Friday, August 07, 2015

New Zealand Socialists

The first socialist groups in New Zealand were formed in the late eighteen-nineties. These were primarily propaganda organisations, seeking to educate their members and the public at large by means of lectures, public meetings, and journals. A political party, the New Zealand Socialist Party, was formed in July 1901. In 1903, a group led by Robert Hogg gained control of the Socialist Party and introduced a policy of “Revolution, not Reform.” In 1907–08 the growing industrial unrest, which led to the first strikes in defiance of the Arbitration Court, brought with it a revival of the Socialist Party. New branches were formed among the West Coast miners, at Huntly, Waihi, and elsewhere. At the party's first national congress, in April 1908, a membership of 3,000 was claimed. The party never resolved the conflict between the moderates who were anxious to work for immediate reforms through Parliament, local bodies, and trade unions, and the so-called “impossibilists” who would accept nothing short of full socialism. Many socialist and labour leaders criticised the First World War as an imperialist war and strongly opposed conscription. New Zealand workers, they argued, had no quarrel with German workers.

Many individuals contributed to making the socialist case. In 1919 Moses Baritz was invited by comrades to give a series of lectures in New Zealand. On landing in that country he was met by detectives who shadowed him during his brief stay. He became a torment to New Zealand labour leaders and was soon arbitrarily deported. Finding it difficult to enter another country he spent some time on the sea to the annoyance of the shipping company.

Tom Jackson who died in 1970 joined the NZ Marxian Association in 1918 when he was working as a miner of the west coast of South Island. He later joined the SPNZ after it was formed in the 1930s and remained a staunch Socialist devoting his efforts, as comrades put it, "to help hasten the abolition of the profit system and establish a system fit for human beings".

Another early member was Edward “Ted” Littler, a Lancashire collier, emigrated to New Zealand where he first had contact with the Party during the first world war. Party members working in the Merchant Navy frequently held meetings in New Zealand and it was at these meetings that he first heard the case for Socialism. Whilst there he met Moses Baritz and helped him at his propaganda meetings. Later Ted Littler returned to England and for some years worked in the pits around Doncaster.

Peter Furey, 1913-1997, joined the party in 1945. In World War 2 Peter was a conscientious objector going to what he referred to as the concentration camp at Ohakune, a very bleak and cold place in winter and later to one of Auckland's dungeons at  Mount Eden prison.  One trick they tried was to take all the bedding and blankets from the single person tiny huts, but placing the King's uniform with warm flannel underwear, greatcoat, etc. on a chair. However not one of them cracked. Not only Socialists but Quakers, pacifists and other religious people offered this. After the war they were not allowed to vote for ten years.

Ernie Higdon joined the SPGB as a member of the Camden Branch in the late 1940s. A cable jointer by trade he spent some time working in Rhodesia before emigrating with his wife and children to NZ in 1965. He worked for the Auckland Electric Power Board and was involved in many disputes, local and national as a member of the Electrical Workers' Union. Ernie stood for parliament on several occasions, and as the SPNZ candidate in the 1972 election, he campaigned against the Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon. Ernie was a formidable debater—a quality recognised by Muldoon who refused to enter into debate with him during that campaign. A stalwart socialist Ernie was the driving force in the SPNZ, speaking in Albert Park on Sundays and writing for its monthly journal as well as a steady flow of letters to the editor of the NZ Herald. Over two hundred people attended the funeral—a testimony to a socialist who walked through life with his principles intact.

Bob Malone was a worker and a socialist who understood the anti-social nature of the society in which we live and strived to change it with a worldwide civilised system, in which production will be for use and not for sale. Bob had a useful and productive life which is more than can be said of the residents of Buckingham Palace, the Kremlin or the White House. Bob was for many years a valued member of the WSP (NZ), and even when he ceased his membership of the WSP (NZ) in the 1990s, he still supported the World Socialist Movement to the very end. His enthusiasm and innovative ideas were welcome at the many Annual Conferences of the WSP (NZ). Bob originally came from Glasgow and was a member of Glasgow Branch before emigrating to New Zealand in 1965. Bob in the latter part of his life taught Glass Technology at a Wellington college.

We would be amiss if we did not mention that a founder member of the Socialist Party after resigning made his way to New Zealand. EJB Allen in 1912 emigrated to New Zealand where he continued his syndicalist activity. For a while he was president of the General Labourers Union in Auckland. When the war came he supported it, including conscription. This destroyed forever his reputation as any sort of revolutionary. After the war he ended up as a supporter of the NZ Labour Party and later of the leftwing breakaway party set up by ex-Labour MP John A. Lee for whose journal he wrote articles. He also wrote and spoke for the NZ Rationalist Association. He died in 1945.

This is not by no means an exhaustive list of the socialists who have placed their stamp on socialism in New Zealand but merely a sample of the sort of comrade who played their own individual part to bring socialism that little bit nearer. 

The party’s website 


No comments: