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 hostile to 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 invasion of Hungary in 1956, most of the intellectuals the CPNZ had attracted in the meantime left the party; 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 Khrushchev and those who claimed Khrushchev was a "revisionist" and chose instead to follow China under Mao Zedong. Eventually, uniquely among the official communist parties of First World nations, the party and its newspaper The People's Voice chose to adopt Maoism. The supporters of Khrushchev's Soviet Union (mainly Auckland trade unionists) departed 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 CCP, including Vic Wilcox, Alec Ostler and Don Ross were expelled and went on to form 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 first CP in the world to do so. Opponents of this change departed, and established the Communist Party of Aotearoa (a Maoist group) and the Marxist-Leninst Collective (a pro-Hoxha group). The Communist Party of New Zealand eventually merged with the 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).
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 Halt All Racist Tours (HART) and the Progressive Youth Movement (PYM).
A brittle relationship: Gerald McGhie reviews a recent Book on New Zealand-Soviet relations.(New Zealand and the Soviet Union, 1951-1991: A Brittle Relationship)(Book Review)
Jul 01, 2004; In his aptly sub-titled book, Tony Wilson provides an excellent overview of some 40 years of New Zealand-Soviet relations. It was...