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Cooperation versus Competition in Works of Russian Evolutionists

Cooperation versus Competition in Works of Russian Evolutionists

Journal of Institutional Studies, , Vol. 9 (no. 1),

One of the fundamental assumptions of mainstream economics is that competing agents maximising individual utility comprise the near totality of economic activity. However, this assumption attracts criticism because there is little experimental evidence to suggest that the competitive model is the only form of economic activity. Therefore, searches for other plausible theoretical foundations for economic activity, such as cooperation and mutual aid, are still relevant. In this connection our inquiry reintroduces a debate which occurred in Russia in the 19th and early 20thcenturies. Responses to Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection ..." (1859) are considered, especially critiques that stress Darwin’s emphasis upon competition and struggle in natural selection that can be traced to his reliance upon ideas taken directly from Thomas Robert Malthus, and that appear integrated into “Origins … “ as Chapter Three “Struggle for Existence”. The historical basis of the similarity between both these British scientists’ views are analysed. We consider challenging contributions made by Russian scholars about the role of cooperation and mutual aid in evolution as an alternative and additional principle to competition and it is shown that this approach has been dominant among Russian researchers, regardless of their political views and preferences. We place special emphasis upon Peter Kropotkin’s focus upon cooperation and mutual aid in natural selection and evolution in his book "Mutual Aid. A Factor of Evolution" (1902). We show the relevance and prospects of this approach of Russian evolutionists. It is confirmed by the latest developments of evolutionary game theory which show the long-term instability of the individualistic Zero-determinant strategy. In conclusion, Thorstein Veblen ’s connections to Peter Kropotkin are considered and the similarity in their approaches to the role of cooperation in social evolution is demonstrated.


Keywords: evolutionary theory; competition; natural selection; Charles Darwin; Thomas Robert Malthus; Peter Kropotkin; cooperation; mutual aid; Russia; meso-level of analysis.

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