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Cartel is an ambiguous term that usually describes a merger or agreement between competitors, but - derived from it - also denotes organized crime . The main use of cartel is that of cartel in business . In politics it describes a temporary alliance of several parties, for example in an election campaign. The scientific analysis of cartels takes place in cartel theory .

Single uses

The term cartel is usually used in a special context, resulting in a number of content variations. How to find:

Word history

The word “cartel” has its roots in the Greek χάρτης (= papyrus roll, paper, (land) map) and came from Latin charta (cf. Magna Charta , the English medieval constitution), Italian cartello (diminutive of ital. carta = paper, map) and French cartel into German. In the Middle Ages it referred to an agreement on the rules of combat in knightly tournaments , then for duels . This is how the rules for aristocratic games and competitions were named until the 18th century. In modern times, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries, the term "cartel" was also used for intergovernmental contracts: The guiding principle of a regulation for disputes came to light in various contracts between warring states, for example in cartels over the postal service and Trade or the treatment of couriers, prisoners of war and deserters. It was not until around 1880 that the term “cartel” was also understood to mean the restriction of competition between entrepreneurs, which gradually became the predominant meaning of the word. Also in the late 19th century, political alliances were referred to as cartels, such as the amalgamation of student associations or the cartel parties in the German Empire, a conservative-national-liberal electoral alliance. At the beginning of the 20th century, Karl Kautsky saw the possibility of a cartel between states that would replace the imperialist competition of the great powers and establish a peaceful ultra-imperialism .

Constituent properties and exclusion criteria for cartels

Cartels are not always easy to spot. In order to be able to reliably differentiate them as alliances between rivals from other forms of organization, it can be helpful to observe positive and negative indicators.

Constituent criteria for cartels would be the following:

  • The partners are also direct competitors (e.g. companies, states, parties, duelists, tournament knights).
  • The members of a cartel are independent of one another , they negotiate their interests with one another and at the same time against one another. So there must be at least two participants, and they determine their interests autonomously.
  • The members of a cartel know each other; they have a direct relationship, especially they communicate with each other.

Exclusion criteria for cartels would be the following:

  • There is a “hierarchical” or some other strong “dependent relationship” among the participants: A drug mafia that is hierarchically organized and run by “a” boss cannot be a drug cartel . Likewise, a centralized group with its own tightly controlled subsidiaries can form an association, but it cannot form a “cartel”. Furthermore, an OPEC in which all members would be dependent on Saudi Arabia would no longer be a “cartel”. Similarly, colonial empires of a mother country and colonies do not form a “cartel of states”.
  • The association of competitors is entirely or through important of its association members dependent on an outside power . A strict, state-commanded, compulsory cartel without the freedom of decision between the partners would not be a (real) cartel. A similar example is the Deutsche Wagenbau-Vereinigung, which was organized in the 1920s by the Deutsche Reichsbahn - the "market opponent".
  • The merger takes place between actors at different levels . The concerted action of employers' associations and trade unions was and is not a cartel, because the allies there were not equal competitors.
  • The alleged members of a cartel do not even know each other, they just happen to show similar behavior ( parallel behavior ): cartels of the godless , cartels of the refusers or cartels of silence are therefore usually not cartels at all, but pure formulas of abuse.


  • Brockhaus' Konversations-Lexikon. Leipzig 1898, SW: "Kartell".
  • Harald Enke: Cartel theory. Term, location, etc. Development. Tübingen 1972.
  • Holm Arno Leonhardt: On the change in the meaning of the term cartel and its applicability to non-economic forms of cooperation. In: Homepage of the Institute for History at the University of Hildesheim (2009) (PDF file; 94 kB).
  • Clemens A. Wurm: Industrial interest politics and the state. International Cartels in British Foreign and Economic Policy in the Interwar Period. De Gruyter 1988 (publication of the Historical Commission in Berlin, Volume 71).
  • Guido Möllering : cartels, consortia, cooperations and the emergence of new markets. In: Zeitschrift für Betriebswirtschaftliche Forschung (2010) vol. 62, no. 7, pp. 770–796.

Web links

Wiktionary: Kartell  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Kartell on, accessed on December 18, 2011.