Cooperation versus competition in nature and society: The contribution of Piotr Kropotkin to evolutionary theory

Urbano Fra Paleo


[from the introduction]

Concepts usually have multiple lives, yet in their revival they occur in a changed context, due to the time passed or to their application within a different disciplinary approach. Mutual aid, in its contemporary avenues, seems to be one of them.

In 1902 Piotr Alekseevich Kropotkin published the seminal text Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, proposing the principle of mutual support both as a law of nature and a factor of evolution. The volume is, actually, a compilation of an earlier series of articles published in The Nineteenth Century from September 1890 to June 1896. The alleged motivation for writing was the publication in the same periodical in 1888 by Darwinist Thomas Henry Huxley of the opus Struggle for Existence and its Bearing upon Man. The emphasis placed by Huxley on translating struggle for life as competition to explain one of the three pillars of the theory of evolution—survival of the fittest—pushed Kropotkin to react. He not only was supporting his social theory but was also contributing the results obtained from his exploring expeditions.


Evolution; Kropotkin; co-operation; competition; Darwin

Full Text:



Chappell, J.E. Jr. and I.M. Matley, 1967. “Marxism and Environmentalism.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 57(1): 203-207.

Glassman, M. 2000. “Mutual Aid Theory and Human Development: Sociability as Primary.” Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 30: 4.

Gould, S.J. 1997. “Kropotkin was No Crackpot.” Natural History 106.

———.1991. Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History. London: Penguin. pp. 325-339.

Hawley, P.H. 1999. “The Ontogenesis of Social Dominance: A Strategy-Based Evolutionary Perspective.” Developmental Review 19: 97–132.

Hofstadter, R. 1944. Social Darwinism in American Thought, 1860-1915. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Hooson, D.J.M. 1968. “The Development of Geography in Pre-Soviet Russia.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 58(2): 250-264.

Kappeler, P.M. and C.P. van Schaik (eds), 2006. Cooperation in Primates and Humans, Mechanisms and Evolution. Berlin: Springer.

Kropotkin, P. 1902. Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. Revised ed. London: William Heinemann.

Kropotkin, P. 1924. Ethics: Origin and Development. London: Harrap.

Lapenis, A.G. 2002. “Directed Evolution of the Biosphere: Biogeochemical Selection or Gaia?” The Professional Geographer, 54(3): 379-391.

Leonard, T.C. 2009. “Origins of the Myth of Social Darwinism: The Ambiguous Legacy of Richard Hofstadter’s Social Darwinism in American Thought.” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 71:37-51.

Ruse, M. 1980. “Social Darwinism: Two Sources.” Albion 12: 23–36.

van Schaik, C.P. and P.M. Kappeler, 2006. “Cooperation in Primates and Humans: Closing the Gap.” In Cooperation in Primates and Humans, Mechanisms and Evolution. Berlin: Springer. pp. 3-21.

Todes, D.P. 1989. Darwin without Malthus: The Struggle for Existence in Russian Evolutionary Thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

de Waal, F.B.M. and S.F. Brosnan. 2006. “Simple and Complex reciprocity in primates.” In Cooperation in Primates and Humans, Mechanisms and Evolution. eds. C.P. van Schaik and P.M. Kappeler. Berlin: Springer. pp. 85-105.

de Waal F.B.M. and Davis, J.M. 2003. “Capuchin cognitive ecology: cooperation based on projected returns.” Neuropsychologia 41:221-228.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Attribution to include the author or artist's name, date of first publication,
and the name of our journal: Radical Criminology.
ISSN 1929-7904
(Print) | ISSN 1929-7912 (Online)