Independence and Foreign Policy: New Zealand in the World since 1935

By Malcolm McKinnon | Go to book overview

2. Independence and loyalty

The first Labour government has a reputation as the country's first government to pursue an independent foreign policy.1 This chapter will ask two questions: where do we locate Labour's foreign policy in terms of the analysis of independence presented in the previous chapter? To what extent was Labour's policy a departure from what had gone before?


Labour's challenge

What sort of a government would Labour be? Would it attack capital, would it weaken New Zealand's links with the Empire, with Britain? Such loaded questions were the staple of much conservative rhetoric against Labour, and some of Labour's own rhetoric lent credence to these suggestions. Labour believed in independence. Was this what independence would entail? Some of Labour's leaders during the First World War were remembered for their fiery rhetoric, their opposition to conscription, their welcome for the October Revolution in Russia which brought the Bolsheviks (renamed Communists in 1918) to power. There had been sympathy in the Labour movement for the Irish nationalists. Harry Holland, Labour leader till his death in 1933, was a relentless critic of British imperialism. Labour had initially been critical of the League of Nations as an alliance of victor, capitalist nations.2 Labour had 'moderated' its rhetoric and its programme since the early 1920s, and Michael Joseph Savage, who succeeded to the leadership on Holland's death in 1933, was of less radical inclinations;3 but at the time it was elected to government, Labour was still ideologically a party of the left. It was a particular--and radical--vision of world order and justice which prompted the Labour

____________________
1
See, for instance, many of the papers in NZER; Wood, Political and External Affairs, ch. 3; A. D. Mclntosh, The Origins of the Department of External Affairs and the Formulation of an Independent Foreign Policy in A. D. Mclntosh et al., New Zealand In World Affairs, v. 1, 1945- 1957 (hereafter NZWA 1945-57). Wellington, 1977, pp. 9-35; W. David Mclntyre, "Labour Experience in Foreign Policy" in New Directions in New Zealand Foreign Policy, ed. Hyam Gold. Auckland, 1985, pp. 27-35; "Independent Labour line first seen in 1930s", EP, 22 Mar. 1985.
2
P. J. O'Farrell, Harry Holland, Militant Socialist. Canberra, 1964.
3
See in particular Robin Oliver, 'Ideology, the Slump and the New Zealand Labour Party: A Study of the Ideology of the NZ Labour Party in the 1930s'. Univ. of Auckland, M.A. thesis, 1981; Bruce Brown, The Rise of New Zealand Labour. Wellington, 1962; Barry Gustafson, From the Cradle to the Grave. Auckland, 1986; Keith Sinclair, Walter Nash. Auckland, 1976.

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