Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 11.23.11

Mutual Aid Society

Anarchy does not mean violence

Calling anarchists violent is every bit as prejudiced and ignorant as calling black people thieves; the difference is people freely get away with it and are even encouraged to do so. FOX News does so on a daily basis with complete immunity since the liberal civil rights industrial complex isn’t about to protect the rights of nonviolent anarchists. They don’t even vote, for crying out loud. Those mischievous masked seventh graders who break windows and call themselves anarchists have no idea about the rich intellectual history of the movement; they’re just being anti-authoritarian and rebellious. They have never heard of the 19th century anarchist giants like Reclus and Kropotkin, any one of them more intelligent than the Founding Fathers combined. Others have read the masters, but through some intellectual deficit prefer the likes of Emma Goldman and the Italian anarchist Luigi Galleani who advocated “propaganda through deed.” Galleani’s followers perpetuated the 1920 Wall Street bombing that killed 38 and wounded more than 140. But the overwhelming majority of true anarchists are ordinary people from all over the world who are not violent, and whose only crime is choosing to exercise their right to think for themselves and seek a stateless society free from the influence of the church, centralized government and capitalist economic system.   

The word anarchy comes from the Greek word anarchia, which means without a leader. There is an extremely good reason the rulers-of-might have made certain American history books equate anarchy with violence to scare people away from learning any more about it. Unlike communism, anarchy is an extremely viable alternative to representative democracy that is much more efficient and doesn’t require an Owellian centralized bureaucracy to manage it. There is no greater threat to any form of government than for ordinary people to realize how powerful they truly are when they become better organized and more self-reliant. Where in democracy you are a vote and in socialism you are a worker, anarchy is the radical notion you are a human being with immeasurable intrinsic value.  

The Russian anarchist writer Peter Kropotkin was a crown prince who renounced all claim to the throne and any inheritance and instead chose a simple life of extensive travel and study. He was said to have lived a near-perfect life. Where Charles Darwin had examined the natural world and concluded survival of the fittest to be the catalyst for natural selection, Kropotkin — who was, in fact, far better traveled than Darwin as well as a more astute geographer who lived among many native peoples — concluded that mutual aid, animals helping one another, was more important to a species survival than survival of the fittest. Those animals that cooperated together the best had a better chance of survival than the fittest individual. Human nature, Kropotkin argued, was cooperative, not competitive. An optimism that defined his political thought and was lost to history.  

The form of organization advocated by Kropotkin was people in free association federated together by unwritten mutual aid agreements. While unwritten, such a mutual aid agreement implied, “If you are in need, I will come to your aid, and if I am in need, I trust you to help me.” In addition, everyone agrees to meet their own needs to the best of their ability to not be an unnecessary burden on anyone else. Kropotkin called such federations the folkmote system. Folkmote being an archaic English word meaning “gathering of ordinary people.” The basic organizational unit of the folkmote in Medieval England was known as the “cof,” a voluntary clan. That group of 20 to 30 family, friends and neighbors who you interact with on a regular basis, know well and trust. A temporary cof formed just for a single purpose, such as a work project, was known as an “artel” in Russia, but could also be called and affinity group. 

The folkmote system is a cultural universal, like fire and music, found on every continent. It was used by Native Americans as well as Australian aborigines, meaning it was most likely used by our ancient ancestors before the Exodus out of Africa. Variations of the folkmote system have been used by everyone from the Mexican drug cartels to Amway, and from the Viet Cong to the Zapatistas. In North Africa it is known as the djeema system, in Saudi Arabia it is called the fereej system. The Chinese know it as the all-encompassing xa, the village as the universe. 


Administrative Division

Consists of

Approximate No. Members 

Comparable Tribal Unit


5 Districts




5 Townships




10 Villages




10 Neighborhoods




5 Communities




3-5 Households



Consider the cities of Eugene and Springfield. In Eugene, 150,000 residents are represented by eight city councilors, a ratio of one representative for every 18,750 residents. Springfield is a little better, with six city councilors for 60,000 people, one for every 10,000. Now, consider if in place of confusing and nonsensical redistricting, Eugene and Springfield instead adopted the folkmote system. All 200,000 people in both cities agree to meet in their own 20-30 person “cof” of friends and family members. It would immediately break this unmanageable number down into 6,600 groups of 30. Each of these groups then sends a single representative to a neighborhood-level meeting and we have then broken these 6,600 groups down into 220 groups. The representatives from these groups would then form seven groups. The representatives from these final seven meet at a citywide meeting. Basically the same number of representatives, only everyone is represented through groups small enough to have quite conversation and use 100 percent consensus, while no one is ever more than four people away from city leadership. 

The Eugene Mutual Aid Society is being formed to help everyone in Eugene-Springfield meet their own needs as close to home as practical to reduce dependence on government and big business. We would like to act as a clearinghouse for information and education about becoming more self-reliant and independent; permaculture and reducing one’s ecological impact; co-housing, co-ops and ecovillages where people can reduce their rent in exchange for being part of a greater community. And possibly most importantly as a resource to connect individuals and groups together for local economic self-sufficiency through economic opportunities for cottage industry, small business and individual artisanship. 

The Eugene Mutual Aid Society will be holding a potluck/jamboree starting at 5 pm Friday, Nov. 25, at Maitreya Ecovillage Strawbale, 1641 W. Broadway, Eugene. Bring a musical instrument if you are so inclined. 100 percent kid-friendly. 


Warren Weisman is, among other things, project director of Complejo de Energía Renovable, México (CEREM), a non-profit biogas power plant, education and training facility planned in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.