Cooperation and competition
In 1902 Kropotkin published his book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, which provided an alternative view of animal and human survival, beyond the claims of interpersonal competition and natural hierarchy proffered at the time by some "social Darwinists" such as Francis Galton. He argued that "it was an evolutionary emphasis on cooperation instead of competition in the Darwinian sense that made for the success of species, including the human". Kropotkin explored the widespread use of cooperation as a survival mechanism in human societies - through their many stages - and amongst animals. He used many real-life examples in an attempt to show that the main factor in facilitating evolution is cooperation between individuals in free-associated societies and groups, without central control, authority, or compulsion. He did so in order to counteract the concept of fierce competition as the core of evolution, which concept provided a rationalization for the dominant political, economic, and social theories[which?] of the time and for the prevalent interpretations of Darwinism. In the last chapter, he wrote:
"In the animal world we have seen that the vast majority of species live in societies, and that they find in association the best arms for the struggle for life: understood, of course, in its wide Darwinian sense – not as a struggle for the sheer means of existence, but as a struggle against all natural conditions unfavorable to the species. The animal species[...] in which individual struggle has been reduced to its narrowest limits[...] and the practice of mutual aid has attained the greatest development[...] are invariably the most numerous, the most prosperous, and the most open to further progress. The mutual protection which is obtained in this case, the possibility of attaining old age and of accumulating experience, the higher intellectual development, and the further growth of sociable habits, secure the maintenance of the species, its extension, and its further progressive evolution. The unsociable species, on the contrary, are doomed to decay."
— Peter Kropotkin, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (1902), Conclusion.
Kropotkin did not deny the presence of competitive urges in humans, but did not see them as the driving force of history (as did capitalists and social Darwinists). He did believe that at times seeking out conflict proved socially beneficial, but only during attempts to destroy unjust, authoritarian institutions such as the State or the Church, which he saw as stifling human creativity and freedom and impeding humans' instinctual drive towards sociality and cooperation.
Kropotkin's observations of cooperative tendencies in indigenous peoples (pre-feudal, feudal, and those remaining in modern societies) led him to conclude that not all human societies were based on competition, such as those of industrialized Europe, and that many societies exhibited cooperation among individuals and groups as the norm. He also concluded that most pre-industrial and pre-authoritarian societies (where he claimed that leadership, central government and class did not exist) actively defend against the accumulation of private property by, for example, equally distributing within the community a person's possessions when he died, or by not allowing a gift to be sold, bartered or used to create wealth.
In The Conquest of Bread, Kropotkin proposed a system of economics based on mutual exchanges made in a system of voluntary cooperation. He believed that should a society be socially, culturally, and industrially developed enough to produce all the goods and services required by it, then no obstacle, such as preferential distribution, pricing or monetary exchange will stand as an obstacle for all taking what they need from the social product. He supported the eventual abolishment of money or tokens of exchange for goods and services.
Kropotkin believed that Bakunin's collectivist economic model was simply a wage system by a different name, and thought that such a system would breed the same type of centralization and inequality as a capitalist wage system. He stated that it is impossible to determine the value of an individual's contributions to the products of social labor, and thought that anyone who was placed in a position of trying to make such determinations would wield authority over those whose wages they determined. He further developed these ideas in Fields, Factories and Workshops.
According to Kirkpatrick Sale:
"With Mutual Aid especially, and later with Fields, Factories, and Workshops, Kropotkin was able to move away from the absurdist limitations of individual anarchism and no-laws anarchism that had flourished during this period and provide instead a vision of communal anarchism, following the models of independent cooperative communities he discovered while developing his theory of mutual aid. It was an anarchism that opposed centralized government and state-level laws as traditional anarchism did, but understood that at a certain small scale, communities and communes and co-ops could flourish and provide humans with a rich material life and wide areas of liberty without centralized control."
His focus on local production led to his view that a country should strive for self-sufficiency – manufacture its own goods and grow its own food, lessening dependence on imports. To these ends he advocated irrigation and growing under glass to boost local food production ability.
Legends of Anarchism
Critique of capitalism
Kropotkin pointed out what he considered to be the fallacies of the economic systems of feudalism and capitalism. He believed they create poverty and artificial scarcity while promoting privilege. Instead he proposed a more decentralized economic system based on mutual aid, mutual support, and voluntary cooperation, asserting that the tendencies for this kind of organization already exist, both in evolution and in human society.
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