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Spying on the left: 20th century “dirt files”

Written By: - Date published: 9:43 pm, June 1st, 2014 - 56 comments
Categories: accountability, class war, democracy under attack, labour, socialism, Spying - Tags:

An article in the Herald on Sunday reports on some newly released files have been declassified, and made available for public viewing at Archives NZ in Wellington.  I haven’t seen this reported elsewhere, but the article includes some bits of information that I didn’t know about before.

Micky Savage crowd

The article, Dirt files on former Prime Minister are released to Archives NZ, by Bevan Hurley, begins:

Newly declassified files from the Security Intelligence Service show secret police spied on future Labour Prime Ministers in the 1920s who were suspected of having Communist sympathies.

The SIS has released thousands of pages of secret files on Michael Joseph Savage, Peter Fraser and Walter Nash from a spying operation on the Labour Party in the 1920s and 30s. The spies were amassing dirt files on the men who would later become their political masters.

Their personal files were destroyed, but other Special Branch and World War II Security Intelligence Bureau files recorded between 1920 and 1945 have been transferred to Archives New Zealand.

A personal file was located on Auckland’s longest-serving mayor Sir Dove-Myer Robinson, a four-times married Communist Party member, whose reign as mayor spanned four decades and who was the subject of a 2012 biography.

It shows a severe lack in my historical knowledge, that I hadn’t previously been aware that Sir Dove Meyer was a Communist Party member.

Urban Legend - Sir Dove-Myer RobnisonI did know that it’s Auckland’s great loss that Dove Meyer’s rapid rail plan was never implemented – so now we have a city of cars and gridlock. (See Te Ara’s biography on him).

Back to Hurley’s article.  I was a little shocked to see the extent of the NZ establishment fears of the left back in the first half of the 20th century.  This seems to be something our media, and some other dominant sectors in NZ still perpetuate.

Walter Nash, Prime Minister from 1957-60, was spied on at Irish Republican meetings and for importing “seditious literature” from Australia.

His great-grandson Stuart Nash, Labour Party candidate for Napier in the upcoming election, said there had been anti-left wing paranoia because of the “spectre of Stalin”.

“I would doubt they found any direct links to [Josef] Stalin in there.”

SIS files on Bill Sutch, who was accused and acquitted of espionage in 1974, were released in 2008.

The Special Branch was set up in 1920 “to investigate and report on revolutionary matters in New Zealand”, its main target being the Communist Party of New Zealand.

Te Ara has a photo of Sutch arriving at the Wellington magistrates court in October 1974, with his wife, Shirley Smith, and his lawyer Mike Bungay (right). From Te Ara.

It’s sobering to see how long our intelligence services have been treating as enemies within, people who have been working hard to make a more fair and livable society.

It’s not surprising then, that many good-hearted Kiwis are becoming increasingly concerned about the secret practices of our GCSB, SIS and police surveillance services.

Hopefully, the next left/progressive government will organise a thorough review of our intelligence services.  And, when doing so, reflect on how such services have been mobilised against Labour politicians and party members in past times.

gcsb-scum

Update: People’s Power Ohariu on Peter Dunne having been “Dunne over” by John key’s spying review.

John Key’s unfulfilled assurance to Peter Dunne for a review of the SIS and GCSB operations after the passage of the GCSB legislation is the focus of the latest in the “Hey Peter!” billboard campaign in the Ohariu electorate.

[…]

Peter Dunne had defended his change from opposition to the Government’s controversial GCSB spying legislation to support for the Bill as the result of a deal with prime minister John Key – “willing seller – willing buyer”.

56 comments on “Spying on the left: 20th century “dirt files” ”

  1. Macro 1

    Yes they have been doing it for years – and are still at it.
    Time to get rid of them.

  2. Clemgeopin 2

    That article gives such an insight into the nefarious thoughts and actions of the right wing establishment who seem to be there to look after the interests of the wealthy and not the interests of the ordinary people and those that they term as the ‘underclass’.

    The National party’s ‘Dancing Cossacks’ campaign to undermine Labour was another disgrace in our history,
    http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/media/video/dancing-cossacks

    We have no idea how much of spying is going on on the opposition leaders now! Our spying laws definitely need a thorough review as demanded and promised by Labour.

    Read here about the terrible witch hunt of people, the so called ‘communists’ undertaken by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the USA
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McCarthyism

  3. Colonial Viper 3

    BTW the power elite are now spying and interfering with groups on both the Right and the Left, as evidenced by the US IRS interference in the Tea Party.

    In other words, if you seek to change the status quo corporatocracy, no matter whether you are nominally Left or Right, you can be a target.

    • Its naturally law 3.1

      The alleged IRS interference in the US Tea Party is widely understood to amount to nothing more than a anti Obama conspiracy that gained traction in the right wing echo chamber. Numerous federal investigations found no evidence substantiating the claims made by the right wing media outlets.

  4. Harry Holland 4

    All sing…
    “If you thought the army was here defending people like yourself, I’ve some news for you, they’re here to defend wealth.”
    – Marching Song of the Covert Battalions, Billy Bragg, 1990.

  5. Tiger Mountain 5

    It is intriguing that some of this stuff escaped the shredder. NZSIS trumpeted “openness” several years back but most people I know that applied for their files just boosted thick black marker sales. Under the 1969 and 1977 Acts the SIS has obligations to protect its employees and informants identities, particularly living ones, over the wish of the spied upon to know what the service holds on them.

    One wonders also what the state security apparatus role, and the US role, was during Norm Kirk’s period as Labour leader and brief term as Prime Minister from 1972 till his early death in office aged 51 in 1974. As I said here once before the circumstances of his death remain rather mysterious despite his recorded poor health and tendency to overwork. Maybe the best medical care was reserved for people not pushing an independent foreign policy.

    The vast bulk of NZ communists were united in one party, the NZCP, from the 1920s to the late 1950s, a main organisational expression of the Sino-Soviet split occurring in 1966 with the formation of the Socialist Unity Party as well as various trotskyite tendencies and sects in that period.

    Prior to the formation of the NZSIS, NZ Police Special Branch handled paid informants who were planted in the NZCP. One was there at branch executive level for nine years and wrote a book about his experience. “Seeing Red-Undercover in 1950s New Zealand” by George Fraser, Dunmore Press 1995, ISBN 0-86469-255-2. The cast of characters is a whos who of the NZ left. Of course in the end Fraser was left high and dry, life in tatters and he had come to the conclusion that most party members were in fact genuinely motivated New Zealanders not subversives.

    Given that recent Green MP Keith Locke and other of his family members were snooped on for most of their lives one can make an educated guess who else is top of NSA/SIS/GCSB rankings.
    More so with the new economic focus of the trenchcoat brigade.

  6. Martin 6

    Now someone please remind me why
    our fathers and grandfathers went off to war?

  7. swordfish 7

    Yep. I suspect they kept an eye on my grandmother who was a long-time activist on the Left of the Labour Party early-1920s to mid-1960s at the Wellington Regional level and a friend of Walter Nash, Jack Lewin, various Labour MPs and Bill Sutch and his wife Shirley Smith. She was also active in the often dominant Left faction of the PSA in the 40s and 50s – a faction that conservative (often Catholic) sections of the PSA tried to smear as Communist (mirroring what happened in Australia with the conservative-Catholic Democratic Labor Party). Yep, we certainly had our own little version of McCarthyism going on down here through the late 40s-50s.

    The first head of the SIS, in particular, was an absolute nutter of the Reds-Under-the-Bed variety – former military officer Brigadier William (Bill) Gilbert. He believed that half the Labour Party were closet Commies and dangerous subversives. And, interestingly enough, he’s the main source for right-wing journo Graeme Hunt’s highly predictable hatchet-job on Sutch and others in his utterly paranoid, red-baiting Spies and Revolutionaries: A History of New Zealand Subversion. Hunt takes an entirely uncritical stance towards Gilbert’s various claims about Sutch, Jack Lewin and others – not so much the work of a professional historian as an inherently-ideological NBR hack.

    Like his equally fatuous whitewash of the absolutely bloody appalling Fintan Patrick Walsh (grounded largely in testimony from Walsh’s adoring daughter), this was part of a series that might be termed the National Business Review version of New Zealand history. Wait until most of the people who knew them are dead and then write either an outrageous whitewash (if they’re conservative and big business-friendly) or an equally outrageous hatchet-job (if they happened to challenge establishment interests in any shape or form).

    • karol 7.1

      Thanks for that piece of background, swordfish. Your grandmother sounds awesome!

    • Anne 7.2

      Yes thanks for that swordship. You are 100% correct.

      Be assured that it was not only members of the Labour Party who were subjected to spying and witch hunts in the 50s, 60s and the 70s. Some of the children of these ‘victims’ were similarly treated for no reason other than who they were. My father, who was an old friend and campaign manager for the late Warren Freer in the 1950s, ended up being subjected to some very grubby tactics from certain sections of the establishment and not all of them were NZ citizens. That is another story. In the 70s, 80s (and even the early 90s) it spilled over into my life and I suffered a similar ordeal. In my case, the situation was exacerbated by the information finding its way into what I can only describe here as “the wrong hands”.

      Many lives and careers were destroyed during those decades and no government since has ever had the guts to stand up and apologise to the innocent individuals who were wrongfully subjected to improper surveillance – and related activities – in what in my view is still the relatively recent past.

  8. Tracey 8

    do the records reveal how many nat mps, nat pms and nat party members have been spied on?

    • karol 8.1

      It’s not revealed in the one article available on this. It would be necessary to visit Archives NZ in Wellington to check the files.

      • Tracey 8.1.1

        I could assume if they featured it might have been included or prompt a follow up article next week?

  9. Half Crown 9

    “I did know that it’s Auckland’s great loss that Dove Meyer’s rapid rail plan was never implemented – so now we have a city of cars and gridlock. (See Te Ara’s biography on him).”

    Thanks for that Karol
    Sir Dove Myer a COMMUNISTS. That is total and complete bullshit, in fact the very small dealings I had with him I thought he would have been quite the opposite. However, not surprised that he has been labelled a communist as he made quite a few enemies when he was against the Browns Island sewage scheme.
    The 1% want to remember or be reminded, when they on their luxury yacht’s sipping a glass of Monet in the gulf, off Browns Island, it is through the actions of this great man they are not sailing in shit

    Another great legacy of this man who they claim was a Communist.

    • karol 9.1

      Well, the NZ Herald article linked to in my post, claims Robinson had been a memeber of the Communist Party (not something I see as negative). And I’ve found a few other online sources that say that, including a couple of books on google books.

      This book says, that some in local bodies circle claimed Robinson was a CP member, but, that if he was, he probably wasn’t a member after the brutality of the Soviet regime became clear.

      This book claims Robinson was, at one point, secretary of the Auckland branch of the CP.

      There is a comment in a Reading the Maps post, that shows the author accepts the claims of Robinson having once been a CP member.

      It did surprise me to read that claim, as I had long seen Robinson as being pretty conservative and “establishment”.

      • Comrade David 9.1.1

        Saying that someone was a member of the CPNZ is not an insult, or even necissarily a criticism.

        A longtime member of the Auckland CPNZ told me that Robinson had been a member, he was told this by people who had been members at the time. I’m guessing that this would have been in the 1930s, or possibly during the war, when the Party’s membership was at its highest.

        To be a member of the Party at this time was to believe that capitalism was an unjust, exploitative and crisis prone system, which couldn’t be reformed, but could be overthrown by the working class, led by a well organised Communist Party. Party members believed this is what had happened in Russia. While the capitalist world was producing Depression and Fascism, Russia was supposedly forging a new and better world. Some of this is factually wrong, some, in my view is as true today as it was then.

      • Harry Holland 9.1.2

        I wonder if it’s one of those [imagine with me for a moment]…

        Joined the NZCP in 1921 when it was first formed, at age 19, and lapsed after a year or so. Then got on with a normal capitalist life before entering local politics 25 years later in his late 40’s (in the late 1940’s). Forever now to be remembered as a communist… not that there’s anything wrong with that ; )

      • Anne 9.1.3

        I had long seen Robinson as being pretty conservative and “establishment”.

        He was karol. Like a lot of young people of that generation, he probably flirted with the idea of Communism (remember no-one knew in those days what was going on inside Russia), joined the party for a gig and then dropped out a year or two later. No different to the long haired protestors of the 60s and 70s who dabbled in drugs and protested… then later on became ‘responsible’ establishment citizens. Phil Goff was one of them.

      • Half Crown 9.1.4

        Oh gawd, suffered from a large attack of SOS. Just re read what I had written. I better attend a charter school for some English lessons.

        It should have read, “That was total and complete bullshit by whoever wrote the report” I apologise Karol for the way it was written, I did not mean to apply that you said it. Also Monet should read Moet
        Definitely a major senior moment.

    • Anne 9.2

      In those days anyone who had any imagination or innovative ideas were automatically suspected of being a Communist. The flat headed philistines who ran our state services were blind to reality and steeped in prejudice and bigotry. I suspect one of Sir Dove Myer’s crimes was being of Jewish descent.

      Here’s an example of how unbelievably stupid they were:

      My late mother belonged to “the School of Philosophy” whose premises are in Mt Eden. It was an off-shoot of the British School of Philosophy, and a more sedate, dignified, middle-class group of people you could not find anywhere. I understand Rowan Atkinson was involved in the British School of Philosophy at one time.
      In the 1970s they came under suspicion as some sort of front for a communist backed (read KGB?) grouping.

      • Tracey 9.2.1

        sorry to be dense, but how does someone find out what was on them at wanganui etc?

        School of philosophy aye, well you know how the right hates free thinking, ideas, a lateral thinking.

        • Anne 9.2.1.1

          Don’t bother with the Whanganui computer. Is it still in existence? There was bugger all on those files apart from a few speeding tickets. I did that in the 90s. And you won’t get anything out of the State Services. I contacted several agencies for information or assistance from them to gather information and I was fobbed off by all of them.

          • Tracey 9.2.1.1.1

            nothing to hide. Nothing to fear should work both ways in a true democracy

            • Colonial Viper 9.2.1.1.1.1

              In a “true democracy” indeed. Even in ancient Athens, the so-called home of democracy, slaves had no vote. And neither did the peoples and territories the ancient greeks subjugated throughout the Mediterranean.

              It’s oddly self serving isn’t it that the power elite and their institutions want to know everything about what you are doing and what you are thinking, but yet they want you to know absolutely nothing about what they are doing and what they are thinking.

              And that discrepancy is usually attributed by them to the need for “security” and “confidentiality” (theirs of course, not ours).

              • Tracey

                Slaves and women didnt vote back then… Hell women in kuwait didnt get to vote til 2001 and in saudi arabia they still dont, not that the usa is invading to bring democracy there anytime soon.

                • Colonial Viper

                  And regardless of that, “election day” is just one day out of a thousand in a 3 year term.

                  Accountability of those with power, ability for ordinary voices to be heard, opportunities for real alternatives to be freely discussed, that’s 99% of what democracy is (should be) about. Voting is a necessary, but very small, part of a true liberal democratic society.

                  • Tracey

                    you brought up slaves, I was extending it to half the population and male slaves. so its not “regardless of that” as though you didnt make it an issue

    • Tracey 9.3

      its not a smear to belong to the communist party. Dove meyer gave a shit about people. He cared about the legacy peole left.

      Not every communist was committing poroms on the jews.

      • Colonial Viper 9.3.1

        I presume you are referring to Stalin? Of course, he was a tyrant first, communist last. And he tended to be fairly equal opportunity with his pogroms…

        Not that we need any centralised state communists around here, but a few actual democratic socialists would be nice.

        • Tracey 9.3.1.1

          agree @ socialist democrats or just some elected people who genuinely belive in an equitable society and not their skewed version of darwinism.

  10. gee..!..nash the younger has moved a ways from grandpappys’ knee…eh..?

    • Anne 10.1

      The irony re-Walter Nash is: he was as anti-Communist as they come yet they still spied on him. In the 1950s, Warren Freer (MP for Mt. Albert for 34 years and former cabinet minister) made a trip to China. He was the first Western politician who was brave enough to go to China after the advent of the Communist State. He did so because he saw an opportunity for trade between NZ and China and he’d gone to suss out the lay of the land. The trip had not been officially sanctioned of course, and when he returned he was exposed to allegations of communist activities. Walter Nash wanted him expelled from the Labour Party and he was generally ostracised by his political colleagues. I remember my father talking about it in the 60s. He understood what Freer was attempting to do and he was livid with rage over the treatment meted out to Freer as a consequence of his trip.

      The eventual outcome of that visit – and several subsequent visits by Freer- was that New Zealand was the first Western nation with whom China conducted and sealed an official trade deal. Sadly, in his lifetime, Warren Freer was never fully acknowledged as having been the inspiration behind China choosing NZ to conduct their first ever deal.

      • phillip ure 10.1.1

        chrs 4 that backgrounder..

        ..so he hasn’t moved that far from grandpappys’ knee then..?

      • swordfish 10.1.2

        Yeah, I remember my mother telling me something about that when I was studying Labour History at Uni back in the 90s. She mentioned a kerfuffle in the Labour Party over Warren Freer (she and my father didn’t actually become Party members until the mid 70s, but – being her mother’s daughter – she always kept herself well-informed about various Labour and Left activities).

        Auckland had some very impressive Left-leaning/Progressive Labour MPs – Freer, Isbey, and – ironically enough, Roger Douglas’s father. Some of Wellington’s Labour MPs – Peter Fraser, Bob Semple and Nash tended towards either the conservative end of the spectrum (Fraser and particularly Semple moving into red-baiting territory after the Second World War, having both, of course, been fairly fiery Red Feds in their youth) or, at least, towards a kind of establishment orthodoxy on economics (Nash).

        Although my grandmother was very much to the Left of Nash generally, she saw him as the most liberal (of Labour’s 1930s/40s/50s leadership) on feminist issues like Equal Pay and on a moral, liberal-internationalist foreign policy and so on. As it turned out, however, the Nash-led Second Labour Government was quite conservative on a range of issues. He was enthusiastic about Equal Pay for women when in Opposition but a little lukewarm once in power. He also, of course, was instrumental in ensuring the highly controversial All Black Tour of Apartheid South Africa went ahead in 1960, despite criticism from many of his own MPs and important sections of the Union movement.

        Probably the over-arching explanation for the general conservatism (and this also possibly explains his on-going attempts to expel Freer) was his/Labour’s acute sensitivity to public opinion in the context of the ugly Cold War Red Scare rhetoric that reached its peak during the 15 or so years immediately following WWII*. That sort of climate of fear led to a good deal of conservatism and timidity from Social Democratic Parties throughout Western Liberal Democracies. Which, of course, was exactly what the Right wanted.

        Doesn’t, however, even remotely excuse what happened to Freer. Or to your father and, ultimately, even to you yourself.

        (although in terms of the 1960 Tour, it was, of course, much more to do with fear of an electoral backlash from a Rugby-loving New Zealand. But they received a backlash against the so-called Black Budget anyway so it probably wouldn’t have made much difference either way).

  11. Rosie 11

    Fascinating stuff karol and thanks too, to Tiger Mountain, Swordfish and Anne for further history.

    It seems that leaders and people of the left are spied upon in arguably equal amounts to the oppression and violence that gets meted out by the authorities towards the same people, throughout our history and up the the present time.

    You can’t help but think of victims of the Police and of the right in relation to the power imbalance between right and left and spying and freedom. Freedom to pursue something so simple as the equality of power and all that comes with that equality.

    Fred Evans, killed during the miner’s strike in Waihi, 1912

    Two of Rua Kenana’s followers (can’t remember their names and no time to search as I’m out the door soon but I think one was one of Rua’s sons) killed by police during the raids on Maungapohatu, 1916.

    Ernie Abbott, killed by blast from the Trades Hall bombing, Vivian St, Wellington 1984

    Christine Clarke, killed on the picket line by businessman Derek Powell as he intentionally drove his landcruiser into the crowd, 1999.

    • Rosie 11.1

      Moderation? Did we get high jacked by the GCSB?

      • Colonial Viper 11.1.1

        The western intelligence services for the most part don’t want to conduct censorship of forums like this.

        Their ability to collect information about people, identify their social networks and categorise them into levels of interest/levels of threat relies on commentators and posters being able to state their views freely and hence reveal their opinions and activities.

        • Anne 11.1.1.1

          I think it should be pointed out that a lot of the spying and other activities were conducted by the Special Branch of the Police Force which was the forerunner of the SIS. When the SIS took over from the police it was assumed the Special Branch ceased to exist. They didn’t – at least not for a decade or so. Most of the “flat-headed philistines” I referred to earlier were members of that Special Branch.

  12. Weepu's beard 14

    I’m sure I heard John Key refer to the GCSB as “my agency” a few weeks back. As evidence that he views the GCSB as a tool to use whenever and for whatever he likes, that is anecdotal, but important. The biggest indicator that his office spies on opposition and ally alike is the saga around the Peter Dunne emails to Andrea Vance. John Key and his office think nothing of this sort of stuff and neither do his followers.

    • Anne 14.1

      That reminds me of Rob Muldoon and the SIS. He definitely regarded the spy agency as HIS agency. On the surface they appear to be different – and that might have a lot to do with the difference in the time periods – but there are many similarities between Muldoon and Key.

  13. The confusion over Robinson possibly reflects the difficulty of disentangling the social democratic and the Marxist left, when the history of major protest movements and strikes is told. There’s often a tendency to downplay the contribution of the smaller and more radical organisations of the left, when the story of the left is told. At the last general election Labour aired an advertisement which began with a reasonably detailed account of the party’s history, and of the history of the party’s links to various progressive protest movements. Although it was great to see Labour talking about history, and the party certainly was correct to claim that its grassroots members were involved in many of these protest movements, the narrative the advertisement offered systematically excluded organisations which sat to the left of Labour on the political spectrum, like the Communist Party and its various avatars:
    http://readingthemaps.blogspot.co.nz/2011/11/labours-history-lesson.html

  14. Comrade David 16

    Up until the formation of the Labour Party in 1915, and in some cases after that, people like Harry Holland, Peter Frazer and M J Savage were committed to overthrowing not just the government, but the entire capitalist system. Walter Nash, seems to have been more of a reformist, however, he was imprisoned (not just spied on) for importing revolutionary socialist literature.

    This had nothing to do with the “specter of Stalin”, who was little known outside Russia at the time, and everything to do with the fact that the working class in Aotearoa were becoming well organised and militant, with a minority becoming revolutionaries.

    Because, as yet, there has been no revolution here, it is easy to dismiss those who fear it as “paranoid”, but any government is going to keep an eye on those (it suspects) want to overthrow it. Not taking the state’s fears seriously also does a disservice to the socialists and communists of the past, who were also serious (is at times over optimistic) about revolutionary social change.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 16.1

      Well said.

      It remains a paradox that a democracy’s weakest links are its politicians, making them legitimate persons of interest to security services, and yet such surveillance is anathema to human rights.

  15. Every time I look at this photograph, which appeared in a NZ newspaper in 1940, the history of the left in NZ grows more mysterious:
    http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=search&d=NZH19400905.2.83&srpos=1&e=——-10–1—-0communist+cave–

    Commies hiding from the authorities in a South Auckland, preparing smudged copies of their newspaper, which has been proscribed by a Labour government, and yet will soon be read by hundreds of workers at the Otahuhu workshops and the Southdown Freezing Works.

    They might have gotten the idea of underground communism from the Vietnamese, who were already at work building the vast network of grottoes and tunnels that would play such a part in the defeat of the US decades later:
    http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=search&d=AS19370322.2.106&srpos=3&e=——-10–1—-0communist+cave–

    Or did they have Mao’s famous iniversity of the caves in mind? Or the plans of the thousands of Tainui men who refused to go to war in 1916 to hide from the New Zealand state in the porous country around Waitomo?

  16. Sorry, meant to say ‘hiding from the authorities in a South Auckland cave’ in that first paragraph.

    Some of us are trying to find this cave and film inside it, as we make a documentary (http://www.publicfilms.co.nz/?page_id=297 http://readingthemaps.blogspot.co.nz/2014/05/building-bombs.html) on the history of the Great South Road: does anyone have any idea of its location? The newspaper report places it 3 miles from Papatoetoe town centre on the shores of the Manukau, inside the boundaries of a private farm.

    I suspect that relatively well-known Wiri Cave, which sits at the edge of soon-to-be-decommissioned Puhinui Quarry, is probably the best candidate. But I wonder whether the long shoreline of the nearby Puhinui Reserve might conceal something?

    Wherever it is located, the cave in question quite probably has a place in NZ literary history, as well as in the history of the left. RAK Mason, who is considered one of our greatest poets, and is also remembered as a mentor to the young Hone Tuwhare, was very much involved, as an editor and I think also as a printer, with communist and labour movement publications during World War Two. When the Communist Party was once again legalised after the invasion of the Soviet Union changed its line on the war, Mason was made the editor of In Print, the paper the party published as a substitute for the still-banned People’s Voice. Was Mason hiding out in that cave, producing cyclostyled copies of the People’s Voice, during the fearful and repressive year of 1940?

    A couple of other very notable figures in the history of the 1940s left, the young communist leader and writer Gordon Watson and the long-time party theoretician Sid Scott, were entrusted with the editorship of the underground People’s Voice, and may well have visited the mysterious South Auckland cave. Watson was killed by a fascist bullet in 1944; Scott turned against the party after the invasion of Soviet Hungary in 1956, and eventually became angrily and outspokenly anti-communist, writing letters to members of the Holyoake government demanding repressive measures against the Communist Party he had once led.

    There are a couple of clues in Sid Scott’s writings that make me think he was possibly behind the decision to make the South Auckland cave a commie hideout, and that he may have spent some time there himself.

    Late in his life, Scott wrote a very bad novel, which has never been published but can be read in manuscript at the University of Auckland library. The novel opens with a rapturous, long-winded description of an adventure in an enormous lava cave hidden under Auckland.

    In his bitter but fascinating autobiography Rebel in a Wrong Cause, which was written after he had left the party, Scott mentions that his eyesight deteriorated at a very fast rate in the early ’40s, and says that he decided to visit the Waitomo Caves, a place he had long fantasised about, before it gave out altogether. At the end (I think) of 1942, Scott visited the famous King Country caves, and could just make out their glow worms from his seat in the dinghy that floated down the dark waters of Waitomo.

    Don’t the passage in Scott’s unpublished novel and his journey to Waitomo together suggest a fascination with caves? Scott had long suffered from eye troubles, and had even travelled to the Soviet Union for help with them, but was the rapid decline in his eyesight in the early ’40s caused by the dust and dimness of that mysterious South Auckland cave?

    If anyone can help with these rather speculative inquiries, do send me an e mail at shamresearch@yahoo.co.nz! If we can pin the Wiri Cave as the place where RAK Mason, not to mention other communists-turned-Kiwi icons like Hone Tuwhare and Elsie Locke, worked and plotted, then we can argue that it should be carefully husbanded by Auckland City Council, once the Puhinui Quarry closes, rather than simply blocked and forgotten.

    Cheers
    Scott Hamilton

    • karol 18.1

      Thanks, Scott. That bit of history makes for fascinating reading. I’ve never heard about the South Auckland cave before.

  17. greywarbler 19

    Thanks for the link to the dancing cossacks piece. I haven’t seen it over the years, and had forgotten the extreme scare tactics played out in it.

    Of course Labour left itself open to be scorned over its superannuation policy. It needed to recognise that with the new wave of women’s lib, and their enlightened, informed thinking about how the country’s economy treated women, they would not support a plan that left them out because it was based strictly on earnings. This would of course condemn women to extreme elderly poverty because of their non-earning time out of the workforce doing the important human role of having children and parenting them to adulthood, and beyond! Then there was the inability of mothers to get work and pay commensurate with their training, maturity and past experience, when they wished to re-enter the workforce. Then there was the well-known pay differential that still exists today where women pay national prices, out of specially lowered female wages that result from direct prejudice or social conditioning about females right for fair and equal pay. So Labour lost.

    Labour now is persisting in pressing for a raising of ‘super’ to 67, a super that is gratefully received by many who have had difficulty finding living wage employment from perhaps their fifties. This could lead to another Labour loss.

    People deserve better consideration from the supposedly people-supportive Left. But what they are getting is the purist authoritarian Left, as fixed in their thinking and narrow as either the dancing cossacks or the shameless feathernesters of the right.

    Their type killed off the huia, a bird that had developed habits that were appropriate for its own benign environment, but facing the remoreseless colonialists had their homes cut down or burnt out. This was the approach with feisty Maori then also, and is being extended now, with a skewed equality, to us all.

    • Ennui 19.1

      Grey, you said so knowingly “Labour now is persisting in pressing for a raising of ‘super’ to 67, a super that is gratefully received by many who have had difficulty finding living wage employment from perhaps their fifties.”

      I have often wondered what sort of intellectually vacuous idiot came up with this nonsense? The arithmetic is so blindingly obvious if you look at youth unemployment, later life unemployment etc that all this does is increase the dole queue somewhere. Who is the maestro who came up with this lame duck policy, and which half witted nonentities think this is worthy of support. Get them named, shamed and off the Labour list for being quite simple myopic and foolish.

  18. Ennui 20

    Peter Dunne….what the George Smileys of this world refer to as “a useful idiot”.

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