Near the end of World War I, Georgia declared independence and set up one of the world’s first experiments in democratic socialism. The Georgian experiment wasn’t perfect. Mistakes were made. And it didn’t last long, just three years. In 1921, the Democratic Republic of Georgia was crushed by Russian communists, but in that short time, their experiment was very successful, and cooperatives played an important role in the economy of the young republic. Eric Lee has just published a history of this period, The Experiment: Georgia’s Forgotten Revolution, 1918–1921, and in it he includes a short chapter on cooperatives. The chapter is short in large part because the cooperative side of the experiment was not well documented:
the story of the Georgian cooperatives is an important one, and yet most histories of the country have barely touched on them. Some have focused extensively on tiny organisations like the Bolshevik party, while ignoring the hundreds of thousands of Georgians whose lives were changed by the cooperative movement, of for that matter the trade unions. This may have to do with historians’ generally focusing more on politics and war, and less on social movements. (p. 123)
Nonetheless, Lee manages to dig up some interesting information. He cites one estimate that in the republic almost as many workers were employed in cooperatives as were employed in private businesses:
By 1920, only 195 of Georgian workers were employed by the private sector. A majority — 52% — were employed by the state and a further 18% worked for municipal or cooperative enterprises. (p. 127)
Lee’s book was interesting in general. I was entirely ignorant of this period and I found it really inspiring. I would strongly recommend it.