The existence of these three broad groups of the ‘labourites’, the ‘social liberals’, and the ‘radical left’ inside the organisation (detailed in the previous blog post), did not mean that all party members were either in one or another, but that they constituted broad divisions within the organisation. So these groups were by no means mutually exclusive — there were some overlaps in terms of membership of these groups. For example, there were, of course, many ex-radical left members moving in a rightward direction. Keith Locke (pictured on the right), for instance would probably be better described as a member of the social liberals despite his former membership of the Socialist Action League (SAL). [Read more below]
Likewise, Matt Robson (pictured on the right) had been an active member of that same group. He stood in the 1975 general election as the Socialist Action League candidate in Grey Lynn (and then in 1990 as the candidate for the NLP in Otara; in 1975 he won 26 votes, then in 1990: 1144 votes – Trotter, 1991: p.7). He later became active in the Labour Party, and was firmly in the labourite and Anderton group sections of the NLP. Likewise, many of the people in the social liberal group, such as Francesca Holloway and Chris Trotter, had strong sympathies with the politics of both the radical left and labourites. This reflected the complex nature of the origins and involvements of the new social movements. In fact many participants in the new social movements had come out of the traditional Marxist-type parties of the left, and eventually became involved in Labour Party (Boyle, 1989).
These broad groupings were actually very loose and fluid tendencies rather than factions. This was made obvious by the fact that they were cross-cut by a number of issues. Yet, they were groupings that were concrete enough to be immediately obvious to many of those involved. Also, these groups were constantly in alliances with one another over specific internal party struggles. For example, the labourites and radical left were united in favour of economic growth and other traditionally leftwing causes such as the fight against unemployment and for higher wages.
In general, the labourites and the radical left had in common their belief in the need for a working class orientation in their class-based world-view. In terms of the NLP’s organisational issues, the social liberals and radical left were strongly in favour of ‘party democracy’. These groups pushed for a more decentralised structure with extensive accountability provisions for the elected representatives. The social liberals and the radical left were also united in their belief in the need for the party to be involved in extra-parliamentary activism, and were both less sensitive to the labourites desire to gain much wider societal acceptance.
These loose groupings were also cross-cut by other disputes and issues; the labourites were internally split on issues like abortion and other sexual politics. While the radical left tended to be more homogenous on such issues. The radical left and social liberal groupings were both cross-cut by issues of the state. While both were generally in many ways opposed to the contemporary state, there was substantial differences within the groups about how to orientate towards it: whether to overthrow it, encourage its withering away, increase its role in society, change its nature, and so on.
While the radical left was consistently to the left of the dominant labourites, this was not the case with the social liberals who, while generally more radical or leftwing than the labourites on social issues, were not consistently so on economic issues. Reflecting this, economic questions were a weakness for the social liberals, as the group was divided on many of them.
A hybrid party
The NLP, then, was something of a hybrid party, with a diverse membership. For this reason, the party was unlike any others up until this point in New Zealand political history. The involvement of these three broad groups had an important effect on the political and organisational nature of the NLP. The involvement of the radical left and social liberals meant that the party was not created simply as a top-down organisation. It also meant that the party was not based simply on traditional leftwing and economic politics.
The position of Jim Anderton, in comparison to the far-left contingent in the new party, and even in ‘terms of traditional political alignment’, was not, according to Bruce Jesson, ‘particularly radical’ (Jesson, 1989a: p.155). Anderton made it clear from the beginning that his aim was to position the NLP as a social democratic party in the tradition of the pre-1984 Labour Party. This meant creating an ‘acceptable’ party organised along traditional lines with a left-of-centre interventionist economic policy.
Conflicting political agendas
The conflicting political agendas of these three tendencies inside the NLP was striking. On the one hand, were the labourites who wanted the NLP to present a credible vehicle which could achieve parliamentary success. This more rightwing element of the party argued for the necessity of an ‘alternative vision’ limited to within capitalism. They therefore wanted to build a social democratic party in the tradition of the old Labour Party. The radical left of the party felt that the NLP should organise mass action outside of parliament in support of workers. They were sympathetic to the desire to move towards the defeat of capitalism and the creation of socialism. They therefore wanted to build a mass working class party that would be open to the possibilities of radical social change from below.
Although the social liberals tended to side with the radical left on the issue of building mass actions and an inclusive mass party, they were, however, divided on the issues of socialism and social democracy. The social liberals tended to see themselves as more radical than the labourites, as did the radical left. However, in terms of economic issues, radical often meant being in favour of import controls or environmental taxes, whereas the radical left were generally opposed to such measures.
The existence of such divergent left and right factions ensured that the organisation was for some time divided on questions of the extent of social change necessary (socialism or social reform); and the means of accomplishing it (legislation or extra-parliamentary protest action). Consequently, inner-party feuding marked the first two years of the NLP. These tensions were such that Matt McCarten admitted the conflicts ‘have come close to destroying our fledgling organisation’ (quoted in CPNZ, 1991a: p.2).
Next blog post: Elimination of the radical left