Front Page Titles (by Subject) 6: Guild Socialism - Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis
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6: Guild Socialism - Ludwig von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis 
Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, trans. J. Kahane, Foreword by F.A. Hayek (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981).
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In the first years after the World War, people in England and on the Continent looked on Guild Socialism as the panacea. It has long since been forgotten. Nevertheless, we must not pass it over in silence, when discussing socialist projects; for it represents the one contribution to modern socialist plans made by the Anglo-Saxons, in economic matters the most advanced of peoples. Guild Socialism is another attempt to surmount the insoluble problem of a socialist direction of industry. It did not need the failure of state socialistic activities to open the eyes of the English people, preserved by the long reign of liberal ideas from that over-valuation of the State which has been prevalent in modern Germany. Socialism in England has never been able to overcome the mistrust of the government’s capacity to regulate all human affairs for the best. The English have always recognized the great problem which other Europeans before 1914 had scarcely grasped.
In Guild Socialism three different things must be distinguished. It establishes the necessity for replacing the capitalist system by a socialist one; this thoroughly eclectic theory need not worry us further. It also provides a way by which Socialism may be realized; this is only important for us inasmuch as it could very easily lead to Syndicalism instead of Socialism. Finally it draws up the programme of a future socialist order of society. It is with this that we are concerned.
The aim of Guild Socialism is the socialization of the means of production. We are therefore justified in calling it socialism. Its unique feature is the particular structure which it gives to the administrative organization of the future socialist state. Production is to be controlled by the workers in individual branches of productions. They elect foremen, managers and other business leaders, and they regulate directly and indirectly the conditions of labour and order the methods and aims of production.40 The Guilds as organizations of the producers in the individual branches of industry, face the State as the organization of the consumers. The State has the right to tax the Guilds, and is thus able to regulate their price—and wages-policy.41
Guild Socialism greatly deceives itself if it believes that in this way it could create a socialist order of society which would not endanger the freedom of the individual and would avoid all those evils of centralized Socialism which the English detest as Prussianism.42 Even in a guild socialist society the whole control of production belongs to the State. The State alone sets the aim of production and determines what must be done in order to achieve this aim. Directly or indirectly through its taxation policy, it determines the conditions of labour, moves capital and labour from one branch of industry to another, makes adjustments and acts as intermediary between the guilds themselves and between producers and consumers. These tasks falling to the State are the only important ones and they constitute the essence of economic control.43 What is left to the individual guilds, and, inside them, to the local unions and individual concerns is the execution of work assigned to them by the State. The whole system is an attempt to translate the political constitution of the English State into the sphere of production; its model is the relation in which local government stands to central government. Guild Socialism expressly describes itself as economic Federalism. But in the political constitution of a liberal state it is not difficult to concede a certain independence to local government. The necessary co-ordination of the parts within the whole is sufficiently ensured by the compulsion enforced on every territorial unit to manage its affairs in accordance with the laws. But in the case of production this is far from sufficient. Society cannot leave it to the workers themselves in individual branches of production to determine the amount and the quality of the labour they perform and how the material means of production thereby involved shall be applied.44 If the workers of a guild work less zealously or use the means of production wastefully, this is a matter which concerns not only them but the whole society. The State entrusted with the direction of production cannot therefore refrain from occupying itself with the internal affairs of the guild. If it is not allowed to exercise direct control by appointing managers and works directors, then in some other way—perhaps by the means which lie at hand in the right of taxation, or the influence it has over the distribution of consumption goods—it must endeavour to reduce the independence of the guilds to a meaningless facade. It is the foremen who are in daily and hourly contact with the individual worker to direct and supervise his work who are hated most by the worker. Social reformers, who take over naively the sentiments of the workers, may believe it possible to replace these organs of control by trustworthy men chosen by the workers themselves. This is not quite as absurd as the belief of the anarchists that everyone would be prepared without compulsion to observe the rules indispensable for communal life; but it is not much better. Social production is a unity in which every part must perform exactly its function in the framework of the whole. It cannot be left to the discretion of the part to determine how it will accommodate itself to the general scheme. If the freely chosen foreman does not display the same zeal and energy in his supervisory work as one not chosen by the workers, the productivity of labour will fall.
Guild Socialism therefore does not abolish any of the difficulties in the way of establishing a socialist order of society. It makes Socialism more acceptable to the English spirit by replacing the word nationalization, which sounds disagreeable in English ears, by the catchword “Self-Government in Industry.” But in essence it does not offer anything different from what continental socialists recommend today, namely, the proposal to leave the direction of production to committees of the workers and employees engaged in production, and of consumers. We have already seen that this brings us no nearer to solving the problem of Socialism.
Guild Socialism owes much of its popularity to the syndicalistic elements which many of its adherents believe are to be found in it. Guild Socialism as its literary representatives conceive it, is doubtless not syndicalistic. But the way in which it proposes to attain its end might very easily lead to Syndicalism. If, to begin with, national guilds were established in certain important branches of production which would have to work in an otherwise capitalist system, this would mean the syndicalization of individual branches of industry. As everywhere else, so here too, what appears to be the road to Socialism can in fact easily prove to be really the path to Syndicalism.
[40. ]“Guildsmen are opposed to private ownership of industry, and strongly in favour of public ownership. Of course, this does not mean that they desire to see industry bureaucratically administered by State departments. They aim at the control of industry by National Guilds including the whole personnel of the industry. But they do not desire the ownership of any industry by the workers employed in it. Their aim is to establish industrial democracy by placing the administration in the hands of the workers, but at the same time to eliminate profit by placing the ownership in the hands of the public. Thus the workers in a Guild will not be working for profit: the prices of their commodities and, indirectly at least, the level of their remuneration will be subject to a considerable measure of public control. The Guild system is one of industrial partnership between the workers and the public, and is thereby sharply distinguished from the proposals described as ’Syndicalist’ ... The governing idea of National Guilds is that of industrial self-government and democracy. Guildsmen hold that democratic principles are fully as applicable to industry as to politics.” Cole, Chaos and Order in Industry (London, 1920), p. 58 ff.
[41. ]Cole, Self-Government in Industry, 5th ed. (London, 1920), pp. 235 ff.; also Schuster, “Zum englischen Gildensozialismus” (Jahrbücher für Nationalökonomie und Statistik, Vol. CXV), pp. 487 ff.
[42. ]Cole, Self-Government in Industry, p. 255.
[43. ]“A moment’s consideration will show that it is one thing to lay drains, another to decide where drains are to be laid; it is one thing to make bread, another to decide how much bread is to be made; it is one thing to build houses, another to decide where the houses are to be built. This list of opposites can be lengthened indefinitely, and no amount of democratic fervour will destroy them. Faced with these facts, the Guild Socialist says that there is need for local and central authorities whose business it shall be to watch over that important part of life that lies outside production. A builder may think it advisable to be forever building, but the same man lives in some locality and has a right to say whether this purely industrial point of view shall have absolutely free play. Everyone, in fact, is not a producer but also a citizen.” G. D. H. Cole and W. Mellor, The Meaning of Industrial Freedom (London, 1918), p. 30.
[44. ]Tawney, The Acquisitive Society (London, 1921), p. 122, considers that the advantage of the Guild System for the worker is that it puts an end to “the odious and degrading system under which he is thrown aside like unused material whenever his services do not happen to be required.” But just this reveals the gravest defect of the system recommended. If one needs no more building because relatively sufficient buildings exist, yet must build so as to occupy the workers in the building trades who are unwilling to change over to other branches of production that suffer from a comparative scarcity of labour, the position is uneconomic and wasteful. The very fact that Capitalism forces men to change their occupations is its advantage from the standpoint of the General Best, even though it may directly disadvantage the special interests of small groups.