Guild Socialists

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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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