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Yiannos Katsourides, The History of the Communist Party in Cyprus: Colonialism, Class and the Cypriot Left. London: I.B. Tauris. 2014. Pp. xiv + 266. Cloth £58.

This is a welcome and useful addition to the existing bibliography on the Cypriot Left, and especially its formative years during 1920–1940. The book does seem to settle some issues (for example, the support for independence), and it tries to explore the sociological development of the parallel society of the Left from that period.

The book chapters are organized in two parts: Chapters 1–3 review the economic and political context of early twentieth-century Cyprus, and Chapters 4–7 focus on the emergence and the development in an embryonic form of the two strategies adopted by the leftist people’s movement, namely, the development of a parallel society and the efforts at integration in, and reform of, the political sphere. The book comes at a time when the history and sociological dimensions of the Cypriot communist/leftist movement are of increasing academic interest. Thus, the discussion of the movement has moved beyond the early parallel bibliographies between enemies of the party and party documents and/or memoirs. In this new context, there are open issues both theoretically (the peculiarities of the party and of its endurance) and empirically (the actual position of the party on the anticolonial goal–enosis [ένωσις, annexation by Greece] or independence).

The most useful and significant chapters appear in the second part, where the author presents and analyzes data. The references to party documents and memoirs are significant. The book also advances an interesting, even if unconfirmed, hypothesis: in Cyprus, the trade union movement had been organized by the Party, much along Lenin’s model. The hypothesis, however, remains just that, a hypothesis, and needs more work in order to become a scholarly argument. Katsourides makes historical references to other trade unions that preceded or even worked concurrently with the communists, but the hypothesis needs to be really tested in the 1940s, when the mass party of the Left emerged as a party of social movements.

The issue of support for independence by the Communist Party of Cyprus (CPC) is indicative of the empirical significance of the book and the questions that it leaves [End Page 189] open to interpretation. Even though it is clear from the available data that the party engaged in everyday agitation by raising the issue of independence (a radical and pioneering issue/tactic at the time, when the hegemonic nationalist ideology in the Greek Cypriot [G/C] community advocated enosis), the issue has been obscured at times. The debate arose in part by using a reference given by ex-leader Ploutis Servas in his book, Κυπριακό—Ευθύνες (1980), which linked the support for enosis to adherence of the local party to the Communist International’s (Comintern) position on the Balkan Federation, but also by the timid way in which other ex-leaders who moved away or were expelled from the party in 1952 presented the issue of the focus on independence as premature. The premature leftist argument was the legitimizing discourse of the leadership associated with the shift to enosis in the context of seeking anticolonial national-popular unity in the 1940s. Thus, when the new mass party of the Left was formed in 1941, the movement shifted away from its support for independence in the 1920–1930s, on the premise that expanding its influence on the masses implied lowering its ideological positions on religion and enosis. Ironically, several of those leaders left or were expelled from the party when, in the period 1947–1952, the party switched positions (from self-determination—enosis [1941–1946] to self-government—enosis [1947–1948), to enosis and only enosis [1949–1958]), revealing its ambivalence as a movement. The early leadership which supported the shift to enosis, disagreed with the total identification with enosis later in the 1940s, while the new leadership of 1949, which also used the rhetoric of popular unity to justify its shift to enosis and only enosis, reverted back to independence after a few years, as the anticolonial struggles had reached their end. These switches are significant theoretically because the Left has subsequently been codified (both in politics and academically) as staunchly pro-independence and, in broader terms, as Cyprocentric. Thus, the question arises of which social and cultural forces brought forward such a pioneering position, which cannot be accounted for or understood in the context of the hegemonic historiographies of the two communities.

The book examines the available data, and it is clear that the CPC and its activists held a pro-independence position consistently throughout the 1920s and 1930s. The only passing reference to the Balkan Federation was in the 1926 Congress of the CPC. Within this context, we must also note another significant empirical documentation (found in party texts) in the book: while the relations of the CPC with the Comintern and the Soviet Union were rather distant in the 1920s, the Cypriot party apparently had connections with both the Greek and the British communist parties. The link to the two parties has been invoked symbolically but also in relation to their respective political advice to AKEL (the mass party organized by the CPC) in the late 1940s: the Greek communist party advised enosis, while the British Party had advised self-government as a way towards decolonization. The fact that there were two diverging strategies advised—as well as the ambiguity even within the international movement itself as to the status of the Cypriot anticolonial movement—lends credence to the argument that eventually it was the Cypriots who decided the issue by adapting theory to their experienced reality. This is a significant dimension pointing to local rather than imported roots and ideological inspiration of the party. Interpretively, though, the author seems to adopt the defensive line describing the support for independence as a form of “extreme leftism … a mistaken evaluation of [End Page 190] the real desires of the Greeks of Cyprus” (107). One could question, of course, the theoretical and empirical foundation of the terms “mistaken” and “real desires.” The defensive position argues that the reason for the change was that the support for independence was premature—an extremism which should have considered the desires of the majority at that historical moment. The other position, by contrast, claims that independence was the historically appropriate option and that those early communists constituted a real historical vanguard.

The author acknowledges that support for independence was strategically necessary to the party for two reasons: first, to engender ideological autonomy away from the hegemonic ideology of enosis, which was used by the political representatives of the bourgeoisie and the Church; and, second, independence (as an alternative to enosis) was the only feasible postcolonial goal that could unite the two communities and appeal to the Turkish Cypriots (T/C). Yet the book avoids addressing the issue of how the claim for independence was vindicated a few decades later. Had the author addressed this issue, he would have been able to interrogate the claim suggested by the analysis of the (leftist) author-historian Kostas Graikos (1983, 1994) that given the approaching period of decolonization, the slogan of independence, located in the class consciousness of the people’s movement, was the historically determined outcome. Thus, the interpretation of the roots of the radicalism of the party-movement (local, plebeian traditions versus external, penetrating influence) and the future impact of that radicalism is left open. To argue, for example, that the CPC was not successful in becoming a mass party because of its radicalism may be a true memory of those who led the subsequent mass movements of the 1940s. But an atheist antinationalist party that received 14% to 16% in local electoral contests in the 1920s may actually be seen as relatively and unexpectedly successful.

The weak part of this book is the integration of its theoretical framework. The analysis seems to employ selectively terms and concepts from different theoretical traditions. This is not necessarily unproductive, but for such a selective tactic to succeed, it needs to engage with a process of categorical differentiation of the employed concepts and to show the coherence of their linking. The overall argument focuses on the development of the organizational structure of the CPC and its integration in the existing political sphere. The author uses the cleavage model (developed by Lipset and Rokkan 1967), while he also refers to Robert Michels’s (1915) analysis when he tries to engage with Lenin’s party model through a reading of both. Michels’s thesis is that mass movements end inevitably in forms of internal oligarchic rule through bureaucratization, while Lenin’s thesis, on the contrary, sees the organizational structure of the party as a temporary form, yet still comparatively democratic, with the aim of democratizing society so radically that it would even lead to the withering away of the state itself (1917). Given the difference in Lenin and Michels, one would expect some discussion and differentiation of concepts rather than a small, inconclusive note (130). The terminology employed by Katsourides is indicative: at times the relationship of the party to the trade union movement is referred to as “guidance” (143), alluding to Lenin, while at other moments, terms like “tutelage” (180) signify references to the rival managerial-elite tradition of Michels.

Since the author also engages with a Marxist framework (4), his analysis of the transition to modernity-capitalism in the colonial setting of Cyprus would have [End Page 191] benefited from utilizing some comparative references, at least, from the relevant international bibliography. The book adopts, rather than discusses, a binary contrast between capitalist development and pre-capitalist formations described in rather political terms as Ottoman/Turkish absolutism. The lack of analysis of the fluidities and complexities of transition (even from the Ottoman to the modern period) is evident in the discussion on the formation of the modern working class. In this context, the central thesis of Rolandos Katsiaounis’s (1996) seminal work on the late nineteenth century, that laboring people were less situated in a position of dependence in the late nineteenth century than before or after, is not discussed.

There is also an uneasy balance between documentation and interpretation in the presentation of the two communities. Part of the problem here is a gap in the analysis of the cultural background of political or class movements. There is a need of references to existing bibliography on two related issues: the cultural transition from religious (Christian-Muslim) to national (Greek-Turkish) collective identities in the process of the development of the ideology of enosis; and, on the other hand, the transformation of plebeian culture into class consciousness of the communist movement. One can discern a certain Greek/Cypriot bias in the analysis—although there is an effort to trace Turkish Cypriot (T/C) participation in the movement, even while there is a lack of T/C translated references on the issue (Ahmet An 2004). But overall the book appears at times to be ignoring the T/C perspective, and yet, to its credit, it does present the available data. The discussion of the British conspiracy of divide and rule is indicative of both the useful documentation and of the G/C perspective: the author adopts it, yet he refers to a document which explains that separate voting was in part necessary for Muslim representation, since the Christian majority may have voted only for Christians—a concern which was rather practical administratively, though more essential for the T/C community than conspiratorial (50).

Despite its theoretical shortcomings, this is a significant contribution to the bibliography on the Cypriot Left and the social history of Cyprus in general—especially in relation to party data and to documented memoirs of activists, as well as in its effort to address the emerging theoretical issues in the bibliography on the issue of independence. It is hoped that the author will elaborate more on the theoretical and interpretive dimensions of this work in his future publications. Developing an integrated theoretical framework from different analytic traditions may be risky, if the concepts are not accounted for, but it could be very promising also in its success.

Andreas Panayiotou
Frederick University, Cyprus
Andreas Panayiotou

Andreas Panayiotou is Assistant Professor in the Department of Journalism at Frederick University Cyprus. His latest publication is “Border Dialectics: Cypriot Social and Historical Movements in a World Systemic Context” in Beyond a Divided Cyprus: A State and Society in Transformation, edited by Nicos Trimikliniotis and Umut Bozkurt (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), and his research interests include the investigation of the cultural and social processes underlying the historical construction of collective identities and the analysis of media dynamics and discourses.


An, Ahmet. 2004. «Η δύσκολη πορεία των τουρκοκυπρίων αριστερών» [The difficult path of the Turkish-Cypriot left]. Εξ Υπαρχής 47–50: 46–47; 31–32; 30–31; 26–27.
Graikos, Kostas (Γραικός, Κώστας). 1983. Κυπριακή ιστορία [Cypriot history]. Nicosia: privately published. [End Page 192]
———. 1994. Τα Οκτωβριανά και το Κ.Κ.Κ [The October 1931 uprising and the Communist Party of Cyprus]. Nicosia: privately published.
Katsiaounis, Rolandos. 1996. Labour, Society and Politics in Cyprus During the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century. Nicosia: Cyprus Research Centre.
Lenin, Vladimir. [1917] 1932. State and Revolution. New York: International Publishers.
Lipset, Seymour M., and Stein Rokkan,, eds. 1967. Party Systems and Voter Alignments: Cross-National Perspectives. New York: Free Press.
Michels, Robert. [1915] 1962. Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchic Tendencies of Modern Democracy. New York: Free Press.
Servas, Ploutis (Σέρβας, Πλουτής). 1980. Κυπριακό–Ευθύνες [The Cyprus problem: Accountabilities]. Vol. 1. Athens: Grammi.