Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

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

Politics, Books and Book-keeping

Politics, Books and Book-keeping

Just whose 'spiritual centre' the cooperative book movement should be was a matter of some debate. The composition of committees representative of the spectrum of progressive opinion enacted the strategic alliance of liberal and left opinion, middle class and working class radicalism, political left and labour movements which constituted the Popular Front. It also brought together a range of literary interests, and very different conceptions of the wider purpose of the cooperative book movement. This accommodation of interests was the basis of an ongoing debate, and at times conflict, over the question of who the co-op bookshops should cater to and the kinds of literature they should sell. The alternative visions by which the movement was inspired are summed up by two page 102 statements from members of the Wellington and Christchurch societies respectively:

We look. . . to the Bookshop to provide us, and the public generally, first, with those books, pamphlets, and periodicals that give us the information about what is going on in the world, now inadequately given or kept from us by the press; secondly, with the best fiction, poetry, and drama; thirdly, with the important scientific, philosophic, and religious literature of the day; and, finally, with the books of criticism and critical journals maintaining standards that deserve respect. We realise that we are faced with a political and cultural problem, at bottom the same problem, and desperately urgent.

the Christchurch Co-operative Book Society, if it has any ambition to extend its activities on a significant scale and to become more than a convenient device for supplying its own members with certain particular books which they may want and which they may have had difficulty in procuring elsewhere, must... recognise its identity of purpose with and develop its solidarity with the organised Labour Movement of this country. . . . [or] the Society will remain what it is to-day, a valuable and forward-looking but nevertheless small and self-confined group with no particularly significant impact upon the forces which are shaping history.44

Each of the societies represented a balance between these two ideals: a left-wing, working class cultural movement, or a more broadly-based progressive bookshop which would cater to all those interested in serious literature of whatever kind. Ideals were also compromised by the harsh reality of economics. The shops all followed the same broad pattern of development over the following decade, reflecting political, social and cultural changes in this period as well as the internal dynamics of the movement itself. However, there were at the same time significant differences in the way the interests were balanced, and in the characters of the shops themselves.

44 Scott, 'Books and Readers'; Robertson, 'Co-operation and the Labour Movement', CBN, Feb. 1942 (v.1, n.3), p.8