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International Socialism, Winter 1966/7


Nevil Gibson

Same Way Up Down Under


From International Socialism, No.27, Winter 1966/67, p.34.
Transcribed & marked up by by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Political Parties in New Zealand
R.S. Milne
Oxford, 65s (NZ) 63s (UK)

Academic study of New Zealand politics is only a recent activity, and Professor Milne’s book is the first attempt at a comprehensive survey of the nature and function of New Zealand political parties. Aside from careless editing and somewhat dated material, its chief weakness is its underlying premise of the theory of bourgeois pluralism, as espoused by that paragon of the American intellectual Establishment, Seymour Lipset. Pluralism, it is claimed, is the most acceptable form of democracy, the main problems of modern industrial society having been solved by the Welfare State.

Insofar as he has set out to describe the outward characteristics and workings of the two-party system in New Zealand, Professor Milne has accomplished his task. He shows how Labour and National, the two main parties, are very much the same in operation, and that as governments they show an authoritarian and intolerant attitude to minority groups. The idea that New Zealand has in the Labour Party a socialist party is rejected. The Liberal administration of the 1890s and the Labour government of 1935-49 created the Welfare State largely on the grounds of ‘pragmatism,’ rather than because of any ‘socialist’ ideals. But Professor Milne thinks that socialism was ‘impractical’ and ‘unacceptable’ anyway, and consequently makes no attempt to analyse the ideological factors of the social structure and its influence on the two parties. Like the rest of his colleagues he is more concerned with ‘voting behaviour’ than with how and why these parties exist and follow the policies they do.

Professor Milne describes the ‘uniformity’ of the parties and the ‘inevitable’ process of parliament as the ‘ins’ versus the ‘outs’ with a lack of sufficient reasons why this should be so. He is correct in stating that Labour’s policies could have been carried out by a non-Labour government, but he does not concede the incompetency of conservative governments to meet the economic depression of the 1930s. Labour’s consistent alienation of the farming vote is emphasised, but no mention is made of how Labour’s industrialisation policy was that advocated by the Manufacturers’ Federation. Labour’s industrial legislation is discussed, especially the way it was used by the National government to smash the unionists in the 1951 waterfront lockout, but at no point is it mentioned that Labour’s aim was to make the unions subject to total state control at any time of ‘crisis.’ Professor Milne is justifiably contemptuous of the of the trivialities of party politics, but instead of concerning himself with meatier issues, he is content to describe what is already commonplace. He does not even pretend to account for the parties in their social and economic context. National, he observes, lacks the symbols of ‘permanence, authority and stability’ and is motivated only by a ‘non-intellectual anti-socialism.’ Yet it is accurately pointed out that Labour can in no way be described as ‘socialist’ and no attempt is made to analyse Labour’s rejection by the electorate in any more than the ‘suicide through success’ theory.

In short, Professor Milne’s book will probably become a text for students of political science, but its weaknesses stem from the very poverty of the fetish of scientism in political analysis. A socialist seeking a way to analyse New Zealand society will not find his answer here.

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