The pioneers and the first struggles
In the middle of August 1926 the Founding Congress of the Communist Party of Cyprus (CPC) took place. It was the culmination of a process, which began during the first years of the 1920s decade, through the appearance in Cyprus of socialist ideology and the first communist cells. With the foundation of the CPC the working class of Cyprus, the peasants, progressive intelligencia and generally the working people acquired their own autonomous party which appeared of the historical landscape as an independent political and social force.
The CPC was born out of the new economic and social conditions which began to be formed in Cyprus with the development of capitalism in the first quarter of the 20th century. The appearance and development of the working class was the most important element in this development. The working class lived and worked in terrible conditions under the most brutal exploitation. The wiping out of the poor peasantry continuously strengthened its ranks. The tyranny of British colonialism supplemented the oppression of the local ruling class, loan merchants and landowners. The historical need of class consciousness, organization and struggle of the working people for their rights and demands was born. This need was fulfilled by the foundation of the CPC.
The Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia, its influence and impact of the international workers and revolutionary movement was the second important factor which gave a push for the creation of the CPC. The impact of the revolution was also felt in Cyprus. The ideals of socialism for a society of free persons, free from every kind of oppression and exploitation and based on equality, democracy and social justice moved and mobilized the most conscious workers, employees, peasants, craftsmen and progressive intellectuals of the time. The seed fell on fertile land. Deep roots were planted that did not wait for long to grow.
The first duty which the CPC put was the organization of working people not only in their political party but also in their own labour and workers organizations. Its for this reason exactly that one of the first and main goals of the CPC was the organization of workers, peasants but also of handicraftsmen. On the initiatives of communists in the decades of 1920 and 1930 the first class conscious workers unions were founded and the first steps to organizing peasants and craftsmen took place in their own organizations. Led by communists the first social-economic demands were set and the first class and social struggles were carried out.
Cyprus was a British colony. As a consequence the CPC set as its aim not only the struggle against exploitation but also the liberation of our country from British colonial yoke. With the foundation of the CPC for the first time the working people took part as an autonomous political identity in the anti-colonial struggle. For the first time an organized party based on principles, a programme and having concrete goals appeared on the scene of anti-colonial struggle and on the more general political landscape in Cyprus. The CPC worked to involve the broad strata of the people, that is those immediately concerned, in the struggle against colonialism. It projected the idea and fought for the creation of a broad united front of struggle of all the anti-colonial forces of our people including also the Turkish Cypriots.
The CPC, by implementing creatively the Leninist principle that communists should struggle for the promotion of their positions even within the most reactionary institutions of the bourgeois political-social system, participated in election struggles of the time for the election of members to the so-called Legislative Council and Local Councils. Bearing in mind the anti-democratic electoral law the results of the elections for the CPC were not paltry. In the 1920 decade however the influence of the CPC was still limited.
The Communist Party from its first steps came face to face with the brutal reaction of English colonialism and local establishment. English colonialism saw the CPC as the most consistent anti-imperialist force. That force which would constitute the most serious threat to its rule over Cyprus. The ruling class of the time on the other hand and generally all of the conservative forces of Cypriot society justly viewed the CPC as that force which would question and fight their own class interests and unaccountability, that would awaken the oppressed and downtrodden, that would question their ideological and political monopolization and would fight for the emancipation of the people.
Local reaction and the colonialists came together in a holy anti-communist alliance which used every means at its disposal aiming at the wiping out of the communist movement and to nullify its influence on the workers movement of the country. Physical and mental terrorism was carried out, persecution, bannings, imprisonment, exile and enforced confinement all took place. Communists were being thrown out of their jobs in order to frighten them and so that they could not influence other working people. They and their Party were victims of ridicule, slandering and distortion. Every means was used without however weakening the belief of those pioneer communists.
In October 1931 a spontaneous uprising of the Cypriot people against the British broke out. During the uprising the CPC tried to implement the position for a united anti-colonial front. It attempted to co-ordinate its activities with the right nationalist camp, but at the same time it tried to promote common action also with the Turkish Cypriot community. After the violent repression of the uprising, during which Giorgios Filis a member of the Communist Youth was killed, the CPC faced the all-round attack of the colonialists who believed that the time had come for the decisive wiping out of the communist and workers movement in Cyprus. The CPC and its organisations were banned. The leaders of the party Charalambos Vatiliotis (Vatis) and Costas Christodoulides (Skeleas) were exiled abroad. Hundreds of cadres and members of the CPC were thrown in prison, tortured brutally or exiled in isolated villages. Among them was also the militant poet Tefkros Anthias. The publications of the Party were banned as was every book of progressive content.
It was a big blow however the British did not manage to destroy the CPC. On the contrary during the period of Palmerocracy the CPC was the only organized political force which continued the anti-colonial struggle, in contrast to many of the so-called national-minded leaders of the Right who compromised and cooperated with the British. In the second half of the 1930 decade the CPC reorganized and not fearing the fierce dictatorial regime of Palmerocracy took the initiative to reorganize the workers movement. The communists were at the forefront of the workers and strike struggles of the time.
A bright page of internationalism of the CPCs period was the participation of Cypriot communists in the Spanish Civil War. Cypriot immigrant communists in Britain and elsewhere, voluntarily joined the International Brigades and fought for the freedom against fascist attack. Over 60 Cypriots carried out in practice their internationalist and anti-fascist duty. Amongst them was also the future General Secretary of AKEL Ezekias Papaioannou. On the fields of battle of the Spanish Civil War about 20 Cypriot anti-fascist fighters of freedom and democracy left their last breath.
The pioneer Cypriot communists were people who had spiritual strength and resoluteness. They were characterized by a deep and unshakeable conviction in the working class and socialist ideology. They were completely dedicated to the struggle they fought and courageously confronted all the difficulties and hardships they faced. They held high the honoured flags of the Party even in the conditions of the most backward reaction, local and foreign.
In about two decades of life and activity the CPC offered invaluable services to the working people and generally to the Cypriot people.
- introduced to Cyprus the ideas and ideology of socialism.
- laid down the foundations for the class-based workers movement connecting it from the beginning with the Marxist-Leninist outlook.
- projected the policy of worker and peasant alliance and the alliance of working people with small middle strata on the basis of common interests against capital.
- introduced the policy of a broad anti-colonialist anti-imperialist front which reaches out to all anti-colonialist forces, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. The visions of the CPC for social and political alliances are up till today the basis of the policies of alliances which AKEL follows.
- fought for the emancipation of consciousness from nationalism, reactionary ideas and backwardness.
- formed strong foundations on which AKEL and the broader movement of the Left in Cyprus built on.