Friday, 8 July 2016

Centenary Essay: "Labour's First Fight Was For Freedom."

The Battle Cry Of Freedom: Three years after its founding conference, in the general election of 1919, voters were invited to join “Labour’s Liberty Campaign”. Guided by the ghost of Richard John Seddon, the sturdy young Labour Party is depicted rolling up its sleeves to do battle with Massey and his cohorts on behalf of the “Democratic Public”. Labour’s first fight was a fight for freedom.
IN EARLY JULY, 1916, leftists and liberals of every stripe gathered in Wellington to form a new political party.
New Zealand was at war. In the 23 months since August 1914, thousands of the Dominion’s young men had been killed, and thousands more wounded and maimed. The government of William (Bill) Massey appealed for more recruits.
The Prime Minister’s appeal was powerfully seconded by the Dominion’s leading newspaper proprietors, who urged the youth that remained to do their duty by King and Country. Many responded, but nowhere near enough to refill the depleted ranks of the NZ Expeditionary Force.
In 1915, legislation requiring all single men to register for possible military service alerted the war’s opponents to the near-certainty that Massey’s coalition government was preparing to introduce conscription.
In January of 1916, socialists and trade unionists met in Wellington to debate the ethics of conscripting men – but not wealth. At the conclusion of their conference a Manifesto Against Conscription was issued. Arguing that true equality of sacrifice was impossible to guarantee, the Manifesto insisted that war service remain voluntary:
“Thousands of our comrades strenuously opposed to compulsion in any form have gone as volunteers, and while their backs are turned we must use every effort to preserve intact the civil rights our people have won. There must be no surrender of principles which have raised British citizenship above serfdom.”
It wasn’t enough. As predicted, Massey opted for conscription. His Military Service Bill would become law on 1 August 1916. Equally predictably, in the first week of July, those responsible for the Manifesto Against Conscription: Peter Fraser, Bob Semple and Harry Holland; along with just about every other left-wing leader in New Zealand; began arriving in Wellington. Words had not been enough: now it was time for deeds.
The creation of the New Zealand Labour Party was largely the work of trade unionists. Yes – but not exclusively so. What’s more, those early labour leaders were a far cry from the dour union bosses remembered by Kiwis who came of age in the 1950s and 60s.
Seventeen months before the New Zealand Left began gathering in Wellington, the American union song-writer, Ralph Chaplin, had penned the words to that greatest of union anthems, Solidarity Forever. Here’s the final verse:
In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold,
Greater than the might of armies magnified a thousand fold.
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old,
For the union makes us strong.
It was precisely this “new world” of socialism and freedom that Massey and his mounted constabulary (Massey’s Cossacks!) had fought so hard to forestall just two years before Chaplin wrote his song. In the “Great Strike” of 1913, the “Red” Federation of Labour had been crushed. It is easy to imagine Massey’s fury, three years later, as he watched those indomitable “Red Feds”, Fraser, Semple and Holland, abandon the path of industrial militancy for the parliamentary road.
One hundred years on, the reader may wince at a phrase like “socialism and freedom”. It is, however, used advisedly. The men and women who formed the New Zealand Labour Party in July 1916 were driven by the conviction that, without economic justice and social equality, political freedom was forever being stillborn. We would be much mistaken, however, were we to believe that they considered freedom to be, somehow, less important than justice and equality.
Remember the words of the Manifesto Against Conscription: “we must use every effort to preserve intact the civil rights our people have won”. Labour’s founders knew that without political freedom, neither economic justice nor social equality could ever be attained.
Three years after its founding conference, in the general election of 1919, voters were invited to join “Labour’s Liberty Campaign”. Guided by the ghost of Richard John Seddon, the sturdy young Labour Party is depicted rolling up its sleeves to do battle with Massey and his cohorts on behalf of the “Democratic Public”. Labour’s first fight was a fight for freedom. Entirely fitting for a party whose leaders had been jailed for sedition and court-martialled for standing against conscription.
One hundred years later, the attainment of economic justice and social equality still depends on exercising fearlessly “the civil rights our people have won.”
Labour and Freedom must march together.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 8 July 2016.


Anonymous said...

Great piece of writing and topical, endorse every word and viewpoint.
Not sure about this bunch though.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

The present Labour Party aren't fit to shine Fraser's shoes.;)

Charles E said...

How things have changed then.
Or perhaps this one freedom it supported was an aberration. After all the left is mostly an impulse to change the status quo, to change the current reality, which obviously is opposed to the freedom of people to be as they are, to be themselves, to be as they like, however uncouth or uncivilised that may be thought by the reformer.
Today the left (in general, not always) is against freedoms of many kinds and you yourself have a perennial theme against liberalism, in the guise of some imagined nuance of it you call 'neo-liberalism'.. which is of course just plain liberty.

Some examples of typically left wing opposition to freedom:
No to free trade;
No to free market;
No to free movement of capital;
Yes to compulsory unionism;
No to private schools;
Yes to racial & gender compulsory quota;
No to GE;
No to nuclear power;
No no no, is what we hear all the time from the left today.

Now it is true that the right can be & have been at times just a opposed to freedom but today, here in NZ that is not the case at all. National is very much a liberal party, which the left say leaves far to much alone. And abroad it is only the religious right in America which is clearly opposed to liberty in a similar way to the left almost everywhere.
That is not to say there are no good arguments that some freedoms should be curbed. But let's not pretend the left is in favour of liberty today.

Nick J said...

Charles E, you have a good point but you are only half way there. You state the problem with the Left and a series of"freedoms / rights". Freedoms come with responsibility and consequence, one mans freedom may be anothers chains. Both Left and Right forget this regularly. To the Left it is not freedom "to" but freedom "from" which takes precedence. For example free flow of capital can wreck entire communities without commensurate compensation for the damage done. Being simplistically dogmatic for either side of this divide is not particularly useful or considerate.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I posted a pretty comprehensive reply to Charles. I didn't think it was at all offensive. And if it's not going to be included, I really can't be bothered going to all the trouble to do it again. But it would be nice to get a message if you are going to mod something. It wouldn't take more than a couple of seconds and you could maybe delete it once it's been read.

Phil F said...

Actually, the most important of Labour's first fights, it could be argued, was their ardent support for the White New Zealand policy Chris. Labour's racist roots:

And on that subject, let's not forget the first Labour government's preference for 'Aryan immigrants' over Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis:

There is an interesting collection of articles on the Labour Party on Redline blog. For the list & links, see:

All kinds of stuff that people have forgotten (or airbrushed out) in relation to Labour Party history.

Phil F

Anonymous said...

The irony (often noted at the time) being that when Labour was in Government during the Second World War, it too introduced conscription. Fraser argued (not without reason) that this time circumstances were different, but it does show that Labour had changed with age.

Charles E - Private property is itself a restriction on freedom. Why don't you oppose that?

jh said...

When I went to school we learned about the Reverend Waddell. He isn't remembered at the otago settlers Museum. Yet:

" But Mr Waddell's impact was much more far-reaching, former University of Otago historian Emeritus Professor Erik Olssen says.

"He galvanised opinion among all those who agreed the one thing they did not want in New Zealand was the extremes of wealth and poverty that existed in their home countries," Prof Olssen says.

His sweating campaign prepared the ground for the newly formed Liberal Party, which came to power in 1891 and introduced the distinctive and internationally lauded social legislation of the 1890s.

Mr Waddell died in Dunedin on April 16, 1932, survived by one daughter and his second wife, Christabel.

Once rated one of the top preachers in the country and recognised for his contribution, he has all but slipped from the history books. "

nonesuch said...

Some examples of typically left wing opposition to freedom:

No to free trade; @ a joke behind a benefit fund for lawyers

No to free market; @ no such thing in real world

No to free movement of capital; @ enslavement of workers worldwide so go to hell

Yes to compulsory unionism; @ not a bad idea in general

No to private schools; @ usually allowed by the left

Yes to racial & gender compulsory quota; @ acceptable to some degree in place of racist and homophobic attitudes

No to GE; @ genetic engineering is a very bold experiment which will likely have very bad results

No to nuclear power; @ results already disastrous, got a solution to the nuclear waste problem? Hmmm. I thought not.

National a liberal party? Nominally perhaps. But in reality very deep blue where money is concerned. As to a social conscience, no trace on the scale. Utterly heartless.

Consider asking a medical professional for advice about the delusions.

Dennis Frank said...

Yes, a balanced view of the relative merits of the left & right is the most healthy in contemporary society. Labour was formed in reaction against a government of the establishment, but with the passing of time it became establishment itself. Thus inertia, and collective brain-death.

Helen Clark's idiocy in rejecting the green movement for 35 years was just one symptom of this. Sending the message into the body politic that Labour would take a political stand against social progress whilst still pretending to be a progressive party has become entrenched as a political pathology. The leftist sham has alienated a huge swathe of voters across several generations.

Nevertheless, the centenary is an appropriate opportunity for Labour to reconnect to its historical roots. The housing policy seems proffered tentatively by Little to evoke Labour's depression initiative, while being careful not to replicate it. The lack of courage acknowledges prevalent social conditioning amongst voters - the widespread belief that tax-payers will not mandate government enterprise.

This general anti-statist bias can only be overcome by a consistent demonstration of government competence - something that the left and right have been unable to achieve in our era. An even greater necessity these days is a general conviction that there's a better way forward than neoliberalism. The long-deferred paradigm-shift in politics looms as inevitable - yet most players lack the intellect required to catalyse it.

Chris Trotter said...

To: GS

I'm not sure what happened to that comment, GS. It certainly wasn't moderated.

Please try again.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Thanks Chris, like I said I didn't think it was offensive -it did take quite a while to dig up the figures. I'm not sure I want to expend all the energy again :).

Anonymous said...

A firebrand like John A Lee wouldn't recognise much of the talk & thinking in the Labour party of 2016.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I see Nonesuch has actually said much of what I originally said albeit in shortened form. So I might just leave it there. :) I might just say that very few countries outside of New Zealand operate on a free-trade basis. And even New Zealand has some restrictions. So making a statement like "no to free trade" is sort of silly. Because even right-wing parties say no to free-trade. Donald Trump does it. Capitalists want whatever advantages them. So if they see an advantage in free-trade they'll be in favour of it. But the oil industry in the US doesn't want free-trade, because it's heavily subsidised. Neither do American farmers for exactly the same reason. And I don't think either of those groups are particularly left-wing.

jh said...

Lianne Dalziel says this didn't happen:
One Hundred Crowded Years (1941)

From the mid-1980s, official rhetoric and official publications, including material used in schools, depicted New Zealand as a multicultural country of immigrants, with Maori identified as the first wave of immigrants to settle in New Zealand and establish themselves as tangata whenua (Indigenous people of the land). Malcolm McKinnon observed that a great deal of attention was paid in the official rhetoric and publications to immigration history at that time as a way of emphasising the legitimate place of non-Anglo-Celtic groups in the wider community, be they continental Europeans, Pacific Islanders or Asians. In the recast version of history, all New Zealanders were portrayed as immigrants, or of immigrant stock, and the population was portrayed as very diverse.[37]
The recasting of history in the way suggested by McKinnon is evident in a speech made by Dalziel at the 2002 launch of a book on women and migration in New Zealand history. The minister began by saying that the book was important and timely because it was ‘important that we know our history as a country’. It was ‘the essence of identity’ for ‘each of us to know who we are and where we have come from’. She highlighted her own immigrant roots, revealing that she had a distant non-British ancestor. She noted that all New Zealanders were immigrants and referred to the value of multiculturalism

jh said...

Housing problems can be traced back to an obsession with racism under Labour, later embraced with gusto by business interests (non-tradeables)
Racism is the product of particular socio-historical contexts. Emerging evidence from Dunn and Geeraert (2003) argue convincingly that racism has a geographic specificity

Contrasts with:
[Oxytocin A key mechanism facilitating such in-group cooperation is ethnocentrism, the tendency to view one’s own group as centrally important and as superior to other groups. Ethnocentrism manifests itself in positive valuation of (members of) one’s in-group. Such in-group favoritism signals loyalty and positive commitment to the group, thus rendering the ethnocentric individual a reliable and trustworthy partner. Ethnocentrism may also show up in negative valuation of (members of) out-groups. Such out-group derogation signals to in-group members who should be excluded from in-group resources and exchanges, and reduces the probability that in-group resources are inadvertently extended to out-groups ]

Analysis of institutional or structural racism entered public policy discourse in Aotearoa in the 1980s as a result of the release of a series of key reports (see Berridge et al., 1984; Herewini, Wilson, & Peri, 1985; M. Jackson, 1988) including the landmark Puao Te Ata Tu (Ministerial Advisory Committee, 1988). These reports challenged the proposition of the neutrality of the public service by suggesting mono-cultural practice was widespread and the New Zealand government's obligations to Te Tiriti o Waitangi were not being adequately

Perceived racism became a bigger monster than the practical business of looking after the well-being of the population; a generation of academics lost sight of the real world.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Perceived racism became a bigger monster than the practical business of looking after the well-being of the population; a generation of academics lost sight of the real world."
The people at whom the racism was directed didn't lose sight of the real world. I dealt with its results almost every day of my working life. The racism that people like you claim somehow doesn't exist. All the racism that some people claim is "reverse racism" – which has about as much validity as reverse psychology. Just to be clear, that's NONE.

jh said...

Liberals and conservatives are yin and yang

jh said...

I dealt with its results almost every day of my working life. The racism that people like you claim somehow doesn't exist.
I'm referring to the great goal of the ethnicless society. The point being that people are by nature ethnocentric.

Johnathan Haidt - The Tyranny of the Social justice Warriors

Guerilla Surgeon said...

JH. Not responding to that. Except to say that if you use the acronym SJW, (or for that matter PC) it means you have no argument. In fact I've invented an acronym myself are people who constantly use this. It's FCF. Stands for 4chan fuckwits.