Consider an urban commune, which is becoming more popular these days with the occupations movements.

Bound by the strictures of urban life, an urban commune has to operate on an income, and thus pay mortgages or rents and utilities. Or, it can exist within a squat and hence does not need income. This presents us with two ways of operating:

1) squatting

2) renting/owning

Though the two modes are not mutually exclusive, their differences make mutual aid a difficult balance to strike.

How fair is it to communalize income or property when incomes and property values are significantly unequal? Do not think of fairness in the abstract. How willing would you be to host or commit to people who will use up all you have worked for, and give very little or nothing in return?

Mutual aid is not a system of charity, where one group has benefits they want to shower onto another group, typically for some kind of recognition or religious purpose. Mutual aid is not a system of exploitation, where the work of one group is exploited by another group which is fully capable of providing for themselves yet choose not to. Mutual aid is a symbiosis, a web of desires. It is relational and equitable. But egalitarianism cannot exist in a space where some dwellers behave opportunistically against the others.

The old adage of scientific socialism, “To each according to his need, from each according to his ability,” is, on both small and large scales, disgusting and unfair. Mutual aid is a balance, an equilibrium, like in nature. The amount of mutual aid that can happen in a common space is determined by, first of all, the relationships between dwellers in the space, and secondly, that the needs and abilities of individuals relative to each other are about the same (so that a group is well matched according to their needs and abilities).

When relationships and levels of giving and sharing become unbalanced there can be quarrels, and communes can split apart. When a pack of lions take too many of the gazelle, they drive the gazelle to extinction and threaten their own existence.