On the apologia by the leader of the Communist Party of Cyprus Charalambos Vatyliotis (Vatis) to the Comintern concerning the stance of the CPC in the uprising of 1931
Cyprus is an island located in the south-east of the Mediterranean. From 1571 to 1878 it was in the possession of the Ottoman Empire, and in 1878 was placed under British rule, being declared a crown colony in 1925. Its population in this period comprised 80 per cent Greeks and 18 per cent Turks, along with very small population groups of Armenians, Maronites and Latins. Greek orthodox inhabitants of Cyprus thus constituted the majority of the population. In conjunction with the creation of the Greek state in 1830 and its gradual annexation of new territories, this resulted from 1878 in claims from the Greek elements of the Cypriot population for enosis (union) of Cyprus with Greece. This demand was repeatedly rejected by the British, in view of the great strategic importance they attached to the island. It also met with the vehement rejection of the Turkish Cypriots.
After half a century of agitation around the issue without any visible effect, in 1931 the demand was to coincide with the effects of the global economic crisis to produce an accumulation of factors conducive to an outbreak of revolt. This paper discusses both the CCP’s stance in this uprising and the criticisms that were made of it by the Balkan secretariat of the Comintern. In the historiography of Cyprus there has been a gap concerning exactly what occurred between Vatis and the Comintern following the former’s arrival in Moscow in early 1932, a few months after the crushing of the Cyprus revolt. Drawing on hitherto unpublished Comintern documents, this article seeks to fill that gap.
The Cypriot uprising of 1931
Britain’s economic exploitation of Cyprus, and longstanding rejection of the demand for enosis of Cyprus with Greece, was compounded in 1931 by the consequences of the global economic crisis. This was reflected politically in the transformations it generated in both political practices and relations of representation. Britain’s refusal to support any strengthening of the powers of the island’s deputies, along with its unequivocal rejection of enosis, would be seen as a failure of political moderates. By the beginning of the 1930s, this meant that more forceful means of seeking resolution to the national question were back on the political agenda. Among these means were the resignation of Greek Cypriot deputies from the island’s legislative council as well refusal to pay taxes. Supported by sections of both the Greek Cypriot leadership, and the Greek Cypriot press echoed, the object was enosis with Greece and any idea of a transitional stage of autonomy was rejected. At stake was the question of whether deputies should resign both as an expression of censure of British politics and as a symbolic move aimed at highlighting the need for more vigorous mobilisations.
- , on 17 October the Metropolitan Nicodemus of Kition did submit his resignation as a parliamentarian to the legislative council. Three other parliamentarians followed his example, while the other eight judged at first that there was nothing to be achieved by resigning. Immediately after his resignation the Metropolitan embarked on a series of speeches to the Greek Cypriot people and on 20 October in Limassol proclaimed that ‘in the name of God and the people I preach union with Mother Greece’ (1). During the afternoon of the following day the remaining eight Greek Cypriot members of the legislative council resigned.
On 21 October the posting of the announcement that the eight deputies had resigned drew a crowd that came to find out about the developments (2). This spontaneous gathering rapidly developed into a demonstration, and when some of those assembled were asked to make speeches they willingly did so. Following the speeches the slogan ‘to Government House’ was heard, and despite objections from the parliamentarians a procession made its way there headed by the Greek flag. On reaching Government House clashes with police occurred as the crowd sought to break through the police cordon and enter the building. The administration sent a military detachment and before long the first shots were heard, followed by an incursion against Government House, which was soon engulfed in flames (4). As the island’s Governor, Ronald Storrs, withdrew, the military forces began firing indiscriminately, resulting in one fatality and another fourteen injured. By late evening the situation had returned to normal. Nevertheless, given the urgency of the situation Storrs sought and obtained military reinforcements arriving by air from Egypt to secure against every contingency. This did not, however, prevent other protests being organised in the capital in the days immediately following.
As news of the events in Nicosia sparked rallies and demonstrations in the other cities of Cyprus, there were further clashes with British forces and the burning of government buildings. In order to avoid further reactions, the British administration proceeded with the arrest of leading Greek Cypriot figures, beginning with the Metropolitan Nikodimos Mylonas, who was considered the key instigator of the turmoil. Further arrests followed of those regarded as ringleaders of the disturbances’, and a few days two later leading members of the Communist Party of Cyprus (CPC) were among ten Greek Cypriots sent into exile. One was K. Skeleas and the other, the main focus of this article, Charalambos Vatyliotis, known as Vatis.
The role of the CPC: Charalambos Vatyliotis and the Comintern
The CPC’s role during the revolt can only properly be understood if we take account of its previous record of activity. The labour movement in Cyprus had been late to develop due to economic backwardness characterised by an excessively preponderant rural economy and small capitalist enterprises as well as the great political and ideological influence of large landowners like the Church. At the same time the enosis question set limits to joint action by Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot workers. The Bolshevik revolution of 1917 and the slow but real spread of capitalist economic relations were the factors that precipitated the formation of the CPC. There had already been established marxist groups in which the first communist elements were active: these were mostly artisans and employees in the commercial sector. They were particularly strong among the working class of Limassol, where there was a functioning workers’ centre, and to some extent in Famagusta. In the other urban centres their role was more limited role; and while communist cells had been established in rural areas there was little or no activity among the farmers.
Within the working class, the party had more influence among skilled than unskilled workers, as these were less vulnerable to redundancy and could find alternative employment more easily. Importance was also assigned to recruiting women, who had participated in the party's founding conference, and a women's association was formed. The party had also managed to recruit some students and in 1926 a youth section was founded. Efforts to bring Turkish Cypriots into the party succeeded only to a small extent, though sources do report a Turkish Cypriot who became a member of the party’s central committee and a few dozen others who participated in trade union and political activities. Last but not least, the party had some influence among intellectuals. Its total membership was around thirty-five in 1923, reaching 180 in the late 1920s and 365 at the time of the revolt (5).
Its founding congress was held in August 1926, where Vatiliotis played a central role having been sent by the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) to assist in the preparation of both policy and organisation. The programme adopted by the CPC attempted to rally workers and peasants of both national groups against capitalists, landowners and the Orthodox Church, while at the same time declaring its opposition to the prospect of enosis with Greece. In contrast with this demand, it supported independence from colonial bonds through the forming of a soviet workers' democracy that would be part of a Socialist Balkan Federation. The means of achieving this was to be a united front against the British which, from 1928 onwards, was to extend to the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot workers and peasants, the bourgeois MPs and the petty-bourgeois political cadres. But this met on the one hand with refusal from the Greek Cypriot right to ally itself with the communists, and on the other with very serious disagreement between right and left around the subject of enosis(6).
The national question would determine the CPC’s initial stance towards the revolt; and while party members had taken part on their own initiative, it was only after the torching of the governor's residence that the party was induced to participate officially in the actions. The reason for this was that it considered that the mobilisations were taking place within a reactionary framework under the hegemony of the Church and the Greek Cypriot bourgeoisie. It was characteristic of this stance that once the movement had started the CPC denounced it in a public statement as ‘a nationalistic, chauvinistic provocation of the Cypriot bourgeoisie. (7)
Further evolution of the situation would be required before the party’s central committee could announce on 23 October that the differences between nationalists seeking enosis with Greece and communists struggling for a Soviet democracy should not stand in the way of a united anti-imperialist front. The announcement of the withdrawal of the imperialists from the Cypriot political scene led to a reassessment of the CPC’s previous policy of abstention as implemented by local party cells throughout the popular protests. Conducting a kind of self-criticism, the central committee concluded that the previous line of non-involvement should be condemned. Neutrality had proved to be detrimental to the anti-imperialist struggle and party members would have to rectify their mistake by placing themselves at the forefront of the anti-imperialist struggles of the working masses.(8) Following this decision on 24 October, Vatyliotis as the CPC’s general secretary met with the Metropolitan and there was discussion of the formation of a single anti-colonial front. No agreement was reached, and on being sent into exile Vatyliotis made his way via to Britain to the USSR to take part in the discussions which are the central focus of this paper.
Vatyliotis had been born in 1898 in Vatyli, Cyprus. He studied agronomy at the agricultural school and for a time was employed in this capacity in the agricultural section of the Cypriot administration. In 1920 he emigrated to Alexandria in Egypt where he started work as a clerk and established contact with the local workers’ movement (9). As a result of this he was deported in 1922 and made his way to Greece. There he joined the Socialist Labour Party of Greece (SEKE), which shortly afterwards would change its name to the Communist Party of Greece (KKE). As a representative of the SEKE, he participated in the fourth world congress of the Comintern in 1922. He then spent some time in Bulgaria, and was again expelled on account of his political activism. For a while he attended classes at the school for party cadres in Moscow (KUTV), and from 1923 until the end of 1930 lived in Greece where he remained active in the SEKE and KKE. He had returned to Cyprus just prior to the CPC’s founding congress, in June 1926, and there contributed to the writing of position papers and presided as representative of the Comintern. When he next returned to Cyprus, in December 1930, it was to take over the leadership of the CPC. Following his exile to London, he was assisted by the British communist party in making his way to the USSR, and itn was thus that he was called upon by the Comintern to explain the CPC;s stance on the Cyprus insurrection. According to his friend ‘Giannis’, who was in Britain, Vatyliotis had spent two months in a sanatorium owing to a nervous breakdown. In his next letter from Rostov on 1 July 1932, he said that he was in good health and working on the daily newspaper The Communists(10). On 3 January 1934, he nevertheless died from typhoid fever in Novosibirsk, where he was on a party mission.
There is no specific evidence concerning Vatis’s political activity within the KKE. He was certainly not a member of the central committee, as suggested in Koudounaris’s Viografikon Lexikon Kyprion (11). Nevertheless, the roles he played at both the fourth world congress of the Comintern and the founding congress of the CPC demonstrate that he was an important cadre. He had also written a series of articles for Rizospastis, the KKE's newspaper, on the Cyprus issue, national questions and the internal situation in the KKE. Most telling of all, of course, was the fact that in 1930 he was sent to assume the leadership of the CPC
Arriving in Moscow after his brief stay in London, Vatis submitted the report that was asked of him on 1 February 1931. The account this provided of recent events did not differ significantly from testimonies originating from other sources. It therefore underlined the spontaneous character of the movement and concluded that the events of 21 October had triggered a general insurrection in the island and that those who participated were ‘mainly workers, urban petty bourgeois and poorer sections of the rural farming population (including Turks)’. (12) Politically, Vatis’s principal conclusion was that:
nobody could judge the Cyprus revolt (as the Greek press does in accordance with its political positioning) as a purely nationalistic revolt aimed at uniting Cyprus with Greece. The treachery of the nationalist leaders, including the ‘’leftists’’,the broadly-based participation of workers and poor rural masses (including Turks) in the revolt, the leading role of the communist party in some areas (Famagusta and Nicosia) contributed to the circumstance that the slogan ofuniting Cyprus and Greece was able to remain secondary and the economic – liberation from taxes and debts - and political demands – expulsion of the military forces of imperialism, formation of workers and rural soviets – become primary. It would also be wrong to claim that the revolt unfolded entirely in accordance with the agenda and the slogans of the communist party, but it undoubtedly impelled events in such a way as to result in a shift of control from the nationalists to the communist party.(13)
In relation to the CPC’s tactics during the revolt, Vatis admits that ‘OUR PARTY ...did not anticipate the outbreak of the rebellion....the events of 21 October took the communist party by surprise. No instructions were given to party members and workers as to how they should react during the popular mobilisations in Nicosia. Some of our comrades at their own initiative adopted a revolutionary stance....while others, not having received instructions, maintained a position of neutrality… On the day following the torching of the governmental …in the central committee…wedecided to promote the slogan of a united anti-imperialist front along with the popular masses, differentiating between them and the nationalist leaders and elites (this was a significant rectification of our previous attitude towards the nationalists).’ (14)
Vatis was asked to supplement and elaborate verbally a number of the points made in his rteport in the presence of comrades Valetsky, Panov and Petrova of the Balkan secretariat on 10 February 1932. The statement he provided is of particular interest for the narrative it provides of the CPC’s activity during the rebellion. Hitherto unpublished, it is therefore worth reproducing at length:
On the evening of 21 October 21 I was in the workers’ club where, as usual, there were about sixty workers. Around seven or eight in the evening we heard bells ringing from all the churches, sounding an alarm. I sent three comrades to find out what was happening. At the same time, some other comrades came to the club and told us that people were gathering in front of the club and that the parliamentarians who had resigned would be speaking. I issued instructions to the comrades present at the club that they should not disperse but my instructions were not followed because quite a few gradually left for the meeting. I was expecting my own people, whom I had sent, to bring me information so that I should know what to do next. They told me that at the meeting the speakers were not calling for a rebellion. By this time everyone in the club had left. Comrade S. and I judged that the meeting had concluded peacefully. So I left two comrades there and went home. That was at about nine o’clock. I didn’t go anywhere near the venue of the meeting and the streets as I went home were empty. At around eleven I heard some noise and from the window I noticed that they had withdrawn a guard from the corner. I realized then that something was going on. I told Skeleas that we had better go and find out what was happening. We got to the square and they told us that a demonstration was being held outside the city. I saw that we had left it too late. We went back to the club but there was hardly anyone there. At around eleven we went out into the streets. Demonstrations were taking place outside the city and for us it was dangerous to go there... We then went home and when other comrades came there we decided together to have a discussion about what our next moves should be. The comrades gave us details of what had happened and after that we went to get some sleep... On 22 October at 2 p.m. we summoned a meeting of the central committee with the local committee. There were twelve or thirteen people ... they accepted my view that we had to participate forcefully in the rebellion, distribute flyers with the slogans: imperialism out, withdrawal of the army, support for the republic of workers and farmers, opposition to the nationalists, an eight-hour working day, etc. We had to differentiate ourselves from the nationalists. The meeting lasted from two to six. In the evening our people still were not sufficiently mobilized. Some of them had gone out onto the streets. We did not take the initiative to call for a rally.
October 23rd. The day of the funeral for one of the people killed. We hadn’t given any instructions for participation, judging that because it was a religious funeral we would not be allowed to speak, so we decided not to speak...we once again organized a meeting at which we took a decision to upgrade our activity...On the morning of the 24th we found out that five nationalist leaders had been arrested. At eight o'clock in the morning a large crowd of people had gathered.… We decided to go together with the workers to the point where the people had gathered for delivery of a speech ... We were informed that the nationalists were calling for negotiations. When we arrived in front of the building where the nationalists had gathered, comrade Thivas and I went into the nationalist assembly, leaving the workers who had accompanied us outside. We asked them what they wanted from us and they suggested that we should clarify our attitude. In my fifteen-minute speech I explained to them what we had written in our notice, and one of the nationalists told me that they did not represent anyone and were not going to become actively involved.On the way out I told the workers who approached me that the nationalists have already capitulated, don’t want to risk anything and the only party that could provide leadership is the communist party. It was around eleven o'clock. Accompanied by the workers we went to the club and I gave a speech there.’ (15).
Commentary on Vatis’ statements
To summarise Vatis’s written and verbal testimony, he described a spontaneous insurrection that surprised everybody in which social and economic demands predominated and the slogan of enosis was secondary. The CPC had been late in becoming involved, but when it did so it played a leading role: in contrast to the supporters of enosis, who abandoned the revolt out of fear of both the momentum it was developing and the British authoritied. The CPC had proposed formation of an anti-colonial front to the supporters of enosis but this had fallen on deaf ears, and the presence of the Turkish element was a further real factor given that the demand for enosis did not predominate.
In these elementary assessments by Vatis, the one point that is entirely accurate and borne out by all other sources is that concerning the spontaneous character of the rebellion and the efforts made by the proponents of enosis to de-escalate the situation. The other points made by Vatis are extremely problematic and not corroborated by the other available sources. On the need for a common front, a party statement to this effect had indeed been issued, supposedly followed up by an attempt to implement the policy at Vatis’s meeting with representatives of the proponents of enosis on 24 October. According to Vatis’s account, the CPC proposed a joint committee of struggle which the enosis supporters did not accept. However, in a confidential document filed the next day with the British administration the local chief of police provided an entirely different picture of events: According to this account, it was the nationalists who proposed to the communists to join them and ‘declare a revolutionin order to overthrow the government’. The account continues:
Vatis and the nationalists agree on the point of overthrowing the government provided that the communists will rise carrying a red flag. The nationalists suggested that the red flag may also be carried with the Greek flag but Vatis refused believing that the Turks and Armenians will not join them when they shout support for union with Greece. Therefore Vatis proposed that they should shout as follows: ‘Down with the imperialist English government and long live the Democracy of Labourers’ and insisting on this point. They did not agree and Vatis left saying that he will carry on his programme and the meeting came to an end. (16)
On the basis of this confidential report, we might conclude that what Vatis regarded as a common front was in fact total domination of the CPC over its allies, which the latter, of coutse, could not have accepted. The possible counter-argument, that the CPC was interested in an alliance with the nationalist rank-and-file, provides no explanation for Vatis’ participation in the meeting, for even had it dissociated itself from the leadership the rank-and-file would never have agreed to march under the red flag shouting the slogans suggested by Vatis.In any case, all these moves by Vatis represented a departure from the spirit of the central committee’s decision, not to mention the Comintern’s guidelines on the colonial issue which we will shortly turn to.
As to the assertion that the demand for enosis was of secondary importance, we have already seen that the whole revolt was triggered by a speech of the Metropolitan Nicodemus proclaiming enosis with Greece. Τhe next day in Nicosia the Greek flag was raised at the head of a procession to the governor’s mansion, having been preceded by fiery speeches from the parliamentarians supporting enosis.(17) As Governor Storrs noted in his report: ‘here was a noisy demonstration with cheering, applause and continuous shouting in favour of enosis’. Shortly afterwards ‘[a] Greek flag was affixed to the roof of the building’ after its British counterpart had been taken down (18), and other Greek flags were raised on the north-eastern wing of the governor’s mansion and in the trees of the ornamental woodland. (19) At the funeral in Nicosia of Onoufrios Klirides, the first person killed in these events, ‘there were scouts, volunteers, representatives of all the political associations, carrying banners and Greek flags’. (20)
There is finally no evidence at all of any presence of the Turkish element at a mass level, irrespective of whether there may have been some individual involvement. On the other hand, there is a statement by the Turkish MP Necati during the insurrection calling upon his compatriots to obey the instructions of the government. (21) There was also coverage in the Turkish Cypriot newspaper Soz on 29 October condemning Greek ‘extremism’ and expressing sympathy for the administration and the Governor. (22). Most tellingly of all, following the failed meeting with proponents of enosis, Vatis and Skeleas had a meeting at the party's club building with the Turkish Cypriot Moustafa Moulousi. Here they discussed how a joint announcement could be issued with a view to inducing Turkish Cypriot participation in the uprising and the strikes. While Moustafa Moulousi warned against issuing such an announcement before notifying the British government, Vatis replied that an announcement pre-emptively censored by the British would be useless. On Moulousi’s rejoinder that they could collaborate if there was agreement on this proposal, Vatis in the end accepted (23).
The Comintern’s resolution
Following Vatis’ written memorandum, a draft resolution was compiled by the Comintern ‘on the role of the Communist Party of Cyprus in the October 1931 uprising and on its activities during the previous period’. This characterised as follows the duty falling on the CPC, and in particular on its leadership:
- immediate declaration and organisation of a revolutionary general strike,
- establishment of action committees with members elected by the masses and immediate proclamation of elections to the soviets to choose worker and farmer deputies from the masses, both Greeks and Turks,
- the deputies must lead the struggle and undertake organization of power at the local level
- creation of networks of communication with other movement centres and with the villages with the aim of uniting and concentrating them,
- to organise forceful struggle and resistance against the British authorities as well as the arming of the masses. In the context of this struggle, the slogans must involve: direct demands of workers (increase in wages, eight-hour working day, unemployment benefits), of poor and medium farmers (abolition of taxes and debts, expropriation of the estates of monasteries and large landowners)
Other slogans required included the expulsion of British power and the establishment by the working masses (Greek and Turkish) of the farmers’ and workers’ soviet republic of Cyprus. The verdict of the resolution was that the leadership of the CPC was not equal to this task.
On the contrary, at a time when the ordinary members of the party and its sympathisers, together with the mass of workers and the people as a whole were fighting in the front line (with dead and wounded), the party leadership, under the direction of comrade Vatis projected a picture of confusion and inertia. They were not in the vanguard. They compromised with the nationalist traitors and deserted. Deserting on that night of the rebellion in Nicosia on October 21, when members of the party along with the rebellious masses were actively participating in the attack on the government, and after that again deserting on the day of the funeral (23 October) of those killed, the party leadership isolated itself from the ordinary members and wasted half a day (22 October) compiling the text of the flyer.
With its slogans of a united front with the nationalists and establishment of an ‘action committee’, the content of the flyer had been opportunistic and untimely. Vatis had initiated negotiations with nationalist leaders on 24 October and two days later had begun to ‘prepare for strike action’ – despite the fact that the majority of workers had already spontaneously gone out on strike on 22 October. The initiative of the active workers who attempted to organise an armed struggle was consequently nipped in the bud: as the resolution put it, ‘[t]his unheard-of behaviour represented political and moral bankruptcy of the party leadership headed by comrade Vatis...’(24).
The draft resolution was discussed at the meeting of the Comintern’s Balkan secretariat held between 26 and 28 February 1932. This resolved that the draft resolution should form the basis for the final resolution to be formulated by the secretary within ten days. (25) No copy of the final resolution has yet been identified within the Comintern archives in Moscow, but there is no reason to believe that its contents would have differed materially from that of the draft resolution; and there is indeed in the same file a further text on the duties of the CPC dated 10 March 1932 which falls within the same logic as the draft resolution and in our judgement is also a Comintern resolution. (26).
The Comintern’s handling of the CPC’s negligence was apt. The party’s stance could be explained only up to a point by the rapidity with which events unfolded, and from the moment that the CPC leadership was informed of the events of 21 October it could have participated so as to attempt to influence them. The problem with the Comintern’s attitude was not that it focused on this particular point but rather that it became engaged with quite different issues, and in a contradictory way. More specifically, it assumed that it was possible to organise a general strike, create soviets, institute forms of dual power, launch an armed struggle and pose demands ranging from those with a bourgeois progressive content (e.g. the eight-hour day) to the establishment of workers’ and farmers’ soviet power. The CPC proclamation was scathingly criticized and that Vatis seen as having fundamentally erred in trying to reach an understanding with the nationalists while the revolutionary movement was unfolding with the perspective of a workers’ initiative for the organisation of armed struggle. In fact, the entire text was permeated by the view that the crisis in 1931 provided fertile soil for promoting revolutionary action but that the CPC nevertheless functioned bureaucratically, closed itself up in its offices and failed to take up the organisation of social struggles. Even when the movement did explode, party leaders avoided their share of the responsibilities and left it to the rank-and-file members to pursue the revolutionary struggle.
The Comintern’s position statement suffered from three basic weaknesses. The first was that it totally ignored the concrete political reality of inter-war Cyprus. This was basically an agricultural society, very conservative in its social attitudes, in which the church played a decisive role in political affairs and there was no tradition of workers’ mobilisation, with the communist party’s influence being confined to working-class strata in the urban centres. Though there was an accumulated discontent among the popular and middle-class social strata, it took a very big leap to conclude from this that the revolutionary defeat of British imperialism was possible. To put it somewhat differently, the Comintern leadership was seemingly afflicted by symptoms of wishful thinking, not supported by the special characteristics of the society in question, and the idea of a sort of replication of the Bolshevik revolution.
And it is precisely this perception that brings us to the second weakness with the specific influence of Comintern hierarchies on the policy of the KKE and the CPC. Tu pout it more concretely, in judging that the revolutionary current in western and central Europe was in retreat, the Comintern threw its weight behind the hypothesis of a possible successful revolution in Bulgaria.For this to be feasible, however, it was held that there had to be an alliance with the most ‘left-wing’ elements of VMRO (the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation), which was struggling to create an independent Macedonian state. In this way, despite the initial hesitations, the policy of an independent Macedonia was adopted by the Balkan secretariat of the Comintern. (27) This meant establishing a single Macedonian state in which the territories of Greek, Bulgarian and Yugoslav Macedonia would be included. This, however, was not something the KKE could easily accept given that Greek refugees from Asia Minor were already in the Greek part of Macedonia. Eventually, and after considerable Comintern pressure, the slogan for an independent Macedonia was accepted.(28)To be able to justify this, the KKE had to accept the notion that Greece was an imperialist country that had conquered foreign populations, which on the one hand meant there must be independence of the newly annexed regions of Macedonia and Thrace, and on the other required the abandonment of the objective of uniting Cyprus with Greece. (29) The KKE therefore had to adopt the perspective of independence for Cyprus, which the newly established CPC would also accept.
The third weakness has to do with contradictions more central to the line adopted by the Comintern up to 1933. With the shift in 1921 to the hypothesis of a relative stabilization of capitalism and the need to establish a united front, communist parties were committed to an alliance of the vast majority of workers against the bourgeoisie, meaning alliances with social democracy at the leadership level, but also joint action of all workers around fundamental labour demands (30). This approach was adopted at the Comintern’s third congress in 1921, and so as not to be confined exclusively to a framework of common trade union action it also included the prospect of a workers’ government, as formulated at the fourth congress in 1922. The establishment of a workers’ government, which in essence would be an alliance of communist and other left-wing parties, on the understanding that they too would fight against the domination of the bourgeoisie, involved a series of progressive political and economic measures which would pave the way for transition to the socialist revolution (31).
The rise of the fascist phenomenon was nevertheless to invalidate this orientation through the adoption of the theory of social fascism and the opportunities this supposedly provided for opportunities for direct transition to the socialist revolution. Thus social democracy, from being a potential ally of the communists, was characterised at the Comintern’s fifth congress in 1924 as being more or less fascist in character and comprising, along with fascism, one of the two faces of capitalist dictatorship. The united front as a result would have to be constructed exclusively ‘from below’, and discussions with other leaderships take place be for the sole purpose of ‘unmasking’ them. (32) The only way for the workers to prevail would be through socialist revolution under the guidance of the communist parties.
This orientation was to be maintained through the following years, and in July 1929 the tenth plenum of the Comintern executive committee (ECCI) would state that the aims of the fascists and the social fascists were the same, the only differences being in the slogans and to some extent the methods. (33) What is important for our purposes is that development of the theory of social fascism occurred more or less in parallel with the formulation of specific responsibilities falling on communist parties operating under colonialism. The relevant discussion had already started by the time of the fourth congress, where there was condemnation of the refusal of certain communist parties to ‘participate in the struggle against imperialist tyranny’ and the avoidance ‘in the name of national unity’ of open struggle around the immediate problems of the working class. The correct policy, it maintained, should have been to conclude temporary agreements with those factions of the bourgeoisie that were struggling against colonialist rule, while at the same time preserving the political autonomy of each communist party. Subsequently, at the sixth congress of the Comintern in 1928, it was resolved that in the colonies the dictatorship of the proletariat was to be regarded as the final outcome of an entire period of transformation of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, having been preceded by a process of compromise with that section of the indigenous bourgeoisie, first and foremost industrial capital, which was willing to strike a compromise with the country’s communist party.It was indeed emphasised that the underestimating the presence of a section of the bourgeoisie exercising influence over the petty bourgeoisie and farm population carried the threat of the communists becoming marginalised. (34) On the other hand, it was also accepted that some colonies could proceed directly to the building of socialism if provided with assistance by the international proletarian movement. (35)
The outcome of all this was that the notion of social-fascism, in conjunction with the line, contradictory in content, of the anti-colonialist front, frequently produced confusing effects. Since social democracy was seen as the main enemy and all alliances with it were blocked, it means that questions were raised about concluding an alliance with sections of the bourgeoisie in the colonies, and all the more so given that the prospect was promoted of avoiding such an alliance with the assistance of the international proletariat. By what criteria this choice could be made amidst the rapid developments that characterise a revolutionary situation remained unspecified.
Essentially this was all a distillation of the contradictions and problems that were faced by the international communist movement after 1917. These issues included the failure of the revolution to spread and the manifold social realities faced by communist parties in the different countries and in very different political and organisational situations. The emergence of fascism only further complicated the overall predicament, frequently leading towards erroneous options, the foremost of which was the equation of social democracy and fascism.
In the case of Cyprus, the mistake the Vatis leadership made when it delayed participation in the revolt was compounded by the International’s overestimation of the significance of the revolt’s spontaneous character, leading to the conviction that it possessed the potential to develop into a workers’ revolution. How this was to have happened in what was basically an agricultural colony, without any particular tradition of workers’ struggles, and with the CPC exercising only a limited influence, can be explained by only the existence of the more generally contradictory framework that was directing the activities of the Comintern. Although the stance of the Vatis leadership can be reproached for its temporising, its empiricism and its lack of intellectual clarity at crucial moments, it does not thereby cease to represent a distillation of the previous contradictions in the policies of the Third International: in other words it was an authentic child of its time.
- Mentioned in Andros Pavlidis, Istoria tis nisou Kyprou, Vol. 4, Apo to 1571 sto 1964, Lefkosia: Filokypros, 1993, p297.
- Alexis Rappas, Cyprus in the 1930s. British Colonial Rule and the Roots of the Cyprus Conflict, London- New York: Tauris, 2014, pp1-2.
- G.S, Georghallides, , Cyprus and the Governorship of Sir Roland Stors: The cause of the 1931 Crisis. Nicosia: Cyprus Research Centre, 1985, p697.
- Christodoulos Galatopoulos. Stis floges tou Kyverneiou, Lefkosia:Ekdoseis Epifaneiou, 2011, p159.
- See Yiannos Katsourides, The history of Communist Party in Cyprus, London: IB Tauris, 2014, pp115-20 and Spyros Sakellaropoulos, O Kypriakos Koinonikos Schimatismos, ,Athina: Topos, 2017, p186.
- Yiannos Katsouridis, To kommatiko sistima stin Kypro 1878- 1931, Ph’d Thesis, Panepistimio Kyprou, 2009, pp395-6.
- It is mentioned in Fifis Ioannou “To Kommounistiko Komma tis Kyprou” in Nikos Peristianis (ed.), Fifis Ioannou, I Aristera kai to Kypriako Provlima, Lefkosia: Institute of Mass Communications Media Intercollege, 2004, p6.
- See Istoriki Egkyklopaideia tis Kyprou, (edited P. Papadimitris), Lefkosia, Vol. 6, 1979-80, pp74-5.
- Aristeidis Koudounaris, Biografiko Lexiko ton Kyprion, Lefkosia, 1995, p6.
- G.S Georghallides, “The Cyprus revolt and the British deportation policy October 1931- December 1932” in Cypriot Studies 57-58, 1993-1994, p98.
- See Koudounaris, , Biografiko, op cit, p. 36.
- ΚΟΜΙΝΤΕΡΝ, RGASPI, Moskva, Fond 495, opis 69, delo 151, pp38-9.
- KΟΜΙΝΤΕΡΝ, op cit, delo 151, p40.
- ΚΟΜΙΝΤΕΡΝ, op cit, delo 151, pp41-2.
- ΚΟΜΙΝΤΕΡΝ, op cit, delo 151, pp53-6.
- The report by the chief of police is quoted in Petros Stylianou, To kinima tou Oktovri tou 1931 stin Kypro, Ph’d Thesis, Lefkosia, 1984, pp313-5.
- Tarachai en Kypro kat’ Octovrion 1931. Lefki Vivlos katatatetheisa ypo toy epi ton Apoikion Ypourgou 1932, Lefkosia, 1932, p11.
- Tarachai en Kypro, op cit, p12.
- Stylianou, To kinima, op cit, p71.
- Tarachai en Kypro, op cit, p21. For similar incidents in other cities see Heinrich Richter, Istoria tis Kyprou (1878-1949), Athina: Estia, 2007, p. 497, Tarachai en Kypro, op cit, p32, pp88-9.
- See Altay Nevzat, Nationalism Amongst the Turks of Cyprus: The first Wave, University of ULU, 2005, p408.
- See Eleni Bouleti, I aggliki poitiki apenanti stin tourkokypriaki koinotita 1878- 1950, Ph’d Thesis, Athina: Panteion University, 2008, p425
- Stylianou, To kinima, op cit, pp313-5.
- ΚΟΜΙΝΤΕΡΝ, RGASPI , Moskva, Fond 495, opis 69, delo 46, pp22-4.
- ΚΟΜΙΝΤΕΡΝ, op cit, delo 46 , p27. Those present at the meeting were Kun, Valetsky, Sakun, Vujovic, Gregor, Stepanov, Kerber, Makarjanen, Sortori, Gajek, Marimanov, Isakov, Petrovsky, Filippovich, Schwarz, Lesich, Markin, Beech, Brown, Sudakov, Panov, Stefansky, Marija, Ivanyuk, Petrova, Marek, Weis, Iskrov, Kolarov Nakanovich, Werner, Kurt, Blagoeva
- ΚΟΜΙΝΤΕΡΝ, RGASPI , Moskva, Fond 495, opis 69, delo 151, pp118-9.
- See in relation to this Alexandros Dangas and Giorgos Leontiadis, I Komintern kai to Makedoniko Zitima, Thessaloniki: Epikentro, 2008, p3 .
- On this see George Leontiadis, I Kommounistiki Diethnis kai to Makedoniko Zitima, https://www.scribd.com/document/58663898 , undated, accessed on 10/3/2018.
- On these questions, see Spyros Sakellaropoulos, “Elliniki Aristera kai Kypriako 1918-1931, in Istorika 68, 2018, pp139-58.
- See Βλ. Institute of Marxism – Leninism, Outline History of the Communist International, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1971, p141.
- See Institute of Marxism – Leninism, Outline, op cit, p141.
- Fernando Claudin, I krisi toy Pagkosmiou Kommounistikou kinimatos, Vol. 2. Athina: Grammata, 1981, pp146-7.
- C.L.R James, World Revolution 1917-1936, The Rise and the Fall of the Communist International, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2017, p311; Claudin, I krisi, op cit, p150.
- Institute of Marxism – Leninism, Outline, op cit, pp285-6.
- Institute of Marxism – Leninism, Outline, op cit, pp277- 8.