Bartering versus Mutual Aid: Which is Better for Your Community?

One way to build community resilience is through Mutual Aid, the practice of people coming together to support others’ needs with no conditions on receiving aid. Another option is Bartering, the exchange of goods or services without the use of money. Seemingly, both Bartering and Mutual Aid are a step removed from capitalism, but what sets these apart is greatly determined by the person’s need, the ability to obtain such need, and the distinction between need and want.


A way for people to exchange goods or services they have for other goods or services
… What else?

  • Bartering can fulfill a Need or a Want.
  • Two parties agree on what they want to exchange and the terms of the trade.
  • Participants can belong to any socioeconomic class.
  • Transactional, where each party must want what the other offers.
  • The value is determined by the receiving party independent of the monetary value set by society.

Bartering essentially replaces money with goods/services, usually when money is volatile. For example, a carpenter trades carpentry skills for someone’s gardening services, two expensive services. Another example would be trading a pool table for a boat, in this instance neither is a need, but people can use bartering to get a want, even if both parties have the ability to purchase their want without bartering.

Bartering is something that can happen regardless of need and regardless of the ability to monetarily obtain something. The benefit is to barter when one cannot utilize money, however, an “even” exchange still occurs.

It can also help build relationships between people in the community, as it provides an opportunity to get to know others and their skills. On the other hand it can be difficult to find someone who has what you need and wants what you have to offer. Along with possible disagreements over the value of goods or services, leading to conflict.


Centering community, mutual aid seeks to meet people’s needs with nothing required in return. This can take many forms, from a community garden to a community care network. The idea is that people come together to support each other, without the need for a formal system of exchange. What else does it involve?

  • Typically excludes the wealthy.
  • Based on the principle of solidarity, rather than individualism.
  • People come together to meet their collective needs.
  • Alternative to the hierarchical and oppressive structures of capitalism.

Although the action of mutual aid has existed since indigenous civilizations, the term can be traced back to Peter Kropotkin, a Russian anarchist who argued that cooperation and mutual support were the keys to human survival and progress. According to Kropotkin, mutual aid is not only a moral imperative, but also a practical necessity for communities to thrive.

Critics of mutual aid argue that it can lead to a lack of individual responsibility and a reliance on others. They also point out that it may not be sufficient to address more complex societal issues. However, proponents of mutual aid argue that it is a powerful tool for building strong, resilient communities that are capable of addressing a wide range of challenges.
It represents a rejection of individualism and a commitment to collective action and support. While it has its critics, many believe that mutual aid is an essential component of a just and equitable society.

Both bartering and mutual aid have their advantages and disadvantages. Bartering can be useful in situations where cash is scarce, and can help build relationships between people in the community. However, it can also be difficult to organize and sustain over the long term.
Mutual aid, on the other hand, is based on the principle of solidarity and can help build community resilience. However, it can also be difficult to organize and coordinate, especially if there are many people involved.
Ultimately, the choice between bartering and mutual aid will depend on the needs and circumstances of your community. It may be that a combination of both is the best approach, as each has its own strengths and weaknesses.

Silvana Dean via One Free Community (TikTok onefreecommunity)
I am a volunteer with One Free App. My past experience working in fintech and banking highlighted the inequities in those industries for both BIPOC and neurodivergent communities further driving my passion for anti-oppression work and introducing new people to a community forward mindset. I now find more value using my skills in different projects that support those communities. My footprint on social media is mostly based on sharing joy, add me on BeReal @SlayvanaDelRey.

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