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 â€˜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.