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Victor Böhmert's Critique of the Traditional and Restrictive Nature of Guilds (1858)

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to their institutions of mutual aid. It is quite dubious and uneconomical to burden the boards of 30 to 40 guilds in a city with the administration of funds like these, and even to assign guild funds to members fallen on hard times, if self-help and private initiative have already found and instituted much more effective means whereby every citizen of the state can be protected from the impoverishing influences of sickness, age, sudden loss of assets, etc.

We stopped above at the mention of the institutions for cooperative work that emerged from the contemporary associational drive. They constitute the last rung on the ladder of associations and presuppose the liveliest kind of public spirit. Will it also be possible for the working classes to benefit more from the advantages of the large-scale and factory enterprise by assuming a new role in larger partnerships as entrepreneurs and workers at the same time, by performing their work in joint workshops and factories, and by sharing both work and profits, depending on the extent of their talents and skills and according to their performance? We stand here before a future task, one whose detailed discussion would exceed the limits of this essay. At this point, it suffices to say that not only the existence of such associations in large numbers, but also their flourishing, has become a welcome fact. Here, we refer to Huber's travel letters and his reports about French and English craftsmen's cooperatives. So far only very meager fruits of this kind of cooperative have germinated on German soil, although we regard the disposition of the Germans and their sociable sense as conducive and promising with respect to service to this idea. The difficulties of execution are obvious. The very first prerequisite for the establishment of such associations is naturally the most complete freedom of labor; but then the members of such a league of workers would also have to be more or less equally capable, and also at least equally ambitious, capable of sacrifice, agreeable. And even if they possess all of these virtues, the difficulty of a just distribution of profits after the various services are rendered will be an insurmountable obstacle for many associations. In any event, the Lord’s commandment “Love one another!” cannot remain just a motto for these cooperative members, but must instead become their deed and truth. Before we can attain this goal, not only does the ethical and religious education of the workers need to advance further, the workers also need to become much more enlightened than before, especially from an economic point of view, about those simple and eternal natural laws that form the basis of economic life; they need to become better acquainted with their real interests and the means by which they can improve their lot through work — and in this knowledge and further development they need to be supported much more actively than before by their most fortunate and richest fellow Christians!

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