Mutual Aid -- suggestions please!

I've been asked by Freedom Press to do the introduction to their new edition of Kropotkin's Mutual Aid.

I can cover the political aspects of it well enough, how it fits into communist-anarchism as well as how others have misrepresented it. I was wondering if anyone could suggest some resources on how it has stood the test of time in biology/evolutionary circles?

Many thanks!


Matt Ridley's Origins of

Matt Ridley's Origins of Virtue is an excellent popular summary of recent research into biological altruism, which explicitly uses Kropotkin as its jumping off point. Ridley himself is essentially right-libertarian. Here's a excerpt from the closing chapter "in which the author suddenly and rashly draws political lessons": "where authority replaces reciprocity, the sense of community fades. In Britain, the welfare state and the mixed-economy 'corpocracy' replaced thousands of effective community institutions - friendly societies, mutuals, hospital trusts and more, all based on reciprocity and gradually nurtured virtuous circles of trust - with giant, centralized Leviathans like the National Health Service, nationalized industries, and government quangos .. Because more money was available through higher taxes, something was gained at first. But soon the destruction wrought to Britain's sense of community was palpable. Because of its mandatory nature the welfare state encouraged in its donors a reluctance and resentment .. Heavy government makes people more selfish, not less. "I hold no foggy nostalgia that the past was any better. Most of the past was a time of authority, too - the hierarchical authority of a feudal, aristocratic or industrial system. The medieval vassal and the factory worker had no freedom to build trust and reciprocity between equals either. I am not contrasting the present with the past. But I do believe that there have been glimpses of a better way, of a society built upon voluntary exchange of goods, information, fortune and power between free individuals in small enough communities for trust to be built. I believe such a society could be more equitable, as well as more prosperous, than one built upon bureaucratic statism."

Firstly, I'm not Andrew.

Firstly, I'm not Andrew. Secondly, Kropotkin did mention that "Mutual Aid" was a factor in evolution, not the whole story, and that he never denied that competition (within and between species and groups) took place. He simply presented evidence to show that co-operation was more widespread than was presented at the time, particularly in the Social Darwinist circles who used evolution to defend capitalism. I'll be looking into Dawkin's work and compare that to Kropotkin's arguments. Oh, and thanks to the other poster for the Stephen Jay Gould link -- I already had it, but thanks for taking the time to suggest it!

Kropotkin & Science.... It’s

Kropotkin & Science.... It’s been a long time since I read Mutual Aid so I can’t comment on that specifically. However, in the last 40 years a lot of study has been done in evolutionary biology on how pro-social or even altruistic behaviour can have evolved. The difficulty is that it is accepted that evolution occurs via selection of genes (manifested in an individual body) and not a group. So, any lineage that sacrifices its own reproductive potential for the good of the group will, over time, find itself out-reproduced by those who don’t behave in that way. Thus helping others is, on the face of it, a paradox. The paradox was solved through a number of breakthroughs in the 1960s and 1970s. Firstly, William Hamilton came up with “inclusive fitness”, which simply means that any actions that are of benefit to one’s relative may be sufficient to cause an evolutionary ripple, even if such actions are disastrous for oneself. For example, if you jump into a river to save three of your brothers then it pays off in evolutionary terms because you’ve saved 150% of your genes (each brother has 50% of the genes that you carry). That is, the copies of the genes that promote such heroic behaviour are likely to get passed on through such actions. These calculations are processed subconsciously and they are prone to “misfiring” so a propensity to jumping into save drowning folks may fire when you see someone who is not closely related to you. However, on balance, Hamilton’s theory predicts that people will behave more generously, if that’s the right word, towards members of one’s own family. The other major plank in explaining pro-social behaviour was Robert Trivers’ theory of reciprocal altruism. I do you a favour and you’ll return it to me when I need a hand. This is pretty obvious but Trivers did some mathematics that proved it was viable even under a hardcore Darwinian paradigm. Now, with respect to Kropotkin, the above theories were only developed 50 years after he died. He was trying to explain co-operation without their benefit so he had to resort to group selectionism, which is wrong. So while Kropotkin was ultimately incorrect about the function of pro-social behaviour, he was correct to notice the anomaly in 19th century evolutionary science. He was also wrong in a different book (Evolution and Revolution, I think) about the mechanism of inheritance; he was sliding towards a Lamarckian viewpoint. Still, this again was unexplained until the early 20th century and only reconciled with Darwinism in the 1930s so it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect him to have got that stuff right. So, in short, credit him for raising extremely pertinent questions about gaps in the evolutionary theory of his time, i.e. over emphasis on competition at the expense of co-operation, but be cautious about endorsing his conclusions about why co-operative behaviour exists.

‘Kropotkin was no

‘Kropotkin was no crackpot’ If you haven't already read it you might find the essay ‘Kropotkin was no crackpot’ by the late evolutionary biologist Stephan J. Gould somewhat helpful in your endeavor. Good luck! T.E.

Alright Andrew, The whole

Alright Andrew, The whole premise of Mutual Aid always annoyed me. Been a long while since i rread it but it seemed to involve a far too rosy view of nature, a misunderstanding of how evolution progresses and unjustified extrapilation. Anyway, apart from that the only thing i came across directly dealing with it is towards the end of Richard Dawkins - Unweaving the Rainbow. Goes into the difference between genetic cooperation and some alturisitic view of animal nature.


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