An Outline of the Guild

Updated: Feb 22

Hobson, Samuel. In National Guilds: an Inquiry into the Wage System and the Way Out, edited by A.R. Orage, 131–36. London: G. Bell & Sons Ltd., 1914.

THERE is no mystery attaching to the organization of the Guild. It means the regimentation into a single fellowship of all those who are employed in any given industry. This does not preclude whatever subdivisions may be convenient in the special trades belonging to the main industry. Thus the iron and still industry may comprise fourteen of fifteen subdivisions, but all living integral parties of the parent Guild. The active principle of the Guild is industrial democracy. Herein it differs from State Socialism or Collectivism. In the one case control comes from without and is essentially bureaucratic; in the other, the Guild manages its own affairs appoints its own officers from the general manager to the office boy, and deals with the other Guilds and with the State as a self-contained unit. It rejects Syndicalism, because it accepts co-management with the State, always, however, subject to the principle of industrial democracy. Co-management must not be held to imply the right of any outside body to interfere in the detailed administration of the Guild; but it rightly implies formal and effective co-operation with the State in regard to large policy, for the simple reason that the policy of a Guild is a public matter, about which the public as represented by the State, has an indefeasible right to be consulted and considered. It is no easy to understand precisely how far the Syndicalist disregards the State, as such; nor is it necessary to our task that we should make any such inquiry. For ourselves we are clear that the Guilds ought not and must not be the absolute possessors of their land houses, and machinery. We remain Socialists because we believe that in the final analysis the State, as representing the community at large, must be the final arbiter. We can perhaps make our meaning clear by an analogy. Suppose Ireland, Scotland and Wales to be self-governing bodies, but all subject to the Imperial Parliament, in which by that time we should expect all the self-governing Colonies to be represented. Assume it to be necessary for the Imperial parliament to levy contributions upon its constituent units. So many millions would have to be collected from England, so much from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Canada, South Africa and Australia. The amounts would be agree upon by a representative Imperial Parliament, but the methods of levying the tax would rest with each self-governing group, who would not tolerate any external interference. In this sense the Guilds would have large communal responsibilities once defined, the industrial democratic Guild, by its own methods and machinery, will do the rest.

We thus are partly in agreement with the State Socialist or Collectivist, who believes in conserving the State organization and State functions, does not invalidate our main contention that economics must precede politics. On the contrary, it strengthens it. The difficulty with modern statesmanship is that it has to spend its strength on ways and means when it ought to be doing far greater work. It is like a scientist or an artist who is perpetually distracted from his real work by domestic worries. Remove from statesmanship the incubus of financial puzzledom and it may achieve glory in the things that matter. And in all human probability a finer type of politician will be called into activity. Financial considerations corrode politics as effectually as they do the individual worker. Now, if the Guilds are in economic command, if, further, their labors exceed in results the present wage system, it follows that they will not be miserly in devoting all the money that is required for the cultural development of the community. The Syndicalists tell us that the unions can do this better than the State. We are emphatically of opinion that a totally different type of administrator from the Industrialist is required for statesmanship. The one type is rightly a master of industrial methods; the other is of disciplined imagination and spiritual perceptions. The fine arts, education (including university control), international relations, justice, public conduct these and many other problems will call and do call (in vain nowadays) for a special order of intellect, and must be susceptible, not to the particular influence of the Guilds as such, but to the influence of what Arnold called the best mind of the community.

At the outset, the most important task of the Guilds will be the industrial reorganization of society upon the basis of mutuality: in other words, the abolition of the wage system. This will carry them far. It involves the final solution of unemployment. Every member of the Guild will possess equal rights with all the others, and accordingly will be entitled to maintenance whether working of idle, whether sick or well. Further, it will be for the Guilds to decide, by democratic suffrage, what hours shall be worked and generally the conditions of employment. All that mass of existing legislation imposing factory regulations, or relating to working conditions, to the limitation of the hours of work (legislation which we have previously described as sumptuary), will go by the board. The Guilds will rightly consider their own convenience and necessities. It may be discovered, for example, that times and conditions suitable to the Engineering Guild will not suit the Agricultural Guild. Legislation attempted from the outside would in such an organization be regarded as impertinent. Even the existing old age pensions would be laughed to scorn as hopelessly inadequate.

The Guild then would supplant the present capitalist class on the one hand; on the other, it would assume, instead of the State, complete responsibility for the material welfare of its members.

Inheriting the direction of industry from the present private employer and capitalist, the Guild must be able more efficiently to produce wealth and more economically to distribute it. This involves the closest intimacy and co-operation with all the other Guilds. The work of the community could not be done by the Guilds in isolation; each must be in constant and sympathetic touch with the Guilds that supply them and the Guilds that distribute their products. There is no room here for any policy of dog in the manger. The Guild must never be allowed to say: “These things are ours.” They must say and think: “We hold this machinery and these products in trust.” They must not exist to accumulate property; their moral and legal status must be that of trustee. Thus there must spring out of the Guilds some form of joint management, not only with other Guilds but with the State.

The abolition of the competitive wage system implied in the organization of the Guild necessarily carries with it the abolition of all distinctions between the administrative and working departments. It therefore follows that every type and grade of worker, mental or manual, must be a member of the Guild. The technical man, for example, should look to the Guild to give effect to his inventions and improvements, whereas formerly he looked to his employer or even to some outside capitalist. It will be to the interest of all his fellow members to insist that whatever improvements he may suggest for the increase of production of the decrease of manual toil shall be given a thorough trial. No longer will he be regarded as dangerous to the employees who, as competitive wage slaves, feared that his inventions might mean dismissal and starvation. The essence of Guild life is in its conflation of economic interest and purpose.

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