Prokofi Japaridze — The Revolution and the National Question

The statue of Prokofi Japaridze erected in Baku, 1980.

The Caucasus has always presented an incredibly complex situation to anyone that turned an eye to it. The vibrant cultures, various ethnicities, hundreds of big and small peoples, a plethora of languages and dialects and an incredibly long and detailed history can overwhelm even a Caucasian.

Marxists, who are tasked with analyzing conditions and situations first and foremost before forming a strategy and a program in the framework of revolutionary communism, have always been stumped by this mountainous region. Many issues have been raised, many solutions have been provided, but the problems have intensified and the Caucasus remains one of the most complicated, conflicting and paradoxical places on the planet. There is no ready-made solution or a fit-all blueprint that can reconcile all the contradictions and settle all accounts between these peoples, who, after centuries of colonialism and now imperialism, have unfortunately turned against one another and splintered into many de jure and de facto pieces.

Naturally, here, more than ever, the national question is of massive importance. Revolutionaries have offered various solutions to the problems from day one. Georgia, with its capital Tbilisi, has remained in the center of attention and the key actor in the region — even Karl Marx himself called post-Russian annexation Georgia “Russia’s Poland in the Caucasus.” [1] This alone points to the problematic character of the national question that is presented.

Our mission here is not to discuss and review the various solutions to the Caucasian national question that have been written and practiced throughout the years — we can dedicate long articles to Lenin’s opinions and actions regarding the region and his way of solving the question or to Stalin’s pre-revolutionary musings on the peoples of the Caucasus and their national peculiarities and his great blunders of the ’20s — but to publish one very interesting but obscure piece by a Marxist who lived and died in the Caucasus while fighting for the revolution and struggling against the imperialists and their lackeys.

Prokofi Japaridze was born in 1880 in Georgia. Of noble lineage, he proved to be a great traitor to his class and got involved in revolutionary action at the age of 20. He was very active in organizing strikes and consolidating workers, for which he was arrested and deported many times, spending years in captivity. From 1914 onwards, he led the Bolshevik organization in Tbilisi and in 1917, relocated to Azerbaijan, where in Baku, with other influential and great revolutionaries of his time, such as Stephane Shaumiani, he organized the local proletariat. He participated in the VI congress of the RSDLP (B), where he was chosen as the candidate for the Central Committee. Tragically, as the Baku Commune fell in 1918, he was shot with other revolutionaries by the SRs and the English interventionist generals.

A revolutionary with such an impressive resume and a gruesome martyrdom, especially one who wrote and speechified extensively, should have become a more seminal figure for Soviet propagandists or history books, but he was not frequently mentioned or glorified like the others. The reason for this is more or less unknown — the Baku Commune was celebrated with relevant monuments and belletristic entries and its 26 Commissars, especially Shaumiani, were considered notable revolutionaries (his friendship and correspondence with Lenin probably played a part), but it is hard to find anything on Japaridze, apart from a postal stamp and a now-dismantled statue in Baku erected in 1980.

“The Revolution and the National Question” is sourced from “პ.ა. ჯაფარიძე — რჩეული ნაწერები: 1905–1918 წლები” (P.A. Japaridze — Collected works, speeches and letters: 1905–1918) published in 1963. It was originally published in “Kavkazski Rabochi” no. 20 on April 7th, 1917, in the aftermath of the February Revolution and months before the Bolshevik one. To understand the context and rationale behind Japaridze’s analysis, the situation of the moment and post-February Russia must be understood to avoid the characterization of his demands and proclamations as something different.

The Revolution and the National Question

The most militant question today, which is discussed not only on the pages of newspapers, but everywhere — the streets and squares, bazaars and other places — is the national question. It must be remarked, that this discourse and the disputes turn very ugly — frequently, the disputes turn into simple abuse, sometimes accompanied by fists.

If this continues so, we will witness even uglier pictures in the future…

What is the matter? Why do such things take place?

We think that posing the national question in the manner in which it is posed by the supporters of autonomy and federation is incredibly incorrect and harmful for the revolution.

Social-democracy in the Caucasus was opposed to the autonomy of separate nations — in regards to the general democratization of the state, it demanded local and regional self-government; we are still in favor of such an answer to the question and to explain our view, we will publish a number of articles on the matter in the future, but in this article, we will pay attention to the way our nationalists pose and settle this question.

The matter is: some Georgian parties — the so-called National-Democratic Party (newspaper “Sakartvelo”) and the Federalist party [2], which also calls itself socialist, decided on solving the national question as the first point of order. Their minds have been possessed by Georgian autonomy and the transforming of the entire state into a federation, which is all they write and talk about.

Even further, they think that the national question has to be settled now, or we will be late and will not be able to do anything later.

The blind and the ignorant! They have not grasped the current moment, most of them have not understood that they are hindering the revolution that has occurred and are complicating all sensitive issues, especially that of settling the national question.

It is important to clearly analyze this. Otherwise, we ourselves will cut the branch that the revolution sits on.

First of all, we must remember that we are the witnesses and participants of the first act of a grand historical drama — the great Russian revolution. The main actors are the working class, poor peasants and the army, which is mostly comprised of workers and peasants. During the great days of February, they destroyed the previous government; they continue to struggle, and they are the ones that have to bring the revolution to its end, but everything that is to be done has not been done yet. The most important and responsible tasks are ahead. Reactionary forces are starting to regain consciousness, the liberal bourgeoisie is starting to retreat and the counterrevolutionary forces take the scene and do their work. And the forces of the revolution are still not armed and organized enough.

The workers and revolutionary army of Petersburg started organizing as workers’ and soldiers’ soviets from the day of their first clashes with the tsarist regime and they called on the entire democratic Russia: “organize and create one revolutionary army.” All of Russia shook and awoke: soviets of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies are being created everywhere, as well as peasant and other unions.

Intensified work is being carried out, but once again, it is still long before the end, especially in the countryside. In many places, there still are no workers and peasants united in soviets, local revolutionaries have not been able to create a consolidated whole, the revolutionary elements of the villages are still not mobilized. But, what is most important: the work of the entire Russia is being carried out by the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, and the countryside is still not connected strongly to its main command — the united democracy of Petersburg. The revolution is still not organized and we must unite it — this is the question of the moment, we have to move all others to the second or third rank.

We must organize the revolution! For this, we must mobilize the revolutionary-democratic forces of Russia around the soviets of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies everywhere, connect these soviets more firmly, create everywhere the united bodies of revolutionary governments from them, secure local revolutionary governments with each other, which will be led by Central Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies and in this way, create a revolutionary government body of the whole people.

Only then will we not be intimidated by any reactionary trick, only then will we be able to curb the liberal bourgeoisie, stop its rocking and vacillation, only then will we be sure that the revolution will win and a democratic republic will be established.

Only in this way can we create the conditions to solve all sensitive questions, including the national one.

If this is so, how is it sensible to put forth specific demands regarding the national question to a provisional government? It is not.

Guchkov and Milyukov [3] can promise you everything, Kerensky [4] can swear that he will settle the national question, but if the revolution loses and if not only the reactionaries, but the liberal bourgeoisie too take power, all these questions shall be forgotten.

This is what the nationalists must understand; they must stop shouting and yapping about the national question; we must help revolutionary Russia with all our might so that it can put the last sword through the old regime and carry out the democratic revolution.

And lastly, we must declare most resolutely that the peoples of the Caucasus have not granted anyone the right to present in their name a solution to the national question — they still have no self-determination.

Particularly, the Georgian people have not asked the Federalists and the National-Democrats to speak in their name and especially in these revolutionary days, the people have not given them no authority.

Nationalists! Cease the noise around the national question and if you really care for the freedom of the Georgian people — aid revolutionary Russia in consolidating and organizing the revolutionary elements of all peoples to create a united revolutionary army.

Footnotes

1. Karl Marx — The Fall of Kars (1856)

2. The National-Democratic Party (ეროვნულ დემოკრატიული პარტია) was a nationalist Georgian party that considered itself the heir of Ilia Chavchavadze and his ideals. Chavchavadze worked on its program in 1906, but the party was formed in 1917 in opposition to the popular Mensheviks and was active before being banned by the Soviet government in 1924 in the aftermath of the August uprising. In the 1919 elections of the short-lived Democratic Republic of Georgia, the NDP received 6.1% of the votes.

The Georgian Socialist-Federalist Revolutionary Party (საქართველოს სოციალისტ-ფედერალისტების სარევოლუციო პარტია) was the first Georgian political party founded in Geneva in 1904. It received support from the Entente during the February Revolution. Rosa Luxemburg wrote of them in her 1909 “The National Question”:

“The main thing on which the Socialist Federalists put emphasis is the reservation that the agricultural question in Georgia should be decided not in a constituent assembly nor in a central parliament, but only in autonomous national institutions, because “however life will decide this question, in principle, only this is unquestionable, that the land in a Georgian territory should belong first of all to the Georgian people.” The question, how it happens that the “socialist” party is joined, en masse, by the petty gentry and bourgeoisie, the delegates of the Georgian Federalists explained by saying that this happens only because “there is no other party which would formulate the demands of these strata. […] The idea of federation, by its nature and historical substance reactionary, is today a pseudo-revolutionary sign of petit bourgeois nationalism, which constitutes a reaction against the united revolutionary class struggle of the proletariat in the entire Empire.”

3. Alexander Guchkov (1862–1936) was the Chairman of the Third Duma and Minister of War in the Russian Provisional Government. He supported the Kornilov Affair after resignation and provided financial aid to the anti-Bolshevik White Guard, after the defeat of which, he emigrated and died in Paris.

Pavel Milyukov (1859–1943) was the founder, leader, and the most prominent member of the Constitutional Democratic party (Kadets). In the Russian Provisional Government, he served as Foreign Minister, working to prevent Russia’s exit from the First World War. After the October Revolution, he tried negotiating with the Germans in Ukraine to rally against the Bolsheviks but failed. He emigrated and died in France.

4. Alexander Kerensky (1881–1970) was a Minister of Justice, then a Minister of War, and after July as the government’s second Minister-Chairman in the Provisional Government. He was the leader of the social-democratic Trudovik faction of the Socialist Revolutionary Party and a vice-chairman of the Petrograd Soviet. He emigrated after the October Revolution.

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The Acheron In Motion

The Acheron In Motion

The Acheron In Motion is run by a passionate Communist from a post-Soviet state, publishing about revolutionary history and the fundamental theses of Marxism.