Have you ever voluntarily worked with another person or group of people for nothing but the shared benefit of whatever the completion of the task will bring to you or the group? Congratulations, you have participated in mutual aid.
Mutual aid is not a new concept, nor is it exclusive to Anarchists or even Humans for that matter. From the earliest human groups, before agricultural civilisation started, an early form of mutual aid occurred where gatherer-hunter bands worked together for survival. There was no coercion or financial incentive, they worked together for the survival of themselves and their group.
Groups practicing mutual aid vary in what they set out to achieve, but often have underlying similarities that tie them together.
– Completely voluntary, devoid of any coercion be it financial or otherwise.
– Non-hierarchical, horizontally organised, and member-led
– Egalitarian, and often work under the ideas of direct democracy
Anarchist specific understandings of mutual aid originated with the work of Russian anarchist philosopher Peter Kropotkin, who was also a zoologist and evolutionary biologist. Kropotkin showed that the species of animals that were able to work together, or form symbiotic relationships, had a better chance of evolving and surviving in the face of adverse conditions such as food scarcity or bad weather. This is in contrast to the social Darwinist ideas that were prevalent in evolutionary biology at the time, with their idea of “survival of the fittest”.
Humans are a great example of this ability to work together, especially in the face of the ruling class, who seek to remove this interdependence in order to create willing consumers. This is achieved by the States direct violence, or the threat of starvation, houselessness, and death brought about by the monopolisation of the means of production and private property.
As long as accomplishments require a profit motive, there are a myriad of things that capitalism will not achieve, from the prevention of ecocide, to the eradication of world poverty and preventable disease. Mutual aid is a necessary component of the survival of humanity, as well as a shift away from the capitalist system currently causing oppression, destruction, and death, wherever it casts its shadow.
Mutual aid is being practiced right now, from disaster relief efforts in the United States, to community food kitchens in the UK, to your friendly neighbourhood street rats providing you with knowledge and news on the Internet.
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