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Pyotr Alekseyevich Kropotkin: "the struggle for existence" and "mutual aid".

In his time, outside anarchist circles, the influence of the work of Prince Pyotr Alekseyevich Kropotkin was quite limited. His book Mutual Aid was an attack on the social Darwinist views presented in the essay "The Struggle for Existence" by T. H. Huxley (1825-1895). Huxley considered competition the main factor in the "struggle for existence." Kropotkin had traveled in Siberia and surmised that the harsh climatic conditions there--not competition--had limited animal populations, and the animals' best response was to migrate en masse, an example of what he called "mutual aid." Other Russian authors such as the symbiogenists A. S. Famintsyn (1835-1918) and K. S. Me-reschkovsky (1855-1921) have considered mutual aid "a factor of evolution." They produced a theory to account for the evolution of the eukaryotic cell as a result of symbiosis between bacteria (symbiogenesis); theirs was a forerunner of the serial endosymbiosis theory developed by L. Margulis beginning in the 1970s. G. E. Hutchinson, in his book An Introduction to Population Ecology (1978), also cites the work of Kropotkin, the anarchist prince.

It may be objected to ... that both animals and men are represented in [this book] under too favorable an aspect; that their sociable qualities are insisted upon, while their anti-social and self-asserting instincts are hardly touched upon. This was, however, unavoidable. We have heard so much lately of the "harsh, pitiless, struggle for life," which was said to be carried on by every animal against all other animals, every "savage" against all other "savages," and every civilized man against all his co-citizens--and these assertions have so much become an article of faith that it was necessary, first of all, to oppose to them a wide series of facts showing animal and human life under a quite different aspect. It was necessary to indicate the overwhelming importance which sociable habits play in nature and in the progressive evolution of both the animal species and human beings: to prove that they [provide] animals [with] a better protection from their enemies, very often facilities for getting food (winter provisions, migrations, etc.), longevity, and therefore a greater facility for the development of intellectual faculties; and that they have given to men, in addition to the same advantages, the possibility of working out those institutions which have enabled mankind to survive in its hard struggle against Nature, and to progress, notwithstanding all the vicissitudes of its history. It is a book on the law of Mutual Aid, viewed as one of the chief factors of evolution--not on all factors of evolution and their respective values; and this book had to be written, before the latter could become possible.

From the introduction to Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution

Reproduced from Penguin Books, London (1939)

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Publication:Encyclopedia of the Biosphere
Article Type:Excerpt
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2000
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