Saturday, 13 July 2024

From The Liberty Wall – National Liberal Trade Unionists – Restore The Guilds (Part 3)

WE NATIONAL LIBERAL TRADE UNIONISTS – NLTU – are neither Capitalists nor Socialists. We feel that both systems are built on exploitation as they ultimately turn workers into mere wage slaves. We also believe that both systems tend to concentrate power & wealth in the hands of the elites. In the case of Capitalism, it’s the corporate bosses – whereas under Socialism, it’s the party bosses. Furthermore, we feel that Capitalism encourages egotism & a disdain for ordinary working folks. Socialism, on the other hand, can lead to an unhealthy social levelling & the stifling of individual natural drive and ambition. Thus, to paraphrase George Galloway, we regard Capitalism & Socialism ‘as different cheeks of the same arse.’

The NLTU favours economic systems which give workers the opportunity to advance & better themselves – without becoming a wage slave. We also prefer self-sufficiency (over imports) and thus support both national & social liberation.

With the above in mind, we feel that trade unionists would find food for thought in this article Restore The Guilds. It was written by Gary Dorrien & was published in the Plough Quarterly – – a US-based ‘magazine of stories, ideas, and culture to inspire faith and action’. This is the third in the series and should be read directly on from part 1 & part 2 – see links below.

As always, we invite our readers to share their thoughts when this article is reproduced on the NLTU Facebook site – – or the National Liberals Facebook site – It goes without saying that there are no links between Gary Dorrien, Plough Quarterly, the NLTU and the National Liberal Party. We’d also like to point out that whilst the article is written from a Christian perspective, the NLTU and NLP welcome members & supporters from all religions and none. Please note that the NLTU has kept the original US spellings and phrases as they are.


Restore The Guilds – What today’s labor unions, democratic socialists, and mutual aid societies might learn from the colorful history of Christian socialism in Britain.

(Left) James Keir Hardie (1856-1915) started his working life aged eight as a baker's delivery boy. By age 11 he was a coal miner, working between 12-14 hours a day. He became involved with the Ayrshire Miners' Union & then the Scottish Miners' Federation. In 1887 he published The Miner, a monthly newspaper. Hardie resigned from the Liberal Party in 1888 & helped organise the Scottish Labour Party, as he believed that the working-class needed its own political party. In 1893 he helped establish the Independent Labour Party - ILP. One of those who helped him establish the ILP was Ulster-born Samuel George Hobson (18701940). Hobson later developed his theory of guild socialism & in 1914 published National Guilds: An Inquiry into the Wage System and the Way Out (Right). This consisted of many articles he’d previously written for the New Age, the influential weekly magazine edited by A R Orage. Hobson advocated that the Guilds should serve as the organs through which industry would be organised in a future socialist society – in a similar way to Syndicalism or Corporatism.

In 1893 a Christian socialist labor leader, Keir Hardie, founded the Independent Labour Party (ILP), which compelled many socialists to make an excruciating choice: Should they stay in the radical wing of the Liberal Party or join the party of actual workers? A worker’s party might be a disaster for anti-imperialism and anti-racism. Joining the ILP might destroy the anti-imperialist wing of the Liberal Party, and it might hand the government to the Tories, which, in fact, it did. Christian socialists Stewart Headlam and Scott Holland stuck with the left wing of the Liberal Party for these reasons. Christian socialists S. G. Hobson (who would coin the term “guild socialism”), Charles Marson, and Conrad Noel countered that socialists had to be with the workers and convert them to antiimperialism, anti-racism, and anti-militarism.

Both of these groups had contentious relationships with the mainstream of the Fabian Society, an activist powerhouse led by sociologist Sidney Webb, his wife Beatrice Webb, and literary star George Bernard Shaw. The Fabians contended that British socialism did not need Marx’s glorification of revolutionary violence or his exotic doctrines; all it needed was to proceed on its present course. The reach of government grew every year. This process was relentless, beneficial, and civilizing. It tamed the predatory impulses of capitalism, making society rational. Soon the flow of progress would civilize England and the entire world. All manner of late Victorians believed the world was progressing toward higher forms of civilization and democracy. Even Marxists held a version of the belief in progress. The Fabians turned this belief into an argument for bureaucratic state collectivism. Socialism was government ownership directed by elite managers, that is, Fabians(1).

But Christian socialists fit their ideology to their ethical convictions, not the other way around. Even those who joined the Fabian Society fought for the ethical difference when it arose. It arose repeatedly over imperialism and racism. Britons were schooled in the lore of the British Empire, a tale of mercantile colonization under the Stuarts and Cromwell; war victories against the Dutch, French, and Spanish in the seventeenth century; the acquisition of eastern North America; slave-trading outposts in Africa; commercial interests in India; and Disraeli’s incursions into Egypt, India, Afghanistan, and South Africa during the 1870s. In the 1880s a new kind of imperialism emerged, one that had to be opposed differently than the old kind. Old-style anti-imperialists conceived of empire as a problem of power lust and military overreach cured by left-liberal politics. The new imperialism was driven by fierce economic competition for new markets, and it grew no matter which party won office. John Hobson wrote about this historical turn as it happened, publishing ten books before he wrote his famous book Imperialism in 1902, contending that modern capitalism was unsustainable without exploiting colonized markets. Hobson did not say that economics explains everything. He made moral and political arguments, providing sermon material for Christian socialists. Noel, Marson, Holland, and Charles Gore blasted the Boer War and the plunder of Africa. They fought against Shaw and the Webbs for touting their patriotism with racist arguments. British Christian socialists were vocal anti-imperialists right in the belly of the beast. Some made bishop anyway, notably Gore and William Temple, because that was England too (2)

(1)  Sidney Webb, Socialism: True and False (London: The Fabian Society, Fabian Tract No. 51, 1894); Webb, Twentieth Century Politics: A Policy of National Efficiency (London: The Fabian Society, Fabian Tract No. 108, 1901).

(2)  John A. Hobson, Imperialism (1902; reprint, London: Allen and Unwin, 1948).

• THIS ARTICLE should be read in conjunction with the following:

From The Liberty Wall – National Liberal Trade Unionists – Restore The Guilds (Part 1) from-the-liberty-wall-–-national-liberal-trade-unionists-–-restore-the-guilds-part-1

From The Liberty Wall – National Liberal Trade Unionists – Restore The Guilds (Part 2) from-the-liberty-wall-–-national-liberal-trade-unionists-–-restore-the-guilds-part-2

• READ issue 1 of Liberal Worker – The Voice Of The National iberal Trade Unionists  (NLTU).  To get your FREE pdf copy, simply e-mail

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