Around the web: Virtual vanity

Phil Hamilton reviews the website of Peter Taaffe's narcissistic 'international'

The website of the Socialist Party in England and Wales sums up everything that is unhealthy about the left in Britain (see Weekly Worker January 9). Providing its own opinions on every topic under the sun, the SP online is a polished exercise in haughty self-promotion, arrogance and conceit. Reflecting the behaviour of the organisation in real life, it would seem unlikely that the website of the Committee for a Workers’ International (SP’s international franchise) would be any different.

First impressions are very favourable. Giving the site a welcome international flavour is the option to read it in eight languages. Unfortunately all of these (bar Turkish) are European tongues, effectively limiting the potential audience to the western hemisphere. A more serious problem is the lack of evenness between the available languages - instead of one standard site being translated, the non-English pages consist merely of separate articles in German, French, etc. Particularly poor is the Turkish page, which carries only one piece. Clearly more resources need to be deployed if it is to become truly international.

Following the standard SP design, the site is both easy on the eye and effortless to navigate. Underneath a ‘Join us today’ preamble, the latest news from CWI correspondents from the last week is listed. Pleasingly this is regularly updated, the last posting bringing news from the EU meeting and simultaneous Greek Social Forum. Others from the previous seven days cover events in Iran, Italy, Israel, Nigeria and Ireland, and are of varying quality. The foot of the page lists the articles of the week before, and is followed by a link to an alphabetically ordered archive of hundreds of items.

Running parallel to the news are a number features. The first of these is ‘Iraq’, which offers news, analysis, activities and reports from February 15 and day X actions. All the pieces are generally culled from The Socialist, CWI statements, and the eyewitness reports from CWI comrades. The next is ‘Venezuela - revolution and counterrevolution’, a collection or articles from the last three years on the ebbs and flows of Chavez’s populist course. Prominently displayed CWI statements on Iraq and May Day 2003 follow, along with more repeated material from the Greek SF.

‘Featured CWI publications’ of the moment are Tony Saunois’s Che Guevara - symbol of struggle and Planning green growth. The latter can be downloaded and printed. Rounding off the column are ‘Featured links’. The first carries 16 links to CWI affiliates, journals and campaign fronts such as International Socialist Resistance. The second is to Marxist.net, a more ‘high brow’ theoretical website. The ‘Marxist archive’ carries no less than 12 polemics with Scottish Militant Labour/International Socialist Movement over the formation of the Scottish Socialist Party. The next polemical missive is against Ted Grant’s hapless Socialist Appeal crew over the specifics of “Militant’s real history”. The final item is Marxism and Ireland, a piece that essentially calls on Northern Ireland workers to bury their differences around economic struggles. The page also carries classical pieces from Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and (surprisingly) James Connolly. Well, almost. Clicking on his The friends of small nationalities, one is redirected to more articles on Iraq. I’m sure this is purely an oversight on the webmaster’s part, and has little to do with the CWI’s notorious avoidance of national-democratic issues.

The navigation around the CWI site proper is pretty straightforward, in essentials being a no-frills version of the prominent right-hand bar. Particularly useful is the online publications link that allows for 13 pamphlets to be read, offering a relatively in-depth view of CWI politics. The ‘In your area’ link is uneven but interesting, listing ‘official’ chest-beating profiles of some CWI sections (my favourite has to be the International Socialists in Scotland, whose piece just cannot resist taking a sideswipe at the SSP). But this is nothing compared to the arrogance of the CWI webmasters, in their reflections on the site tucked away in ‘About us’. We are informed that it “certainly provides the best socialist analysis and commentary”. If this is the case, can we look forward to a CWI-sponsored discussion site that puts the “best analysis” to the test of open debate?

Overall, here we have a well designed website that does what it sets out to do. However, the vanity here is almost embarrassing, and sits uneasily with its self-promoted image as a serious working class organisation.