Guild socialism is a compromise between syndicalism and collectivism:
Guild socialism, which was the intellectual child of English fabianism and syndicalism, took birth in the first and second decades of the twentieth century. This is a middle way between collectivism and syndicalism. Syndicalism, in which there was no place for the state, did not fit in with the mental attitude of the British people, because the English people have strong faith in democracy and parliamentary government.
On the other hand, collectivism establishes total control of the government officials instead of the capitalist control and it creates such a situation in which the labourers can improve their own plight. It means that the labourers cannot achieve self-government in industries. In this way, Guild socialism is a via media, between syndicalism and collectivism. It assimilates the qualities of the both and leaves out their drawbacks.
Exponents of Guild Socialism:
The chief supporters of Guild socialism were A.J. Penty (1875-1935), A.R. Orange (1873-1934), S.G. Hobson (1894-1940), G.D.H. Cole (1880-1959), Burtrand Russell and R.H. Tauney. S.G. Hobson and A.R. Orange proved in their essays that there should be a self-government in industries and in other professions of the workers. Their control and administration should be in the hands of the workers. G.D.H. Cole was the chief philosophic apostle of this new movement. His books, “Self-Government in Industries” were published in 1917 and his other books, “Guild Socialism Restated”, and “Social Theory”, were published in 1920. G.D.H. Cole supported Pluralism in his books and accepted that the state was an ordinary institution like other numerous institutions. He refused to accept the state as a sovereign institution. Hobson accepted the state as a sovereign association.
Basic Tenets of Guild Socialism:
Like Marx, Guild Socialism opposes capitalism. They want to abolish capitalism and vest the control and management of the factories in the hands of the Guilds. Like Collectivists, they are not in favour of state control over the industries. They criticise the present representative system, which has been established on territorial basis.
They argue that a government by representatives elected on a territorial basis is incapable of understanding and solving the complex problems of an industrial society. They maintain that a system of functional representation based upon industrial unions will be best suited to a modern community.
They are not in favour of abolishing the system of territorial representation as, according to them, only Territorial representation system can solve problems of law and order, defence, education and currency. The Guild Socialists want a Guild Congress to control and organise economic functions. For the management of national and common interests, they want a parliament. For the solution of local problems they want local institutions. They are not in favour of making the state omnipotent; they want to limit its functions.
All Guild Socialists agree that the state should not interfere in economic matters, because they want to place the management of economic matters of the society in the hands of the Guilds. The Guild Socialists condemned the surplus value and undesirable guilds. Each profession will have a separate guild, which will elect an executive committee in order to function smoothly. Above them will be a central or national organisation, which will be called Guild Congress.
The Guild Congress will decide all the labour disputes. In case the Guild Congress is unable to decide the mutual disputes of the guilds, these will be decided according to the plan propounded by Hobson. The Guild Socialists condemned the surplus value and undesirable profit of the capitalists. They also bitterly criticise the institution of private property, because it results in the concentration of national income in the hands of a few capitalists and consequently the workers starve.
They also condemn the system of machines, which has destroyed the freedom of the workers, and given a set-back to their skill. The workers have become the slaves of the capitalists on daily wage. Therefore, they have criticised the wage system and have strongly supported the self-government in the industries.
The Guild Socialists are in favour of giving the workers an honourable place in the society. They want to improve the position of the producers as well as give protection to the consumers’ interests. They want a joint committee of the supreme classes of the producers and the consumers, which will create a co-ordination between the two.
The Guild Socialists want that without the approval of the consumers, the producers should not be given the right to fix the rates of the commodities arbitrarily. But should fix the rates by a joint decision. Therefore, in the opinion of G.D.H. Cole, the consumers will be in a position to protect themselves against the guilds of the producers.
Regarding the place of the state in a Guild socialist system, G.D.H. Cole and Hobson have advocated different views. Hobson wants to keep the sovereign state, but he wants to limit its powers. He wants minimum interference of the state in economic functions and wants maximum economic functions to be performed by the workers’ guilds.
But in certain matters he wants to place ultimate control in the hands of the state. He says that the state shall be the owner of the machines and will give those machines to the guilds on lease. The state will establish economic justice in the society and decide mutual disputes of the guilds, if the Guild Congress is unable to do so.
The state will impose taxes on the guilds. G.D.H. Cole is unwilling to make the state sovereign. He is ready to hand over defence, suppression of crimes, welfare of the destitute and the invalid to the state, but he is not ready to give more functions to the state. He considers it an association like other ordinary associations. He has named it Democratic Supreme Court of Fundamental Equity.
The institution will have complete control over law and order and it will have the right to decide disputes between various institutions. Therefore, they differ from syndicalism in so far as the abolition of the state is concerned, but they want to limit its economic functions and want to transfer those functions to the guilds of the workers.
In order to achieve their ends the guild socialists believe neither in constitutional means nor in violent means; they believe in the trade union means. They say that though capitalism will disappear by and by, yet in order to finish it earlier, the workers’ guilds should organise themselves fully and they should snatch facilities from the capitalists by and by, so that many of the functions of the capitalists be performed by the elected representatives of the workers. They are not in favour of revolution, strike and sabotage. Thus, here the views of Communists, Anarchists and Guild Socialists are different.
(1) This theory is not practicable. The capitalists will not be ready to give numerous facilities to the workers and to withdraw their control by and by. In this way, capitalism cannot be abolished without struggle and socialism cannot be established.
(2) It is not fair to limit the functions of the state, because many of the functions cannot be performed by guilds and only state can perform these functions according to its plan. The state has now become a welfare institution and it takes up many plans in its hands to enhance production. Therefore, the state control is being increased in every sphere.
(3) The plan of functional representation is not proper because there are numerous professions in the state and it is not fair to give representation to each one of them. This system was adopted in Soviet Russia after the revolution of 1917 but later on it was given up due to practical difficulties.
(4) It is impossible to separate economic and political difficulties.
(5) The Guild Socialists want to organise each profession into a separate free guild and want to transfer their control in their own hands. The guilds have neither sufficient capital to purchase the machines nor do they have the capability to organise them. Therefore, in doing this, there will be great disorder in the professional field and the production will fall.
Though Guild Socialism has been bitterly criticised, yet the plan relating to the improvement of economic democracy and the condition of the workers and the protection of the interests of the consumers and the producers, is very important. It has warned against the growing powers of the state and has taken special steps to check this process.