The 1980s were a time for NZ Marxist-Leninists to build on the successes of Bastion Point and the upsurge of racial agitation in the ’70s.
The wave of radicals recruited from the protest movements of the ’60s and ’70s were now reaching political maturity and many had reached key positions in the unions, education, social movements, churches, media, Labour Party and Parliament.
Maoist and pro-Soviet socialists were at their peak in terms of influence and were not slow to use it.
The upsurge in Maori activism in the ’70s had been a breakthrough in “National Question” politics. NZ’s leading Marxist-Leninist parties, the Workers Communist League (WCL) and the Socialist Unity Party (SUP) worked tirelessly to exploit the opportunities it offered.
In 1980, several student based Maoist groups, and a handful of ex Communist Party members joined forces to form the WCL. Derisively known as the “Weasels” (both for their initials and their tactics), the WCL made race issues a major focus of their work and were very active in the anti-Springbok Tour riots of 1981.
The WCL revived HART and also controlled Wellington’s ultra militant, Citizens Opposed to the Springbok Tour (COST), (whose committee initially included veteran agitator, Tom Poata and ex Nga Tamatoa member, Ted Nia).
After the “Tour” the WCL shifted it’s emphasis to “domestic racism.”
In late 1981, a special COST meeting in Wellington adopted the resolution;
“That this conference establish a new Wellington regional-based organisation to fight racism in New Zealand.. And that this conference appoint a steering committee to facilitate the bringing together of all interested groups and individuals in the Wellington area on Waitangi Day 1982, to further develop the organisation…”.
This led to the establishment of several groups such as the Anti Racism Organisation-Wellington, and People Opposed to Waitangi .
According to longtime Weasel, the late Ron Smith;
“On Maori questions there was also tremendous activity…From 1981 to 1984 there were vigorous annual protests at Waitangi and when the government shifted the Waitangi Day venue to Parliament. WCL members organised a protest rally there. The WCL led the way in many respects, for example to have separate Maori runanga in unions.”
In the mid ’80s the WCL dropped it’s openly pro-Beijing orientation and turned to strong support of the Nicaraguan and Philippines revolutions. It adopted a “Race, Gender, Class” form of Marxism. No longer was the class struggle supreme, but of equal importance to the struggles for women’s liberation and Maori “self determination”.
According to the WCL’s, “Unity” of the 28th of September 1987;
“Support for Maori self-determination is one of the fundamental principles underlying the work and outlook of the WCL… the struggle for Maori self-determination is a crucial part of the process of bringing about a revolutionary transformation of society.”
In some ways the WCL saw the Maori struggle as even more important than that of women or the working class. In Unity of the 10th of February 1989, Canterbury University Political Scientist, Marxist-Leninist and probable WCL member, the late Rob Steven wrote;
“Maori Nationalism is the most potent and explosive progressive force in the country, the only one with the potential to press the question of exploitation through to the point of revolutionary change”.
The WCL also worked with other parties and indulged in some high level behind the scenes co-ordination.
One former SUP member I interviewed spoke of sitting in on a meeting at an Auckland motel in the early ’80s.
The main protagonists were two WCL linked activists, (both of European extraction, ex Anti-Apartheid activists, and veterans of student delegations to China) and a leading Maori member of the SUP’s Commission on the National Question.
These three were meeting to organise and coordinate “National Question” activity, Maori radicalism, etc on a nationwide basis.
How much of NZ’s racial politics of the ’80s was planned by those three comrades?