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Review: The Killing Habit, by Mark Billingham

Fri, 2018-07-06 05:35

It’s not a total mystery why I rate Mark Billingham as the best crime writer in Britain today. He’s created a wonderful lead character, Tom Thorne, with a great supporting cast who you actually grow to care about. His stories, set mostly in north London, are close to home, vivid, real. But it hit me as I read his newest book, what I really love about his work. A book like this one falls into the category of police procedurals, focussing on the nitty gritty of police work but also featuring the home lives of the protagonists. The police procedural is a genre invented by my favourite crime writer of all time, the late Ed McBain. I heard some years ago Ian Rankin described as Scotland’s Ed McBain; surely, Mark Billingham deserves the English title.  He is indeed the English Ed McBain.

P.S.  Some years ago,when I once had the chance for a chat with McBain himself, I mentioned that Rankin had been called the Scottish Ed McBain. He smiled, and putting on a strong Scottish brogue said, “I thought I was the Scottish Ed McBain.”

Review: The Kremlin’s Candidate, by Jason Matthews

Mon, 2018-07-02 08:35

No, not that candidate.  In spite of making every effort to keep up with today’s headlines (references to the Russian seizure of Crimea, North Korea’s nuclear programme and so on), author Jason Matthews never imagines for a moment that Vladimir Putin could have a hand in choosing an American president.  That would be absurd.  A CIA director, maybe.  But not not even the most vivid imagination among thriller writers would have imagined what we have now.

Matthews’ Red Sparrow trilogy ends with this volume, and has its centre the inexorable rise to power of a CIA agent inside the ranks of the Russian intelligence services.  Lest anyone thinks that idea implausible, remember that in its day, the feared Okhrana — the Tsar’s secret intelligence service — managed to plant agents that rose to the very tops of the underground organisation against which it fought.  Among those were super-agents like Ievno Azef among the Socialist Revolutionaries, and in the Bolshevik ranks — Roman Malinovsky and Josef Stalin.  Matthews’ world is one in which the CIA are all decent chaps (though some are bunglers), and the Russians mostly monsters.  There’s even the occasional, casual racism (in particularly, a scene set in Sudan), which does not help.  But overall, the trilogy is a good read and maybe, with luck, there’s even another volume in the works.

The Socialist Delegation to Georgia

Mon, 2018-07-02 03:24

Presentation to the International Scientific Forum: “Remembering the Georgian Democratic Republic 100 Years On: A Model for Europe” – Tbilisi – June 2018

There was a time when I would not have had to explain what the Second International was. Today it is largely forgotten. But from its foundation in 1889 until its collapse in 1914, it was a global political force to be reckoned with.

The Second International united socialist, social democratic and labour parties from around the world.

Its rise to power seemed inexorable. By 1914, its member party in Germany, the SPD, was the largest party in the Reichstag. The socialist parties had grown increasingly important across Europe and beyond.

Even in the United States, where “American exceptionalism” was later used to explain the absence of a mass socialist party, by 1912 the Socialists were a serious force, winning over a million votes in presidential elections, taking seats in Congress, and winning control of several major cities.

At their regular congresses, the socialists from various countries would discuss the burning issues of the day, none more important than the danger of a world war.

In 1907 at their congress in Stuttgart, they debated what to do in the event a world war would break out.

A resolution was adopted which had been written by Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg, and it said this:

If a war threatens to break out, it is the duty of the working classes and their parliamentary representatives in the countries involved … to exert every effort in order to prevent the outbreak of war by the means they consider most effective … In case war should break out anyway, it is their duty to intervene in favor of its speedy termination and with all their powers to utilize the economic and political crisis created by the war to rouse the masses and thereby to hasten the downfall of capitalist class rule.

No one saw this as a crazy idea at the time. It seemed to the socialists, and not only to them, that they could do this – either stop the world war, or if they failed at that, to overthrow capitalism.

In other words, they saw themselves as a Great Power, or a “superpower” as we’d say today.

On the very eve of the outbreak of the war in the summer of 1914, the leaders of the socialist parties met in Brussels to attempt to prevent the war from breaking out.

They failed. War broke out.

Over the course of the next several weeks, leading individuals and parties in the International took the side of their own countries.

There was no general strike to stop the war.

There was no revolution to overthrow capitalism.

The turning point for most was the decision made by the German Social Democrats in August 1914 to vote for war credits.

The German party did eventually split, with most of its most famous leaders supporting a breakaway anti-war party.

But the memory of their betrayal at the decisive moment was the end of the Second International.

As the war came to an end, a number of developments took place which led eventually to the creation of two Internationals.

The Third International, also known as the Communist International, or Comintern, was Lenin’s creation.

At the same time as it got on its feet, the social democratic leaders in other countries who had doubts about the Bolsheviks re-formed their own International, which is today known as the Socialist International.

Georgian social democrats were always part of the Second International.

Until 1917, they took part in the delegation of the Russian Social Democratic Party, in particular its Menshevik wing.

After Georgia declared its independence in May 1918, its government embarked on a foreign policy aimed at winning recognition from the great powers.

These included Britain, France, Italy, the United States – and the Second International.

Despite the failure of the socialists to stop the first world war from breaking out, or to overthrow capitalism as they had planned, they were still seen a global force.

Some of the Georgian Social Democrats who were best known in the International, such as Tseretelli, found themselves in Western Europe trying to win Georgia a seat at the table during the Paris Peace Conference.

They used the opportunity to invite the leaders of the Second International to come visit Georgia in 1920.

The men and women who eventually travelled to Georgia as guests of the government are largely forgotten today. But at the time, they were super-stars. The most famous member of the delegation was Karl Kautsky, from Germany, the author of many authoritative works on Marxism, and a man often described as the “Pope of Marxism”.

The delegation took two weeks to travel by train from Paris to southern Italy, then boat to Istanbul, and then another boat to Batumi, and from there by train to Tbilisi, and then to various parts of the country.

They were welcomed by wildly enthusiastic crowds everywhere they went.

Ramsay MacDonald from the British Labour Party was astonished by what he saw in the Georgian capital. He wrote:

“It seemed very odd. There we were, having left for some days all that seemed to be of the West, having gone through the Bazaar and the mosques of Constantinople and proceeded far beyond towards the rising sun, and, at our journey’s end at last, we were being received by a President of the Republic of Georgia in a waiting room at the Tiflis railway station, covered with the most glorious Oriental rugs, but hung with the portraits of Karl Marx and his best known disciples.”

He was even more surprised at the reception they received when they left the capital. He described visiting “the heart of the Caucasian mountains, surrounded by the wildest and the gayest rout of untamed mountaineers armed with sword, shield, and rifle” and then standing reverently “whilst an old priest by the light of altar candles guttering in the wind read to us an address of welcome which ended with ‘Long live the International.’”

When they returned home, they gave newspaper interviews and wrote articles in which they praised the achievements of the Georgian Social Democrats.

Ethel Snowden, a leading figure in the British Labour Party, told journalists that “They have set up what is the most perfect Socialism in Europe.”

Kautsky, who arrived somewhat later than the others, stayed for several weeks. He wrote a short book about Georgia, which was published in an English edition as well as the original German.
“In comparison with the hell which Soviet Russia represents,” he wrote “Georgia appeared as a paradise.”

The Socialist delegation of 1920 was of course subjected to ferocious criticism by the Soviets.

But even some of the Georgians were skeptical. One of the critics was Zourab Avalishvili, a Georgian diplomat who was highly critical of the Social Democrats. He considered the delegation to be a waste of time. He wrote contemptuously of the socialist visitors, referring to “prominent European Socialists — including the three ‘ladies-in-waiting’ of the 2nd International (Mrs. Kautsky, Mrs. Vandervelde and Mrs. Snowden), gazing with curiosity at ‘that charming picturesque Georgia’.”

He expressed disgust at how they were welcomed by the Georgian government. They were greeted “with official honours, to which they were not so accustomed at home” which was true at the time. But Avalishvili could not have known that two of the delegates (MacDonald and Huysmans) would go on to become prime ministers of their countries. He considered the delegation to “be of no importance at all: it even created or stimulated more untimely illusions with regard to the support of the ‘Western democracies’” Avalishvili argued that the Georgian people had no idea of the “the comparative importance for Georgia’s independence in 1920 of the ‘Supreme Council of Allied Powers’ and the ‘Amsterdam International’,” referring to the Socialists.

What explains the enthusiasm of the Georgian political leadership for the delegation? It should be noted that this enthusiasm continued long after the delegates left Georgia, and even after the country had been occupied by the Russians. For many years, Zhordania and other exiled Georgian leaders were regular visitors to socialist congresses, which continued to pass – with decreasing regularity as the years wore on – resolutions demanding a withdrawal of Russian forces from the country.

The explanation lies on the world view of classical Marxism, which was embraced by Zhordania and his comrades from the 1890s onwards. In their view, there were of course national governments and a need for traditional diplomacy, but social class was even more important. The Second International and its successor organisations represented, in the view of the Georgian Social Democrats, a world power of at least equal importance.

To the diplomat Avalishvili, and to modern-day historians, this may seem absurd. But it did not seem absurd at the time. Remember the resolution adopted at the 1907 congress of the Second International in Stuttgart – the one that proposed that the social democrats stop the world war or overthrow capitalism.

This was how the socialists saw themselves, representing the great majority of humankind, and therefore as a kind of superpower.

That belief survived the war, and was shared by both the victorious Bolsheviks in Russia and their Social Democratic rivals.

In the eyes of the Bolsheviks, those European Social Democratic politicians who Avalishvili labelled as having “no importance at all” were actually extremely important.

Trotsky, then commanding the Red Army and having just led it to victory in the Russian Civil War, took the international socialist delegation to Georgia so seriously that he wrote an entire book, published in English as Between Red and White, to answer the book Kautsky wrote after he left Georgia. And for years later, leading Bolshevik figures from the Communist International were dispatched to meetings in Europe to debate what had happened in Georgia with representatives of the Social Democratic parties.

If Zhordania and his comrades suffered from the illusion that the Second International mattered, they were not alone, as the Soviet leadership shared in the same illusion.

And in the end, the alternative strategy proposed by more conventional diplomats like Avalishvili, aiming to win recognition from “real” powers including France and Italy, was no more successful than the attempts to leverage the power of the international socialist movement.

Review: Palace of Treason, by Jason Matthews

Sat, 2018-06-23 09:48

This, the second of the Red Sparrow books, continues where the previous one left off, and offers more of the same. It’s written by a former CIA officer, so much of it has the ring of truth — though obviously much of it is made-up nonsense as well. It’s hard to tell sometimes which is which. Violent, sexy, and profoundly hostile to Vladimir Putin, what’s not to like? I look forward to reading the third and final volume in the trilogy.

La forgesita revolucio de Kartvelujo

Sat, 2018-06-09 05:04

Mia prelego je la Londona Esperanto-Klubo – 8 junio 2018.  

Bonan vesperon.

Unue, dankon pro la invito.

Mi ĝojas paroli ĉi tie, je via klubo.

Mi volas danki Renato Corsetti, mian instruiston, por organizi la tradukadon de mia libro, La Eksperimento: La Forgesita Revolucio de Kartvelujo, en Esperanton.

Dankon ankaŭ al mia eldonisto, Vilhelmo Lutermano, pro la tre bela eldono de mia libro.

La Eksperimento rakontas la nekonatan historion de la unua kartvela respubliko, kiu daŭris de 1918 ĝis 1921.

Mi skribis la libron, ĉar, kiel demokrata socialisto, mi volis scii, ĉu ekzistis ekzemploj – en la reala mondo – de demokrataj socialismaj socioj.

Ni havas multajn ekzemplojn de landoj, kiuj nomas sin socialismaj, sed kiuj ne estas.

Ekzemple, Sovetunio. Aŭ Ĉinujo. Aŭ Nord-Koreujo. Aŭ Kubo.

Eĉ Hitler nomis sian ideologion “nacia socialismo”.

Laŭ mia opinio, tiuj landoj estas, aŭ estis, totalismaj diktatoraĵoj.

Se estas demokrataj alternativoj al ili, ni devas trovi ekzemplojn en la historio.

Kiam mi unue komencis labori pri mia libro, antaû tridek jaroj, mi loĝis en Israela kibuco.

La kibuco estis demokrata socialisma eksperimento, sed tre malgranda.

Nur tri procentoj de la loĝantaro de Israelo loĝis en kibucoj.

Mi volis trovi landon kie demokrataj socialistoj regis – kaj kie ili provis krei socialisman socion.

Mi trovis la ekzemplon de Kartvelujo.

Kartvelujo produktis – dum tre mallonga tempo – alternativon al la bolŝevistoj en la formo de demokrata socialisma socio.

La socio, kiun ili kreis, estas la temo de mia libro, kiu nun aperas en Esperanto-eldono.

Mi tre ĝojas, ke la unuaj du tradukoj de ĉi tiu libro el la angla originalo estas en la kartvela kaj en Esperanto.

La historio de la Kartvela Demokrata Respubliko estas kompreneble kartvela rakonto, kaj la apero de eldono en tiu lingvo igos ĝin alirebla por nova generacio en Kartvelujo hodiaû, por kiu ĝi estas tute nekonata rakonto.

Jardekoj da stalinisma regado certigis, ke tia estu la situacio.

Eĉ kvaronjarcento da sendependeco, post la disfalo de Soveta Unio, ne sukcesis revivigi la memoron de la demokrataj socialistoj, kiuj regis Kartvelujon antaŭ ol la Ruĝa Armeo – pro ordono de Stalin – invadis la landon.

Sed temas pri pli ol kartvela rakonto, kaj kiel mia libro klarigas (mi esperas), la socio starigita en Kartvelujo havis universalan signifon.

En mia libro, mi parolas pri ĉi tiuj aspektoj:

* liberaj elektoj – inkluzive de la rajto de virinoj voĉdoni – eĉ antaŭ ol ili povis voĉdoni ĉi tie en Britujo
* mult-partia sistemo, inkluzive de la Komunisma Partio
* libera gazetaro
* sendependaj tribunaloj
* sendependaj sindikatoj – kiuj estas esencaj por libera socio
* potencaj kooperativoj – kiu komencis regi la ekonomion, anstataŭ la libera merkato
* kaj hom-respekta kampara reformo – ne devigita kolektivigo

Ilia konstitucio eble estis la plej progresema iam ajn skribita.

La kartvela respubliko ne estis perfekta socio.

Sed ĝi ne aspiris esti perfekta socio.

La kartvelaj sociaj demokratoj volis krei pli bonan socion – ne perfektan socion.

Kaj ili sukcesis.

Ĝi prezentis, laŭ mi, la alternativon al la leninisma-stalinisma sistemo, kiu estis kreata en Rusujo en la sama periodo.

Anstataŭ unu-partio, ili havis realan demokration.

Anstataŭ kontrolitaj sindikatoj, ili havis verajn kaj sendependajn sindikatojn.

Anstataŭ cenzuro, ili havis liberan paroladon.

Ĉi tio estis, laŭ mia opinio, kion Karl Marx intencis, kiam li skribis pri socialismo.

En 1920, delegacio de socialismaj gvidantoj de la tuta Eŭropo venis viziti Kartvelujon.

Ili inkludis plurajn de la brita laborista partio.

Inter ili estis Ramsay MacDonald, kiu poste iĝis la unua ĉefministro de la Laborista Partio.

Karl Kautsky, kiu estis konata kiel la “Papo de Marksismo”, venis de Germanujo.

Aliaj venis de Francujo kaj Belgujo.

Ili volis montri sian solidarecon kun la kartveloj.

Sed ili ankaŭ venis vidi kiel demokrata socialismo aspektis en la reala mondo.

Ili estis tre impresitaj pri tio, kion ili vidis.

Ethel Snowden, unu el la britaj delegitoj, antaŭe vizitis Rusujon.

Ŝi povis kompari la du sociojn.

Kaj ŝi preferis la kartvelan modelon al la rusa.

Karl Kautsky restis en Kartvelujo dum pluraj monatoj.

Li tiam skribis libron rakontante la historion de la kartvela eksperimento.

Sed tio ĉi okazis tro malfrue.

La Ruĝa Armeo invadis kaj sendependa Kartvelujo jam ne ekzistis.

Tamen, la eksperimento okazis, kaj ĝi estis grava.

Pro tiu universala signifo mi ĝojas, ke mia libro nun aperas en universala lingvo.

Mi esperas, ke tio havos la sekvon, ke multaj pliaj homoj scios pri tio, kion mi nomas “La forgesita revolucio de Kartvelujo.”


Por aĉeti la libron, kliku ĉi tie


Review: Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

Wed, 2018-06-06 07:55

Jason Matthews writes with such authority about the CIA that I kept thinking as I read this book — he’s either got a great imagination, or he was a player. It turns out to be the latter. A retired CIA officer, he has written Red Sparrow as the first of a trilogy.

If I could sum up my thoughts on completing it, I’d have to say this: I can’t wait to start reading the second volume.

There are things I could have done without, such as the recipes that end each chapter (and the constant references to food in the text that seem to be placed there as an excuse for the recipes that follow) and the over-use of Russian phrases.

That having been said, the book is wonderfully plotted, full of suspense, with memorable characters (most notably Dominika Egorova), violent and sexy and unputdownable.

Matthews is a thriller writer of the first order, as good as le Carré and better than Fleming. Yes, that good.

Review: Perfect Match, by D.B. Thorne

Thu, 2018-05-31 06:04

This is normally the kind of book I love.

A gritty, serial-killer crime novel set in today’s London. Having read a very favourable review, I thought I’d give it a chance. I have to say that in the end, I was disappointed.

The main character, Solomon, is a reclusive genius whose face has been disfigured in an acid attack. His sister, meanwhile, was the victim of an attack that left her in a coma, and Solomon decides he needs to track down her attacker as the police seem unwilling to help. There is much that is implausible in this scenario, including the fairly silly series of clues the villain leaves strewn about.

Nevertheless, the book is not badly written, and the ending leaves one wanting to find out what happens next to Solomon and some of the other characters. Presumably, a sequel is on the way.

Review: Flight from the USSR, by Dato Turashvili

Thu, 2018-05-24 01:13

This books tells the tragic story of a group of young Georgian men (and one woman) who chose to hijack a Soviet airliner in November 1983 in an attempt to escape to the West.

As the author explains at the beginning, this was not a book he intended to publish, and that he hoped Georgia could put its Soviet past behind it. But following the Russian attack on Georgia in 2008, he went ahead with the book.

The hijackers were all artists of various kinds, and the central character in the book is a young actor who was already quite well known in Georgia. When the bungled hijacking failed following the storming of the aircraft by Soviet special forces, the surviving hijackers were arrested, interrogated and tried — and all sentenced to death except for the one woman, who had been pregnant. A monk who had nothing to do with the hijacking was framed by the Soviets as the ringleader of the conspiracy.

Georgian Communist leader (and later Soviet Foreign Minister) Eduard Shevardnadze comes off particularly badly in the book, despite his reputation in the West as something of a liberal.

This book tells the true story of this event clearly and well, and doesn’t flinch from the horror of it all (in particular what the Soviets do to the woman).

A terribly sad story and very good book by one of Georgia’s best known living writers.

(There’s a Wikipedia article about the hijacking here.)

Review: The End, by Ian Kershaw

Mon, 2018-05-21 04:20

Ian Kershaw’s book aims to answer just one question: why did the Germans continue to fight even after the second world war was clearly lost? He reviews a number of explanations given, ranging from the reasonable to the ludicrous, and settles on an interpretation of how the Nazi state had been established and how it was still running in 1944-5 that prevented popular rebellion or a military coup, even when almost no one believed the war could still be won. Hitler’s dreaded a 1918-style end to the war, with soldiers’ mutinies and workers’ strikes. He and his regime managed to make these impossible. A beautifully-written, well-researched investigation into a historical nightmare.

Georgia and the West: Myths and Reality

Sun, 2018-05-20 04:27

The following is the text of a talk I gave yesterday (19.5.18) at an event at the home of Sir Oliver Wardrop, the first British high commissioner for the Transcaucasus, to mark the 100th anniversary of Georgian independence. In the picture: the recently-erected statue of Sir Oliver and his sister Marjory in Tbilisi.

I’d like to focus my talk on the myths and the reality of Georgia’s relationship to the West during the period of the first republic, from 1918 to 1921, and conclude with some observations about where we stand today, and what I think we must be doing.


The two main myths to address are these:

1 The Georgians were tools of imperialism, specifically of German imperialism at first, and then following the German defeat in the first world war, they were tools of British imperialism.

2 The Georgian Mensheviks, because of their supposed hatred for Bolshevism, actively supported the Whites in the Russian Civil War.

Had those myths been true, the Soviets would have been entirely right to invade Georgia and put an end to their anti-Soviet and pro-imperialist behaviour.

But they were not true. They were made up. They were myths.

Where did those myths come from?

There were pro-Soviet publications at the time, and later, which spread both myths, including publications which were translated into English.

For example, a book by one J. Shaphir entitled Secrets of Menshevik Georgia: The plot against Soviet Russia unmasked, which was published by the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1922. You can read it in the British Library, as I did.

Shaphir’s books purports to prove these myths this using captured documents and statements of the Menshevik leaders themselves.

It is not a convincing book now, and it was not convincing in 1922 either.

But ironically, the main source of these myths, and the reason why they persist today, at least in the West, was Leon Trotsky.

Why is this ironic?

Because though he was the head of the Workers’ and Peasant’s Red Army, he knew nothing about the Soviet invasion of Georgia until after it had begun.

Trotsky wrote a short message to his deputy, Skylansky, on 21 February 1921, ten days after the Red Army had begun the invasion of Georgia saying “Please compile for me a short note on the military operations against Georgia, when those operations began, by whose order, and so forth. I need the note for the Plenum.”

“By whose order”? Trotsky admitted that it was not his order, that he knew nothing about the invasion, which was a major military operation involving several Soviet armies.

Not only did he not know about this, but the invasion appears to have been ordered by his arch-enemy and eventual executioner, Stalin, working in secret with his cronies.

Trotsky wrote an entire book, Between Red and White, in which he “exposed” the Mensheviks for their various crimes, the main ones being the collusion with Western imperialism and the White armies.

It was a far better book than Shaphir’s, and reached a much larger audience, and incredibly, was still in print a few years ago.

When writing his book, Trotsky complained that the information he had about Georgia was incomplete, noting that “the most valuable material is inaccessible to us. This material consists of the most compromising documents, as well as the archives of the respective British and French institutions taken out of the country by the late Menshevik government.”

If only we had access to those British archives, he seemed to be saying, we could know the true story of Menshevik Georgia.

But today, nearly a century later, we actually do have access to those archives and can begin to reconstruct the real relationship between the Georgians and the foreign powers.

It is one that bears little resemblance to the one Trotsky described, in which the Georgian Social Democrats were tools of the imperialists and actively engaged in the Russian Civil War on the side of the Whites.

Why did Trotsky spread these myths?

I believe this was because of his loyalty to Lenin and the Bolshevik party, and the strange discipline of “democratic centralism” according to which every Party member must publicly defend decisions taken by the party, even if they disagree with them.

These myths about the relationship between Georgia and the West lasted through nearly seven decades of Soviet rule.

Entire generations in Georgia were told these stories. Whether they believed these stories is another matter, but officially there was no other story to be told.

Even now, even here in the UK, many people on the far left know only this story, and believe these myths to be true.

For example, last year I debated a British Leftist group on the subject of the 1917 revolutions. I made a casual reference to the Georgian experiment, which was not at all central to our debate. My opponent, who knew that I’d just completed writing my book, came prepared to challenge me on this issue.

He had dug up a copy of Trotsky’s Betweeen Red and White, and quoted the assertions of Georgian complicity with imperialism and its support for Denikin.

It was the only book on Georgia he ever read.


I’d like to speak now about the reality of the Georgian relationship with the West in the years of the first republic.

Let’s start with the German occupation in 1918. Trotsky and other Communists portrayed this as the Mensheviks grovelling before foreign imperialism. But that completely ignored what actually happened.

The central fact in the spring of 1918, the main challenge facing the Georgian leadership, was the imminent Ottoman Turkish invasion of their country.

With the collapse of the Russian army on all fronts, and the first world war still raging, it was inevitable that Turkis forces would surge into the Caucasus, just as German forces moved into Ukraine and other parts of the collapsing Russian empire.

To thwart that imminent Turkish invasion, the Georgians came up with a master-stroke: they went behind the backs of the Turks.

They secretly went to Turkey’s senior partner in the Central Powers, their ally and benefactor in the world war — Germany.

Georgia did not have the capacity to stop the Turkish army. But the Germans could give the order to the Turks to back off.

And that is what happened. The Georgians made a deal with Germany that prevented a Turkish invasion, kept their sovereignty, and allowed the young republic to survive.

By all accounts, the Germans played the role that had been agreed for them.

Under German protection, Georgia remained a sovereign state. The Germans were not enthusiastic about the Social Democratic programme, but did nothing to stop the historic land reform and other changes which Noe Zhordania and his comrades brought about.

When Karl Kautsky visited Georgia in 1920, he learned from the Georgians more details about the German occupation.

Kautsky was no friend of German militarism and the Kaiser’s regime.

He was an outspoken opponent of the first world war, and even broke from the Social Democratic Party over its refusal to fight against the war.

But he wrote in his short book about Georgia that the German occupation was actually something to be proud of, that the Germans had helped a small, young nation get on its feet again.

This was not about the treasonous, cowardly, pro-imperialist Menshevik leaders pandering to their imperialist lords.

It was a master-class in diplomacy, turning one ally (Germany) against another (Turkey) and thereby ensuring the survival of the Georgian republic.

The British occupation of Georgia later in 1918 was an entirely different story.

While the Georgian leaders had invited the Germans in to their country, the British invited themselves in.

They had won the war, the German forces needed to be sent home, and it was only natural that British troops arrive in Georgia to assert their authority.

Unlike the Germans, the British soldiers who arrived did not fully grasp that Georgia was a sovereign republic.

The first meeting between the Georgian leader, Noe Zhordania, and a British officer was not a good one.

Zhordania essentially told the British officer to show some respect and get out.

The officer, to his credit, came back later that day and apologised.

The occupation had gotten off on the wrong foot.

The main cause of tensions between the British and the Georgians was British support for the armies fighting to overthrow the Bolshevik regime in Russia.

This was the main priority of British foreign policy in the region at that time. Georgia was a sideshow.

Despite what Trotsky wrote, the Georgians had declared their neutrality and were serious about it. They had no interest in backing any side in the Russian Civil War.

Both sides — the Whites and the Reds — appealed for Georgia to come on board, and to support their war effort.

But the Georgians refused and instead they did what they could to defend their borders, initially from the threat of a White invasion from the north.

Clashes between General Denikin’s White forces and Georgian troops took place.

And British officers on the scene were appalled at the Georgian behaviour.

They expected the Georgians to take the British side, that is to say, the White side, in the Russian Civil War.

At one point, British officers in the region sent a wire to London asking for permission for the Royal Navy to bombard Georgian forces if they continued to clash with Denikin’s forces.

That’s the kind of document you find today in the National Archives in Kew, where I did the research for my book.

Trotsky expected that once those secret documents became available, you’d find evidence of collusion between the Georgians, the British and Denikin.

Instead, what you find is a far more complicated picture, one in which the Georgians are remaining neutral, doing all they can to preserve their independence and to stay out of the Russian conflict.

Which brings us to Oliver Wardrop.

When relations between the Georgians and British were at an all-time low, when the possibility of armed clashes between British and Georgian forces were a real possibility, the British government decided to send Wardrop to Tbilisi.

Wardrop was the right man — indeed, the only man — for the job. His arrival not only averted catastrophe, but completely changed the relationship between the two countries.

It is entirely due to him that Britain and Georgia became friends and have remained friends for a century.


I want to conclude by looking at some lessons of all this, and we can do about this today.

First of all, it’s vitally important that we win the battle for historical memory.

The real story of the first Georgian republic needs to be told.

It needs to be told in Georgia itself, so that a new generation of Georgians learns about a time when their country was seen by many European social democrats as a great experiment.

But it also needs to be told outside of Georgia, because the Georgian Social Democrats proved that another revolution was possible.

They proved that the Bolshevik road to socialism, which led to the totalitarian nightmare of Stalinism, was not the only road.

There were other choices Social Democrats could make, and the Georgian Social Democrats chose democracy and human rights.

The Georgian experiment also has lessons to teach us today on the defence and diplomatic front.

The first Georgian republic worked round the clock to win recognition from the Great Powers, and to a certain extent they succeeded.

The current Georgian republic has had that recognition for some time now. But it needs, as the first republic did, more than just diplomatic recognition.

Georgia alone cannot defend itself against aggression by its neighbours, in particular aggression by Russia, as we saw a decade ago.

Georgia needs to be a full member of NATO as soon as possible to ensure its security.

But I would also argue that NATO needs Georgia, and not only because of the contribution Georgia already makes to global security with its mission in Afghanistan and more.

Georgia sits on the borders of an increasingly aggressive Russia, one that needs to be restrained and contained.

That is what NATO has done so well since it was founded in April 1949.

No NATO country has ever been invaded by Russia, though Russia has sent troops into many countries in those nearly 70 years, including Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan and most recently, Georgia and Ukraine.

Those countries were all vulnerable because they were not part of the Atlantic alliance.

NATO has proven to be a great success in the sense that the Russians do recognise that NATO membership means something, and they are reluctant to test NATO’s resolve.

That’s why NATO needs to embrace democratic countries like Georgia which sit on the Russian borders, in order to draw a line — and say to the Putin regime: no more.

We who live in countries which are NATO members must do all we can to remove the obstacles to full Georgian membership of the alliance.

I want to end by suggesting that in this centenary year, when Georgia celebrates the achievements of its first republic, that we do all we can to raise awareness of those achievements around the world.

Georgia was not a perfect society from 1918-1921, but it was a great attempt to create a better, more just society.

A society that was democratic, respected human rights, gave the vote to women and tolerated difference.

Georgia will, I hope, continue on the path set out by Zhordania towards becoming a more just, more equal, more democratic, more tolerant and more prosperous society — the kind of society that social democratic leaders like Karl Kautsky were keen to visit a century ago.

Perhaps by 2020, the centenary of the historic visit of social democratic leaders including the future British Labour prime minister Ramsay MacDonald, Georgia will be ready to welcome yet another delegation from the democratic Left.

That would be something to look forward to.

Thank you.

Review: A Higher Loyalty – Truth, Lies, and Leadership by James Comey

Mon, 2018-04-23 22:56

In this 290 page book, Donald Trump does not make an appearance until page 210. This is not what you’d have expected, given the media focus on the sacked FBI director’s account of his meetings with the American president. The first 210 pages of the book describe in considerable detail Comey’s career as a prosecutor and senior figure in both the Department of Justice and later, the FBI. And in those pages we learn about Comey’s values, the lessons that he’s learned, and what makes him a formidable threat to the Trump presidency. One has to read his account of the Cosa Nostra, which he investigated and prosecuted, to fully understand the horror of his well-publicised description of Trump as more like a crime boss than a political leader. Essential reading.

Review: The City & The City, by China Miéville

Sat, 2018-04-14 04:58

I first learned about this book because of the fact that in the BBC television series based on it, the creators decided to use the Georgian alphabet for one of the two cities — because they found it sufficiently weird.

Having now read the book, which came highly recommended by a number of friends, that turns out to be the least weird thing about it.

The author has imagined two cities situated in the same place, sharing the same roads, and in some cases the same buildings, where it is illegal for residents of one city to see or hear the residents of the other. He creates a verb for this very purpose — to “unsee” — and it’s bits like that which have led some to compare the author to Orwell.

It’s a thought-provoking book in the most literal sense; one is forced to pause and think many times about the issues raised, like divided cities, national and ethnic divisions, and of course social class. Michael Harrington famously described “the other America” more than half a century ago as the poor part of a wealthy society that went largely unseen by most.

I haven’t yet watched the BBC series and am keen to begin, not least because I cannot imagine how one can visualise two cities that largely exist only in the minds of their residents, who are busy “unseeing” what is often within touching distance.

Review: The Revenge of Analog – Real Things and Why They Matter, by David Sax

Thu, 2018-04-05 13:33

To be honest, I bought this book in a small, independent bookshop in San Francisco, where I spotted it while browsing a few days earlier, and not on Amazon. I read it as a paperback, not on my Kindle. And I guess that’s part of the point author David Sax was making: we still use analog for a lot of things and there’s evidence that we increasingly do so.

The sales of vinyl records are booming, physical notebooks (Moleskines are the best known) are selling like hotcakes, and bookshops (as well as physical books) are starting to make a comeback. Sax writes well, and travelled far and wide to meet the people who manufacture vinyl records, paper notebooks, even luxury analog watches made in the heart of the post-industrial wasteland of Detroit.

I was inspired to go out and buy yet another paper notebook (my favourite is Leuchtturm1917 rather than Moleskine), to get out a board game we bought last summer (Pandemic), and to buy my latest novel (The Boy on the Bridge) from a local bookshop rather than online.

Sax isn’t arguing that we all need to do this. He’s saying it’s happening anyway, and he wants to explain why.

Review: Sell Your Book Like Wildfire – The Writer’s Guide to Marketing & Publicity

Thu, 2018-03-29 05:40

Rob Eagar’s book is actually a very good introduction to the subject of book marketing for authors. Though lacking in specifics on some things (like how to get speaking gigs), his emphasis is on practical steps like building an author’s website, getting media interviews, and so on. He’s acutely aware of the fact that in today’s market, publishers expect authors to do much more to generate sales of their books, and the days are long gone when an author’s work was done when the manuscript was submitted.

Review: The Girl With All The Gifts, by M.R. Carey

Wed, 2018-03-28 10:24

Having recently read a dystopian novel ruined by a poor ending (The Power), this book works all the way through, from the unforgettable opening scene to an ending that seems, in retrospect, inevitable.

The story is set in a world destroyed by a fungus which takes over brains and turns humans into flesh-eating zombies.

The main character is Melanie, a young girl who is — well, that issue is the subject of the whole story.

The characters in the book are three dimensional for the most part, and one’s attitude to one or the other character changes as the story progresses.

The only consistent feeling is one of sympathy for Melanie, the young girl at the centre of the story.

The question of why dystopian fiction is so appealing to our cultures today is an interesting one, but it was not addressed in the author interview that features at the end.

I was glad to have discovered M.R. Carey and look forward to reading more of his work.