The Guilds' Residual Control Over the Supply of Labor
If the simultaneous emergence of free trade in goods and in labor power in Germany represented a necessary step for the commodification of labor in the cultural form of "labor power," it did not comprise a sufficient condition. After all, judged by this sole criterion, French producers entered the modern world of liberal commercialism by the same door. Yet, as we will see, they reached a different concept of labor as a commodity from that of the Germans. A single contingency is inadequate even for the German case alone. It must be remembered that when freedom of occupation was introduced in Germany, the urban work force consisted primarily of artisanal manufacturers and included many small masters working on their own account. Did they not stand in the same position as the independent tradesmen who typified the sale of materialized labor in Britain? Could they not have evolved the same assumptions about the exchange of labor as a commodity as the British? To stipulate the historical forces that were sufficient to guide the cultural construction of "labor power" in Germany requires a more discriminating analysis of the ensemble of urban and rural institutions of work during the initial decades of liberal commercialism.
Let us turn to the cities. Among thinkers as diverse as Adam Smith and Paul Sweezy, the towns in Europe have been viewed as the nodal points from which capitalist development emanated. In Germany the urban centers with concentrations of artisanal enterprise had once acted as a force for change by sponsoring the growth of mercantile trade. But during the nineteenth century they shrank from the construction of a laissez-faire regime and resigned from a leading role in the development of labor as a commodity.
The introduction of freedom of occupation in Prussia may have destroyed the town guilds' legal monopolies, but it did not obliterate the guilds themselves. They retained many functions in Prussia: they continued to supervise the recruitment and training of apprentices; they retained the right to certify trainees; they still required that masters pass qualifying examinations in
order to become accepted as full members in the corporation; and they continued to administer workers' insurance funds. Saxony and the southern German states obtained a similar result, for they refused to enforce the guilds' legal monopolies but also declined to abolish the guilds' claims to the allocation of labor. In some German towns craft guilds were to reassert control over workers by controlling their placement in jobs. The guilds issued employment books to workers which documented the holders' training and conduct. Outside Prussia, the guilds generally had more widespread controls: they could regulate access to craft work by imposing residence requirements for licensing and by subjecting new practitioners to severe examination. To be sure, the guilds no longer had clear statutory power to shut down the businesses of interlopers. But, as corporate associations, to the end of the nineteenth century they maintained regulations for the protection and advancement of their trades and for the supervision of labor.
Guild influence was probably weakest in the Rhineland. During the French occupation, the left bank of the Rhine, incorporated into France, had its corporations abolished altogether. After the ejection of the French, however, this zone rejoined the main path of business development as it was being followed in other parts of Germany. In many trades, the artisans in the Rhineland conjured the guild affiliations back from the dead. The Diet of the Rhine province even appealed to the Prussian king in 1826 and 1833 for a partial lifting of freedom of trade and occupation. The craftspeople
failed in their attempts to restore the old constitution of business with production monopolies, but they succeeded in reinstating the condition that only members of the craft associations could hire apprentices.
Guild membership in Germany remained a sign of social status which complicated the terms by which producers conceived the employment relation for craft production. Christiane Eisenberg's inquiries into the legacy of the guilds in Germany have disclosed that corporate designations of status blunted the adoption of terms descriptive of capitalist relations of production. The locutions employer (Arbeitgeber , literally, "giver of work") and employee (Arbeitnehmer ) were slow to replace the guild terms master (Meister ) and journeyman (Geselle ). Where the new words appeared to prevail, their usage was sometimes confused with the old: independent producers with guild certification as masters but with no assistants were classified inconsistently as "employers." In contrast to experience in Britain, "no uniform expression developed for the group of independent producers working on their own account." Economic agents in Britain called the producers in this group "free tradesmen" or "undertakers." But in Germany, the public and the craftsmen themselves imposed linguistic distinctions from the guild system upon producers who shared the same market positions. For example, in the mid-nineteenth century they described these independent producers as journeymen working on their own (selbständige Gesellen ) or as masters working without assistants (Alleinmeister ). Rather than adopting a terminology based on the exchange of products by independent market actors, as in Britain, the Germans used guild designations that drew upon the prior status distinction between masters and jour-
During the revolution of 1848–1849, petitions for the recall of commercial liberty came from small textile masters in all portions of Germany. In Leipzig the craft masters wrote an appeal denouncing free trade as a pernicious "French" principle. "Unrestricted commercial freedom," the artisans of Korschenbroich in the lower Rhineland told the government in 1849, "is the origin of all evil." Every craft worker had a different home remedy for the exotic illness. Some guild petitioners wanted to prohibit merchants from buying goods manufactured by artisanal producers. They would have allowed peddlers to sell machine-made products but not hand-made ones—an eloquent indicator of the way craftspeople divided the world of production in two. Craft masters in the textile trade also attempted to prevent the rise of nonguild undertakings by allowing only guild masters to oversee the work of journeymen. Opposition to free trade came not just
from producers in the cities. The operators of rural putting-out systems wanted to restrict entry into the trade as a way of ensuring high-quality workmanship.
The opposition to free trade did not disappear after the revolution was finally suppressed. To the end of their days, members of some of the urban crafts in Germany remained antagonistic to the emergence of liberal commercialism. During the 1850s the weaving guilds continued to send petitions asking the Saxon ministry of the interior to prohibit liberty of trade in their products. For artisans, the development of an unbridled market did not represent a natural progression in contrast to which regulation appeared as an exceptional constraint: as late as 1860, some craft workers saw free business as an artificial invention dreamed up by essayists. "Freedom of trade is a child of the press," the Magistrat of Conitz wrote in 1860, "supported by people and judgments that have little insight into the essence of craft work."
In Britain, the cultural commodification of labor took place when artisanal work still enjoyed a vigorous youth. In the eyes of seventeenth-century British observers, small manufacture represented one of the most dynamic sectors of the economy. Given the prolonged suppression of market institutions for wage work in Britain, the exchange of merchandise by independent producers in this branch could provide the context for the commodification of labor as it was objectified in a ware. In Germany, by comparison, the introduction of a formal market in labor power and of
market discourse coincided with the middle age and deteriorating health of craft enterprise. It accompanied a secular debasement in the conditions of craft labor and a decline in its remuneration. Urban craft work tended to define itself as an opponent of free intercourse in labor rather than, as in Britain, a promoter of its growth within trade-union limits.
The diverging usage of the term artisan in German and English illustrates the role of craft work in the cultural commodification of labor in the two countries. In the course of the nineteenth century the German term for artisan, Handwerker , came increasingly to refer to self-employed persons outside of large enterprises. It implicitly excluded wage laborers. In Britain, by comparison, the term artisan was increasingly used to refer to skilled workers who earned wages in the employ of others. It was applied to the aristocracy of wage laborers, including those in the factory. Unlike the German word, the English term was not shunted to the periphery of capitalist relations of employment but was central to the definition of wage labor. The fates of the terms worker and Werker also illustrate a divergence in the application of words that derived originally from the world of craft work but were extended to the industrial-capitalist economy. In both languages the term originally applied to those in craft and shop work. In English the term came to refer to the entirety of wage earners, marking the centrality of small manufacture for the definition of commercial labor. In German
usage, the term Werker remained confined to the original context of handicraft production, marking the failure of craft work to provide the template for conceiving of capitalist wage labor. The generic term for worker that prevailed in Germany, Arbeiter , came from another domain, that of the serfs on feudal estates.
The urban crafts in Germany did not provide the context for the development of market thinking; instead, the crucible for the cultural specification of labor's commodity form was large enterprise relying upon supervised labor, that is, the manufactory. The employment regulations of Prussia and the other German states had long placed the manufactory and the artisanal workshop in separate worlds. During the eighteenth century, the Prussian state exempted manufactories on a case-by-case basis from the requirement that production of a line of goods rely only upon workers belonging to the guild responsible for that branch of industry. In 1794 Prussia finally arrived at a general rule: manufactories could hire whomever they pleased, including nonguild members and women. In Saxony as well, by the eighteenth century chartered factories were exempt from guild regulations on the use of labor. The German states recognized that the guilds restrained economic development, yet they remained unwilling to abolish them outright, for under the supervision of the masters they provided ready-made organizations for assisting authorities' surveillance and tutelage over workers. Once segmented by state regulation, the two worlds of work, manufactories with unregulated labor and guild craft shops, were never reunited.
Prussia and the other German states continued their dual-track policy during the first decades of the nineteenth century. While they allowed guilds to maintain de facto control over labor in traditional workshops, official labor codes all but disappeared from the new and promising sector of large enterprise. Of course, the owners of the prosperous new factories considered their workers to be servants and supposed that the labor laws pertaining to the employment of house servants extended by implication to factory employees. But in Prussia, as elsewhere, these owners found that officials refused to extend the provisions of the laws for servants to factory workers. In the initial decades after the Prussian commercial reforms of 1810–1811, the police also declined to forcibly return workers who had abandoned their employment without notice. To collect compensation from miscreant workers, Prussian factory owners had to take the tedious step of filing claim for damages in court. Prussia, supposedly the land of heavy-handed state supervision, had a consistently laissez-faire policy toward labor contracts during the introduction of liberal commercialism. Enforcing a web of labor regulations in the factories, Prussian officials declared in 1817, "would reduce the natural freedom of people to dispose over their time and talents in the manner that seems most advantageous."
Prussia set a standard for regulation elsewhere. In Saxony, where industrial growth enjoyed an early start, the industrial association reported in 1835 that "a condition of virtual lawlessness" had developed in labor relations. The Saxon state did not issue rules for labor contracts for nonguild factory workers until the 1850s. More remarkable are the steps that authorities there took to prevent town administrators from supplementing those general guidelines with additional disciplinary procedures for workers who left without notice or who damaged machinery. In Saxony provincial officials repeatedly intervened to prevent town administrators from officially sanctioning the employment codes drawn up by factory owners and their Chambers of Commerce. Employers in other regions, too, complained of lack of legal enforcement of employment rules in their mills and shops. "Whereas in other countries the law already regulates labor time, factory ordinances, and rules," the Magdeburg newspaper observed in 1850, "nothing similar occurs with us."
The laissez-faire regime under which factory workers and employers in Germany were left to specify the labor transaction offers a powerful contrast with the fettering of wage labor at the dawn of liberal commercialism in Britain. There, we know, the law in force during the shift to a formal market made labor an exceptional good that employers could requisition by fiat. The law treated the laborer as the holder of an ascribed status rather than as the occupant of a role created through personal contract. In Germany, wage labor outside the guild system was founded on a more thoroughgoing break with the restrictions of the past than was true in Britain.
In this respect the Germans proved themselves more liberal than the British at similar stages in the institutionalization of free exchange and commercialization of social life. Yet the maintenance of corporate organization of work in artisanal undertakings in Germany excluded this sector from a pioneering role in cultural change. The result was a profound division between large, innovative enterprise and small, traditional concerns. As Wolfram Fischer has observed, industrial policy in Germany "discouraged the transformation of the group of conservative artisans into a stratum of modernizing entrepreneurs and helped bifurcate the face of the economy into a static adherence to old forms and a dynamic, unlimited advance."
The historical divide between traditional craft work and the commercialized manufactories in Germany found its theoretical expression in Marx's reflections. Marx excluded urban craft production from his interpretation of the genesis of capitalist relations of production. To be sure, it represented an early island of free labor within feudal society. Despite a propitious start, however, it remained unsuited for the eventual development of capitalist wage labor. "Although urban artisanal production rests essentially upon trade and the creation of exchange values," he acknowledged, "the direct, main purpose of this production is the subsistence of the artisan and of the craft master." Marx assumed that the urban artisans, under the aegis of the guilds, fought successfully against the attempts of merchant capitalists to govern the production process. In Kapital he emphasized the limits the guilds placed on the size of work-
shops and division of labor in the production process: "The merchant could buy every kind of commodity, with the exception of labor as a commodity. He was tolerated only as a distributor of the artisanal products." The appropriation of materialized labor did not, in Marx's opinion, constitute the purchase of labor as a commodity.
To turn labor into a commodity, from Marx's point of view the capitalist had to take command of the production process in order to control the conditions under which labor power was converted into a product. The creation of a market in manufactures does not suffice to commodify labor; legal restrictions on both trade and the use of labor in production had to disappear. This theoretical supposition recapitulated the invention of the market in German history, where the commercialization of exchange in manufactures and the lifting of legal constraints on the use of labor in production were fused. Britain provided the historical laboratory for a model of capitalist development in Kapital , but the perspective imposed on Britain came from Germany. By the time internal monopolies on trade in manufactures had decayed in Britain, so had the power of the British guilds. By 1689 only a quarter of the towns in England had guilds with a semblance of organization, let alone ones capable of enforcing business prerogatives. They had lost the ability to impose statutory limits on the size of workshops and the division of labor. Marx's supposition that the urban crafts never allowed labor to crystallize as a commodity badly mis-
judges British experience but fits Germany closely. What appears here in Kapital as "theory" represents in fact the displaced historical experience of Germany.
Since Marx excluded urban crafts work from the development of capitalist relations of production, his attention was drawn to centralized manufacture in the countryside: "The original historical form in which capital appeared, first sporadically and locally, next to the old ways of production but gradually undermining them everywhere, was not yet the factory, but Manufacture proper." Historians in our day have emphasized that rural domestic industry based on the putting-out system occupied a larger portion of the work force than did centralized manufacture. David Landes has surmised that Marx's exaggerated estimation of the manufactory's importance stemmed from its role on the Continent as a state-subsidized disseminator of technical knowledge. Marx's accentuation of the manufactory's significance may also have derived from his theorization of social relations at the point of production. Workers in these large undertakings, in contrast to those in the guild-controlled shops, were separated from the tools of manufacture, and the conversion of their labor into a product was subordinated to management decree. To Marx's eye, these workers were the first to sell labor power per se in the emerging capitalist order. The prominence Marx gave to the manufactories was intended to accord, not with their quantitative share of employment, but with their importance as a site of the inception of the social categories of wage labor and capital.
The insight that labor itself became a commodity only when workers were supervised by the owners of large enterprises had become a common-place observation in bourgeois German economics before it surfaced in Kapital. J. C. Glaser, a philistine commentator from Berlin, had adduced such an argument in 1858. He claimed that
So long as a worker is self-employed and either consumes for his own use the products he created with his labor or exchanges them for others that he can consume, then the wage of labor is the prod-
uct itself. . . . As soon as the division of labor [in production] is introduced and the individual no longer owns the capital to support his work and therefore no longer works for himself, but for others . . . labor power is rented in return for compensation.
Glaser, in contrast to most economists in Britain, made an explicit contrast in his theory between the selling of mere articles and the offering of labor as a commodity in centralized factories with a division of responsibility. Like Marx, he called labor itself a commodity and applied the term labor power only when certain historically specific social relations obtained at the point of production. In addition, however, Glaser took care to say that workers did not sell but merely "rented" their labor power. This marks an understanding of labor power as something lodged in the person of the worker and reveals an understanding of an essential similarity between wage labor and serfdom or slavery. No wonder Glaser chose his words so carefully at this point to demarcate wage labor.
In Britain, economic agents in the nineteenth century supposed that capitalist relations of labor were exemplified in the small craft shop as well as in the factory; in Germany, by contrast, both employers and workers usually focused upon employment in a centralized factory as the exemplary form of wage labor. During the early phases of mechanization in the German textile industry, the very term Lohnarbeiter , "wage worker," connoted those who worked in a factory. Remuneration in the factory also acquired a name different from that used in the craft shop. During the 1840s, workers of all sorts in the factories, as opposed to those in outside artisanal shops, were paid what were called "day wages" (Tagelohn ), as if they were day laborers. This emphasized the diurnal sale of labor power per se, even if the exact amount of the compensation was based on piece rates. In the textile trade, handweavers in trade associations gave their colleagues who entered the factories the contemptuous label of Tagelöhner , "day laborer." Employers adopted the same lan-
guage, singling out the factory operative as the true wage laborer. "The so-called day laborers," declared an industry journal in 1861, represented "the worker in the narrowest sense of the term." Conversely, journeymen weavers contended that merely by virtue of the fact that they worked outside the factory system, they were not wage laborers. In Britain, the commodification of labor appeared as a process separate from its impoundment in centralized, mechanized production under the supervision of the owner; in Germany, language testified to the conjunction of the two concepts.
The German view of employment as the purchase of "labor power" made the exercise of authority over the execution of work—that is, the purchase of labor's "use value"—an integral part of the process of securing a surplus from workers. This perspective unified the relations of appropriation and domination. When capitalists purchased "labor power," their receipt of profit depended on how successfully they converted labor capacity into labor. Without control of the production process, the employer did not appropriate a surplus. Profit may have been realized through exchange in the market, but it was generated and appropriated in production. There the buyers and sellers of labor as a commodity necessarily entered into relations of domination and subordination. Accordingly, Marx's theory ruled out the possibility of a social formation based on the exchange by independent commodity producers of labor as a commodity.
The unique survival in Germany of corporate labor associations in craft work thus represents the second decisive condition for the development of the German specification of labor as a commodity. The resistance of German guilds to the introduction of liberal commercialism confined them to the margins of cultural development in the commercial economy. Their contribution to the cultural construction of labor was primarily negative. The restriction of the unbridled training and employment of labor to manufacture outside the guild system during the first decades of liberal commercialism in Germany meant that new branches of manufacture and the factory could play a pioneering role in the cultural construction of labor's commodity form. The factory provided a suitable setting for highlighting the supervision of labor and the appropriation of the "use value" of labor in the production process. If the immediate circumstances of production offer material for interpretation, however, they cannot impress themselves automatically upon the social imagination to produce a "corresponding" image of themselves. There is no single concept of labor that conforms most naturally to factory conditions. Instead, German producers drew upon cultural precedents to construct their definition of "labor power."