guild socialism

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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 syndicalismsyndicalism
, political and economic doctrine that advocates control of the means and processes of production by organized bodies of workers. Like anarchists, syndicalists believe that any form of state is an instrument of oppression and that the state should be abolished.
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 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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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Guild Socialism


a reforming trend that arose in Great Britain in the early 20th century.

The founders of guild socialism were members of the Fabian Society, including G. Cole, A. Penty, and W. Mellor. They established the National Guilds League in 1914 and worked out the program of guild socialism. It combined the traditional structures of Fabian reformism with several positions from anarcho-syndicalism. In its theories, guild socialism presents the transition from capitalism to socialism as a gradual process of supplanting capitalist monopolies by transferring nationalized industries to the control of national guilds, which are associations of workers engaged in a particular branch of the economy. The system of guilds as a democratic and self-governing “association of producers” complemented the state system, which the advocates of guild socialism regarded as an “association of consumers.” The Utopian ideas of guild socialism, which denied revolutionary methods of struggle, did not become widespread among the broad working masses in the face of the revolutionary upsurge after World War I (1914-18), and the guild supporters were also unsuccessful in their attempts to realize their theories in practice (primarily in the building trade). In the 1920’s, guild socialism disappeared from the political arena.


Cole, G. Gil’deiskii sotsializm. Moscow, 1925. (Translated from English.)
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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