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20/SP-INFO-619-01: Mutual Aid

What is mutual aid?

There is no singular definition of "mutual aid." The term itself was coined by anarchist/naturalist philosopher Peter Kropotkin in the 1890s. He based his theory off a lecture entitled "On the Law of Mutual Aid," delivered at a Russian Congress of Naturalists in January 1880 by zoologist Professor Karl Kessler. Kessler had argued that "the success of the struggle for life, and especially for the progressive evolution of the species, is far more important than the law of mutual contest" (paraphrased by Kropotkin).

"It is a feeling infinitely wider than love or personal sympathy – an instinct that has been slowly developed among animals and men in the course of an extremely long evolution, and which has taught animals and men alike the force they can borrow from the practice of mutual aid and support, and the joys they can find in social life."

Source: Kropotkin, Petr Alekseevich. “Mutual Aid; a Factor of Evolution.” Mutual Aid; a Factor of Evolution, Mar. 2006, EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edb&AN=22084648&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Today, mutual aid is seen by practitioners as coordinated actions taken by individuals acting in solidarity to account for the fundamental inequalities that exist within modern society. It acknowledges the inherent bonds of community, the necessity of care, and the inequities that exist within our society. Think of the Breakfast Program created by the Black Panther Party or the traditional Amish barn raising practices. Mutual aid is centered around reducing harm, pooling resources, building relationships, and promoting recovery. Simply stated, it is cooperation and sharing centered around the common good in action.

What isn't mutual aid?

  • Charity
  • Apolitical

New York City Area Mutual Aid Networks

Neighborhood Mutual Aid Efforts for Brooklyn Residents

Neighborhood Mutual Aid Networks for Queens Residents

Videos/Multimedia Resources

Amy Goodman speaks with Mariame Kaba and Dean Spade: "We look at the incredible community networks across the country that are coming together to protect their neighbors during the coronavirus pandemic — and how you can get involved."

#WeGotOurBlock

...we are each other's harvest:
we are each other's business:
we are each other's magnitude and bond.
—An excerpt from "Paul Robeson" by Gwendolyn Brooks