Goebbels, politicians and ‘propaganda monkeys’

Propaganda is a means to an end. Its purpose is to lead the people to an understanding that will allow it to willingly and without internal resistance devote itself to the tasks and goals of a superior leadership. If propaganda is to succeed, it must know what it wants. It must keep a clear and firm goal in mind, and seek the appropriate means and methods to reach that goal. Propaganda as such is neither good nor evil. Its moral value is determined by the goals it seeks. Goebbels (1934)

Poor Goebbels! He must be turning in his grave. He has got beaten so badly posthumously by the Sri Lankan pachagandists, who are working overtime in the lead up to the upcoming presidential election. They have left no stone unturned to help their masters gain political mileage. Like in love and war, in political battles, too, anything appears to be fair.

Goebbels’ hatred for Churchill was, no doubt, boundless. But as far as we are aware he didn’t go the extent of getting Churchill’s face superimposed on a naked man’s picture and making a poster out of it. (Churchill wouldn’t have minded it, anyway.) Even Goebbelsian lies were woven round a wee bit of truth and systematically propagated for them to be effective and ‘credible’.

But, here in this land, who cares for credibility? Our pachagandists are no respecters of facts or ‘appropriate means and methods’ which make propaganda effective and powerful. Their method is to sling as much mud as possible at their opponents, until he or she is plastered over with it against a wall, as our playboy King Kashyapa of Sigiriya fame did to his father Dhathusena. The tradition seems to continue. The predilection of our politicians for mud related activities may have been the reason why old JRJ in his wisdom located Parliament in a swamp with a muddy playground opposite it for politicians to wallow in. Today, that institution is said to have more mud inside than outside!

The SLFP is, as we reported yesterday, planning to take recourse to the law over mudslinging against its presidential candidate. About two months ago, the UNP made a hue and cry over a poster ridiculing its leader. If all such cases were to be heard, then there would have to be separate courts for that purpose at the Grama Niladhari Division level.

Apart from being pasted on the roadside walls and hurled from political platforms, mud is also delivered electronically, especially in the cockfights that pass for political debates on television. Some newspapers are printed not in ink but mud. But for the Lady’s political honeymoon with the Opposition, the kept press would have drowned the UNP candidate in mud.

It is doubtful whether this kind of mud slinging pays at the end of the day in terms of electoral gains. The people may not be wise, but they are certainly not so stupid as to be swayed by the rubbish that is being dished out by way of election propaganda. True, for elections to be won, public opinion has to be manipulated. But it is a task that cannot be accomplished through crude methods such as scurrilous literature aimed at character assassination. They expose one thing: a candidate’s political bankruptcy.

The positive outlook of a leader and/or party is the key to electoral success. A negative campaign usually ruins a candidate’s prospects of winning. The success of the PA in 1994 as well as that of the UNF in 2001 serves as an example for the effectiveness of positive campaigns. Those in charge of the campaigns of the two leaders in the presidential fray ought to take cognisance of this fact, if they are not to destroy their leaders’ political future. They have, we believe, heard of the monkey that killed its master in his sleep by trying to kill a mosquito that sat on him, with his own sword. With such propaganda monkeys around, politicians need no enemies.

Posters, mud or otherwise, defacing the wayside walls are the mother of all political battles. Poster wars usually leave several dead and many injured during an election. Besides being an eyesore, they are also signs of a backward democracy. The Elections Commissioner has earned plaudits for standing up to the powers that be and defending the voting rights of the public. Putting up posters in public places being a violation of the election laws, he has to ensure a poster free election.


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