This book is useful in that it provides the general reader a clearly written and conceptualized glimpse into the Democratic Republic of Georgia, which lasted from 1918 to 1921. The author is a socialist and his overt intention is to showcase the achievements of the social democratic (Menshevik) leadership in building a state based on socialist principles in contrast to the dictatorial empire forged by the Bolsheviks and as an example for those interested in whether a socialist state could ever be humane or properly functional. The material is divided logically by time and category, making the book a lucid and engaging read.
The Experiment starts by contextualizing the Russian and Georgian socialist movements within the broader European socialist milieu and then provides an analysis of the Gurian Republic, which the author considers to have been not only a dress rehearsal for the future Georgian republic but also an unfortunately forgotten “prototype for a future socialist society.” The Experiment then discusses the various phases of the existence of the Georgian republic itself, from its formation in May 1918 through the Bolshevik takeover in February 1921, setting aside chapters for review of the Mensheviks’ specific policies related to forms of economic organization: agrarian reform, trade unions and cooperatives.
Drawing heavily on such important secondary sources as Firuz Kazemzadeh’s The Struggle for Transcaucasia, 1917-1921; Stephen Jones’s Socialism in Georgian Colors: The European Road to Social Democracy 1883-1917 and Ronald Suny’s The Making of the Georgian Nation, Lee also refers regularly to the observations of socialist figures such as Leon Trotsky, Karl Kautsky and Ethel Snowden. Furthermore, he brings other interesting primary sources to the fore, including newspaper articles published in the UK and USA, various memoirs, FO files and my personal favorite, a letter from General Kvinitadze’s daughter in which she shares an opinion aligning with my own suspicion that the Menshevik government “did not believe the Bolsheviks would attack a social-democratic government.”
Though not intended to be a heavily critical and exhaustive analysis of the achievements and failures of Georgia’s government between 1918 and 1921, The Experiment does succeed in its purpose of presenting the main contours of the story of the Georgian social democratic experiment in a coherent and interesting way while also providing evidence in favor of the possibility of forming freer and more just states based on socialist principles. It is hoped this well-written window into revolutionary Georgia will inspire its readers to pursue deeper exploration of the history of Georgia and the entire Caucasus.