia and for the US’advisers’ and personnel to get out of Georgia. Otherwise you run the risk of showing more consistency in your opposition to the designs of Russian imperilaism than you do to those of the USA and its British ally.

  3. Kirill Buketov | 11/08/2008 at 11:34 |

    Georgian experiment of 1920 should not be forgotten, indeed. The current war, however, is not a war of bolsheviks’ Russia against mensheviks’ Georgia.
    Georgia under Saakashvili is an ugly capitalist anti-social state, where labour relations are based upon neo liberal platform, labour legislation erroded by Bush-style advisers, trade union rights diminished, so called narrative labour contracts prevail with employers unlimited power to hire-fire their workers, social security system dont exist. Georgian government is the world champion in following IMF/WB advices to eliminate all socail obstacles to attract (almost no) foreign investments. Georgian governement has never appealed to the historical heritage of Georgian mensheviks (also not to German social democrats, not even US democrats or UK Labourists). It has nothing to do with the experiment of 1920. In its practice it is trying to do absolutly reverse things. And Georgian working class activists have been asking for international support to strike back for their labour rights, but received very limited attention of the international community for years.
    Russia under Putin/Medvedev is an ugly imperialist antidemocratic regime, however with a remaining social security system (paid by oil). Rich are becoming richer here, profits are escalating, but wages and employment are growing, pensions as well. Still very far from a decent level, but millions of working class families feel a relief after a decade of economic instability. That is the reason why 60.000 out of 70.000 Southern Osetians decided to be Russian citizens, while not a single North Osetian wanted to have a Georgian passport. Simply because one capitalist state is better oiled than another. Whatever the reason, these South Osetian people do have the right for self-determination.
    But… why the war?
    It was provoked by both Russian and Georgian elits which will gain huge amounts of money, solve many internal political problems. Saakashvili needs it as he wants to stay in power after next elections, for that he needs to show to the electorate that he does everything to regain Georgia traditional territory and he is prepared even to risk the souverenity of his country. Putin/Medvedev and Russian military lobby obviously are happy to get involved in every possible conflict. Even, (not) strangly enough US Republican party received a new chance in the elections campaing to use Russia as a new threat to state security. Presidents act in their own interests and they are who are going to win in this war respectless of its actual result. Working class people will be the victims again.
    Hands off Georgia! Hands off Osetia! Down with Bush, Putin and Saakashvili!

  4. Alex Spinrad | 13/08/2008 at 08:00 |

    The previous comments are sickening examples of pseudo-intellectual trash thinking: Instead of simply sticking up for a country which has been plundered and invaded by its neighbor – people make all kinds of irrelevant statements about its present leader or economic policies.
    So what? If the Vietnamese leadership in the 60’s was dispicable is that any justification for an invasion? If the Palestinians’ leadership supported Adolph Hitler does that mean they don’t have a right to an independent state alongside Israel?
    Of course all this is obvious. But in the mass of well-written but meaningless words which you have written you fail to make the only fair, humane and socialist point: that the Georgian people have a right to self-determination and to a country.
    As for the minorities of Georgia – don’t you even see the absurdity of your dwelling on these issues? When Georgia was invaded by Russia which has obliterated entire populations in Chichenya to prevent self-determination of sutonomous areas in its own territory?
    I can only sadly conclude that much of the intelectual elite is suffering from the same degenerate disease of verbal obfuscation and double-speak against which Orwell so forcefully wrote 60 and 70 years ago.
    But Georgia, my friends, is not the last. It is the first.

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