A few years back I began what was intended to be a fairly brisk series of articles detailing the history of what can broadly be considered a ‘far right’ politics in New Zealand, with the intention of having an easily available online resource for anyone curious on what was then a fairly obscure topic with little research available. While I did get around to the first two parts (here and here, with both published as a single extended essay elsewhere here), detailing a kind of ‘pre-history’ to the extreme right that ended with the outbreak of the Second World War, the project proved far too big for something that frankly would not get much readership on this blog. As such, I’ve decided – perhaps a couple years too late – to cap that series off as an introductory two-piece on the pre-war origins of the NZ far right. Instead, I’ve repurposed segments of a paper entitled Tracing the History & Transnational Connections of New Zealand Fascism that I gave at the Histories of fascism and anti-fascism in Australasia symposium at Flinders University in Adelaide to provide an historical overview of the far right in NZ over the 1950s-1980s. I don’t really touch upon the neofascist groups or white power gangs which began to emerge in the 1980s and grew considerably in the 1990s in the segment of the paper I’ve reworked here, but I might come back to discuss them at a later date. As such…
League of Empire Loyalists & the early National Front
One of the first organisations to appear in the post-war era, and the first to attain any kind of noticeable longevity, was the local section of the British League of Empire Loyalists. The League was founded in October 1954 by veteran right-wing and fascist activist A.K. Chesterton. Chesterton had been a founding member of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, edited their paper Action for two years, and was even Mosley’s official biographer. He was among the most notable of Mosley’s early core supporters to resign in 1938, being the leader of the ‘patriotic fascist’ faction which supported Britain in the eventuality of a war between Britain and Germany. Having fought with distinction in Abyssinia during the war, he worked primarily in the media after the war along with a stint in the United Central Africa Association, before founding his own periodical Candour in 1953. It would become the unofficial paper of the League thereafter.
Upon its foundation, Chesterton sought membership from respectable society. Its general council included various military figures and the Earl of Buchan, and its rank and file were drawn from the dissatisfied right-wing of the Conservative Party. Their core positions were unsurprising given the upper class nature of the organisation: opposition to British entry into international bodies or alliances, maintenance of the British colonies (especially the maintenance of white rule in Africa), and deep hostility to any non-white immigration. Mixed in with this was opposition to American influence on Britain, support for the British nuclear weapons program, anti-Semitic conspiracy, and a strain of absolute monarchism. Their tactics were not particularly violent, but they were disruptive. After the League disrupted a Conservative Party Conference in 1958, the party lost its patience for the League and began to crack down on party members who sympathised with the League. After 1959 the League turned toward more extreme right-wing and fascist influences. From this point onwards the League went into unbroken decline, shrinking from a few thousand members in the mid- to late-1950s to about 100 in 1965 with another 100 expatriate members around the world.
In New Zealand a network of League sympathisers formed almost immediately upon the founding of the British organisation, although it remained small throughout its existence. In keeping with the high society bent of the early League in Britain, the New Zealand section included Sir Ernest Andrews (ex-Mayor of Christchurch). Unlike the British League, however, the New Zealand section was explicitly anti-Semitic from the start. Insofar as it had a public presence in New Zealand at all the League was primarily known for a flurry of anti-Semitic letters to the Christchurch Press in 1955, feuding with the Presbyterian Church, and being denounced by MPs linked to the group. In spite of the small size of the organisation, files declassified in 2015 reveal that the League was being monitored by national intelligence services. When the New Zealand House in London were informed of anti-Semitic letters being sent to Rothschild & Sons from New Zealand, intelligence services deduced that the letters were likely being sent by the local League of Empire Loyalists.
In 1967 the British League of Empire Loyalists, still under the leadership of A.K. Chesterton, merged with most of the Racial Preservation Society and the British National Party to form the British National Front. In 1968 the newly formed Front was joined by John Tyndall’s Greater Britain Movement. Chesterton was soon to resign as Chairman of the National Front, uneasy with the increasingly neo-Nazi path it was taking. The course of the British Front would be radically different than that of the New Zealand Front through the 1970s, so at this point I will focus entirely on the early New Zealand National Front.
As with the founding of the original League of Empire Loyalists, the New Zealand National Front came into being as soon as the British party was founded. The initiative was taken by League activist B.B. Thompson, who established a network of sympathisers out of the existing League in 1967. From an early stage the New Zealand Front was bolstered by British immigrants. Paul Spoonley in The Politics of Nostalgia highlights the case of Roger Clare who joined Mosley’s Union Movement in the early 1960s, traveled to South Africa then New Zealand, where he became a key National Front activist, before returning to Britain in the early 1970s where he joined the League of St. George and Column 88. Alternately, Thompson would visit Britain in 1977 to observe the British Front’s tactics where he would be present at the infamous Lewisham march. The Front remained a supporter network for a decade until a formal national organisation was established in March 1977. Although the British Front heralded the formation a national organisation in New Zealand, it would only last into mid-1978 before collapsing again. There would be flickers of life from the National Front after 1978 such as an attempt in 1981 to affiliate a National Front group with the Victoria University of Wellington Students Association (which was declined), but it would be decades before it reappeared on the national stage.
Perhaps more so than the organisations own activities, the NZ National Front was important for the extensive connection between its own membership and numerous other organisations. There were attempts to infiltrate the National Party (the main conservative party in New Zealand) by three National Front members: Kerry Bolton, David Crawford (both directors of the organisation), and George Moira who managed to reach the executive of the Mt Roskill branch before the three were expelled. Thompson founded the Association Defending South African Tours (1972) and the Friends of Chile (1976), as well as association with the Southern Africa Friends Association and the Friends of South Africa. Bolton had started out as a member of the National Socialist Party as a teenager, founded the Democratic Nationalist Party (1975) before folding it to join the National Front. After the National Front folded he helped found New Force/Nationalist Workers Party (1981/1983) along with a New Zealand Church of Odin (1980). He has furthermore been associated with the New Zealand Rhodesia Society and the League of Rights.
Anti-Semitism in the 1950s-1960s & the National Socialist Party of New Zealand
The first explicitly fascist organisation founded in the post-war era would be the National Socialist Party of New Zealand in 1969. Some people had claimed membership of a New Zealand Nazi Party in the early-1960s, while a number of anti-Semitic and pro-fascist incidents were recorded through the 1950s-1960s. A small national socialist group was also established in Rotorua in 1967, however it was likely folded into the NSPNZ. Intelligence services had noted correspondence between local fascist sympathisers and international counterparts as early as 1952 including the Australian holocaust denier De Wykeham de Louth, and Swedish anti-Semite Einer Aberg.
The National Socialist Party proper was founded in 1969 by Colin Ansell, after a 14-month prison stint for vandalizing an Auckland synagogue in 1967. He had been in a small far right discussion group prior to his imprisonment which he claims was in correspondence with George Lincoln Rockwell of the American Nazi Party, for whom Ansell had a strong admiration. The Party itself was never particularly large, numbering perhaps 40-60 strong at its peak with small branches in Auckland (where it had a continuous presence), Wellington, and Christchurch. Although largely marginal, even by the standards of the contemporary far right, the party maintained a disproportionate profile through the 1970s simply due to public revulsion at their presence and propaganda efforts.
Those propaganda efforts are of specific interest here, as the party distributed material from various international Nazi organisations asides their own work (especially American publications). Of final note is a period in 1971 Ansell spent in Australia as an observer of the Australian National Socialist Party, where he was heavily involved in party activities for several months. The ANSP took a continuing interest in Ansell’s efforts in New Zealand before and after his time in Australia, going so far as to send a member to assist his 1972 electoral campaign in Mt Eden. He would stand again in Mt Eden in 1975 (where he received 19 votes) and in Onehunga in 1978 (where he received 22).
Social Credit & the League of Rights
To discuss the League of Rights in New Zealand requires a short introduction to the social credit movement in New Zealand. Social creditors appeared early in New Zealand. Captain H.M. Rushworth, MP for the Bay of Islands from 1928 to 1938 for the Country Party, was a social credit sympathiser and an influence on some of the later extreme right. Small social credit groups were formed within the Wellington and Christchurch theosophical societies in 1930 following lectures on the topic given by a travelling Australian. The movement was greatly boosted by Major C.H. Douglas himself visiting New Zealand in 1934 to appear before a parliamentary commission and conduct an extensive speaking tour. From 1931-1935 the social credit movement grew from 6 to 225 branches nationally. While not reflective of the entire movement, a significant anti-Semitic underbelly existed within social credit during the 1930s-1940s. One social credit publisher in particular, Plain Talk, was the most important distributor of anti-Semitic tracts in New Zealand at the time. After the war the main body of the movement, the Social Credit Association, made the decision to enter electoral politics on its own and founded the Social Credit Political League in 1954 to stand in that year’s election. From 1954 through 1972 the SCPL did relatively well at elections, though only cracked 10% on two occasions (in 1954 and 1966). Factional struggles developed between the ‘purist’ old guard of the party and the ‘pragmatist’ younger, urban faction in the 1960s. The purists demanding an adherence to Douglas’ original policies including his dedication to financial conspiracy theory and a strain of anti-communism. While the younger faction eventually won, leading to a split of the ‘purist’ faction to found the short lived New Democrat Party, far right sentiment remained within the party. It is at this point that the League of Rights come onto the scene.
Without going into too much detail, the Australian League of Rights and its founder Eric Butler need a short introduction. Butlers origins are in the Australian social credit movement of the late 1930s where he began developing his ideas. Over the 1960s-1970s, however, the League expanded outside of Australia. It founded a Canadian League in 1964, a British League in 1967, a New Zealand League in 1970, and a peak body Crown Commonwealth League in 1972. The Crown Commonwealth League had been founded in particular to accept an offer of membership from the World Anti-Communist League, established by Chiang Kai-shek in 1966. The New Zealand League held a relatively low profile during the 1970s, although Eric Butler was received with enthusiasm on his frequent tours of New Zealand (13 such tours occurred over 1962-1982). Butler’s anti-communism, support for Rhodesia & South Africa, and opposition to British entry into the European Economic Community gave him purchase with the National Party in the early days, going so far as meeting then Prime Minister Keith Holyoake in 1962. His efforts at self-promotion are reflected in positive media coverage he received throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. Though not as high a stature as Butler later on, the early League nevertheless saw benefits from his efforts, drawing National Party cabinet minister George Gair as a speaker at a pro-Springbok tour meeting in 1972. Connections even to relatively high ranking members of the National Party would remain even into the 1980s.
Ideologically the League rested in similar territory to the League of Empire Loyalists before it, albeit combined with the ‘purist’ social credit doctrine of the 1930s. Underlying most of the League’s thinking is a dedication to a grand conspiracy on the part of finance capital and communism (both conceived as having Jewish roots), a dedication to British racial supremacy in the Commonwealth, and conservative Christianity. The League became a home for disaffected social credit purists in the 1970s, and consistent attempts at infiltration by League members into the social credit party continued through the 1970s-1980s. Michael Sheppard, a one-time electoral candidate in 1978 and former national spokesperson for the SCPL, presented a slew of anti-Semitic incidents and connections with the League of Rights in his 1981 book Social Credit: Inside & Out. In one case an official Social Credit pamphlet listed the Institute for Economic Democracy (a League of Rights front) and the far-right Western Destiny Publications as supply addresses for social credit material. In another a Social Credit paper Guardian advertised a joint social credit and League of Rights centenary dinner to mark the birth of C.H. Douglas. Even when the League of Rights was scrubbed from further advertising for the event, the keynote speaker remained Jeremy Lee – the National Secretary of the Institute for Economic Democracy. Joy Clapham, a League of Rights member and candidate for SoCred at the 1972, 1975, and 1978 general elections was only expelled when the National Council of SoCred announced a ban on joint SoCred/League of Rights membership in 1979.
Much like the Australian League, in New Zealand it made considerable use of front groups and association with more mainstream conservative organisations. These included, among others:
• South Africa Friendship Foundation
• Institute for Alternative Energy
• Council for a Free New Zealand (through which the League built strong connections to various conservative Christian lobby groups)
• The Senate
• Tax Reduction Integrity Movement (run with Christchurch based right-wing libertarian quasi-cult Zenith Applied Philosophy)
• Tax Revolt Association of New Zealand
• Voters’ Association
Compared to other organisations on the far right the League of Rights were relatively successful, and it could count somewhere over 1000 paying supporters in the early 1980s. It furthermore gained legitimacy and useful access to new networks via fundamentalist churches involved in the Council for a Free New Zealand. A sign of its high water mark in the 1980s is the publication of pamphlet entitled New Zealand First in 1981, the two editions of which they had 250,000 copies printed. At this point Butler wasn’t the only Australian to achieve prominence as a New Zealand League activist, either. Geoff McDonald, an ex-communist who converted to the far right and joined the League, travelled to New Zealand in the early 1980s where he conducted speaking tours and published three books on local issues. All this activity drove sufficient donations and publication sales for the League to have a yearly expenditure as high as $50,000NZD in 1981.
Solidarity with Apartheid
More so than any other international issue at the time, the New Zealand far right almost across the board supported the continuation of white rule in Southern Africa. The reasons for doing so were essentially threefold: open espousing of white racial superiority, as essential to the maintenance of the British Empire and the (white) Commonwealth, or as a bulwark against African communism. It would rarely be one of these reasons alone. Common cause from one white colony to another was made between New Zealand and South Africa from an early stage, indeed almost immediately after the cessation of the Boer War. In February 1904 a rally of some 500, addressed by Premier Richard Seddon, was staged in Wellington denouncing a scheme to bring Chinese indentured mineworkers to the Transvaal. Seddon received scores of letters voicing admiration from South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand for his stance; and his name was cheered at anti-Chinese rallies in South Africa. The White New Zealand League later took interest in the ‘Asiatic problem’ in South Africa (along with the other white colonies Australia and Canada) in the mid-1920s.
In the post-war era a significant interest in white ruled Southern Africa grew through the 1960s-1970s, initially spurred by the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by Rhodesia in 1966 and soon after by the issue of sporting contacts with South Africa. In fact, two organisations pushing for friendly relations between New Zealand and Rhodesia were formed in the same year as Rhodesia itself was. One, the New Zealand-Rhodesia Society, tended towards respectability with connections via its leadership to the National Party and Federated Farmers, and its newsletter was still distributed to some 600 members in 1979 from a peak of 2000 at the start of the decade. The other, Aid Rhodesia Movement, was founded by Lieutenant-Colonel A.C.R. Elderton, a veteran of the Kings African Rifles and the Indian Army who had formerly been the National Party secretary. This group was dwarfed in significance by Elderton’s other group the Southern Africa Friends Association (f. 1970) which claimed 4000-5000 members in the early 1970s and had significant support in the regions. Pro-South Africa sentiment was helped along by outreach efforts by the South African consulate and some politicians among the National Party, and demonstrations in favour of the tour were much larger than anything the far right could organise itself with the largest drawing 2000 people in Napier.
Compared to the flurry of activity in the mid-1960s and early-1970s, only one new pro-tour organisation was founded in the leadup to the infamous Springbok Tour in 1981 – the Society for the Protection of Individual Rights in April 1981. It was in 1981 that SPIR peaked; claiming some 10000 members and being invited to a meeting presided over by Prime Minister Rob Muldoon for ‘peace talks’ with representatives of the two main anti-apartheid groups, the Police Association, and government officials. Far right sentiment was likewise to be found among the rugby fans who attended games during the Springbok Tour. During the rioting by rugby fans after the cancellation of the Hamilton game an Auckland nurse who volunteered on the staff of a protest ambulance reported rugby supporters shouting, “Get the bloody Jews, get them!” as they attacked the van. Both pro- and anti-tour activists made explicit connections between the regimes of South Africa and Chile during the course of 1981. The account of a Chilean woman arrested for anti-tour activity in Christchurch appears in Juliet Morris’ With All Our Strength, while the National Front’s B.B. Thompson had been the founder of both Association Defending South African Tours and the Friends of Chile.
After the tour Pro-South African activity continued, SPIR lobbied for an All Black tour of South Africa in 1985 and a new organisation called Truth About Southern Africa was founded in 1987. However, nothing ever reached the level of activity or popular support experienced during the 1970s-early 1980s. The cause of white South Africa remains an important one for the local far right and has re-emerged at the forefront of far-right activism. During the Right Wing Resistance/Survive Club period in the years after the Great Financial Crisis, Kyle Chapman proposed training trips to South Africa. Articles by Kerry Bolton last year include two on the end of the Portuguese colonial empire and the ‘Boer genocide’ theory, while the Dominion Movement agitated for Boers to be offered refugee status in New Zealand with posters and a banner drop at an All Blacks v Springboks game. Though the exact role played by whites in South Africa and elsewhere on the south of the continent has changed (from a bastion of white power to a reargaurd conflict in defense of the white race), it remains a key piece in the global imagination of the local far right in New Zealand.
The British Political Fringe, George Thayer, 1965
The Politics of Nostalgia: Racism and the Extreme Right in New Zealand, Paul Spoonley, 1987
The New Fascists, Paul Wilkinson, 1983
Everyone Wants to be Fuhrer, David Harcourt, 1972
Revival of the Right: New Zealand Politics in the 1980s; Bruce Jesson, Allanah Ryan, Paul Spoonley; 1988
Crusade: Social Credit’s drive to power, Spiro Zavos, 1981
Social Credit: Inside & Out, Michael Sheppard, 1981
1981: The Tour, Geoff Chapple, 1984
By Batons and Barbed Wire, Tom Newnham, 1981
With All Our Strength, Juliet Morris, 1982
Journal Articles, etc:
Anti-Semitism in New Zealand Since 1945, Paul Spoonley and Helen Cox, 1982
“New Zealand First! The Extreme Right and Politics in New Zealand, 1961-1981,” Political Science, Paul Spoonley, 1982
“Discerning ‘the Fascist Creed’: Counter-subversion and Fascistic Activity in New Zealand, 1950s-1960s,” Security and Surveillance History Series, Steven Loveridge, 2015
“Richard Seddon and Popular Opposition in New Zealand to the Introduction of Chinese Labour into the Transvaal, 1903–1904,” New Zealand Journal of History, Jeremy Martens, 2008
“In Defence of Race & Empire: The White New Zealand League at Pukekohe,” New Zealand Journal of History, Jacqueline Leckie, 1985