Socialist Worker Online: Great improvement

The newly revamped website of the Socialist Workers Party will not set the world of web design alight - but it is miles better than the previous site, says Phil Hamilton

You can almost feel sorry for the SWP’s central committee. The leading role the organisation has played in the Stop the War Coalition has not resulted in their recruiting eager new activists hand over fist. Unfortunately for them, neither has their dalliance with left populism in Respect. Yes, Respect has saved a few deposits here and there, but this achievement has not coincided with any new influx of SWP members. Combine this with the organisation’s growing financial headache and things are not looking too peachy.

It is in this context that Socialist Worker’s website has been revamped. To put it gently, the old site was never going to set the world of web design alight, and neither will this. However, the architecture has been smartened up with a few pictures and a liberal splash of red, making it look less ad hoc than it used to. One particularly interesting addition has been the inclusion of ‘A revolutionary socialist paper in Britain’ as a by-line beneath the site banner (not ‘the revolutionary paper’). Could this be a tacit recognition by the SWP that it is not necessarily the centre of the socialist universe? Nevertheless it is too premature to expect links to other left papers and groups - aside from Respect, of course.

The site’s launch is announced in the latest SW (July 24). Martin Empson in his capacity as webmaster writes that the new design came out of a series of consultative meetings that have taken place over the last year or so. According to the pinched article, the feedback suggested that an improved search facility was on the top of everyone’s list. Apparently no one suggested greater interactivity via a forum facility, or if they did then comrade Empson is staying tight-lipped. He then makes a ritualistic nod toward the SWP’s position on the internet. He notes that “having a beautifully designed website cannot substitute for socialists engaging in campaigns, selling and distributing a socialist newspaper” - as if anyone on the left seriously argues that cyberspace should be the primary arena for working class politics.

So what guidance does the comrade offer internet-travelling socialists? Not a lot: “Socialist Worker Online will mean that more readers are introduced to our ideas, read the reports … and forward them on.” Or, in other words, the internet is viewed solely as an opportunity for increasing SW’s circulation. Given the SWP’s undemocratic culture, I am not surprised that cyberspace is not regarded as a space where links can be forged with other activists and views exchanged.

Comrade Empson’s article aside, the new online layout of SW is quite helpful. Every article is organised under a particular theme (highlights, news, etc) and includes a number of features. All pieces are available in pdf, and have the facility to forward items to a friend, a version fit for unproblematic printing, and a comment box in which viewers can submit their opinions. Knowing that SW is not renowned for forthright exchanges between readers, with only the least controversial and banal points ever seeing the light of day on SW’s letters page, I imagine only the webmaster and editorial team will be privy to the contents of the comments box. Finally, some articles (the obituary of Paul Foot, for instance) have links to related pieces in the same paper. Ideally, as more back issues are uploaded, articles should link to others in the archive, so one is able to thread items together on a particular topic.

Neatly complementing the new site has been the online makeover given to Socialist Review. During the European election campaign, former SR editor Lindsey German became a website regular, offering her pearls of wisdom about the campaign through her blog. For reasons not given, all mention of the comrade’s excruciatingly painful journey has been excised, though it can still be viewed in its glory at www.socialistreview.org.uk/blog. Its parting message from June promised a return in mid-July, but so far no show. I guess we should be thankful for small mercies.

Just like its SW sibling, the SR website is a great improvement. Not only is it better designed, but the entire issue is available for perusal. You do get the impression that this is a somewhat grudging concession, as the ‘Full contents’ link is tiny. So viewers will now be able to take a look at Lindsey German’s “in-depth” analysis of Respect’s vote, or the breakdown of key areas (read: areas where Respect did well) without having to wait for the full version to surface in the archive.