chapter  2
9 Pages

The underground revolutionary

Lying just beyond the spectacular Caucasus Mountains on the broad isthmus between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, the ancient Orthodox Christian kingdom of Georgia had been absorbed into the Russian Empire in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Russian tutelage was initially welcomed as it afforded the Georgian people a measure of protection from their traditional Muslim enemies, Persia and the Ottoman Empire. As the nineteenth century progressed, the Russian colonial administration introduced a process of gradual industrialization, economic modernization, education and urbanization that stimulated the growth of a vigorous nationalist movement among the Georgian intelligentsia. The fact that most native Georgians were at the bottom of the social heap, while Armenians and Russians dominated respectively the commercial middle classes and the governing bureaucracy, meant that nationalist sentiments were closely bound up with social divisions and class-consciousness. Socialism and nationalism were therefore natural allies in the struggle against the Russian imperial regime. For this reason many young Georgian radicals, as well as Jews and Poles, came to play a leading role in the all-Russian Marxist revolutionary movement in the early years of the twentieth century, and it was out of their ranks that Stalin was to emerge as one of the most powerful dictators of that century. His future eminence, however, was belied by his obscure origins.