The January Revolution (Varkan: იანვარი რევოლუციის,ianvari revolutsiis) was an armed revolt where the Varkan Communist Party, led by Ana Kalanda, and the workers' assemblies, overthrew the Varkan Government in Klow. The Kalandists appointed themselves as leaders of various government ministries and seized control of the country's capital. The Revolution paved the way for the creation of the Second Republic in mid-1882. While many notable historical events occurred in Klow and surrounding cities, there was also a visible movement in other cities throughout the state, and in the rural areas, where peasants took over and redistributed land.
The Republican Noe Lekishvili was elected President of Varkana in September 1870. Lekishvili sat at the head of a moderately liberal state, mostly due to his recent predecessors, controlled mainly by educated elites. Supported by the bourgeoisie and to an extant by the National Liberals, he was opposed by the Radicals, and Socialists led by Sofiko Chiaureli. Lekishvili was an expert businessman and, by means of his businesses, he had become one of the richest men in Varkana. Lekishvili did support the bankers, and all bourgeois large and small. At the beginning of his first mandate in 1870, Revaz Dogonadze, a banker and liberal politician who supported Lekishvili's presidency, said "From now on, the bankers will rule." Accordingly, during the presidency of Lekishvili, the privileged "financial aristocracy," i.e. bankers, stock exchange magnates, railroad barons, factory owners, owners of coal mines, iron ore mines, and forests and all landowners associated with them tended to support the Republican Party, while the middle class and laboring class were in absolute opposition to Lekishvili in the Parliament. Naturally, landownership was favored, despite the establishment of universal suffrage by Sergey Gugushvili in 1856, and this elitism resulted in the disenfranchisement of much of the middle and working classes. By 1880, Lekishvili was viewed as generally indifferent to the needs of society, especially to those members of the working class. Early in 1882, some National Liberals, such as Simon Janashia, had turned against him, disappointed by his "lack of virtue". The Socialists urged the government to address pressing social inequalities, as they coalesced around the newspaper, The Reform. However, the more moderate Radicals and the liberal opposition rallied around the National newspaper. However, the Republicans turned a deaf ear to the left's demands and discontent among wide sections of the Varkan people continued to grow. Workers lost their jobs, bread prices rose, people accused the government of corruption. Unemployment in Varkana threw skilled workers down to the level of the proletariat. The only nominally social law of the Lekishvili government passed prohibited the use of child labor of those children under 12 years of age, and the employment of children for night time work. In late 1881, the Communist Party was founded by Ana Kalanda and Giuli Dadiani.
In 1881, the Lekishvili government proposed a first anti-leftist bill in Parliament that was eventually passed in October of that year. The Act prohibited anyone to "use [a house] or allow any person to make use of it to propagate communism or socialism by any means whatsoever" as well as the printing, publishing or distributing of "any newspaper, periodical, pamphlet, circular, document or writing, propagating Communism or Socialism." A violation of the Act subjected such property to being ordered closed by the Attorney General against any use whatsoever for a period of up to one year, and any person found guilty of involvement in prohibited media activities could be incarcerated for three to thirteen months. The law was ill-defined, denied the presumption of innocence, and clearly denied the right of freedom of speech to individuals. There were also concerns that the law would be used in order to arrest individual activists from trade unions. Several union leaders were arrested in that period. Showing its discontent, the working class took the streets in Klow, while several industrialists who had good working relationships with labor unions followed them. The protests lasted until December, when all public gatherings of more than 50 people were outlawed by the Varkan government. As a result, the people revolted, helping to unite the efforts of the increasingly popular Communists led by Kalanda, the Socialists, the Radicals and several National Liberals who turned their back on the Republicans.
After widespread protests, on 25 January 1882, the Communist Party led their forces in the uprising in Klow, the capital of Varkana, against the Lekishvili government. On 26 January, just before the confrontation between the National Guard, who joined the rebels, and the regular army at the barricades set all over the capital, 1,000 delegates of the federation of organizations created by the National Guard elected a leader, Ana Kalanda, and created a Central Committee of 40 members, which made its headquarters in a school in the 5th district. The first vote of the new Central Committee was to refuse to recognize the authority of General Vakhushti Bagrationi, the official commander of the National Guard appointed by Lekishvili, or of Lekishvili himself as President and commander-in-chief of the armies.
Late on 26 January, when they learned that the regular army was entering Klow, units of the National Guard moved quickly to take control of the city before their arrival. The first to take action were the followers of Tamaz Chiladze, a military industrialist and communist supporter, who distributed arms to the insurgents, which systematically captured major government facilities, key communication, installations and vantage points with little opposition. The communist rebels fought alongside the National Guard against the army, many of which decided to turn against the First Republic and join the revolution. Four battalions captured the police headquarters, while other units occupied the former headquarters of the National Guard, as well as the Ministry of Justice. That night, the National Guard occupied the offices vacated by the government who fled to Senaki; they quickly took over the Ministries of Finance, the Interior, and War. At eight in the morning the next day, the Central Committee was meeting in the Presidential Palace. By the end of the day, 20,000 national guardsmen camped in triumph in the square in front of the Presidential Palace, with several dozen cannons. A red flag was hoisted over the building, dominating the port.
The extreme-left members of the Central Committee, led by Chiladze, demanded an immediate march on Senaki, to disperse the Lekishvili government and to impose their authority on all of Varkana; but the majority first wanted to establish a more solid base of legal authority in Klow. The Committee officially lifted the state of siege, named commissions to administer the government. With the communists now in control of government, garrison and proletariat, all political parties except the Communist Party were abolished on January 28th, while the Socialist Party merged into Communist Party. The Socialist Republic of Varkana was proclaimed on 30 January 1882 with Ana Kalanda as President of the Provisional Government.
The first steps of the Second Republic
The Central Committee members adopted a dozen proposals in the last days of January, including presidency for Kalanda; the abolition of the death penalty; the abolition of military conscription; a resolution to send delegates to other cities to help the national revolution there; and a resolution declaring the establishment of the Socialist Republic of Varkana. A resolution was also passed, after a long debate, that the deliberations of the Committee were to be secret, since the Communist government was effectively at war with the government in Senaki and should not make its intentions known to the enemy. Many Radicals and National Liberals campaigned against the Communists but fled the city after the National Guard showed its allegiance to Chiladze and Kalanda.
With Kalanda as president, the new socialist state was more organized and led several military assaults on First Republic stronghold in the east and south, through guerrilla warfare. At first the First Republic armies' advances from the south (under General Shanidze), the east (under General Vekua), and the northwest (under Admiral Kaukhchishvili) were successful, forcing the communists and its leftist allies back on all three fronts. In March 1882, the communists suffered another reverse after a mass defection of communist units in the west to the radical rebels under Zakaria Bakradze, enabling radical forces to consolidate power in the west.
Tamaz Chiladze soon reformed the National Guard, concluding the first of two military alliances with the radicals. In March, the National Guard first checked Vekua's advance. After a series of engagements, assisted by a Radical offensive against Republican supply lines, the National Guard defeated Kaukhchishvili's and Shanidze's armies in May and June. After the capture of Senaki, Lekishvili was arrested, put to jail and died in his cell in 1885. Most former government members surrendered and were imprisoned as well.
Performance of the Provisional Government
The Provisional Government used the socialist red flag rather than the republican tricolor. Despite internal differences, the Committee began to organize the public services essential for the city of Klow. It also reached a consensus on certain policies that tended towards a progressive, secular, and highly-democratic socialist state. Many decrees were implemented, which included:
- separation of church and state;
- abolition of night work in bakeries;
- granting of pensions to the unmarried companions and bastards of national guardsmen killed in active service;
- postponement of commercial debt obligations, and the abolition of interest on the debts;
- right of employees to take over and run an enterprise; the Provisional Government, nonetheless, recognized the previous owner's right to compensation;
- universal education from primary school to university;
- universal healthcare;
- suppression of the distinction between married women and concubines, and between legitimate and illegitimate children;
- complete nationalization of industry while allowing private individuals to own small enterprises;
- end of the gold standard and establishment of a government-backed fiat currency;
- prohibition of fines imposed by employers on their workmen.
The Kalanda government drafted a new constitution, laying the foundations of the Socialist Republic of Varkana. U/C