This week I travel to Canberra, Australia, to research the early life of Harry Holland.
Harry Holland was a leading figure in the labour movement in both Australia and New Zealand around a hundred years ago. He is best known as a central leader of the Labour Party in New Zealand from the time it was formed in 1916 up to his death in 1933. While that is a fact, taken in isolation from the rest of his life it mis-represents Holland and what he stood for.
Whatever else he was – and wherever he ended up – Harry Holland was an honest class-struggle fighter in the workers’ cause.
When about thirty years ago I first got interested in Holland and the turbulent period of working class struggle in which he rose to prominence, the Labour Party which he had founded seemed somewhat embarrassed by Holland and his legacy. A biography written in 1964, Harry Holland, militant socialist, by P.J.O’Farrell, oozes from every line a visceral hatred for Holland’s class-struggle politics.
As the centenary of the New Zealand Labour Party approaches, some in the Labour Party may confront once again the question of what to say about their founding leader, who was so very different from themselves in every possible way. Will they dismiss him as well-meaning but hot-headed and misguided, as in the past? Will they consider that after a hundred years his legacy is sufficiently dead and buried, that they can safely pay hypocritical and false tribute to him?
Or will they simply forget that he ever existed?
One thing is certain: Holland’s political legacy, his strengths and weaknesses, his victories and defeats, are rich in lessons for the political challenges faced by workers a century later.