Mutual aid is a term used to describe helping one another without expecting anything back. It is acts of solidarity, kindness, love and support in the belief that we all benefit from a society based on these principles. It is supporting one another without governments or institutions, often in a non-hierarchical, non-bureaucratic structure. In an imperialist, white supremacist, heteropatriarchal society which uses police and prisons to maintain ‘justice’, mutual aid is inherently political.
Many mutual aid groups or activities are in response to crises, such as natural disasters, pandemics, medical crises, military crises and so on, but they can also be proactive, responding to the longer term crises of poverty, food scarcity and lack of good or secure housing. Many groups provide medical care, arresstee after care, prisoner solidarity, refugee support and much more. There are so many ways in which the state hounds us and belittles our humanity which means there are many ways to resist, support one another and create a more caring society.
The term was popularised by the 19th Century Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin in his book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution.
The term “mutual aid” was popularised by the anarchist philosopher Peter Kropotkin in his essay collection Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, which argued that cooperation, not competition, was the driving mechanism behind evolution, through biological mutualism. Kropotkin argued that mutual aid has pragmatic advantages for the survival of humans and animals and has been promoted through natural selection, and that mutual aid is arguably as ancient as human culture. This recognition of the widespread character and individual benefit of mutual aid stood in contrast to the theories of social Darwinism that emphasised individual competition and survival of the fittest, and against the ideas of liberals such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who thought that cooperation was motivated by universal love.
You can find out about local mutual aid groups (or mutual aid-adjacent groups!) on our Help Out page!
You can find out more about the theory and history of mutual aid here: