What is Mutual Aid?
Mutual aid is a voluntary exchange of resources and services for the mutual benefit of all people involved. It involves comrades coming together to work as equals for the common good by assessing what people need and what people can provide. Mutual aid projects come from and are run by the community rather than nonprofit workers, foundations, or charity programs created by the ruling classes. No one is made to feel inferior for receiving help, as it is fundamentally an organic and egalitarian social relationship, not a material one based on hierarchy, and everyone provides what they can rather than separating into “givers” and “receivers.”
It is with this in mind that we maintain that mutual aid is not charity. While charity often has altruistic motives and can be helpful to people’s material conditions, it reinforces hierarchies rather than undermines them, and often is delivered with the explicit or implicit aim of control or conversion. We are deeply committed to organizing mutual aid networks that allow people with material needs to organize the solutions to their own problems. By doing so, we reject a charity framework which would limit the scope of our work to aiding only those deemed “worthy” by the capitalist class.
Re-Establishing the Connection Between Politics & Reality
During the past few decades, the fissure between the ruling elite and the rest of us has widened dramatically. As politics has divorced itself from providing material results to working people, many have become disengaged and disillusioned.
The Mutual Aid working group addresses this disengagement by strategically attending to certain material concerns of working people within and without the organization. We seek to re-establish a connection between politics and reality by reframing working people’s notions of what politics can be. Through material interventions of mutual aid, we intend to dismantle the notion that political power is the sole domain of a class disconnected from our struggles and interests. Political power is the control of the distribution of resources; taking charge of our own resource distribution empowers others and ourselves to further engage in the struggle for political power. We want to move beyond the ballot box and invoke the centrality of politics in our every act of mutual care.
The long-term strategic goal of Mutual Aid with regards to socialist organizing is to create lasting connections between organizers, outside communities, and other activist institutions; these connections will form networks of support that address the needs of communities neglected by a disconnected elite class. In order to continually expand the realm of possibility in politics and popular political organizing, political analyses will be central to each project we undertake.
A Radical Transformation of Social & Material Relationships
The violent structures of capitalism alienate us from one another and from our collective struggle; we bear the weight of capitalism alone as individuals. We are taught that competition and scarcity are the natural conditions for our species.
Our committee aims to overcome this alienation through the radical transformation of our relationships with one another. Mutual aid is a liberatory practice rooted in the social and the material, working towards a radical shift in our relationship to one another and to capital. Engaging in this kind of work is transformative, and changes us (and others with whom we engage in the work) into new types of political subjects that can better envision a world in which working people take collective power and ownership over the means of their own care and reproduction.
Inside and outside DSA, we have the potential to create alternatives to the gendered and racialized capitalist model of reproductive labor. We seek to disrupt transactional nature of this work within our communities while we work to create the world we imagine. In this space we move from co-workers to comrades as we radically adopt egalitarian social relations in our actions and interactions.
In our political practice, we will embody the forms of social relations that are our goal: We must act now as we wish to act in our ideal world, for it is only by doing so that we will be able to create it. This idea is prefigurative politics, and it will guide our committee’s relationships and actions. Our means and ends must therefore resemble one another, because each will shape the other. How will we know socialism if we do not model it within our own communities and relationships with one another?
Fostering An Internal Mutual Aid Network
We approach internal mutual aid with an eye towards fostering group cohesion, ensuring a high quality of life for all our comrades, and creating social safety nets for all in our organization in order to better equip ourselves for our chapter’s work. We do this with the goal of identifying and meeting both the specific needs of the chapter at large and of members individually.
As DSA members we’re all seeking to make the world more equitable and just. Within this committee we do this through prefigurative political action. Our work is grounded in a recognition that it’s important to not only help people in the community, but also to help ourselves because we can transform our own lives most comprehensively.
Additionally, without systems in place, we know that women and nonbinary people will by default take up a disproportionate amount of reproductive and emotional labor. By making this labor visible, and elevating it to the importance of other organizing work, we can change our own members’ relationship to usually devalued and invisible labor, and ensure that it is shared equitably — especially among people who otherwise might not think to take it on — and that people are recognized and appreciated for their work doing it.
Some possible internal mutual aid projects include, but are not limited to: self-defense trainings, carpooling systems for DSA events, peer counseling, and direct action preparedness.
The Importance of External Mutual Aid Projects
Within DSA there has been considerable conversation regarding the role external facing projects should play. At its core this committee believes that external mutual projects are guided not only by a desire to relieve the material pressures of a capitalist system but also help inspire in those we serve to “[imagine] radical alternatives for a new social, economic, and political reality.1
External mutual aid projects spring forth not only from a socialist critique of capitalism, but also a vision of a world beyond capitalism. For example, we do not just change brake lights, we do so within a context that makes it explicit that this act constitutes a form of resistance to the carceral state that degrades and insults human dignity. Beyond that, we promote the idea that it is the responsibility of the community to ensure the wellbeing of each of its members.
While we believe that there is an inherent value in external mutual aid, it is important to note that these sorts of projects can often require a large number of committee resources. With that in mind, any external facing mutual aid project should be carefully considered in terms of these questions:
How viable is the project?
How does this serve the larger goals of DSA?
What resources will this require?
How will we meet the financial cost?
To ensure our committee’s work is sustainable it is important that external mutual aid projects consider soliciting external support. This support can take many forms, including: fundraising, forming coalitions, and engaging members of the community for help. That said, the committee will adhere to a “no strings attached” fundraising model and will follow the “Strategic Partnerships” guidelines laid out in the DSA Los Angeles Mission Statement & Organizational Priorities.
Mutual Aid As Recruitment Opportunity
As DSA attempts to build a mass socialist movement across the United States, we believe that mutual aid is an essential part of that effort. We cannot reach everyone through socialist analysis: mutual aid can serve as a visible illustration of theory in an act that improves someone's material reality.
Internal mutual aid programs such as grocery funds, childwatch, rent circles and debtor unions demonstrate the power of collective ownership and responsibility in a clear and intuitive way that socialist literature cannot, and will make joining us a more attractive proposition on strictly material grounds. In addition to this, external mutual aid will greatly increase our public profile and insert us into people's daily lives, making us a reliable resource for communities and allowing to reach people who might not otherwise be interested in an explicitly political message.
We intend to help communities and demonstrate the power of collective action rather than proselytize. We will be prepared to explain our politics to those who seek it out as a result of our mutual aid, but our actions themselves will carry the message we wish to spread.
1From the DSA Los Angeles Mission Statement & Organizational Priorities (Ratified September 2017)