Communist Party of New Zealand

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Communist Party of New Zealand

History and splits

Founded in December 1920, the Communist Party of New Zealand (CPNZ) was unique among communist parties in the developed world in that it closely aligning itself with China and Albania and their polemics against “modern revisionism,” in 1963-64.

In fact, only one of the eight member Political Committee and three members of the 21 National Committee sided with the Soviet Union in this Sino-Soviet dispute. These pro-Soviet elements (mainly Auckland trade unionists) under the leadership of former CPNZ chairman George Jackson were the backbone of a Party split that led to the formation of the pro-Soviet Socialist Unity Party in 1966. Alex Drennan became its inaugural president, and remained its ’elder statesman’ until his death in November 1971.

Although weakened by the split, and particularly by the loss of much of its trade union base, the CPNZ for about a decade and a half, continued to maintain a solid pro-China position. CPNZ leaders made frequent visits to China and its ally, Albania during these years. In March 1966, Party General Secretary Vic Wilcox spent ten days in China. In that same year, two other party leaders, Ray Nunes and A. Rhodes, attended the Fifth Congress of the Albanian Workers Party. Even at the height of China’s diplomatic isolation, CPNZ leading members and delegations visited China on numerous occasions in 1967. References to the CPNZ in the official Chinese media only began to lessen in 1973, reflecting the change in China’s foreign policy priorities.

The CPNZ produced the weekly ’Peoples Voice’ newspaper, and the theoretical monthly, ’New Zealand Communist Review’. Chinese publications were a staple at the Party’s left wing book shop, Progressive Books in Derby Street off Queen Street Auckland.

Beginning in first half of the 1970s, the CPNZ was wracked by a series of expulsions, suspensions and resignations. In the latter half of the1970s, inner party disputes led to the formulation of a host of new organisations and groupings which reflected the debates within the international communist movement and mirrored its own growing fragmentation. In particular, the fall of the Gang of Four and the split between China and Albania had major impacts on anti-revisionism in New Zealand.

After the fall of the Gang of Four, the CPNZ leadership, supported by ten of the twelve branches of the CPNZ, rejected the policies of the post-Mao China leadership, in particular the “theory of three worlds” and came out in support of the line of the Party of Labour of Albania. As a result, Wilcox, the CPNZ General Secretary, who had continued to support the Chinese line, was expelled.

However, the CPNZ leadership was thrown into confusion when Enver Hoxha began attacking the Marxist credentials of Mao Zedong. In August 1979 a CPNZ delegation led by Ray Nunes went to Albania to discuss ideological differences. After its return, the Political Committee adopted a pro-Mao resolution. The appearance of an article, “What Mao Really said,” in the November 1979 edition of the ’New Zealand Communist Review’, whilst attacking the current ’Chinese revisionists’, contained a veiled critique of the Albanian characterisation of Mao Zedong as a lifelong revisionist. By February 1980, however, the CPNZ Central Committee endorsed the Albanian analysis that the victory in China in 1949 was a bourgeois democratic revolution and Mao was not a Marxist-Leninist. Pro-Mao elements, who had been in the CPNZ delegation to Albania in August 1979, Ray Nunes and Nat Gould and others – including the entire Wellington branch – left the CPNZ.

The New Zealand anti-revisionist individuals and groups that rejected the CPNZ and its Pro-Albania line were themselves badly divided. They included:

All of these groups were small and had extremely limited influence. By the 1990s the New Zealand anti-revisionist movement was in serious decline.

After the collapse of Communism in Albania, the CPNZ gradually changed its views. Under the leadership of its last General Secretary, Grant Morgan, it developed a “state capitalist” analysis of the socialist countries. The remnants of the CPNZ eventually merged in 1994 with the International Socialist Organization based in the politics of the Trotskyist International Socialism tradition. The resultant party called itself the Socialist Workers Organization.

Opponents of this change left the CPNZ, giving rise to two politically opposed organisations: the Communist Party of Aotearoa (a Maoist group using the native Maori name for New Zealand); and a pro-Hoxha group, the Marxist-Leninist Collective (Communist Party of New Zealand Reconstruction Collective) that existed until about 1997.

Ray Nunes, formerly a prominent member of the CPNZ, was instrumental in the founding of the Workers Party of New Zealand (WPNZ) in 1991. It published ’The Spark’ and described itself as “pro-Mao, Marxism-Leninism”. In February 2011 a minority section of the former leadership of the WPNZ, including former National Secretary Daphna Whitmore, former National Organiser Philip Ferguson and former ’Spark’ Co-ordinating Editor Don Franks announced their decision to leave the organisation. In June 2011 these individuals joined with other former members of the Workers’ Party to launch an on-line publication entitled ’Redline’.[1]


Wellington Marxist-Leninist Organisation was formed in 1976, emerging out of anti-tour groups Halt All Racist Tours (HART), the Committee on Vietnam, and former members of the Communist Party of New Zealand (CPNZ), including Ronald Joseph Smith, Mike Scott, and Rona Bailey.[2]

Work among the Maori

From the 1930s, the Communist Party of New Zealand (in line with their 1936 resolutions) and constant prompting by Moscow, tried to recruit Maori and infiltrate them into positions of influence in Maori organisations.

Party General Secretary, Leo Sim told the 1935 Comintern Congress that “Maori are very sympathetic to the Party.”

According to Kerry Taylor in “On the Left” p 109, in 1936, the CPNZ was very proud that two of their Otaki branches three members were Maori. A Frank Parata was on the Otago CPNZ district executive in the ’40s and small numbers of Maori were recruited in Canterbury, Wellington, Napier and Auckland. At one point in the ’40s, there was even an independent Maori branch in Wellington.

Other prominent Maori, such as “Princess” Te Puea Herangi, were targeted in the hope of influencing their activities to the Party’s advantage.

Marxist-Leninist interest in racial, or “National Question” politics began in New Zealand shortly after the formation of the Communist Party of New Zealand (CPNZ) in 1921.

The Party at the time was tiny and had little contact with Maoris. It used other avenues however, such as it’s early affiliation to the Labour Party to raise Maori issues.

At Labour’s 1925 conference, CPNZ members Alex Galbraith and Gordon Kilpatrick moved the resolution “That this conference approves the policy of socialisation of land and means of production under the autonomous control of the Maori race”.

Shortly after, the CPNZ was expelled from the Labour Party and did little work, on their own account among the Maori population.

The Moscow based Communist International (Comintern) was not pleased with the CPNZ’s slackness and in March 1934 admonished the Party in a letter to the CPNZ’s theoretical journal, NZ Labour Review.

“During the last year, the Party has not reacted at all to the National Colonial problem. The slogan of the self determination of… the Maori must be constantly driven into the minds of the working masses, linking it up with the tasks of the current struggles… Great efforts must be made to bring Maori workers into the Party ranks. The Party must work out concrete demands for the Maori toilers and take steps to secure the poorer part of the Maori population and the Maori youth in the struggle for these demands…”

The following year saw the CPNZ campaigning in the General Elections on a platform which included a call for “Self determination of the Maoris to the point of complete separation“

In NZ Communist Review of March 1936 the CPNZ printed a resolution submitted by Wellington comrade, Myles Ormerod which was formally adopted by the 8th Party Conference.

This resolution is worth reading several times. Though written 70 years ago it is a blueprint for much of the racial and social change that has occurred since that time. Every point in the resolution has been, or is in the process of being implemented today.

SELF DETERMINATION OF NATIONS… The CPNZ…must also defend the right of the Maori people to form an independent state with it’s own territory if they so desire. If the Maori people do not desire state separation, we must support the demands for local autonomy in the districts where the majority of the population is Maori.

WORK AMONG THE MAORIS… In the struggle around these issues, it is important to take all possible steps to enlist the support of the mass organisations of the Maori people, as well as those of the pakeha… care must be taken when approaching the organisations of the Maori people with proposals, that these proposals in no way offend the tribal and cultural traditions of the Maoris.

As their chief cultural medium and most cherished possession, the Maori is most particularly sensitive regarding his language… The demand should be raised for the right of all Maoris to be educated in their own language at the expense of the state, and that court cases in which Maoris are defendants be conducted in the Maori language.

THE LAND QUESTION… This, the most important economic question among the Maoris, must be more thoroughly discussed and studied by our Party. It is necessary to raise not only the general demand for sufficient land for the Maori population, but also to take up the demand for the restoration of particular lands of which the Maori people have been defrauded by trickery, the demand that all land now in dispute between Maori and Pakeha be unconditionally surrendered to the Maori people…The demand must be supported for an immediate Government Commission composed of equal Maori representation to investigate all land questions considered in dispute by the Maori people nationally.

ORGANISING OUR WORK AMONG THE MAORIS…In our work among the Maori people we must apply the tactic of the United Front on a wide scale, drawing the most diverse Maori organisations into the struggle for the particular demands which most concern them. For example, the Maori church organisations could, by a correct approach be drawn into such struggles as the demand for equal relief, the demand for the education of Maori children in their own language etc…

In our work among the Maoris we must further ensure that Party members who are Maoris, become members of the mass organisations among the Maoris (church, sports, cultural etc) and work within these to develop around themselves broad fractions on the basis of a simple programme of a revolutionary national liberationist character. In this it is especially necessary to avoid trying to base such fractions on a programme of proletarian revolution. Our Communist Maoris must become the spearhead of the national liberation struggle of their people”

The Waitangi Tribunal and the Kohanga Reo movement, guaranteed Maori representation on councils etc. can, I believe be traced back to this resolution. While Maori membership in the CPNZ was small and often secret, Party influence can be traced through many Maori organisations. Many Maori leaders of the past five decades were members of, or were “cultivated” by the CPNZ or by one or more of its offshoots.

In NZ Communist Review of May 1936, the CPNZ bluntly told the comrades “This makes our position clear, for every pakeha communist, as a member of the dominant race, it is a bounden revolutionary duty to declare without reservations for the right of the maori people to complete independence.”