Cooperation with the Nationalists?

In February 1949, at a conference for district commissioners (British administrators who represented the colonial government as residents of Cyprus’s six districts), Turnbull identified ‘a hard core of fanatic communists within A.K.E.L.’ as ‘our real enemies’. He directed the commissioners to ‘use your administrative powers to hamper and thwart the purposes of communism’, by employing ‘against the communists the methods they have so long employed, with success, against us’.57

More surprising, however, was Turnbull’s plan to seek a truce with the Greek-Cypriot nationalists, as they shared a common enemy. He admitted that the Cyprus government had deliberately ‘turned a blind eye to the seditious aspect of the advocacy of enosis’ and would ‘continue to do so’, to avoid fighting ‘a war on two fronts’. He suggested that this passive toleration of Greek-Cypriot nationalists could be more effective if transformed into a united front of sorts against AKEL. With the church’s ‘anti-communist nature’, Turnbull proposed that the administration should seek ‘an implicit truce between Government and the Church on the question of enosis on the very important condition that the Church and the Right generally refrained from actions subversive of Government’s authority’. That way, government officials (and nationalists) could commit their full attention and resources against AKEL.58

In fact, SIME, which was an MI5 organization involved with the coordination of intelligence in the Middle East, had considered cooperation with the Greek-Cypriot nationalists ten months previously. A SIME report suggested that the nationalists, ‘who at present talk loudly but act little against AKEL, might be encouraged to lend positive assistance to the police’. The ‘perverse and suspicious’ nationalists, however, ‘might oppose it on the grounds that similar action would next be taken against their own party’. Nevertheless, SIME cautioned that:

so long as no action is taken to suppress the [AKEL] party or ban its activities the majority of the rank and file will support the leaders in their policy and will probably follow them to extremes; those might finally culminate in the execution of a plan which AKEL is reported already to have prepared for taking over the island by coup d’etat in the event of war.59

The Colonial Office had mixed feelings about Turnbull’s plan to cooperate with the nationalists. Bennett considered it to be tactically ‘coherent and effective’ but ‘strategically negative; it leads no-where in the long term’. He continued:

I believe that in the long run you can only beat ideas by better ideas, and not by political tactics and police methods. So long as the Government of Cyprus is an alien bureaucracy, however benevolent, AKEL will have a long start in enlisting the ideals and loyalties of worth-while Cypriots. I believe we shall only really destroy AKEL by rendering it unnecessary; and how can that happen till we begin to practice in Cyprus what the West is always preaching against the Iron Curtain—democracy? Of course it means taking risks; but that is what democracy is about.60

In this minute, Bennett summarized Labour’s new approach strategy in the imperial Cold War. British aims were to ‘destroy’ the communists and to enlist ‘the ideals and loyalties of worth-while’ (by which he meant non-extremist) colonial subjects to the British Empire; the key British weapon (i.e. the ‘better idea’ than communism) was ‘democracy’, although defined as the slow process of introducing internal self-government as a means of training colonized people towards independence within the Commonwealth. However, that Bennett (and others) had to reassert this argument for a positive strategy repeatedly three years after Labour took power reflected its limited effectiveness, not necessarily in principle but certainly in practice.

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