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"Bringing it home" New Zealand responses to the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939

This thesis discusses New Zealander's attitudes to and involvement in the Spanish Civil War, 1936 to 1939. Although distance muted the war's impact, three general divisions of opinion developed in New Zealand - pro-Republicanism, pro-Francoism and "Non-Interventionism". The first Labour Government's "limited pro-Republicanism" illustrated its commitment to collective security and was expressed at the League of Nations and in communications with Britain. Its policy was part of a move towards more independent judgement in foreign affairs and caused some strain in relations with the British Government, but was ultimately restricted by commitment to the Commonwealth. Expression of sympathy with the Spanish Government was limited by appreciation of the potential divisiveness of the issue. The National Party and some newspapers objected to Labour's policy. These "Non-Interventionists" considered the ideological issues of the war irrelevant to New Zealanders and regarded the war largely in terms of Imperial strategic concerns. They supported British non-intervention policy and accused Labour of disloyalty to Britain. It is argued that this insular imperialist view of the war and of New Zealand's role in international affairs was the real opposite to both pro-Francoist and pro-Republican views, although conservatism and anti-Communism brought "Non-Interventionism" closer to pro-Francoism. Although in general pro-Francoist and pro-Republican views reflected overseas attitudes, both applied the issues of the war to the New Zealand scene. Support for Franco was mainly confined to Catholics, who saw the war as a battle between Catholic Christianity and Communism. Catholic newspapers objected to Labour's policy, but there was some ambivalence towards British non-intervention. Catholics saw pro-Republicanism as anti-Catholic and also indicative of the presence of the Communist menace in New Zealand, but did little to promote Franco's cause other than through letters to newspapers. There is more extensive discussion of the more diverse group that constituted the pro-Republican movement. The Communist Party's slogan of "Democracy versus Fascism" was generally accepted on the Left, but it failed to create a wider Popular Front from pro-Republicanism. The Labour Party, mindful of Catholic voters' views and suspicious of Communism, was publicly cautious, although its newspaper was pro-Republican. Long standing divisions on the Left were not exacerbated by the issue, but neither were they entirely healed. However, intellectuals, Christians, workers and Labourites came together in the Communist-inspired Spanish Medical Aid Committee a focus for propaganda and fund-raising for aid to Republican Spain. Condemnation of British policy and support for Labour's independent stand was a significant feature of New Zealand pro-Republicanism. The motives and experiences of the few New Zealanders with the International Brigades and Republican medical units, as well as the one New Zealander who fought for Franco, are considered. There is some discussion of non-partisan humanitarian appeals for aid to Spain. The Spanish conflict did not have a great or lasting impact upon New Zealanders. However, the responses of New Zealanders were significant in their revelation of differing perceptions of the world imperialist and internationalist - and in the development of a new independent outlook that questioned the nature and value of New Zealand's relation with Britain and foreshadowed New Zealand's full acceptance of independent nationhood after the Second World War.
Type of thesis
Skudder, S. M. (1986). ‘Bringing it home’ New Zealand responses to the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/8666
University of Waikato
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