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Guilds (Germany) Most German states had already eliminated guilds (Zünfte) as compulsory organizations in the course of the introduction of freedom of trade before the 1848 revolution, Prussia in 1810-11, most central German states during the pre-March era, but Austria only in 1859. Although guilds in a legal sense were thereby no more than private associations, most states allotted new competencies to the former guilds (now designated merely as corporations "Innungen") that resembled the mandatory regulations of the old guild statutes. Among their principal tasks were the training and the scrutiny of apprentices' competency; their members continued to turn to the guilds for support during an illness and other difficult times. Prussia and other states limited the possibilities for the erection of a non-guild shop beyond the influence of the guilds, which gradually deprived the independent tradesman of his legal sanction. Certainly the importance of the guilds varied greatly in the sundry branches of trade and occupational groups in the mid-1840s. While a great majority of the masters in well situated industries like foodstuffs usually remained organized in guilds, the proletarianized mass crafts included a relatively large number of non-guild "bunglers". Frequent economic crises during the two years previous to the revolution further diminished the influence of guilds, since their support funds were depleted under the weight of progressive pauperization of great number of artisans; in addition many unemployed journeymen set themselves up as autonomous non-guild masters, the so-called "flight into independence."

During the revolutionary year the guilds more openly that hitherto were interest organs for masters, a development clearly reflected in their conflicts with journeymen. Guilds formed the framework in which the masters on the local level articulated their demands. Already in the revolutionary year, against a backdrop of social conflict with the journeymen and the anxiety for a second, social revolution, the guilds exhibited an increasingly conservative tendency. The guilds'petitions had a very noticeable tendency; their clear objective was an extensive retreat from freedom of occupation, a reintroduction of the guilds' traditional controls that they had formerly enjoyed, as well as a return to political law and order. In particular at the end of the revolution the Prussian state received these wishes favorably, amending the old guild order in February 9, 1849. The new regimen laid aside the unhindered right of an person of good character to exercise a trade independently and required a proof of ability in the trade given by the g uild or a the state's examining commission; the successful candidate simultaneously was made a member of the guild. Non-guild masters were given the choice of either joining the guild within a fixed period or giving up exercise of their trade. In addition the guilds' competency extended to regulation of apprentices and journeymen's training. The guilds in 1849 also took over the "care of the common spirit" and "strengthening pride of rank" (Standesehre), formulations the Prussian lawgiver consciously linked up to many masters' idealized old guild order. The amended Prussian trade regulation resulted in a rejuvenation and strengthening of the guilds; as a result of the increasingly difficult master examination for admission into the artisans' guild, the guild members were noticeably relieved. The state once more bound the guilds and their organized masters to it by a partial retreat from freedom of trade, thus making them an important carrier of political conservatism.

Rüdiger Hachtmann (translated by James Chastain)


Jürgen Bergmann Das Berliner Handwerk in der Frühphase der Industrialisierung (Berlin, 1973).

_______. Wirtschaftskrise und Revolution: Handwerker und Arbeiter 1848/49 (Stuttgart, 1986).

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