Guild WorkersWhen a state descends to chaos, and bankruptcy, often of both the economic and moral kinds, there can be a reaction by the remaining healthy parts of the people, for regeneration. Oswald Spengler referred in The Decline of the West to this epoch as a return of ‘Caesarism’ and the overthrow of plutocracy.  While it is a reaction it is nonetheless revolutionary, because the state of decay is so far advanced that only a radical change, not just in structures, but in the psychology of the people, is required. It is literally a ‘revolution’; insofar as it seeks a return to origins.

In the epoch of decay of Western Civilisation, which has been proceeding via such transformations as the Reformation, including that of Henry VIII, ‘Glorious Revolution’, Cromwellian Revolution, Jacobin Revolution, Industrial Revolution, American Revolution, and  the revolutions of 1848; each step further undermined the social order and paved the way – usually in the name of ‘the people’ – for an increase in the influence of commercial interests, until the stage of plutocracy (rule of money) is reached.

Role of the Bourgeoisie

The French Revolution of 1789 was pivotal and its impact has only increased over the world. From this revolution arose both liberal capitalism and the Left. They went hand-in-hand. The Revolution abolished the final vestiges of the Medieval guilds in France under the Chapelier Law of 1791. These forefathers of ‘socialism’ enacted the free market, standards of production markedly declined, and there was widespread dissatisfaction with such ‘liberty’. Such was the concern at this destruction of the guilds (or corporations) that the National Assembly in 1795 reiterated they would not be revived, and the prohibition became Article 355 of the Constitution, which meant that a constitutional amendment would be required to reverse the law. In the people’s utopia of Revolutionary France, the guild era was recalled as one of happiness and plenty. No longer with stability, fraternity (despite the ironic slogan of the Revolution being: ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’) and a higher purpose that the guilds offered, worker unrest was widespread. The supposed people’s representatives expressed concern at mounting worker ‘insubordination’. There was prolonged debate on the reconstitution of the guilds under Napoleon Bonaparte, but ultimately the laissez-faire radicals won.[1]

It is historically significant to note, but not much understood by academics, journalists, and other hacks, that the destruction of the guilds was initiated by the Left as was free market economics. When the ‘Right’ is today described as being synonymous with capitalism and free trade, this is a nonsense. Karl Marx regarded Free Trade as ‘subversive’ and protectionism as ‘conservative’, and therefore supported Free Trade as a necessary phase of the historical dialectic towards Communism. Marx was particularly vehement towards those he called ‘reactionists’ who aimed to re-establish the guilds. Marx noted that they included artisans, peasants, aristocrats, priests and burghers; a true social and class collaboration united against plutocracy. All these classes had a common enemy in unrestrained industrialism, and the banks behind it, which had destroyed the rural economy, the village economy, dislocated the peasantry and artisans and resulted in overcrowded cities populated by an alienated proletariat, without bonds of Church, village and guild. None of this Marx wanted restored. To do so would be to halt the dialectical march of history towards Communism.[2]

Marx, said in The Communist Manifesto that ‘the bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part’…. put an end to the feudal ‘idyllic relations’, ‘stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured’. The bourgeoisie cannot exist ‘without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production’.[3] The Marxist calls this ‘progress’. So does the bourgeoisie, as the instrument of this disruption. The difference between the classic Liberal and the Marxist is that the Marxist aims to secure the bourgeois revolutionary role for the proletariat as the next phase of the historical dialectic.

The Right saw nothing commendable in this. One does not regard cancer as a desirable form of progress because it changes the cells of an organism. Class struggle is literally a cancer of the social organism. The physician aims to restore the health of an organism, not celebrate the cancer as desirable because it changes the organism. The Right sought to restore the health of the organism. Elements of the Left realised that Marxism and Liberalism are born from the same outlook. To confront the crisis of the modern industrial age, they coalesced into what is generically called ‘Fascism’. That was why scholars such as Zeev Sternhell say that Fascism is ‘neither Left nor Right’. It was a synthesis; it aimed at transcendence.

It is apt that the resistance to the triumph of commerce over social order was started in France where much of the rot of modern capitalism originated via the French Revolution. The workers attempted to reconstitute social bonds via trades unions, and the result was class war against those forces that had also been dislocated by the revolution. The added irony was that the workers turned to the Left which had helped to inaugurate the modern capitalist era, having adopted English Liberal doctrines, which are now assumed to be ‘Right-wing’.

Crisis of the Left

Sternhell makes a convincing case for ‘Fascism’ having been born in France, and among Francophones further afield (Neither Left Nor Right: Fascist Ideology in France, 1996). There were Leftists who regarded the Marxian and other such forms of socialism as inadequate, and historical analyses based on economic reductionism and dialectical materialism, as insufficient. They saw that such ‘socialism’ was an attempt to appropriate the bourgeois capitalist spirit for the worker rather than to transcend that outlook.

Henri de Man, leader of the Belgian Labour Party went so far as to welcome the German occupation as an answer to the bourgeois Zeitgeist of the prior century. De Man, despite his turn to ‘Fascism’, is still regarded as an important theorist of socialism and critic of Marxism, his ‘neosocialism’ (also known as ‘planism’) being a significant ideological factor among the Francophone Left that turned to Fascism. Marxism, De Man stated, reduces man ‘to the level of a mere object among the objects of his environment, and these external historical “relationships” are held to determine his volitions and to decide his objectives’.

Like many socialists who rejected Marx, World War I was a seminal event in their outlook. Fascism arose among returning soldiers of all nations who wanted to continue the camaraderie of the frontline in peacetime, in what British Fascist leader, and former Labour Party notable, Sir Oswald Mosley aptly called the ‘socialism of the trenches’. De Man wrote in The Psychology of Marxian Socialism (1928):

‘The war, in which I participated as a Belgian volunteer, shook my Marxist faith to its foundations. It is war-time experience which entitles me to say that my book has been written with blood, though I cannot myself be certain that I have been able to transform that blood into spirit. The conflict of motives whose upshot was that I, an ardent antimilitarist and internationalist, felt it my duty to take up arms against Germany; my disillusionment at the collapse of the International; the daily demonstration of the instinctive nature of mass impulses thanks to which even socialist members of the working class had their minds poisoned with the virus of nationalist hatred; my growing estrangement from most of my sometime Marxist associates, who went over to the bolshevik camp – thanks to all these influences conjoined, I was racked with doubts and scruples whose echoes will be heard in this book’.[4]

De Man had been one of the primary ideologues of Marxism. After the Frist World War he withdrew from politics for several years to reflect on his thoughts and life. He concluded that what was required was not merely to ‘revise’ or ‘adapt’ Marxism, but to liquidate it.[5]

In France Socialist Party leader Marcel Déat, Anarcho-Syndicalist George Valois, and Communist party ex-Mayor of Paris Jacques Doriot were among the leaders of French Fascism. Sir Oswald Mosley had resigned as the up-and-coming star of the Labour Party due to the inaction of orthodox socialism and founded the British Union of Fascists in 1932, based on his proposals to revive Britain that had been rejected by the Labour government. Mussolini had been a leader of the Socialist Party, and many of his comrades in the Fascio founded directly after the war had come from the syndicalist Left. They did not leave the orthodox Left and join Fascism merely through a sudden fixation of wanting to establish concentration camps, suppress trades unions and install a military junta, as the stereotypical depiction of ‘fascism’ simplistically insists. Of this post-war situation for socialists, De Man stated:

‘It is not surprising that socialism is in the throes of a spiritual crisis. The world war has led to so many social and political transformations that all parties and all ideological movements have had to undergo modification in one direction or another, in order to adapt themselves to the new situation. Such changes cannot be effected without internal frictions; they are always attended by growing pains; they denote a doctrinal crisis’.[6]

Marxism remained ‘rooted in the philosophical theories that were dominant during the middle decades of the nineteenth century, theories which may provisionally be summarised in the catchwords determinism, causal mechanism, historicism, rationalism, and economic hedonism’,[7] De Man wrote. So far from the bourgeois being increasingly proletarianised due to the crisis of capitalism, as Marx had predicted in The Communist Manifesto, De Man saw that ‘the working class is tending to accept bourgeois standards and to adopt a bourgeois culture’.[8] ‘In the last analysis, the reason why the bourgeoisie is the upper class today, is that everyone would like to be a bourgeois’.[9] Today more than ever it is clear that the historical dialectic has not unfolded in the manner Marx predicted. The ‘cult of the masses’, was an invention of bourgeois intellectuals including Marx, who were remote from the masses;[10] a ‘relapse into the naivety of the outworn primitive democratic adoration of the crowd’.[11] The Western masses are thoroughly bourgeois in temperament and desires.

In comparing the pre-capitalist guild era of the Medieval epoch with the capitalist era of production De Man pointed out that,

‘The essence of the charge brought by Marxism against capitalism is that the capitalist method of production has divorced the producers from the means of production. In actual fact, capitalism has done something much more serious; it has divorced the producer from production, the worker from the work. In this way it has engendered a distaste for work which is often increased rather than diminished by an improvement in the material circumstances of life, and cannot be cured by any mere change in property relationships.

‘Especially conspicuous is the contrast between the industrial worker of today and the medieval artisan who was a member of his craft guild. The handicraftsman of the Middle Ages might or might not be the owner of his house, his workshop, or his booth; his position might be a good one, financially speaking, or the reverse. But at least he was master of his own work…

‘The craftsman of the Middle Ages took delight in his work; he lived in his work; for him, his work was a means of self-expression’.[12]

It is this detachment of the worker from his work, which had been seen as a spiritual calling during the Medieval era, the Fascist sought to redress by a return to the guilds or corporations. In the corporatist constitutions of many states, from Italy to Brazil, the aim was to reconnect the worker to his work with the return of an ethos that had been obliterated by industrialism and the bourgeoisie revolutions. It was not ownership that was the problem; it was how such ownership was utilised. The corporatist constitutions stated that private property has a ‘social function’. Even the owner in the corporatist state remains a custodian of what he owns, and this can be forfeited by the State should he fail to serve the common interest. Yet the accusation against Fascism is that it was the ‘last resort in the defence of capitalism’. Spengler, saw to the contrary that it is Marxism that reflects the spirit of money; that seeks to appropriate capitalism rather than to overcome it.

De Man dealt directly with the workers, and often through his own lack of understanding, was taught many lessons on the workers’ ethos that would be regarded as ‘reactionism’ by those too imbued with the bourgeoisie outlook, such as Marx, to understand. At one such point De Man alludes to the personal attachment tradesman had to their own old toolboxes, an ethos that goes beyond the comprehension of Marxian doctrine.[13] Such realisation is the basis of corporatist thought. De Man stated that Marxist theories about working class solidarity lacked an ethos, and were mechanistic. They sought to build something merely on the basis of modes of production. This is the ‘economic man’, the ‘hedonist’ and ‘egoist’.[14] The desire for solidarity was born not from this bourgeois outlook, but from the instinct that had existed during the Medieval era; one of Christian ethos; of ‘craft fraternity’ defended by the guilds.[15] Socialism, said De Man, should aim to revive a social ethos that was instinctive, not mechanistic.[16] De Man alluded to two postulants that serve as an ethical basis for a ‘new socialism’, that was also the foundation of the corporatist ethos: ‘1. Vital values are higher than material values; and of vital values, spiritual values are the highest…. 2. The motives of community sentiment are higher than the motives of personal power and personal acquisition….’[17]

An additional factor in the fallacy of Marxism was that especially since the First World War the proletariat had become more national and less international.[18] Machinery and modes of production[19]might indeed be international and what is today called globalisation shows that capital is internationalising as Marx predicted. But people are more than their modes of production, although orthodox socialism thinks otherwise. De Mann saw the socialist movement as intrinsically national and the proletariat as more than a globule of putty to be moulded for the purposes of production, whether by Liberalism or Marxism:

‘The French revolution, which was the supreme struggle on the continent of Europe for the realisation of the political demands of the bourgeoisie, was (so thought the revolutionists) to culminate in a universal rising of the peoples against the despots, and to make the Declaration of the Rights of Man the constitution of the whole human race. The Goddess of Reason, in whose honour the revolution set up its altars, was to become the deity of all mankind.[20]

‘National sentiment is an integral part of the emotional content of the socialism of each country. It grows in strength in proportion as the lot of the working masses of any country is more closely connected with the lot of that country itself; in proportion too as the masses have won for themselves a larger place in the community of national civilisation. At bottom, this partial absorption of socialist sentiment by national sentiment need not surprise us. We have merely to recognise that it is the return of a sentiment to its source. Socialism itself is the product of the interaction between a given moral sentiment and a given social environment. It is not only the social environment which has a national character. The other factor, likewise, the moral sentiment, has primarily, in different peoples, a peculiar tinge, derived from a peculiar national past’.[21]

Rise of Syndicalism and Corporatism Among the Right

These were the sentiment not only of De Mann, but of Syndicalists in France and in Italy. They wished to transcend capitalism not,  like Marx, to appropriate it. The Italian Syndicalist Alfredo Rocco stated in 1914 that, ‘the Corporations [guilds], which were overthrown by the individualism of the natural rights philosophy and the equalitarianism of the French Revolution, may well live again in the social ideals of Italian nationalism… In the corporations we have not an absurd equality, but discipline and differences. In the corporations all participate in production, being associated in a genuine and fruitful fraternity of classes’.[22] Rocco became economic spokesman for the Italian Nationalist Association, which adopted a syndicalist policy. The Nationalist Association combined with the Fascist party in 1923. Rocco served as Minister of Finance in Mussolini’s Cabinet during 1925-1932, and drafted important Fascist legislation particularly on the Corporate State. In 1934 Rocco introduced the Bill for the ‘formation and functions of the Corporations to the Chamber of Deputies’, stating that the ‘key body’ in the Fascist economy ‘is the corporation in which the various categories of producers, employers and workers are all represented and which is certainly the best fitted to regulate production, not in the interests of any one producer but… but above all in the national interest’.

The Italian Nationalist Association, founded in 1910, a decade prior to the Fascist party, adopted the syndicalist doctrine in 1919, if not earlier, the same year the Fascio movement was founded. In the struggle between capital and labour, Enrico Corradini, the leader of the Nationalists, said that ‘nationalism is by definition a unifying force’. Corradini stated that Syndical organisation could unify all productive forces. He regarded the Syndical organisations as having transcended political parties. Therefore the Syndicates – Corporations – should become the representative bodies in parliament instead of parties.[23]

In France the convergence of the monarchist-Right and syndicalist-Left within Action Francaise established the foundations of pre-Italian Fascism. The primary spokesman of Syndicalism in Action Francaise, was Georges Valois, an ex-Anarcho-Syndicalist. Valois founded Le Faiscseau in 1925. He was the first in France to use the word Fascist to designate an organisation. Action Francaise, founded in 1898, twenty years before Italian Fascism, called its doctrine ‘Integral Nationalism’. As early as 1914 Valois said that ‘the syndicalist movement replaces the masses of individuals that the Republican state wishes to have under it with the professional groupings by which the traditional French monarchy was supported’.[24] Henri de Man came to the same conclusion in regard to the monarchy; a monarch transcended class and party factions.

Catholic Social Doctrine

Catholic social doctrine was the other primary current that contributed to the new synthesis. This was particularly formulated for modern times by the papal encyclicals of Leo XIII and Pius XI. Significantly, these Popes addressed the same concerns about materialism, egotism, liberalism and industrialism that concerned the Right and heretical elements of the Left. They saw these factors as creating class conflict and delivering the working classes into the hands of atheistic Marxism. Leo’s encyclical Rerum Novarum was succinctly sub-headed ‘Rights and Duties of Capital and Labour’, making the corporatist intentions clear. Leo spoke of an era of great wealth and great poverty, of science and technology amidst moral degeneracy and social tumult. Leo outlined a ‘Christian constitution of the State’. Like the corporatists and syndicalists he referred to the abolition of the guilds during the prior century, without other protective organisations taking their place. ‘Hence, by degrees it has come to pass that working men have been surrendered, isolated and helpless, to the hardheartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition’. The situation has been aggravated by ‘rapacious usury’,[25] which the Church had traditionally opposed, but which was now the major factor in capitalism through the banking industry, and it might be added, with the help of the Reformation.  Capital and the power over the working masses had become ever more concentrated into fewer hands. The socialist answer is to eliminate private property. However, the motive of work was to acquire property. Moreover the socialist proposal to reduce society to ‘one dead level’ of equality negates the inherent differences among man that are advantageous to all. Leo describes the ‘organic state’ using the analogy of the human body:

‘The great mistake made in regard to the matter now under consideration is to take up with the notion that class is naturally hostile to class, and that the wealthy and the working men are intended by nature to live in mutual conflict. So irrational and so false is this view that the direct contrary is the truth. Just as the symmetry of the human frame is the result of the suitable arrangement of the different parts of the body, so in a State is it ordained by nature that these two classes should dwell in harmony and agreement, so as to maintain the balance of the body politic. Each needs the other: capital cannot do without labour, nor labour without capital. Mutual agreement results in the beauty of good order, while perpetual conflict necessarily produces confusion and savage barbarity…’[26]

The employer and the worker are counselled to respect each other in an honourable and just manner for their mutual benefit. On the duty of the State, Leo again alludes to the organic character of society, the State being the means by which the components of the social organism are maintained in healthy balance:

‘There is another and deeper consideration which must not be lost sight of. As regards the State, the interests of all, whether high or low, are equal. The members of the working classes are citizens by nature and by the same right as the rich; they are real parts, living the life which makes up, through the family, the body of the commonwealth; and it need hardly be said that they are in every city very largely in the majority’.[27]

However, the state should remain as unobtrusive as possible in the affairs of a man’s home and family. In preference to State intrusion, Leo advocates a revival of the traditional order when the vocations organised for self-help in guilds, corporations or syndicates as they are variously called:

‘In the last place, employers and workmen may of themselves effect much, in the matter We are treating, by means of such associations and organisations as afford opportune aid to those who are in distress, and which draw the two classes more closely together.[28]

‘The most important of all are workingmen’s unions, for these virtually include all the rest. History attests what excellent results were brought about by the artificers’ guilds of olden times. They were the means of affording not only many advantages to the workmen, but in no small degree of promoting the advancement of art, as numerous monuments remain to bear witness. Such unions should be suited to the requirements of this our age – an age of wider education, of different habits, and of far more numerous requirements in daily life. It is gratifying to know that there are actually in existence not a few associations of this nature, consisting either of workmen alone, or of workmen and employers together, but it were greatly to be desired that they should become more numerous and more efficient’.[29]

In 1931 Pius XI augmented Leo’s Rerum Novarum with Quadragesimo Anno, reiterating that contrary to Liberalism, the State has a responsibility to ensure the harmonious functioning of the constituent parts of the social organism. Pius clarified the social meaning of property: ‘It follows from what We have termed the individual and at the same time social character of ownership, that men must consider in this matter not only their own advantage but also the common good’.

It is the responsibility of the State to define social duties, while upholding the right of inheritance.[30] Critiquing the economic laws of the ‘so-called Manchester Liberals’, Pius wrote: ‘Property, that is, “capital,” has undoubtedly long been able to appropriate too much to itself. Whatever was produced, whatever returns accrued, capital claimed for itself, hardly leaving to the worker enough to restore and renew his strength’.[31] In attempting to rectify this workers have turned to socialism. The Church’s answer is not to abolish private property but to ensure its wider distribution: ‘Therefore, the riches that economic-social developments constantly increase ought to be so distributed among individual persons and classes that the common advantage of all, which Leo XIII had praised, will be safeguarded; in other words, that the common good of all society will be kept inviolate’.[32] Co-partnership should become the practice of enterprises: ‘Workers and other employees thus become sharers in ownership or management or participate in some fashion in the profits received’.[33] Pius reiterated the organic – corporate – character of society:

‘It is obvious that, as in the case of ownership, so in the case of work, especially work hired out to others, there is a social aspect also to be considered in addition to the personal or individual aspect. For man’s productive effort cannot yield its fruits unless a truly social and organic body exists, unless a social and juridical order watches over the exercise of work, unless the various occupations, being interdependent, cooperate with and mutually complete one another, and, what is still more important, unless mind, material things, and work combine and form as it were a single whole…’[34]

These encyclicals by Leo and Pius were a significant factor in the development of corporatist states throughout the world; particularly in Brazil (Vargas), Portugal (Salazar), Spain (Franco), France (Petain) and Austria (Dollfuss).  The Church social doctrine provided a nexus around which the Syndicalist-Left and the traditionalist Right could unite. To the Catholic-royalists of Action Francaise, for example, the syndicalist doctrines of Georges Valois et al, were accepted as the means of re-establishing the traditional social order that had been ended by the 1789 Revolution. Abhorrence of the bourgeois Revolution is something that was shared by Syndicalists, Royalists and Catholics.


While Fascism as a national and social synthesis had its time and place, its reaction to the legacy of Liberalism and its Marxist offspring through a return to the organic community, via what was called ‘corporatism’ across the world, remains intrinsic to the Right. The organic state is not something confined to time and place; it is the perennial method of social organisation. Fascism was its manifestation during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, answering the crisis of social dislocation engendered by Liberalism and Marxism; literal social cancers.   The corporate state revives the social organism by returning to the traditional mode of social relations. Corporatism re-establishes the Right as inherently anti-capitalist while highlighting the connection that exists between Liberalism and Marxism.


[1] See: Michael P. Fitzsimmons, ‘The Debate on Guilds under Napoleon’, The Proceedings of the Western Society for French History, Vol. 36, 2008.

[2] Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto (1848), ‘Bourgeois and Proletarians’.

[3] Marx, ibid.

[4] Henri de Man, The Psychology of Marxian Socialism ([1928] New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Books, 1988), 12.

[5] Henri de Man, ibid., 14.

[6] Henri de Man, ibid., 19.

[7] Henri de Man, ibid., 23.

[8] Henri de Man, ibid., 25.

[9] Henri de Man, ibid., 103.

[10] Henri de Man, ibid., 35.

[11] Henri de Man, ibid., 36.

[12] De Man, ibid., 65-67.

[13] De Man, ibid., 75.

[14] De Man, ibid., 127.

[15] De Man, ibid.

[16] De Man, ibid., 131.

[17] De Man, ibid., 189.

[18] De Man, ibid., 303.

[19] De Man, ibid., 313.

[20] De Man, ibid., 321.

[21] De Man, ibid., 325-326.

[22] Alfredo Rocco, Idea Nationale, 23 May 1914, quoted by H. W. Schneider, Making the Fascist State (Oxford University Press, 1928), 150.

[23] Enrico Corradini, ‘Nationalism and the Syndicates’, speech at Nationalist Convention, Rome, 16 March 1919.

[24] Georges Valois, La Monarchie et la Classe ouvrière (Nouvelle Librairie Nationale, 1914), 4; quoted by Zeev Sternhell, Neither Left Nor Right: Fascist Ideology in France (Princeton University Press, 1986), 62.

[25] Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, 1891,


[26] Leo, ibid., para. 19.

[27] Leo, ibid., para. 33.

[28] Leo, ibid., para. 38.

[29] Leo, ibid., para. 49.

[30] Pius, Quadragesimo Anno, para. 49,

[31] Pius, ibid., para. 54.

[32] Pius, ibid., para. 57.

[33] Pius, ibid., para. 65.

[34] Pius, ibid., para. 69.