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Guild Socialists

Guild Socialists advocated workers' control of industry by transforming trade unions into monopolistic producers' guilds. These guilds would form one part of a pluralist power structure with the state, which would represent the individual as consumer on equal terms. These ideas, developed in the monthly New Age by A. R. Orage and S. G. Hobson, and later by G. D. H. Cole, had a degree of influence on the left until the mid-1920s.

Guild Socialism developed partly as a reaction to Fabian ‘state socialism’. Hilaire Belloc feared that state intervention would make workers ‘well fed instruments of production’ whilst maintaining ‘wage slavery’; as capitalist power lay in the economic field it was argued that parliamentary means would achieve little. Peaceful change was advocated by the gradual encroachment on the role of employers by union representatives. But the practical achievements of Guild Socialists were meagre. In 1915 an attempt to capture the Fabian Society for the idea failed. The Building Guilds established in 1920 by Hobson collapsed in 1923 due to the ending of government subsidies, the slump, building employer hostility, and Hobson's mismanagement. Guild Socialist ideas did, however, experience brief resurgences in the 1930s and 1960s.

Lewis Mates

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guild socialism

guild socialism, form of socialism developed in Great Britain that advocated a system of industrial self-government through national worker-controlled guilds. The theory, as originated by Arthur J. Penty in his Restoration of the Gild System (1906), stressed the spirit of the medieval craft guilds. In later elaborations by A. R. Orage, S. G. Hobson, and G. D. H. Cole, aspects of Marxism and syndicalism were adopted. Guild socialists held that workers should work for control of industry rather than for political reform. The function of the state in a guild-organized society was to be that of an administrative unit and owner of the means of production; to it the guilds would pay rent, while remaining independent. In 1915 the National Guilds League was created; it had a number of notable writers and speakers, including Bertrand Russell. After World War I several working guilds were formed. However, the most powerful of these, the National Building Guild, collapsed in 1922, and thereafter the movement waned. The National Guilds League was dissolved in 1925. During its existence it had considerable influence on British trade unions.

See G. D. H. Cole, Guild Socialism Restated (1920); N. Carpenter, Guild Socialism (1922); S. T. Glass, The Responsible Society (1966).

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