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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

Soviet power established in Georgia: February 25, 1921

The State Emblem of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic atop the Republic's flag.

On February 25, 1921 the Red Army forces of the Bolshevik Revolution liberated the Georgian capital of Tbilisi after a week long offensive and proclaimed the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic.

They sent a cable to Moscow that read: "The Red Banner of Soviets is flying over Tiflis. Long Live Soviet Georgia!".

From USSR Magazine, 1963:

In the Soviet years the Georgian Republic, which has a population of 4.3 million, has changed from a backward agrarian borderland of czarist Russia into a country with a highly developed industry and agriculture. Compared with 1913, industrial output in Georgia has increased more than 40 fold. It exports various industrial goods to 40 countries. Forty-two years ago 78 percent of its population was illiterate. Today Georgia is a country of 100 per cent literacy.

From The Great Soviet Encyclopedia 1979 Edition:

The Georgian SSR was formed on Feb. 25, 1921. From Mar. 12. 1922, through Dec. 5. 1936, it was part of the Transcaucasian Federation, and on Dec. 5, 1936, it became part of the USSR. It is located in the central and western part of Transcaucasia. It borders on the RSFSR (Krasnodar Krai, the Karachai-Cherkess Autonomous Oblast, the Kabarda-Balkar ASSR. the Severnaia Osetiia ASSR. the Chechen-Ingush ASSR. and the Dagestan ASSR) to the north, the Azerbaijan SSR to the east and southeast, and the Armenian SSR and Turkey to the south. To the west it borders on the Black Sea. Area, 69,700 sq km; population. 4,734,000 (as of Jan. 1, 1971; estimate). Its capital is Tbilisi. The Georgian SSR includes the Abkhazian ASSR, the Adzhar ASSR, and the Iuzhnaia Osetiia Autonomous Oblast.

There are 67 raions, 51 cities, and 57 urban-type settlements in the republic.

The Georgian SSR is a socialist state of workers and peasants, a union soviet socialist republic of the USSR. The constitution now in effect was adopted by the Extraordinary Eighth All-Georgian Congress of Soviets on Feb. 13, 1937. The highest body of state power is the unicameral Supreme Soviet of the Georgian SSR, elected for a four-year term on the basis of one deputy for every 11,000 inhabitants. Between sessions of the Supreme Soviet, the highest body of state power is the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Georgian SSR. The Supreme Soviet forms the government of the republic—the Council of Ministers—and legislates for the Georgian SSR. The local bodies of state power in the raions, cities, settlements, and villages are the respective soviets of working people’s deputies, which are elected by the population for two-year terms. The Georgian SSR is represented by 32 deputies in the Soviet of Nationalities of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR (the Abkhazian ASSR, Adzhar ASSR, and Iuzhnaia Osetiia Autonomous Oblast, which are part of the Georgian SSR, have independent representation in the Soviet of Nationalities: 11 deputies each for the ASSR’s and five deputies for the autonomous oblast).

The highest judicial body in Georgia is the Supreme Court of the republic, which is elected by the Supreme Soviet of the Georgian SSR for a five-year term. It functions in the form of two judicial divisions (one for civil and one for criminal cases) and a plenum. In addition, there is the Presidium of the Supreme Court. The procurator of the Georgian SSR is appointed by the procurator general of the USSR for a five-year term.

The territory of the Georgian SSR is characterized by extreme diversity of the natural setting. Georgia’s association with a mobile alpine belt of the earth’s crust brought about an abrupt succession of intensive neotectonic uplifts and sinks over a small area. It was these movements that created the contrasting terrain of the country and, in the final analysis, the diversity of its landscape, with a multitude of climatic types, hydrological regimes, soil covers, vegetation, and fauna. Georgia’s boundary position—bordering on the semi-humid Mediterranean, the arid, undrained Aral-Caspian depression, and the continental Southwest Asian highlands—has also played a fundamental role in forming its diverse natural environment.

Georgia’s Black Sea coastline (308 km) is weakly indented. The coast describes a smooth arc, devoid of significant gulfs and peninsulas.

The period of capitalism (1860’s to 1890’s):

Socioeconomic development and the intensification of the class struggle in the context of the developing revolutionary situation in the Russian Empire forced the tsarist government to abolish serfdom in Georgia during 1864–71. The peasant reforms, with all their limitations, accelerated the development of capitalism in Georgia. The construction of the Transcauca-sian Railroad began in the mid-1860’s; service between Tbilisi and Poti was inaugurated in 1872, and in 1883 the laying of the Batumi-Tbilisi-Baku trunk line was completed. The construction of railroads joining various regions of Georgia and the entire Caucasus was completed in the 1890’s. The Central Shops of the Transcaucasian Railroad, where as many as 3,000 workers were employed toward the end of the 19th century, were organized in Tbilisi in 1883. In 1900, the Transcaucasian trunk line was included in the national Russian system. Large-scale enterprises in various branches of industry appeared (textiles, metalworking, tanning, brandy and vodka, tobacco, and so on). Petroleum container plants and bulk stations were opened in Batumi. The mining industry developed: Tkibuli coal and Chiatura manganese were extracted. In the 1890’s, Georgia provided about 50 percent of the world exports of manganese. The concentration of production proceeded. Joint-stock companies in which local, Russian, and foreign capitalists participated were founded. Between the 1860’s and the early 20th century the volume of manufacturing industry has grown from 1 million to 21 million rubles; factory production constituted about 80 percent of the total production. However, enterprises with 15 or fewer workers predominated. Toward the end of the 19th century, the urban population of Georgia was 15.3 percent.

Capitalist relations also penetrated into the Georgian countryside. In the 1880’s, 37 percent of peasant farms were on rented land; in the 1890’s the figure almost doubled. Class differentiation among the peasantry deepened: at the turn of the 20th century the kulaks (prosperous peasants), who held 30 percent of the cultivated land, accounted for 5 percent of the rural population, and the semiproletarian strata constituted 55–60 percent. The development of capitalist relations and the political and economic consolidation of Georgia created the preconditions for completing the formation of the Georgian bourgeois nation.

In the course of the development of capitalism during the 1870’s to 1890’s, the working class of Georgia took shape. By the end of the 19th century, there were about 36,000 industrial workers (including mining, railroad, and construction workers), and the total number of wage laborers was 120,000. The proletariat of Georgia, like that of all of Transcaucasia, was distinguished from the earliest stage of its formation by its multinational composition. The fact that workers of various nationalities—Georgians, Azerbaijanis, Armenians, Russians, and others—worked in common and struggled jointly against tsarism and the capitalists laid the foundations for workers’ international solidarity.

The colonial policies of tsarism, oppression of the national culture, and social oppression gave rise to resistance among the toiling people of Georgia. The ideas of the Russian liberation movement influenced progressive public opinion in Georgia. The national liberation movement gathered force in the 1860’s. It was led by prominent writers and public figures, including the revolutionary democrats I. G. Chavchavadze, A. R. Tsereteli, N. Ia. Nikoladze, and G. E. Tsereteli, who had been educated in Russia and had associated themselves with the revolutionary ideas of V. G. Belinskii, A. I. Herzen, N. A. Dobroliubov, and N. G. Chernyshevskii. The Georgian shestidesiatniki (a group of Revolutionary Democrats in 1859–61; in Georgian, Tergdaleulebi) fought against the social and national oppression of the Georgian people.

Georgian national culture developed rapidly in the second half of the 19th century. Fiction, in which critical realism became established, supported social and national liberation. The Georgian and Russian progressive periodical press in Georgia pursued the same aims. Georgian theater was reborn, and realistic painting and musical culture took shape.

The first economic strikes took place in Georgian enterprises in the late 1860’s. In the 1870’s, under the influence of the Russian Narodniks, a populist movement was born in Georgia. Workers’ circles were established in the late 1870’s. The first generation of worker-revolutionaries included M. I. and Z. I. Chodrishvili, M. Z. Bochoridze, A. G. Okuashvili, and I. F. Sturua. The proletariat of Georgia took part in the countrywide revolutionary liberation movement. One of the first workers’ organizations of Transcaucasia, the Workers’ Union, was founded in Tbilisi in 1887; the locksmith F. A. Guzenko, who had come to Georgia from Rostov-on-Don, was its leader. The number of workers’ circles grew in the 1880’s and 1890’s. Social Democrats exiled to Georgia from the interior provinces of Russia and the Ukraine (F. E. Afanas’ev, S. Ia. Alliluev, A. M. Kaliuzhnyi, I. I. Luzin, F. I. Maiorov, and G. Ia. Francheski) became propagandists for the ideas of Marxism among the workers. In the autumn of 1891, A. M. Gorky came to Tbilisi. He began working in the Central Shops of the Transcaucasian Railroad as an accounting clerk and became acquainted with many participants in the revolutionary movement and prominent public figures. Gorky established ties with the self-education circle of the exiled Social Democrat F. E. Afanas’ev and became one of the leaders of the so-called Krasnogorsk Commune. The Georgian Marxist organization Mesame-dasi (see below: Communist Party of Georgia) was formed in Tbilisi at the end of 1892. In the late 1890’s the strike movement in Georgia, influenced by revolutionary Social Democracy, became organized. The first May Day celebrations of the workers of Tbilisi were held during 1898–1900.

The period of imperialism and the bourgeois-democratic revolutions in Russia (1900–17):

The workers’ movement of Georgia entered a new stage at the beginning of the 20th century. Under the leadership of revolutionary Social Democrats, the Georgian proletariat began a mass political struggle. During 1900–02 there were large strikes at enterprises in Tbilisi, Batumi, and the Chiatura industrial region. The Batumi strike and demonstration of 1902 was a major revolutionary action of countrywide importance. In July and August, the proletariat of Georgia took part in the General Strike of 1903 in the south of Russia. The first Congress of Social Democratic Organizations of the Caucasus was held in Tbilisi in March 1903.

The revolutionary struggle of workers and peasants unfolded in Georgia during the period of the Revolution of 1905–07 in Russia. A strike of railroad workers, which subsequently became a general strike, began in Tbilisi on Jan. 18, 1905. Armed clashes between the peasants and the police and army units took place in Gori and Tianeti districts and in villages in Kakhetia and Mingrelia. Actions by the peasants of Guria linked with the workers of Batumi increased in frequency. In Guria, to all intents and purposes, power passed into the hands of peasant committees; land was taken away from the landlords, and armed “Red Hundreds” were created. The October political strike in Georgia developed into an armed uprising. The first trade union organizations (see below: Trade unions) formed in November and December 1905. By the end of 1905, virtually all of western Georgia and part of eastern Georgia were in the hands of the insurgents. The uprising was harshly suppressed by the tsarist regime. In 1912 there was a new wave of strikes. In the summer of 1913 about 10,000 persons participated in a strike of Chiatura miners and Shorapan, Zestafoni, Poti, and Batumi manganese loaders. The May Day demonstrations of 1912–14 were massive in nature. Georgia’s industry experienced a crisis during World War I (1914–18), and the amount of land under cultivation decreased considerably; there were about 40 large strikes.

During the period of the February Bourgeois-Democratic Revolution of 1917 in Russia, soviets of working people’s, soldiers’, and peasants’ deputies formed in early March in Tbilisi and other Georgian cities; however, the Mensheviks and SR’s captured the leadership in them. An organ of the bourgeois Provisional Government, the Special Transcaucasian Committee, was established in Tbilisi on Mar. 9 (22). 1917. In Georgia, as in the rest of Russia, dual power was established.

The period of the Great October Socialist Revolution, the Civil War, and armed intervention (1917–21). The October Revolution initiated the social and national liberation of the Georgian people. The Bolsheviks led the struggle of toiling masses for the victory of the socialist revolution in Georgia, but they did not succeed in establishing Soviet power at the same time as in the central regions of Russia. On Nov. 15 (28), 1917, the bloc of counterrevolutionary forces organized the Transcaucasian Commissariat in place of the Special Transcaucasian Committee. The Mensheviks seized power. With the support of other counterrevolutionary parties, they created Georgian national military units, a Georgian national soviet, and the so-called people’s guard. On Nov. 29 (Dec. 12), 1917, the Mensheviks captured the Tbilisi arsenal: on Feb. 8–9 (21–22). 1918, they smashed and shut down Bolshevik newspapers; and on Feb. 10 (23), they fired on a protest demonstration of Tbilisi workers. The Bolsheviks were forced to continue the struggle underground. A new counterrevolutionary state body, the Transcaucasian Seim, which proclaimed Transcaucasia to be an “independent federal democratic republic,” was created in February 1918: it disintegrated in May. On May 26, 1918. the Mensheviks proclaimed Georgia an “independent republic.”

During the years of Menshevik rule, the economy collapsed. The agrarian question was not resolved, and the peasantry remained without land. As a result of the antipopular policies of the bourgeois government, Georgia’s economic ties with Russia were disrupted. There were armed uprisings of the toiling masses against Menshevik rule in the first half of 1918. In the interests of the struggle against the revolutionary movement, the Mensheviks entered into agreements with the interventionists. German forces entered Georgia in late May and early June 1918. On June 4, 1918, the Georgian Menshevik government concluded a treaty with Turkey by which part of Georgia would be ceded. In December 1918. German and Turkish forces were replaced by the English occupation force, which remained in Georgia until July 1920. In 1919 the Bolsheviks of Georgia, carrying out the directive of the Central Committee of the RCP (Bolshevik) on the participation of the toiling masses of the Caucasus in the struggle against the White Guard forces of Denikin, began preparations under the leadership of G. K. Ordzhonikidze for an armed uprising. The toiling masses of most of the districts of Georgia rose up during October and November 1919. Complex domestic and external political circumstances forced the Menshevik government to conclude a treaty with the RSFSR on May 7, 1920. According to this treaty, the Mensheviks were to break off all ties with the Russian counterrevolution, withdraw foreign military units from Georgia, and legalize Bolshevik organizations. S. M. Kirov was appointed plenipotentiary representative of the RSFSR in Georgia, and he played an important role in consolidating the forces of the Communists and achieving the victory of Soviet power in Georgia. The Communist Party of Georgia was organized in May 1920. Communists emerged from the underground and expanded activity among the masses of the people.

The Mensheviks grossly violated the conditions of the agreement with the RSFSR. Communists were subjected to harsh persecution. The Bolsheviks stepped up preparations for the overthrow of the Menshevik regime, the last stronghold of counterrevolution in Transcaucasia. An armed uprising that came to cover all of Georgia began in Lori, Gori, Borchali. Dusheti. Racha, Lechkhumi and other districts on the night of Feb. 11–12. 1921. On February 16. the Revolutionary Committee of Georgia (A. A. Gegechkori, V. E. Kvirkveliia, F. I. Makharadze, and others) was established in Shulaveri. Proclaiming Georgia a soviet socialist republic, on February 18 the Revolutionary Committee called on all the toiling masses of Georgia to seize power in the provinces and to form local revolutionary committees. The uprising developed successfully, but it was necessary to wage an unequal struggle against the troops of the Mensheviks and interventionists. The Revolutionary Committee turned to V. I. Lenin for aid. The Soviet government responded to the Revolutionary Committee’s appeal. On Feb. 25, 1921, units of the Eleventh Red Army, along with detachments of Georgian insurgents, entered Tbilisi and overthrew the Menshevik government. On March 4, Soviet power was established in Abkhazia and the Abkhazian Socialist Soviet Republic was formed: on March 5. Soviet power was established in Tskhinvali (Iugo-Osetiia). On Mar. 16, 1921. the RSFSR and Turkey signed a treaty in Moscow by which Turkey renounced Batumi and the northern part of Adzharia. According to this treaty. Adzharia was recognized as an integral part of Georgia. On March 18. the Menshevik government of Georgia was driven out of Batumi. By the end of March, all of Georgia had been cleared of Menshevik troops.

The period of socialist construction, 1921–40:

During the first days after the victory of Soviet power in Georgia, industry. the railroads, banks, and the land were nationalized. On May 21, 1921, the Georgian SSR concluded a military and economic alliance with the RSFSR. Elections to the soviets were held between December 1921 and February 1922. The first All-Georgian Congress of Soviets (Feb. 25-Mar. 4, 1922) adopted the first constitution of the Georgian SSR and elected the Central Executive Committee of Soviets, which established the government of Georgia. On July 16. 1921. the Revolutionary Committee of Georgia promulgated a decree on the formation of the Adzhar ASSR as part of Georgia. On Dec. 16. 1921. the Abkhazian SSR became part of Georgia on the basis of the Union Treaty between the Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia and the Soviet Socialist Republic of Abkhazia. On Apr. 20, 1922. the Iuzhnaia Osetiia Autonomous Oblast was created as part of Georgia by a decree of the Central Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars of Georgia. On Mar. 12, 1922, in the interests of maximum mobilization of all the forces of the Soviet republics of Transcaucasia for socialist construction, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan signed an agreement on the formation of a federal union. From Mar. 12, 1922, to Dec. 5, 1936, Georgia was part of the Transcaucasian Federation (the Transcaucasian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic, TSFSR). On Dec. 30, 1922, Georgia joined the USSR as part of the TSFSR. In 1936 the TSFSR, having resolved the tasks confronting it, was eliminated. Georgia, like Azerbaijan and Armenia, became part of the Soviet Union directly, with the status of a union socialist republic. In February 1937 the Extraordinary Eighth All-Georgian Congress of Soviets adopted a new constitution for Georgia.

In fraternal alliance with the union of Soviet republics, the Georgian SSR developed its economy and culture. Construction was begun on 20 large industrial installations during the first years of Soviet power. In 1926 the economy of Georgia reached the prewar level of industrial production; transportation was restored, the area under cultivation exceeded its 1913 level, and cultural construction had expanded. As a result of socialist construction and the successful completion of the first five-year plans, Georgia was turned into an industrial-agrarian country with a diversified, collectivized agriculture. On Mar. 15, 1935, the Georgian SSR was awarded the Order of Lenin for the outstanding success achieved by the toiling masses of the republic in the spheres of agriculture and industry. In 1937, industry’s share in the economy was 75.2 percent. More than 800 new industrial installations were built, including the forerunner of socialist power engineering in Georgia, the Zemo-Avchala Hydroelectric Power Plant (1927), as well as the Rioni Hydroelectric Power Plant, the Tkvarcheli State Regional Electric Power Plant, the Tbilisi Worsted Cloth Combine, the Kutaisi Silk Combine, Zestafoni Ferroalloy Plant, the Inguri Paper and Pulp Combine, the Kutaisi Lithopone Plant, and the Tbilisi Spinning and Knitting Combine. Under the prewar five-year plan, 30 new industrial branches were created, including machine building, petroleum extraction, and the tea and chemical industries. Industrial enterprises built or wholly reconstructed under Soviet power provided more than 80 percent of the industrial product of Georgia. More than 8,000 km of highways and 250 km of rail lines were built, and 277 km of rail lines were electrified. By 1940, the gross industrial product of Georgia had increased by a factor of 10.2 over 1913.

In Georgia, as everywhere else in the Soviet country, the kolkhoz system triumphed. By 1940, 94.1 percent of all peasant farms had been collectivized, and the area under cultivation had increased by 148,000 hectares (ha) over 1913. The area of tea plantations grew from 900 ha in 1913 to 49,600 ha in 1940, and the area of citrus crops grew from 200 ha to 24,600 ha. In early 1941 there were 3,680 tractors (in terms of 15–hp units), 532 grain-harvesting combines, and over 2,700 trucks operating on kolkhoz and sovkhoz fields. Over a period of 20 years the total number of industrial and office workers had increased from 89,500 to 494,000. The prosperity of the people had increased markedly, the ranks of the working class had expanded, and wages and income from public funds had increased systematically.

The cultural revolution was successfully carried out during the period of socialist construction: illiteracy was eliminated, the number of qualified national cadres of the working class and people’s intelligentsia was increased, and institutions of higher learning, scientific research institutions, and scientific and cultural-educational institutions were established. Soviet Georgian literature and art were developing successfully. Socialist industrialization, the collectivization of agriculture, and the cultural revolution had fundamentally altered the face of the republic. Socialism had essentially been built in Georgia. With the victory of socialism in the USSR, the Georgian people were consolidated as a socialist nation.

The Great Patriotic War (1941–45) and the postwar period:

During the Great Patriotic War, the peoples of Georgia, together with all the other peoples of the Soviet Union, defended the socialist fatherland. In all, about 700,000 people from Georgia (one-fifth of the republic’s population) took part in the war. Georgia supplied substantial quantities of arms, ammunition, uniforms, and provisions. In the course of the war, several Georgian divisions were formed that participated as part of the Soviet Army in the battle for the Caucasus, battles for the liberation of the Taman Peninsula and the Crimea, and fighting on other fronts. In the summer of 1942, fascist German troops moved out toward the foothills of the Glavnyi Range, and in the second half of August 1942, they attempted to break through to Abkhazia. The toiling masses of the front-line areas of Georgia worked heroically on the defensive boundaries; under the difficult conditions of the autumn and winter of 1942, they supplied ammunition, equipment, and foodstuffs to the front. In the fall of 1942, as a result of the successful actions of Soviet forces, including the 46th Army (commanded by General K. N. Leselidze), the fascist German troops were driven back beyond the Glavnyi Range. Georgian soldiers took part in the partisan war and in the resistance movement of the peoples of Europe. For their combat feats, 137 people from Georgia were awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. More than 240,000 soldiers, commanders, and participants in the partisan movement were awarded orders and medals of the USSR. There were about 350,000 sons and daughters of Soviet Georgia among the heroes who fell in battles for the homeland. For their heroic labor during the war, more than 46,000 industrial workers, kolkhoz workers, and members of the intelligentsia of the republic were awarded the medal For the Defense of the Caucasus, and more than 333,000 people were awarded the medal For Valiant Labor in the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45.

After the conclusion of the Great Patriotic War the Georgian people, along with the toilers of the entire country, set about peaceful labor to complete the construction of socialism and to build communism. The gross product of Georgia’s industry increased by a factor of 85 between 1913 and 1970; the republic’s agriculture achieved great successes (see below: Economy).

In December 1965, the Georgian SSR was awarded a second Order of Lenin for the great successes achieved by its toilers in the development of the economy and in cultural construction. The Abkhazian ASSR (Mar. 15, 1935), the Adzhar ASSR (July 12, 1967), and Iuzhnaia Osetiia Autonomous Oblast (Aug. 25, 1967) were also awarded Orders of Lenin. On May 14, 1971, for the services of the toilers of Georgia in the revolutionary movement and in the struggle for the victory of the Great October Socialist Revolution and for the strengthening of the first socialist multinational state in the world, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and for the heroism displayed in battle against the enemies of our homeland and the successes achieved in building communism, the Georgian SSR was awarded the Order of the October Revolution. The Abkhazian and Adzhar ASSR’s were also awarded Orders of the October Revolution (Mar. 3, 1971, and July 15, 1971, respectively).

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