Review: Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid

Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution

Peter Kropotkin

When I used to work at Bound Together, an anarchist bookshop in San Francisco, they teased me because I had never read this book by Kropotkin (aka the anarchist formerly known as prince). The concept just seemed so basic that it didn’t seem necessary to read the damn thing. Mike Menser made me read it for a class he was teaching on social philosophy. I still don’t think it’s really worth your time though.

Wanna know the gist? Ok, societies work just as well, no; actually they often work better through mutual cooperation than they do through competition. Evolution has actually favored cooperation in certain situations, and so therefore it is as efficient as competitive market based structures. Examples include bees and early trade guilds. Got it? Good, ’cause that’s about it.

Kropotkin — the anarchist formerly known as prince.

The criticisms are obvious. Trade guilds functioned as a means of keeping people out as much as they were structured cooperatively, and they lost out evolutionarily, so they aren’t as efficient as we thought eh? Oh and bees? I see your bees and raise you a lion. I’ll throw in a shark for good measure cause that shit has lasted waaay longer than bees.

I don’t think cooperation is a bad idea (obviously) but I think Kropotkin overplays his hand in thinking that he can defeat arguments for capitalism with a few historical examples…. But that’s just me

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