The 17th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1934 witnessed the decisive victory of the Stalinist faction. However, even the 100 or so negative ballots were enough to embark Stalin on a massive escalation of the Terror that was to claim millions of lives over the next 20 years. 98 of the 139 members elected to the Central Committee were subsequently murdered, as were over half of the more than thousand delegates.
So those of you who voted against coalition or abortion at last weekend’s Sinn Féin Ard Fheis might want to keep a packed suitcase handy. I jest of course. The gulags are all virtual these days.
Some of the manner in which the Ard Fheis was managed was indeed redolent of Stalinism. There is a clip on social media of Councillor Ide Cussen being shouted over and the Chairperson banging his microphone. Her profile was removed from the Sinn Féin list of local representatives before even the formality of possibly throwing her out has even begun.
For all the bluster, none of the prominent people who had been threatening blue murder over the acceptance of coalition, and even hinting they might resign, did anything unsheepish. Even a relatively innocuous motion from a Dublin cumann which accepted coalition as a minority party, but which sought to frame it in a way giving lip service to the pipe dream of a majority “left” government was “persuaded” to amend it.
And so there is every possibility that if the numbers stack up the next time, that Sinn Féin will be the junior partner in a coalition with Fine Gael. As part of the foreplay, the shinners withdrew a motion of no confidence in the Government on the housing issue.
That Sinn Féin is potentially on the verge of being in coalition with Fine Gael is an extraordinary development. Even more so than their ten year long coalition with the DUP in Stormont. SF enjoy spouting about “civil war politics,” Well, the ultimate resolution of “civil war politics” would be for the main successor of the pro-Treaty side to have the whip hand over the political descendants of the most intransigent faction of the republican anti-Treaty side. It can be yet another historical defeat sold as a victory.
Of course in the world of realpolitik, there is very little that separates Fine Gael and Sinn Féin. There is a significant cultural difference, probably the only thing that might scupper a deal, but they agree on all the main issues. They are both avid supporters of the EU, opposed to raising corporation tax, have same positions on abortion and immigration and so on.
All the rest is hot air about housing and whatever, but as Sinn Féin proved in Stormont they are not adverse to ignoring such matters once they are in “power.” In 2013, West Belfast had the second highest level of child poverty of 650 Westminster constituencies. This after decades of Sinn Féin dominance of West Belfast and of all the massive funding that is filtered into the Catholic part of the constituency. So, Fine Gael need not have to worry about communes being established in Clondalkin or Knocknaheeny.
The only significant opposition to the leadership at the Ard Fheis came from opponents of abortion on the issue of whether elected representatives be allowed a free vote on the legislation that will ensue after the Summer recess. You would imagine given the likely scale of the majority in support of extended limits for abortion that Sinn Féin might have been magnanimous and allow the two TDs opposed to vote as they wish. Oh no.
That is not how things work in the world of the Core Group. You either tow the line, humiliate yourself like some of the outspoken opponents of coalition, leave or get thrown out. Indeed there was a telling quote from one of the above who when asked what might happen to Peadar Toibin, Carol Nolan and others, basically said that they would be expected to eat humble pie, but there was a chance that their response might be to tell the commissars to “fuck off.” It is pretty obvious that they would prefer the latter, although Stalinists always enjoy seeing their enemies crawl before their inevitable despatching.