The Power of Words #3: Political Propaganda

It’s a long time since I’ve done one of these articles and bearing in mind that UKIP made some gains in the council elections last night (but not as much as we all feared), this is probably the right time to be writing an article on rhetoric and propaganda. It’s fairly typical around the time of any election and I expect more of the same this time next year when we go to the polls to cast a final evaluation of the Con-Lib coalition.

They Are Out to Get Us!!!!11!!1!

For the right wing, the fear that “They” are coming usually centres on one of two things: enemies on the outside (usually foreign powers, different races etc who don’t / won’t respect our values and traditions) and those on the inside (usually lefties who are all Communist, hate this country, its values and traditions to allow those foreign powers in).

This election (particularly the election to choose our MEPs) has been particularly heated, largely thanks to the rise of the right wing party UKIP. If I can draw an equivalent for my US readers, they are like the Tea Party – but most people don’t know or do not care about their free market fundamentalism because all they really talk about is immigration and Europe (EEA / EU) and that (along with frustration of the big three parties) is what has fuelled their increase in council seats yesterday. European results are expected at the weekend after everybody has voted.

Propaganda Fear of “the Foreigner” often drives the right winger and hearkening back to “when we won the war” – as this poster to the left does, blaming immigrants for “taking our jobs” or even “taking our benefits” (switching interchangeably depending on the economic situation) leads to the sort of knee-jerk reactions that leads to far right parties being elected in the first place. They play on peoples’ fears of that which is different.

The language used by right wingers is designed to inspire paranoia, calling for people to rise up against those who would take their country away from them. Look at the poster to the left again, particularly that statement beneath the image. This is fairly typical of the right wing reactionary.

For the left wing, the enemy is naturally and typically the corporate world – the profiteers and their government who let them get away with X and harm people in the name of profit. Either that or it is fundamentalist religion taking over the government to grant its own practitioners special rights while taking them away from the rest of us. Both of these fears are as real as foreign powers subverting our way of life, just as plausible but the rhetoric that is used often borders on hysteria.

Respect Party campaign leaflet

And they’re everywhere – those authorities who want to keep us crushed under foot. For  the hippy it is The Corporate World, for the feminist it is The Patriarchy, for organic enthusiasts it is Monsanto and GMOs that will give us cancer. Actually, this is the perfect example of commercial slandering: one business attempting to defame its competitors. Anybody who thinks the organic industry is the little guy standing up to the bully of conventional farming really needs to look a little closer.

Take a look at the leaflet on the right – it is the election campaign leaflet for George Galloway’s Respect Party. The irony, when you read the content, is that they are using much the same language as the right wingers at UKIP: alarmist in nature, warning of the intentions of a group (with UKIP it’s immigrants, with Respect it’s the elite and the super rich) to keep you crushed under foot and to deny you what you are entitled to while the government gives tax breaks to the most powerful who are also denying you the right to jobs.

All of these things use the same sort of language. Invariably they have “The Truth” which is being suppressed by the enemy. They feed off the conspiracy that they create, almost like a drug dealer who’ll give you your first heroin hit for free to see if you like it and then keep you there always wanting that next hit.

The tragedy is that the far left and far right are far closer than they would like to admit: both use a certain alarmist rhetoric, both have an enemy who are trying to silence you and there is an underlying message that “if we don’t do something now X will happen”.

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