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.