Guild (Ukrainian: цех, tsekh; German: Zunft or Zech). Closed corporate association of craftsmen working either in a single trade or in several closely related crafts. Guilds arose and began to spread in the towns of Western Europe during the 11th and 12th centuries. The typical form of a guild as a corporation uniting the craftsmen of a trade emerged in the Middle Ages. These corporations were particularly well organized in German territories; from there, by way of Poland, they spread to Ukraine, especially in towns governed by Magdeburg law. At first, these corporations were only professional and social organizations of craftsmen. They were especially important as charitable and mutual-benefit associations. At the same time, they defended the craftsmen's economic interests by obtaining and guarding certain exclusive rights, eliminating competition from other social groups, controlling working conditions and wages, and regulating prices and supplies. Certain trades were monopolized by the guilds, which became closed circles of members (known as brothers) maintaining strict internal discipline. Membership was made difficult to gain and was strictly controlled by the apprenticeship system. Over time, the guilds took on a political character, acting as the representative body for the craftsmen. Through the guilds, together with the patricians, merchants, and other urban strata, the craftsmen participated in the administration and governing of cities and towns. Similar associations arose among doctors, teachers, lawyers, pharmacists, notaries, and members of other professions. In the Russian Empire these professional organizations came to be called gildy, while trade corporations kept the name tsekh.

The precursors of the guilds in Ukraine are mentioned in the Kyivan Rus’ chronicles and were known as trade companies (druzhyny), ruled by elders (starshyny). Little is known about their organization or function. In Ukraine, the first Western-style guilds appeared in the 14th century (eg, the cobblers' guild in Peremyshl in the 1380s). Later, well-known guilds arose in Lviv (there were 10 in 1425, 20 in 1579, and 30 in the mid-17th century). Guilds also appeared in Lutsk (five in the mid-16th century), Kovel, Volodymyr-Volynskyi, Kholm, Krasnystaw, Ternopil, and other towns. The most renowned guilds in Ukraine at the time were those of the carpenters and the goldsmiths.

In time, the guilds emerged as the basic form of association for craftsmen in cities and towns throughout Ukraine. Guilds became particularly significant in the 16th–18th centuries, when they spread from Galicia to Right-Bank Ukraine and the Hetman state. By 1552 there were 17 guilds in Kyiv. The largest were the cobblers' (in 1762 it had 643 master craftsmen), the tailors' (327), the weavers' (109), the fishermen's (266), the musicians' (243), the coopers' (243), the bakers' (130), the butchers' (124), and the painters' (177).

Guild membership was limited to a trade's master craftsmen who owned necessary tools and a workshop. New members were elected to the guild subject to certain other conditions, such as the completion of an apprenticeship, the employment of a journeyman (pidmaister or cheliadnyk) and apprentice (uchen), the production of a masterpiece, and the payment of guild dues. These conditions were eased for the sons and sons-in-law of a master with a hereditary workshop. In addition to taking the oath of the guild, a member had to swear to respect the town's laws before the magistrates (see Magistrat). Only master craftsmen enjoyed full rights; journeymen and apprentices were in a subordinate position and the latter were particularly exploited. Therefore, in some towns, separate organizations of journeymen were formed for self-defense and to provide mutual aid. In some cases they had their own homes (hospody) where they lodged under the supervision of an elderly master.

As in Western Europe, the guilds defended the economic interests of the master craftsmen, controlled prices by excluding craftsmen who were not guild members from the market, and supervised the professional ethics and standards of their members (their expertise, the quality of their products, prices, etc). The guilds were headed by an elected guild master and executive. They had their own charter, which was approved by the magistrates or in some cases by the king. Some major guilds ratified the charters of other, less-important guilds. Guilds had their representatives on the town council and other institutions of local administration, and these bodies, as well as the central government, upheld the guild's laws and decisions. In many towns the guilds helped to finance and staff the town watch, police, and fire department. The support of town councils was particularly important in the struggle between the guilds and craftsmen outside the guilds; councils fined the non-affiliated craftsmen, the so-called partachi, for violating guild privileges and often even confiscated their wares and arrested them. Therefore, the latter could only work in the suburbs, in small towns and villages, or on gentry estates, where the guilds did not have the right to a monopoly. In comparison with guild members, these craftsmen had very limited rights, were poorly organized, and generally were discouraged from practicing their trade.

The craftsmen within the guilds followed their own code of behavior and discipline, enforced by guild courts. They had their own elaborate rituals, treasury (the guild ‘trunk’), flag, seal and emblem (the tsekha), and even ceremonial dress for special occasions (church feasts, funerals, banquets, official meetings, etc). Each guild also had its own coat of arms (herb), which depicted the respective trade. The members (bratchyky) of the guild celebrated religious feasts together and often undertook the upkeep of a church or a chapel, financing renovations and providing it with wax used in the services. Some guilds had private quarters; eg, in Kyiv, the cobblers' guild had a building and an eatery in the Podil district. Certain guilds had their own stores for retailing their members’ products. The musicians' guild in Kyiv was the founder of the city's orchestra and the Kyiv Music School in the 18th century. The guilds also played an important social role by providing charity and benevolent services for impoverished members and their widows and orphans.

In economic matters, conflicts arose between the guilds and the merchants or their corporations because the latter favored free enterprise and competition among craftsmen and the unrestricted access of non-guild craftsmen to the market. The gentry and nobility were also opposed to the autonomy of the guild corporations and to the ‘guild coercion’ that obliged craftsmen outside the guilds to renounce certain rights.

Because of their Western European origin, guilds in Ukraine were closely associated with the Roman Catholic faith, drawing members at first only from the Catholic population (Germans and Poles). Orthodox Ukrainians and Armenians were ineligible for membership unless they became Catholics or, later, Uniates, and even then they were denied full rights. It was exceptional for an Orthodox to be tolerated even as a journeyman or apprentice. In the Hetman state, however, guilds founded by Orthodox craftsmen existed. Jews were generally prohibited from joining guilds, although in time they monopolized certain trades, even as partachi.

In towns where Roman Catholic guilds existed, the Orthodox Ukrainians formed separate organizations, the so-called brotherhoods. These associations were not based on trades and instead united all Orthodox burghers. Since their concerns were cultural and religious, and above all related to the defense of their nationality, they did not fulfill the same economic functions as guilds. While guilds in Western Europe were also often connected with religious life, these ties were much stronger in Ukraine. The Jews sometimes founded their own guilds with the permission of either the town council or the central government. The increase in the number of partachi, the beginning of industrial manufacturing, the rise in imports of manufactured goods, the internal decline of the guilds through indiscipline and the relaxation of professional standards, and the opposition of merchants and nobles all weakened the power of the guilds and finally led to the dissolution of the system in Poland.

Although guilds existed throughout the 18th century, they no longer enjoyed an economic monopoly or their previous autonomy, especially as craftsmen outside the guilds became progressively more emancipated. In 1785 in Left-Bank Ukraine, and in 1840 in Right-Bank Ukraine, the Russian government formally curtailed the autonomy of the guilds and subordinated them to local authorities. The craftsmen's activity became regulated by the guild statutes of Peter I (1722) and Catherine II (1785). Under the terms of the latter, the guild craftsmen became one of six categories of town dwellers, although at the time they did not form a separate craftsmen's class. The 1799 ‘Guild Charter’ of Paul I and the 1802 guild reforms led to the creation of a separate craftsmen's estate (see Estates). The craftsmen who gained life membership in the guilds (vichnozapysani) had all the rights and privileges of town dwellers and paid taxes according to services rendered and the number of workmen employed.

In general, the frequent reforms and changes in official policy reflected ambivalence on the part of the government; at the same time, the state endeavored to retain control over all social strata and to encourage the individual initiative which, it was believed, would further the development of crafts and manufacturing. These contradictions ensured that the nature and functions of the guilds changed slowly under Russian rule. At the end of the 19th century, Russian legislation began to abolish the guilds, turning them into trade associations with charitable goals (eg, in 1886, the Kyiv cobblers' guild became a mutual-aid society). The guilds were finally abolished in Western Ukraine by the Austrian government in 1860 and in Russia in 1900.

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Vasyl Markus

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 2 (1988).]

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