For many, the Russian revolution of 1917 was a symbol of hope and offered proof that another way of envisioning the world was indeed possible. But Soviet authoritarianism and the horrors of the gulags have since led to the revolution becoming synonymous with oppression, forever tainting socialism in the eyes of its critics. However, the often over-looked experience of Georgia, which declared its independence from Russia in 1918, shows there was another way. In The Experiment, historian Eric Lee brings this little-known story of Georgia’s experiment in democratic socialism to light, detailing the turbulent events of this chapter in revolutionary history.
Along the way, Lee introduces us to a remarkable set of ideas and policies, among them the men and women who strove for a vision of socialism that featured universal suffrage, a people’s militia in place of a standing army, and a civil society grounded in trade unions and cooperatives. Though the Georgian Democratic Republic lasted for just three years before it was brutally crushed on the orders of Stalin, in that short time it was able to offer a glimpse of a more humane alternative to the Communist nightmare that was to come.
The Experiment is the first authoritative English-language history of this forgotten episode, and it will appeal to those interested in Soviet history as well as those seeking inspiration for a democratic socialist alternative today.
'As Lee reminds us, this Menshevik-dominated government backed free elections, freedom of the press, an independent judiciary, parliamentary rule and free trade unions. Perhaps its most impressive achievement was to carry out agrarian reform, allowing peasants to buy land at reasonable prices and not resorting to the catastrophic forced collectivization the Bolsheviks later employed. Visiting Georgia, a Western socialist like Karl Kautsky could declare it the "antithesis to Bolshevism."'
New York Times
'Lee provides a fascinating account of what the country briefly looked like under Menshvik rule and how this compared to the regime established by Georgia's most famous son, Stalin.'
'This is an important book. It is the first study in English of the Menshevik government in Georgia between 1918 and 1921.'
'A sympathetic, lucidly written and politically literate account of the first Georgian Republic, which makes exhaustive use of the accounts of foreign observers as well as some of the major leading figures.'
Donald Rayfield, author of Stalin and His Hangmen
`Covering a crucial but strangely overlooked period in the fevered evolution of socialism, we've been waiting for this book for a long time. Fortunately, it arrives excellently written and researched.'
Peter Nasmyth, author of Georgia: In the Mountains of Poetry
`In a clear and succinct style, Eric Lee paints a sympathetic portrait of this remarkable experiment in democratic socialism. Lee has brought this almost unknown story out of the shadows, giving it its proper place in the historiography of socialism and the Russian Revolution.'
Stephen Jones, author of Socialism in Georgian Colors
'A well-researched, well-written and engaging account ... a welcome and necessary addition to the literature.'
European History Quarterly
Praise for Eric Lee's previous book Operation Basalt:
Wall Street Journal
`Lee's gripping, well-researched Operation Basalt shines a bright light on a tiny, yet important, corner of World War II ...exciting and illuminating'
Tampa Bay Times
`An authentic and compelling read'
Damien Lewis, best-selling author of The Nazi Hunters and Churchill's Secret Warriors