The Death of the Guilds

February 10, 2018

 

The Guilds died out precisely because their principle of the limitation of individual power did not succeed in becoming an essential part of the organization of all the other callings. Feudal lords, for instance, were able to exploit and expropriate their peasants. In commerce and money-lending callings not regulated by the Guild principle, considerable blocks of capital and money were formed during the Middle Ages. To this there was added later the capital resulting from the discovery of gold and silver mines in America, and the slave labor of the natives of America and Africa.On the one hand, the feudal lords kept on throwing into the towns such vast hordes of laborers that the Guilds could not assimilate them; on the other hand, capitalists, formed by usury and foreign trade, exploited these workmen in new factories built close to the sea, on open land, beyond the control of the cities and their Guild institutions. Hence, in England, the bitter struggle provoked between the corporate towns and the new industries, which ended in the rout of the Guilds and in the triumph of capitalism, with all its horrors. That is to say, the Guilds perished because side by side with them a new economic power sprang into existence which the Guilds could not control. But they would have perished long before if their regulations had permitted their masters to enrich themselves, for those masters would have become capitalists exploiting the work of the craftsmen and apprentices.The ruin of the Guilds did not come about because they limited the power of their members, but because the Guilds did not succeed in bringing agricultural production into the Guild system, and because they were even less able to subject the exploitation of undeveloped countries to Guild control.

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