Sunday, 28 February 2010

Radical politics in the internet age

A couple of months ago I made brief comments on how the organised left does (and, more pertinently, doesn't) use the Internet politically. Here, now, is my outline of how I think a left wing website ought to be:

1. The ambition to have a daily, rather than weekly, newspaper can in effect now be fulfilled - and at little expense. Indeed a website can be updated a number of times a day. Speed of response is more important than ever before - phenomena like rolling news, Twitter and news websites have altered people's expectations. A site needs to be upadated very frequently, one consequence being that people keep coming back for more.

2. A website is not just an online storage space for print publications. The design needs to be considered afresh, links should be included, and interesting juxtapositions of new and archive material can be foregrounded. Online readers tend not to read at length, so content (even theoretical essays) should be kept concise, or divided into installments.

3. The internet has expanded the range of media available, compared with print. Crucially this means embedded video, which many site visitors will prefer to text, and which for everyone can at least be complementary to the written word. Short videos are expecially appropriate, given that most YouTube viewers rarely persist with anything for more than 5 or 10 minutes. The technology for a genuinely multi-media site is now cheap and readily available.

4. A left-wing website in 2010 can be truly collaborative. In the 1970s Tony Cliff said that no mainstream newspaper could afford 3000 journalists, but Socialist Worker could have such a team because International Socialists (later SWP), the organisation behind the paper, had that many members. Of course, today's SW doesn't fulfil that vision, instead relying on a small team of full-time journalists. It is, in any case, easier with a website - it's very straightforward for anyone to submit a report, a video or some photos, which can be added instantly. Reporting of workplace struggles can - especially with effective use of video - be transformed. A site today can be interactive, e.g. through commenting facilities, in a way that was once unimaginable.

5. It is also so easy to share content. Hit the Facebook or Twitter button and you can instantly share something you like. Print an article, or email it to anyone you think might be interested. Bloggers like me can re-post or link to things. All this means that even a small organisation - with writing skills, technical know-how, strong politics and a dash of flair - can ensure their material reaches a sizeable audience. The conscious use of social networking tools is essential for taking such a site to a new level. None of this can entirely substitute for direct face-to-face contact, but is invaluable in itself and - with some imaginative thinking - can become the basis for practical organising.


  1. Look, a left wing daily, going since 1930 and now online

  2. I think we can safely say the Morning Star online - whatever its merits - doesn't quite match the vision outlined above!