Michael Kidron

The Choice Before the People of Cyprus

Colony, Enosis or Independence

(March 1956)

From Socialist Review, Vol. 5 No. 7, March–April 1956, pp. 2–3.
Transcribed by Ian Birchall, Nina Kidron & Richard Kuper.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

BRITISH IMPERIALISM moved into Cyprus in 1878 “for two reasons (a) as a prelude to the ... extension of British control in the Near East and (b) as a naval and military base ... it was to be a British place d’armes in the Eastern Mediterranean”. (Doros Alastoss, Cyprus: Past and Future) But Cyprus was not used for those purposes until very recently, for, in 1882, British Imperialism occupied Egypt – a much better base, closer to the main shipping routes, more accessible to the centres of interest in the Middle East itself.

Following the occupation of Egypt, the Imperialists lost much of their interest in Cyprus. The Under-Secretary for the Colonies, Winston Churchill, could thus afford to say in the Legislative Council in Cyprus (1907):

“I think it is only natural that the Cypriot people who are of Greek descent should regard their incorporation with what may be called their mother-country as an ideal to be earnestly, devoutly and fervently cherished.”

In 1915 Cyprus was actually offered to Greece in an attempt to bribe her to enter the war. The offer was refused by the anti-war Zaimes Government and Cyprus was retained in British hands. It was to be held in reserve as a possible supplement to the Egyptian base and, if the worst came to the worst for British Imperialism, as an alternative to it.

The inevitable happened. British colonialism was forced out or Egypt. The Egyptian base lost its value and once again Cyprus was the only base in the area. As Colonial Secretary, Oliver Lyttleton, said (August 8th, 1954):

“Eastern Mediterranean security demands that we maintain sovereign power in Cyprus ... I can imagine no more disastrous policy for Cyprus than to hand it over to a friendly but unstable power. It would have the effect of undermining the eastern bastion of NATO.”

Cyprus soon showed its usefulness. When British troops were involved in the oil companies’ war in the Buraimi Oasis in Arabia last year, the garrison in Cyprus was held as the ultimate sanction. When the Jordanian population upset Anglo-American plans to force Jordan into the Bagdad Pact (December 1955–January 1956), parachutists were flown from Britain to Cyprus in readiness for a showdown with the “ally”.

How the Cypriot Workers Live

CYPRUS is definitely useful to British Imperialism. But the advantages are not reciprocated. On the contrary, the half-million Cypriots, or at least the Greek majority which forms over four-fifths of the population, are determined to get rid of British rule immediately. The official Cyprus Annual Report for 1954, the last available, tells us why.

Although, as can be expected in an economy dependent on imports for much of its food and most of its other essentials, prices in Cyprus are very much the same as in Britain, wages are far below. Average weekly earnings, including overtime payments, bonuses, etc. range from 42s. 8d. in agriculture (the lowest) to 88s. 2d. in transport and communications (the highest) while mining averages 85s. 4d., engineering 64s. 8d., clothing 56s. 5d, and so on. The Report shows that girls under 18 work as miners (averaging 50s. 3d. a week) while the relatively high take-home pay in transport and communications might have a lot to do with the 66 hour week worked by bus, lorry and taxi-drivers and by porters.

The Report states that education is not compulsory. The normal school-leaving age for the children that do attend school is 12 although “in the poorer rural communities children are sometimes taken away at the age of 9 or 10 to help their parents at home or in the fields”. More than 50 per cent of the schools have only one teacher who thus handles all 6 classes while another 25 per cent have two teachers each of whom takes 3 classes.

The Housing Census of 1946 showed that more than one-third of the urban dwellings in the whole island consisted of one room only. One-third of these were occupied by 7 or more persons while the average number of persons per room over the whole island was more than three-and-a-half. Only half the houses have piped water while less than one-fifth have water flush sanitation (quoted in Thomas Anthem, Enosis).

The transfer of the British base from Egypt only aggravates the situation. The Annual Report states that “House building is taking place fast, but the emphasis is on the erection of high value buildings. Impetus has been given to this trend by the hope of contracting leases at high rents from service personnel and others transferred from Egypt”. As a result of this building boom “the prices asked (for land) are so high that the middle and lower income groups have great difficulty in finding the means both to acquire sites and to build”.

Finally, every protest against these conditions has led – ever since the emergency decrees of 1931 – to ever-increasing autocracy on the part of the British Govenor. The worse the conditions become the greater the protest, the greater the protest the more do the dictatorial powers of the British Governor increase, and the more that happens the more embittered becomes the struggle for independence on the part of the Greek Cypriots.

Archbishop and AKEL Sell-Out

THAT the Cypriots want to unite with Greece is understandable. Eighty per cent of them speak Greek as their native tongue. But that is not the whole reason for their desire for unity for the same reason that a common language is not enough for us to demand recognition as the forty-ninth state of USA.

Hope for support

The main reason for enosis – union with Greece – is the feeling of powerlessness when faced with the might of the British Empire. If the Greek Cypriots declare for independence – neither London nor Athens but an independent Cyprus – they cannot hope for support with arms supplies or through diplomatic channels from anywhere. If they, however, ally themselves with Greece – military dictatorship through it be – they need not fear isolation in their struggle with British imperialism. They would gain an interested ally – an expansionist Greece.

Temporal dictatorship

The Greek Orthodox Church in Cyprus has taken advantage of this desire to find allies at all costs and has taken charge of the movement for enosis. Like all organised religion it has no objection to temporal dictatorship whether military or otherwise and would prefer a Greek dictatorship in which the Church has a recognised and privileged part to play to a British one in which it is not a highly-prized part of the organs of government.

Stalinists and Church

The Cypriot Communist Party has also jumped on the band-wagon of the popular mass movement, playing driver’s mate to Archbishop Makarios. After all, enosis threatens to disrupt the relations between Britain, Greece and Turkey – all members of NATO. So it is that although as recently as March 1952, AKEL (the Communist Party) led a demonstration “to protest against the executions of Beloyannis and other Greek Patriots by the monarcho-fascist Government in Greece”. (Daily Worker, April 15th, 1952)

Fascist regime of Greece

The monarcho-fascist regime has since been forgotten and the Political Committee of the Communist Party can “support the right of the Cypriot people to self-determination and union with Greece” (Daily Worker, August 6th, 1954) without mentioning the fact that the Greece they desire to unite with still has not released the thousands of political prisoners, including their own comrades, from prison and concentration camps. Indeed, although the Daily Worker considered not so long ago (October 28th, 1952) that “Greece today is an occupied country ... (and) ... a monarcho-fascist regime”, it has since compromised so much with enosis as even to appeal to support the present regime and to issue “a grave warning to beware the danger of a militarist fascist coup” (November 23rd, 1954) which most people thought had occurred a long time ago.

As Socialists we cannot blind ourselves to the nature of the present regime in Greece nor to the danger for the organised workers of Cyprus implicit in enosis. We cannot subordinate the interests of the people of Cyprus to momentary expediency.

Slogan of weakness

On the other hand we cannot ignore the obvious desire of the Greek population of Cyprus for enosis, union with Greece. However, we must realise that as long as the Cypriots feel isolated and without allies in their struggle against British Imperialism, enosis, although it means union with a military dictatorship, although it means the growth in influence of an obscurantist Church and an opportunist Party (the C.P.) , will appear as the only hope. Enosis is a slogan of weakness.

British workers hold key

The Cypriot people can attain real independence only if they find an ally in their struggle against British Imperialism. An ally without ulterior motive. That ally should be the British working class. By weakening Capitalism at home we weaken Imperialism abroad.

We can give the Cypriot people the help they need by demanding the withdrawal of British troops from the colonies, freedom for the colonies and the offer of technical and economic assistance to them.

Last updated on 16 February 2017