Letters: Don't use the word "mob"; Singling out Israel?

Submitted by AWL on 19 January, 2021 - 6:20
Capitol protest

Don’t use the word “mob”

The occasional use of the word “mob” in Solidarity 577 requires some comment. The first point I want to make is that “mob”, “mob rule” or variants thereof, have almost always been used against the left: strikers, demonstrators such as those involved in unemployed movements, anti-fascist struggles and campaigns such as BLM and so on. We shouldn’t be borrowing the language of the ruling class, however appalled we might be by what we see on the television screen.

I have no desire to go into a detailed history of the term “mob”. It probably gained currency in the French Revolution where it was applied, for example, by various commentators (many of them writing after the event) to those who stormed the Bastille.

That supposedly senseless, directionless, undisciplined “mob” was anything but. They had a very clear goal — to release prisoners from the Bastille and bring down a hated symbol of the old regime. They engaged in quite prolonged negotiations with the commander of the fortress cum prison, who had some sympathies for the aims of the Revolution.

The events that followed were confused. Eventually the Bastille was stormed and the prisoners released (all seven of them!). The Commander and most of the small garrison were killed, and the Bastille was destroyed.

Despite the confusions, this was not “mob rule”. The people who stormed the Bastille were actually well-organised and goal-oriented and this could be said for many of the groups, crowds and factions who participated in the French Revolution. A few years later at the Battle of Valmy (1792) the “rabble” (a variant of “mob”), now organised into an armed militia and bolstered by troops from the French army, displayed great discipline and military expertise and defeated a larger force of Prussian, Austrians and pro-monarchists. So much for the “unruly mob’!

For Washington, the use of the term “mob” hides a welter of complexities behind a convenient label.

Within that crowd of people were, I’m sure, many that we would like to win over to our side of the barricade: the unemployed, the disillusioned, those struggling to make ends meet, the former Kentucky coal miner now facing a bleak future and so on.

Not only would we like to win them over. It is a political necessity, we must win them. Obviously, we should do this without making the slightest concession to individuals such as the scum pictured in Solidarity 577 wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt. To paraphrase Trotsky, those people should be “branded with infamy, if not with a bullet”.

The easy but lazy use of the word “mob” is a distraction, it warps our analysis, it deflects our criticism into journalistic cliché and makes our job, whether in the USA or elsewhere, just that bit harder.

John Cunningham, Lancashire

Singling out Israel

TheSolidarity 577 report on vaccine nationalism was accurate, but there’s a problem. Vaccine nationalism is rife. Countries put their own nationals first, and buy excess stocks before poorer countries can get even meagre supplies. Exceptions are few. In the current climate, the political import of attacking only Israel’s vaccine nationalism will be (inadvertently, no doubt) to feed into the ambient demon-Zionist and delegitimise-Israel propaganda. We should beware of the special, jaundice-eyed singling-out of Israel.

It adds a twist that Israel militarily occupies the West Bank and blockades Gaza, though both the Palestinian Authority and Gaza run their own health services. But we should avoid getting into a mode where we attack common misdeeds as practised by Israel, and much more rarely as by other states.

John Nihill, South London

The Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association has launched a petition calling on Britain to supply vaccines to Palestine.

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