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Political and External Affairs

CHAPTER 3 — The Radical Criticism

page 19

The Radical Criticism

WITHIN the broad stream of New Zealand's external policy up to 1935 there were small elements of independence, which were potentially important, though in general courteously concealed from publicity. It made no great difference which of the two parties held power; they were not deeply divided with regard to external affairs, or indeed (after the death of Seddon) in internal affairs either. During the 1914–18 war, however, a third political party emerged which neither in domestic nor in foreign policies shared the basic assumptions common to the two older parties.

The Labour Party had its formal origin in July 1916. It drew together existing left-wing groups and was led with great energy and resource by H. E. Holland and the men who, after his death in 1933, were to govern New Zealand during the Second World War. Behind the political party stood the trade unions, still smarting from the severe defeats of the pre-war strikes. The leaders of this Labour movement, if the term may be used to cover groups which only gradually gathered cohesion, had a strong traditional suspicion of Imperialism as exploitation, and of war as a deception practised by governments. In 1914 they had, like their colleagues overseas, recognised the call of a national crisis; yet radical suspicion remained, and an anti-war tradition. Suspicion naturally ripened into outright dissent, and by 1916 the leaders of the Labour Party had become bitterly critical of the Massey government's wartime policy. In that year, out of a combination of personal judgment, radical tradition and the needs of political controversy, the leaders of the movement formulated clearly a threefold wartime policy which deeply influenced the Labour Party's thinking well into the period of the Second World War.

The first element was an opposition to conscription so vehement that, at the time of the second Anti-Conscription Conference in December 1916, ‘almost half the effective platform propagandists of the Labour Movement were placed behind prison bars’.1 The second was the demand that ‘conscription of wealth’ must

1 Holland, Armageddon or Calvary, p. 14.

page 20 precede conscription of men. The third element was the advocacy of negotiated peace. In January 1916 Labour Party leaders cautiously expressed the suspicion that the continuance of the war might be due to Allied intransigence, and demanded that the Allies should state their peace-terms and so ‘assist the German Social Democratic movement in creating a large peace sentiment in Germany. The war has reached a stage when the intelligence of the world must assert itself to extricate humanity from the impasse into which military bureaucracy has led it1.’ Later the demand became more explicit. In January 1918 the party newspaper, the Maoriland Worker, urged the opening of peace negotiations. ‘Is it worth while crucifying humanity for another two years if a satisfactory settlement can be secured by negotiations?2’ And this demand was repeated at the party's annual conference in July.3

Naturally enough, Labour's attitude was publicly denounced by spokesmen of other parties as unpatriotic to the verge of sedition; yet it received considerable if unpublicised support. Sir Francis Bell himself was more than doubtful about the proceedings against the imprisoned Labour leaders,4 and a series of remarkable Labour victories at by-elections in 1918 suggest that by that time war-weariness was sufficiently general to make Labour's wartime policy a political asset rather than a liability. In its context, the attitude between 1914 and 1918 of the men who were to be New Zealand's cabinet in September 1939 was not a violent aberration from the country's normal trends. It was rather the ardent expression of viewpoints which, by and large, were even then regarded as not wholly unreasonable by many of those who rejected them.

Except in a few cases, Labour's policy was not based on pacifism in the strict sense of the word—a renunciation of violence in all circumstances—nor, in its opposition to conscription, on the view that the State had no right in any circumstances to force its citizens to undertake military service. Much is explained by the inheritance of bitterness from the Waihi, Huntly and maritime strikes just before the war, the Massey government's effective strike-breaking methods and subsequent legislation. In France the conscription law had been used in 1910 to break a railway strike and many workers feared that something similar might happen in New Zealand.

1 Manifesto of first Anti-Conscription Conference, Evening Post, 28 Jan 1916.

2 Maoriland Worker, 9 Jan 1918, and Thorn, Peter Fraser, p. 50.

3 Brown, New Zealand Labour Party, 1916–1935, p. 158. Unpublished thesis, Victoria University College library.

4 In his correspondence Bell, at that time leader of the Upper House and shortly to become Attorney-General, emphasised the distinction ‘between advocacy of the repeal of the Military Service Act and advocacy of resistance to that Act. The first cannot be sedition however you take it, and yet in my view the Magistrates are dealing out the same sentences in respect of speeches which to my untutored mind do not seem to go beyond the constitutional right of advocacy of repeal’.—Stewart, Bell, p. 135.

page 21 Opposition to conscription, therefore, could derive not only from basic views on the nature of war and of freedom, but from practical apprehensions as to what might happen later on. Workers who in the view of Bishop Sprott did not lack patriotism feared that a conscript army might be used ‘to hold the workers in subjection when the critical after war period is reached1.’ Moreover, if conscription was socially dangerous it was, in the view of Labour spokesmen, as yet unnecessary. If the people were agreed on war, it was argued, voluntaryism must produce the men, provided the soldier and his dependants are adequately cared for; therefore ‘conscript enough wealth to set free enough men to go as willing volunteers’.2 ‘To conscript a man's wealth is a less serious invasion of personal liberties than to conscript a man's person, and in a struggle for freedom the conscription of wealth must precede the conscription of flesh and blood and be fully tried before the latter is seriously considered3.’

Conscription of wealth was defined as meaning that ‘the land, mines, mills, factories, ships, banks and all the collectively used means of wealth production shall be seized and operated for the collective benefit of the people during the war, and shall remain the property of the people after the war4.’ Needless to say, this proposal was made for the purpose of discomfiting the advocates of conscription rather than with any serious expectation of its adoption. The phrase was also used by Labour speakers in the 1914–18 war with some vaguer and apparently less drastic meaning than that given to it in the manifesto. In its origin it was less a practical proposal than a rhetorical device to hammer home the Labour charge that the Government ‘fastened the chains of militarism on the young life of the Dominion, but … cringed and grovelled before the profiteer and exploiter5.’

It will be seen that Labour opposed certain wartime measures that it enforced twenty-five years later and advocated others that it did not put into practice when in power. This was duly pointed out during 1939–45 by its critics of both left and right. But there was more consistency in the attitude of some at least of the Labour leaders than a brief statement of the facts might indicate. A remarkable letter written by Peter Fraser and published in the Evening Post on 22 February 1916 indicates a point of view which he would have had little reason to modify as a justification of his later policy as a leader of the nation at war. Replying to the criticism that the

1 Evening Post, 7 Feb 1916; Maoriland Worker, 2 Feb 1916.

2 McCombs, NZPD, Vol. 176, p. 507.

3 Manifesto of Anti-Conscription Conference, 27 Jan 1916; Maoriland Worker, 2 Feb 1916 and Evening Post, 28 Jan 1916.

4 Ibid.

5 Maoriland Worker, 13 Feb 1918.

page 22 Social Democrats were ‘fiddling while Rome burnt’, he wrote that it was surely better to do this than to ‘calculate in cold blood how much personal profit could be made out of the holocaust, which is in plain language what our present-day trade snatchers are doing.’ The letter continued:

It really is an insult to Britain to accuse her of mere practical nationalism. To their credit it can be said that the force which moved the British people was mainly their sympathy with Belgium. Britain is more international than ever she was.

Before the war many things advocated by Social Democrats were said to be Utopian. Today they are accomplished facts. Only by adopting instalments of State Socialism could the Allies carry on the war. The failure of private enterprise has been an outstanding feature of the situation, hitherto. Who can doubt than one reason of Germany's success on land (now probably nearing its limit) was her superior State organisation? The pity is that there should be such splendid organisation for such base ends. When the nations are as well organised for peace and economic justice as Germany was for war Social Democracy will be even to its opponents something more substantial than a dream.

It is true that certain prominent Labour men were pacifists, and that the party took up the case of certain conscientious objectors who had been maltreated. It is true, too, that in the first years of peace the issue was complicated by vehement expressions of anti-war sentiment. These, together with the personal pacifism of some individuals during the war, created the traditional belief that in this ‘free lance period’ the Labour Party was marked by ‘militant pacifism’.1 Yet there is little proof that at any time it departed so widely from a ‘responsible’ attitude. On the whole, its criticism of wartime policy in 1914–18 arose from its political suspicion of its own and other Allied governments (a suspicion shared by the Australian Labour movement) rather than from doctrinaire pacifism.

The main evidence in the contrary sense derives from the immediately post-war years. In 1920 the party conference did in fact modify its defence policy in an apparently pacifist sense. Since 1913 it had demanded the abolition of compulsory military training, this to be followed by the creation of a volunteer army ‘with standard wages while on duty’. The suggested volunteer army was now dropped. When this course had been unsuccessfully urged in 1919, some of the arguments were strictly pacifist: that the use of armed force was never justified and that ‘an unarmed nation depending upon moral force and passive resistance was the very best defence New Zealand could possibly have.’ The suggestion had then been supported by two men who were later prominent in Labour's wartime cabinet, by one of them, Walter Nash, with the remark ‘that

1 Round Table, Vol. 97, p. 215, December 1934.

page 23 an unarmed nation would be in an impregnable position1.’ When, however, the proposed change in the party's official policy was actually carried in 1920 it is more than doubtful whether the conference was thinking in terms of non-resistance. The main recorded argument stressed the fear that military force might be used ‘to subjugate the workers’ in New Zealand as ‘was happening today in Ireland, India, Egypt’; and, it was said, ‘a voluntary army [would be] infinitely worse than a compulsory one under present conditions’.2 The conference also passed a resolution ‘Recognising that modern wars waged by the Capitalist Governments mean, in essence, the massacre of the workers of one country by the workers of another for the financial profit of a few’ and urging ‘the workers of belligerent countries to reply to a declaration of war by a general strike3.’

In considering the resolutions of the 1920 conference it should be remembered that they were passed at the time when the British Labour Party was threatening a general strike in the event of British intervention against Russia4 in the war between that country and Poland. That the passage of the extremist resolutions in 1920 was largely due to what seemed the imminent possibility of further British military operations against Soviet Russia is suggested by the 1921 conference's shelving of a resolution on war similar to that passed in 1920, but milder in that it omitted the proposal for a general strike.5 After two or three years of uncertainty the 1924 conference came out with the declaration that it ‘wholeheartedly supports the British Labour Government in its efforts to secure disarmament by agreement among the nations, and declares that it will be prepared to face the problem of defence on assuming office as the Government of the Dominion in the light of that policy, and will be guided by the circumstances prevailing at that time as to the extent to which disarmament can be achieved or defence is necessary6.’

Cautious and vague as this statement was, it amounted to an unmistakable recantation of the fiery words of 1920. In the exceptional circumstances of that year prominent Labour men went far in the direction of pacifism; but for the party as a whole it was at most a passing phase. Outright pacifism was no significant part of Labour's

1 Maoriland Worker, 6 Aug 1919.

2 Ibid., 8 Sep 1920.

3 Ibid., 15 Sep 1920.

4 The conference passed a resolution condemning the Allies' attempt to restore the Tsarist regime and a cable congratulating the British Labour Party on its stand in the matter was signed (among others) by the President of the New Zealand Labour Party.—Brown, Labour Party, p. 160, and Maoriland Worker, 8 Sep 1920.

5 Maoriland Worker, 7 Sep 1921.

6 NZ Worker, 11 Jun 1924. The Maoriland Worker became the New Zealand Worker in February 1924, which was in turn succeeded by the Standard in October 1935.

page 24 contribution to the country's political thinking. What it did contribute was a persistent suspicion of war and war makers, a traditional sympathy for conscientious objectors, and an increasingly definite claim that, if war came, New Zealand should fight through her own considered decision, which would involve independent thought, and possibly divergence from British leadership.

In the nineteen-twenties this was a matter of principle rather than of political substance; for there was little immediate hope of deflecting New Zealand policy or of modifying significantly the normal preoccupation of most New Zealanders (including members of the Labour Party) with domestic economics. When Labour's core of seasoned political leaders treated world issues as being of practical concern to the intelligent New Zealander, and discussed them with knowledge and conviction, they were scarcely representative of the Labour movement, and still less of New Zealand as a whole. Behind the scenes New Zealand prime ministers might occasionally express candid disagreement with British policy when it veered to the left, just as Labour leaders openly denounced it while it kept to the main road; but for the great majority of New Zealanders world history was a drama to be observed from a distance without any notion of audience participation. The results of the play might, indeed, impinge on New Zealand, but among the actors was a hazily conceived entity, the British Empire, into whose practised hands most New Zealanders, by deliberate choice or by lethargy and acquiescence, resigned their country's interests. It is difficult for members of a dissenting minority to alter so predominant an attitude. However, by challenging it they can bring it to the surface and once this is done it may lose, for a while at least, something of its power. By the example of persistently continuing to exist they may keep open the possibility of alternative forms of action. By continuing to assert a reasonably coherent point of view they may gradually accumulate a body of inaudible but potentially powerful and disciplined sympathy.

In short, beneath an appearance of established traditionalism, old foundations can be undermined and new ones laid on which politicians may later erect novel and spectacular edifices; and something of this nature happened in New Zealand between 1920 and 1935. In Parliament, that admirable sounding board for public opinion, the conventional views might prevail but the unconventional never lacked outspoken advocacy. Labour speakers were fond of remarking that many New Zealanders rejected ‘the duty to take up the cry that comes from London and repeat it like so many parrots1.’ Some went so far as to denounce ‘the blunders of

1 P. Fraser, NZPD, Vol. 200, p. 788.

page 25 British statesmen’,1 and claim that New Zealand defence expenditure was caused by such blunders. The characteristic line of Labour's most forceful debaters, however, was insistence that New Zealand should abandon her swaddling clothes, cease to take pride in her immature and inferior status, and contribute to Imperial defence the strength which comes from having a mind and soul of one's own.2 External and defence policy, it was urged, should be guided by information made available to the people and Parliament of New Zealand.3 It was not enough that the Government should advocate a given course with the presumed approval of the United Kingdom: evidence should be produced and arguments advanced. ‘The time had arrived,’ said Fraser in 1934, ‘when the House and the country should be taken into the full confidence not merely of Cabinet, but also of the Imperial Government4.’

One significant symptom of new developments was a trickle of intellectual criticism directed at New Zealand's traditional acquiescence: her ‘Mother complex’ was described as such to be derided. Another and more significant fact was the conscious development, in a generation which had known war (and later depression), of something increasingly resembling a New Zealand attitude towards life in general. It would be too ambitious to speak of a New Zealand culture. Yet something was stirring, to find expression among writers and painters, among scholars and journalists as well as among politicians, which produced a sharper mental climate. The difference between Allen Curnow's Book of New Zealand Verse and its predecessor, Kowhai Gold, shows that it was not only in politics that the ferment was working. There was in the politics of men like Holland and Fraser and in the writings of Mason and Sargeson and Glover, of Lee and Mulgan, something which we now think of as typical of the place as well as the time.

It is impossible to distinguish this indigenous element in New Zealand's life from the effect of influences shared by New Zealand with the outside world, particularly Great Britain. This was in most places a period of disillusionment, and one symptom was the spate of war novels in England in 1929–30. Most of these, of which the prototype was the German All Quiet on the Western Front, suggested in the words of a contemporary critic that ‘the Great War was engineered by knaves or fools on both sides, that the men who died in it were driven like beasts to the slaughter, and died like beasts without their deaths helping any cause or doing any good5.’ Dis-

1 McKeen, 1933, NZPD, Vol. 233, p. 231.

2 NZPD, Vol. 228, p. 580 (C. Carr); p. 621 (H. G. R. Mason); Milner, New Zealand's Interests and Policies in the Far East, p. 91.

3 NZPD, Vol. 197, p. 86 (H. E. Holland); Vol. 239, p. 755 (W. E. Barnard).

4 Ibid., Vol. 240, p. 381.

5 Falls, War Books, p. ix.

page 26 illusionment
ripened into a broad and undefined pacifism which according to Stanley Baldwin reached its peak in 1933–34.1 It was in the former year that the Oxford Union's resolution not to fight for King and Country provided the most publicised expression of pacifist sentiment in Britain. The pathetic failure of the Disarmament Conference, on which high hopes had been desperately built, Hitler's seizure of power in Germany, and above all, the long course of the economic depression, all went to sharpen men's disquiet and shake still further their faith in traditional policies. The unique importance of the depression was that its immediate and bitter experience produced indignation far beyond the ranks of habitual radicals. The faith of innumerable not very reflective people in the wisdom of their rulers, and in the adequacy of the way in which their community was managed, was shaken as perhaps never before.
It is easy enough to trace this trend in New Zealand. In 1922 and 1923, for instance, there was a carry over of triumph from a victorious war and, as in wartime propaganda, an assumption that nations could be firmly divided into the good and the bad, the aggressors and the defenders of civilisation. At the threat of war in 1922 a contemporary observer could claim that ‘a thrill of patriotism and a deep sense of national obligation ran through the country’ as men beseiged the recruiting offices.2 By 1930, however, a conservative government abolished conscription largely on grounds of economy, but also because ‘we cannot ignore the strong feeling in favour of world peace and the opposition to militarism which has grown up not only in New Zealand, but in most other civilised countries3.’ By 1933 Anzac Day services, once the occasion for teaching ‘the Empire builders of the future the lessons of Anzac’, and for telling the story of British fights for liberty, gave opportunity for clergymen to discuss the tragedy of war. This was the period when shops and libraries were full of books, fiction and otherwise, whose moral was the horror and futility of war, the tragedy that both sides always regarded their own cause as righteous and purely defensive, the wickedness of armament manufacturers, and the need to apply in the international field the principles of law and police action which had proved so fruitful within each state. The same ideas found their way into the schoolroom—a circumstance of some importance since the schoolroom contained those who were to be men of military age in the years 1939–45. A study of social attitudes in the New Zealand School Journal points out that from 1929 onwards articles expressing anti-war sentiments begin to

1 Hansard, Vol. 317, cols. 1144–5.

2 Round Table, Vol. 13, p. 452.

3 J. G. Cobbe, Minister of Defence, NZPD, Vol. 225, p. 303.

page 27 appear in the Journal. By 1932 ‘Detestation and abhorrence of war’ are stressed and the broad social aim is ‘to serve the interests of all1.’ An article, ‘The Unknown Warrior’, describes how the soldier ‘goes out to live in mud and filth and die a lonely and horrible death far from his home and all that he loved…. the finest flower of every household, all offered as a sacrifice on the insane and monstrous altar of war’.2

In brief, by 1933 and 1934 it had become not only possible but almost conventional for New Zealanders to speak with scepticism of modern warfare and even use terms of outright pacifism which would have been wholly out of key ten years before. It is not surprising that these ideas were still to be found in the utterances of the Labour Party. In the debate on the 1934 estimates Labour speakers criticised the Government for spending money ‘to defend the people against problematical attacks’ by foreigners instead of against ‘the certain and continuous ravages of poverty and distress3.’ New Zealand should keep out of ‘the competitive armaments campaign’ which would inevitably lead to war, as in 1914: she could thus help to frustrate the armament manufacturers who here, as elsewhere, were ‘stirring up enmity, discontent, and distrust4.’ Yet the remarkable thing is that on the whole the pacifist and radical tendencies were becoming subdued in the Labour Party in the same years that they were infiltrating into the very citadels of conservatism.

The reason for this development lay in domestic politics. The party and its supporters were losing the feeling that they were in the state but not of it. As Labour steadily increased its representation in Parliament and as the possibility of its becoming the government by constitutional means became something other than a Utopian dream, its temper softened. The root and branch abolition of capitalism and the inauguration of the new socialist society faded from the party's propaganda to be replaced by more specific measures of reform, the doctrinaire significance of which was not laboured. The gulf narrowed between the advocates of the new society and the defenders of the old and there came to be an area of common ground on matters such as defence or foreign policy in which national rather than class interests were seen to be involved. The closing of the gap is illustrated from the side of conservatism in the abolition of compulsory military training by the Forbes government. It is illustrated from the other side by the increasingly conciliatory nature of the speeches made by Labour

1 Jenkins, Social Attitudes in the New Zealand School Journal.

2 Jenkins, op. cit. p. 18.

3 Barnard, NZPD, Vol. 239, p. 755.

4 Armstrong, NZPD, Vol. 239, pp. 791–2.

page 28 speakers urging this measure in the House of Representatives in the years immediately preceding its adoption. In 1929, for example, Mr Jordan had urged that if the old system were abolished ‘those who desire to render military service will still be able to do so under a voluntary system1.’ In the following year, Walter Nash as National Secretary of the party issued a statement stressing that a Labour government ‘would take all the steps that are necessary to ensure proper organisation for the defence of the Dominion. Its policy would be definitely determined by the extent to which disarmament had been achieved by agreement’.2

As early as 1927 Nash, then Secretary of the Labour Party, but not yet a member of Parliament, had participated in an odd episode which was perhaps significant evidence of the evolution of New Zealand opinion. In that year the New Zealand Government was severely criticised by Labour spokesmen for contributing to the Singapore base; one main ground for such criticism, especially by H. E. Holland, was that the construction of the base would be offensive to Japan. At a conference in Honolulu, however, Nash as a private citizen was called upon for a report on New Zealand opinion. He explained3 that the contribution to Singapore was contested, and summarised the arguments; but he added that a majority of New Zealanders would support the Government's decision on the ground that in their view the Navy was a major instrument for world peace, and that it could not exercise its peacemaking function in the Pacific without the base. Nash's action in saying publicly that on this issue his party's policy would not carry the electorate was warmly repudiated in Parliament; yet he would appear to have given a fair enough summary of New Zealand opinion at that time.

The significance of the incident lay in the contrast between the objectivity of Nash's statement with its emphasis on New Zealand's interest in maintaining world peace, and the fiery denunciation of Holland; and Nash's voice was that of the future. Opinion even in the leadership of the Labour Party was facing the notion that force as well as good will may be necessary for the control of war-makers.

It was, however, the League of Nations that was to provide the machinery for Labour's reconciliation to the principle of the just war. The League in the early days was criticised by Labour spokesmen as being a mere continuation of the wartime alliance, but it soon became apparent that the avowed objectives and methods of

1 NZPD, Vol. 221, p. 788.

2 Round Table, Vol. 20, pp. 913–14.

3 Ed. Condliffe, Problems of the Pacific (1927), p. 38; NZ Worker, Aug-Nov 1927, summarised by Brown, op. cit., p. 175.

page 29 the League lay close to the ideals of those members of the Labour Party who were interested in foreign affairs. The League and its agencies, including the International Labour Organisation, at least offered machinery to those who wished to promote peace and social welfare through international action. It provided a forum in which New Zealand could speak and act for herself, not necessarily echoing the ideas of the United Kingdom. It stood for principles of justice, open diplomacy, and the marshalling of law-abiding nations against aggression.

The League, in short, was believed by influential Labour men to stand in the international field for the same principles as their own party, and to hold particular promise for small nations. From 1922 onwards, therefore, Labour spokesmen continually reminded opinion of a fact as yet hazily grasped: namely that the League existed and was potentially important for New Zealand. In 1922 Holland and Fraser criticised the Government for committing the country ‘without the authority of the parliament and people of New Zealand’, and urged that the issues between the Allies and Turkey should be submitted to the League for settlement.1 In 1926 Holland complained that the Government had not exercised its right to send an independent delegation to the conference of the International Labour Organisation, thereby depriving the workers of their just rights. In the following year the Labour Party and especially Holland, in their opposition to the Government's decision to contribute towards the Singapore base, argued that such expenditure was ‘contrary to the whole spirit of the League of Nations. Instead of using this country's money in increasing the distrust of the West’ in the eyes of the East, ‘the government should use it in promoting the principles of the League of Nations2.’ In 1933 Holland unsuccessfully suggested that Parliament should expressly support the League's attitude in Manchuria,3 and from time to time a plea was entered for New Zealand to take a really positive attitude in League matters. In the debate preceding the Imperial Conference of 1930, for example, Nash claimed that ‘The League of Nations has accomplished more progressive work and its achievements are greater than any other organisation in the history of the world’. And he asked that the Prime Minister should speak up in the conference to support the League's work, ‘not merely to say in a superficial way that the League is a splendid body, but by asserting that the whole weight of the New Zealand government and of our people is behind it in its efforts to establish peaceful relationships between the nations4.’

1 NZPD, Vol. 197, pp. 86, 87.

2 Press, 2 May 1927.

3 NZPD, Vol. 235, p. 770.

4 Ibid., Vol. 225, p. 117.

page 30

Such a statement, if Forbes had been foolish enough to make it, would have been a gross exaggeration, as it indeed would have been if made by the representative of almost any country represented at Geneva. As was to be expected, there was little response to such demands for positive action in support of the League. Yet in a sense Labour's campaign was fought without an enemy. Despite Massey's early suspicions of the League, most conservatives were prepared to admit that it was, in principle, an excellent institution. If there was little enthusiasm for it, there was still less hostility. It is true that in the depth of the depression New Zealand asked for a reduction of her contribution on the ground that the League had made such poor progress;1 but a cut in her contribution towards naval defence was also suggested in the same year.2 The attitude of most New Zealanders was not unfriendly. In 1927 Mr Coates, then Prime Minister, summarised it fairly enough in terms characteristically inclined towards the future rather than the past:

We should work quietly and definitely in the direction of helping the League of Nations to accomplish what it will accomplish if given time. In the meantime no one can say that the League of Nations is an effective protection against aggression or against interference with trade or indeed with peoples, and it is essential in our own interests that we should do our share towards protecting our trade routes and assisting Empire defence.3

This statement may accordingly be taken as a reasonable interpretation of New Zealand's official position up to the Italian-Ethiopian crisis. Yet the demand for something more positive was quietly accumulating. In 1934, for example, Walter Nash inaugurated a debate on the general theme that the Government had not been sufficiently interested in the League of Nations. In his view, by this time the League had firmly linked aspects as both an instrument of collective security and as a means of mutual help in raising standards of life.4 In the balance between the views expressed by Coates and Nash is to be found a summary of effective New Zealand opinion in the first half of the nineteen-thirties.

A vital reservation must here be made from the perspective of twenty years later. The evolution which drew together the attitudes of these two men in relation to external affairs may be plain enough; and its natural culmination was their active collaboration in the War Cabinet. Yet this evolution tended to part both men from a significant section of their followers. As was well known even in 1934, Coates was too radical for many of his own party, which early in the war altered its leadership to his detriment. On

1 NZPD, Vol. 233, p. 422.

2 Round Table, No. 83, June 1931, p. 708.

3 NZPD, Vol. 214, pp. 258–9

4 Ibid., Vol. 239, p. 7.

page 31 the other hand, Nash in his association of collective security (with its implication of a possible ‘just war’) with Labour's long-term welfare objective only partially represented the radical currents of the period between the wars. The way was being prepared, therefore, for a new political balance, and an altered relationship between currents of opinion and political spokesmen. Meantime, the growing strength and the debating power of the Labour Party were in part the reflection and in part the cause of a long-term change in the New Zealand community. What was said and done in the following ten or twelve years cannot be understood unless it be remembered that in New Zealand between 1920 and 1935 men who could command a hearing were saying unorthodox things: that war had been in the past an almost unmitigated evil; that the League of Nations should be radically reformed in a democratic sense and used as an instrument for social welfare; that such a League was the highest expression of democratic ideals; that Britain herself might in fact be wrong; that New Zealand's people should decide their destiny according to their own judgment; and that New Zealand's policy must be guided by issues arising in the Pacific as well as in Europe. Such notions might not represent a coherent policy and might be hopelessly remote from practical politics, but they, as well as the continuing reality of the country's dependence on Britain, helped to determine the way in which New Zealand behaved when she was forced to define her attitude to the approach of another war.