National Sections of the L5I:

No to either clique!

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Georgia’s President Gamsakhurdia was overthrown in a military coup last month. Workers could take no side in the conflict between two wings of the fragmenting Stalinist bureaucracy, writes Clare Heath.

A group of Georgian envoys is roaming Spain in search of a 47 year old Marbella playboy, Jorge Bagration de Mukhrani. They hope to take him or his son back with them to help restore order in their strife-torn homeland. That he cannot speak Georgian, his family fled in 1801 and his only training is as a rally driver count for nothing. He is heir to the Georgian throne.

The envoys hope to restore a constitutional monarchy. Others argue that Eduard Shevardnadze should be brought in to rule the republic and lead it through the difficult economic reconstruction which lies ahead. The search for a strong man is an indication of the failings of the fledgling parliamentary democracy in Georgia.

In October 1990 the Round Table/Free Georgia coalition won a decisive victory in parliamentary elections. They stood for Georgian independence from Moscow and a programme of economic and social reforms, drafted by the World Bank, aimed at the restoration of capitalism. They were also committed to retaining the autonomy of the South Ossetian and Abkhaz areas.

In May 1991 Zviad Gamsakhurdia, head of this Round Table government, was elected President by an overwhelming 86% vote. This exercise in “popular democracy” and anti-Stalinism should have delighted the West in their drive to restore capitalism throughout the region.

Eight months later the imperialists stood quietly by and allowed that same government to be overthrown in a military action, without so much as a critical comment.

During his period in power Gamsakhurdia had indeed broken many election pledges: he abolished the autonomous status of the South Ossetian Oblast, postponed local elections, muzzled the press and arrested political opponents. He carried out none of the promised reforms, political or economic. His opponents declared him mad, referring back to a report of a Stalinist Psychiatric Institute which labelled him insane in the late 1970s.

The opposition who seized power, when Gamsakhurdia fled after a two week siege of parliament, is made up of many of his former allies in the Round Table government, plus two organisations who have formed the Military Council. They have formed a Consultative Council led by Tengiz Sigua, and plan to restore the Constitution of 1921, carry out a series of privatisations and land reforms and call new elections in the spring.

They appeared to have successfully defeated Gamsakhurdia and his base of support in the west of the country, and are in the process of consolidating a unified military power. This is no easy task, as the opposition itself is based on two separate, frequently rival, forces.

On the one hand a rebel section of the national Guard which split from Gamsakhurdia after his failure to sufficiently oppose the August coup, and on the other the Mkhedrioni, a paramilitary political organisation led by Dzhaba Ioseliani. Ioseliani is an intellectual who had been thrown into jail by Gamsakhurdia last year for organising opposition to the restrictions on the press.

The provisional government has to try and place every paramilitary group under the authority of the military council and incorporate them into a unified army, national guard and interior ministry.

This will involve disarming many political groups which have developed over the past two years. The level of arming of such groups led one western journalist to comment that “in a sense, the civil war is just a continuation of Georgian politics by other means”.

The leaderships of the contending groups in the Georgian power struggle are largely made up of intellectuals, poets, sculptors and academics, who were at one time or another in opposition to the Moscow bureaucracy. But they are in reality intimately connected to the Georgian bureaucracy, even those who were not actual members of the old Stalinist party.

Gamsakhurdia was known for, and his electoral popularity largely based upon, his thirty years of opposition to Moscow. His credentials were tarnished somewhat by the fact that in the 1970s he was arrested, recanted his opposition and informed on many other oppositionists. Once in power he put forward a very reactionary form of nationalism, and attempted to mobilise mass support, particularly amongst the peasantry and the urban middle classes, for his chauvinistic plans. In his first speech to the parliament he preached:

“The Almighty has imposed a great mission on Georgia . . . the day is not far off when Georgia will become an example of moral greatness for the whole world.”

The first act of this divine mission was to overthrow the autonomy of the South Ossetians. Later Gamsakhurdia’s moral greatness led him to propose that land reform and citizenship must be based on those people who could trace their ancestry back to residence in Georgia in 1801. That may include the regal playboy from Marbella but would exclude 1.5 million Georgian residents.

Gamsakhurdia did not only base himself upon the popular support of backward sections of the peasantry, however. He ensured that he was firmly backed by the old Georgian Stalinist apparatus, and incorporated much of the old KGB (50% of whom went over to his pay-roll). They, along with many of those who are now in the provisional government, backed him all the way. They granted enormous powers to the presidency.

They turned against him not because of his anti-democratic acts, or over the oppression of the South Ossetians, but only after he failed to oppose the August coup. In the aftermath of the coup Gamsakhurdia tried to disband his own National Guard because it had split and a rebel faction refused to subordinate themselves to the Republican Ministry of Internal Affairs.

At this point the opposition to Gamsakhurdia grew to include a significant section of the armed forces and the political opposition consolidated itself. A series of armed clashed in August and September failed to resolve the situation of dual power within the Georgian bureaucracy. At that time Gamsakhurdia still had considerable popular support amongst sections of the masses and the opposition were unable to topple him.

The creation of the CIS gave them the pretext they required to step up their action and finally kick him out. Gamsakhurdia had refused to participate in the CIS.

On the day of the formal dissolution of the USSR the opposition began a siege of parliament, apparently after Gamsakhurdia refused to take up their call for his resignation. During the two week siege there was far less popular support for Gamsakhurdia than in the past, and the opposition clearly felt strong enough to finally kick him out.

In addition to the heads of the two military groups, the Provisional Government includes such characters as Prosecutor General Vakhtang Razmadze (Prosecutor from 1985 until November 1991), Minister of Defence Major General Levon Sharashenidze (Georgian Military Commissar from 1982) and Minister of Internal Affairs Roman Gventsadze (Tbilisi police chief in the late 1980s).

This bunch of Stalinist bureaucrats have used the excuse of a rabid nationalist president to re-impose their rule and are offering to take over the job of restoring capitalism which they think they can do better that Gamsakhurdia. The power battle which looks to be resolved at least for the next few months, has resulted in one elected dictator with close links to the old Stalinist apparatus being replaced by another set, this time of military dictators, who promise democracy in the future.

Both side in this battle have the same class interests. Neither represent the interests of the workers and peasants of Georgia, far from it. Both sides are seeking to restore capitalism in a way which preserves their own privileges, either as part of the military-administrative bureaucracy, or as part of the intelligentsia which co-existed with that bureaucracy for so long.

The silence of the imperialists and the leaders of the CIS in the face of this anti-democratic military seizure of power is deafening. Yeltsin and his imperialist backers have argued for democracy throughout the former USSR and eastern Europe. The campaign of the imperialists for the restoration of capitalism has taken the form of promoting parliamentary democracy with the promise of market reforms and consumer goods for the masses. But when this democracy backfires, they are more than happy to sanction totally anti-democratic means to install a government they believe will be more effective.

The interests of the masses in Georgia have not really been voiced in this latest battle. There have been demonstrations in support of Gamsakhurdia in certain areas, demonstrations against him in others, and of course the massive vote for him in the presidential elections. But these do not represent an organised and collective view of the workers or of the peasants.

Workers and peasants in Georgia had no interest in the defence of Gamsakhurdia’s parliamentary dictatorship, but neither do they gain from the victory of the provisional government. In opposition to both sides of the inter-bureaucratic struggle the workers need to have their own forms of representation. Unions and workers’ councils are needed which can represent them through working class action.

A party which fights for leadership of such organisations on the basis of class independence and a socialist programme is urgently needed in Georgia as in the rests of the states that formed the USSR. Such a party must fight against the restoration of capitalism through the proposed privatisations, the parcelling up of the land and the introduction of imperialist joint ventures. It must defend the right of the South Ossetians and the Abkhaz to self-determination and separation. It must fight for the interests of women in opposition to the growth of reactionary Christian ideology.

To carry this out the workers and peasants of Georgia need their own workers’ government and a revolutionary leadership. The last thing they need is to replace a deranged poet with a playboy prince.