While the “respectable” Citizen’s Association for Racial Equality made racism an issue in 1960s NZ, the hardcore communists went back to basic racial agitation.
In the Mid ’60s the Soviet Union and China parted ways and the Communist Party of NZ split into opposing factions. One wing of the Party remained loyal to China, while most of it’s trade union union element broke away to form the pro-Soviet Socialist Unity Party (SUP). Both factions supported Maori nationalism, but the Peking aligned elements were more openly radical.
Key figures in the Maoist/Maori alliance were Doug and Ruth Lake. The Lakes had been part of a clique of Marxists working in the New Zealand Legation in Moscow during World War Two. A few years later, Doug Lake was sacked from the Foreign Affairs Department as a “security risk” and became a Parliamentary journalist. The pair became openly close to the Communist Party, with Ruth becoming particularly friendly with pro-Chinese Party member Rona Bailey.
In 1961, Ruth Lake translated, for Marxist journal Monthly Review, a long article on the Maori by a Mr N A Butinov of Leningrad “who specialised in the study of Maoris“. It began, “The National Question takes on great importance in the conditions of the joint struggle of Maori and Pakeha workers for a better life”.
The pair spent from 1963 to 1968 in Peking, polishing propaganda for Mao’s regime while their three teenage daughters joined the ultra militant Red Guards
Doug Lake was also clearly aware of National Question ideas. In a pamphlet on Tibet published by the NZ/China Friendship Society in 1969, Lake wrote “as the Chinese see it, the “National Question” is in essence a class question. China’s National policy therefore can be described as a class policy by which minority nationalities are assisted to liberate themselves in order to take the path to socialist development“.
One of the Lake girls married Wellington Communist Party member Tamati (Tom) Poata, and the Lakes helped him found and run NZ’s first “Maori Radical” group, the Maori Organisation on Human Rights (MOORH).
Poata agitated for Maori Land Rights and liaised with Maoris around the country, even setting up a Maori Tent Embassy outside Parliament. He was joined at the embassy by a young Tame Iti.
Poata tried to link the Maori struggle with revolutionary struggles overseas and was a master of the inflammatory statement. At the Communist Party organised, 1967 Peace, Power and Politics Conference Poata told the assembled socialists “The struggle of the Vietnam people to obtain self-determination is similar to the Maori struggle in New Zealand. The fundamental difference between them is that real bullets are being used in Vietnam.”
In 1969 a young Maoist from Auckland University, named Trevor Richards, invited activists from all over the country to a meeting to set up a new, militant Anti Apartheid organisation. MOOHR sent a delegation and Poata suggested a name for the new group, Halt All Racist Tours (HART).