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Happy Birthday National

Written By: - Date published: 10:43 am, May 14th, 2008 - 54 comments
Categories: history, national - Tags: ,

Today is the 62nd anniversary of the founding of the National Party. So, it’s an opportune moment to reflect on the founding principles of the National Party and ask that age old question ‘why are they called National anyway?’

The political background to the founding of the National party is the conflict between the three great political ideologies of the modern age fascism, liberal capitalism, and socialism – which would soon reach a bloody climax in World War 2. New Zealand had the fascist New Zealand Legion, which had up to 100,000 members drawn from the bourgeois, the professional classes, and the farmers. This movement had taken numbers away from the old liberal capitalist power blocks, the Urban (formerly Liberal) Party whose power base was the urban business class and the Reform Party, whose base was farmers. The rise of fascism in New Zealand, as elsewhere, was partially in response to the rise of socialism among the working class and its political vehicle, the Labour party. A party much more radical than today’s Labour, it was truely social democratic, with the goal of public control of the means of production, distribution, and exchange written into its constitution.

The working class and Labour were winning. United and Reform, once fierce rivals, had been forced into a coalition, which was called the National Coalition (so-called because it was nationalist and opposed socialism which is internationalist by nature), to block the political ascendancy of the working class. The 1931 election had delivered a Parliament split between the Reform/United coaltion and Labour, with Labour having the most votes (34%) and fewer seats (24 of 80) than the combined coalition.

But the inevitable could only be delayed. In 1935, New Zealand had just elected its first Labour Government. It would institute a true social wage, whereby people would have free healthcare and education, and guaranteed an income if they couldn’t get work. The State would own core industries employing hundreds of thousands and exercise strong controls over the rest of the economy. It was hugely popular with the massive working class and the small intelligentsia.

For the first time in New Zealand’s history, the capitalists were not in control of the Government, which was not a situation they could permit to continue. Realising that while they were divided Reform and the Liberals could not hope to defeat Labour, they decided to form a united National party to protect the interests of the wealthy and powerful by opposing social democracy. Its founding principles were: ‘To promote good citizenship and self-reliance; to combat communism and socialism; to maintain freedom of contract; to encourage private enterprise; to safeguard individual rights and the privilege of ownership; to oppose interference by the State in business, and State control of industry.”

Right from the start, National was reactionary and fundamentally hollow standing against ordinary working New Zealanders who want a fairer society.

54 comments on “Happy Birthday National”

  1. higherstandard 2

    “Right from the start, National was reactionary and fundamentally hollow standing against ordinary working New Zealanders who want a fairer society.”

    Do you actually believe the cak you write Steve

  2. Yeah, history, huh? What’s that all about?

  3. Jeez HS – you’re really putting up the strong arguments today…

  4. James Kearney 5

    Maw doesn’t like the fact that politics is about competing power interests. Much nicer to talk about freedom and entrepreneurialism than face up to the reality that National is the bosses’ party.

  5. vto 6

    National is the bosses’ party?

    I think it simply may appear that way when the labour party is the unions party and one is embedded unblinkingly within it.

  6. higherstandard 7

    Sod

    It’s hardly worth arguing with an ass but to compare today’s National party with that of over 50 years ago is as fatuous as comparing Helen Clark with Michael Savage or Peter Fraser.

    Both parties are vastly different from what they were even 30 years ago.

  7. Billy 8

    “To promote good citizenship and self-reliance; to combat communism and socialism; to maintain freedom of contract; to encourage private enterprise; to safeguard individual rights and the privilege of ownership; to oppose interference by the State in business, and State control of industry.’

    Now, that’s soemthing I could vote for. If only it looked like they meant it.

  8. Happy Birthday National!

    Thanks for sticking up for whats right and not whats popular.

  9. If you don’t think that parties represent different power blocks and that in New Zealand the power block Labour represents is the organised working class and Natioanl represents the wealthy capitialists, you’re distached from reality – you need to go along to a National party conference and a labour party conference and see the people who are there, see what they do and what their backgrounds are.

    Politics is not pepsi vs coke – it is power blocks competing, via political parties, for control of the State.

  10. James Kearney 11

    National is the bosses’ party?

    Yes. Look at their policies and the social base from which they draw their membership and their funding.

    I think it simply may appear that way when the labour party is the unions party and one is embedded unblinkingly within it.

    You really don’t know how the NZLP works do you? Here’s some free advice: try not to rely on Audrey Young David Farrar for your information about how Labour works.

  11. Yeah, Brett, all those times Key has chosen to stand up for your definition of what’s right over what’s popular: anti-nuclear, climate change, four weeks leave, student loans, anti-child beating,…. the list of flip-flops where he has gone for what is popular over what National’s base thinks is right is endless.

  12. James Kearney 13

    Thanks for sticking up for whats right and not whats popular.

    This would be the New Zealand National Party you’re talking about Brett?

    captcha- dire Representatives

  13. higherstandard 14

    Steve

    Perhaps you should post a copy of the Labour parties founding principles from the thirties so they can highlighted vs Nationals of the same time..

    [I mentioned Labour’s in the post. There’s noting atypical in them – social democrats want the means of production supply and exchange in the hands of the people, not capitialists. Reactionary parites want to protect the status quo. That was the same the world over and it was the same in New Zealand. The neoliberal revolution and third way politics has dulled the differences but the fundemental difference in objectives remains. SP]

  14. DS 15

    There was a bit of debate in 1936 over what to call the new party. The problem with calling it National was that it made it very easy for Labour to tie it to the unpopularity of the depression-era government. One alternative that was considered was Unionist (i.e. a union of United and Reform), but that would have given the ‘wrong idea’. In the end, they went with National because they liked the implication that it was supposedly in the interests of the ‘nation’. It also tied in with the National Government in Britain at the time, which was ostensibly a Coalition, but in reality basically a Conservative Government.

  15. National is about Honesty, Steve. They put facts over public emotion, and if new research comes out they will change thier policies according to the new data.

    That is what you want from a government.

    Unlike the bigoted Government we have now, who advertise themselves as the saviors of the little people over the big bad white businessmen.

    “Ohh, look, Mr Key has a house in Maui, he has money, he doesnt love you, like Aunty Helen, here have a house, paid for by the tax payer, you didnt work for it, in fact you have never worked for it, but have a house anyway”

    Its in Labour’s best interest, if people remain poor. Its also gotton to a stage where certain sectors of society believe they should just be given a house, even though they havent worked for it.

    [‘National is about Honesty’ is the most naive thing I’ve read all year. Parties are about the interests of the part of society they represent. That’s why John Key said he would love to see wages drop (and then lied about it) – it’s in National’s base’s interest for wages to drop, but it’s not in their interest for people not to vote National because they know it.

    Incomes are up under Labour, they stagnated under National. The Left wants wealth to be shared among the people, the Right wants wealth to remain with the wealthy. SP]

  16. Tane 17

    Brett you’re even more blindly partisan than some of the Helen-worshipping Labour hacks I know. It’s not healthy brother.

  17. Billy 18

    As I mentioned the other day, if 59% of taxpayers earn less than $30k, and National is polling over 50%, being “wealthy and powerful” obviously isn’t what it used to be.

  18. Tane:

    No, your wrong, like most New Zealanders I voted labour all my life, including the last election, where I split my vote, Labour/NZFirst.

    Im voting National this year for the first time, and like a lot of kiwis have changed my politics from being centre left to centre right.

  19. Billy 20

    “I split my vote, Labour/NZFirst…”

    Often wondered who it was who wanted that government.

  20. Tane 21

    Billy, if it were that simple there’d be no need for PR in politics, parties would simply release their policies and let the public judge for themselves. But you know as well as I that’s not how it works, especially in the National Party.

  21. Rocket Boy 22

    Steve it is interesting that you see politics in such black and white dimensions; National is for the bosses and Labour is for the workers.

    You would probably get on well with a certain George W, he sees the world as divided into ‘good’ and ‘evil’.

    Trouble with your views Steve is that I’m a boss, I own a business, I employ people yet have voted Labour for the last couple of elections, how does that fit your ‘National is for the bosses’ view?

  22. Rocketboy:

    I’m obviously presenting a simplified analysis of a complicated picture because these are blog posts not theses.

    If you’re a boss and you vote Left that’s awesome, I know there are many who do because they see a wider, longer-term interest in a society with decent public service and decent wages. Your short-term economic interests are best met by voting National (tax cuts) but you see the wider picture. Good on you, me too.

    There are many people who are high earning themselves but still have a social conscience and vote Left. There are many people on low incomes who vote Right because of conservative ‘values’ when their economic interests are best served by voting Left. When voting, the economic classes aren’t cleanly split because of a whole range of factors but the power bases are different and divided and the parties do act in the interests of those bases.

  23. Phil 24

    Steve,

    Like your writing style, your political views are monochromatic.

    Your capacity to move beyond classifying political actors as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is so miniscule and stunted by your narrow world view, that I’m starting to think you really do need some help to get over your bizzare little complex.

  24. Draco TB 25

    National hasn’t really changed in the last 60 years – they still support the status quo and resist change. The status quo that they support is a few people owning everything and everyone else being thankful to those owners that they have a job even if it is at starvation wages.

  25. j 26

    ” social democrats want the means of production supply and exchange in the hands of the people, not capitialists.”

    Would that be under the command of the revolutionary vanguard until the day the masses develop the appropreiate class consciousness?

    [not in the social democrat, as opposed to revolutionary, model. The Right have been trying to scare poeple into thinking that social democracy will mean no more elections since well-before the Dominion tried it on in 1938. Didn’t work then, either. SP]

  26. gobsmacked 27

    “Like most New Zealanders I voted labour all my life, including the last election, where I split my vote, Labour/NZFirst.”

    Putting aside your problems with arithmetic (have we had majority Labour governments lately, or ever?), was Labour your party vote?

    I actually voted for the National candidate in my electorate, but certainly would not call myself a “National voter” at all. I voted Labour. Did you?

  27. Tane 28

    Would that be under the command of the revolutionary vanguard until the day the masses develop the appropreiate class consciousness?

    You don’t understand social democracy.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_democracy

  28. higherstandard 29

    Draco aren’t your accusations regarding National exactly what Labour is doing with the nationalisation of Rail.

    captcha smart university – obviously not

  29. TomS 30

    National was founded by reactionaries in the Country and Reform parties primarily to oppose the program of the Labour Party. It doesn’t stand for anything, except maybe entrenching the privileges of private property. It only got elected after it accepted the new political landscape and adopted the welfare state, and until it was tossed out in 1972 then proceeded to run the country based on the red scare, access to British markets, and a do-nothing colonial complacency befitting a party that consisted mainly of representatives of the white settler squatocracy. National has never produced any great reformers or great leaders and has articulated a New Zealand based vision for the country. That’s been Labour’s preserve from Savage and Fraser through Kirk and Lange and now to Clark. Who have we had from National? Muldoon? Apart from three years from 1967-1984 Muldoon was minister of finance and he practically destroyed the economy. Nowadays National is little more than a collection of factions – a rump of 1990’s has-been ACT lite new right ideologues peddling populist conservatism; Power hungry members of the new elites with a screaming sense of self-entitlement and the remnants of left behind white settler class. But one strand has always been there – National is the party of people who see New Zealand primarily as a place to do business, Labour has always been the party of those who see New Zealand primarily as a place to live.

  30. Matthew Pilott 31

    HS – the “few people” Draco TB meant probably didn’t involve the state…

    And where does Labour’s railway buy-back call for starvation wages?

  31. higherstandard 32

    MP

    Yes I suspected that – his post however assumes that a government is a better employer and won’t look after their own at the high echelons of the company before they look after everyone else ….. incredibly naive

  32. j 33

    “You don’t understand social democracy.”

    I understand the language of class warfare though and this is what iprent is using. if lynn wants to be taken seriously as social democrat then quit sounding like a marxist.

  33. higherstandard 34

    J it’s not Lynn that’s putting in the comments it’s Steve

  34. Tane 35

    J, social democrats don’t deny there’s a class structure in society. It’s the reason they’re social democrats.

    Funny enough, it’s those who have the power and wealth who tend to get wound up whenever class is mentioned.

  35. Well, tane said what j’s quoting and I offered the definition of social democrat objectives.

    j. you need to realise that marxism is one train of broader socialist thought as is social democracy. Marxism differs from social dmeocratic thought in several important ways but not in the idea of social ownership of the means of production – people differ about means, forms of ownership or control and extent or depth of control/ownership but everyone who is a socialist (as opposed to a capitalist) believes that the means of production, distribution and exchange should, to some extent, be held under collective control, rather than in the hands of individual controllers of captial. That’s what socialism is.

  36. Billy 37

    It sounds so scary when you explain it like that, Steve.

  37. Ari 38

    HS- that would be different from the current employer who completely disregards their workers’ environment how? ;)

  38. higherstandard 39

    Sorry Ari you’ve lost me – problem with only looking at the thread while having a cup of tea you tend to loose track of what’s going on.

  39. Ari 40

    I should point out very quickly that there hasn’t really been a truly Marxist regime, in that they all got hijacked into authoritarian dictatorships during the revolutionary phase. (The closest thing to Marxism right now is Cuba. And they’re not there yet, either)

    I should also point out that as social democrats go, Labour is very invested in liberal capitalism. We don’t really have an extreme “leftist” party in New Zealand- just two different centre-left approaches from Labour and the Greens.

    Steve- I think “collective control” is confusing your audience, because they think that implies ownership all the time. Labour seems pretty clear that outside of infrastructure, this control is about regulatory interference in the market when it increases the welfare of the nation as a whole.

  40. Ari 41

    HS- sorry, hadn’t been a post between yours and mine while I was writing that. Heh.

    I was asking how the government promoting the interests of some workers over another would be any worse than a company that is actively hostile to the interests of all of its workers, not only shirking its own environmental responsibilities beyond the level of simple corporate opportunism, (ten years of subsidised emissions and grandfathering is not enough for them? Tough, that is so generous I’m surprised their eyes are still in their sockets) but also trying to open up the door for others to do so.

  41. higherstandard 42

    Ari

    Would you prefer a Troskyist version of Marxism in NZ rather than the centrist Labour or National government ?

  42. higherstandard 43

    Ari

    I think your view that there is no reason to believe the government is, or will be, a better employer than the private sector.

  43. Tim 44

    There is hardly any difference between National and Labour these days. It’s got to the point where National has said that if it gets into power it won’t make significant changes to the Employment Relations Act. The so-called bosses’ party isn’t going to significantly change the employment law of the so-called workers’ party. Both parties are equally lame in my opinion.

  44. different socialists differ on what level of intervention in the market is needed to ensure that the economy works in society’s interest – some would say you want regulation and little ownership, some would say you want ownership of key infrastructure, as we have now, some would say more, some would say own it all… the key is the idea that that society should collective benefit from the economy’s production of wealth, and ensure that production happens in a way that is compatible with society’s interests. Rather than having those decisions taken by indiviudals who happen to control capital based on their narrow self-interest.

    There are infinite shades between anarcho-communism and anarcho-capitialism with people arguing for various levels of state/social intervention in the economy.

  45. Ari 46

    HS- While I’d certainly agree with your assertion that I find both Labour and National inadequate in ways, I can’t agree that Marxism would be better in any form. While I essentially agree with Marxist principles, I think it’s a very unstable form of government and would require a very high level of economic efficiency or very low population (and therefore material excess) to stabilise. In short, it’s one of those utopian dreams that just won’t see the light in our lifetimes.

    I’d actually really like to see a coalition Government between the Green Party and a party of Social Liberals- (we currently don’t have any of those in New Zealand Parliament… think of what would happen if you took Act’s economic policy and spliced it with Labour’s social policy. Admittedly, Labour has been moving closer and closer to this position recently in its race to the centre) I think issues of social freedom are the one area where New Zealanders really agree in politics- we don’t like our governments authoritarian, and the backlash to Labour right now is mostly along those lines, which I find odd given that National has a much worse track record in that respect.

  46. Matthew Pilott 47

    …assumes that a government is a better employer and won’t look after their own at the high echelons of the company before they look after everyone else .. incredibly naive

    HS – you can’t have it both ways – aren’t public servants grossly overpaid for doing nothing but shuffle paper? (I doubt you’ve said that exclusively, but either the govt pays starvation wages, grossly overpays people, or perhaps the truth is somewhere in the middle. I couldn’t comment about what Toll has paid as of late).

  47. Lew 48

    What Ari says is the irony of all this. In the wider swathe of conventional left-right political-philosophic thought, National and Labour are like siblings. It’s like arguing over whether Poison or Def Leppard sold out the worst, or whether Apocalypse Now or Platoon is the better Vietnam War movie. Genuinely extreme regimes have been tried on both sides – and generally been rejected. What’s left to argue over is mostly nuance and posturing.

    This is thrown into clear relief by the `race to the centre’ both parties are currently running. I study symbolic politics. The major trend in attracting voter support is not so much the advancement of bold, radical policy as it was in the 1980s, but the struggle by both parties to normalise their policies or philosophies as `good management’ or `common sense': to introduce them into the political orthodoxy of the day. To an extent this has always been the case, but I’d argue this strategy has partly displaced others in the past decade or so. Labour’s major achievement in that time has been in introducing policies like the ETS, interest-free student loans, Working For Families, etc. into the political orthodoxy – making them so accepted that National simply can’t afford to repeal them and retain electoral credibility. Ironically this might be the Clark government’s undoing, because Key’s National might well win the coming election on what looks very much like a traditional Labour ticket.

    L

  48. Great post SP, and accutely observed comment TomS.

    National’s uninspiring but unwavering promotion of the interests of capital over the first forty years of its existence (even under Muldoon) is plain to see.

    However, it’s difficult to pin down *exactly* what National stands for now as it nears superannuation entitlement age. After its nadir in 1999, the big corporate capital/neoliberal right tried to use the hollowed out carcase to sneak into power, but that having failed the pragmatic tendency seems to have reasserted itself. Clearly the default is still to favour capital. But as Chris Trotter pointed out recently, there’s not a lot that National’s offering right now that would appeal corporate capital in particular. Somebody mentioned employment law — the most likely change there is a 90 day period without PG cover, and that’s really aimed at the SME sector.

    Raises some important questions… How did they get to where they are? I guess the slow realisation that NZers generally don’t want neoliberalism is, er, key, there. And how stable are the current National policy preferences? What would it take to see them revert to form?

    (election year?) capthcha: Manufacturing honey

  49. Lew 50

    Good questions, jafapete. This is where I was headed, but the post was long-winded enough already.

    L

  50. Thanks Lew,

    Missed your post because of a break in the middle of drafting mine. I’d agree with what you say, except that I don’t think I’d call National’s “Labour Lite” platform a “traditional labour ticket”. More “Third Way.”

    All other things being equal, over time the differences of the two third way options will emerge ineluctably, just as they did over the post-war period as National administered the welfare state without a great deal of enthusiasm, and the welfare state gradually sank into the capitalist swamp.

    But a proper analysis is needed, that takes into account the changing nature of capitalism in NZ over the past little while, and rise (and fall?) of neoliberalism, amongst other factors. If only Bruce Jesson were here.

  51. Of course this is just arguments about statism. The so called “public” or “collective” control is political control, control by politicians, with bureaucrats marching alongside. It isn’t about the citizens, who get their incomes pilfered for whatever is deemed to be “public”, and can’t demand a refund, or accountability if they don’t get what is promised. If you don’t get your operation in hospital, tough you suffer or pay twice. If your kid’s school hires a bad teacher and you can’t convince it otherwise, you suffer or take your kid out and pay twice. If the “publicly owned” business gives you poor service or constantly demands your taxes, you can’t sell your shares in it, or stop paying for its failure to perform.

    That’s the statism of social democracy, the consumer of “public services” has no power except the vote every three years. Those who are wealthy can always pay more to get out of the trap, but the vast masses in the middle get their taxes taken and have to trust that the centrally planned social services might deliver when they want them. When they don’t, all the social democrats say “need more money”, instead of thinking that centrally planned monopolies where consumers have absolute no power deliver precious few incentives to perform.

    National and Labour play the same game, the same status quo and the same scaremongering that anything other than they managing these enormously important sectors would be “disaster”. Politicians and bureaucrats are, under social democracy, playing with large amounts of other people’s money with precious little to hold them to account for not delivering. That’s social democracy!

  52. And the Standard draws another libertarian. Surely there’s some kind of software that can screen out these loons. I know I’ve said this before but I vote we round them all up and put them on some kind of an island where they can live in a market utopia. We’re just not good enough to share the same country as these ubermenchen. They should be set free to embrace their greatness. Please. An island. Far, far away…

    [lprent: ‘sod I exclude on behavior – not religious belief. You should know that better than anyone. Please don’t try to start flames.]

  53. redbus 54

    No candles to blow out. The flame in that party faded out under English.

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