From the September 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard
“Futile bloody slaughter” said a man on a bus in the nineteen-thirties; and the point of the recollection is not the succinctness of his phrase but the fact that one can’t remember, now, which war he meant – Abyssinia, China, Spain, another outbreak in Arabia or India, or what. The capitalist world as it was, is now, and as long as it remains shall be. Eleven months ago, the Middle East; now, Cyprus. It was the scene of violent struggles in the ‘fifties, and last month war broke out again there with the major nations circling round.
Before the 1914-18 war Cyprus was Turkish territory, as it had been for 340 years, but occupied and administered by Britain; and Britain was, by treaty, to support Turkey against Russia. The war made Russia an ally and Turkey an enemy. The British government annexed Cyprus and offered to give it to Greece on condition of the latter’s helping in the war. It was declined and in 1925 Cyprus formally became what it had been in effect since 1878, a British colony.
The Greek nationalist agitation for enosis (i.e. union) broke out in 1931. It was suspended during the war, when Cypriot troops were part of the Allied armies, and resumed not long after it. The Atlantic Charter of 1941, a set of wartime humbug-platitudes, laid down the principle of self-determination for “all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live”, but in 1947 the British government ruled out any change of status for Cyprus. In a plebiscite in 1950 the Cypriots – of whom Greeks form four-fifths – voted overwhelmingly for union with Greece.
From 1954, with Archbishop Makarios as leader of the Greek population, the guerrilla organization EOKA waged war on British rule. A military governor was appointed by the British government, and in 1956 Makarios was deported. Besides the EOKA campaign, Turkish Cypriot nationalists pressed claims for a partition of the island and fought the Greeks. The “solution” of 1960 was a constitution in which Greeks and Turks shared in government – no enosis, no partition; Greece and Turkey stationed token forces there; and Britain retained sovereign rights in certain areas for military purposes. Near-war again in 1963, and shells and bloodshed in 1974.
Why is Cyprus important to Britain and other world powers? Its economy, apart from some minerals and a lot of cheap wine, is insignificant. But in the Middle Ages Cyprus was a vital entrepôt for commerce with the east, and every trading state established stations and bought trading rights there. In the 19th and 20th centuries it has remained a vital strategic point. Disraeli in 1878 wanted it as a link in a scheme to defend British interests in India; Eden in 1956 declared that the possession of a British base in Cyprus was necessary to protect British and West European oil supplies.
Changes in sovereignty and political alignment in the Middle East have made the need still more pressing. Part of the Greek argument after Greece joined NATO in 1951 was that if Cyprus were joined to Greece, Britain and her allies could still have bases there. The instability of Greek government has made that an unreliable prospect (indeed, the case for enosis once collapsed in the face of a threatened Communist takeover in Greece). Instead, the British government in the ‘fifties made it a policy to involve Turkey and, according to The Guardian of 15th August, is said by Greece to have assisted the Turks again now.
The policies of the other powers are likewise equivocal. While the usual pious sentiments about morality and peace are uttered, the American representative Dr. Kissinger’s reported line is that “the ‘geo-strategic’ position of Turkey makes it an inevitable political first choice”; the Russian government was said to be tacitly siding with Turkey but likely to transfer support to Greece. Not much about anyone’s “national honour” in that.
Nor can such an absurd consideration figure in the politics of capitalism. All wars are economic ones. Ultimately they are over markets, the life-blood of each nation’s capitalism. They are rarely directly so, today – the last major war fought openly for world markets was the 1914-18 one; their common sources are the trade-routes and strategic points which are keys to the nations’ economic interests. And the treaties and balances are never maintained because the pursuit of those interests must disturb them continually. Capitalism makes war hang over us all, all the time.
While Turkey and Greece fight for advantages and pickings from the others’ need for Cyprus, their peasants and workers remain poverty-stricken. Futile bloody slaughter, indeed: capitalism lives, and the workers die. Stop it. Stop your nationalism, and your support for this wretched system – quickly!