Irakli Tsereteli

Irakli Tsereteli was born in Georgia, Russia, in 1881. He studied law at Moscow University where he became involved in the reform movement. After taking part in a student demonstration he was sentenced to five years exile in Eastern Siberia.

On his release from prison Tsereteli joined the Social Democratic Labour Party(SDLP). At the party's Second Congress in London in 1903, there was a dispute between Vladimir Lenin and Julius Martov, two of SDLP's leaders. Lenin argued for a small party of professional revolutionaries with a large fringe of non-party sympathizers and supporters. Martov disagreed believing it was better to have a large party of activists.

Julius Martov based his ideas on the socialist parties that existed in other European countries such as the British Labour Party. Lenin argued that the situation was different in Russia as it was illegal to form socialist political parties under the Tsar's autocratic government. At the end of the debate Martov won the vote 28-23 . Vladimir Lenin was unwilling to accept the result and formed a faction known as the Bolsheviks. Those who remained loyal to Martov became known as Mensheviks.

Tsereteli, along with George Plekhanov, Pavel Axelrod, Lev Deich, Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, Leon Trotsky, Vera Zasulich, Irakli Tsereteli, Moisei Uritsky, Noi Zhordania and Fedor Dan joined the M. Whereas Gregory Zinoviev, Anatoli Lunacharsky, Joseph Stalin, Mikhail Lashevich, Nadezhda Krupskaya, Mikhail Frunze, Alexei Rykov, Yakov Sverdlov, Lev Kamenev, Maxim Litvinov, Vladimir Antonov, Felix Dzerzhinsky, Gregory Ordzhonikidze and Alexander Bogdanov supported Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks.

Tsereteli became editor of the pro-Menshevik Kvali (Track) but after harassment from the local police he decided to move to Germany. He returned to Russia during the 1905 Revolution and in 1907 was elected to the second Duma. A great orator, Tsereteli soon emerged as one of the leaders of the Mensheviks.

In June, 1907, Nicholas II closed the Duma and Tsereteli was arrested and sentenced to five years imprisonment. On his release in 1913 he was exiled to Irkutsk in Siberia.

Tsereteli returned to Petrograd after the February Revolution. He supported the Provisional Government and in May, 1917, was appointed Minister of Posts and Telegraphs. The following month Alexander Kerensky gave him the important post of Minister of the Interior.

Tsereteli was in Georgia during the October Revolution. Vladimir Lenin gave orders for his arrest and so he remained in Georgia during the Civil War. When the area was taken by the Red Army Tsereteli moved to France. Irakli Tsereteli emigrated to the United States where he died in 1960.

Primary Sources

(1) George Buchanan, My Mission to Russia and Other Diplomatic Memories (1922).

Tsereteli had a refined and sympathetic personality. He attracted me by his transparent honesty of purpose and his straightforward manner. He was, like so many other Russian Socialists, an Idealist; but though I do not reproach him with this, he made the mistake of approaching grave problems of practical policies from a purely theoretical standpoint.

(2) In his book My Reminiscences of the Russian Revolution (1969), Morgan Philips Price, described a speech made by Irakli Tsereteli when the Bolsheviks were threatening to close down the Constituent Assembly.

In this swan-song apology for the history of the previous eight months, Tsereteli was the same as ever - thoughtful, unemotional, philosophic, calm, like some Zeus from Olympus, contemplating the conflicts of the lesser gods. "The Constituent Assembly," he said, "elected democratically by the whole country, should be the highest authority in the land. If this is so, then why should an ultimatum be sent to it by the Central Soviet Executive? Such an ultimatum can only mean the intensification of civil war. Will this help to realize Socialism?" On the contrary, it will only assist the German militarists to divide the revolutionary front. The break-up of the Constituent Assembly will only serve the interests of the bourgeoisie, whom you (the Bolsheviks) profess to be fighting. The Assembly alone can save the Revolution.