Mutual Aid and War

The more I experience being part of a Mutual Aid community, the more I learn about Mutual Aid, the more I am convinced Mutual Aid is how we should all live. I just realized that might be the only way we can live, survive.

I recently learned the term prefigurative politics which is to model the organization and social relationships that the group is advocating. Mutual Aid groups do this.

Mutual Aid is about replacing the vertical hierarchies of power with a flat or horizontal hierarchy where we all have a voice.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Mutual Aid and war as Russia invades Ukraine. Dictatorships like Putin’s Russia represent the ultimate vertical hierarchy. But all nation states are built on vertical hierarchies.

I’ve been wondering how Mutual Aid can be applied to global powers waging war.

  • Our world, that has been colonized by imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, runs because of the oppressive and exploitative forms of power
  • Thus, to liberate ourselves and each other from this system, one of our main tasks is to confront hierarchy and hierarchical forms of power. 
  • Mutual aid is a form of prefigurative politics, aimed at abolishing hierarchy and hierarchical forms of power in the world by first living out these principles ourselves, bringing new ways of relating to each other into being

Mutual Aid: Non-Hierarchy in Practice by Tammy Gan, Bad Activist

Rather than feeling helpless in the face of war, we should be creating our own communities of Mutual Aid, of peace. That will take us out of imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy so we will not be contributing the conditions for the next war.

To address one aspect of war, creating our own Mutual Aid communities would put us in the position of being able to welcome refugees.

mutual aid aims to: form the structure of a new society within the shell of the old; embody the forms of social relations, decision-making, culture and human experience that are its ultimate goal

Mutual Aid: Non-Hierarchy in Practice by Tammy Gan, Bad Activist

Beyond our personal experiences, our world, that has been colonised by imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, runs because of the oppressive and exploitative forms of power. 

For our world, as is, to run, there must be an inherent valuing of some bodies over others. This is what we mean when we talk about “racial capitalism”, the idea that capitalism emerged, as Cedric Robinson argued, on the grounds of a civilisation based on racial hierarchy. Racism, in designating and ideologically convincing people that some people are inferior to others, allows for a system of extraction (capitalism) to exploit Black and brown people, while white people carry this out, or benefit from this system, thereby never abolishing it. So hierarchy (racial or otherwise) is the foundation that maintains our structures and system. 

Thus, to liberate ourselves and each other from this system, one of our main tasks is to confront hierarchy and hierarchical forms of power. 

Confronting, is different from attempting to appeal to the people who are in power (e.g. solely depending on billionaires, or politicians), or striving to obtain the kind of power that we’re subjected to (think #girlboss feminism). Instead, confronting means to transform hierarchical forms of power into other forms of power. We must have “power of our own”: moving away from power-over to power-with. This is where spaces and projects that attempt to create that new world, starting from rethinking our relationships, come into play.

Mutual aid is a form of prefigurative politics, aimed at abolishing hierarchy and hierarchical forms of power in the world by first living out these principles ourselves, bringing new ways of relating to each other into being. Specifically, mutual aid aims to: form the structure of a new society within the shell of the old; embody the forms of social relations, decision-making, culture and human experience that are its ultimate goals (i.e. to practice what it wants to see, now); and continuously experiment, and be reflexive through trial and error. 

Mutual Aid: Non-Hierarchy in Practice by Tammy Gan, Bad Activist

And if the wreckage of this inheritance will not be complete; if notwithstanding the crimes committed during this “civilized” war [ World War I ], we may still be sure that the teachings and traditions of human solidarity will, after all, emerge intact from the present ordeal, it is because, by the side of the extermination organized from above, we see thousands of those manifestations of spontaneous mutual aid.

Preface to the 1914 edition of Peter Kropotkin, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (London: Heinemann, 1914).

Food Not Bombs

When a billion people go hungry each day, how can we spend another dollar on war? Food Not Bombs is an all-volunteer movement that recovers food that would otherwise be discarded, and shares free vegan and vegetarian meals with the hungry in over 1,000 cities in 65 countries in protest to war, poverty, and destruction of the environment. We are not a charity but dedicated to taking nonviolent direct action. Our movement has no headquarters or positions of leadership and we use the process of consensus to make decisions. We also provide food and supplies to the survivors of natural disasters, and people participating in occupations, strikes, marches and other protests.

As grocery stores empty out and food shortages loom, food-sharing projects like Food Not Bombs (FNB) take on new urgency. FNB volunteers collect food from bakeries, grocery stores, and restaurants, cook together, and share meals and groceries in public spaces with whomever comes. Volunteers also take part in nonviolent direct action to change the social structures that produce hunger. FNB-like initiatives have already appeared in restaurants that offer free meals to laid-off workers and in grocery-delivery networks. There’s an increasing need for flexible, mobile, horizontal approaches to food distribution.

Eight anti-nuclear activists formed the first FNB group on May 24, 1980 at the Occupation Attempt of the Seabrook Nuclear Power Station in Cambridge, MA. Their basic insight was that hunger is unnecessary in a country that spends millions on weapons of mass destruction.

Mutual Aid Dispatches, April 6, 2020

Prefigurative politics are the modes of organization and social relationships that strive to reflect the future society being sought by the group. According to Carl Boggs, who coined the term, the desire is to embody “within the ongoing political practice of a movement […] those forms of social relations, decision-making, culture, and human experience that are the ultimate goal”.[1]


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