Mutual Aid Projects

What is a Mutual Aid Project?

Mutual Aid Projects can take many forms; from a parent organized child-minding cooperative, to a community kitchen, to a "free bin" at the local community center, to a community health insurance fund. The point of a mutual aid project is that it be mutually beneficial for everyone involved. Here are some examples.

Mutual Aid Societies

What is a Mutual Aid Society?

Mutual Aid Societies are typically clubs or associations that are created for the purpose of providing social and economic services and insurance for their membership through mutual aid (as opposed to capitalist enterprise or reliance on the government). Mutual Aid Societies have taken many forms in the past – some revolutionary in purpose, some merely practical or, at best, reformist. The idea of mutual aid societies dates back to the middle ages, but the still existing examples of mutual aid societies were born in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The simplest kind of mutual aid societies were "Community Chests", which were informal, self-organized banks or "money pots", in which the money was either saved for emergencies and long-term goals or made available for community members to take no-interest loans from.

Mainstream clubs like the Oddfellows, the Moose, or the Woodmen were originally founded as Mutual Aid Societies, which provided their members with services like employment information, sick benefits, and burial funds, and built orphanages and hospitals. But these clubs were largely centrist to reactionary in their politics and usually had a religious influence. In the end, with the exception of clubs like the Woodmen, these organizations ended up morphing into merely philanthropic clubs.

Societies that were for the mutual aid of specific ethnic groups, like the Ancient Order of Hibernians (Irish), and La Liga Protectora Latina (Chicano/Latino), often had more overtly leftist politics and engaged in activism – supporting labor organizing and providing strike support, fighting discrimination and racism against their respective ethnic groups -- as well as providing many of the benefits of mainstream mutual aid societies. One of the more notable examples of the leftist ethnic mutual aid societies would be the large network of Latino mutual aid societies in Ybor City in Tampa, Florida that provided the same services as groups like the Hibernians as well as raising funds and supplies for the Spanish revolution.

Furthermore, radical unions like the Western Federation of Miners also provided many of the benefits and social insurance services that mutual aid societies offered. Not to mention that much of revolutionary Spain's economy was also managed by more advanced versions of the mutual aid societies described above.

As these examples illustrate, mutual aid societies are not inherently revolutionary, however, the potential for mutual aid societies to provide a part of the infrastructure for a decentralized and self-sufficient anarchist economy are quite evident, and maintaining the revolutionary focus of such organizations is not really that different from maintaining the revolutionary focus of a radical labor union (since labor unions are also not inherently revolutionary themselves, as history has shown).

One thing that mutual aid societies provide for the building of an anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian movement is services that immediately address the economic and social problems that poor and working-class people face.


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