Max Weber

 

 

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


CHAPTER X

THE ORIGIN OF THE EUROPEAN GUILDS

In the large household of the feudal lords and princes as we have seen, the artificia existed alongside the official providing for the economic and political needs. Did the guilds develop out of these organizations on the landed estates as the so-called manorial law theory had affirmed? This theory started from the assertion that as a demonstrable fact the manor included workers for its own needs, a seigniorial organization which was an integral part of the system of manorial law. The era of money economy begins in the granting of market concessions. The landed proprietors find it to their advantage to have markets on their land because they can collect duties from the merchants. Thus arises a market opportunity for the craftsman, who previously provided only the compulsory contribution to the needs of the lord. The next stage in the development is the town. It was regularly founded on the basis of an imperial grant to a prince or lord who used it to employ as a source of rent the craftsmen bound to him by the manorial law. On this account, the theory contends, he forced the guild organization upon the craftsman in view of his political designs of a military character or for his household purposes. Hence the guilds are originally official organizations of the lord of the town (magisteria). Now begins the third stage, the epoch of guild fusion. The craftsmen associated in this manorial law organization combine and become economically independent after they have gotten money in their hands through production for the market. Then begins the struggle for the market and for autonomy, in which the guilds are increasingly successful, and the lord is finally expropriated as a result of the introduction of money economy. (144, 145)

On the whole this theory is untenable. It does not take sufficient account of the fact that the lord of the town, - that is, the judicial lord - is a different functionary from the lord of the land and that the founding of the town is regularly connected in some way with the transfer of the judicial authority to the person to whom the town privilege is granted. The judicial lord is in a position, by virtue of his power as public judge, to lay upon those within his jurisdiction burdens similar to those which the lord of the land or personal liege lord laid upon his dependents. The judicial lord is indeed subject to certain limitations, in so far as he must strive to attract settlers by making the burdens as light as possible. In consequence of the judicial power we frequently find its holder in possession of compulsory services of dependents, such as were formerly met with only in connection with the personal liege lord. Heriot and the share of the lord in inheritance are thus not always a sure indication of personal bondage; the town lords also took such acknowledgments from persons free from bondage or compulsory land services. Consequently the craftsmen who were subject to such burdens do not necessarily have to trace their development back to the personal suzerainty of the judicial lords in question. (145)

Still less positively valid is the assumption that the guild regularly developed out of manorial law. As a matter of fact we may find in one and the same town both separate manors and a tendency toward an exclusive unity which later develops into a guild. There is no possibility of asserting that the customary law of one of the manors was the basis of this unity. Often the territorial lords even strove to prevent their dependent craftsmen belonging to the artificia from joining the guilds. For it is not demonstrable that the associations which we find previous to the appearance of the guilds - the fraternitates, for example developed into guilds. The fraternitates were religious societies, while the guilds were secular in origin. It is true that we know numerous instances in which religious associations later became the germs of those of a profane character, but it can be shown that the guilds were originally non-religious and laid claims to religious functions only in the later middle ages, especially after the appearance of the Corpus-Christi Day processions. Finally, the manorial law theory overestimates the power of the territorial lords in general. Where their authority was not combined with the judicial authority, it was relatively small. (145, 146)

The actual contributions of territorial dominion in the development of industry and the origin of the guilds lie in another field than that assumed by the manorial law theory. In connection with the market concession and the ancient tradition of skilled craftsmen separated from household and clan, it contributed to the production of the individual skilled artisan outside of household and clan groupings. Thus it is one of the elements which obstructed in the west the development toward household, clan, and tribal industry, such as took place in China and India. The result was achieved through the fact that the culture of antiquity moved inland from the coast. Inland towns arose which became the seats of craft groups locally specialized and producing for a local market, exchange between ethnic groups being displaced. The oikos-economy developed trained craftsmen; as a result of the fact that these began to produce for the market, the workers subject to head dues streamed into the towns and developed production for the market as a type. The guilds promoted this tendency and helped it to become dominant. Where the guilds were not victorious or did not originate at all, house industry and tribal industry persisted, as in the case of Russia. (146, 147)

The question whether the free or unfree craftsman is prior in the west cannot be answered in general terms. It is certain that the unfree are mentioned in the records earlier than the free. Moreover, to begin with, only a few sorts of craftsmen existed; in the Lex Salica only the faber occurs, who may be a smith or a wood worker or any other sort of artisan. In southern Europe free craftsmen are mentioned as early as the sixth century, in the north in the eighth, and from the Carolingian period they became more common. (147)

But in contrast, the guilds first appear in the towns. To picture their origin clearly we must visualize the fact that the population of the medieval town was of mixed composition and that its privileges were not only for that class which was of free extraction. The majority of the inhabitants were unfree. On the other hand, compulsory services rendered to the town lord showing similarity to territorial or personal overlordship do not prove servility. In any Case it is certain that a considerable fraction of the town craftsmen, perhaps a majority, did come from the unfree classes, and that only those who produced products for the market, and as price workers marketed them, were admitted to the status of mercator - a work technically equivalent to citizen (burgher). It is certain also that the mass of the craftsmen stood originally in a relation of wardship (Muntmannentum), and finally that the craftsman in so far and for so long as he remained unfree was subject to the judicial power of the lord, although only in matters requiring the consent of the baronial court. Hence, he was thus subject only in so far and for so long as he still possessed a land holding within a manor and was obligated to feudal land services; affairs of the market did not come before the baronial court but belonged to the jurisdiction of the mayor or the municipal court, to which the craftsman again was subject not because he was free or unfree but insofar as he was Mercator and as such had a share in the affairs of the town. (147, 148)

In Italy, the guilds seem to have existed continuously from late Roman times. In contrast, no guild is to be thought of in the north whose laws did not rest on a grant from a judicial lord, for only he was in a position to exercise the compulsion necessary for maintaining guild life. Apparently, private associations of various sorts preceded the guilds; and in fact we know no more about the matter of origins. (148)

Originally, the town lords reserved certain rights as against the guilds; especially, since they demanded certain services of a military and economic character as taxes from the guilds for the purposes of the town, they insisted on naming the head of the guild, and on grounds of subsistence policy and of police and military considerations they often carried control deep into the guilds' economic affairs. All these prerogatives of the town lords were later acquired by the guilds, either by way of revolution or for compensation through buying out the possessor. In general they were engaged in a struggle from the beginning. They contended first for the right to choose their own leaders and make their own laws; otherwise they would not have been in a position to carry out their monopolistic policies. In regard to compulsory membership in the guild they usually secured their end without difficulty, because it was in the interest of the town lord himself. They also struggled to free themselves from the burdens laid upon them,-compulsory services, due to town lord or town council, quit-rents both personal and connected with land, general taxes, and rents demanded of them. Often the contest ended in the guild converting the burden into a fixed money payment, the obligation of which it assumed as a group. As early as 1099 the struggle of the weavers of Mayence for freedom from the feudal dues were decided in their favor. Finally, the guilds struggled against wardship (Muntmannentum), especially the representation of the ward before the court by the patron, and in general for political equality with the upper class families. (148, 149)

After victory was won in these struggles the specific subsistence policy of the guilds begins with the tendency to establish the guild monopoly. Opposed to it were in the first place the consumers. They were unorganized, as today and always, but the town or the prince might become their champion. Both of these set up a vigorous resistance to the guild monopoly. In the interest of a better provision for the consumers the town often retained the right to name free masters without regard to the decision of the guild. Furthermore, the towns subjected the food industries to an extensive control through the establishment of municipal slaughter houses, meat markets, mills, and ovens, often imposing upon the craftsmen themselves the obligation to make use of these institutions. This regulation was the more easily put through since the guilds in their early days operated entirely without fixed capital. Moreover, the town struggled for power over the guild through the agency of price fixing, setting maximum wages or prices in opposition to the minimum wages and prices of the guilds. (149)

Furthermore, the guild had competition to contend against. Under this head are included the craft workers of the landed estates, especially those of the monasteries, in the country and also in the towns themselves. In contrast with the lay lords, who were hindered by military considerations, the monasteries, thanks to their rational economic procedure, were in a position to set up the most varied industrial establishments and to accumulate considerable wealth. In so far as they produced for the market, they furnished notable competition for the guilds and were fought bitterly by the latter. Even in the Reformation period, the competition of monastic industrial work was one of the considerations which drove the burgher element to the side of Luther. In addition, the struggle was directed against the craftsmen in the country at large, both the free and the unfree, the settled and the itinerant workers. In this struggle the merchants regularly stood side by side with the rural craftsmen against the guilds. None the less the result was an extensive destruction of house industry and tribal industry. (150)

A third struggle of the guilds was directed against the laborers, against those who were not yet masters, which set in as soon as the guild undertook limitation of numbers in any form or the closing of the guild or the raising of difficulties in the way of entry into mastership. In this connection are mentioned the prohibition against working on one's own account instead of that of a master, the prohibition against working in one's own dwelling-because the journeyman could not be controlled or subjected to house discipline-and finally the prohibition against marriage by the journeyman before he became a master; this prohibition could not be enforced and a married journeyman class became the rule. (150)

The guilds struggled with the merchants, especially the retailers, who met the needs of the town market and would draw their products from wherever they could obtain them most cheaply. Retail trade involved little risk in comparison with trade with remote regions and allowed a more secure profit. The retailers, of whom the merchant tailors formed a typical stratum, were the friends of the rural craftsmen and enemies of those of the town, and the struggles between them and the guilds are among the most intense known to the middle ages. (150, 151)

Parallel with the struggle against the retailers went wars within individual guilds and between various guilds. These arose first in cases where workers possessed of capital and others without it were present in the same guild, which presented an opportunity for the propertyless to become home workers for the wealthy members. A similar situation existed as between wealthy guilds and others possessing little capital, within the same production proem. These struggles led in Germany, Flanders, and Italy to sanguinary guild revolutions, while in France only one guild outbreak occurred and in England the transition to the capitalistic domestic system was completed practically without revolutionary acts of violence. The field of such struggles is to be sought in situations where the process of production was divided transversely rather than on the basis of products. This was especially the case in the textile industry, where the weavers, walkers, dyers, tailors, etc. existed side by side, and the question arose as to which of these different units or stages in the single production process would force the others to leave it in control of the market, renounce to it the chance of large profits and become home workers on account of its members. The walkers were often victors, forcing the other divisions of the industry to be content with allowing them to purchase the raw materials and prepare them and market the finished product. In other cases it was the finishers, or weavers,and in London the tailors, who forced the previous stages of the process into their employ. In England the result was that wealthy masters in the guilds came no longer to have anything to do with craft work. The struggle often ended in a compromise, to be resumed later and go on to the winning of the market by one of the produetion stages. The course of events in Solingen is typical. The smiths, sword furbishers, and polishers, after a long struggle, concluded a treaty in 1487, according to which all three of the guilds were to retain free access to the market. Finally, however, the guild of furbishers obtained control. Most frequently the final stage of production secured the market as a result of the conflict, because knowledge of demand was most easily obtained from that vantage point. This was regularly the case where a certain end product enjoyed an especially favorable market. Thus in wartime the saddlers had an excellent opportunity for bringing the leather dressers under their power. Or, the stage which possessed the most capital might be victorious, those who employed the most valuable productive equipment succeeding in the effort to force the others into their service. (151, 152)