Fabian Pamphlet for Workers’ Management in Industry: Party 1

Guild Socialist Letter

I bought this pamphlet over 20 years ago when I was a member of the Fabian Society. Entitled, ‘A Letter to a Shop Steward’ by an anonymous ‘Guild Socialist’, the pamphlet was written some time during the Second World War. Guild Socialism was a peculiarly British form of Syndicalism, the system of radical socialism that wished to see the state replaced by a system of industrial guilds, allowing the workers to manage the industries in which they worked.

It notes the achievements of the shop stewards in getting the most out of the men and women in their factories. Both the shop steward and the ‘Guild Socialist’, who is evidently a civil servant, share the same goal of working hard to overthrow Hitler, and neither wants to jeopardise their country’s success by disrupting industry. As unjust as British capitalism is, it is better than the slavery which everyone will suffer if Hitler wins.

The pamphlet notes the hostility towards the shop steward system by trade unionists and management, but states that this can be overcome if the shop stewards are efficient and responsible. It recommends a system of factory councils, on which should sit workers chosen by their trade union colleagues, who have sound business sense. Finally, the Guild Socialist looks forward to the day when the TUC will become not just a meeting of trade unionists, but a meeting of representatives with a direct workshop mandate expressing the will to power of all labourers and craftsmen, and urges the shop steward to do everything he can to show that the workers are able to be efficient and responsible partners in industry in order to make the case for industrial democracy unanswerable.

The Guild Socialist writes about how the war effort is being hampered by a corrupt, unjust and inefficient capitalism:

You and I have always regarded capitalism as a rotten system, both because of the exploitation of the workers for private profit on which it rests and because it plans, when it plans at all, much more readily for scarcity than for abundance. We have not changed our opinion of it, even though for the time being we are both doing our best to make it work. We believe that it is an inefficient system, as well as an unjust; and we both mean to play our part in ending it when our chance comes. But for the present we have to work through it as best we can, because we cannot afford to attack it in any way that might give the Nazis a chance of winning the war before we could set up a better system in its place.

that is our dilemma – yours and mine. We can both see, from our several points of vantage-yours in the workshop and mine in an office in Whitehall – what a mess capitalism and the Government between them are making of the industrial side of the war. You can see what an extent production is being held up by bad organisation – so that, as you have told me, the men in your shop are often idle for days on end because of the failure of necessary components to arrive in time, or because of changes in design or interruptions of work before contracts are renewed. I from the other end, can see how the Government, which is supposed to be controlling industry, is in the hands of the big firms and business combines, and how these combines really are the ‘Controls’ which are supposed to determine their policy. We can both see that this system works badly, and that it is bound to work badly. But it is not easy to see how e can alter it, especially when every suggestion that it should be altered is denounced by business people and by the newspapers which uphold their interests as an unpatriotic attempt to break up the national unity in time of war. (pp. 1-2).

He also notes that the victory of socialism after the war would mean that civil servants and workers would continue to be needed, but not the capitalist managers currently hindering the war effort.

You and I, on the other hand, believe that capitalism, in its present form, is an obstacle in the way of victory. There is nothing to deter us from holding this opinion, because our vision is not limited by the horizon of profit-making. I earn a salary, and you a wage, and we can both feel tolerably confident that our skill will be needed, and paid for, under a system which is designed to produce for use and not for profit, and can therefore set out to employ every available productive resource. My income might be lower, and yours higher, under Socialism than they were before the war. But we can both feel pretty sure that we shall find a useful job to do, and be able to earn enough to satisfy our reasonable needs under a Socialist system. But the board of directors that controls your factory (and a number of others) feels quite differently. Its members have been used to regarding themselves as lords of creation, drawing huge incomes not for organising production so much as for wangling a big profit out of it for themselves and their shareholders. They can see clearly enough that, though such persons as technicians and works managers will be needed under Socialism as much as ever, they themselves will not be needed – or at all events will have not chance of enjoying the huge incomes and the excessive power to which they have been accustomed.

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