The Blanket

Selling Ideas

Liam O Ruairc • 15.10.02

One of the advantages of living in a democratic country is a relative "freedom of expression". However, the nature of the capitalist system makes it not so much formal freedom of expression than how much can you financially afford to express yourself.

A recent example showing this is the Nice campaign in the 26 counties. Leinster House is not a dictatorship, the Nice Treaty is subject to a referendum, and opponents to the treaty can freely express their views on the treaty without fear of being prosecuted and going to jail. Formally, supporters and opponents of the Nice Treaty are equally free to express their views and put their case across. But the reality is that one party has a massive advantage over the other through privileged access to massive financial and media resources.

Pro-Nice political parties, business, trade unions and so-called "civil society" are estimated to be spending 1.53 million Euro on the "Vote Yes" campaign - more than ten times more than their opponents (The Guardian, 12 October 2002). A problematic question is then what shapes the outcome of political debates the most: the force of arguments or money?

Empirical studies would help answering this question. However it is undeniable that access to important financial resources will facilitate the spread of certain ideas. For example, to reach a national audience, one has to have access to TV, radio or a national newspaper/magazine. All this is very expensive. That Republicans and Socialists have good arguments is one thing, but if they can afford to put their ideas across is another. The force of argument on its own is not enough.

A website like The Blanket or a paper like the Starry Plough even with the best of arguments can never match the power of RTE or the Sunday World to shape ideas. The critical question is how can Socialists and Republicans win the "battle of ideas" if they do not have access to sufficient financial resources?

A strategy of "infiltration" will fail, as the experience of the Workers Party in RTE proved. The ability of Republicans and Socialists to achieve ideological hegemony through a protracted "war of position" in the battle of ideas is financially impossible. However, even if "the dominant ideas are the ideas of the dominant classes", that doesn't mean that the people will always believe them. If different groups have to "sell" ideas, there are no guarantees that the audience will always "buy" them. Tony Blair for example, in spite of access to massive financial resources, has many problems "selling" the idea of a war on Iraq.

The ideological crisis of the ruling classes begins whenever people are getting more and more sceptical of what they are told. That is the crucial juncture: people will be looking for answers elsewhere; and Republicans and Socialists will find a receptive audience to their ideas.




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It is better to be defeated on principle than to win on lies.
- Arthur Calwell
Index: Current Articles

27 October 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Bloody Sunday
Seaghán Ó Murchú


Under the Ulster Hand

Brian Mór


Security Forces

Brian Mór


Selling Ideas
Liam O Ruairc


Dirty Harry
Anthony McIntyre


Thoughts On The Coming War (Part 2)
Sean O Torain


Academics on Independence (Part 3)

Paul Fitzsimmons


Reform By Imprisonment
Sam Bahour


24 October 2002


Stand Up And Be Counted
Mickey Donnelly


Read It And Weep

Mick Hall


Particularity Or Universality?
Liam O Ruairc


Time Has Run Out For An Armed IRA
Anthony McIntyre


Thoughts On The Coming War
Sean O Torain


The Letters Page has been updated.




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