The Experiment: Georgia’s Forgotten Revolution 1918-1921

Yesterday evening, I was at the Georgian Embassy in London to hear a fascinating talk by my good friend Eric Lee. The subject of the address was the content of a book which he has written and will be published by Zed Books in September 2017.

He told us about a particular period in a particular country when and where there was a bold experiment in social democracy that is more or less unique in world history. This was not a humane version of capitalism like the Scandinavian nations of post Second World War Europe and it was not a totalitarian version of communism as seen in the Soviet Union after 1917. It was something special, something brief, something to be remembered.

Why does the Georgian experiment matter after all this time? As Eric concluded his address:

“Democracy is not one aspect of a socialist society; it is the very soul of that society. Karl Kautsky wrote a short book entitled The Dictatorship of the Proletariat in August 1918, just nine months after the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia. This was not yet the totalitarian regime of Stalin, and yet Kautsky’s criticism of the Bolsheviks was sharp and unforgiving. He wrote: “Socialism without democracy is unthinkable.”

The society the Georgian Social Democrats created was an inspiration to socialists at the time. But as the years passed, and as Soviet rule seemed to become permanent, fewer and fewer people took an interest in what the Georgian Social Democrats had achieved.

And yet the dream of a more equal society, a fairer one, in which people could also be free, persisted. That dream found its advocates in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and again in the Prague Spring of 1968. It took the leadership of ordinary working men and women in the shipyards of Gdansk to turn it into a reality in Poland in the 1980s. It is a dream that continues today as people look for alternatives to capitalism while rejecting the legacy of Stalinism.

The ideals of democratic socialism, of a fairer, more equal society, in which people remain free and in which human rights are respected, are still quite potent ones. But people still ask if such a society is possible. To them we can say, paraphrasing what Engels once said about the Paris Commune, do you want to know what democratic socialism looks like? Look at the Georgian experiment. That was democratic socialism.”

You can read Eric’s talk here.


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