The Home Front Volume I
CHAPTER 2 — Impact of War
Impact of War
FACING war, the Labour party was in a very difficult position. Traditionally, Labour was anti-conscription and anti-militarist, viewing war as part of the imperialist struggle for markets, a force that cut clean across its aim of improving workers’ conditions and standards of living. Apart from the obvious suffering and sorrow, war meant loss of civil liberties and working harder for less, while destroying fellow-workers likewise driven to arms by the forces of capital. Labour leaders had been in prison for refusing to support the 1914–18 war. Only a few, however, were absolute pacifists— rather they had opposed that particular war and its abuses, such as conscription coupled with uncontrolled prices. During the 1920s Labour had opposed the League of Nations, viewing it as a victors’ club and saying that the world needed instead a league of peoples. This attitude changed gradually as the League’s useful technical work emerged, and when Germany joined in 1926 and Russia in 1934 it could no longer be considered a victors’ club. New Zealand Labour followed the British movement in its hopes of world disarmament by agreement, and in 1930 it supported the Forbes government in suspending compulsory military training, a measure prompted both by economy and sentiment—the will to peace being strengthened by the obvious folly of spending money on armaments when the immediate enemies were unemployment and poverty. By 1931–2 New Zealand’s armed forces were small indeed: there were only two cruisers and while Britain spent £1 8s 5d a head on land and air defence, and Australia 5s 6d, New Zealand spent only 2s 10d on all these services, its air force being almost non-existent.1
World public distaste for war preparations was at its height in 1933–4, but already British defence authorities, with eyes on Germany and Japan, were moving slowly into rearmament. Ripples of this reached New Zealand, and in 1934 the defence vote was almost furtively increased, Labour opposing it with the more urgent need to fight poverty. But Labour, growing towards the responsibilities of office, increasingly stressed collective security as the effective means page 23 of defending democracy and peace—H. E. Holland2 asked Forbes (who declined) to urge League action over Manchuria in 1931.3 Labour in office strongly upheld sanctions against Italy and was critical of concessions to Spanish rebels. In 1936 it carried forward the programme of increasing armaments, and took to the League proposals that went far beyond British ideas for making enforcement of the Covenant automatic and powerful, while enlarging and deepening support by consulting the peoples of the world through plebiscites and broadcasts of League proceedings. It also proposed surveys of economic problems as a preliminary to rectifying international grievances. Against the charge of inconsistency in showing no will to abolish armed forces, Labour declared that it had never held that a nation should not be ready to defend itself, but that economic aggression was precedent to and the main cause of military aggression, and could be removed by economic adjustments.4
At the Commonwealth Conference in 1937 Savage spoke out his faith, saying that some grievous mistakes had been made, to which New Zealand had sometimes but not always consented, urging that peace could best be preserved not by secret diplomacy but by the Commonwealth laying down the lines that it would pursue in future; that as disputes between nations had always an economic basis, a concerted international effort was needed to remove these economic injustices, and that meanwhile the Covenant should be made real— there would be no final end to the miseries of war until those nations that loved peace made it abundantly clear that they were determined to maintain it, if necessary by force.5
The Labour party, then, even in such idealists as Savage and Jordan, had come increasingly to the idea of force as necessary to restrain evil. More robustly, Peter Fraser could say to the Labour Conference in 1937, ‘If we truly desire to see Labour Democracy continue in our country we ought to be ready to defend it, even die for it. Do you think we would get any mercy from Mussolini or Hitler?’6 In September 1937 the budget, totalling nearly £34½ million, allowed £15,000 to the League, and £1,600,000 to defence7—an increase of £585,000 on the previous year. Nash remarked that these items were inextricably linked: effective application of the League’s principles alone could bring permanent peace, but until then defence page 24 was necessary. The military and naval services were being modestly increased and re-organised and an air force begun, but with no idea of facing a major invasion. Commonwealth defence experts thought that the most likely attack would be from a raiding ship with aircraft and able to land about 200 men on a hit-and-run mission. Gradually emphasis was shifting from reliance on internationalism to territorial defence measures, though the economic foundations of peace and the value of education and propaganda were still pillars of Labour faith.
The Standard, during 1936–8, had many solid, hard-thinking editorials giving the background of treaties and national movements since 1919, stressing that armament makers throve on fear; that economic grievances, the basic cause of war, could be worked out at a world economic conference; that the League should be made a reality with force behind it. It was not actually said that New Zealanders should be in this League force; it was always implicit that before fairness-plus-firmness even dictators would be reasonable.
In April 1937 trade unions and district Trades and Labour councils combined to form the Federation of Labour, replacing the Alliance of Labour. The industrial section of the Labour movement now had a more vigorous and coherent central organisation which in foreign affairs was more leftist than was the rest of the movement. At its first annual conference, in April 1938, the Federation passed this general resolution on foreign policy:
This Conference… directs the attention of the whole Labour Movement to the terrible threat to world peace by Hitler, Mussolini and Japanese Military-Fascism. The danger behoves the working-class to more firmly unite its ranks, strengthen its organizations, sharpen its vigilance and generate greater activity in the struggle against Fascism and war.
We consider that the policy of the Chamberlain Government in retreating before the Fascist black-mailers, instead of averting the drive to war, helps to promote aggression and is leading the British Empire into war.
The cause of world peace today depends upon the checking of Fascist aggression in Central Europe, Spain and China. Therefore we urge the Labour Government to insist that the British Empire will (a) support France and the Soviet Union in guaranteeing the independence and security of Czechoslovakia, (b) lift the embargo on arms to the Spanish Government and insist on the immediate withdrawal of the Fascist interventionists’ forces in Spain, (c) organize collective action to bring to an end Japanese aggression in China.page 25
Also we call on the trade union movement to improve in every way its support for the Spanish Government and to strengthen the boycott of Japanese goods.
Further, this conference denounces the suggestion in certain quarters for the reintroduction of compulsory military training, which is but the prelude to a demand for conscription for overseas services in the event of an imperialist war. Having in mind the experiences of the war of 1914–18, when the people of New Zealand were subjected to what was virtually a military dictatorship, we urge the Labour Government to take steps to repeal all legislation which provides for conscription for overseas service for imperialist purposes.
Finally, we direct the National Council of the Federation to give greater attention to the danger to world peace, to the issuance of propaganda against war and Fascism and the developing of opposition to war in the working class movement.8
It was a large, impossible order, a putting-together, without compromise, of irreconcilable policies—insistence that the growing danger to peace and the working class be curbed, without any modification of the traditional stand against conscription and ‘imperialist’ war. The government was to insist that aggression be checked, but not by New Zealand workers—for plainly at the time the number likely to volunteer would not have caused a dictator to bat an eyelid. It was an unhappy conflict, one which was shared by the Labour movement in Britain, and which was to remain with them well into the war. It is not insignificant that this resolution was moved by a Communist and published in full by the Workers’ Weekly (22 April 1938) but not in the Standard. A Standard article, after remarking that in Europe the dictators were now more firmly in the saddle than ever and probably other countries besides Austria would soon be under Fascist domination, neatly turned the point homeward: ‘It is not enough to talk of democracy or to be anxious of its fate in Europe, we must be careful to preserve Government by the people and for the people here in New Zealand.’9 In Germany a strong working-class movement had been overcome by Fascism; New Zealand workers must take care Fascism did not gain ground here. The election was only seven months away.
The National party, with its sense of close adherence to Britain, had felt the impropriety of New Zealand’s occasional divergences from Britain at the League of Nations. Its members, with more page 26 experience of office, were more accustomed to the idea of the inevitability of war and not at all committed to any theory of nonparticipation. Some were not afraid to say, even in 1936, that if New Zealand subscribed to collective security it should give support not only with words but with a complete expeditionary force.10 They expected quite early that the League of Nations would fail and they wanted more defence. They were reluctant to see Labour spend on public works and social services money which could be used for that purpose.
The New Zealand Returned Soldiers’ Association was specially concerned with defence and felt that its members’ knowledge of the last war, their sufferings and their dead companions entitled them to respectful hearing. Obviously they were not pacifists, and they could reasonably ask other men to face what they had faced 25 years before. Though a non-political body, their views on defence coincided with those of the National party: they felt that New Zealand was not ready to do her fair share in Commonwealth defence, and that compulsory training in the Territorials was a first essential.
Late in 1936 the sense of inadequate defence led some people with strong RSA and Territorial interests or belonging to such organisations as the Navy League (all of whom the Labour party speedily identified with the Nationalists) to form the Defence League,11 aiming to educate public opinion towards increased defence measures and to encourage young men into military, naval, and air force training. It also wanted the government to organise services, such as hospitals, transport and food supplies, to meet a possible national emergency. The League claimed that its intention was to assist not hinder the government, and that it was a non-party organisation, on a democratic and national basis. On 15 October 1936 a deputation visited the Defence Minister who politely welcomed its assurances of co-operation, reminded it that the government was responsible for defence and was working ‘quietly but thoroughly’, and did not think there was any need for scares.12
Labour rank and file was much more sensitive. ‘More than ever eternal vigilance is the price of popular government and liberty’, wrote a correspondent in the Standard of 9 September 1936, alarmed at the proposed formation by business and professional men of a military propagandist league; it would be nothing new for such a league to turn into a defence force, complete with shirts and salutes. The workers must scrutinise closely the aims, objects, personnel and page 27 sponsors of proposed leagues. ‘Europe today proves that patriotism is the refuge for greater scoundrels and the cloak for more bestial brutality than ever before.’
Though the Standard continued its warning against the Defence League as the possible germ of a fascist force, the League was favoured by the press in general, which was consistently critical of the government and friendly to its opponents. Another sign of Labour distrust was a remit from the Easter conference of 1937 which, though not naming the League, clearly referred to it: ‘That the Government be urged to disband and prevent the formation of armed forces not directly under the control of the Government, to prevent the wearing of party uniforms, and to legislate to ensure that the manufacture of arms and and munitions is under Government control.’13 During 1938, with concern for defence becoming more general, the League’s activity increased. At Wellington on 24 March a meeting of about 800 urged that besides increased Army strength all resources should be organised for defence. Suggested measures included a militia force of middle-aged citizens, organisations of civilians so that in a national crisis there would be as little confusion as possible, and instruction about gas decontamination and gas masks. The principal speaker, Hon W. Perry MLC,14 spoke of current negotiations in Britain to relax conditions of labour so that more work could be put into armaments; it was no argument to lessen the Labour movement’s distrust.15
Progress in New Zealand’s rearmament was described by Jones,16 the Defence Minister, on 18 May 1938 at Dargaville in a speech widely published in the press and as a pamphlet. He spoke of reorganising and increasing the naval division, creating an air force and making improvements in the Territorial forces which aimed to train leaders ready for a sudden expansion if needed. A peacetime strength of 9000 was thought sufficient, and Jones admitted that there were then but 7400, of whom only 41 per cent had attended camp that year. He appealed to fit, alert young men to sacrifice some of their leisure, and to employers to give leave for service. The Defence League approved; but the next day Auckland papers published a manifesto signed by four Territorial colonels who broke soldierly silence page 28 in a sharp criticism of the Territorial position, declaring the present numbers, organisation and training quite inadequate, due to lack of support from successive governments and from the public.
These statements brought defence into prominence for some weeks, and bodies such as a Farmers’ Union Conference urged a more vigorous defence policy with universal military training.17 The Defence League offered to bring in the 1600 needed Territorials and proposed a citizens’ militia of men over Territorial age. To all this the government replied that it was doing a great deal more than the Nationalists had done in the early 1930s, that its measures were adequate for any attacks anticipated by Imperial experts, that it was spending money and getting good value for it; that many of these criticisms were political, a stick with which to hammer the government. But on 2 June 1938 the Prime Minister, remarking that ‘No one can say what is going to happen when the nation has its back to the wall, but, whatever is necessary, when it comes to compulsion, we will not begin with human flesh and blood’,18 obliquely made the first suggestion that a Labour government might find conscription necessary, a suggestion that he and others were to repeat with increasing significance. Delicately Savage began to accustom himself and his party to an inevitable change that went clean against Labour principles and tradition. Meanwhile, in July, as a practical encouragement to service, Territorial pay was raised by 3s a day, plus camp allowances of 5s a day—the first rise since 1911.
Early in its election campaign for November 1938, while still acknowledging the ideal of the League of Nations, the National party urged that a strongly defended British Empire was the greatest factor in world peace, that in foreign policy New Zealand must stand wholeheartedly with Britain—Jordan’s assertions of difference were deplored19—while land, sea and air forces should be expanded rapidly to contribute fairly to Empire defence and world peace. The armed force would be voluntary, but in war the resources of the country, both men and women, would be mobilised; no one would be allowed to exploit his fellow citizens.20
Countering this, Labour’s manifesto on 24 September had explained that it was increasing defence expenditure—£600,000 in page 29 1932, £1 million in 1935, more than £3 million in 1938–9.21 It was improving and co-ordinating the three Services. In foreign policy it claimed belief in collective security through the League, Commonwealth co-operation and more defence. Neither party wished to risk popularity by stressing war and defence; it was politically wise to keep to familiar, blunted phrases.
During 1939 as threats multiplied, feeling again grew that not enough men were enlisting in the Territorials, especially the more mature who might supply leadership. The government uneasily juggled with its distaste for militarism, with defence needs, and with rebuttal of political opponents. The Defence League, since November 1938, had urged three months’ compulsory military training for 18-year-olds, followed by four years in the Territorials. The Chamber of Commerce considered this view in May22 and, together with manufacturers and employers, pressed it (plus universal emergency service) upon the government late in August.23 Even a few Labour members with military backgrounds, notably J. A. Lee,24 W. J. Lyon25 and W. E. Barnard,26 advocated increased recruiting. Labour’s Easter Conference both re-affirmed its opposition to conscription and turned down a motion to suppress the Defence League—the Defence Minister saying that the League merely represented Labour’s political opponents, defeated last year, and it was better to have them working openly than underground. Lee asked, ‘Are we to say there is to be no free speech for these retired and liverish colonels who want to see everyone doing the goose-step when there is no war?’27 The Prime Minister repeated that no one could tell what a nation would do when backed to the wall, but conscription would not begin with flesh and blood.
In the second half of April 1939 a Pacific Defence Conference was held in Wellington. It had its origins in repeated requests by New Zealand for discussions between Britain, Australia and New Zealand on the strategic importance of the Pacific should trouble page 30 there coincide with a European war.28 It was made clear that help from overseas, even of equipment, could not be quickly obtained, and New Zealand’s defences must be sharply increased. Savage was finally convinced that immediate strengthening of land forces was needed. This he proclaimed on 22 May, having in the preceding weeks fumbled reluctantly towards it. In April he still wanted an international conference, hated the idea of conscription, and was sure that every man would be ready to serve in an emergency;29 on 25 April he suddenly spoke of a home defence force of 50 000 men of up to 50 years old, independent of overseas sources for arms. This was closely involved with his belief in New Zealanders’ eagerness to defend their Labour-governed country, but it gave rise to a report that the government was ordering 60 000 uniforms and should have done so earlier when it would have improved the wool sales.30 This Savage called an attempt to discredit the government both with the wool growers and the anti-militarists; he was thinking of a citizen army in plain clothes, ‘not goose-stepping… in uniform and spending hundreds of thousands a year.’31 The goose-stepping reference offended the Territorials, reported the Dominion of 6 May; poor Savage complained that everything was being turned to party propaganda.32 Political absurdities attended New Zealand’s approach to war.
Besides the Defence League there were in May 1939 a few extra-governmental movements to augment the home forces. An RSA National Guard was proposed at New Plymouth33 and a Veterans’ Brigade at Auckland.34 Some trade unionists made their own suggestions. The Easter Labour Party Conference had asked the government to co-operate ‘with the Industrial Labour Movement in building up a Democratic Defence Force.’35 The Auckland Trades Council in May proposed a company of 200 trade unionists officered by men with whom they normally worked, which would, said their adviser W. J. Lyon, assist co-ordination and ésprit de corps.36 The leftist Carpenters Union paper The Borer in May urged the recruiting of trade unionists prepared to defend both their country and their progressive institutions, to fight enemies at home and abroad.page 31
The Standard of 11 May strongly deprecated attempts ‘by a section of the Press and certain organisations to create a feeling of panic’ about defence, and Savage declared that private armies were not wanted, that the bogey of invasion had been turned into a political weapon against the government. The Defence Minister politely vetoed all separate organisations, saying that their spirit was appreciated, but defence must be under government control and those prepared to join such organisations would readily enlist in the Territorial forces.37
In May a recruiting drive began; on the 22nd Savage, in a special broadcast, said that while he did not believe general war to be inevitable and had no secret information of a crisis, the international situation was bad and all, however reluctantly, must face reality. Strength and vigilance were the conditions of survival. If war came to Britain it came to New Zealand. He asked for volunteers, first to the regular Army, then for 6000 more Territorials to make them up to 16 000; for 280 to the specially trained coast defences, and finally for all able-bodied men of 20–55 years to register in a National Military Reserve, from which 5000 experienced men would be selected as Territorial reserves.38 To avoid confusion he asked the Defence League to withdraw its enrolment cards. He stressed that training was for home defence, defence of living standards and social security; explained how the Air Force in particular had improved in Labour’s time, and still declared that international discussions would be of more use before a new war than after it. The Defence League welcomed the speech, and withdrew its cards. The Opposition expressed relief and qualified approval, still preferring universal training to volunteers.39 So did the press in general. The Dominion on 27 May gave the views of 17 assorted people on the defence proposals, several suggesting that conscription would be necessary.
Territorial enlistment was brisk and the 16 000 were secured early in August,40 but for the Military Reserve it went much more slowly. The anxieties of the Opposition and the RSA were renewed, the latter’s annual conference in June urging ‘compulsory universal national service’.41 After Parliament opened in June the Opposition vigorously criticised defence inadequacy and wanted universal military training for home service, while some members introduced what was to be one of the repeated themes in the next few years: that money should be diverted from public works and social services to page 32 defence—national security before social security.42 The Farmers’ Union, a body usually closely associated with the National party, in July approved the government’s defence efforts, deprecated criticising it for inadequate preparations, saying that the people themselves were to blame, and strongly urged compulsory military training.43 In its qualified approval, the Farmers’ Union at this stage was close to the Defence League, acknowledging advances but demanding more.
The National party, then, in the three years before the war urged increased defence as a need transcending politics, but urged it in the terms of party warfare. The RSA and the Defence League, in advocating compulsory military training, stood with the National party. Labour was sensitive and resentful about these attacks, and suspicious of their motive. Party politics dogged and clogged every defence move.
Immediately war was declared towards midnight on Sunday 3 September 193944 all major sections of the community voiced support of the government to help Britain and fight the Nazis. Many different streams of feeling and tradition could unite in this. For instance, a Labour party caucus replying to British Labour greetings predicted the inevitable ‘triumph of justice, democracy and socialism’;45 the National caucus resolved ‘This is the hour to remember the slogan which fired the patriotism of the men and women of this country twenty-five years ago—“To the last man and the last shilling”’;46 Adam Hamilton declared ‘Party politics must be laid aside so that our people may be united in their determination and effort to live up to the high traditions established in the past.’47 The Federation of Labour promised to keep production as high as possible, stressed that Nazis were the enemies of trade unionism and of the best sections of the German people and called all workers, including those of Germany, to make common cause in the fight for human justice, liberty and international brotherhood.48 The churches sonorously proclaimed loyalty to the Throne, co-operation with the State, and the brotherhood of man.
A great many local bodies, trade associations, sports and other groups passed resolutions and wrote to the government of their page 33 unswerving loyalty to the Crown, and keen desire to co-operate fully with the government in defence of the Commonwealth. Such declarations came, for instance, from the NZRSA,49 the Associated Chambers of Commerce, which most pressingly offered to assist in framing regulations affecting commerce and industry,50 the Wellington branch of the National Council of Women,51 the New Zealand Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs,52 the New Zealand Motor Trade Federation,53 the Wellington Manufacturers Association,54 the Municipal Association of New Zealand,55 the Canterbury Progress League,56 the Christchurch City Council,57 the New Zealand Bowling Association58 and the New Zealand Amateur Swimming Association.59 Fortunately for the government officers concerned, many local sports bodies did not express their loyalty individually but asked their New Zealand associations to frame suitable resolutions: thus the rugby players of Otago, hotly followed by those of Canterbury, on 4 September telegraphed to their New Zealand Union proposing a united resolution.60 Some took the situation very seriously: the cricketers of Wellington and Otago delayed planning their season as their young men might be defending the country instead of playing cricket,61 while the New Zealand Baseball Council declared that though competitions would be carried on where possible, players of military age should offer their services in this dark hour.62
In a few aspects, war actually began. Recruiting for the National Military Reserve, begun in May for service in New Zealand, increased rapidly, with nearly 7000 offering in the first four days, making a total of 25 444 by 6 September, some of whom were soon called for guarding vital points, coast-watching and fortress duty.63 Enlistment for the overseas force opened on 12 September to an equally enthusiastic response. Public Works carpenters and private contractors swung into action, building camps at Trentham, Burnham and Ngaruawahia. Some eager people who, remembering 1914–18, at page 34 once began to raise patriotic funds, were checked and chilled by the government which promised instead a comprehensive organisation for money-gathering. Petrol was rationed for a few weeks; prices were frozen; day-to-day life changed not at all. For most people there was nothing immediate to do.
With some people, self interest balanced fervour and they began at once to hoard food. Anticipating shortages arising from import restrictions plus war conditions, they bought tea, sugar and flour in panic quantities. The grocers, unable by regulation to exceed their normal wholesale supplies, were obliged to ration their customers. Four pounds of sugar per person per time was fairly general and in Wellington, for instance, tea was limited to one pound and flour to seven pounds.64 This embarrassed grocers, for obviously it was the more worthwhile customers who could afford such outlay, nor did it avoid multiple buying by the determined ones; country people, used to 56lb bags of sugar, were bewildered when offered 4lb a week. The flour rush lasted only a few days. The quantities of tea and sugar entering New Zealand were not diminished, rather increased, and by mid-November the panic had subsided. Tinned fruit and fish were also bought up by those who could afford them, while in drapers’ shops the belief that reels of cotton would be scarce made the demand so strong that they were scarce indeed.65 It was all small scale, but the private and petty greed contrasted with public professions of loyalty and co-operation.
After the first moments of acceptance when all parties stood bareheaded before the great issue, the war seemed far away and local differences re-assumed their sharp outlines. On 12–13 September the Emergency Regulations Bill which gave the government very wide powers to legislate by orders-in-council, was passed without opposition, J. G. Coates66 saying ‘All of us dread the idea of a Government taking omnibus powers to do exactly what it likes, but the people of this country must realise that their very existence may depend on the unification of effort.’67 Fraser soon warned that the government would advance some finance measures on which he would not expect the Opposition to stifle its criticism: ‘Nobody should be page 35 expected to sink his conscientious opinions even at a time like this.’68 Hamilton, as he himself later explained, had privately besought Fraser to avoid contentious legislation; this he held would not seriously embarrass the government and would be a very real contribution towards public and sectional unity.69
Here it is necessary to remember the background. The National party was alarmed by what the government had already done and feared more for the future. Labour, coming to power in 1935 pledged to relieve unemployment, had done so largely by putting thousands of men on public works—hydro-electricity, irrigation, and, conspicuously, road-making. It was not pick-and-shovel relief but fully-paid work, often from large camps which included family housing, and using a great deal of heavy equipment imported directly by the government. This, plus increased imports resulting from increased spending power, bit so deeply into New Zealand’s balance of trade funds in London that the government was obliged to restrict imports at the end of 1938. Nash went to England to renew accumulated loans totalling more than £17 million due for repayment in 1940. He found the financial authorities so hostile to his government’s ‘unsound’ experimental policies that they at first refused to convert the loan (which would have bankrupted the New Zealand government), then consented to do so on very hard terms. In July 1939 the loan was raised: more than £1 million was to be repaid on 1 January 1940, and the remaining £16 million carried on at 3½ per cent, with £2 million to be repaid in 1940–1 and £3½ million in each of the four following years.70 Restrictions checking the import of British goods were frowned on, and the New Zealand government should not promote industries in conflict with British interests.71 Nash learned a lesson he never forgot: ever after he watched over New Zealand’s sterling balance with a protective care which caused him to restrain early wartime impulses to give produce and money to Britain.
Meanwhile it was necessary to keep imports down, and as local industry could not rapidly be built up without importing equipment, shortages were inevitable. These were soon to be swallowed up in the larger shortages of the war, but during the first year the complaint was often made that, but for pre-war import restrictions imposed by a spendthrift government, various goods would still have been plentiful. While the restrictions favoured manufacturers, they curbed and threatened many importers and traders, and page 36 encroached on an area hitherto free from State intrusion; they were viewed with resentment and alarm as a long step towards socialism. Such controls, administered by civil servants necessarily new to the business field, inevitably occasioned misunderstanding, rudeness, muddle and delay, which brought resentment against regimentation to a very high pitch well before war started. However, when war made controls inevitable not only were people pre-conditioned to accept them, but the organisation already existed and had got through some of its teething troubles.
War further sharpened the Nationalists’ wish to have men of sound ideas and business ability at the helm. Many were convinced that the country would be ruined, its war effort enfeebled and democracy overthrown by experimenting socialists, and many saw totalitarianism looming at home: ‘if democracy is worth fighting for abroad, it is worth defending politically in this country’.72 Firmly exiled from office by the 1938 election, the National party hoped that the new need for unity would at least curb Labour’s socialistic progress, and shrewd minds knew that wars often bring in coalition governments. As the Standard jeered on 12 October: ‘they thought that the sweet fruits of office, even though they had to share them with the Labour party, were almost within their grasp.’
For the Labour party, avoidance of measures that would displease the Opposition was a very high price to pay for co-operation. What was the point of being the government if they were to govern according to the wishes of the Opposition? From top to bottom Labour was exasperated at being interrupted by war when it had lately achieved triumphant re-election and was ready to press on with social and financial reforms. To rein in, or to accept coalition, was to abandon the position for which it had battled so long, and workers could argue that abandonment would be giving in at home to the enemy they were fighting abroad.
The political truce was broken early in October over the Marketing Amendment Act, which enabled the government to buy and re-sell any produce at prices fixed by the State, and over the Reserve Bank Amendment Act which enlarged the Bank’s powers and made final the government’s control of it. There was a storm of protest, directed particularly against Nash, in Parliament, in the press and at meetings of farmers and businessmen. The national emergency was being exploited to promote the factional end of complete socialisation.73 Nash stated that the Bank bill was an ordinary measure page 37 which would probably have been introduced had there been no war, but war made it still more necessary that currency and credit should be controlled by the government. Hamilton replied that New Zealanders would never submit to autocratic dictatorship of the State, the very thing Britain was fighting; Sidney Holland74 said New Zealand had thrown her financial captain overboard and faced a stormy voyage with a crew of political adventurers rocking the boat; Coates wanted to know the difference between National Socialism under Hitler and National Socialism under Nash.75
The session closed on 7 October 1939, with Fraser remarking that such heat was quite in order; the government did not expect sinking of principle or curtailment of expression of opinion.76 The Standard, however, wrote about obstruction of war measures.77 During the next two or three months widespread and widely reported meetings of farmers and businessmen complained of these new encroachments of socialisation, plus the longer-standing grievances of import restrictions and no increase in dairy prices for 1939–40. Such war regulations as price and transport control were seen as clumsy government intrusion into affairs run much better by private enterprise. A few extremists even advocated direct action such as closing all farms for a fortnight, or tipping milk down the drains.78 A Dunedin newspaper correspondent wrote: ‘We are at war and it is no disloyalty to organise and put into practice a general strike to make this country quietly more efficient, prosperous and free.’79
Such wrangling could perhaps be expected, paradoxical as it may now seem to have been. Troubled peace had been replaced by ‘phoney war’. After all the forebodings, bombs were not raining on cities; almost stationary armies faced each other in fortifications. For New Zealand, waiting went on. Normal living, it was felt, should be suspended, but there was nothing to replace it. Unable to get at the enemy without, National party people turned their frustration and adrenalin against the enemy at hand; Labour replied in kind, and each accused the other of using the war to grind political axes.page 38
The need for increased production confirmed the position of farmers. Traditionally they were the backbone of the country, the vital basis of the New Zealand economy—in fact, were the economy— and they knew it. It was only sense, therefore, that their interests should rank first with any government, and especially in war time. They believed deeply that what was good for farmers must be good for New Zealand. They had little use for secondary industries, which the Labour government, hoping to lessen dependence on overseas prices for farm produce, was trying to foster behind tariffs and import controls. They had still less time for unproductive public works, some virtually relief projects, on which the government was spending freely and which, by offering better pay and conditions than farmers could afford, drew workers away from farms. Traditionally suspect were freezing workers and wharfies, always loafing behind their regulations and awards, always trying to clip a bit more than their labour’s worth from the farmer’s returns, and cossetted now by a Labour government. For two years or so before the war farmers had adjusted to rising costs by trimming expenses, especially of labour, cutting down dairy herds and increasing sheep numbers, thus maintaining net income even though production was lessened.80
Now farmers were asked to produce more, while army enlistments and a rise in public works pay made their labour shortage worse, and the government took no large steps to help them. Let the government close public works, they urged, then farmers would have an adequate supply of men to choose from, money would be saved for war expenses, and even the guaranteed prices might be improved enough to make increased effort worthwhile. They resented being asked to work harder for no more money while the rest of the community took the war easily.
In particular, farmers were disturbed because there was no time limit to the commandeer of produce under the Marketing Amendment Act and, when questioned, Nash would say only that the matter would be brought before Parliament when the war ended.81 It was strongly felt that the government intended to use the war as a stalking-horse to get control of the main economic structure, and this cut very deeply at farmers’ independence: ‘… the farmer will not do what he is told according to the dictates of an employer. He is the master of his farm and its production depends on his ability page 39 and organisation. If he is given the correct incentive he will do his job but without it he won’t. If they interfere with the individual enterprise of the farmer they can never replace it with any other organisation and get the same production’,82 wrote an indignant man from Hawke’s Bay, and similar views were widely uttered.
Labour’s guaranteed prices for dairy produce, starting in the 1936–7 season, had at first won farming approval. In that year a loss of £272,482 was borne by the government. The 1937–8 season saw a modest rise in prices paid to farmers and a £576,724 surplus in the dairy account; but in 1938–9, when prices again rose slightly, the deficit was £2,514,889.83 An advisory committee recommended a further price rise for 1939–40 but Nash, questioning the basis of its calculations, decreed that there would be no increase,84 and in fact butterfat prices were to continue unchanged from 1938–9 until 1 April 1943.85 The halt in 1939–40 caused keen dissatisfaction: farmers were being asked to produce more with no compensation against rising costs: it followed that the prices were a bar to increased production, and loyalty to the Empire required their improvement.
An allied complaint was the shortage of experienced farm labour. This was not just a wartime problem; it had succeeded the Depression problem of not being able to pay even for an experienced man when he stood at the door asking for work. But it was accentuated by rural labour enlisting, and a further acute annoyance was the public works pay increase from 1 October of 5s a week (plus an extra 5s camp allowance for married men in single quarters), giving a minimum wage of £4 5s a 40-hour week. This brought public works pay in line with that fixed for other industries by the Arbitration Court, but the award wage on a mixed farm was £2 5s a week, plus board and lodging reckoned at £1 a week, and on a dairy farm £2 12s 6d, with no 40-hour limit.
Farm wages, except those for a few groups such as shearers and harvesters, had never been fixed by collective agreements or Arbitration Court awards. Farm workers were too scattered for organisation, farmers strongly disliked regimentation, board and lodging were normally part of the deal, hours and conditions varied, and pay likewise. However, following the guaranteed price scheme which was intended to assure the competent dairy farmer a decent standard of living, the Agricultural Workers Act 1936 passed on the benefit to his employees. It decreed a certain number of paid holidays and a scale of minimum wages ranging from 17s 6d a week for those of page 40 less than 17 years to £2 2s 6d for those of 21 or more, which rose by 1939 to range from £1 to £2 12s 6d.86 Meanwhile, by various Orders-in-Council, the Act was extended to other farm workers, establishing holidays and rates of pay. From 1 May 1937, on farms producing wool, meat and grain, the rates ranged from 17s 6d to £2 2s 6d.87 These rates rose with those for dairy farms, except that for men of 21 years and more pay should not exceed £2 5s a week.88 Farmers widely allowed that good men would be fools to stick to farms, and were certain that they could not compete with such pay; according to newspaper reports, very few spoke like the Waimate farmer who said that somehow farm wages must be raised: ‘Do not think for a moment you are going to smash all other classes of the community down to the level of the teamster who gets £2.5.0 a week’.89
Few mentioned poor farm housing as a cause of the labour shortage. Basically, many farmers expected a supply of capable single men, content to live in more or less primitive bachelor conditions. They were sure that they could not afford family housing for employees, forgetting that the resultant absence of children from rural districts perpetuated the shortage and that it was the Public Works Department’s provision of housing, as well as better pay, which enticed labour away from the land. Of course some farmers provided good houses for married men, but often even large farms had only one or two small family houses apart from single quarters. Naturally farm housing had been at a standstill during the Depression, and during the few intervening years of comparative prosperity it seemed a less urgent need than the fencing, top-dressing and long-delayed repairs or improvements that soaked up the better prices.90
It was frequently urged that unproductive public works where men were ‘unemployed in the sense that we understand the term’ should cease, and it was even suggested that farmers should be able to claim particular men from public works—the obvious difficulties ‘probably could be solved if the Government faced the position resolutely’.91 Some thought that farm workers should not be accepted by the Army, others that it was useless to hold a man who wanted to enlist: ‘he would only grumble on the job’.92 Subsidised farm labour was proposed at a number of meetings—one at Lawrence, page 41 for instance, approved a detailed plan advanced by the president of the Otago Farmers’ Union, transferring men from subsidised local body (Scheme 13) and public works to such jobs as scrub cutting, weed clearing, hedge cutting, ditching, draining and fencing, not more than £1 a week of wages coming from the farmer, the rest from government funds. Camps on wheels for easy moving could be established where required in country districts, and the men distributed to adjoining farms to work in gangs under efficient supervision.93 A good many farmers would have endorsed the Canterbury Progress League’s suggestions for suspension of the 40-hour week, registration of manpower, national service for both war and production and the transfer of men from public works back to farms.94
After a month’s tour of the North Island, Hamilton’s summing-up of the farmers’ attitude modified somewhat the devoted support for Britain expressed earlier: support in the form of farm produce should fetch a decent price. He had found everywhere ‘intense dissatisfaction of the militant type’ arising from the inadequate price of butterfat, the permanence of the commandeer of produce, the shortage of suitable labour and the insufficient measures to check rising costs. Though farmers were willing to make sacrifices, he said, if they retained ownership of their produce and could sell it for sterling, ‘thus getting possession of British money’, they would get substantially more than at present, and ‘regain a large portion of that economic justice that is not only their right but also the country’s vital need’.95
An editorial in Point Blank, the Farmers’ Union paper, of 15 December gathered together the farmers’ grievances as many saw them:
While the farmer is asked to work fifty or sixty hours on seven days a week, in all weathers, and for an inadequate return, the produce from his farm is commandeered and controlled by well-paid officials who are given the benefit of the forty hour week. It is handled on the wharves and in the freezing works by spoon-fed trades unionists, many of whom are concerned with doing as little as possible for as much as possible…. The farmer is willing to do his duty, but he cannot do it unless he gets a good deal fairer treatment than he is getting now. In the first place, adequate labour must be provided…. There is plenty of labour available for Public Works, on which the wages have recently been increased page 42 …. Let Mr Webb96 use his influence with Mr Nash to obtain prices, for their commandeered produce, that will enable them to pay farm workers a wage that will attract men from Public Works and also permit them to give their workers a forty hour week. Why should the farmer himself not have a forty hour week if it comes to the point, and be recompensed for the higher skill and ability he possesses. His returns to-day are less than those of a carpenter. When the Government is willing to look at matters squarely and put first things first, then, and then only will increased production be assured.
Another, more appealing, statement of attitude by the man on the land appeared in the advertising columns of several newspapers:
I, THE UNDERSIGNED, and all those associated with me, engaged in a 60- to 80-hour week producing Wool, Mutton and Lamb in order that New Zealand will keep its promise to the British Government as part of its war effort, and being quite content to set aside all pecuniary reward for the duration, give notice that on conclusion of peace, WE WILL ASSUME COMPLETE CONTROL OF THE SALE AND DISPOSAL OF OUR WOOL, MUTTON AND LAMB, and will use every Constitutional and Legal measure TO PREVENT THE NATIONALISATION AND SOCIALISATION OF OUR PROPERTIES. T. D. Burnett,97 Mount Cook Station, South Canterbury November 11, 1939.
This was reprinted in the New Zealand Transport Worker, the watersiders’ paper, of 15 December with the comment: ‘[if this gentleman] had to sell his wool in the market this year without nationalisation, as he calls it, how would he get on? And who the devil wants his Mount Cook station anyhow?’ The same paper, remarking on talk of a farmers’ revolt, wrote that under a Nationalist government a Labourite who talked sedition during a major war would be summarily dealt with, and perhaps even a Labour government could be too tolerant with agitators. ‘The sooner these people are made to realise that they are now the “agitators” and the “spreaders of strife”, and that the Labour government is the rightful and constitutional guardian of this country, the better.’ It remembered the baton-carrying farmers who helped to break the 1913 strike.98page 43
A few letters appeared in newspapers saying that the Farmers’ Union did not speak for all farmers, and that its president and Hamilton should urge increased production instead of ‘continually grousing and attacking the Government’.99 A resolute note of self-help sounded from some districts where, though young men were scarce and wives were helping with milking, farmers claimed they would get over this difficulty just as they had in the past;100 some local committees proposed to advise and assist on properties owned or affected by those enlisting.101
Government spokesmen tried to placate. They saw the difficultties—including that of getting experienced labour under 21 years of age. They explained that farm workers were on public works only if no farm work were available (which did not, of course, account for men who deliberately got themselves sacked from farms);102 that public works men could readily have leave for seasonal farm work; that more than 3500 men were already transferred from Scheme 13 and public works to farm work, breaking in new land or reclaiming farms that had gone back, with the government paying 75 per cent, and it was hoped to transfer thousands more to such work.103 Farmers were offered a subsidy of £1 a week for six months to take on an inexperienced man,104 and were assured that arrangements were being made to check on enlistments, men in occupations classified as essential being refused; of those already enlisted several hundred would be returned to their normal jobs.105
In the community of trade, background discontent against Labour’s regimentation of business, in wages, hours, working conditions and import restrictions, was increased again by price stabilisation.106 An early request by Auckland’s Chamber of Commerce to start selling at replacement costs was refused.107 Prices could be raised after 1 September 1939 only by the actual increase of costs, applied for and approved in each case by the Price Tribunal. Increases such as extra imported costs of goods, freight, insurance, interest on extra capital needed to meet increased import prices, all set forth on special application forms, could be passed on, but traders feared that there would page 44 be rising costs everywhere—such as for stationery—with which the forms would not cope. They did not seek extra profits, they claimed, only the right to pass costs on, making a reasonable margin of profit; they added that they would not get what they did not fight for.108 The Christchurch Chamber of Commerce and the Canterbury University College Economics Department, in two bulletins published in November, protested that to submit a claim for every price increase would be intolerably cumbersome and slow in the quick moving world of business. There were as yet very few shortages and adjustment of supply and demand would be better achieved if prices were allowed to run free.109
In the first months of the war import restrictions remained the chief complaint of the business world. This was linked to war purposes by the idea that to pay as you go required business as usual; hence the government should strongly assist farmers to increase production and sterling funds and allow traders to secure stocks, in order to supply revenue and maintain employment. Also, a few shop assistants’ unions feared that business retrenchment would lead to unemployment ‘after Christmas’.110 A large meeting at Hamilton on 4 December, combining the usually conflicting voices of farmers, the businessmen and shop assistants (‘an unholy alliance’, said Savage),111 pressed for the relaxing of import restrictions, and reducing farm costs and labour problems.112
Some sections of the trading interest, however, had no sympathy with the Farmers’ Union claim that unless their conditions were improved primary production could not be increased. This production determined how much imports might buy, and a trade journal harangued farmers in terms reminiscent of the extreme Left:
There can be no more haggling now over prices, and anyone (no matter what his standing) who attempts to put any brake on production for either personal gain or political motives deserves nothing short of a prompt trial and speedy punishment on conviction. The rest of the Empire is rallying to the tocsin and every New Zealander worth his salt will pull his full weight, without stopping to argue what it is worth to him.113
From the Associated Chambers of Commerce, a body traditionally critical of government interference in business and trade, came a page 45 remarkably fair, non-sectional statement by the retiring president, M. S. Myers, who said that had there been no war he would have protested about regulations intruding on trade. But war inevitably meant assumption by the State of functions neither necessary nor desirable in peace. The government had to govern, to decide what the country would do in all the war’s aspects. Fighting men were only a part of defence; food-growing, factories, and financial sacrifice were also important factors. More co-operation was needed between all sections. Discussion and constructive criticism should not be stifled—‘it is only mean, contemptible, negative or destructive criticism that is to be condemned’. As the State’s intervention might be more easily borne but for lack of business knowledge in its officers, the remedy surely was close consultation between the public authorities and trained private interests. On the ‘sound business’ handling of shortages he remarked that sharply rising prices simply meant that the poor paid by going short or doing without, while the rich paid in money. He did not believe that special profits out of war conditions were necessary for the maximum output of New Zealanders: rather that large returns easily made, in business or in wages, induced slackening of effort.114
Such far sight was exceptional. For the most part public utterances in these first few months showed no foreboding of how long or deep the war might be. The war was as yet only an argument to be used by various sections of the community in support of attitudes already held: the traders were still chafing against import restrictions, the farmers’ complaints were really another phase of the conflict between town and country, a conflict very strongly rooted in New Zealand. The government felt it neither necessary nor wise to stifle—or even to censor out of the newspapers—sectional hostility and criticisms of itself that only a few months later would seem dangerously subversive.
War sharpened the government’s inner trouble, the threat of schism which could have made necessary either coalition or else an election charged with war hysteria. It grew from the past. The distress of the Depression had swept Labour into power after 20 years of striving growth, in which members’ differences mattered less than their effectiveness. They were men of high purpose, fervent to bring economic justice and prosperity to the people of New Zealand, and at first they were so busy relieving the Depression that they scarcely noticed a latent division in their ranks. The majority was headed by page 46 Savage, who inspired a quite extraordinary faith and following in the electorate, if to a lesser degree among his colleagues; under him a shrewd, competent, hard-working pair, Fraser and Nash, gradually came to dominance. This majority aimed to direct the economy through existing channels, while others wanted government to take control of it more boldly.
The cracks were held together by the pressure of the 1938 election, but afterwards there emerged a group of left-wingers. In this group were Lee, McMillan,115 Nordmeyer,116 Clyde Carr,117 Lyon, Richards,118 Barnard and Langstone,119 with some other waverers on the edge. They felt that Labour’s government was making no advance towards socialism, which they regarded as its original and proper goal. Instead, the relief measures and the 40–hour week giving employment and overtime pay, by increasing spending power had promoted inflation and the crisis of 1938, which had compelled import restrictions and a British loan on hard terms. Hardening of Labour’s hierarchy discipline made these back-benchers powerless; they felt that democracy was dying in the Labour party, with leaders becoming less brotherly as years in office multiplied, and many voters shared their disillusion. At Labour grass-roots in the branches there was a broad swell of discontent, growing from lack of socialism and from awareness that the comradely atmosphere of the branches, in which Labour had largely grown to strength, was becoming unimportant beside the growing influence of trade union leaders, powermen elevated by compulsory but inert unionism. That mounting Nationalist pressure for conscription of men was not being confronted by vigorous measures to conscript money augmented the sense of Labour’s betrayal.
In this dissatisfaction John A. Lee had a forward part, advancing a financial policy much akin to the Douglas Credit-type ideas prominent in the mid-Thirties: that the State, instead of borrowing for development, should create a socialist bank and issue credit based on capacity to produce, with more stress on secondary industries than page 47 on the roads and hydro-electric schemes of Labour’s public works, thereby checking the inflation caused by spending power not balanced by production of consumer goods.
After the 1938 election, wherein Lee’s Socialism in New Zealand was much pointed to, and Nationalists hinted alarmingly that he was likely to succeed the milder Savage, Lee pressed for the appointment of Cabinet by caucus. This had been Labour’s original intention, but in the enthusiasm of 1935 Savage had been given a free hand. He expected it again in 1938, and after initial defeat by caucus he got his way as a personal matter. Lee, able, forceful, and his party’s most skilful propagandist, expected Cabinet rank, and many expected it for him, but after four years he had no portfolio, no real power, though he was active on the Defence Council. In defence Lee diverged from New Zealand’s traditional policy of sending expeditionary forces to seek the foe overseas. He believed in isolation and in New Zealand being defended by air and by a small but efficient military force. His defence thinking was not adopted but the Air Force was substantially increased between 1937 and 1939.120
In mid-1936 Lee became Director of Housing with wide powers and cheap finance and with Nash, his Minister, pre-occupied with other matters. It was estimated that New Zealand needed 20 000 new houses, while 27 000 should be demolished and 55 000 repaired. Lee organised with energy and skill, making good use of such resources as his shrewd and able permanent Under-Secretary, Arthur Tyndall,121 and the facilities of the powerful Fletcher Construction Company, which included joinery factories.122 Building trade unions, which sought to establish socialistic principles and worker control in State house construction, were advised by Lee to form cooperative companies and to compete with tenders. Companies were formed in Wellington, Hamilton and Dunedin, but proved successful only in Dunedin.123 Land was purchased and prepared in many towns, architects devised standardised but not uniform houses, and, despite rising costs and shortages of both workmen and materials, contractors put up houses at an increasing pace. By July 1938 it became clear that the Housing Department had outrun the capacity of the building industry,124 but by March 1939 some 3445 page 48 houses had been completed.125 After the 1938 election, Armstrong126 became Minister of Housing and Lee’s responsibility lessened.
Lee, restive, criticised Nash’s policies—‘shilly-shallying and drift’, attempting ‘a Labour spending policy with a capitalist financial machine’—in a letter which leaked out early in 1939 and was widely circulated.127 Labour’s Easter Conference of 1939 very heartily voted confidence in Nash, and more narrowly (285 votes to 207) censured Lee’s disloyalty and indiscipline. With the war Lee’s impatience grew. Five Cabinet ministers, including Fraser, had been gaoled in the 1914–18 war, while Lee, with all the appeal of a demagogue heightened by a DCM and an empty sleeve, was seemingly qualified for wartime leadership. This did not endear him to the Fraser–Nash group, and his financial proposals increased their irritation. He declared that orthodox financing of the war would ruin New Zealand, he spoke of debt repudiation, he renewed pressure against bankers, recalling that bankers had subsidised Hitler; these ideas were attractive to many who had felt the weight of ‘the Bank’ in the bad years. He was ready to press on towards socialism, despite the war and the risk of financial panic. Against the charge of disloyalty, Lee and his friends claimed that they were holding to Labour’s pristine policy, which others were forsaking. He stood for democracy in caucus, and he was critical of New Zealand being hitched to Chamberlain’s chariot without visible safeguards.
Savage, the beloved figurehead, was ill with cancer, though this was carefully concealed to avoid unrest.128 Lee, knowing that he was sick but not how near he was to death, wrote ‘Psychopathology in Politics’129 explaining that a leader physically and mentally sick was fatal to his party. It was poor taste and poor timing, and Lee was at once relieved of his post as parliamentary under-secretary to Nash. On 11 January 1940 at Auckland’s Labour Representation Committee a motion of severest censure against him was defeated 109:85 and replaced by one expressing confidence in both Lee and Savage. But before Labour’s National Executive two days later almost the same censure motion was carried 15:3.130
On 25 March at the Easter Conference Lee was expelled from the Labour party. With Savage dying, it was vital to the central group page 49 underwriting the smooth succession of Fraser that Lee be got rid of quickly. The expulsion was well organised. ‘Big Jim’ Roberts,131 king of the waterfront unions and president of the Labour party, made little pretence of impartiality. Savage’s death was expected hourly and it was claimed that Lee’s attacks had killed him. Branches unaware of the issue beforehand had not instructed their delegates, and power was concentrated in a few hands by a voting system established that very day whereby union delegates exercised votes in proportion to the size of the unions, now swollen with compulsory but often passive members. The expulsion vote however, 546:344, showed that Lee’s challenge was far from slight, while the election of D. G. McMillan, also prominent in the left wing, as vice-president of the party showed that this group was not rejected.
There is little doubt that the offending article was the pretext, not the cause, of Lee’s expulsion, little doubt that he was condemned in an hysterical atmosphere to which Fraser contributed.132 But political comradeship of 20 years mattered nothing beside the welfare of Labour, which Fraser firmly identified with his own comprehensive leadership. Lee’s expulsion was more than the removal of an unruly member, it was a formative piece of discipline. He was exiled to the political wilderness, a salutary example, and with him went W. E. Barnard, the Speaker, who resigned from Labour in principled protest. The sacrifice of Barnard’s promising career (he had been in Parliament 12 years and was widely respected) marked as with a gravestone the point where the rest of the leftists headed back into the main stream. It was the task of McMillan, runner-up to Fraser in caucus voting for Prime Minister,133 to close the rift. He firmly expressed loyalty and received Cabinet rank but resigned at the end of the year for health reasons. Langstone, already in Cabinet, supported Lee silently and later retired to a diplomatic post. Lyon went into the Army and was killed.page 50
Lee set up his Democratic Labour party, with branches all over the country, but there was no large breakaway. The election due in 1941 was postponed for two years because of the war. In the 1943 election almost all of Lee’s 51 candidates lost their deposits, though they polled four per cent of the total votes; Labour, though losing five seats, still had a comfortable majority.134 Many of Lee’s followers would not split Labour; all their political experience held them from this, especially with the Nationalists pressing for wartime coalition. However much Lee had contributed to his own downfall, something died in the heart of Labour when he was cast out. Authoritarianism was strengthened; criticism of the leaders would not do. This change, this narrowing, would probably have occurred without the war, but at all levels the war was an extra reason for suppressing strife within the government’s party.
Lee’s head on a spike was both a warning against divergence within Labour and a show of force to those outside. It revealed, said the New Zealand Herald of 27 March, a system as totalitarian as Fascism, Nazism or Communism, which should be noted by people fighting for freedom. A writer to another Nationalist paper wondered how opponents of the government could hope for tolerant consideration when men who had served Labour faithfully for years were discarded for divergence on the means to achieve Labour’s ends.135 But most conservatives were thankful that Labour had shed its dangerous member. ‘The “Thunder on the Left” seems destined to pass away harmlessly for lack of a storm centre’, predicted the New Zealand Herald on 27 March.
It was often remarked after the first few weeks that it was a funny war. Poland was knocked out with numbing swiftness in three weeks, but thereafter the expected war did not happen. The cable war news, despite bigger headlines, seemed in its day-to-day effect much the same as people had been reading for years. In Britain air-raid precautions were switched on, children were evacuated from cities, and everyone waited with their gasmasks, but the bombers did not come. British ships blockaded, while British aircraft attacked a few naval bases and dropped propaganda leaflets over Germany explaining to Germans that the Nazis were their real foes. The French advanced a few miles into the Saar, stopping short of the Siegfried Line; by mid-October they were joined by some 160 000 of the British Expeditionary Force, and the western front settled down quietly for the page 51 winter, while German propagandists assured French troops that Britain would fight to the last Frenchman.
During those first months, but for Russia New Zealand’s newspapers would have been hard up for excitement and for wrath. Russia was rated the direct and immediate cause of the outbreak of war, for without the treacherous Russo–German pact would Hitler have attacked Poland? This fury of words and feeling could not, of course, reach Russia, but part of it could be turned against New Zealand’s own Communist party, a small, highly derivative group, zealous in trade union activity and fringed with intellectuals,136 which stuck faithfully to its duty of supporting Russia’s foreign policy through all its changes.
After 1928 it had been the declared policy of the Comintern, to which the New Zealand party was then affiliated, to ward off attacks on the USSR and promote world revolution. The local party gathered strength during the Depression, when authorities viewed it as a sinister influence among the workless, and its leaders were repeatedly arrested on charges of fomenting unrest and strikes, and of distributing seditious literature. A closely allied body, professedly nonpolitical and cultural, the New Zealand branch of Friends of the Soviet Union, was formed in 1932 and had 1000 members by the following year,137 its aims being closer political, economic and cultural relations between the workers of the USSR and other countries, defence of the former against imperialist intervention and making known the truth about Russia’s development.138 In 1935, following the rise of Hitler, declared foe of Bolshevism, world revolution receded in the Comintern’s policy, while support of Russia became paramount. Reformist governments which, by offering the workers a slice of bread and inducing them not to seize the loaf, were no longer the enemy. Communist parties the world over were urged to unite with socialist and labour forces in the struggle against war and Fascism, and to defend the USSR. In New Zealand this directed Communists toward anti-war efforts, such as ‘hands off Abyssinia’ processions, but local leadership continued opposition to Labour till after the 1935 election, when it was decided to give the new government unconditional support against the forces of reaction. The offer was not welcomed. Pointing to the communist role as disrupters of working class solidarity in Germany, Spain, France and Australia, unions and the Labour party firmly rejected united front proposals.139 The Communists continued to seek affiliation regularly, undaunted page 52 by vigorous rejection—as in 1937 when the Labour Conference declared against admitting Communists or Friends of the Soviet Union to membership of the Labour party.140 Communists were active in trade unions, where they rallied all those anxious for rapid internal social progress and for opposition to war and Fascism abroad. They denounced appeasement very strongly throughout the Spanish war and the Czech crises, and urged the formation of a peace-bloc, including the USSR. The Polish guarantee they greeted with scepticism, unable to credit Chamberlain with a genuine change of policy. In the chequered Anglo–Russian talks they saw, rightly, evidence of Chamberlain’s inability to stomach an alliance with Russia; they took no notice of rumoured German–Russian negotiations except to deny them.141
On 25 August, in a widely distributed Manifesto, the National Executive declared staunchly: the Soviet Union is right. The Pact signed on 23 August was in the interests of socialism and the world Labour movement. The USSR had double-crossed no one, remaining faithful to its policy of having peaceful and friendly relations with all countries willing to do the same. Hitler, realising that the Soviet Union, with its people morally and politically united under socialism, was too powerful to attack, had double-crossed his backers, the financial gangsters in London, the real criminals, who had hoped to direct him against the Soviet Union. By signing the Pact, the Soviet Union had disrupted imperialism’s cynical plans to involve it in a war which, whatever its initial stages, would develop into a united front of the Munich powers against the land of socialism; it had safeguarded the citadel of socialism, and it had driven a wedge between Germany and Japan, thereby greatly assisting the Chinese people. If war came, it would be the responsibility of the pro-Fascist leaders of Britain and France, the top-hatted gangsters who had helped Fascism to unleash the war.
But, continued the statement, while the Pact was necessary in the interests of socialism, Hitler’s Fascism remained the deadly enemy of the working classes. Fascism could not be defeated by Britain under its present leadership but only if this were replaced by a real people’s government and a democratic defence force. In New Zealand Peter Fraser was fraternising with Adam Hamilton, preparing to abandon the positions of the working class for those of the reactionary imperialists who intended, under cover of the war crisis, to attack democratic rights and living standards. If Fascism were to be page 53 defeated, democracy must be extended and living standards maintained, for only a free people with something to defend could defeat Fascism. An emergency conference of the Labour party, the Federation of Labour and the Communist party must meet at once, the government must state its support of the Soviet Union and oppose the reactionary British imperialists. All trade union standards, all social services and all democratic rights must be maintained, defence measures must be on a democratic basis and conscription of wealth must begin.
This may be taken as a sample of current communist thinking, pruned of much rhetoric. It was printed in the People’s Voice of 1 September 1939 and, as a leaflet, 40 000 copies were thrust under doors, into letter boxes and cream cans, into factories and workshops. It was infuriating to many citizens in that September, when the mood of loyalty was high. Sections of the community with little in common could at least join in berating the Communists, as could those frustrated by having no direct means of getting on with the war. In Parliament, protests came from both sides: Doidge142 and Polson143 on 12 and 13 September thought that Communist subversive activities should be suppressed in war time, while Labour’s Schramm144 wanted the country to be protected from ‘unfair, subversive, untrue, malicious and disloyal Communist propaganda’. Fraser soothed, explaining the folly of giving nation-wide publicity to statements beneath contempt. The government, he said, would take action if necessary145 and this remained the administration’s policy until January 1940.
Most newspapers warned against communist subversion but the Standard, headlining ‘Nonsense from the Mental Slaves of Moscow’ on 7 September, launched a campaign that surpassed anything from the conservative press:
The New Zealand dupes of Comrade Stalin146 are now bellowing out that a war between democratic Britain and Fascist Germany is an imperialist war…. The Communist decoy ducks now say that Stalin has betrayed the European Socialists so that he may preserve intact the so-called Socialism operating in Russia. page 54 Exactly the same argument is used by a scab in an industrial fight… so that his wages will keep his home comforts intact.
Stalin’s course was in harmony with the treachery of local Communists everywhere who deliberately weakened Labour movements with internal strife, and whenever this happened Fascism triumphed. ‘Only a person with the logic of a lunatic and the mentality of an industrial and political traitor would try to explain the relations of Germany and Russia away as the Communists… are attempting.’ While democracy was making a life and death bid for law in world affairs, the Communists were making a typically twisting attempt to cloud the issue by criticism of the Chamberlain government.
The Labour hierarchy, zealous to extinguish in its rank-and-file the deep-seated though not uncritical regard many had for Russia as the exponent of Socialism, attacked this lingering loyalty in other major Standard articles. On 21 September one, ‘The Hitler–Stalin Axis; brief history and explanation of communist policy’, told how Russian Communism had departed from its beginnings, and how local Communist parties, under Kremlin direction, shattered Labour movements, while in Russia itself Stalin’s purges made Hitler’s insignificant, and the last ten years showed that Hitlerism and Stalinism were not opposites but twins. All Communists were now revealed as Nazis in disguise and all the ‘confusionism’ of the New Zealand Communist party could not hide their openly established front with Stalin and Hitler. ‘Some are fanatical hopeless worshippers of Stalin, as doped as are the Hitler youth of today. Some are merely mistaken. It is to be hoped that the latter will now open their eyes and admit the existence of facts no longer disputable’.147 A fortnight later another long article explained, allegedly from American sources, that Russian shipments daily left Leningrad without which Germany would be starved into revolt within a year; also, that on 9 April 1935 Germany and Russia signed a pact for a 200 million Reichmarks credit during the next five years, which had enabled Hitler to absorb Austria, smash the Spanish Republic, and seize Czechoslovakia; the August 1939 pact enabled him to invade Poland and defy the democracies.148
A long editorial on Stalin’s iniquity and the disruptive folly of local Communists concluded: ‘By the time this appears in print, it seems almost certain that Russia will be in full military alliance with Germany and at war with Britain. Should Russian submarines page 55 appear off our coast and sink our ships will the People’s Voice justify that as being in the cause of peace and democracy?’149
Some Labour people found these attacks excessive.150 Early in November, J. A. Collins, a trade union secretary, wrote that the reported drop in the Standard’s circulation was mainly due to political and trade union leaders in Wellington who had forced the Standard into foolish diatribes against Russia, ill-founded and insulting to the intelligence of the average New Zealander.151 He added that certain trade union secretaries with a pathological hatred of Communism kept their power by gangster methods, packing unions and meetings with supporters, or organising rival candidates against those who opposed their policies.
The national executive of the Labour party followed up the Standard’s pressure with the so-called ‘black circular’, an authoritarian instruction which narrowed channels for criticism within the party, forbade the publication of any resolution or information contrary to government policy, and also forbade Labour party members to give any support or information to the Communist party.152 Some trade unions passed resolutions on the Standard’s lines, for example that of the Federated Seamen at a Wellington meeting chaired by F. P. Walsh153 which said, ‘To us the crimes of Stalin’s dictatorship are even more repugnant than those of his comrade and fellow-worker— Hitler….’154 Several Ministers lent their weight: Semple155 ‘belted the ears off’ communist supporters,156 Webb said that there was no room in this country for a party which hailed Stalin or Lenin;157 on 18 January 1940, under Standard headlines, ‘Moscow Minikins March to Order Goose-stepping with Hitler’, Fraser himself described, with long quotations, how British Communists had ‘turned’ on orders from the Kremlin. At the outset of the war British Communists had behaved ‘like ordinary, normal decent citizens anywhere’. Their manifesto in the Daily Worker of 2 September supported the war, believing it to be just: the present rulers of Britain page 56 and France could never do anything except for their own imperialist interests, but whatever their motives, the action now taken by them, under pressure from their own people, ‘is actually for the first time challenging the Nazi aggressor’, and should be supported by the whole working class. Ten days later, continued Fraser, the emissary from Moscow, Georgi Dimitroff,158 secretary to the Communist International, came to Britain, threatening H. Pollitt,159 Secretary of the British Communist party, and J. R. Campbell160 of the Daily Worker with political liquidation, and himself gave orders to oppose and hinder the war. ‘In the whole history of politics there has never been such a shameful abdication of principle, such a complete “sellout”, as that of the British Communist Party, indeed of the Communists everywhere including New Zealand’, who, openly and blatantly, were now supporting ruthless aggression.161 Again, in a Trades Hall argument, Fraser vigorously declared that there was no place for Communists in the Labour movement; such ‘unity’ was spurious.162
Labour’s rejection of Communism was not new, but it was sharply insistent now, for two main reasons, apart from genuine disgust. Compulsory unionism had made communist zeal unnecessary, indeed antipathetic, to many union leaders, while to the government, mustering support as widely as possible and making use of side issues to absorb the antagonism of powerful opponents, the Communist party was thoroughly expendable. Nationalist interests, shocked at the socialisation of such measures as the Marketing Act amendment were mollified by Labour’s enmity towards Communism. Thus the editor of Point Blank on 16 October, after stating that though New Zealand was not yet at war with Russia, Russia was as great a menace as Germany, with emissaries all over the world who in New Zealand were making violent attacks on both Chamberlain and the New Zealand government and demanding to be included in a Labour conference, went on:
The Acting Prime Minister Hon. P. Fraser, who, since the outbreak of war, has displayed qualities of real statesmanship is not likely to pay the slightest attention to their “demands”. Further page 57 than that Mr Fraser is the type of gentleman who will deal very firmly with them if they become a nuisance, and probably the only reason why they are permitted to issue their printed rubbish is because at a time of Empire crisis there are very few people likely to take much notice of them. They would have been more dangerous had not Russia come out in her true colours. Nevertheless, subversive elements should be carefully watched… and the safest place for many of them would be under lock and key.
A month later the editor remarked that although Point Blank did not often agree with the Standard, he was pleased to commend the latter’s utter condemnation of Communism.163
Russia’s actions continued to disgust New Zealand critics, while demanding much agility from the Communist party. Secret clauses in the Russo–German pact164 had allotted eastern Poland, Bessarabia and the Baltic states as Russian spheres of influence; so on 17 September 1939 as Poland crumpled, Russia, declaring that the Polish state no longer existed, reclaimed on ethnic grounds the Ukraine and White Russian territory acquired by Poland after the First World War. Two days earlier the People’s Voice had rebutted speculation about Russian troop concentrations: ‘the daily press, true to its desire to organise a campaign of hate against the land of Socialism, spread all kinds of fairy tales about a secret deal between Germany and the Soviet Union for the partition of Poland—in spite of the well known declaration of Stalin that the Soviet Union did not covet a foot of anybody else’s territory.’165 A week later the People’s Voice explained that the Red Army was an army of liberation, rescuing their blood brothers both from Polish oppression and the brutal German threat.166
On 28 September, after signing their Boundary and Friendship Treaty which openly partitioned Poland, the German and USSR governments declared that they had thereby created a sure foundation for lasting peace in east Europe; that it would be in the true interests of all peoples to end the war; that if it continued Britain and France would be responsible; that Germany and USSR would consult on necessary measures. At the same time Russia hastened to improve her Baltic frontiers: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, by ‘pacts of mutual assistance’ (28 September to 10 October), ceded naval bases and airports to Russia.
Newspapers presented Russia’s entry into Poland as a cynical violation of treaty obligations. Some, such as the Press (19 and 22 page 58 September 1939) saw evidence of detailed agreement there, but wondered if this would persist. Others, such as the New Zealand Herald, guardedly welcomed it as a check to Hitler, with hints that German and Russian interests were too divergent for their alliance to last.167 Thus a Minhinnick cartoon, ‘Snatching the Swag’, showed a sly-grinning Stalin shaking hands with a doubtful Hitler, while his left hand holds a bundle labelled ‘Ukraine’.168 Another bore the words ‘Adolf met a bear—the bear was bulgy—the bulge was Adolf’.169 The Standard had it both ways: its foreign affairs column referred to the Kremlin’s diplomatic victory over Hitler, while elsewhere it said that without the August pact Germany would not have attacked Poland, and that without Russian help there ‘Germany would be desperate and the war much nearer its end’.170
Russian attempts to control the Gulf of Finland and to adjust the frontier of Finland where it approached Leningrad were resisted, and war broke out at the end of November. World indignation against Russia was greatly quickened by this new instance of a smaller nation fighting against great odds. In Britain there was public readiness and official planning to send military aid to Finland, and this came not only from the Right: the British Labour movement declared profound horror and indignation against Soviet imperialism and its Nazi methods and called for all practicable aid to the Finnish nation. In New Zealand newspapers were eloquent. Thus spoke the Herald:
Decent-minded people everywhere are revolted at the grim Baltic spectacle of bear stalking beaver…. Previously it was chauvinist Czechs and pugnacious Poles that oppressed the innocent Nazis. Now the fiery Finns have turned on the benign Bolsheviks …. The technique is terribly familar and affronts commonsense.171
Russia’s brutal onslaught on Finland has profoundly shocked world opinion…. The Nazi offence against Poland was rank, smelling to heaven, but what shall be said of this even more cowardly aggression?172
The Dominion saw ‘in both Nazi and Soviet methods an identical attitude…. These dictatorships are engaged upon crusades for the furtherance of their own political ideologies throughout the world’.173 Russia’s act, said the Press, was an appalling declaration of her aims page 59 and her rejection of any restraint in pursuing them.174 The Otago Daily Times on 2 December spoke of Stalin using the tactics of the gangster to impose his will on a small country, and on 30 December considered him a more ruthless and cynical menace than Hitler. The latter’s ‘errant genius’ had driven him to maniacal excesses but, in Stalin, dictatorship without charity or principle played the diplomatic game with laborious concentration on self-interest alone. ‘Where Hitlerism has persecuted and degraded thousands, Stalinism has “purged” and starved hundreds of thousands into submissiveness or death’.
On 14 December 1939 the League of Nations expelled Russia as an aggressor, New Zealand voting for expulsion,175 and asked member states to help Finland. The New Zealand government considered this for a month, then, having consulted the British government,176 gave £5,000 to the Finnish Red Cross.177
At first Russia used comparatively small forces and the Finns proved unexpectedly tough. Reports of Finnish heroism, of skilful ski-troops and success, and of Russian brutality and ineptitude filled papers starved for excitement on the western front. It was almost a surprise in March 1940 to realise that brave little Finland had surrendered to Russian armies which had lost so much prestige. ‘All the honours of the campaign go to the Finns’, said the New Zealand Herald on 14 March. ‘They have exposed the clumsiness of the Russian military machine and banished the bogey of the Red Army.’ The Press on the same day deplored ‘the fiasco of the Allied scheme to aid Finland’, and the Evening Post on 1 April held that the ‘Soviet Government in its onslaught upon the heroic Finns has exposed to the whole world the ravages which Communism makes upon the fibre of any nation which falls a victim to that deadly mental and moral disease. The exposure of the Russian army and the Russian air force has astonished the world.’
Against all this the People’s Voice published Russian accounts of border incidents, ‘the brazen provocations of the Finnish militarists’ in their ‘senseless adventure’,178 denied civilian bombings179 and, more reasonably, said that Russia wanted to safeguard its frontiers, especially near Leningrad; in 1918 the Finnish ruling class and page 60 ‘Butcher’ Mannerheim180 had called in German troops to suppress a workers’ rebellion, killing thousands, and since then Finland had ‘been the happy hunting ground of every anti-Soviet adventure’.181 The Red Army had checkmated Helsinki plans for ‘incidents’ to win United States assistance,182 and Bernard Shaw183 and Stafford Cripps184 were quoted as saying that without Western backing Finland would not have refused Russia’s proposals.185 These arguments were put together in a pamphlet, Finland, the Truth, by N. Gould, which, according to the People’s Voice, sold nearly 15 000 copies.186 Finally, in March, that paper claimed: ‘Right from the start, the Voice, alone in New Zealand, has pointed out that the REAL issue was the desire of the imperialist states to make Finland a war base against the Soviet Union’.187 Actually this view had been advanced by the other leftist journal, Tomorrow,188 which also, remarking that official enthusiasm to aid Finland was simply another very significant step in the lining-up of world capitalism against the one socialist power, urged that the Labour movement should make sure that New Zealand boys were not used to overthrow Socialism on the plains of the Ukraine or elsewhere.189
During September New Zealand’s Communist party supported the war on two fronts—defeat Hitler and eject Chamberlain—and the need to defeat Hitler was stressed in the People’s Voice of 16 and 22 September. The ‘two fronts’ line was also taken by the British Communist party on the outbreak of war, as the People’s Voice of 6 October pointed out, quoting a statement from the Daily Worker of 2 September, presumably to show that it had erred in company. On the other hand, the American Communist spokesman, Earl Browder,190 had said on 2 September that America must not become page 61 involved in the war but must seek an opportunity to intervene decisively for peace. This too was reprinted in the People’s Voice on 6 October. Russian leaders, a week earlier, had said that the war was unnecessary and should end. The Voice’s editor, Gordon Watson, wrote: ‘the clear firm voice of the land of Socialism… is appealing for peace’. Faced by the might of Socialism, Hitler had surrendered more in a fortnight than the appeasers gave him in six years. Russia had snatched the Polish Ukraine and White Russia from Hitler and their landlord oppressors, saved the Baltic states from the Nazi nightmare, and was forming a peace bloc in the Balkans. Peace now would enable the peoples of the belligerent countries to get rid of those responsible for the war. New Zealand should press Britain, with the Soviet Union and the United States, to call a peace conference.191
On this same day the British Communist party was likewise changing step. The Daily Worker of 6 October said, ‘This is not a war for democracy and against Fascism. This is not a war in defence of peace against aggression. The British and French ruling class are seeking to use the anti-Fascist sentiments of the people for imperialist aims…. The war is a fight of Imperalist Powers over profits, colonies and world domination. It will bring only suffering and misery to millions of working class homes.’
Russia’s new friendship with Germany was signalised by several statements that drove its overseas supporters further towards an anti-war position. Thus on 10 October, Izvetsia denounced the British and French idea of war against Hitler’s ideology: ‘destruction of people because somebody does not like certain views and world outlook is senseless and insane brutality’.192 On 2 November a speech by Molotov193 carried the readjustment a step further: Britain and France, who lately declaimed against aggression, were now the aggressors, while Germany was striving for an early peace. Ideological war was dismissed, bracketed with the religious wars of old; fear of German claims for colonies was at the bottom of this imperialist war; German relations with Russia had radically improved.194 On the anniversary of the Russian revolution the Communist Internationale issued a statement lauding Russian achievement and calling, in well worn slogans, for struggle against the imperialist war.195page 62
The New Zealand party hastily accepted this doctrine and, after a national committee meeting at the beginning of December, explained that clearly this was, on both sides, an imperialist war which must be opposed by the working classes. ‘The Party should have said this decisively from the beginning. Weaknesses and mistakes in the Party’s work and slogans were due to the fact that it had not grasped quickly enough the decisive changes in the world situation, brought about by British imperialism’s rejection of the Peace Front with the Soviet Union, and the consequent extension of the imperialist war to involve Britain, France and Germany.’ New Zealand had come in as a satellite of Britain, her Labour leaders proclaiming the policy of collective security, which they had helped to destroy at Munich. These leaders had finally deserted the working class for the imperialist war-mongers. The Communist party could no longer seek affiliation with Labour, and called on the New Zealand working class, along with those of other fighting countries, to oppose the war.196
This opposition continued until June 1941, when Russia was invaded. There was at least some communist thinking in the trade union resolutions that opposed the war and conscription in the early months, and Communists were prominent in putting anti-war amendments, which were heavily defeated, before the Easter conferences of the Federation of Labour in 1940 and in 1941.197 Opposition was also expressed through the People’s Voice, leaflets, and public meetings, in stereotyped and raucous phrases attacking Britain’s aims and conduct of the war, the Labour government and the Army in New Zealand, the folly and dishonesty of recruiting and of conscription. Some local bodies speedily forbade their open-air meetings, and there were very few halls available to Communists. The People’s Voice, which claimed circulation of 7500 on 22 September 1939 and 10 000 on 16 February 1940, was the main channel until it was suppressed three months later; but thereafter the Communists, with furtive zeal, continued their attacks in cyclostyled pamphlets, variously titled.198
This was in the future. During the early months of the war, the Communist party was not stifled and its activities were limited only by its available energy. Looking back, its persistence in seeing righteousness rather than expediency in every Russian move may combine comedy with pathos. At the time, for many people such disloyalty page 63 was outrageous, though its very blatancy lessened its appeal and its danger.
During the mid-1930s the reformed churches in New Zealand, as in Britain, voiced in varying degrees the current distaste for war and war preparations. Many felt that if the churches could speak on this with a unified voice the government would listen more attentively, but church union was a large, difficult and distant matter wherein New Zealand was unlikely to step ahead of Britain; nor were there any attempts at a direct Christian crusade against war preparations. As events moved towards war the churches, with minor reservations and some small differences in alacrity, accepted it, and at the outbreak urged the members to respond helpfully to State demands. But in each church, again in varying degrees, a rift developed between a minority who believed that even in war time Christians should bear witness to the wrongness of war, and the majority who felt that it was too late for protest, that human nature cannot be changed, and that this particular war justified, even demanded, participation in it.
The Methodist Church went further than the others in its rejection, following its counterpart in England which had declared against war in 1933. Pacifist feeling was liveliest among young people, but it was by no means limited to them, nor to any protesting fringe; it was espoused by active, ardent men in the heart of the Church, men such as Percy Paris,199 president of the New Zealand Conference, its governing body, in 1938. In March 1935 the Conference declared war to be contrary to Christ’s purpose and a crime against humanity. It must be repudiated utterly and the Church would support every means towards peaceful settlements, reduction of armaments and removal of economic inequalities. Recognising that if war came some would refuse to bear arms while others would fight for national and international commitments, the Conference upheld individual liberty of conscience in all directions. In schools citizenship training should replace military cadet courses, but Methodist chaplains would not be withdrawn from the armed forces.200
By 1937 the Conference, while still declaring war to be abhorrent, upheld the use of force to preserve law and order under the League of Nations, and called for a world conference on economic grievances and for repeal of the compulsory clauses of the Defence Act (which page 64 had not been enforced since 1930).201 Early in 1939 it reaffirmed these resolutions. After 3 September some official Methodist voices, while repeating that war was contrary to Christ, praised the labours of British leaders for peace and reminded that the Church taught the duty of Christians to serve their country, and give obedient, loyal support to constitutional authority. Inner conviction, which drove some to arms, some to refuse arms, should be honoured and for the latter the State was asked to provide alternative service compatible with conscience.202 Other speakers urged the need to respect conscience, to secure the Church against schism and its pulpits against being used for either recruiting or pacifist propaganda.203
At New Year the Methodist Young Men’s Bible Class passed a startling resolution: war was contrary to Christ and they should unswervingly follow the Cross, refusing all war service; they urged the government to stand firm against conscription.204 It was rapidly established that this was not the general or official Methodist position.205 The Conference, meeting in February 1940 amid recruiting and pacifist activity, did not wish to be identified with its pacifist element, notably with the Rev O. E. Burton,206 already in prison. It no longer repudiated war, declared loyalty to the Throne and held that New Zealand was at war because there was no honourable alternative. Conscientious objections should be respected but all objectors should render alternative service. It accepted the State’s ban on subversive utterances and opposed recruiting or pacifism from pulpits.207 The Methodist Times of 10 February firmly rebuked the Church’s active pacifists.208 The official church, while steadfastly claiming freedom for the individual conscience, accepted the war and turned to the ensuing moral problems of wet canteens and raffles for patriotic purposes.
The Church of England’s Lambeth Conference of 1930 had declared that war where one’s own country did not attempt arbitration should be rejected. The concept of collective security under the League of Nations was accepted in the mid-1930s by both English and New Zealand leaders, and in 1936 the Archbishop of Canterbury209 declared that it was not un-Christian to fight in just page 65 wars.210 In succeeding years Averill,211 Archbishop of New Zealand, and other prominent churchmen, while condemning war and criticising the settlement of 1919, saw lessening hope in the League of Nations and, though reluctantly, more need of British rearmament. They urged strengthening the Church through increased spirituality and claimed for all who came to conscientious and not merely convenient decisions on military service the respect of fellow Christians.212 The General Synod of February 1940 held that the war was the lesser of two evils, it was to save civilisation, prevent self-intoxicated men from forcing inhuman ideals on the world.213 Meanwhile it was the duty of the Church to strengthen its hold with normal ministration, to sow and work for the future.214 Though the word ‘crusade’ was skirted warily, the Allies were fighting for the freedom to be Christians.215 From this position it was not difficult, on formal occasions and with leaders of other churches, to step on to the recruiting platform.216
In the Presbyterian Church of the mid-1930s official policy was to support the League of Nations.217 Each Christian must determine whether or not to refuse war service and the Church would minister all members wherever inner conviction led them.218 More than other church papers, the official Presbyterian Outlook in 1938–9 had articles on world affairs, on religious persecution in Germany and the threat of war, generally concluding that the key to peace was in Christianity.219 After 3 September the Outlook held that Britain had made every effort for peace; it was a just and necessary war.220 A pronouncement prepared by a central committee on international relations spoke of a just cause and urged civic responsibility in service required by the authorities, restraint in judging the foe, and pressing on with the usual work. It was passed by the Dunedin Presbytery, with a plea for kindness to refugees, by Auckland and Christchurch.221 Wellington’s Presbytery made a separate statement, page 66 ashamed that Christian witness had not prevented war but recognising that New Zealand could only range itself with Britain. Members should give national service as conscience, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, would commend; some would bear arms, some refuse, either course could express true loyalty to the will of God.222 In November the General Assembly, endorsing the pronouncement, advocated service with due regard for the rights of conscience.223
On 27 September in the Outlook a correspondent (Alun Richards224) asked about the Church’s attitude to censorship: would the editors censor their paper to hold it in line with government censorship regulations or maintain freedom to prophesy? An editorial answered crisply that ‘we shall, of course, submit to the law of the land’; there was no reason to expect that the government would interfere with any fundamental doctrines and certain restrictions had to be accepted.225 However, by June 1940 Presbyterian zeal for taking thought, for not yielding up judgment, reasserted itself in an editorial claiming that freedom to criticise should be prized and protected, that to ban it as subversive would be great error; wise leaders could learn from informed criticism while bearing the ill-informed with equanimity.226
The Roman Catholic Church, with no school of absolute pacifism, opposed armament-making, supported the League and hoped that education would improve economic understanding and lessen nationalism. Traditionally it held that a state attacked might rightly engage in war when it was the only means left to repel violation of territory, integrity or just treaties, or to resist the fomenting of revolution.227 Mussolini’s attack on Abyssinia by these definitions was unjust and the Church in New Zealand, through its periodicals, stoutly condemned him, while criticising other nations, notably Britain, which had earlier acquired empires by war and would not share them.228 There was special difficulty as the Pope, encircled by Fascism, had spoken, albeit vaguely, of the war as justified by the defensive and material needs of Italy.229 New Zealand apologists, page 67 seeing Mussolini as the arbiter of power in Europe, who could be driven by opposition into the arms of Germany, stressed the need for revision of colonial mandates.230 Fortunately the Abyssinian affair ended quickly and about Spain there was no doubt. Franco’s nationalists were fighting for religion and order against red revolution and anti-Christ, as the Tablet and Zealandia proclaimed almost weekly; they also mentioned that Spain proved war to be sometimes just and necessary.231
Many New Zealand Catholics came from Ireland, did not trust British politicians and disapproved of the Treaty of Versailles. But Catholics were persecuted in Germany, Poland was a Catholic country, and the German pact with atheist Communist Russia threatened the reign of anti-Christ. ‘This is why we fight not a war but a crusade.’232 A Zealandia article remarked on the general decline of pacifism as an unconscious tribute to the traditional Catholic attitude: ‘as long as man is man… human beings will believe certain things to be so evil that they will feel obliged to stick at nothing, short of greater evil, in order to prevent or even to protest against them’.233
1 Round Table, vol 25, p. 214
3 NZPD, vol 235, p. 770
4 Standard, 11 Nov 37, p. 6
5 Ibid., 5 Aug 37, p. 2; Wood, p. 49
6 Standard, 8 Apr 37, p. 2
7 NZPD, vol 248, pp. 432–3
8 Workers’ Weekly, 22 Apr 38, p. 1
9 Standard, 21 Apr 38, p. 2
10 NZPD, vol 246, pp. 311–12
12 Ibid., 16 Oct 36, p. 11
14 Perry, Hon Sir William, Kt(’46) (1885–1968); barrister and solicitor Wgtn; 1NZEF; Dom Pres RSA 1935–43; MLC 1934–50; member War Cab 1943–5, Min Armed Forces and War Co-ordination
16 Jones, Hon Frederick (1885–1966): MP (Lab) Dun Sth 1931–46, St Kilda 1949–51; Min Defence, PMG 1935–40, Min Defence 1940–9; NZHC Aust 1958–61
19 ‘[Mr Chamberlain’s] policy is to avert war, and we should assist him by every means in our power, instead of making his job more difficult.’ Adam Hamilton, Dominion, 7 Jun 38, p. 8; NZPD, vol 251, p. 129, vol 252, pp. 442–5
21 These figures differ from those printed in the budgets which give £1,014,370 actually expended during 1935–6, in a total of £25,890,567; £2,099,289 for 1938–9, out of £35,772,678.
24 Lee, John Alexander, DCM (1891–1982): MP (Lab) Auck East 1922–8, Grey Lynn 1931–43; Parly Under-Sec Min Finance 1936–9; 1st Controller State Housing Dept; expelled Lab Party 1940
27 Standard, 20 Apr 39, p. 2
28 Wood, pp. 72–82; McGibbon, I. C., Blue-Water Rationale, pp. 257, 316ff
32 Ibid., 6, 8 May 39, pp. 10, 10
33 Ibid., 3 May 39
34 Truth, 10 May 39, p. 8
35 Minutes of Labour Party Easter Conference, 1939, p. 23
36 Workers’ Weekly, 5 May 39; Standard, 4 May 39, p. 10
37 Standard, 1 Jun 39, p. 9
39 Ibid., 24 May 39, p. 12
40 Ibid., 8 Aug 39, p. 10
41 Ibid., 23 Jun 39, p. 10
42 NZPD, vol 255, pp. 504–5
44 See Wood, pp. 7–10
45 Standard, 14 Sep 39, p. 5
48 Press, 8 Sep 39, p. 10
50 Ibid., 7 Sep 39, p. 13
51 Ibid., p. 16
52 Ibid., 8 Sep 39, p. 13
53 Ibid., 9 Sep 39, p. 6
54 Ibid., 4 Sep 39, p. 11
55 Ibid., 12 Sep 39, p. 8
56 Press, 7 Sep 39, p. 10
57 Ibid., 12 Sep 39, p. 10
62 Ibid., 7 Sep 39, p. 7
66 Coates, Rt Hon Joseph Gordon, PC, MC & Bar (1878–1943): MP (Nat) Kaipara 1911–43; Min Public Works 1920–6, Justice 1919–20, PM 1925–8; Min Railways 1923–8, Native Affairs 1921–8, Public Works, Transport, Unemployment 1931–3, Finance, Customs, Transport 1933–5; Member War Cab 1940–3
67 Standard, 21 Sep 39, p. 8
71 Information from Dr W. B. Sutch, Jan 66; cf. Olssen, Erik, John A. Lee, p. 142
73 On 5 October the Speaker ruled out as tedious repetition argument about Socialism and the Marketing Amendment Act. NZPD, vol 256, p. 713
76 NZPD, vol 256, p. 840
77 Standard, 12 Oct 39, p. 1
80 Dairy cows in milk—1937: 1 805 405; 1938: 1 763 775; 1939: 1 744 478; 1940: 1 739 874; 1941: 1 779 603. Yearbook 1942, p. 346. Total butterfat production fell from 442.4 million pounds weight in 1936–7 to 419.9 in 1937–8 and 376.7 in 1938–9; despite the grumbles about incentive it rose again to 415 million pounds in 1939–40 and 448.8 million pounds in 1940–1. Ibid., p. 355
81 Point Blank, 15 Nov 39, p. 15
82 Ibid., p. 47
83 Yearbook1941, p. 357
85 Yearbook1940, pp. 414–15, 1947–49, pp. 880, 890
86 Riches, E. J., ‘Agricultural planning and farm wages in New Zealand’, International Labour Review, vol 35, no 3, Mar 37, pp. 5, 8, 21–3; Yearbook 1940, p. 832
87 Regulation 154/1937; Standard, 6 May 37, p. 7
88 Yearbook1939, p. 723, 1940, p. 815
89 Press, 6 Nov 39, p. 10
90 Ibid., 2 Nov 39, p. 4
93 Ibid., 11 Nov 39, p. 5; Point Blank, 15 Dec 39, p. 13
94 Press, 16 Nov 39, p. 8
96 Webb, Hon Patrick Charles (1884–1950): b Aust, to NZ 1906; 1st Pres NZ FoL; MP (Lab) Grey 1913–14, Buller from 1933; Min Mines, Labour, Immigration, PMG 1935–46
98 NZ Transport Worker, 15 Dec 39, p. 26
101 Ibid., 20 Oct 39, p. 10, report from Feilding
102 Ibid., 27 Oct 39, p. 4
109 Press, 27 Nov 39, p. 9
110 NZ Importers Federation, in Evening Post, 22 Nov 39, p. 10; Press, 21, 22 Nov 39, pp. 10, 8, reporting meetings at Hamilton and Invercargill; a report in ibid., 30 Nov 39, p. 5, suggested that these were the only such meetings so far
111 Ibid., 4 Dec 39, p. 6
112 Ibid., 5 Dec 39, p. 8
113 NZ National Review (incorporating NZ Manufacturer), Nov 39, quoted in Press, 28 Nov 39, p. 10
116 Nordmeyer, Hon Sir Arnold Henry, KCMG(’75) (1901–): Presby minister 1925–35; MP (Lab) Oamaru 1935–49, 1951–69; Vice-Pres Labour party 1940–50, Pres 1950–5; Leader Labour party (Parly) 1963–5; Min Health 1941–7, Industries & Commerce 1947–9, Finance 1957–60
120 Olssen, pp. 88–9
121 Tyndall, Sir Arthur, Kt(’55), CMG(’39), MICE, FNZIE (1891–1979): Under-Sec Mines 1934, Dir Housing Construction 1936; Judge, Arbitration Court 1940–65; ILO commissions 1950, 1952–3, 1957, 1964–5
122 Olssen, pp. 93–4, 96, 104
123 Ibid., pp. 103–5
124 Ibid., p. 107
125 Ibid., pp. 92–108; cf. p. 797ff
126 Armstrong, Hon Hubert Thomas (1875–1942) MP (Lab) Chch East from 1922; Min Labour, Immigration 1935–8, Health, Housing from 1938
127 Olssen, pp. 135–7
128 As late as 7 Mar 40 the Standard laughed at rumours of the Prime Minister being seriously ill, and mentioned a chill; he was looking very fit and was in daily consultation with his ministers. He died on 27 March.
129 Tomorrow, 6 Dec 39, pp. 75–7
130 Brown, Bruce, The Rise of New Zealand Labour, pp. 205–6
131 Roberts, Hon James (1881–1967): b Ireland, to NZ 1901; Sec Waterside Workers Fed (later Union) 1915–41, NZ Alliance Lab 1920–36; rep NZ ILO Conf 1930, dep member Governing Body 1930–8; Pres NZ Lab party 1937–50; Waterfront Control Cmssnr 1940–6; MLC 1947–50
132 Lee also contributed. His final appeal was maladroit as he himself seemed to recognise 23 years later in his Simple on a Soap-box, p. 194. His wife came to stand beside him as he spoke from the floor, and he embraced and kissed her, with words that had far more emotion than relevance. The Labour Conference in 1940 was not susceptible to matinée finales that might have been successful in an American campaign of recent decades. It seemed contrived, a ‘jack-up’, and cost Lee votes.
133 The voting was published: Fraser 33, McMillan 12, Clyde Carr 3, which leaves four votes unaccounted for. Brown, p. 209, has remarked that it could have been no comfort to Fraser that his succession was opposed by nearly a third of those voting. McMillan was reported in the Auckland Star, 8 Apr 40, p. 9, as saying that the voting figures published were not correct.
134 Louise Overacker,‘The New Zealand Labour Party’, The American Political Science Review, vol XLIX, no 3, Sep 55, p. 722
135 Point Blank, 13 May 40, p. 41
136 Scott, S. W., Rebel in a Wrong Cause, p. 88
137 Soviet News, Jun 33
138 Ibid., 1 Aug 32
139 Standard, 19 Feb, 8 Jul, 4, 26 Nov 36, pp. 1, 7, 3, 6
140 Ibid., 8 Apr 37, p. 7, 20 Apr 39, p. 10
141 Workers’ Weekly, 16 Jun 39, p. 2
143 Polson, Hon Sir William, KCMG(’51) (1875–1960): MP (Indep Nat) Stratford 1928–46; War Admin 1942; Leader Legislative Council 1950
144 Schramm, Hon Frederick William (1886–1962): MP (Lab) Auck East 1931–46; Speaker HoR 1944–6
145 NZPD, vol 256, pp. 47, 87, 96
146 Stalin, Generalissimo Joseph Vissarionovic (1879–1953): Gen Sec Central Cmte of Communist party from 1922, effective ruler of USSR from 1924; Commissar for Defence of the USSR 1941–6; Pres Council Mins from 1946
147 Standard, 21 Sep 39, p. 11
148 Ibid., 5 Oct 39, p. 1
149 Ibid., p. 3
150 Ibid., pp. 6–7, 12 Oct 39, p. 13
151 Ibid., 8 Nov 39, p. 14
152 Press, 20 Oct 39, p. 8
153 Walsh, Fintan Patrick (1896–1963): Pres Seamens Union from 1927, Wgtn Trades Council from 1937; Vice-Pres FOL from 1948; member Industrial Emergency Council during WWII, Economic Stabilisation Commission throughout its existence
154 Auckland Star, 9 Dec 39, p. 17
155 Semple, Hon Robert (1873–1955): b Aust, to NZ 1903; formed 1st Miners Union Runanga, helped form 1st Miners Federation 1908 to become Federation of Labour 1909; MP (Lab) Wgtn East 1918–19, 1928–54; Min Public Works, Transport, Marine, National Service, Railways 1935–49, War Admin 1942
157 Ibid., 19 Dec 39, p. 8
158 Dimitroff, Georgi Mihailov (1882–1949): Bulgarian politician; became Russian citizen 1933; Executive Sec Comintern 1934–43; Premier Bulgaria 1946
160 Campbell, John Ross, MM (1894–1969): member Executive Cmte Communist party 1923–64, of executive cmte Communist International 1925–35; Editor Daily Worker 1949–59
161 Standard, 18 Jan 40, p. 4
162 Ibid., 25 Jan 40, p. 7
163 Point Blank, 15 Nov 39, p. 10
164 Sontag, R. J. (ed), Nazi–Soviet Relations, 1939–41, p. 78
165 People’s Voice, 15 Sep 39
166 Ibid., 22 Sep 39
169 Ibid., 3 Oct 39
170 Standard, 19 Oct, 2, 9 Nov 39, pp. 4, 4, 6
172 Ibid., 4 Dec 39
174 Press, 2 Dec 39
176 GGNZ to SSDA, 16 Jan 40, in ibid., p. 6
178 People’s Voice, 15 Dec 39, p. 5
179 Ibid., 22 Dec 39, p. 1
180 Mannerheim, Baron Carl Gustaf Emil (1867–1951): Finnish soldier & statesman; Regent Finland 1918; planned & built Mannerheim Line against Russia & commanded army against Russia in 1939–40, 1941–4 wars
181 People’s Voice, 8, 22 Dec 39, pp. 1, 2
182 Ibid., 19 Jan 40, p. 1
183 Shaw, George Bernard (1856–1950): Brit socialist, dramatist, novelist, critic
184 Cripps, Rt Hon Sir Stafford, PC, CH, Kt, FRS, QC, JP (1889–1952): UK politician; MP (Lab) 1931–50; Solicitor-Gen 1930–1; Ambassador Russia 1940–2; Lord Privy Seal & Leader HoC 1942; Min Aircraft Production 1947, Chancellor Exchequer 1947–50
185 People’s Voice, 12 Jan 40, p. 3
186 Ibid., 9 Feb 40, p. 5
187 Ibid., 21 Mar 40, p. 1
188 Tomorrow, 6, 20 Dec 39, pp. 73, 105, 24 Jan 40, p. 191
189 Ibid., 21 Feb 40, pp. 230–1
190 Browder, Earl Russel (1891–1973): US politician; member Central Communist party US from 1921, Gen Sec 1930–44; 1st Pres Communist Political Assn 1944–5; member exec cmte Comintern 1935–44
191 People’s Voice, 6 Oct 39, p. 1
192 Ibid., 27 Oct 39, p. 1
193 Molotov, Vyacheslav Mikhailovich (1890–): Russian politician; dep chmn Council Mins USSR 1941–57; Commissar, Min Foreign Aff 1939–49; Ambassador Mongolian Rep 1957–60; Permanent Rep Internat Atomic Energy Agency 1960–1
194 People’s Voice, 10 Nov 39, p. 1
195 Ibid., 24 Nov 39, p. 2
196 Ibid., 8 Dec 39, p. 4
197 Defeated 224:26 in 1940, and 229:27 in 1941. Standard, 28 Mar 40, p. 14, 17 Apr 41, p. 3
198 See chap 19, ‘Censorship’
200 NZ Methodist Times, 30 Mar 35, pp. 7, 11, 13
206 Burton, Rev Ormond Edward, MM, Medaille d’Honneur (1893–1974): served 1NZEF; Methodist minister 1935–42, 1955–; chmn NZCPS 1937–45
208 Reprinted in Auckland Star, 12 Feb 40, p. 9
209 Lang, Most Rev & Rt Hon Cosmo Gordon, 1st Baron Lambeth (’42), PC, GCVO (1864–1945): Archbishop Canterbury 1928–42
213 Press, 17 Feb 40, p. 9
214 Church Chronicle, 1 Feb, 1 Apr 40, pp. 3, 35
216 Press, 5 Jun 40, p. 8
218 Outlook, 11 Nov 35, p. 22
219 Ibid., 2 Mar, 1 Jun, 7 Sep 38, pp. 21, 2, 3, 22 Mar, 10 May, 28 Jun, 30 Aug, 6 Sep 39, all p. 3
220 Ibid., 13 Sep, 4 Oct 39, pp. 3, 3
223 Press, 16, 21 Nov 39, pp. 2, 10; Outlook, 20 Sep 39, p. 11
224 Richards, Rev Alun Morgan: b Wales 1907, educ NZ; freelance journalist Europe, Far East; Presby minister; WEA tutor-organiser Wgtn 1939–41; with Govt Publicity (Economic Information Service), NZ organiser CORSO 1947; Ed Outlook 1948–56; Min Wgtn 1957–65; Ed NZ Methodist 1966–8
225 Outlook, 4 Oct 39, p. 3; Star-Sun, 4 Oct 39, p. 6
226 Outlook, 5 Jun 40, p. 4; Press, 6 Jun 40, p. 6
227 NZ Tablet, 27 Mar, 5 Jun, 18 Sep 35, pp. 3, 33, 1–2, 29 Apr, 6 May 36, pp. 21, 7, 22 Sep 37, p. 26, 2 Feb 38, p. 27
228 Ibid., 28 Aug. 4, 11 Sep, 13 Nov 35, pp. 3, 20–1, 6, 9 & 29, 26 Feb, 4 Mar 36, pp. 23, 4
229 Ibid., 30 Oct 35, p. 1
231 Ibid., 22 Sep 37, p. 26, 2 Feb 38, p. 27
232 Ibid., 27 Sep 39, p. 7
233 Zealandia, 7 Sep 39, p. 10