“W e have the baker, the baker’s wife and the baker’s son. We shall have bread”. This was the song sung by the women of Paris and surrounding areas, to refer to the royal family, during the 1789’s French Revolution, after successfully making the king come to terms with the revolutionaries. There was a famine that had struck France that year resulting in widespread hunger. It added to the miseries of an over-taxed population which was already dissatisfied with the Monarch and his governance pattern. The queen who was labelled “foreigner” due to her Austrian origins and was notorious for her extravagant court life was even more unpopular. The impetus of revolution was an interesting combination of middle and lower classes. The educated, urban, professional and politically conscious middle class was aggrieved at not being made a part of decision making at any level since the Estates-General, the assembly of France, had not been convened into a session for almost a hundred and sixty years. They were revolting against the system for their political and economic rights. The intellectual motivation had been provided by the philosophers of the Enlightenment era including maestros like Rousseau, Voltaire and Montesquieu. On the other hand, the lower classes had a different set of grievances. They were living under the tyranny of nobility and were unduly taxed by them. Their class make-up was strikingly different from the intellectual and professional leadership of the revolution. They were mostly farmers and small-scale craftsmen as France was yet to industrialize on a large scale. They weren’t educated and were comprehensively unprivileged. Their issue wasn’t political representation, or that they actually lacked the acumen to understand the democratic ideals of revolutionary principles. The complaints against the system had been piling up for a very long time and a shortage of food aggravated the dissatisfaction. There was news that the royal granaries were full of food, but the government is not ready to distribute it amongst the hungry population. This infuriated the masses and they gathered in the capital to pressurize the officials for redressing their grievances. It was a large procession of women farmers who marched towards the palace Versailles and broke in. The King had to give in and on October 6, 1789, they made him march with them towards Paris along with his family. The procession included the unpopular Queen Marie Antoinette. The uncivilized farmer women sung that verse with pride referring to the access that masses will now have to the food stored by the royals. The fate of Emperor Louis XVI and his family sounds rather tragic as they were later guillotined by the revolutionaries. Guillotining was actually a brutal practice of beheading criminals and opposition members, invented under instructions by the royal family itself. The downfall of all bad governments is justified but it has a human side also. Just like all other criminals, corrupt politicians do have families and sometimes individuals who were not directly responsible for the political crimes, also get victimized. It happened in case of French and Russian royalty, and more recently with the dictators in the Middle East. One may feel bad for the ones treated rather brutally in such episodes but then this is a typical mode of reaction to years, sometimes centuries of suppression and deprivation. The way uncivilized and uncouth peasants behaved during their revolutionary march to capital Paris in 1789, coined the political term, “Parisian Mob”. The mob gathers as a result of those deep-rooted grievances against the system. Identifying a specific leader or agenda is not easy. It’s a random expression of dissatisfaction with the system and hatred towards the ones held responsible. Since it isn’t an organized and well planned political process, the chances of turning into an anomic activity are always there. Today in the developing world, the masses are still not very well-trained in democratic traditions, just like the citizens of pre-revolutionary France. Their selection of words is not based on or in line with any diplomatic or academic norms. They simply vent age old grievances. It’s an activity which cannot be controlled by conventional means, since it in many cases is not mobilized by a proper organization like a political party or a civil society movement. The mob just ‘occurs’. It is unstructured, disorganized, untrained but strong enough to invade a palace and bring down a monarchy. It is strong enough to sing a song of defiance and strong enough to be heard.
The mob just ‘occurs’. It is unstructured, disorganised and untrained, but strong enough to invade a palace and bring down a monarchy. It is strong enough to sing a song of defiance and strong enough to be heard
It is something quite similar to what we are witnessing these days outside the Enfield House, where the Sharif family resides in London. The mob gathers outside and chants slogans against their corruption. By any means, under any circumstances, use of offensive language should be condemned, be it a political or social interaction. We generally claim to be a social system where home and family are sacred institutions and their sanctity is to be respected by each member of society. The problem is when one home is “declared” illegitimate by a court and that judgement is endorsed by the masses.
The mob outside Avenfield House has a history. It actually didn’t surface as abruptly as it may seem it first. It was a subdued conflict which became explicit when encouraged by an institutional decision. The kind of language used from both the sides has been embarrassing for all cultured Pakistanis.
It is our political leadership, media, academia and civil society that have made uncouth behaviour acceptable in our political discourse. What is happening outside Avenfield house is mob politics – an unhealthy expression of power. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and right now, a certain mob is feeling very powerful.
The writer is an assistant professor of Political Science at Kinnaird College. Her email firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Daily Times, July 14th 2018.