On a closer vote than might have been expected, the Socialist Alliance was finally buried on February 5. The annual conference, held in the University of London Union, voted by 73 votes to 63 to formally close down the SA. In the words of the motion proposed by Andy Newman of the Socialist Unity Network, "This conference recognises that the Socialist Alliance no longer exists as a national organisation. The Socialist Alliance will therefore be formally dissolved." It was, of course, the Socialist Workers Party that was responsible for first slowly strangling the SA and then overseeing the funeral. On Saturday the SWP provided the biggest bloc of voting witnesses (I will not call them mourners) - just as many as were necessary to ensure that the coffin was safely interred. The undertakers were also from the SWP, in the shape of chair Nick Wrack and national secretary Rob Hoveman. The SWP had, ironically, given the SA infant the best chance of reaching some kind of useful adulthood when it fully came on board in 2000. Its cadre had transformed the alliance into an organisation with the objective potential to develop into the kind of formation the working class actually needs - a single, democratic and centralised party. For a brief period, during the 2001 general election campaign, the alliance started to operate, and partly adopt the culture of, a united party. But the subjective factor - the desire not only on the part of the SWP, but of almost all the other, smaller components too, to forge such a party - was utterly lacking. While at last the bulk of the left had come together in the one organisation, virtually alone the CPGB fought for what was necessary. The SWP, Socialist Party, Alliance for Workers' Liberty, Workers Power, etc all saw the SA primarily in terms of recruiting to their own sects. True to form, the SWP from the beginning wanted the alliance to be a 'broad' front programmatically fashioned along the lines of old Labour - an organisation that could attract hundreds of refugees from the Blairites, within which it would comprise the 'revolutionary' minority. It therefore sought to ensure two things: firstly that all trace of principled revolutionism was kept out; and secondly that it retained firm control, however many 'independents' it promoted to positions of responsibility. Not surprisingly an SA of this type was a dismal flop, recruiting only a tiny handful outside the existing left groups and their former members - not least because it was effectively closed down between elections. Within two years the SWP was already planning its demise - the mass anti-war upsurge had given it the notion of a replacement electoral front (this time sculpted to pull in not Labourites, but muslims). With the birth of Respect, the Socialist Alliance had to be buried without trace. Even a rump SA might be seen as a rival to Respect. On Saturday the SWP behaved with absolute and undisguised contempt towards the SA partisans. Apart from comrades Wrack and Hoveman, not one SWPer deigned to speak. It was not even an SWP motion that was voted upon - conveniently, the SUN had proposed the dissolution. The SWP made no attempt to justify the murder, no attempt to make this a political occasion. There was a technical job to be done - and, the sooner it could be over and done with, the better. Comrade Hoveman began proceedings by putting forward the recommendations of what he called the 'conference arrangements committee' - although such a body had not properly existed, let alone met. He proposed that only two resolutions be heard in the first instance - comrade Newman's dissolution motion and a motion in the name of the SA Democracy Platform and three local alliances, which read: "This conference reaffirms the principle of striving for the unity of all socialists, and therefore demands that all bodies of the Socialist Alliance start functioning again, as per constitution." Comrade Hoveman clearly envisaged the whole thing being over in half an hour: he proposed that we hear just four speakers - a proposer and seconder for each motion, who would be allowed five and three minutes respectively. Then we would swiftly move to a vote, bless the corpse and all return home without so much as a wake. Not surprisingly, there was a good deal of opposition to his recommendation - on two main grounds. Firstly, in the words of Lesley Mahmood, "I've travelled 200 miles to have my say and am not even allowed to speak." The CPGB's Anne Mc Shane slammed the fact that we were being "treated in this derisory fashion". Secondly, we heard what turned out to be the main line of attack from other comrades challenging the recommendations: the technical objection that the annual conference could not hear a dissolution motion, since the constitution specified a "special conference" for this purpose. Tony Greenstein said that the meeting was therefore ultra vires, while Chris Jones and Jean Kysow both said there could well be a legal challenge if the SWP persisted. This was a pretty pathetic line, in my view. The motions on the order paper had been properly submitted, with the correct period of notice, so this objection really amounted to a complaint that the SWP had given the conference the wrong name. More to the point was the objection voiced by both comrade Kysow and SADP convenor Pete McLaren: we had not been presented with any accounts, and yet the closure motion was proposing a particular way of allocating the SA's remaining funds. In reply, comrade Hoveman brushed aside the objections. The constitution stated that the SA "may" be dissolved at a special conference and therefore, it could be argued, it "may" also be dissolved in all manner of other ways. Just for good measure, he declared that the current meeting was "special" enough anyway. There was a distinct element of farce about all of this. As for the notion that comrades should be allowed to speak, Hoveman was arrogantly dismissive: two people for each side was "quite sufficient to come to a conclusion". Obviously, from an SWP point of view it would have been even better if we could have moved straight to a vote without hearing anyone. Comrade Wrack then stated: "I am quite clear this is a special meeting", and invited people to challenge his ruling. This was upheld by 68 votes to 54, with the bloc of around 50 SWPers being augmented by a dozen or so comrades from the International Socialist Group and SUN, plus a sprinkling of individuals. Several recounts were needed over the second vote, which challenged the recommendation of the 'conference arrangements committee' on the number of speakers. Finally it was announced that this had been overturned 67-64. While, for the sake of 'neatness', it seems, the SUN was prepared to do the SWP's dirty work in putting the dissolution motion, it had balked at the closing down of debate. This victory gave the SA partisans some hope - the SWP did not have sufficient numbers to carry the day without help and perhaps the Socialist Alliance corpse could be saved. These hopes were immediately dashed after comrade Hoveman had come up with his next recommendation: an extra two three-minute speeches for each motion - a whole 12 minutes of additional debate! This was enough to assuage the SUN's conscience and this proposal was passed by 71 votes to 56. Comrade Newman moved his motion "with great regret". He said he still thought the unity of socialists along the lines of the Scottish Socialist Party was a necessity, "but the SWP didn't agree". Mistakes had been made and an opportunity had been wasted, but "We are where we are - the Socialist Alliance is dead". He hoped we would all come together in the future to build a socialist alternative to New Labour, but for now, "The SA must stop". Martin Thomas of the AWL, moving the 'continuation' motion on behalf of the SADP, mourned the SA as "the biggest step to left unity and dialogue in decades". What a pity the AWL itself had not taken it seriously when it was still breathing. Comrade McLaren appealed to the SWP to do as the Socialist Party and Workers Power had done before: "walk out and leave the Socialist Alliance to those of us who believe in the unity of socialists", a sentiment echoed by Dave Church. The final pro-SA speaker was John Pearson of Stockport SA, who, like comrade Newman, waxed lyrical about the SSP as a "multi-tendency unitary party". Apparently the comrade no longer believes in a Communist Party and now aims for an SSP in England. Steve Freeman was allowed to move a complicated jumble of amendments to the dissolution motion - despite the fact they would have had the effect of negating the substantive resolution. His amendments would have seen the SA hobble on, but without any funds, since they would all have been "distributed to Amnesty International and/or the victims of Guantanamo Bay concentration camp", instead of to the SA supporting organisations, as the SUN motion laid down. Comrade Freeman also spoke out for the SSP, which, as everyone knows, is a fine example of a "republican socialist party". The other pro-closure speakers called were John Nicholson, who assured us that, "However badly everyone has behaved, none of us is the enemy. We have to be bigger than this" - so unity is for some future, unspecified occasion, obviously. Then there was Liam McQuaid of the ISG, the only speaker who attempted some justification for the dissolution move: "The place to build a new party of the working class is in Respect." Only three speakers for this motion had come forward and so comrade Wrack asked again for a fourth. With the SWP, including such notables as John Rees and Alex Callinicos, sitting on their hands, Elaine Graham-Leigh, a former Green Party member who, it seems, had joined the SA along with Respect "a year ago" (she must have been the last person recruited to the alliance), volunteered to do the necessary. Comrade Graham-Leigh said the reason many SA members were not present was that they were out leafleting in Tower Hamlets for Respect. She knew of a group of people who would be "delighted if the Socialist Alliance continues - Oona King and other New Labour MPs", who would regard the SA as "opposition to Respect". At last we had heard the SWP line. Comrade Freeman's amendment was lost without the need for a count and after the dissolution was carried, the 'continuation' motion was deemed to have fallen. There followed another consolation victory for the opposition, when a final motion was heard. This stated that the SA "agrees to pay Walsall DLP [Democratic Labour Party] the amount outstanding from their £5,000 loan to the SA for the 1999 Euro elections". Although this loan was an established fact, comrade Hoveman opposed the motion on the grounds that there was "no record of it in the accounts". That could be because there were no accounts, of course. Comrade Hoveman, however, was "open-minded" and was prepared to honour any commitment to the DLP if someone would show him the paperwork. There was "a legal obligation to discharge debt", he said, and added, somewhat contradictorily: "That's why I'm against this resolution." Against or not, it was carried, by 65 votes to 57. The CPGB came in for some criticism from some SADP comrades for failing to mobilise its members for this conference. Critics pointed to such minor victories and the closeness of all the votes. This misses the point. Admittedly the SWP had cut it fine, but, had there been any real possibility of losing the most important votes, a simple telephone call to east London would have pulled the necessary numbers away from leafleting. The SWP was in control of the conference registrations and had done its sums. In any case, a numerical victory would not have brought the SA corpse back to life. Passing a resolution instructing the SWP to ensure that "all bodies of the Socialist Alliance start functioning again, as per constitution" would hardly have made it happen. The CPGB voted against dissolution because we wanted the SWP to take responsibility for its crimes, not because we thought the alliance could be revived at this moment as a living organism. This sad failure to appreciate reality was apparent in the SADP fringe meeting that followed the conference. Some comrades, in the words of John Pearson, want to declare, "The Socialist Alliance is dead - long live the Socialist Alliance", as though a new SA - without the support, organising capacity or resources of the main left groups - can simply be announced into existence. Others resort to moralism, stating they will never again work with the SWP (or even the SUN). Yes, the SWP has a lot to answer for. But it remains the largest organisation on the revolutionary left and simply cannot be bypassed. It is worth noting, however, that the leadership did seem to be having trouble mobilising its London members. It ought to have been able to ensure a much more comfortable majority, while still leaving more than enough comrades for Respect election work in Tower Hamlets. This points to a distinct discomfort with the current trajectory, which, amongst other things, requires members to turn up in numbers not for political work, but simply to act as wreckers. The SWP comrade next to me, who loyally followed the party line all the way through the meeting, commented ironically as yet another procedural vote was taken: "There are lots of votes - it's very democratic." The Socialist Alliance experience has left many on the left demoralised. The way to overcome this is through continued cooperation and, most of all, setting our sights at a much higher level. We need to aim not for an SA mark two, not for an SSP, but for an all-Britain Communist Party. The CPGB will continue to fight for this outcome wherever we can: in Respect, in the SADP, in the SSP and in whatever other formations life itself throws up. Peter Manson