Georgia's Forgotten Revolution, 1918-1921
Zed Books 2017
New Books in Critical TheoryNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in PoliticsNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Russian and Eurasian StudiesNew Books Network November 2, 2017 Samantha Lomb
Eric Lee‘s The Experiment: Georgia’s Forgotten Revolution, 1918-1921 (Zed Books, 2017) is about the Georgian Social Democratic/ Menshevik Revolution that took place in 1918.
As the world celebrates the centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution, Lee uses this book to explore what happened in Georgia, where the Social Democrats /Mensheviks, led by Noe Zhordania remained committed to a democratic and inclusive revolution as a counterpoint to the Bolshevik notions of a strict, disciplined party and a limited, undemocratic but participatory system of government. He notes that Zhordiania and the other Georgian Mensheviks had cut their teeth in 1902-1906 in the Gurian republic, a small breakaway region in Georgia, where peasant revolt had turned into democratic local government, until it was crushed by Tsarist forces. The lessons learned in Guria remained crucial for the Georgian Social Democrats, who learned to appreciate the peasants as a revolutionary class who demanded an equal seat at the table, as well as principles such as universal suffrage for men and women and the importance of involving local people in policymaking, particularly to solve Georgia’s pressing agrarian question. When the Bolsheviks seized power in 1918, the Georgian Social Democrats reluctantly broke away from Russia and sought to navigate the charged political waters, trying to stave off invasion from Turkey and Denikin’s White forces with alliances with first Germany and then Britain. They also tried to apply classic Marxist principles, creating not socialism but a bourgeois industrial revolution and a corresponding democratic regime, which was elected by secret ballot and universal suffrage to run the new, tiny nation. This new democratically elected Menshevik government tried to solve issues of pressing concern, carrying out land reform and encouraging judicial reform and encouraging industrial development, while trying to maintain the sovereignty and territorial integrity of their new nation. Eventually, due to Georgia’s size and geopolitical location, this revolution failed, but Lee provides a fascinating account of what the country briefly looked like under Menshevik rule and how this compared to the regime established by Georgia’s most famous son, Stalin.
Samantha Lomb is an Assistant Professor at Vyatka State University in Kirov, Russia. Her research focuses on daily life, local politics and political participation in the Stalinist 1930s. Her book, Stalin’s Constitution: Soviet Participatory Politics and the Discussion of the Draft 1936 Constitution is now available online. Her research can be viewed here.