Marxist-Leninist interest in racial, or “National Question” politics probably began in this country 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 (pictured)
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 Omerod 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 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”