Today we launch a new upgraded Counterfire site. Editor Ady Cousins argues it can make a difference to the movement and the left - with your help
Today sees the launch of the new upgraded Counterfire site. It is the site’s third incarnation so I am calling it Counterfire 3.0. The new features are a response to the developing role of the site and of Counterfire the organisation, as well as technical changes. To explain them I want to start by discussing the purpose of a socialist website in 2014.
In the beginning was the deed
The central purpose of Counterfire is to provide people with the confidence and motivation to do something and to help them do it, enabling people to be more effective in opposing war, austerity, racism, sexism, and all injustice and oppression.
Counterfire.org has had an activist emphasis from its launch 5 years ago. But when we launched as the hub of a very small group of activists we inevitably often had to lead with general arguments and analysis. Activity is now even more upfront partly because Counterfire has grown significantly and partly because we are now centrally involved in a real, national movement against austerity which has the potential of making a real difference to the political scene.
This is not to say we will stop highlighting important and often complex, theoretical arguments.
The last couple of years particularly have proved that clarity on political issues is essential to effective organisation. Counterfire has for example carried a series of widely read articles explaining why socialists have to work with trade union leaders and decent Labour people who oppose austerity. The emergence of the People’s Assembly has proved how important it was to win this argument with as many activists as possible.
Convincing activists to hold the line against growing calls for Western involvement in Syria was also a necessary condition for the protests that helped stop Cameron launching another war last year. We also want to convince people that all of the things they are campaigning against are linked and structured into a system based on exploitation which can only be overturned by the collective actions of the exploited and oppressed.
So we will continue our mix of reportage, theory, analysis and comment. But theory or commentary in the abstract is pointless and runs the risk of simply supporting an online leftwing commentariat with low real-world impact. We want to link people up with others who see the world in similar terms so that we can pool our resources and talents and by conscious, coordinated action have a greater impact than if we were simply a collection of individuals. One aspect of this is encouraging readers to take the first step to activism and share and retweet material widely and systematically.
Identification with the site is a crucial element in Counterfire's capacity to convince, to influence and to be shaped by other activists who see the world in similar terms. The site aims to send an unambiguous signal that identifies Counterfire with the People's Assembly movement, the revival of strikes and trade unions, the protests against the war on welfare recipients, and against the foreign wars as well as the student movement against the loans sell-off, the opposition to Islamophobia and the rise of Ukip and so on.
This also means it needs to be a mechanism to enable people to contact, support and join Counterfire and the growing number of Counterfire groups around the country. More and more people are now joining online – and it is now much simpler to join with our online Direct Debit facility.
Counterfire is visited by thousands of people every week, with sharp peaks at times of maximum activity. We have seen seventeen percent increase in new readers in the last year. Our most popular articles are read by thousands on Counterfire and often picked up by movement and international sites - reaching an even wider readership.
From its inception, Counterfire has argued and actively campaigned around a number of key insights and the strategic goals that flow from them. An article published in April 2010, just after we launched, set out the perspectives that have guided our approach since:
1. The political radicalisation that began in 1999 is, under the impact of the recession, spreading more widely throughout society and helping to lift the level of industrial resistance. There is a growing threat from the right, but it will only become dominant if the left fails to provide leadership on the central question of the recession.
2. We need a wider theoretical debate so that our analysis of the crisis is broadened to effectively integrate the new dimensions of the economic crisis and its social and imperial dimensions into our analysis.
3. Politics remains central. But this does not simply mean socialist propaganda, however valuable this is. It means a renewed commitment to united front work on political and economic issues.
4. The war, as the demonstrations over Gaza in January 2009 and the continued crisis over Afghanistan show, is central to British politics. It will remain central to any notion of political trade unionism.
5. The recession requires an initiative on a class wide, national basis which tries to involve the widest possible layers in the labour movement in generalising the resistance to the recession.
6. The resistance at Visteon, Vestas or in the postal strikes, for instance, would have been stronger still if there was an already existing nationally organised network of supporters to whom they could have turned for support, meetings, collections, delegations and so on.
7. Such a network would provide a much wider audience for revolutionary ideas than can be obtained by propaganda means alone. The creation of such a network is the best possible guarantee that the recession will not pass the left by without there being any qualitative increase in its size. In the years ahead the creation of such a network is likely to be crucial in raising the level of working class resistance and building mass support for socialist politics in the face of the greatest crisis of world capitalism since the 1930s.
Guided by this approach, the site and our members have been centrally involved in the Stop the War Coalition and its continuing opposition to imperialist war abroad and the racism it generates at home. We've also taken a lead in uniting the resistance to austerity in the People's Assembly Against Austerity.
Two events have confirmed the strength of this approach. First the defeat of David Cameron's attempt to take Britain into yet another US led middle east war in 2013 – and the knock-on effect of effectively preventing the Obama administration from militarily intervening in Syria, and secondly the creation of the People's Assembly Against Austerity and the organisation of the march on June 21 2014 – the largest national demonstration against austerity not organised by the trade unions.
The features we have built into the new site seek to build on these successes and respond to the challenges of a new situation. The main 'slide show' area of the site's home page is dedicated to promoting the key upcoming movement events that shape our priorities for the immediate future. We want visitors to the site to be in no doubt that this is an activist site rooted in, and committed to the success and development of the wider movement. We also want to send a clear signal that we believe that socialists are stronger together in an organisation. So an invitation to join us will remain a permanent feature of the main slide show. A list of other upcoming movement and political events is also now prominent on the home page.
The handset revolution
Counterfire 3.0 retains our emphasis on design. Surveys have demonstrated that the appearance of a site influences how visitors rate the content - well designed sites increase the authority of the content in the eyes of site visitors. Nationally, the trend is for greater use of mobile devices (smart phones and tablets) to view websites. Growing numbers of visitors are viewing Counterfire on mobile devices. Our mobile readership has increased from 6% of site visitors in December 2010 to 32% in December 2013
This is good news – the combination of the web with mobile devices potentially facilitates more effective organising - what Howard Reingold described as 'deliberate and tactically focused use of wireless communications and mobile social networks in urban political conflict'.
Rather than simply accommodating mobile users, we need to be focussing on them as the trend towards mobiles will increase. The new site is a ‘responsive’ design, which means that content is presented in a manner appropriate to the device used. It also means that the site can be administered via a smart phone or tablet, increasing our capacity to update the site whilst out of the office.
A real collaboration
There has recently been a sharp increase in the amount of content we generate – a product both of Counterfire’s growth and an increased interest in the movement. While we are always looking for more contributors and content we are now able to provide a daily commentary and analysis of events. As a result we have been able to launch a daily bulletin – a daily counterblast to mainstream propaganda - which is proving very popular. You can sign up on the home page.
Almost all content on Counterfire is produced by our members, supporters and readers. We have no paid journalists. The content we carry is written by people actively involved in the movement. We want to emphasise this fact, that those that speak to you via the pages of Counterfire are activists not commentators, real people not anonymous ideologues. We have added short author biographies to articles (where we have them) so that site visitors can see who it is that is writing, and find further articles by the same author. We have many authors so this is a work in progress.
We actively seek contributions from activists across the movement – whether its reports, interviews, personal experience or analysis. Just sending in photographs or video clips from movement events can be invaluable in helping activists piece together a picture of what is really happening on the ground. But if you do want to contribute, writing a few lines about yourself adds to the impact.
I believe the Counterfire 3.0 can make a difference to the movement and the left in the coming, exciting months. But that depends on you. To end, here's some ways you can help.
· Send us feedback on the site using the 'Contact us' page
· Share and retweet our material daily.
· Donate. We will shortly be launching a major appeal to help pay for the upgrade.
· Join Counterfire – this is about changing the world. We need to get organised!
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