UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

From corporation to workers’ control : the formation of British guild socialism Vowles, Jack


Interest has lately revived in turn of the century movements such as syndicalism, industrial unionism, and guild socialism, but so far the origins and formation of guild socialism in Edwardian England have been left relatively unexplored. Work on guild socialism has generally focussed upon the major ideologist of the movement, G.D.H. Cole (1889-1959), who did not participate in the formation of the first version of guild socialism. The careers, ideas, and writings of those usually regarded as the founders of guild socialism - Arthur J. Penty (1875-1937), Alfred R. Orage (1873-1934), and Samuel G. Hobson (1870-1940) - are discussed and set in the context of the intellectual, social, and political life of late Victorian and Edwardian England, and the extension of 'the guild idea' to other individuals and groups with different outlooks and experiences is traced and discussed. It is concluded that the politics and early social theory of G.D.H. Cole are better understood when placed in the wider context of the guild movement as a whole. Closer attention to the origins and formation of guild socialism also reveals that Arthur Penty, largely through whom the concept of the guild was to enter the ideology, had corporatist tendencies opposed both to workers' control and to democracy in general. Further, contrary to many views, guild socialism did not fully break free of the Fabianism it criticised. Neither were the basic ideas of guild socialism original although, synthesised and elaborated most competently by Cole, and despite persistent difficulties and flaws, they were to add up to an original contribution to political theory. Guild Socialism was born in Platonic utopianism, aestheticism, English nationalism, and middle class social concern, but as 'a synthesis of different points of view' came to be founded upon an Aristotelian ideal of balance. Beginning in a defence of the state against syndicalism, guild socialism later became an attack on the state in the cause of individual and communal liberty, thus developing a pluralism largely absent among its founders, whose religious approach to socialism was based upon a predetermined if amorphously expressed vision of the good. For Cole, on the other hand, good was a quality lodged only in the freedom of ordinary men and women to determine their own ends.

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