Communist Party of New Zealand

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The Communist Party of New Zealand (CPNZ) was a communist party in New Zealand from the 1920s to the early 1990s. It never achieved significant political success, and no longer exists as an independent group, although the Socialist Worker organisation is considered organisationally continuous with the CPNZ.[1]


The CPNZ was founded in March 1921, five years after the New Zealand Labour Party, and it consisted mainly of some dozens of former members of the New Zealand Marxian Association (established in 1918) and the old Socialist Party. The men who established the Communist Party were supporters of the Russian Bolsheviks, and remained independent from those who did not echo this support.

The new CPNZ attempted to establish itself in the 1920s as a militant force in the industrial sector, mainly in the mining towns of the West Coast of the South Island, and it gained some modest successes; a few hundred supporters were recruited. In line with the United Front policy of the Comintern, an attempt was made to join the Labour Party but this failed, and the two parties became fierce competitors. A Communist attempt to seize control over the main leftwing newspaper, the Maoriland Worker also failed. The New Zealand Communists were frequently persecuted and arrested for sedition, their printing press (used to print The Vanguard newspaper) was seized, and in addition the party sustained considerable sectarian in-fighting. By the end of the 1920s, there were few party members left, and most of them were unemployed. These remnants started an unemployed workers' movement, which grew quite large, but it was eclipsed by its Labour Party rival.

In the 1935 general election, the Communists remained hostile towards the Labour Party (which won, and went on to form the first Labour Government with mass working class support). This policy was contrary to the Popular Front policy adopted by the Comintern in 1934, but the New Zealand representative in Moscow did not return home in time to communicate the new political line to the party leadership. In the later 1930s, the Communists regained considerable influence through various front organizations and trade unions, and gained an able leader in George Watson, who however was conscripted for military service, and died in action during World War II.

In the immediate post-wars years, the CPNZ became a strong influence in the Auckland Region's Trade Council and for some time had probably over a thousand supporters nationwide. Throughout this period, the party remained resolutely Stalinist in its policy, and closely followed the political line adopted by Moscow.

After the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was crushed by Soviet forces, most of the intellectuals the CPNZ had attracted left the party while some erstwhile supporters founded new journals such as New Zealand Monthly Review, Comment, Socialist Forum and Here & Now.

Next, in the early 1960s, the party experienced more internal strife due to the Sino-Soviet split. The party was divided between supporters of the Soviet Union under Nikita Khrushchev and those who claimed Khrushchev was a "revisionist" and chose instead to follow China under Mao Zedong. Subsequently, the CPNZ became the first official communist party in the First World to side with Mao. The majority of the party and its newspaper The People's Voice adopted Maoism, while supporters of Khrushchev's Soviet Union (mainly Auckland trade unionists) split off to form the Socialist Unity Party.

Later, when Mao died and Deng Xiaoping began to reform the Chinese system, the Communist Party of New Zealand began to follow the lead of Enver Hoxha's Albania, which they considered to be the last truly Communist country in the world. Members of the CPNZ national leadership who continued to uphold the line of the post-Mao Chinese Communist Party, including Vic Wilcox, Alec Ostler and Don Ross were expelled, and formed the Preparatory Committee for the Formation of the Communist Party of New Zealand (Marxist–Leninist).

Meanwhile other former members of the CPNZ in Wellington, where the party branch had been expelled en masse in 1970, founded the Wellington Marxist Leninist Organisation, which in 1980 merged with the Northern Communist Organisation to form the Workers Communist League (WCL).

After the collapse of Communism in Albania, the Communist Party of New Zealand gradually changed its views, renouncing its former support of Stalinism, Maoism, and Hoxhaism. Instead, under the leadership of its last General Secretary, Grant Morgan, it developed a State Capitalist analysis of the Stalinist states. The party now believed that the Soviet Union had never been socialist at all, not even in Stalin's time. Opponents of this change departed, and established the Communist Party of Aotearoa (a Maoist group) and the Marxist–Leninist Collective (a pro-Hoxha group). The Communist Party of New Zealand eventually merged with the neo-Trotskyist International Socialist Organization in 1994. The resultant party, known as the Socialist Workers Organization, has evolved into the small but highly active Socialist Worker (Aotearoa). However, most of the ISO members split off again, and resumed their own organization.

The CPNZ never had mass influence or real political power, but it did politically influence several generations of radicals and stimulated several important social movements, including the unemployed workers' movement in the 1930s depression, Halt All Racist Tours (HART) and the Progressive Youth Movement (PYM).


  • Joseph Robert Powell, The history of a working class party, 1918-40. Wellington : MA Thesis, Victoria University College, 1949
  • Ian Powell, The communist left and the labour movement in Christchurch up until the 1935 general election. MA Thesis, University of Canterbury, 2004.
  • Julie M. Hynes, The Communist Party in Otago, 1940-1947. Thesis (Dip. Arts), University of Otago, 1979.
  • Alex Galbraith, Reminiscences of the early history of the Communist Party of New Zealand. Typescript, 1949
  • The making of a New Zealand revolutionary : reminiscences of Alex Galbraith, edited, with an introduction and notes by Ray Nunes. Auckland: Workers' Party of New Zealand, 1994.
  • Ron Smith, Working class son: my fight against capitalism and war: memoirs of Ron Smith, a New Zealand communist: self-published, 1994. ISBN 0-473-02909-X
  • Kerry Taylor, "Kiwi Comrades: The Social Basis of New Zealand Communism, 1921-1948." in K. Morgan etal eds, Agents of Revolution: New Biographical Approaches to the History of Communism, Bern: Peter Lang, 2005.
  • Kerry Taylor, "The Communist Party of New Zealand and the Third Period" in M. Worley (ed.), In Search of Revolution: International Communist Parties and the Third Period, London: I.B. Tauris, 2004.
  • Kerry Taylor, On the Left: Essays on Socialism in New Zealand (edited with Pat Moloney), University of Otago Press, Dunedin, 2002.
  • Kerry Taylor, "'Potential Allies of the Working Class': The Communist Party of New Zealand Maori, 1921-1952", in On the Left: Essays on Socialism in New Zealand.
  • Kerry Taylor, "Our Motto, No compromise" The Origins of the New Zealand Communist Movement", New Zealand Journal of History, 28:2 (1994).