The Spike Golden Jubilee Number May 1949
The Spectre of the University Red
The Spectre of the University Red
There is something exhilarating in talking about isms.
The Spike, editorial 1911.
We write up our College motto' Sapientia magis auro desideranda' and having made this homage to the spirit of education we turn to profit making . . . Business is the centre around which life moves, commerce has come to set the ideals for most of our people; buying price, selling price, profits are the new Trinity.
Prof. T. A. Hunter, 1918.
(We are led to believe) that the place in the minds of the public has become a hotbed of sedition, a forcing house for disloyalty and disaffection, and a crawling mass of corruption.
J. C. Beaglehole, 1923.
Canon James, 1933.
A spectre is haunting New Zealand—the spectre of the University Red. He is unpatriotic and addicted to foreign philosophies; his attitude to political and social problems is irresponsible and immature; he is defeatist and unwilling to defend his country against aggression.
Manifesto of the V.U.C Students, 1941.
Teen Agers and Bobby Soxers Worship Tsar Stalin I.
Watersiders and students have long shared a common pillory. The watersider is a mischievous animal. The student reads books and is popularly believed to question not only the Scriptures but the Evening Post; to doubt not only God but Murphy. Yet the Red Flag has never been broken above Victoria College, nor does the Internationale yet ring round the lecture rooms. It would, indeed, be incorrect to say that the radicals have ever been more than a leaven in the mass at Victoria. But it would not be a mistake to say that Victoria has a tradition which is not shared by the other colleges—a tradition of tolerance, of fair play and of human decency. That tradition existed in 1916 when the whole college resisted the removal of Professor von Zedlitz—something which no New Zealander should be able to recall without blushing, and which was only consummated by an Act of Parliament. That tradition is being carried on today by a Students' Association Executive, which is the only organisation in New Zealand to have protested against legislation of the last session reducing naturalised New Zealanders to the level of second class citizens.
A willingness to hear other points of view has always been a Victoria characteristic. The students were as anxious to hear Mr H. E. Holland in 1916 on the fundamentals of Socialism, during a period when those who now compose His Majesty's Government were regarded as enemies of the family of order and of civilisation itself, as they willingly extend an ear today to the current limbs of Satan, Mr Toby Hill and Mr Bruce Skilton.
Again, in 1924, when arrangements were being made at a Special General Meeting of the Debating Society to meet the Oxford University team a motion was put to the familiar packed meeting that ' the V.U.C. speakers shall speak only on that side of the motion which does not involve advocating, speaking in favour of, or commenting on any matter of principle savouring of Bolshevism, socialism, extreme labour or the like, or involving the making of or upholding of any disloyal or seditious acts, utterances or sentiments." It was lost by 73 votes to 113. So too the students of 1947 decisively rejected an attempt to disaffiliate the Socialist Club following its renowned demonstration of support for the Atlantic Charter.page 47
The University, as Dr Beaglehole has put it, is not an abstraction; it is an institution, and institutions are part of the social system. And, as Marx says the ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class, any challenge to those ideas is a challenge to the rule of the class. Businessmen accustomed to owning the bodies of their employees are surprised and hurt when they find that they cannot always possess all their minds. As a Mr Roundhill warned the Wellington Christian Businessmen's Club last year with refreshing candour: "The University Colleges are the breeding ground for ideas that are so revolutionary that they can affect the businessman's leisure and pocket." Perhaps this is rather an exaggeration, Victoria may have affected the businessman's complacency when in 1919 the Debating Society divided equally on the motion of Messrs Davidson and W. A. Sheat that "the Russian Revolution, being the opportunity for free development of the true genius of Russian intervention in Russian affairs, is unjustifiable"; but history presents no record of any successful inroads on the pockets of the local Chamber of Commerce members for the endowment of the most poorly endowed University College in the English-speaking world.
Radicalism of all kinds at Victoria has been mostly the concern of small groups, the first of which would seem to be the Heretics Club, founded in 1912 "to promote free and open discussion on problems of religion, philosophy and art." An omnibus organisation, it considered the burning topics of the day which, looking through back issues of The Spike, were apparently eugenics, hell fire, theosophy, Chinese political philosophy and the legitimacy of marriage with one's deceased wife's sister. A war casualty, its successor was the Free Discussions Club which, beginning in 1916 with addresses on Nietzsche's views of morality, the historicity of Jesus, and Prison Reform, was sceptically receiving in 1923 the horrid revelations of Mr A. P. Harper that he had discovered a revolutionary movement in England. The objects of the revolutionaries according to Mr Harper (the N.Z. Welfare League) were the abolition of all existing constitutions, of private ownership and of religion. The results to date had been fairly satisfactory, and included murders of prominent men, sabotage and terrorism, strikes, class warfare, industrial unrest and mystical association (sic). The plan of action was first to attack the British Empire as the bulwark of Capitalism. The methods of the revolutionaries were very subtle and included a vague subversive penetration by propagandists into Universities and Training Colleges, and the establishment of Socialist Sunday schools. Mr Harper assured this audience that he had the proofs in his office. One of these subtle propagandists was Mr Peter Fraser of the Social Democratic Party who assured the Debating Society in 1918 that "wars and everything else are due to economic facts."
In 1934, the Free Discussion Club received the honour of condemnation by the Professorial Board and disaffiliation by the Students' Association Executive. Its publication, hounded from the grounds, continued to be sold outside the gates of the College.
There has always been a section of the students which has never been very happy about soldiering. In 1911 The Spike editorially questioned the super patriotism of the Senate in recommending that £800 be spent on the teaching of military science when other faculties were starved. And again in 1919 it was opposed to "being taught by Sir James Allen's sergeant-majors."In that year also, Messrs Morice and Miller moved at a Special General Meeting of the Association "that the proposed extension of military training in N.Z. involving a period of four months in a military training camp will prove detrimental to the highest interests of the country," a motion which was, however, lost. About the same time, the Debating Society resolved that "it regarded with grave apprehension the activities of the Navy League in State Schools." In 1930 the same body affirmed that the celebration of Anzac Day should be discontinued. The formation of an active Anti-War Movement followed four years later, while in 1939 there was a marked lack of enthusiasm for the formation of a Territorial Unit. A Society for the Discussion of Peace, War, and Civil Liberties in 1941 marked the disquiet some of the students felt in the period of the "phony war." On 3rd August last the Special General Meeting of the Association carried by more than a two to one majority a resolution, moved by two returned servicemen, of strong disapproval of any proposal for the conscription of youth for military purposes, a resolution which was fortified by the subsequent procession of the Socialist Club.
During the years of sycophancy and national humiliation from 1936 onwards, when all around was dark the light was at least kept burning in Salamanca Road. The student mind (in so far as it was represented by the conscious elements who found expression in the Debating Society and in Salient) refused to condone the murder of the Spanish Republic as it refused to swallow Chamberlain. Nor was Herr Ramm to find Victoria College a particularly happy atmosphere for the propagation of the political theory of the Master Race. It should never be forgotten that, with the exception of the Communist Press, Salient alone among N.Z. journals came out against Munich. Even in the Extravaganzas reaction found no comfort. I remember the '39 show where Nev. is represented as a travelling salesman. First he draws from his bag for Hit. a large checkered cloth. He then offers a rarer and much more valuable material, the Union Jack. At this point a trampling in the Dress Circle marked the exit from the Opera House of a well-known Conservative member of the staff, frothing.page 48
Ron Meek's point was made forcibly as it had to be—yet Meek was right.
Later too, as the Manifesto of the Victoria College Students adopted by the Association in 1941 says:
"There were voices raised at this college to denounce the Reynaud Government when its savage and anti-liberal campaign was paving the way for the triumph of the men of Vichy and the surrender to the Nazis. Some of us expressed doubts as to the democratic principles of Baron von Mannerheim ' the champion of Finnish liberty/ in Hitler's phrase, who now marches with the Nazis. Some refused to join in abuse of the great nation whose armies are now, as Mr Churchill put it, 'holding the bridgeheads of civilisation.' For all of these things we were attacked and for none of them we apologise. For on these matters the ' University Reds' were right and their enemies wrong."
It will have been noticed that most of the radical groupings of the students over the years were hardly more than discussion circles. Though many of their members were to play prominent parts in progressive movements outside the College—such as the late Gordon Watson (who was to become Secretary of the Communist Party of N.Z.)—it was not till 1946, with the formation of the Socialist Club, that it can be said that the student progressive movement achieved any maturity and came, at last, to the conclusion that its task was not merely to interpret the world but to change it.
The preamble to the Socialist Club Constitution says that: "We, the members of the Socialist Club of Victoria University College, recognising the need for unified action on the part of the progressive elements in this student body, hereby constitute ourselves as an organisation for the purpose of uniting all politically conscious students in their advance to Socialism." As its objects make plain, its keynote is organisation and action. It aims to further political activity of a Socialist character among students, to bring students into contact with the Labour Movement and the working class, and to promote solidarity among all progressive youth organisations in New Zealand and abroad.
The Socialist Club has protested publicly against the militarisation of science in the Universities, against Red baiting, against the refusal to allow Maoris to go with the All Blacks, against attempts to crush civil liberties. It takes the credit for drawing up the bursary scheme which has now been endorsed by N.Z. U.S.A. It pioneered the N.Z. Student Labour Federation which links Labour and Radical Clubs in all the Colleges. It is affiliated with the Australian Student Labour Federation.
The Socialist Club has the distinction of being one of the first organisations in the world to protest, by its procession in 1947, against the attempt of the Dutch junkers to crush the Indonesian Republic and, for the first time in the history of the N.Z. University, an action by students rang round the world. I have seen accounts of the demonstration in journals circulating from Kamkatchka to the Straits of Magellan. In the face of opposition by sixty police and by the press, and in spite of the prosecution of eight of the participants, the students, in defending the right of citizens to move in procession through the streets—a cherished right of the British nation, in the words of the Magistrate—won the respect of the leading trade unions in the country who bore, together with individuals from North Cape to the Bluff, the expenses of the defence. And, for the first time, Victoria College received a fan mail from the people who really matter.
Henry Ford once said that you could have one of his cars in any colour as long as it was black. There are those who are willing to allow the students to hold any kind of political view so long as it is conservative. In the Socialist Club they have met their match. And there can be no doubt that, despite whatever training in the ideological principles of "Western Civilisation" (as though indeed civilisation was bounded by latitudes and longitudes), the Chancellor may persuade the Senate to initiate in the University, Socialism will grow and capture the imagination of the students. It will do so because it is true.
James Winchesterpage break
Sir Thomas Easterfield, K.B.E.
First Professor of Physics and Chemistry
Emeritus Professor of Chemistry
Professor R.C. Maclaurin
First Professor of Mathematics
Emeritus Professor of Modern Languages
"A far-seeing and skilled architect of university education, an administrator to tact and discretion, a humanist of broad and tolerant sympathies."
—E. Beaglehole, The University and the Community.
Both have contributed loyally to College Activities 1899-1949
Professor Hugh Mackenzie
First Professor of English
Professor J. Rankine Brown
First Professor of Classics
Greetings from St. Andrews University, Scotland. See page 67.