top of page
  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

Sergo Ordzhonikidze: The Bolshevik Organizer of Industry

On the anniversary of his birth, October 12, 1886, a look at the life of the great Georgian Bolshevik revolutionary and hero Grigory (Sergo) Ordzhonikidze (also spelled Orjonikidze) from the Soviet press in 1987:


In his office, beneath a sheet of glass on the desk lay a piece of paper, with the following words on it: "I can't hate or love by halves. I can't give only half of my soul. What I can do is give all my soul or nothing at all..."

These words expressed the credo of Grigory Orjonikidze (party nickname Sergo). He belonged to that particular group of people who strikingly embodied the time in which they lived, struggled and created.

Short biography:

  • Born in Georgia, the Caucasus, October 12, 1886.

  • At 17 joined the Russian Social.Democratic Labour Party

  • Participated in the 1905-1907 Revolution and the 1917 October Revolution.

  • Participated in the Civil War (1918-1920) as one of the Red Army's political leaders. Led the struggle for Soviet power in the Caucasus

  • 1924-1927: member of the Revolutionary Military Council of the USSR.

  • 1926, appointed Chairman of the Central Control Commission, and Deputy Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars (government) of the USSR.

  • 1930, made Chairman of the Supreme Council of the People’s Economy of the USSR (the country's top economic management body) .

  • 1932, appointed People’s Commissar (minister) of Heavy Industry.

The story of his life would fill volumes. The magnitude of problems needed outstanding personalities. The struggle against the autocracy seasoned the revolutionary and shaped his destiny. Many years later, in 1931, Orjonikidze wrote: “Before 1905 I studied, then worked as a junior medical practitioner for several months. All the rest of my life, until the 1917 revolution, I was a party functionary."

Years of Emigration and Exile

Clandestine work, arrests, and exile for life in Siberia. Escape. Emigration: first in Iran, then Paris.

In Paris, Sergo had his first meeting with Lenin, which he remembered all his life. Nadezhda Krupskaya. Lenin’s wife and associate, thus recalled this meeting: “...Once the concierge came and said: 'A stranger has come. speaks no French. Perhaps it's you he wants to see.' I

went downstairs and saw a Caucasian-looking man, smiling...From that moment he became one of our closest comrades."

To be precise. the meeting took place on January 18. 1911 . Orjonikidze had come to study at the Lenin supervised party school in Longjumeau, near Paris. He was sent there by one of the Transcaucasian party organizations.

From Paris Sergo returned to Russia where he was arrested again and exiled to Siberia. There were some 400 political exiles in Yakutsk. Shortly after his arrival Sergo became involved in activities conducted by the political exiles. His stories about the struggle in the Caucasus, his speeches, made secretly from the police, even then boldly called for a fresh assault to be made against the tsarist autocracy, called for a revolution.

Sergo visited neighbouring villages, saw for himself how the people lived and in what conditions.

He soon became popular among the exiles, Russian peasants and Yakuts. As he had some experience in medicine he rendered every possible medical assistance to those who needed it. Thus his days in exile were spent in travels, meetings, arguments, and caring for his patients.

The year 1917 began, spring was coming. News about the February Revolution (1) reached Yakutia. It brought the exiles long-awaited freedom.

In the first days after the February events, the Bolsheviks (as Communists were called until 1952) took power in Yakutia. Orjonikidze developed political and organizational work, he addressed meetings and gatherings, took part in the work of the peasants’ first congress that

passed a decision on land nationalization.

Sergo became a member of the Executive Committee of Yakutia's first Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers Deputies. Towards the end of June. 1917 he arrived in Petrograd.

Fighting for Soviet Power

Elected to the Petrograd Party Committee and the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, Orjonikidze devoted himself heart and soul to revolutionary activity. He carried out agitation work at large factories and in military units, and took part in preparing for an armed


The Bolshevik ideas played a major part in those days: they helped rally and inspire militarily uninitiated workers and mobilized soldiers. Great indeed was the impact on the masses of such outstanding agitators as Sergo Orjonikldze. But agitation alone was not enough, it had to be supported by painstaking organizational effort. Bolsheviks formed workers’ combat units, assured contact between them and the regular army units. Sergo possessed the unshakable firmness of a seasoned revolutionary fighter.

When, after the July developments, the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie launched an offensive against the proletariat and its Party. Orjonikidze was among those who ably and steadfastly prepared the masses for the last and decisive assault. Lenin went underground His whereabouts were known only to the closest. trustworthy people. Sergo was among them.

After the Provisional Government issued an order for Lenin's arrest a group of Bolsheviks got together to discuss the question of his appearance in court. They considered how this could be used to expose the government's policy and its campaign against the Bolsheviks. After weighing all possible consequences of this action Orjonikidze resolutely rejected it. It was decided to arrange a reliable hiding place for Lenin at the Razliv railway junction. Keeping contact with Lenin was a very responsible assignment and the Party could not trust it to anyone. even though they were tested revolutionaries. The choice fell on Ornikidze. It was namely through ergo that the leader of the revolution transmitted to Petrograd important instructions concerning the ways in which party work was to be conducted. Sergo addressed the 6th party Congress held in semi-legal conditions in the October days of 1917 Orjonikidze, like other close associates of Lenin, was directly involved in the struggle for the victory of the working people’s power. He devoted all his energies to safeguarding and consolidating its gains.

There were also on more than one occasion critical situations requiring his courage and fearlessness, shrewdness and self-control. These properties enabled Sergo to overcome what seemed totally hopeless situations, to rally people around himself and cheer them up whatever the circumstances. He used every opportunity to politically enlighten the people.

Sergo's statements were distinguished by warmth and sincerity. Fyodor Petrov, a Bolshevik Party veteran, recalled that humanity was Sergo's salient feature. As Sergo said in 1925. “Our Party is an association of friends, and if we had not had friendly mutual relationships, love for one another. we would not have been able to accomplish the Great October Revolution."

A Man of Action

Sergo's appointment as People's Commissar of Heavy Industry came as no surprise to anybody: this matched his dynamic nature, which combined boundless energy and persistence in attaining his aims, warmth and goodwill.

...The Collegium was in session. Orjonikidze criticized the director of a large factory, who was sitting palefaced. incapable of controlling his nervousness. Suddenly, the director received a note: ''Don't lose heart! You must know that I usually scold those from whom I expect a great deal. Cheer up!” The note was signed by Orjonikidze.

Demanding straightforwardness and honesty from others, Sergo set an example for others to follow. He invariably sought to get a picture of things right on the spot, see them firsthand, and he often journeyed to construction sites and industrial enterprises. Thousands of people all over the country knew him–in Moscow, Leningrad, the Caucasus. the Dnieper Area, the Donbass. the Urals, Siberia. and Central Asia. Metallurgy was something he knew very well. In dealing with iron and steel production, which needed prompt decisions, he was in his natural element.

From reminiscences by Avraamy Zavenyagin who was an associate and friend of Orjonikidze and a leading figure in Soviet industry: ''Orjonikidze went straight to the heart of the matter. met a challenge head-on in order to complete an assignment swiftly and effectively–that was his style of work. Noteworthy in this respect are his memorandums to the Party's Central Committee on a wide range of industrial problems. I don’t know of an instance when a memo submitted to Sergo for signature was left without his substantial amendments. He insisted on looking at questions and dealing with them without beating about the bush. All facts cited in

a memorandum should be absolutely accurate. Sergo was capable of deciding what was essential and concentrating on it, just the way Lenin did. Handling such an enormous practical job as heavy industry required not only Sergo's abilities but also his diligence."

While criticizing others. Serqo never shunned criticism himself. A case in point is the following extract from his speech at the Kuzbass (Western Siberia) in 1933:

“Criticism and self-criticism is a weapon in the hands of the Bolshevik Party. I know how managers dislike self-criticism... I never was particularly happy when criticism was focussed on shortcomings in the heavy industry. At times I was annoyed. But what I want to tell you is

that criticism and self-criticism have always been of use to Soviet power, the Party. and myself."

“Sergo was constantly on the offensive. Speaking figuratively. he was like a tank intended for a breakthrough" said Academician Ivan Bardin, an expert on metallurgy.

The Orjonikidze School

Of those who knew Sergo personally, some said he was the first metallurgist. others–the principal machine-builder, still others–the main coal miner, oil worker, builder. They had every reason for calling him so. But the main thing about him was that he was a creator in the broadest sense of the word.

From the reminiscences of Semyon Ginzburg, Minister of Construction: “Recalling the years when Sergo Orjonikidze was in charge of the heavy industry, you visualize the years of quests, education and promotion of talented, questioning, industrious cadres devoted to socialism. He himself looked for and found such people, and demanded that we all do likewise. Usually, when I returned from a business trip and reported to Sergo on the state of affairs at a building project, he invariably was curious to know if I had managed to spot enterprising and promising workers."

Orjonikidze paid a great deal of attention to the growth and promotion of personnel. He was seen as a teacher not only by those who worked directly under him but by thousands of people who heard him speaking at nationwide meetings, conferences, congresses, at factory

workshops or mines. He showed much respect for the experience of rank-and-file toilers and eagerly sought their opinions and suggestions. “In general. the greatest attention should be paid to whatever is suggested by a factory worker.'' Orjonikidze would say. ''lf we succeed

in correctly placing people and ensure their honest, conscientious work. we'll be able to overcome all difficulties.''

It was not that easy to find amongst hundreds of specialists truly gifted people devoted to the cause. The more so since it was mostly young people who formed the army of engineers and technicians in those years. Orjonikidze was a very good judge of character. Georgy Gvakharia, for one, was spotted by Orjonikidze when he was only a student of the Foreign Trade Institute. Once Orjonikidze invited the young man to his office and offered him to take charge of overhauling five Donetsk metallurgical plants at a time. Several years later the plant, now under Gvakharia’s directorship, was the first in the country to refuse a state subsidy. Orjonikidze stood for the introduction and development of the cost-accounting system.

Boldly promoting talented youth to leading posts. he unhesitatingly removed from leadership those who lagged behind. Relevant indeed are his words to the effect that each failing always has its own name, patronymic and surname. Sergo spotted and taught quite a few people. he shared his experience and knowledge with them. He was called the captain of industry, and indeed he was its strategist, organizer and leader. During the Great Patriotic War (1941 -1945), the industry created during the years of Soviet power withstood the gravest trials and made an enormous contribution to the victory.

Realizing the importance of strengthening the country’s defence capability, Orjonikidze explained this task when he addressed party functionaries and economic managers, scientists and workers. Back in 1932, he said: ’'The tense international situation compels us to prepare for defence, to equip the Red Army technically, strengthen its combat capability. It is only thanks to our policy of peace, thanks to the daily strengthening of our defence that our international position is now stable... But it would be naive to say that the threat of war is now a thing of the past. We still shall have to cross swords with some. And for this last decisive clash we've got to prepare each day and each hour."

In 1937, Sergo died. Pravda wrote "He was a real builder of communism: a knight in the noblest sense of the word, a hero in whom valour and modesty. courage and simplicity were united."

Based on the book, Grigory Konstantinovich Orjonikidze: Biography and articles from the Soviet press.

1) The February bourgeois-democratic revolution in Russia overthrew tsarism. As a result, there emerged two bodies of authority (dual power): that of the Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers-Deputies and the bourgeoisie-formed Provisional Government.



bottom of page