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50 Years Ago: Sidelights on Capitalist Rule

One of the themes of Mr. Harold Nicolson's biography of the late King George V is that he showed a good grasp of problems of government and, indeed, the examples quoted do seem to indicate that he often displayed more insight and level-headedness than some of the leading politicians. But what is the major problem of the governments of capitalism? It is of course to keep the working class as far as possible satisfied with the system under which they are exploited, and if they can't be kept satisfied, at least to keep them quiet. One example selected by a Manchester Guardian reviewer is George V's handling of the political crisis which brought down MacDonald's Labour Government in 1931 and led to the formation of a “national” three party government with MacDonald as Prime Minister.

During the crisis the King interviewed the leader of the Liberals Sir Herbert Samuel and according to Mr. Nicolson's account this is what was said:-

“Sir Herbert 'told the King that, in view of the fact that the necessary economies would prove most unpalatable to the working-class, it would be to the general interest if they could be imposed by a Labour Government. The best solution would be if Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, either with his present or with a reconstituted Labour Cabinet, could propose the economies required. If he failed to secure the support of a sufficient number of his colleagues, then the best alternative would be a National Government composed of members of the three parties.'”

Further information was given by Sir Oliver Wigram in his record of a later discussion with the King. He says that the King found:-

“Sir Herbert Samuel the clearest-minded of the three and said he had put the case for a National Government much clearer than either of the others. It was after the King's interview with Sir Herbert Samuel that His Majesty became convinced of the necessity for the National Government.”

When MacDonald went to see the King to tell him that “all was up” with the Labour Government, the King impressed on him “that he was the only man to lead the country through this crisis and he hoped he would reconsider the situation.”

It would certainly seem that Sir Herbert Samuel (now Viscount Samuel) had a very shrewd idea of the part a Labour Government can play in keeping capitalism on an even keel.

(From Socialist Standard , September 1952)