"Mutual aid" projects

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sherbu-kteer's picture
sherbu-kteer
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Dec 29 2019 12:13
"Mutual aid" projects

I've noticed that in the past few years there's been a big growth in the amount of political projects done with mutual aid as some kind of founding principle -- eg, mutual aid disaster relief, free brake-light fixing clinics, the aid-giving arm of the Socialist Rifle Association. A report from the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung on the DSA published this year showed 48% of surveyed DSA branches were engaged in mutual aid work, which is more than the amount engaged in electoral work. The DSA libertarian socialists are especially big on it.

The theme running through all this is that mutual aid is a positive, progress alternative to "charity", broadly defined as hierarchical, patronising, etc., and that this mutual aid stuff might have revolutionary importance. I think helping people in need is good in general and requires no radical justification, so I'm not going to malign people for getting involved in it, but I have a feeling a lot of it is misapplied. In most cases there is no mutuality present, like there was with old-fashioned mutual aid schemes like the Tredagar thing where everyone pays in a contribution and receives the services in return. It's just radicals giving to the poor. Which is fine, but not really mutual.

My hunch is that part of it may be part of the legacy of Maoist "serve-the-people" stuff, a lot of mutual aid activists seem to be big on the Black Panthers' school breakfast program and want to emulate it. In this sense it's a point where the inexplicably popular US Maoists can co-operate with anarchists. This is in line with the general mood of the post-Occupy new left, which is mostly made up of young people who aren't fixed in their ideas and are kind of syncretic, interested in broader groups not just sects.

Does anyone have any thoughts on all this? I'm particularly interested in hearing from Americans, as this seems to be big in the USA and I'm interested in people's first hand experiences with it and with their advocates.

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fingers malone
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Dec 29 2019 16:19

Not in the US, but I am involved with a London mutual aid housing group called HASL. Making the group really mutual aid has been one of the most difficult aspects but also one of the best things about the group.
I think it works because a) people stay in the group long term b) we run trainings to help members get involved c) there is a lot of effort put into things like translation and childcare.

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Dec 30 2019 12:53

My short answer is "eh, I guess it beats selling papers", and it probably beats wandering around in black bloc vaguely hoping something's going to kick off as well. One aspect that I do think is pretty interesting is Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, which unfortunately I think is going to carry on being an important project for the forseeable. Outside the Anglosphere, would also be interested in hearing European takes on it, it's my vague impression that this sort of stuff is considerably more embedded and effective in places like Spain and Greece, but I don't know a huge amount about it, beyond this nearly-five-year-old Guardian article.

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Dec 30 2019 16:20
fingers malone wrote:
Not in the US, but I am involved with a London mutual aid housing group called HASL. Making the group really mutual aid has been one of the most difficult aspects but also one of the best things about the group.
I think it works because a) people stay in the group long term b) we run trainings to help members get involved c) there is a lot of effort put into things like translation and childcare.

Yep, HASL is a fantastic organisation. Fingers makes a good point that making and keeping a group "mutual aid" (as opposed to being a skint NGO with no money or resources) takes a lot of time and effort.

Lucky Black Cat's picture
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Dec 31 2019 10:10

Hey, I'm just posting a comment so I can get notifications for new posts in this interesting thread.

Also wanna quote a few points that resonate with me.

sherbu-kteer wrote:
I think helping people in need is good in general and requires no radical justification, so I'm not going to malign people for getting involved in it,

sherbu-kteer wrote:
In most cases there is no mutuality present, [...] It's just radicals giving to the poor. Which is fine, but not really mutual.

R Totale wrote:
My short answer is "eh, I guess it beats selling papers", and it probably beats wandering around in black bloc vaguely hoping something's going to kick off as well.

Also, Fingers Malone, can you tell us a bit about HASL?
And The Button, what makes you say that HASL is a "fantastic" organization? That's very high praise, and intrigues me!

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Dec 31 2019 10:46

Hello Lucky Black Cat

Here is HASL's blog, with a report on the past year

https://housingactionsouthwarkandlambeth.wordpress.com/2019/12/24/hasls-...

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Dec 31 2019 10:52

Briefly (cos I'm on my phone) you can get a flavour of what HASL do from their twitter (don't think they much of an "online presence" otherwise:

https://twitter.com/HousingActionSL?s=09

As you can see, they get results (results comparable with some well-funded housing NGOs I could mention). Second, you can see how many people they can mobilise (more that some base unions with thousands of members in London). Third, you can see *who* they're mobilising. That thing that anarchists go on about ("Oh if only most of our group weren't white, cis men, wouldn't that be good?"), seems like HASL have pulled it off. Fourth, how they've managed to achieve this (fingers will know more about this than me), stuff like child-friendly meetings, translation, training. Fifth, that other thing that anarchists talk about when they've tried solidarity networks ("It's all well and good helping people, but they drift away once we've tried to help t them") -- well, you don't get 100 people turning up at your meeting if that's a massive problem for you. I'd love to know how they've achieved this. Also, fingers is involved in it, which is pretty much a mark of quality imo.

One last point (and this is partly guesswork on my part), that thing the IWW have always had about "helping the work along". In order to get lots of people helping the work along, there needs to be lots of ways that the work can be helped along (that don't all involve becoming an "officer" or lead organiser in the group). Stuff like making food for meetings so people aren't rushing home to eat, or helping people understand housing law in what might be their second, third or fourth language. The last last point would be finding and keeping people to help the work along, which is maybe a combination of everything above.

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Dec 31 2019 11:17

Excellent post from the Button.

R Totale, here are a couple of things about a housing struggle in Spain

https://libcom.org/news/evicted-families-occupy-building-seville-call-ot...

http://www.solfed.org.uk/north-london/corrala-utopia-a-direct-action-res...

Mike Harman
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Dec 31 2019 18:16

Greece has a lot of refugee squats which have anarcho involvement. I don't know loads about how they actually operate but a recent report on Greek state repression of them here: https://enoughisenough14.org/2019/12/28/merry-crisis-and-a-happy-new-fea...

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Jan 4 2020 11:24

Yeah, Exarchia also had a self-organised medical clinic for a while, which may well still be going: https://unicornriot.ninja/2017/greece-adye-exarcheias-free-self-organize... Actually it looks like there's a huge amount of reporting from Unicorn Riot on similar Greek projects there. Anyway, here's a report from Freedom on a new mutual aid project from London I'd not heard of before: https://freedomnews.org.uk/dont-despair-organise-an-introduction-to-coop...

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Jan 7 2020 02:21

Re: HASL

Holy shit, that sounds really dope.

Fingers Malone, what do you think HASL is doing that is enabling it to be so unusually successful, in the various ways The Button describes? The Button listed a few important things, but since you have an insider perspective, you can likely reveal more.

Whatever HASL is doing, it's clearly the kinds of things we need to learn from.

What do you think of the idea of writing an article or blog post about what HASL does that has enabled it to get results, and also to mobilize a relatively large and diverse group of people? Or maybe posting an interview with other HASL members to get their thoughts? I'm sure that it would be really helpful for others for who the class struggle is not going so well (i.e. most people).

(If you ever do write anything like this, please send me a DM with the link! Otherwise I'll probably miss it.)

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Jan 7 2020 21:48

There's this article they wrote a few years back (and which might be worth someone adding to the library if it's not in there already), which might be a decent starting point: http://www.basepublication.org/?p=45

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Jan 9 2020 20:41

Hello LBC
I am not one of the main organisers in HASL, just a translator, but I will try to write a post responding to your points soon. There are a couple of other groups affiliated to HASL, there is a group in Haringey and also in Edinburgh.

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Jan 16 2020 07:15

@R Totale: Looks good! I'll give it a read later.

@Fingers Malone: Great! smile

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Jan 16 2020 19:30

If anyone has the time/inclination to listen to a very long interview, this Final Straw interview with La Villita Red de Solidaridad/Little Village Solidarity Network from Chicago is pretty impressive and inspirational, and touches on some relevant stuff like building childcare into organisations.
I suppose there's also a conversation to be had about similar mutual aid/infrastructure projects from "the other side", so stuff like social services organised by the Patriot movement/Oath Keepers, Casa Pound or whoever, but I don't really have much intelligent to say about it beyond like "well, that's a thing".

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Jan 29 2020 21:36

Another new project/trend thing: https://www.mutual-aid.uk/ Also, thinking about it I'm kind of curious as to what the difference is between projects that get called "mutual aid" and projects that get called "social reproduction" - are they just the same things, but done by people who've been reading Kropotkin on one hand or Federici on the other?

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Feb 20 2020 11:11

My favorite form of mutual aid is a circle jerk.

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Mar 15 2020 13:47

Saw this list of groups coming together due to COVID-19 problems

https://freedomnews.org.uk/covid-19-uk-mutual-aid-groups-a-list/