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A Popular Vision: The Arts and the Left in New Zealand 1930-1950

The Silencing of Tomorrow

The Silencing of Tomorrow

It was for practising what it preached that Tomorrow was eventually forced to cease publication in May 1940, after its printer was warned by the Superintendent of Police that the paper's continued appearance could be in breach of war regulations. The Censorship and Publicity Emergency Regulations 1939 and subsequent amendments were the legal justification for this act of suppression. Tomorrows publication of material expressing opposition to conscription and a sympathetic attitude towards conscientious objectors clearly could be seen to transgress the law. The Public Safety Emergency Regulations brought into force in February 1940, some months before conscription was introduced but in the midst of widespread public debate on the issue, amended the definition of subversive under the 1939 regulations to include any statement 'intended or likely to cause unlawful resistance to or interference with the enforcement or administration of any law . . . relating to military training or service'.50 The editors of Tomorrow were well aware of the dangers they faced, and prepared to impose their own censorship even at the expense of the 'open forum' ideal, as is indicated by their rejection of articles on conscription by Australian writer Nettie Palmer and Ormond Wilson in 1939.51 But Tomorrow had raised the government's ire well before the May 1940 amendment which gave it the legal power to close the paper down on these grounds. (By this amendment the Attorney General was empowered to seize not only 'any printing press that has been used for printing any subversive statements' but any press which he 'has reason to suspect... is likely to be used for printing further subversive statements'.52 ) As early as October 1939, before most of the material on conscription appeared, the Director of Publicity had written to the Prime Minister of Tomorrows 'insidious manner' and 'semi-subversive criticisms of national policy', and several contributors were warned not to remain associated with the paper.53 Earlier still, in September 1938, an editorial note appeared dissociating Tomorrow's printer from views expressed in the paper. This was now included in every issue, indicating some nervousness on the printer's part. In March 1939 it was announced that Tomorrow was changing its printing arrangements (although no reason was given).

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Kennaway, The Bobadolf, Tomorrow, 23 December 1936

Kennaway, The Bobadolf, Tomorrow, 23 December 1936

Conscription was only one of a number of issues on which Tomorrow had differed with the Labour government, although it was one to which the government was particularly sensitive (critics were not slow to point out that several of Labour's leaders had been imprisoned as conscientious objectors during the first world war). The paper had consistently attacked the government's socialist credentials in terms of both its policy and its conduct. The politics of personality may have played an even larger part in its suppression.

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Tomorrow did not refrain from criticism of individual government ministers, in its columns and in Kennaway Henderson's uncompromising caricatures of Peter Fraser and Robert Semple. Fraser, particularly, had gained a reputation for being almost paranoically sensitive to personal or political criticism, and Henderson's 'Bobadolf cartoons would hardly have endeared him to the Minister of Public Works. Tomorrows relationship with the Labour government undoubtedly reached its nadir with the publication of rebel MP John A. Lee's vitriolic attacks on the party hierarchy, culminating in the infamous 'Psycho-pathology in Politics' article in the 3 December 1939 issue and Lee's subsequent expulsion from the cabinet and Labour Party.

Tomorrow fell victim to heightened wartime sensitivities and to the political sensitivities of the Labour government and its leaders. Its fate would hardly have surprised the paper itself, which saw its role as 'this fight for freedom of thought and expression' and as a challenge to a culture 'morbidly sensitive to hostile criticism'.54 In its pages Tomorrow had also attacked more specific expressions of the conservatism of New Zealand cultural and political life.

Academic freedom of speech was the predominant subject of its first several issues. Contributors on this subject included a number of prominent academics: W. A. Sewell, T. A. Hunter, J. C. Beaglehole, James Shelley, and a visiting American lecturer who compared the lack of freedom experienced by New Zealand academics with that enjoyed by their American counterparts. This was a keenly felt issue at a time when academic freedom had been frequently under attack in the preceding years. The most serious instances of this occurred in Auckland. In 1932, against the background of the Queen Street 'riot', government interference in a university appointment was quietly threatened after the Professor of Philosophy, R.P. Anschutz, published a statement expressing qualified praise of socialism in the Soviet Union. The same year J. C. Beaglehole was dismissed from a temporary lectureship in History following a public debate over the right of academics publicly to express political views without fear for their jobs, and subsequently was unsuccessful in his application for chairs in History at both Auckland and Victoria colleges. The decision not to award a Rhodes scholarship in 1932 to John Mulgan, then a leftish, though by no means radical, student representative, was also seen by many to have political overtones.

At each of the four colleges student publications overstepped the limits of public propriety and official tolerance in the early 30s, and also paid for their outspokenness. Otago's Critic was banned after publishing criticism of the university authorities. In Christchurch Oriflamme was effectively banned after its first issue for printing an article on 'free love'. The Auckland literary review Kiwi was censured in 1930 for printing a poem by A.R.D. Fairburn which the college authorities deemed unsuitable for a university publication, and two years page 43 later Phoenix printed blank pages in the place of a censored article on sex. At Victoria, a number of articles in the annual review Spike were censored; in 1933 the Free Discussions Club's Student was banned by the student executive and the Professorial Board imposed a ban on discussion of sex, politics or religion in university debates.55 Such expressions of what was for the most part hardly extreme radicalism represented only a small, if vocal, section of the university population, centred on the small Free Discussions, Radical and Labour clubs formed in these years. Auckland students enrolled as special constables to help quell the depression 'riots' in 1932, and as Student editor Bart Fortune complained in a letter to Denis Glover the following year, 'students write letters to the papers defending free labour in the strike — and the whole place seems still to be away up in the clouds where students are apparendy the Lords anointed.'56 But the wider climate of opinion was conservative and intolerant, and the press preferred to see evidence of rampant Bolshevism invading the halls of higher education. The sensationalist Truth wrote of 'Hotbeds of Revolution' and 'sneers, jeers, bellicose blasphemies, red rantings and say-saturated sophistries', while the New Zealand Herald accused Auckland's newly-appointed Professor of English, W.A. Sewell, of holding views which denounced 'loyalty, patriotism, religious belief, moral standards, marriage and the family.'57

The conservatism of the country's educational authorities was one manifestation of the timid, insular, repressive intellectual culture described by Rhodes. Censorship was another. Censorship in broadcasting and film received regular comment in Tomorrow. But equally significant as a measure of the prevailing cultural and political climate was the censorship of literature. The legislation governing the importation of political literature into New Zealand at this time dated from the first world war and the 'Red scare' which followed the Russian revolution. The War Regulations Continuance Act 1920, and an Order-in-Council of May 1921, prohibited the importation of 'any document which incites, encourages, advises, or advocates violence, lawlessness, or disorder, or expresses any seditious intention.'58 A Customs Department list of prohibited literature in 1935 included 62 titles deemed subversive under this very loose definition, which was, indeed, hardly a definition at all. One quarter of these were allowed to be imported but Customs would give no guarantee against police action over their sale or distribution. The list included works by classic Marxist thinkers (Lenin, Marx, Bukharin, Trotsky and Stalin) and publications of the Socialist Party of Australia and the International Workers of the World.59 Much of the material that was seized by Customs would be approved subsequently by the Advisory Committee on Literature (and its successor) on the grounds that it was historical or educational rather than propagandist. The War and the Second International by Lenin, for example, was in the opinion of the committee 'addressed to the Russian people twenty years ago, and does not call page 44 upon readers in New Zealand today to adopt the same course. ... It would be just as logical to prohibit much that has been written about the French revolution.'60 A far greater number of books meanwhile were restricted or banned under the Indecent Publications Act 1910.

That the subject of literary censorship received little direct comment in the pages of Tomorrow is probably due in part to the degree of secrecy which surrounded it. The list of banned and restricted books was not a public document. Individual tides deemed to be 'subversive' were from time to time published in the New Zealand Gazette, information on indecent literature was not made public, although after much lobbying the list of proscribed tides was made available confidentially to the Associated Booksellers of New Zealand in 1935. But censorship both contributed to and was a measure of the intellectual and political climate described by Rhodes and Sinclaire. Censorship would also be an issue of particular concern to the cooperative bookshops and the Left Book Club in the late 30s and early 40s. The Labour government intended to repeal the War Regulations Continuance Act in 1936, and although legislation to this effect was never passed, the Comptroller of Customs was instructed in October 1936 to 'arrange for the restriction with regard to delivery of books on political, economic and other questions, to be removed'.61 Robin Hyde greeted this relaxation of political censorship with the comment: 'those who feel their chests expand when they read about new blocks of flats in Moscow will no longer have to sneak around corners to buy their papers.'62 However, it was not long before another war created the conditions for renewed attacks on freedom of expression and restrictions on the availability of literature, as Tomorrow itself discovered.

50 Statutory Regulations, 1940, p. 64

51 Rhodes to N. Palmer, 17 Dec. [1939]. H. Winston Rhodes Papers, ca.1939-October 1964. Ms Papers 888. Alexander Turnbull Library

52 Censorship and Publicity Emergency Regulations, 1939. Amendment No.2. Statutory Regulations, 1940, p.333

53 Quoted in Cutler, 'Intellectual Sprouts', pp.278, 275

54 Tomorrow, 31 Aug, 1938 (v.4, n.22), p.675; F.S., 'Notes By The Way', ibid., specimen issue, p.2

55 See K. Sinclair, A History of the University of Auckland, 1883-1983. Auckland: Auckland University Press/Oxford University Press, 1983, ch.9; J. C. Beaglehole, Victoria University College. An Essay Towards a History. Wellington: New Zealand University Press, 1949, pp.215-19

56 B.A. Fortune to D. Glover, 25 May 1933. Denis Glover Papers, 1928-1970. Ms Papers 418: folder 116. Alexander Turnbull Library

57 Quoted in P. Hughes, "'Sneers, Jeers . . . and Red Rantings". Bob Lowry's Early Printing at Auckland University College', Turnbull Library Record, May 1989 (v.22, n.1), p.18; Sinclair, A History of the University of Auckland, p.161

58 Statutory Regulations, 1940, p. 58

59 List of prohibited literature, appended to 'Question of the prohibition of the importation of certain literature into NZ'. Memorandum from Comptroller of Customs to Minister of Customs, 27 Jan. 1936. C1 36/959: box 152. National Archives

60 G. H. Scholefield, chairman, Advisory Committee on Literature to Comptroller of Customs, 2 Feb. 1934. Ibid.

61 W. Nash, Minister of Customs to Comptroller of Customs, 8 Oct. 1936. Ibid.

62 Hyde, 'Jack Basham's Bookshop. Land of the Free—Since When?', New Zealand Observer, n June 1936, p.11