From as early as 1871 when James McPherson was corresponding with the International Working Men's Association, Marxist ideas have been known in New Zealand. The first Marxian organisation was the Petone Marxian Club whose first meeting was held on Trafalgar Day, 21 October 1912. Amongst its aims was a resolution to meet every Monday at 8 p.m. until the day of the Revolution. The New Zealand Marxian Association was founded in 1919. From this and other Marxian clubs, the New Zealand Communist Party was formed in 1921 by those who wished to participate actively in the leadership of the workers. The first secretary was E. J. Dyer, and other early members were A. Galbraith, S. Scott, A. McLagan, and F. P. Walsh. The party issued a manifesto based on the 1903 Bolshevik one, which emphasised the socialist revolution, the overthrow of the power of the capitalists, and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
From the first, the party endeavoured to become affiliated with the Labour Party but was rejected because it would not agree to the Labour Party's constitution. Party members became increasingly active in the trade unions, and during the Second World War many important unions had Communist leaders. From the conclusion of the war, however, the party lost ground in the unions.
While the party was powerful in the trade unions and the Labour Government was passing socialist legislation, the Communists did not contest parliamentary elections but exhorted party members to support the Government. The Labour Party did not proceed along the road to complete socialism as far or as fast as the Communists wished, and as the Communist Party was losing ground in the unions, its members began to contest parliamentary elections. The party candidates have never been close to winning a seat but their numbers have steadily grown from three candidates in the 1946 elections to 23 at the 1963 elections where 5,167 votes were cast for them, being 0·26 per cent of the total votes cast.
The party's long-term programme remains much the same as that outlined in its 1921 manifesto. But its immediate programme has varied with the exigencies of the times. During the 1930s, for instance, the party took a lead in supporting the workers in the struggles of the unemployment crises. At the 1949 elections the party wished to repeal compulsory military training, introduce equal pay, abolish income tax up to a certain wage, and increase it considerably over that figure. It also advocated Samoan self-government and supported the Soviet proposals for banning atomic warfare. By 1961 the party was definitely critical of the Labour Party, alleging that it protected business interests and was failing to support the workers' policy. Other points in its programme included support of a peace policy, the banning of nuclear arms, the recognition of the People's Republic of China, the withdrawal of New Zealand from SEATO, and the development of trade with the socialist world.
The first periodical issued by the party was the Workers' Vanguard published in April 1926. This was soon followed by the Red Worker (1926?–November 1933?) and the Workers' Weekly (3 October 1931 – 30 June 1939). The People's Voice was established on 7 July 1939 but it was suspended in 1940 and replaced by In Print until 1943 when it was revived on 14 July and continues as the party's popular weekly. The party's monthly publication commenced as In Print in December 1943 and then changed its title to New Zealand Labour Review in August 1945. It continued as this until May 1960 when it changed to its present title, New Zealand Communist Review.
The New Zealand Communist Party is supported mainly by trade unionists and a small following in the universities. But because of its rather narrow and dogmatic views and its uncritical acceptance of the policies of Communist-controlled countries, together with the favourable economic and social conditions prevailing in New Zealand, the party has never had a large following.
by John Sidney Gully, M.A., DIP.N.Z.L.S., Assistant Chief Librarian, General Assembly Library, Wellington.
- New War or New Order, Scott, S. (1948)
- New Zealand Communists Present Their Case, Scott, S. (1949)
- Political Science, March 1953, “How Marxism Came to New Zealand”, Roth, H.