David Marshall Lang
(excerpt from the book ”A Modern History of Georgia”/NY/1962)
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.
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.
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 Armeniaand 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.
THE STALIN ERA: 1924-53
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 StateUniversity. 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 kulakproperty 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 toMoscow: ‘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 sabotagedkolkhoz property. If any Communist foreman displayed an excess of zeal, he would disappear in the night and be seen alive no more.
‘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-kulakcampaign, 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 theSoviet 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 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 Tbilisilocomotive 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 Republicsof 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 orWhite 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 USSRduring 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, Georgiatoo 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.
GEORGIA AFTER STALIN (1954-62)
Beria’s brief heyday–The Tbilisi riots–Industry and construction–Scientific advances–Growing pains of modernization—The housing crisis–Farming and plantations–Education, medicine and sport–Scholarship and science–The economic potential of Georgia–Russian nationality policy today
Beria’s brief heyday
WHEN STALIN DIED, Beria stepped into place as one of the new Soviet triumvirs, sharing power for a few weeks with Malenkov and Molotov. Beria now moved with speed to repair his political fences in Georgia. A plenary session of the Central Committee of the Georgian Communist Party was held on 14 April 1953, which dismissed the Party Secretariat headed by A. I. Mgeladze and established a new one under an official named Mirtskhulava. Beria’s old protégé Valerian Bakradze, whom Mgeladze had dismissed from government office, now became Prime Minister of the Georgian Republic. Several prominent supporters of Beria whomMgeladze and his faction had imprisoned were released and given portfolios in the Bakradze administration. The ousted First Secretary, Mgeladze, made an abject confession, declaring that charges of nationalist deviationism which he had levelled againsthighranking Georgian Bolsheviks were based on false evidence which he had forged from motives of personal ambition. N.Rukhadze, Georgian Minister of State Security, who had aided and abetted Mgeladze, was imprisoned. Unlike some officials hostile to Beria, Rukhadze was not saved by Beria’s fall later in the year; it was announced in November 1955 that he had been executed.
Beria did not long share the sweets of power with Malenkov and Molotov. A struggle for mastery developed at the summit
of the Soviet hierarchy. In spite of his powerful position as head of the secret police, Beria fell, dragging down with him many high officials whose careers were linked with his, and whose familiarity with secrets of state made their survival dangerous to the victors. Beria was arrested in July, and his execution for high treason announced late in December 1953. Among other prominent Georgians who fell with him were V. G. Dekanozov, a former Soviet Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Minister of Internal Affairs in Georgia; B. Z. Kobulov, a former Soviet Deputy Minister of State Security and later Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs; and S. A. Goglidze, a former Commissar of Internal Affairs in Georgia. These persons and others put to death with them were accused of conspiring with Beria to liquidate the Soviet workers’ and peasants’ régime with the aim of restoring capitalism and the power of the bourgeoisie. While these charges can hardly be taken seriously, little pity need be wasted on Beria and his accomplices, whose hands had for years been dripping with innocent blood.
The elimination of the Beria group in the Georgian government and Party machine brought little joy to the Stalinists whom Beria had ousted. The post of First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party was filled in September 1953 by the election of a new man, Mr.Vasili P. Mzhavanadze, a former Lieutenant-General in the Red Army. The Second Secretary is a Russian, P. V. Kovanov. On 29 October 1953, a forty-oneyear-old engineer and geologist, Mr. Givi D. Javakhishvili, was elected Prime Minister of the GeorgianRepublic. Under the benign leadership of these gentlemen, Georgia continues to prosper up to the present day. The status ofGeorgia in the higher counsels of the USSR has been enhanced by V. P. Mzhavanadze’s election in June 1957 to candidate membership of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party. The Georgian Communist, Mr. M. P.Georgadze, was in 1958 appointed Secretary of the Supreme Soviet.
The Tbilisi riots
The only major upheaval which has been reported under the present Georgian administration is the serious riot which occurred inTbilisi on 9 March 1956. This disturbance arose out of perfectly legal demonstrations held to commemorate the third anniversary of Stalin’s death. Popular sentiment was apparently inflamed by the violent denunciation of the late Georgian dictator delivered by N. S. Khrushchev at the 20th Party Congress in the preceding month. The sarcastic and bitter manner in which Khrushchev ascribed all the horrors of the purges to the ‘genial’ leader Stalin, whom, as he ironically put it, the Georgians so much enjoyed calling ‘the great son of the Georgian nation’, must have rankled with the Georgian masses, who had learnt to be proud of the stupendous role which their Soso Jughashvili had played for long in Soviet and in world affairs. During the disturbances, traffic in Tbilisi came to a halt. Trams were overturned and rioters seized private cars and raced through the streets spreading panic and provoking further incidents. Many university students took part in the disorders during which, according to the Rector of Tbilisi University, Mr. VictorKupradze, ‘illegal and forbidden nationalist slogans’ were shouted. Militia and troops soon had the situation under control. During the disorders and subsequent reprisals, one hundred and six persons are said to have been killed, over two hundred wounded, while several hundred more were subsequently deported to labour camps in Siberia.
This isolated incident led foreign observers to draw much exaggerated conclusions as to the present strength of Georgian nationalist sentiment. The Georgians, it is true, are legitimately proud of their past and present achievements in the arts, sciences and letters, and conscious of their national uniqueness among the peoples of the USSR. It is also true that they exhibit at times an unreasonably cantankerous attitude towards neighbouring peoples, including the Russians themselves, from whom they have suffered injury in the past. But this does not mean that the Georgians are forever hatching plots against the Soviet state, as some Western writers would have us believe. N. S. Khrushchev himself ridiculed this idea in 1956, when pouring scorn on Stalin’s obsession with a supposed Georgian nationalist movement planning to take Georgia out of the Soviet Union and join her to Turkey.
‘This is, of course, nonsense. It is impossible to imagine how such assumptions could enter anyone’s mind. Everyone knows howGeorgia has developed economically and culturally under Soviet rule.’ ‘The industrial production of the Georgian republic,’ Mr. Khrushchev continued, ‘is twenty-seven times greater than it was before the Revolution. . . . Illiteracy has long since been liquidated, which, in pre-revolutionary Georgia, included 78% of the population. Could the Georgians, comparing the situation in their republic with the hard situation of the working masses in Turkey, be aspiring to join Turkey? . . . According to the available 1950 census, 65% of Turkey’s total population are illiterate, and of the women, 80% are illiterate. Georgia has nineteen institutions of higher learning, which have about 39,000 students between them. The prosperity of the working people has grown tremendously inGeorgia under Soviet rule. It is clear that as the economy and culture develop, and as the Socialist consciousness of the working masses in Georgia grows, the source from which bourgeois nationalism draws its strength evaporates. . . .’
Industry and construction
The concluding phrase quoted may perhaps contain an element of wishful thinking. None the less, it is undeniable that the Georgians are now reaping the benefit of the industrial and agricultural policies so ruthlessly pursued in the Stalin era. The Soviet government has over the years invested vast sums of money in Georgia, by building factories, dams and hydroelectric stations, draining swamps, constructing airports, schools and other utilities. Between 1913 and 1957, the quantity of electricity generated rose from 20,000,000 to 2,573,000,000 kilowatt-hours. Coal production, which ammounted in 1913 to 70,000 tons, reached 2,967,000 tons in 1957. Iron production rose in the two years between 1955 and 1957 from 436,000 to 640,000 tons, and steel production, totalling only 200 tons in 1940, reached 803,000 in 1957. The total production of rolled metal, of which 20,000 tons were manufactured in 1950, amounted by 1957 to 705,000 tons. Cement production rose between 1932 and 1957 from 133,000 to 1,025,000 tons. Other branches of heavy industry in which production has been appreciably stepped up include machine tools, lorries and electric locomotives.
The reorganization of management in industry and construction works carried out in the USSR in 1957 helped to accelerate the development of the Georgian economy. The country was turned into a single economic region headed by an Economic Council in charge of more than five hundred large industrial establishments. Previously, these enterprises had been under different departments and ministries, many of them based entirely on Moscow, where all decisions had to be made. In the comparatively short period of its working, the Economic Council has demonstrated the advantages of this new form of industrial administration. Management has been brought close to the production floor, while the workers themselves are drawn increasingly into the direction of industry and construction. Workers are encouraged to make suggestions on possible improvements in work methods and techniques, and individuals showing special promise sit on technical committees which exist at the main factories.
Extensive research has been carried out recently in Georgia into automation, instrument making, electrical engineering andtelemechanics. New scientific institutes have arisen such as the Institute of Applied Chemistry and Electrochemistry, the Research Institute of Automation of Production Processes, and a big electronic data-processing centre. Georgian scientists are doing advanced research in nuclear physics, and the physics of low temperatures and cosmic rays. The nuclear reactor recently installed in Tbilisi enables scientists there to carry out investigations into the peaceful uses of atomic energy. The Georgian Academy of Sciences is setting up an Institute of Semi-Conductors which will contribute to the development of computing techniques,telemechanics and automation. Scientific contacts with countries abroad are growing more regular and varied. In 1958, for example, Georgian scientists attended meetings and congresses in Edinburgh, Leyden, Berlin, Leipzig, Geneva, London, Vienna, Bucarest,Rome and Brussels. The observatory at Abastumani is studying variable stars in collaboration with observatories in the United States, Holland and Ireland.
Growing pains of modernization
This modernization is not without its growing pains. Nor has the industrial development of Georgia been achieved without sacrificing something of what we in the West regard as basic facilities and amenities. In spite of its tourist attractions, Georgia suffers from a chronic shortage of hotels and restaurants. This applies to the capital itself: the Tbilisi Intourist hotel on Rustaveli Avenue to which most visitors are directed is as sepulchral in its dusty décor as its management is friendly and civil, and most of the rival establishments which existed prior to the 1917 Revolution have long since been taken over for other uses. While Tbilisi now has its own efficient television studio and transmitter, the production and marketing of television and radio sets, as well as such consumer durables as refrigerators, washing machines and electric cookers, is far from being equal to the potential demand. In December 1959, Mr. V. P. Mzhavanadze told the 20th Congress of the Georgian Communist Party that many industrial and agricultural enterprises in the republic were not operating satisfactorily and that a shortage of consumer goods persisted. Plans for building schools and cultural and medical centres were lagging. ‘It is enough to note that during the past two years only 97 schools have been built instead of the planned total of 525; only 77 medical centres instead of 330; only 155 cultural centres instead of 735; and only 77 bath-houses instead of 555.’ If Georgia were to pull its weight in the new Seven-Year Plan for 1959-65, then severe sanctions would have to be applied against inferior standards of work and behaviour, Marxist-Leninist ideological campaigns would have to be intensified, and anti-religious propaganda vigorously pursued.
The housing crisis
The housing position in Georgia, though leaving much to be desired, is alleviated somewhat by the fact that the land was not ravaged by the Nazi Germans, as was European Russia, and also by the ease with which simple peasant houses can be run up in this temperate climate from wood, mud and other cheap materials. The rapid growth of Georgia’s urban centres since World War II has led to overcrowding and some of the picturesque quarters of old Tbilisi have degenerated into slums. Some 90,000 flats have been built since the war by state and municipal enterprise, and another 40,000 have been put up in Georgia’s towns by factory and office workers on a cooperative basis. During the current Seven-Year Plan, the rate of housing construction is to increase still faster. The state plans to build over 100,000 more dwellings by 1965, and people constructing their own homes will be assisted to erect another 60,000. A personal visit to the suburbs of Tbilisi in August 1960 showed many blocks of modern flats in the course of active construction.
Farming and plantations
Despite the growth of Georgian industry, the country remains to a large extent a land of agriculture, stock-raising and plantations. The most striking progress in recent years has been in the realm of sub-tropical crops and produce. Georgia today has 125,000 acres of flourishing tea gardens, equipped with the latest tea-picking and processing machinery. By 1965, Georgia is to deliver 170,000 tons gross of green tea leaf to the state. The citrus fruit plantations are only now recovering from the disastrous frosts of 1949-50 and 1953-54, and it will be some time before the 1949 harvest of 710 million fruit is equalled or exceeded. Vineyards are to be extended from 170,000 to 300,000 acres and should yield close on half a million tons of grapes. Personal inspection of the Tbilisibrandy factory and the wine cellars at Tsinandali in Kakheti gives a highly favourable impression of the present management and future potential of this industry, which already markets and exports high-quality wine and brandy on an international scale. The areas under tobacco, olives, sugar beet and maize are also to be greatly extended.
By 1958, there were 6,250 tractors and 1,500 combine harvesters at work in the fields of Georgia. However, the extension of tea and citrus fruit plantations has tended to divert attention away from the growing of wheat and other crops needed to feed Georgia’s expanding population. Thus, in 1950, Georgia had to import three-quarters of the bread supply from other Soviet republics and hardship was experienced by the masses. The changeover from individual husbandry to collective and state farms, though now virtually universal, is not yet fully accepted by all members of the peasant class, some of whom fail to devote the same loving care to collectivized cows and crops as they do to their own little yards and vegetable plots. It must also be remembered that peasants are drifting away from the countryside into the new urban factories or the prosperous state-run tea or wine combines. Compared with the growth of heavy industry and sub-tropical cultures, the production of basic foodstuffs in Georgia appears rather static. The supply of butcher’s meat, for instance, increased between 1950 and 1954 from 51,000 to 84,000 tons; thereafter it rose very slowly, amounting in 1957 to 86,000 tons, a negligible advance. Milk production rose between 1950 and 1956 from 293,000 to 415,000 tons, but sank in the following year to 398,000 tons. Georgia produced in 1950 156 million eggs, a figure which rose to 232 million in 1954, around which quantity annual production has since remained very steady. It is interesting to note that the marketing of eggs remains one of the chief private perquisites of individual peasants, who bring to market over 210 million of them annually, or nine-tenths of the total consumption. Sheep raising in Georgia is clearly on the decline, production of wool having sunk from 4,352 tons in 1950 to 3,894 tons in 1957. However, as the Soviet Union’s internal trading and communications system becomes further rationalized, it should be easy to supplement local food production with cheap grain and dairy products from the Ukraine and elsewhere, leaving Georgian growers free to concentrate on the more rewarding sub-tropical and specialized crops for which Georgia’s climate is uniquely suited.
Education, medicine and sport
The overall progress in Georgia’s economic position is matched by the advances which have been made in education, public hygiene, and sport. The 4,500 schools have a total enrolment of 700,000, which means that one in six of the country’s population is attending school. 181 schools have boarding facilities, of which 7,000 children at present take advantage; the boarding system is shortly to be further expanded. There are over ninety technical colleges and similar institutions, with 27,000 students. Eighteen out of every thousand of the population hold a university degree or training college diploma. The number of hospital beds in Georgia amounts to only 27,800, but the proportion of qualified medical practitioners to the comfortably exceeds the ratio for Western Europe. Spas and sanatoria at Abastumani, Borzhomi, Sukhumi and other places annually receive thousands of visitors from all parts of the Soviet Union.
Before World War II, sports facilities in Georgia were poor and sparse. Today the republic has 70 stadiums, 1,000 football fields, 4,500 volleyball and basketball courts, 270 gymnasia and 20 swimming pools. Georgia’s ten best sportsmen participated as members of Soviet teams in the 16th Olympic Games at Melbourne, eight of them returning home with Olympic medals.
Scholarship and science
Science, scholarship and higher education are in a flourishing condition, as the writer was able to verify when visiting Tbilisi as well as from regular correspondence and personal contacts with Georgian colleagues. The Academy of Sciences of the Georgian SSR now has forty-four specialist branches employing over 2,000 scholars and scientists. There is a separate Academy of Agricultural Sciences. Many of the academicians are also professors at the Tbilisi University and are men of international standing. The physiologist Ivane Beritashvili, for instance, was elected in 1959 an honorary member of the New York Academy of Medical Sciences, on the occasion of his seventy-fifth birthday.
Much attention is given to the study of Georgian language, literature and history. Since 1950, six volumes of a definitive Georgian lexicon have appeared, compiled under the direction of Professor Arnold Chikobava, whose criticism of N. Y. Mart’s ‘Japhetic’ theory led up to Stalin’s official repudiation of Marrist linguistic theory and methods. Professor Simon Qaukhchishvili has brought out a new edition of the Georgian Annals (Kartlis tskhovreba), based on all the best manuscripts. Professors Akaki Shanidze and KomeliKekelidze and their disciples continue their outstanding work on the classics of Old Georgian literature, the principal monuments of which are now assembled in a special Institute of Manuscripts under the care of Ilia Abuladze. The Institute of the History of Georgian Literature named after Shota Rustaveli and the Institute of the History of Georgian Art are only two of many foundations actively studying Georgia’s cultural heritage. The teaching of European and Oriental languages is energetically pursued. The principal second language of instruction in Georgian schools and colleges is Russian, but English, French and German are taught in the main institutions. The works of Dickens, Thackeray, Defoe and Sir Walter Scott are among the English classics available in Georgian. Since 1953, one of the main publishing houses has been issuing the works of Shakespeare in Georgian translation, several plays in renderings by Prince Ivane Machabeli ( 1854-98), the rest translated by Givi Gachechiladze and other modern scholars.
The economic potential of Georgia
It is sometimes objected that the material and cultural advances are outweighed by the loss of Georgia’s independence, and the merging of her national destinies into those of the Soviet Union as a whole. There are naturally some Georgians who would like to cast loose the leading strings of Moscow, while retaining the concrete benefits which have accrued in recent years. It is doubtful, however, whether such a development would be either feasible or beneficial, even assuming that Mr. Khrushchev suddenly encouraged Georgia to take advantage of the ‘break away’ clause in the 1936 Constitution. Economic and political integration withRussia assures Georgia a virtual monopoly of a huge market for tea, wine, citrus fruits, manganese and a score of other valuable commodities, as well as such modem amenities as a twice daily jet plane service to Moscow. There is little or no unemployment, andGeorgia is spared the ruinous outlay of maintaining a standing army and other burdens which proved so detrimental both to her kings of old, and to her independent régime of 191 8-21.
Russian nationality policy today
Friends of Georgia will naturally hope that further de-Stalinization is in store for her, as well as for the Soviet Union as a whole, and that the monolithic exclusiveness of single-party rule will give way over the generations to a more truly democratic system. There are indeed many signs that the present masters of Russia are alive to the danger which Lenin foresaw when he denounced the oppression of the smaller nations of the Soviet community by the type of person whom he termed ‘that truly Russian man, the Great Russian chauvinist, who is essentially a scoundrel and an oppressor’, and that Moscow is well aware of the need to avoid flouting the susceptibilities and traditions of the smaller peoples of the USSR.
The Stalin personality cult received a fresh setback at the time of the 22nd Party Congress held at Moscow in October 1961, at which the accusations levelled at the dead Georgian dictator in secret session in 1956 were repeated in public with added vehemence, and his embalmed body removed from the famous mausoleum in Red Square. In Georgia, Stalin’s demotion was received with mixed feelings. Relief was mingled with bewilderment, while some people suspected that abuse of Stalin was being used in certain quarters as a pretext for discrediting the Georgians generally. Stalin’s name was deleted from the official designation of Tbilisi University, and Stalinir, the capital of South Ossetia, reverted to its old name of Tskhinvali. At the congress of the GeorgianComsomol or Communist Youth organization held in Tbilisi in January 1962, delegates discussed current problems of the day with an outspoken frankness unthinkable a few years ago.
The case of Georgia illustrates the achievements, both good and less good, of the radical and drastic methods of Soviet social engineering when applied to economically backward areas. Not everyone finds the Soviet system of government sympathetic, especially when the interests of the Soviet peoples are represented by a Muscovite Big Brother trying to cow the world by mouthing nuclear menaces. The Georgians have had much to suffer from that same Big Brother in their time. But when one contrasts the dynamic economic and industrial system of Georgia with the chronic instability of some modern countries of the Middle East, or with the deplorable stagnation and effeteness of others, there is no denying the positive side of Russia’s work in Georgia. The Soviet formula for a federation of European and Asiatic peoples under the domination of Russian Communists is not a perfect one, especially as it takes absolutely no account of the personal preferences or political aspirations of each national group. But at least it ensures that when at last the day comes for Georgia and other smaller peoples of the Soviet Union to enjoy a larger measure of free speech, genuine democracy and a wider self-determination, they will do so without drifting back into a vicious circle of ignorance, poverty and disease, and be able to stand on their own feet economically and industrially in this competitive modern age.
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.
Material is reposted from Andrew Andersen’s website