In February, 1888, T. H. Huxley published his fa mous “struggle for life” manifesto entitled “The Strug gle for Existence: A Programme.” In this article Huxley declared that “from the point of view of the moralist, the animal world is on about the same level as a gladiator’s show. The creatures are fairly well treated, and set to fight-whereby the strongest, the swiftest and the cunningest live to fight another day. The spectator has no need to tum his thumbs down, as no quarter is given.” And as among animals, so among primitive men “the weakest and stupidest went to the wall, while the toughest and shrewdest, those who were best fitted to cope with their circumstances, but not the best in any other sense, survived. Life was a continual free fight, and beyond the limited and temporary relations of the family, the Hobbesian war of each against all was the normal state of exist ence. The human species, like others, plashed and foundered amid the general stream of evolution, keeping its head above water as it best might, and thinking neither of whence nor whither.”
Actually, the struggle for existence with which Hux ley is chiefly concerned in this article is the struggle of an overpopulated industrial England in an highly competitive, commercialized world. Huxley’s “Pro gramme” offers a solution in terms of raising the stand ards of living and better technical education of the masses.
Kropotkin was convinced that Huxley had given “a very incorrect representation of the facts of Nature, as one sees them in the bush and in the forest,” and between September, 1890, and June, 1896, in a se ries of eight articles, replied to Huxley’s “gladiatorial” view of evolution by setting out the facts for animals and man. Huxley almost certainly read most of Kro potkin’s articles, but if he did he made no direct print ed reference to them, though it is quite possible that their influence is to be seen in Huxley’s Romanes lecture of 1893. In 1902 Kropotkin’s articles were published in book fonn with the title Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. Kropotkin showed, that-in his own words-“Happily enough, competition is not the rule either in the animal world or in mankind. It is limited among animals to exceptional periods, and natural selection finds better fields for its activity. Better conditions are created by the elimination of competition by means of mutual aid and mutual support. In the great struggle for life-for the great est possible fulness and intensity of life with the least waste of energy-natural selectiori continually seeks out the ways precisely for avoiding competition as much as possible. The ants combine in nests and na tions; they pile up their stores, they rear their cattle -and thus avoid competition; and natural selection picks out of the ants’ family the species which know best how to avoid competition, with its unaVOidably deleterious consequences. Most of our birds slowly move southwards as the winter comes, or gather in numberless societies and undertake long joumeys and thus avoid competition. Many rodents fall asleep when the time comes that competition should set in; while other rodents store food for the winter, and gather in large villages for obtaining the neces sary protection when at work. The reindeer, when the lichens are dry in the interior of the continent, migrate towards the sea. Buffaloes cross an immense continent in order to find plenty of food. And the beavers, when they grow numerous on a river, divide into two parties, and go, the old ones down the river, and the young ones up the river-and avoid compe tition. And when animals can neither fall asleep, nor migrate, nor lay in stores, nor themselves grow their food like the ants, they do what the titmouse does, and what Wallace ( Darwinism, ch. v ) has so charm ingly described: they resort to new kinds of food and thus, again, avoid competition.
” ‘Don’t compete!-competition is always injurious to the species, and you have plenty of resources to avoid itt ‘ That is the tendency of nature, not always realized in full, but always present. That is the watch word which comes to us from the bush, the forest, the river, the ocean. ‘Therefore combine-practice mutual aid! That is the surest means for giving to each and to all the greatest safety, the best guarantee of existence and progress, bodily, intellectual, and moral.’ That is what Nature teaches us.”
The conception of competition which Kropotkin is here attacking is the “nature, red in tooth and claw” view of it, the “gladiatorial” view of “the struggle for existence” expounded by such interpreters of Dar win as Thomas Huxley. The fact is that Kropotkin had a much more accurate conception of the nature of competition as a process of evolution than most nineteenth century biologists. Indeed, his whole book is devoted to demonstrating that competition is not necessarily the brutally ruthless process that most Darwinians conceived it to be, but that, in his own words, “In the great struggle for life” the struggle is “for the greatest possible fulness and intensity of life with the least waste of energy.”
It cannot be too emphatically stated that Kropot kin did not consider that the demonstrable impor tance of co-operation or mutual aid as a factor of evo lution in any way contradicted the theory of natural selection. What he sought to show was that the theory of natural selection is incomplete if it neglects such an important factor as mutual aid, and that that theory does violence not only to the facts but to the possibility of man’s own social evolution. Kropotkin did not call his book ” Mutual Aid : The Factor of Evolution,” but he called it “Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution.” As the title of his book implies and as his text seeks to show, Kropotkin considered mutual aid to be a factor of evolution, not the only factor.
Kropotkin’s book is now a classic-which means that few people read it and that it is probably out of print. Yet no book in the whole realm of evolution ary theory is more readable or more important, for it is Mutual Aid which provided the first thoroughly documented demonstration of the importance of co operation as a factor in evolution. Kropotkin’s book, one may be sure, is destined for a revival, and the influence it has already had is likely to increase many fold with the years.
Ashley Montagu, 1952