Peter Kropotkin was a Russian aristocrat who renounced his titles, became a scientist and anarchist, and wrote many significant works, but none so important as MUTUAL AID, his 1902 treatise on the role of cooperation in evolutionary biology.
Originally intended as a series of (never delivered) lectures for William Morris's Socialist League, the book was an assault on "moral philosophers" who used Darwin's work and "survival of the fittest" to justify class oppression at home and imperial slaughter abroad.
Painstaking researched and beautifully argued, MUTUAL AID reveals the scientific fraud of "social Darwinism," and its claims that hierarchy and exploitation are evolutionary inevitabilities baked into our very nature.
And while Kropotkin's ideas have inspired generations of biologists AND activists, the social Darwinists have only grown in influence, providing pseudoscientific cover for greed, oppression and immorality.
The folks at PM Press have just published a stunning, illustrated new edition of MUTUAL AID, illustrated by N.O. Bonzo whose neo-Arts-and-Crafts marginalia and full-page spreads are gorgeous and thrilling
Still better are the essays that have been incorporated for this edition: a foreword by Ruth Kinna, a preface by GATS, an afterword by Allan Antliff, and, miraculously, a scorching and blazing introduction by Allan Antliff and the late, lamented David Graeber (Rest In Power).
Graber and Antliff's essay zeroes in on the social function of social Darwinism - identifying the way that it creates a state of "capitalist realism" where there is no alternative, thanks to "human nature."
I am still sorrowing over David's death, and finding a new work by him, so trenchant and on-point, was exhilarating, even glorious.
If critiques of social Darwinism and evolutionary psychology are your thing, I *strongly* recommend feminist biologist Anne Dagg's incandescent 2004 book, LOVE OF SHOPPING IS NOT A GENE.
Kropotkin was a scientist, but he trained as a geographer and biology was more of a hobby. By contrast, Dagg is a prominent and celebrated biologist and her critique has an unmistakable scientific heft mixed with a righteous fury.
In the meantime, this new PM edition of MUTUAL AID could not be more timely, beautiful or on-point. It's a superb volume.
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