Max Weber



from General Economic History, by Max Weber, trans. by Frank H Knight, Ph.D., Greenberg, Publisher, 1927


A guild is an organization of craft workers specialized in accordance with the type of occupation. It functions through undertaking two things, namely, internal regulation of work and monopolization against outsiders. it

achieves its objective if everyone joins the guild who practices the craft in the location in question. (136)

Guilds in the sense of unfree organizations were found in late antiquity and in Egypt, India, and China. These were organizations for taking care of compulsory contributions to the state. They arose in connection with the fact that the function of supplying the political needs of a prince or of a community was laid upon the various industrial groups and to this end production was organized on occupational lines. It has been assumed that the castes of India also arose out of such guilds, but in reality they grew out of relations between ethnic groups. Already existing castes were ntilized by the state, which carried out its financing in kind by requiring that the industry supply products for its needs. In early antiquity the leiturgical guild is found, especially in connection with products important for military use. In the army of the Roman Republic a centuria fabrum or industrial craftsman existed alongside the knightly centurion. The later Roman state needed to bring in grain to keep the city population in a good humor. For this purpose it instituted the organization of the navicularii, upon whom was laid the task of ship building. Fiscal considerations brought it about that in the last centuries of the Empire almost the whole of economic life was thus "leiturgically" organized. (136, 137)

Guilds are also met with as ritualistic associations. Not all the Indian castes are guilds, but very many are ritualistic guilds. Where castes existed, there were no guilds outside of them; and none were needed, for it is a feature of the caste system that every type of labor service is assigned to a special caste. (137)

A third form of guild is the free association; this is characteristic for the middle ages. Its beginnings are possibly found in late antiquity; at least the Romanized late-Hellenism shows such tendencies toward organizations with guild characteristics. The wandering craftsman first appears at the beginning of our era. Without him the spread of Christianity would never have been possible; it was in the beginning the religion of the wandering craftsmen, to whom the Apostle Paul also belonged, and his proverb "he who does not work shall not eat" expresses their ethics. However, antiquity knew only the impulses toward free guilds. In general, the craft work of antiquity has the character, as far as we can tell, of clan industry based on hereditary charism - when it was not attached to an oikos, or estate. The guild idea is entirely wanting in the classical democracy, which is the very opposite of guild democracy; on the columns of the erechtheion worked side by side Athenian citizens, free metics, and slaves. The reasons for its absence are of a partly political, but chiefly economic sort. Slaves and free persons could not participate in the same religious ritual. Moreover, the guild is absent where caste organization exists, because it is quite superfluous, and it has little significance where clan economy dominates, as in China. Here the individual craftsman of the town belongs to some village; there is no citizenship of Pekin, or any city whatever, and consequently no guild forming a part of the town organization. In contrast, there are guilds in Islam. Guild revolutions even took place, although rarely, as in Bukhara. (137, 138)

The spirit of the medieval western guild is most simply expressed in the proposition, guild policy is livelihood policy. It signifies the maintenance of a substantial burgherly prosperity for the members of the guild, in spite of increased competition in consequence of the narrowing of the opportunities of life; the individual guild member must obtain the traditional standard of life and be made secure in it. This conception of the traditional standard of life is the analogue of the "living wage" of the present day. The means which the guild adopted to reach this goal are of interest. (138)

As to internal policy, the guild endeavored by every conceivable means to provide equality of opportunity for all guild members, which was also the objective in the case of the division of the fields into strips by the peasantry. To realize this equality the development of capitalistic power must be opposed, especially by preventing the unequal growth of capital in the hands of individual masters and consequent differentiation among them; one master must not progress beyond another. To this end, the processes of work were regulated; no master dared proceed in any other than the traditional manner. The guild controlled the quality of the products. It controlled and regulated the number of apprentices and laborers. It regulated as far as possible the provision of raw material, - communally insofar as price work obtained at the time. In addition the guild or the town did the purchasing of the raw material and disposed of it to the separate masters. As soon as the transition to price work had taken place and the craftsman as a petty capitalist possessed sufficient means to buy his own raw material, the guild demanded proof of the member's wealth. This practice has held from the 14th century on. Men without property could be employed by others as wage workers. As soon as the field of action became restricted the guild was closed and the numher of masters fixed, though this result was only reached in places. (138, 139)

Finally, the relation between the individual craftsmen was regulated. The guild maintained the position that the raw material must take the longest possible course in the individual shop, that the individual workman must keep the object worked upon in hand as long as possible. Hence it was required that the division of labor should be based on the :final product and not on technical specialization of operations. In the clothing industry, for example, the course of production from the flax to the finished garment was not cut transversely into separate individual processes of spinning, weaving, dying, finishing etc., but as far as possible the guilds insisted that specialization relate to final products; one worker must produce hose, another vests. Consequently, we find in the medieval lists two hundred guilds where, according to our way of thinking, counting on a technological basis, two or three thousand would have been required. The guilds felt a very justifiable anxiety lest a crosswise division of the process might place the worker nearest the market m a position to dominate the others and to depress them to the position of wage workers.

Thus far the guild follows a livelihood policy. However, it also endeavored to secure and to maintain equality of opportunity for the members. To this end free competition had to be limited, and the guilds established various regulations; 1. The technique of the industry. They fixed the number of workers, and especially of apprentices, a member might employ; more especially, where apprenticeship threatened to pass into the employment of cheap labor, the number of apprentices was limited to one or two for each master. 2. The form of the raw material. Especially in industries which had to mix metals, such as bell casting, a fairly strict control was exercised in order to maintain the quality of the result and also to exclude unfair competition. 3. The technique of the industry and the process of production, hence the manner of preparing malt, of working leather, of finishing cloth, of dyeing, etc. 4. They controlled the form of tools employed. The individual guild commonly assumed a monopoly over certain tools, which it alone was allowed to use; the type of the tool was traditionally prescribed. 5. The quality which the product must show before it could be offered on the market. (139, 140)

The guilds also regulated the economic relations of the industry: 1. They set up limitations on the amount of capital, so that no employing entrepreneur could develop within the guild, overshadowing other masters and pressing them into his service. To this end, all association with foreigners outside the guild was forbidden, although the prohibition was rarely enforced. 2. Those admitted to the guild were forbidden to work for other masters lest they might be reduced to the position of journeymen; similarly as to working for merchants, which was bound to lead immediately to a putting-out system. The finished product had to be delivered as wage work for a customer by the guild craftsman who worked for wages; for price workers, the free marketing of the product as price work was the ideal. 3. The guilds controlled the buying opportunities. They forbade forestalling, i. e., no guild member dared provide himself with raw materials ahead of his fellows. Not infrequently they established a right of equal sharing; if a shortage arose any guild member might demand that his brothers in the guild provide him with raw material at its cost to them. 4. The guilds also opposed individual selling ahead of other members. To achieve this they often proceeded to compulsory marketing and strengthened the regulation by forbidding price cutting and enticement of customers; thus the way was barred to price competition. 5. They forbade the sale of the products of outsiders; if a member violated this rule he was rated a merchant and expelled from the guild. 6. They regulated marketing, through price schedules, with a view to guaranteeing the traditional standard of life. (140, 141)

Externally, the policy of the guild was purely monopolistic. 1. The guilds strove towards and reached the objective that in very many cases the policing of the industry in matters affecting the craft was placed in their hands, and in such cases they maintained an industrial court. Otherwise they would not have been able to control the technique and procedure or to maintain equality of opportunity among members. 2. They strove towards and regularly achieved compulsory membership in the guild, at least literally, though it was often evaded in fact. 3. In many cases they succeeded in establishing a guild district; they everywhere strove for this, but fully achieved it only in Germany,-in England not at all, while in France and Italy they achieved partial success. A guild district means monopoly of a certain territory. Within this district, in which the guild established complete authority, no industry could be carried on except that of the guild. This measure was directed against migratory workers, who to a considerable extent were suppressed, and against rural industry. As soon as the guilds obtained power in the towns, their first thought was an endeavor to suppress competition from the country. 4. In case of a transfer of the product of one guild into the hands of another, the guilds set up price tariffs; internally the price was a minimum price, against outsiders a monopoly price. 5. That the guild regulations might be effectively carried out, the division of labor must be as far as possible along occupational lines, not through transverse division of the process; that is, as already ex lained, a wo rker must produce a final product from beginning to end and keep it in his own hands. By all these measures the guilds opposed the development of large establishments within the guild-eontrolled industry. What they were not able to prevent was the development of putting out of work (Verlag), with its implication of dependence of the craftsmen upon the merchant. (141, 142)

As late products of guild history must be added some further regulations. These assumed that the guild had already arrived at the limit of its field of action, that only inter-local division of labor and capitalistic operation with extension of the market could create new industrial opportunities. In the first place, the guilds made the achievement of mastership increasingly difficult. This goal was reached in the flrst instance through the institution of the "masterpiece." A relatively late product of the development was that, from the 15th century on, strictly economic specifications were attached to the masterpiece. From the standpoint of value its production often had no significance or it even had nonsensical conditions attached; the requirement signified merely a compulsory period of work without remuneration to exclude persons without means. In addition to the requirement of the masterpiece, the masters who had achieved the position of price workers strove for a monopolistic position by prescribing a certain minimum capital for the prospective master. (142)

At this point the organization of apprentices and journeymen appeared, being especially characteristic of continental Europe. First, the period of apprenticeship was fixed and progressively lengthened,-in England to seven years, elsewhere to five, and in Germany to three. After the apprentice finished his instruction he became a journeyman. For the latter also, a period of unremunerated work was prescribed. In Germany this condition led to the institution of the wander years. The journeyman must travel for a certain time before he was allowed to settle anywhere as a master, an arrangement which was never known in France, or in England. Finally, the guild frequently went on to limit the number of masters to an absolute maximum figure. This measure was not always taken in the interest of the guild as a monopoly, but was established by the city (its lord or its council), especially when the latter feared an insufficient productive capacity in products of military use or political importance as means of life, as a result of too large a number of masters. (143)

With the closing of the guild was associated a tendency to hereditary appropriation of the position of master. The resulting preference of the sons of masters, and even their sons-in-law, for admission into the guild is a phenomenon common to all countries in the middle ages, although it never became a universal rule. With this development the character of certain parts of medieval craft work as small capitalism is determined, and corresponding to this character a permanent class of journeymen originates. This development took place not only where craft work was carried on as price work and a certain capital was necessary for the purchase of raw material and for carrying on the industry, but most commonly where the limitation of the number of masters was established. (143)