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Mutual Aid

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In this cornerstone of modern liberal social theory, Peter Kropotkin states that the most effective human and animal communities are essentially cooperative, rather than competitive. Kropotkin based this classic on his observations of natural phenomena and history, forming a work of stunning and well-reasoned scholarship. Essential to the understanding of human evolution as well as social organization, it offers a powerful counterpoint to the tenets of Social Darwinism. It also cites persuasive evidence of human nature's innate compatibility with anarchist society.
"Kropotkin's basic argument is correct," noted evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould. "Struggle does occur in many modes, and some lead to cooperation among members of a species as the best pathway to advantage for individuals." Anthropologist Ashley Montagu declared that "Mutual Aid will never be any more out of date than will the Declaration of Independence. New facts may increasingly become available, but we can already see that they will serve largely to support Kropotkin's conclusion that 'in the ethical progress of man, mutual support—not mutual struggle—has had the leading part.'" Physician and author Alex Comfort asserted that "Kropotkin profoundly influenced human biology by his theory of Mutual Aid. . . . He was one of the first systematic students of animal communities, and may be regarded as the founder of modern social ecology."

236 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1891

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About the author

Pyotr Kropotkin

190 books763 followers
Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin (Пётр Алексеевич Кропоткин, other spelling: Peter Kropotkin, Pëtr Alekseevič Kropotkin, Pëtr Kropotkin), who described him as "a man with a soul of that beautiful white Christ which seems coming out of Russia." He wrote many books, pamphlets and articles, the most prominent being The Conquest of Bread and Fields, Factories and Workshops, and his principal scientific offering, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. He was also a contributor to the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 232 reviews
Profile Image for Miquixote.
274 reviews38 followers
October 9, 2021
This book cannot be overestimated in importance. It was written in response to Social Darwinism (and the horrifying excuse Social Darwinism gave for mass extermination of races), based on Kropotkin's scientific experiences in Siberia concerning cooperation in nonhuman animals, as well as his studies of savages, barbarians, the medieval city, and ourselves. This book concludes that cooperation and mutual aid are the most important factors in the evolution of the species and the ability to survive. Very much at the forefront of cultural battles (namely the attempt to hold off fascism). However, it would be a mistake to write this very much scientific book off for its ideological underpinnings (and equally a mistake to write it off ideologically for its scientific biases).

In Natural History Magazine (1997), Stephen Jay Gould emphasizes that Kropotkin’s basic argument is correct, although in comparison to up-to-date evolutionary (and revolutionary!) understandings, it does have a few flaws, one technical and one general:

'If Kropotkin overemphasized mutual aid, most Darwinians in Western Europe had exaggerated competition just as strongly. If Kropotkin drew inappropriate hope for social reform from his concept of nature, other Darwinians had erred just as firmly (and for motives that most of us would now decry) in justifying imperial conquest, racism, and oppression of industrial workers as the harsh outcome of natural selection in the competitive mode.'

'In judging arguments about nature that also have overt social implications: When such claims imbue nature with just those properties that make us feel good or fuel our prejudices, be doubly suspicious. Be especially wary of arguments that find kindness, mutuality, synergism, harmony – the very elements that we strive mightily, and so often unsuccessfully, to put into our own lives – intrinsically in nature.'

('Kropotkin was no crackpot', Stephen Jay Gould)

Humanity must therefore not forget that civilization is our battleground and that we must make civilization ours to make Nature ours.
This book can give dispossessed folk too much of a scientific bias, too often turning away from the memory of historical/material struggles to the weak argument of a permanent, natural, biological state of freedom, of the glorification of the so-called golden age of primitive man.

A book that shows how science and society do not mutually exclude the other. Absolutely essential reading for understanding our battles of ideology and also for understanding the development of scientific understandings of evolution. Both of those themes continue in extreme importance well into the present.

An under-read, full-blown classic.

Profile Image for Bryn Hammond.
Author 12 books344 followers
September 21, 2014
I'd only heard of him as an anarchist until I began to read about emotion & the beginnings of ethics in animals -- in such authors as Frans de Waal -- where he was always mentioned as a forerunner. One of those books sent me to Darwin Without Malthus: The Struggle for Existence in Russian Evolutionary Thought... which was totally interesting, as a lesson in how scientific understandings differ in different environments. Kropotkin wasn't on his own, but part of a Russian trend. I wish evolutionary theory had continued on its Russian path, or perhaps, that I lived there.

At last I read the man himself. At this stage he's preaching to the converted, but he has great examples/anecdotes, about animal cooperation. From the sociability of animals he moves to human sociability, in 'savages', 'barbarians' and onto medieval & later. I was most interested in savage and barbarian society, where again, he's preaching to the choir, but that makes this book a feel-good read for me and in fact an escape from other lines of thought. I didn't read the later history. But community efforts in European medieval cities was a feature section. I've been struck elsewhere in the world by the independence of cities, community leadership in place of what we call government... this sheds light thereon.
Profile Image for P.J. Sullivan.
Author 2 books68 followers
October 23, 2015
Kropotkin argues that mutual aid, co-operation, solidarity with one’s neighbors, sociability, have played the leading parts in human evolution, not competition. The Darwinian struggle for survival has been with the environment, not with other people. Man is not the warlike being he is claimed to be. “At no period of man’s life were wars the normal state of existence.” He challenges Thomas Hobbes on his view of human nature. Primitive man always preferred peace to war, though migration was sometimes necessary and often led to war. Mutual aid was absolutely essential to the survival of our human ancestors. He gives examples of co-operation among primitive peoples.

Medieval people had their craft guilds and communal building projects. In modern times there are labor unions, political societies, clubs, insurance alliances, communal ownership of grazing lands, etc.

He gives examples from the animal kingdom, from beetles to baboons. Mutual aid is the rule within species. Hyenas hunt in packs and beavers work in common. Animals may attack other species, but within species life in societies is the rule. Co-operation is absolutely necessary for survival among small or feeble animals. He challenges some of Darwin’s statements about competition within species.

An important perspective with wide implications.

Profile Image for Yann.
1,407 reviews330 followers
June 12, 2014
Très instructif. L'anarchiste russe Pierre Kropotkine a écrit ce livre en 1902. Il s'agit de s'élever contre certaines des interprétations fallacieuses de la théorie de l'évolution de Darwin qui ont pu fleurir à la fin du XIXème. Ces dernières, se concentrant sur "struggle for life", la lutte pour la vie, en viennent à louer l'injustice dans la société, la compétition, et la fin de la solidarité: le fameux Darwinisme social.

Non seulement c'est amoral et injuste, mais c'est déjà faux dans la Nature. Kropotkine montre avec beaucoup d'exemples que loin d'être négligeables, c'est bien plutôt la coopération et l'entraide qui assurent, par sélection naturelle, la survie et la prospérité des espèces, au lieu de la lutte aveugle de tous contre tous. Évidemment, pour l'auteur, il en va de même dans la société des hommes, qui est aussi dans la Nature.
Profile Image for Steven Peterson.
Author 21 books269 followers
December 18, 2009
Peter Kropotkin is one of the most noteworthy anarchist thinkers over the last two centuries. As with other political thinkers, so, too, with Kropotkin--his analysis of human nature is critical for understanding his overall philosophical position. For his view of human nature, "Mutual Aid" is a key for understanding his views. His work is a harbinger of more recent studies of sociobiology, many of which explore the roots of altruism--human and otherwise.

Much of his thinking on the nature of society was formed when he was observing the behavior of animals in Siberia. While assigned to a Siberian regiment of the Russian military, Kropotkin did innovative original work on geography and geology as well as the study of animal behavior. His observation of animals led him to respond to Huxley's assertion that natural selection was based on keen competition among animals with the following statement: ". . .wherever I saw animal life in abundance, as, for instance, on the lakes where scores of species and millions of individuals came together to rear their progeny; in the colonies of rodents; in the migration of birds which took place at that time on a truly American scale along the Usuri; and especially in a migration of fallow-deer which I witnessed on the Amur, and during which scores of thousands of these animals came together from an immense territory, flying before the coming snow, in order to cross the Amur where it is narrowest--in all these scenes of animal life which passed before my eyes, I saw Mutual Aid and Mutual Support carried on to an extent which made me suspect in it a feature of the greatest importance for the maintenance of life, the preservation of each species, and its further evolution."

He synthesized his observations of animals within a species cooperating with one another and concluded that, in the struggle for life, cooperation was at least as important as competition. Kropotkin did not argue that competition was unimportant in the natural selection process. However, he did emphasize that mutual aid was a factor that many Darwinists (although, as Kropotkin made clear, not Darwin himself) ignored. The data that Kropotkin utilized came from many different animal species.

Kropotkin goes on to speculate about the survival value of cooperative behavior. He states that: "Life in societies enables the feeblest insects, the feeblest birds, and the feeblest mammals to resist, or to protect themselves from, the most terrible birds and beasts of prey; it permits longevity; in enables the species to rear its progeny with the least waste of energy and to maintain its progeny with the least waste of energy and to maintain its numbers albeit a very slow birth rate; it enables the gregarious animals to migrate in search of new abodes. Furthermore, cooperation facilitates the development of intelligence, since that quality is so important for social life among animals."

Kropotkin is not content to rest his case at this point. He subsequently indicates the likely course of human evolution and the role played by cooperation. He adopts the method of using existing societies at differing levels of socio-cultural complexity to speculate about the course of human socio-cultural evolution. Kropotkin argues that, at each stage, mutual aid is apparent and important for humans. Even in the period dominated by the great states, the present for Kropotkin, mutual aid institutions still flourished despite the state's intimidating presence.

Thus, Kropotkin's view of human nature is, ultimately, that it is inherently good, i.e. cooperative toward his or her fellow. What of this assertion? Is Kropotkin's view of human nature completely inaccurate and confounded by the available evidence? That is where each reader must evaluate his or her view of humanity's nature and render a judgment on "the anarchist prince."

Profile Image for Tyler.
175 reviews1 follower
November 24, 2020
"Compassion is a necessary outcome of social life. But compassion also means a considerable advance in general intelligence and sensibility. It is the first step towards the development of higher moral sentiments. It is, in its turn, a powerful factor of further evolution." (49)

"There is the gist of human psychology. Unless men are maddened in the battlefield, they 'cannot stand it' to hear appeals for help, and not to respond to them. The hero goes; and what the hero does, all feel that they ought to have done as well. The sophisms of the brain cannot resist the mutual-aid feeling, because this feeling has been nurtured by thousands of years of human social life and hundreds of thousands of years of pre-human life in societies." (228)

Pyotr Kropotkin's analysis is fascinating, even when his presentation occasionally appears irksome and of only academic interest. Kropotkin's main thesis here is that Thomas Hobbes was wrong, humanity did not arise from the self interested, "bloody war of each against all" to quote Thomas Sowell's A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles. Kropotkin demolishes this notion of homo economicus, by making documenting the striking and overt examples of compassion and comradeship across time and history in the human and non-human world, view within a consistent Darwinian framework.

Overthrowing Hobbes' speculative history of man isn't the only objective of Kropotkin's work, and he saves much of his ire for his contemporaries, the fin de siecle vulgarisers of Darwin, such as Thomas Huxley, Herbert Spencer and Alphonse Toussenel. Whilst the aforementioned 'naturalists' were praised by their academic contemporaries for supporting the ideology of industrial capitalism, Kropotkin saw through his ethnographic and historical work (much of inspired by Dr Karl Kessler), that they were wrong.

Higher and lower animals, tribesfolk, and modern man demonstrate that man needs compassion to survive and evolve, as the self-interested and asocial would be excluded from the group. "The cunningest and the shrewdest are eliminated in favour of those who understand the
advantages of sociable life and mutual support." For example, bees will allow a small number of the hive to make a preliminary investigation, risking their own lives in this search, before the hive migrates, thus saving the bee population (14). Similarly, amongst the barbarians, it was only the village populace, rather than isolated families, who could survive owing to their control over the wilderness, and the broad range of human capital.

However, in the modern era, the state has largely alienated these bonds, and taken away the social nature of men by placing the state in control of the human functions. Likewise, the nature of capitalism places man into an uncooperative being, who, once achieving wealth, realises "the conscience of human solidarity [...] then they try to find an outcome for that deeply human
need by giving their fortune, or their forces, to something which, in their opinion, will promote general welfare." (240-241).

This, roughly describes the plight of modern man, he is alienated from natural social bonds by the oppressive state, but he still has the innate compassionate tendency, leading to a mismatch between society and humanity, a feeling of alienation. An oddly conservative element appears out of this argument, with Kropotkin arguing that traditions and customs were kept alive by man, in spite of the ruthless anti-humanistic tendencies of the state. This is a thread Kropotkin should have developed more in this work, but I can understand why he wanted to keep the book focused on the Darwinian, and anthropological-scientific matters, above the political economy of his time.

Another thing to note is Kropotkin's lack of reliance on Rousseau. Keeping with the scientific theme of the work, Kropotkin argues that Hobbes' world, like Rousseau's is purely speculative, and that scientific research demonstrates that we needn't rely on either. Related to this, I've noticed that a lot of people raise Stephen Jay Gould's article on
as an example of Mutual Aid's contemporary relevance. With the summary on the blurb of MA reading "In fact, I would hold that Kropotkin’s basic argument is correct. [...] If Kropotkin overemphasized mutual aid, most Darwinians in Western Europe had exaggerated competition just as strongly....".

This is totally agreeable, but it can leave the reader the impression that Kropotkin ignores the violence inherent in human history, which he does not. In fact, Kropotkin has no qualms pointing to the obvious fact that violence occurred (often as a last resort), superstition held some groups back, consanguinous relations were part of normal savage life, and the myth of the noble savage is dispensed with. "In the last century the 'savage' and his 'life in the state of nature' were idealized. But now men of science have gone to the opposite extreme [...] It is evident, however, that this exaggeration is even more unscientific than Rousseau's idealization. The savage is not an ideal of virtue, nor is he an ideal of 'savagery'...
Profile Image for Stephie Jane Rexroth.
127 reviews26 followers
November 29, 2014
As clear, relevant and powerful as the day it was written; if not more desperately needed in our present day.

Mutual aid is our evolutionary heritage and ONLY path for the future. We are not meant to struggle to survive all alone but to thrive together.

Paradigm shifted.

"Man is no exception in nature. He is also subject to the great principle of Mutual Aid which grants the best chances of survival to those who best support each other in the struggle for life."

"The craft organization required, of course, a close supervision of the craftsman by the guild, and special jurates were always nominated for that purpose. But is is most remarkable that, so long as the [mediæval] cities lived their free life, no complaints were heard about the supervision; while, after the State had stepped in, confiscating property of the guilds and destroying their independence in favor of its own bureaucracy, the complaints became simply countless. On the other hand, the immensity of progress realized in all arts under the mediæval guild system is the best proof that the system was no hinderance to individual initiative. The fact is, that the mediæval guild, like the mediæval parish, 'street,' or 'quarter,' was not a body of citizens placed under the control of State functionaries; it was a union of all men connected with a given trade; jurate buyers of raw produce, sellers of manufactured goods, and artisans—masters, 'compaynes,' and apprentices. For the inner organization of the trade its assembly was sovereign, so long as it did not hamper the other guilds, in which case the matter was brought before the guild of guilds—the city. But there was in it something more than that. It had its own self-jurisdiction, its own military force, its own general assemblies, its own traditions of struggles, glory, and independence, its own relations with other guilds of the same trade in other cities; it had, in a word, a full organic life which could only result from the integrality of the vital functions."

"The Mutual-Aid tendency in man has so remote an origin, and is so deeply interwoven with all the past evolution of the human race, that it has been maintained by mankind up to the present time, notwithstanding all vicissitudes of history. It was chiefly evolved during periods of peace and prosperity; but when even the greatest calamities befell men—when whole countries were laid waste by wars, and whole populations were decimated by misery, or groaned under the yoke of tyranny—the same tendency continued to live in the villages and among the poorer classes in towns; it still kept them together, and in the long run reacted even upon those ruling, fighting, and devastating minorities which dismissed it as sentimental nonsense. And whenever mankind had to work out a new social organization, adapted to a new phase of development, its constructive genius always drew the elements and the inspiration for the new departure from that same ever-living tendency. New economical and social institutions, in so far as they were a creation of the masses, new ethical systems, and new religions, all have originated from the same source, and the ethical progress of our race, viewed in its broad lines, appears as a gradual extension of the mutual-aid principles from the tribe to always larger and larger agglomerations, so as to finally embrace one day the whole of mankind without respect to its divers creeds, languages and races."

"In short, neither the crushing powers of the centralized State nor the teachings of mutual hatred and pitiless struggle [Social Darwinism] which came, adorned with the attributes of science, from obliging philosophers and sociologists, could weed out the feelings of human solidarity, deeply lodged in men's understanding an heart, because it has been nurtured by all our preceding evolution. What was the outcome of evolution since its earliest stages cannot be overpowered by one of the aspects of that same evolution. And the need of mutual aid and support which had lately taken refuge in the narrow circle of the family, or the slum neighborhoods, in the village, or the secret union of workers, reasserts itself again, even in our modern society, and claims its rights to be, as it has always been, the chief leader towards further progress."

"It is evident that no review of evolution can be complete, unless these two dominant currents are analyzed. However, the self-assertion of the individual or of groups of individuals, their struggles for superiority, and the conflicts which resulted therefrom, have already been analyzed, described, and glorified from time immemorial. In fact, up to the present time, this current alone has received attention from the epical poet, the annalist, the historian, and the sociologist. History, such as it has hitherto been written, is almost entirely a description of the ways and means by which theocracy, military power, autocracy, and, later on, the richer classes' rule have been promoted, established and maintained. The struggles between these forces make, in fact, the substance of history. We may thus take the knowledge of the individual factor in human history as granted—even though there is full room for a new study on the subject on the lines just alluded to; while, on the other side, mutual-aid factor has been hitherto totally lost sight of; it was simply denied or even scoffed at, by the writers of the present and past generations."

"The higher conception of 'no revenge for wrongs,' and of freely giving more than one expects to receive from his neighbours, is proclaimed as being the real principle of morality—a principle superior to mere equivalence, equity, or justice, and more conducive to happiness. And man is appealed to to be guided in his acts, not merely by love, which is always personal, or at the best tribal, but by the perception of his oneness with each human being. In the practice of mutual aid, which we can retrace to the earliest beginnings of evolution, we thus find the positive and undoubted origin of our ethical conceptions; and we can affirm that in the ethical progress of man, mutual support—not mutual struggle—has had the leading part. In its wide extension, even at the present time, we also see the best guarantee of a still loftier evolution of our race."
Profile Image for Justin.
4 reviews2 followers
September 4, 2015
This book is made up of separate essays written over several years illustrating the natural tendency to organize around institutions of mutual aid. The essays each focus on mutual aid amongst one of the following: 1)animals 2)"savages"-primitive societies 3)"barbarians"-agrarian societies across Europe and Asia up to feudalism 4)inhabitants of the mediaeval cities of Europe and 5)"ourselves" contemporary societies at the time of writing (at the turn of the 20th century).

I really enjoyed and got a lot out of this book by skimming most of the chapters (essays) as they tend to be example after example of how people/animals work together, kind of redundant. But the chapters about barbarians and the mediaeval city, totally filled in a gap in my understanding of the history after the fall of the Roman empire and before the modern era, and the origins of some of the hierarchical structures that plague us to this day.

Both jubilant and inciting, this book is a call for reclaiming our lost histories and restoring the rights to live collectively, it is totally relevant 100+ years later, and additionally is a very useful tool for understanding the context of other books/film/areas of study.
Profile Image for Snake Plissken.
35 reviews7 followers
October 7, 2014
A eyeopener in today's world drunk with infallibility of individualism-in its narrow terminological sense. Kropotkin empirically debunks Darwinism, particularly social Darwinism by hundreds of examples of studies done on human societies & a range of species from the minutest of organisms to the biggest on earth.
The book predominantly focuses on man's struggle for existence from the stone age to the dark ages, progressing on to the medieval period and finally ending with the modern times(late 19th century w.r.t the period in which the book was written).
Concluding at each stage that mutual aid and support, and not mutual struggle, sustains life.
Profile Image for Javier.
232 reviews40 followers
July 20, 2007
I was expecting more from this book.... I mean, I certainly appreciated Kropotkin's claims that seemed to reject a lot of what we hear about evolution (and its applications to human societies)--ie, that, within the realm of adaptability, etc., mutual aid is as important (if not moreso) than struggle--but I feel like he certainly romanticized quite a few historical social structures that, I think, most anarchists would take issue with (ie, patriarchy, monarchy, etc.). His argument makes clear that humans, along with animals, engage in mutual aid, but (Prince) Kropotkin also continually emphasizes how such mutual aid is usually limited to particularistic conceptions of identity (ie, blue-collar workers will aid other blue-collar workers, serfs will help out other serfs, crabs will try to save their fellow crabs from unnecessary death), and as such seems rather limited (whether true or not). In this sense, I don't see Kropotkin's analysis as providing a basis for a 'natural' argument for anarchist society--though his conclusion certainly is more affirming than many sociological analyses I've come across.
Profile Image for Ollie.
444 reviews18 followers
October 24, 2012
It's hard for me to give such a low rating to an Anarchist classic, but honestly, this book was very boring. The main idea behind the book is that cooperation increases the fitness rate of a species. Kropotkin uses some examples of ancient through modern civilizations and adds some examples for animals as well.

But honestly, the examples he gives are plentiful and boring, and his science is sketchy at best. Kropotkin might have thought that referencing everything was overkill but he was wrong. You can't write a "scientific" book like this one without giving a referennce to the science you are quoting.

Seriously dissapointing.
Profile Image for Nuno R..
Author 7 books56 followers
February 20, 2018
If books change lives and make us who we are, then I owe this one a lot. The bottom line: "social darwinism is wrong and cooperating is what make us human".

Published original in 1891, it is still (maybe even more) polemic. Political optimism is now regarded as obscene. And it's always easier to believe that we do naturally prey on each other and come up with a general rule to explain it.

The problem is that there are many ideologies and ideas that promote behaviors where humans are supposed to fight each other.

This was also a great read, and after this I went on to The Conquest of Bread. Thank you Kropotkin for telling us how to get there.
Profile Image for Otto Lehto.
436 reviews156 followers
February 19, 2017
Kropotkin's optimistic and visionary work represents the best kind of left-wing anarchism. It rejects centralized State power and offers, in its stead, a vision of life that is based on the power of mutual aid and mutual support between people, as between animals, as a tool of progress and a factor of evolution.

The book provides a strong challenge to the "nature red in tooth and claw" mentality of some of the followers of Darwin and Malthus in the social sciences: “The mutual-aid tendency in man has so remote an origin, and is so deeply interwoven with all the past evolution of the human race, that it has been maintained by mankind up to the present time, notwithstanding all the vicissitudes of history.”

The book is beautifully written, and it offers a synoptic paradigm shift on how to think about nature, humanity and evolution. It offers a great contribution to evolutionary theory that is still relevant today, in the guise of group selection theory, and many ways still offering a valuable platform for future research. His chapters on human history even made me re-evaluate my opinion of the High Middle Ages, which have certainly been given a ridiculously bad rap based on self-justifying Enlightenment historiography.

But the book begins before humanity, as it ought to. Like other Darwinians, the author claims that humanity is an outgrowth of nature, and our ethics must be properly understood as products of long evolution, going back to our pre-human ancestors. The first part provides a convincing, although scientifically flawed, case for mutual aid as a universal feature of animal societies, from mammals to birds to humans. His examples are vivid (if occasionally fanciful), and the reader is left convinced of the universal benefit of in-group cooperation for almost all animal species.

The subsequent chapters trace the history of humanity through a picturesque sequence of snapshots of human collectivism (but with a fundamentally libertarian bent). He starts with the early human tribal communities and shows, accurately, that they were rarely - almost never - "isolated families" struggling for existence in a Hobbesian war of each against all. Instead, they relied on social practices, customs, laws and beliefs that fostered a spirit of cooperation and mutualism. From there, he proceeds to the agrarian village communities and shows their cooperative nature as well. He considers the "commons" of pasture lands, woods and public works, which only recently have, again, been taken seriously as the foundations of good communities.

In what I consider the highlight of the book, he then spends a couple of chapters exploring the medieval towns, the free cities organized around guilds, as explores their Utopian potential (which he undoubtedly exaggerates but in a disarming way) as havens of free cooperation and mutual aid. He shows how fraternities and companies, freely signed into, were examples of stateless power organizing itself to empower people and provide mutual protection. He waxes poetical about their lost liberties, as so many betrayed utopias, in the hands of the feudal lords and political usurpers., He blames the combined powers of absolutist state power and divine religious authority. But these authorities were not merely power-hungry usurpers; they obeyed ideas. He fundamentally blames the power of centralizing ideas as the destroyers of the libertarian promise of the medieval city.

Finally, he proceeds to the contemporary stage (of a hundred years ago). There, he provides evidence of mutual aid societies existing, today, under the guise of labour unions, political societies, mutual aid associations, hobby associations, recreational clubs, agrarian communes, etc., etc.. And while his conclusions - about the causes of industrial progress and the powers of unionization - seem outdated and unwarranted today, the general case is strong for the affiliation between societal progress (of the arts, sciences and crafts) and the opportunities for voluntary social cooperation.

Kropotkin's work contains a lot of references to 19th century biology, sociology and anthropology. Some of it still holds up to scrutiny. He did his homework. It doesn't come as a great shock, however, that a lot of it is either outdated or selective (i.e. ignoring important evidence that was already available to him). Nothing can be done about the fact that book was written a hundred years ago; but one would have wished for the book to be slightly less evangelical about its emphasis on mutual aid as the singular guiding hand in evolution. And yet this naively blind presentation, while a minor blemish, is acceptable, for Kropotkin freely acknowledges that he is interested in providing a counterbalance to the prevailing narrative of individual struggle, competition and scarcity.

Kropotkin fully accepts the truth of the Darwinian story of biological evolution. In many ways, his work is not that far from Herbert Spencer's much-maligned work on evolutionary ethics. The emphasis is only different: contrary to T.H. Huxley and others in the free market school (with whom, as with Spencer, he shares much more than he is willing to admit), he claims that cooperative animals, on the broadly communist model, have an evolutionary advantage in the struggle for life. Hence, he argues that society should also be organized as a cooperative enterprise where people can voluntarily come together to run their own lives for mutual betterment. This conclusion is almost identical to that of Herbert Spencer, since both emphasize freedom and cooperation as the keys to human progress and happiness. In some ways, anarcho-communism and anarcho-capitalism are two sides of the same coin; two reflections on the same idealist pond.

The book can be a life-changer, and it is written in a way that one can learn a lot from it, even if one disagrees with some (or all) aspects of his conclusions. He argues that communism, of the anarchist variety, holds the best promise for further industrial development and social organization. One can reject this conclusion, as well as his sunny reading of premodern history, and yet come away feeling that he got the main elements of humanity's progress just about right.

I'm fundamentally opposed to Kropotkin's economic theories, but this is a fantastic book. The precise nature of the "mutual aid" (voluntary cooperation), ultimately to be extended to the global scale of humanity, remains undetermined. Perhaps the future of "mutual aid" obeys more the principles of capitalist free trade utopia rather than a syndicalist communist utopia. But Kropotkin's vision remains, next to Spencer's equally impressive "sociobiological" work, as an impressive blueprint for a society of the future - a society where the crushing power of the State has been superseded, and where an interconnected network of peaceful coexistence reigns.
Profile Image for Sean Sullivan.
129 reviews74 followers
July 19, 2007
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.
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.
Profile Image for J.M. Hushour.
Author 6 books196 followers
September 29, 2017
Taking pretty much everything that current cultural and social thought vultures around down a couple of notches, Kropotkin makes a logical, sad-because-it-was-even-necessary argument for what biologists now call mutualism. The basic idea is simple and anyone who has ever had kids or felt even a glimmer or twinge of compassion for the homeless person coveting your pocket change as you satre greasily at them through the seditious steam of your fucking latte has felt it: we progress further by helping one another out than by crass, atomistic, hyper-individualized and entitled greed.
The argument and science probably won't sit well with the socially insecure on the left or the right since, well, it basically says care about other people and we'll hitch up our pants and soldier on into a glorious future. There's too much at stake, selfishness-wise for the argument to be anything more than a hoary maxim, consigned to the love-thy-neighbor, turn-the-other-cheek bin. Sad, really. I bet Jesus would've enjoyed six or seven shots of vodka with Kropotkin and then laughed at the line at Starbucks.
Profile Image for Klari Moreno Cela.
14 reviews14 followers
October 29, 2020
Le doy cinco estrellas por su importancia en mi vida y puro capricho. Leí este libro hace años y me impactó muchísimo, y lo retomé durante el confinamiento porque lo necesitaba como bibliografía para un proyecto artístico. Recalcaré su importancia política y me interesa cómo se puede conectar hoy con discursos tan potentes como los de Donna Haraway, con el que veo una clara relación. No obstante, creo que es un libro que no ha envejecido demasiado bien. Si alguien quiere enfrascarse en la lectura kropotkiniana recomiendo leer "memorias de un revolucionario", no sólo por su importancia política sino sobretodo por la literaria. Después de muchos años no nos hemos cansado aún de recomendarlo en Modesta Librería, a personas de perfiles muy distintos pero con gustos que se decantan por el viaje y lo autobiográfico.
Profile Image for Kasey.
114 reviews5 followers
May 18, 2020
I didn’t know Mutual Aid was more a rebuttal to Darwin’s work than an anarchist text. Reading this put an amazing perspective on not only political systems and ways to organize a collective group but on how political organizing is much in the same as how animals work together to survive in different ecosystems and conditions. The collective is truly more important than the individual that makes up the collective. Kropotkin does an amazing job of tying the migration of birds to the role of unionists and common working folk in early capitalist society. I don’t really understand why Kropotkin gets so much shit from some Marxist-Leninists when they could really use his message to better organize on an more egalitarian not without all the jargon (that I love) that comes with some MLs. Maybe they do and I just haven’t found those people yet. Either way, this is a classic for a reason.
Profile Image for Cris Edwards.
125 reviews5 followers
February 1, 2021
An interesting study of the evolutionary advantages of mutual aid, expanding on the concept from both zoological and anthropological viewpoints. The author viewed Darwin's writing on the subject to be much too brief and problematic, and here provides a wealth of examples where altruism and community support have shown to be a norm of survival instincts among societies. While history books are full of wars and sociopolitical upheavals, this book demonstrates that most of history has been a status quo wherein tribes/clans/guilds/cities/etc. have naturally enacted practices of mutual support, especially among the working classes, to sustain effective thriving for societies and individuals. In a nutshell, it is cooperation instead of competition which advances the survival of organisms and communities.
25 reviews4 followers
September 9, 2021
Each chapter could have been 1-2 paragraphs long and made the same point. All the examples felt very repetitive and like it was just making the same point over and over and over and over and over again.
1,211 reviews18 followers
July 10, 2014
This is the edition I have. It's a reprint of the 1914 edition, and includes the preface to the 1914 edition. The book was not written as a unit--it was pieced together from essays published, in large part, in the journal The Nineteenth Century. There's a real need for a table of contents and index for this journal, which included a lot of work by prominent writers--literary criticism (some sensible, some quite absurd), philosophy, scientific work--a variety of subjects by prominent authors and also by anonymous authors.

Kropotkin pulled the Nineteenth Century articles together into a monograph for publication in 1902. I don't know whether he added bibliographic information, appendices, etc for the monograph. It's also not clear how much the book was altered for the 1914 edition.

Normally, when I'm reading a book which has appendices, I read them when I'm referred to them in the text (you know, the footnote that says 'see Appendix G'. I didn't do that in this case, and I regret it. The last appendix is an essay by T H Huxley, and by the time I read it, I'd forgotten how Kropotkin rebutted Huxley's arguments. I could have gone back and found the citation, and reread that part again: but it seemed too laborious. I may do this sometime--but if I had read the appendices at once, I wouldn't have needed to do the labor. So I'd recommend flipping back to the appendices, even if it DOES interfere with continuity. It'll save work later.

In his article from Natural History magazine from July, 1997, Stephen Jay Gould explains why "Kropotkin Was No Crackpot". What I wish he had done was gone on to publish a critical edition of the book, with updated versions of the scientific research Kropotkin himself cited, in light of 20th century additions to things like ethology.

To take one obvious example, Kropotkin states that gorillas are not social animals. At the time, no research on gorillas in the wild had been done. If it had, Kropotkin would have known that, except for unmated (mostly young) males, ALL gorillas live in social groups, composed of a male, several females, and their offspring. By the same token, if there had been observational research on orangutans, it would have been made clear that while adult male orangs are not social, mothers retain bonds with their offspring which are quite longlasting, amounting to as much as a quarter of the juveniles' average lifespans. A mother orangutan may have as many as three children of different ages with her nearly all the time, meaning that sibling bonds are important in childhood for survival and socialization.

There's need for updates about many such statements. At some points it's clear that some of Kropotkin's exaggerations are due to his enthusiasm for his subject--thus, for example, though many species of bees are social, some are solitary. And while it's true that the social bees are probably generally more successful, there was a limited understanding of the genetics of social insects until well after the widespread publication of Mendel's work. So a new appendix which demonstrates things like the haplodiploid genetics of social insects, and the fact that all inhabitants of colonies and hives are ONE family, with the queen not being at ALL genetically different from workers, soldiers, etc, and with the drone having haploid genetics, different from all his sisters and his mother, would be useful in regard to the question of why sociability developed in insects. As Gould would probably have said (judging from what he said about other subjects), it is trivially true that sociability benefits social insects. What needs explaining is why it developed in the FIRST place.

A lot of problems people have with Mutual Aid have more to do with linguistic and cultural elements which were current at the time. People who have read more nineteenth-century literature will probably have less problem with this than the average reader, but there would still be some problems. Some animal names Kropotkin uses, for example, are sheer mysteries to me. I can't analyze what he says about the creatures' lives if I can't identify the creatures. There's a clear need for a glossary--perhaps with pictures?

There are other problems with vocabulary and phrasing which involve Kropotkin using technical terminology which is no longer in use. Thus, for example, Kropotkin uses a form of triage created by progressivist anthropologists: the division of human societies into three stages: 'savage'/'barbarian'/'civilized'. This formulation has not been used for several decades, and it's often misunderstood. There are serious problems with the underlying concept, as there is with the concept of 'progress' as an evolutionary trend. There is no real reason to believe that societies will inevitably develop in certain directions, always by the same processes. The 'Hottentots' Kropotkin references (now called Khoisan) were never a single cultural entity. They share a common linguistic family: but so, after all, do all of Europe, and quite a bit of Asia and North Africa. Cultural matters like family structure, technology, etc vary widely within geographical regions shared by speakers of languages from the same family of languages. This was even more so at the time than it is now, when peoples around the world have been (often forcibly) incorporated into one society.

In fact, one of the issues that Kropotkin doesn't adequately deal with is that the differences between people acculturated into different societies are often greater than the similarities between them. Not all 'barbarians' EVER lived the same way. Differences such as how kinship is reckoned (say, patrilineal, matrilineal, or bilineal) can make substantial differences in who we feel we can turn to for aid, for example.

Indeed, I feel that Kropotkin has a basic misunderstanding of what a 'family' is. He rejects the concept of 'the patriarchal family' (one man, his wife/wives, and their children) which was current at the time, and is still used as an ideal by too many people. But he doesn't seem to recognize that this has almost certainly NOT been the definition of kinship for most of human tenure on the Earth, and in most societies. The concept of an 'extended family' is a backformation developed as a technical term to define people who did not live in such 'patriarchal families': but the felt need for such a term is recent: analagous to the need to develop the term 'silent movies' after 'talkies' prevailed. People didn't have the TERM 'extended family', because they felt that the concept was adequately conveyed by the term 'family' (or its equivalent in other languages). The need for a term to distinguish the 'nuclear' family from the 'extended' family came into existence only when people began to establish much smaller households (not smaller in building size, necessarily--just smaller in membership). When Aunt Tillie no longer lived in the same household, and when neolocal marriage customs were adopted, the DEFINITION of 'family' changed, and there was need for a new term to define the older conception.

At the time the articles on which this book was based were written, Kropotkin was living in Britain, which explains not only his idiomatic English, but also odd phrases like 'in this country, we...'. It's evident that he sometimes found English usages a little inconvenient. Thus, for example, he argues that a 'village' is not a dependent structure, grown up around the 'villa' of an aristocrat. This is strictly true: villages around the world are independent entities, and formed where they were needed. But the TERM 'village' is based on the assumption that villages WERE fiefdoms of servants, serfs, and other clients of aristocrats. This is true in several other Indo-European languages, as well. What's needed is a better term, and there is one in English: thorpe. 'Thorpe' refers to essentially the same sort of polity as 'village'--without the feudal implications.

The discussion of the development of 'free cities' in which the crafters and merchants dwelt, and which were independent of feudal/religious landlords in this book is more thorough than in many other sources, but less complete than in others. Kropotkin rebukes the citizens for not freeing the serfs who had only recently been enslaved when the cities started to form. This is true, but not complete, because cities served as refuges for escaped serfs. They were, unfortunately, forced to opt out of agriculture/pastoralism in order to obtain their freedom: but they could often find places in crafts and guilds.

There's a tendency to underrate educational institutions and medical institutions as elements in mutual aid. Both started, at least in Europe, as outgrowths of religious institutions. But the crafts and guilds really needed to establish such institutions on their own. Teaching apprentices 'craft secrets' can only go so far. Not only is there a risk that people who knew the secrets (how do you obtain that particular shade of blue? for example) would die without passing them on; there was also a need for collaboration in public works and in healing. Medical knowledge and sanitation are necessary for any large community to survive--and development of such things is too often neglected without an understanding of the nature and process of disease.

In arguing that one-on-one competition is not the primary factor in evolution, Kropotkin was more in accord with Darwin than with the 'social Darwinists' (many of whom had evidently not read Darwin). Darwin acknowledged that competition was actually quite rare in the lives of most creatures. He only argued that if competition took place at critical points in life (reproduction, childhood, sickness, drought, etc), it would have disproportionate effects. Darwin himself generally regarded males' competition for mates as the most critical form of competition, though he didn't deny the importance of other forms.

One thing Kropotkin realized was that 'survival of the fittest' (not a Darwinian term, by the way, though Darwin adopted it from Wallace) is NOT survival of creatures best fitted for ALL climes and times. Since competition to leave behind the largest number viable offspring can only favor creatures best fitted to current conditions, it cannot, by definition, create 'superior' creatures, UNLESS current conditions will likely prevail for the duration of a species' existence. One thing Kropotkin doesn't seem to have realized is that by keeping alive creatures 'unfit' for the current environment, qualities that would be useful in other environments may be preserved (think the lungfish in the drying-out pond, which have stiffened fins and can walk to another pond--a favorite example of Gould's)

Kropotkin argues something else which I wish he'd documented better. He insists that creatures have ways of limiting their reproduction rate, so that they do not produce too many offspring in good times to survive the bad times. This is indubitably true of some creatures (mostly the ones at the low fecundity end of the spectrum: the ones that have few offspring, but nurture those few to increase survival rates). There's also evidence that some creatures (including humans) have natural methods of preventing conception when times are bad (this is the primary reason why women with too little body fat become amenorrheal, for example, and therefore become infertile until their body fat goes up). But there are even better methods in nature. For example, did you know a female kangaroo can 'freeze' an embryo (not literally--it's not a matter of cold, just of slowing the maturation rate) in bad seasons, then reactivate the same pregnancy later? I'll wager Kropotkin didn't know the latter.

Another problem with this book is partly an inevitable problem with bibliography: Kropotkin could only cite sources that were already known (including work by his friends not yet published). A revised addition would include, as part of the new appendices, an updating on work which had been done since.

But it would also have had to include sources Kropotkin COULD have consulted, but apparently didn't. Thus, for example, though Kropotkin did cite several anthropological sources, he apparently didn't consult, or at least didn't quote, others. If he had read more of the works of Boas and his students, for example, he probably wouldn't have thought that the perversion of the potlatch from a means of redistributing unevenly distributed resources into an orgy of destruction was normal or natural. It's true that there were cases in quite a few places in which a 'rich' person's property was buried with the deceased, and others where the property was destroyed. This was, however, almost certainly a later development. In earlier times the personal property (which would NOT, by the way, include living things, and certainly not people,) would likely have been redistributed on a more-or-less regular basis (not only at funerals, but at weddings, initiations, seasonal ceremonies, etc). People would probably always have had SOME personal property (tools, mostly, including devices to make carrying easier). But things like food would always be shared...because the person who found a fruiting berry patch this time might not be the lucky one next time.

This book has had not only philosophical and other nonfiction sequelae, as I knew before I read it. Even if LeGuin hadn't specifically stated that she was beholden to Kropotkin, it would have been easy to figure out, for anyone who'd read The Dispossessed. It's not a linguistic influence (LeGuin has her own voice), but it's clearly a source of ideas and premises.
Profile Image for Jesse Field.
745 reviews38 followers
April 30, 2021
I had heard quite a bit about this book and been meaning to read for years, but the text itself was still a surprise. The first two chapters are entirely about mutual aid among the animals, harkening back to the evolutionary ideas of Darwin (and, essentially, the liberalism of Wilhelm Humboldt, the older brother of Alexander von Humboldt who was profiled in The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World; the younger brother, a naturalist and explorer and fellow liberal, inspired Darwin to take the voyage on the Beagle, and so we are back to square one), only this time to emphasize aid over competition, in contrast to Kropotkin’s so-called ‘Social Darwinist’ contemporaries. However, a skeptic would point out that the accumulation of evidence presented at such length here, does not prove any case but rather articulates a conjecture. There is no effort at setting up p-value here, and so Kropotkin was no scientist, but rather a countervailing voice to his times, promoting cooperation where others only spoke of ‘survival of the fittest’ to mean defeat of the weak by the strong. But is his bias in one direction still useful when most other thinkers were biased in another? I suppose the answer is a qualified yes: he functions to suggest checking to see if social Darwinist concepts, like eugenics, really hold up scientifically. We now know that Kropotkin was more correct than eugenicists, scientifically speaking; even in 1902, he was obviously the more humane.

Chapters 3 and 4 essentially try to rebut the competition theme in human society as proposed by Hobbes. Kropotkin brings up the account of the noble savage in harmony with nature proposed by Rousseau, but only to balance both tendencies, noble savage and savage savage, with a view of pre-agricultural society as relying crucially on aid to achieve a balanced role in a competitive natural environment. There is much to ponder here and I plan to re-read these chapters.

Chapters 5 and 6 continue in a line of thinking we may compare to David Christian in Origin Story: A Big History of Everything or Christopher Harman inA People's History of the World. (I suppose Kropotkin was an influence, direct or indirect, on both historians.) The view of the village as mutual aid organization can be compared to Christian’s account of village as system of energy flows connected to the solar energy flows of the agricultural products. Kropotkin’s unique focus is on the guild, as opposed to political structures, kings and states. It is a major new way, at least in my mind, to see the relation of the medieval city to the emerging nation-state. This motivates us to attend to the history of Switzerland, where state power remains much more equable to the Republican canton, and Swiss communities still believe in doing things, like barn building, together.

Chapters 7 and 8 give rough overviews of the growth of state power, opposing autonomous cities and guilds but at the same time crucially supported by unions and other social organizations providing the aid that states can’t or won’t supply. There is much to discuss here whether anarchism as later formulated should be an opposition to government, or merely a guild-like association of citizens who balance civil society against government. Maybe we should just act more like the Swiss to have happier lives?

I took some notes, but certainly find this book to be the kind that bears re-reading. One is always thinking up arguments against Kropotkin, but then making further connections when one turns away from the book that at least confirm the overall scope of his exposition.
September 20, 2022
"O Apoio Mútuo não só conserva a sua actualidade, como encerra a clarividência e o optimismo de que precisamos nos nossos dias."

Depois d'A Moral Anarquista, fiquei muito interessada em ler mais de Kropotkin. Era uma pessoa à frente do seu tempo, com um carisma incrível e vastos conhecimentos em diversas áreas, fruto dos seus estudos e das experiências de vida que teve, o que faz com que seja muito interessante lê-lo. N'O Apoio Mútuo, embora tenha a sua parte ideológica, evidentemente, Kropotkin oferece múltiplas referências históricas e inúmeros exemplos de diversas origens que fundamentam as suas ideias.

Confesso que, a certa altura, a imensidão de referências e exemplos é tanta e tão rica que facilmente nos podemos perder a aprofundar os temas abordados. A leitura torna-se um pouco mais densa em determinados momentos e parece que se vai desviando um pouco da mensagem essencial que Kropotkin quer passar, pela saturação dos exemplos que utiliza. Em todo o caso, vão sempre dar à base do que ele nos pretende demonstrar: como o apoio mútuo faz parte da nossa natureza desde os primórdios e como é a chave do nosso verdadeiro progresso e desenvolvimento, em detrimento do individualismo e da competição que têm sido defendidos como sendo parte da nossa evolução. Embora escrito em 1902, a relevância d'O Apoio Mútuo é assustadoramente pertinente nos dias de hoje, onde se continua a perpetuar a lógica de todos contra todos, onde ganha o mais forte.

Apesar de me sentir profundamente angustiada com esta realidade, Kropotkin fez com que eu tivesse mais esperança na humanidade, na possibilidade de a solidariedade entre as espécies vencer (e digo espécies porque a abordagem dele é muito ecocêntrica e não meramente antropocêntrica). Kropotkin não é um ideólogo "cego". Há várias razões que o levam a crer que o apoio mútuo e a cooperação são parte da nossa essência e fiquei convencida com a maioria dos seus argumentos. As minhas convicções ganharam mais força e O Apoio Mútuo ajudou-me a reforçar a minha expectativa de que ainda vamos a tempo de mudar e de evoluir, efetivamente, de forma coletiva. Recomendo a leitura a quem também partilha destes princípios e valores com alguma sofreguidão e que precisa de uma bomba de oxigénio.
Profile Image for Shhhhh Ahhhhh.
776 reviews17 followers
October 3, 2020
Kropotkin seems a little optimistic in his theory of mutual aid but only in the same measure that the theories of social darwinism or inherent individuality and competition are pessimistic. I think he was on the right path here, to the extent that any single flat model is the right path to a holistic explanatory framework.

Takeaways from this include that all modern nations rose out cities which were their own states, with high walls to prevent siege and their own internal infrastructure. Even more basic than that is the village. A village being a geographically connected coalition of people who have combined to increase chances of survival and quality of life for one another, making easier work with many hands, and practicing a form of communal ownership that has since been largely eradicated. Guilds and apprenticeships are the backbone of a village and were one of the first things targeted in the rise of the state, causing a general regress in the skills passed from one generation to another.

There are a lot of implications of this work that I'm going to have to sit with for a long time. If nothing else, I think it lends support to the Libertarian ideal of freedom of association (because if there were no risk of that being lost, there would be no good reason to fight for it).

If it's any consolation to the author, who is a century in the grave, the eusociality of our species is now a non-controversial position and social darwinism is seen as backwards among academics but is still surprisingly prevalent among mainstream society (at least in America).
Profile Image for Zach Irvin.
132 reviews22 followers
May 24, 2021
Kropotkin comes with the receipts in this one.

For a long time there was an emphasis in science on the ‘war’ that constantly took place in the natural world. After Darwin published his theory of evolution, scientists wanted to claim that struggle between individuals made up the main focus of life. Struggle over resources, mates, habitats, etc. It was a very individualist way of looking at the natural world and, honestly, it did a lot to back up capitalist economic theories. But Kropotkin called bullshit.

Over the course of ~300 pages, Kropotkin draws from an incredibly wide variety of scientific and historical manuscripts to demonstrate just how widespread and essential mutual aid is to living creatures. Birds do it, bees do it too. He shows, in great detail, just how much living beings depend on other living beings. We see it in nature by watching birds, cattle, insects. We see it in human history from early tribal life all the way to our modern, industrialized world.

Considering just how long research takes even with our modern technology, it is no surprise that this book took Kropotkin close to 10 years to finish. I’m so glad he took the time to piece this work together. Especially in 2021, it’s important to remember that the only way we will survive is together. And we have to fight against the forces that seek to separate us. Because separation makes us weak, and opens up the possibility for great inequality (looking at you, billionaires).
Profile Image for Victoria.
3 reviews1 follower
May 31, 2021
Overall, I would rate Mutual Aid as a 9/10. I feel that it's an almost-perfect book. It is incredibly important, as it influenced the course of modern political thought greatly. It’s main influence is in its critique of Social Darwinism. It uses a scientific viewpoint, as does the rest of Kropotkin's work, to critique the current way of being. Kropotkin uses analysis of social history, economic history, and human behavior to piece together his view of the world and his opinions on what can change to be better. Overall, he does this expertly, diving deeply into these topics and applying knowledge effectively. Another major point of the book is its namesake, Mutual Aid. Mutual Aid is defined as voluntary exchange of resources, and Kropotkin believed that this was the basis of society. Though I personally feel that he overstated its importance, it’s no doubt that Mutual Aid is an important part of society. Overall, I feel that Mutual Aid is a great book. I feel that it suffers a bit from it’s age, and that makes it a bit harder to read, but if you get over that, it is a very good scientific critique an analysis of society.

Profile Image for Red Johnston.
5 reviews
January 5, 2023
“In short, to speak of the natural death of the village communities in virtue of economical laws is as grim a joke as to speak of the natural death of soldiers slaughtered on a battlefield”

I found this particular quote to be of upmost interest to me as it makes it clear as day that capitalism as a system forces us to be as estranged as can be from our own nature and we are made to compete against each other, rather than combining forces and results in our progress as a species being impeded.

I feel like this would have definitely been 5 stars if I was reading it at the time of publication but I wasn’t so a good bit of the ‘MUTUAL AID AMONGST OURSELVES’ section went over my head
Profile Image for lauren.
45 reviews
May 1, 2020
Cheeky re-read of a personal favorite.
Profile Image for Steve.
939 reviews41 followers
January 23, 2021
I liked Kropotkin as a teenager, but had never read this. Wordy by today’s standards but I enjoyed this survey of social good works among animals and people.
Profile Image for Conor Hilton.
240 reviews14 followers
November 15, 2021
lots of interesting ideas here and a fascinating counter-narrative to the one I heard more frequently growing up about competition being fundamental to human existence.
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