Into room 101...

"You asked me once," said O'Brien, "what was in room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in room 101 is the worst thing in the world" - George Orwell 1984 Socialist Alliance conference, Saturday February 5, 2pm - room 101, ULU, Malet Street, London

There was an air of unreality hovering over what, it seems, will be the last ever Socialist Alliance executive meeting, held on January 22. Firstly, because it lasted just 18 minutes. Secondly, because it started with just three members of the EC actually present - the chair, Nick Wrack (Socialist Workers Party), secretary Rob Hoveman (SWP) and Jim Jepps of the hapless Socialist Unity Network. Treasurer Heather Cox (SWP) and one other executive member pitched up when the meeting was underway, but the six observers (all from the Socialist Alliance Democracy Platform) still outnumbered them. The oddly perfunctory nature of the proceedings was further emphasised by the surly behaviour of comrade Wrack, a relatively recent SWP recruit. Like many converts to sects he is embarrassingly keen to prove himself a zealot. In the SWP's world, this entails radiating a brash and thuggish contempt for democracy and bored impatience with any comrades having the temerity to exercise their right to raise questions or objections. Thus, the comrade made it plain that the meeting would be short. The open letter circulated by eight former executive members calling on the present leadership to negotiate a transfer of the rights to the name of the SA to those who wished to continue should be discussed by the February 5 AGM, he suggested, in response to a query (of course, comrade Wrack is aware that an overwhelming SWP majority at this meeting will ensure no discussion takes place). Issues associated with the agenda and running of this AGM are to be referred to the conference arrangements committee - an august body that, as Pete McLaren wryly notes in his description of the meeting, "curiously had so far never met" (January 22 statement). In fact, everything associated with the Socialist Alliance has an unreal feel about it. The SWP has decided to flick the switch and end the SA's tenuous existence. Now, it could be said that this is an act of kindness, a recognition that the alliance is leading no real life worthy of the name and it is kinder to let it slip away. This was argued by SUN supporter Jim Jepps in the informal meeting of oppositionists that followed the November 2004 executive - "presumably in the interests of political 'neatness'", I speculated at the time. However, it is disgraceful that the SUN now seems intent on doing the SWP's dirty work for them. It has submitted a resolution to the conference to "formally dissolve" the SA. The apologetic preamble to this resolution on the SUN website correctly notes that "during the course of the last year the Socialist Alliance has ceased to exist as an organisation, except for a few local groups". Yet to conclude from this that it is the job of those who have resisted this sectarian strangulation of the best opportunity for principled left unity in a generation to now deliver the coup de grà¢ce is - at best - foolish. At worst, it is to let the SWP off the hook: the blood of the SA should be seen to be on this sect's hands - no one else's. However, this is very much in keeping with the SUN's self-appointed role as a wistful opposition to the SWP's opportunist hooliganism in the workers' movement - a sort of Jiminy Cricket to John Rees's Pinocchio. Indeed, 'opposition' might be rather too stiff a word. After all, leading SUN supporter Andy Newman is so politically addled that he can actually favourably contrast the democracy of the SWP to that of the CPGB and write that "debate and discussion within the SWP is usually outward-looking and actually trying to change the world for the better" (http://www.socialistunitynetwork.co.uk, October 2004). By which he means that SWPer rank and filers are allowed to gush at meetings about just how excited they are over the next demo/conference/campaign and how the leadership has got 'the mood' spot on - again. With an 'opposition' like this, how can John Rees lose? The demise of the SA has heavily underlined the brutal fact that sectarian opportunism is hardly the preserve of the SWP leadership. Mark Fischer