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Thomas 'Ta' Power's Legacy

The author is a QUB Political Science honours graduate, a political analyst and has written on a variety of related issues

Thomas 'Ta' Power - Revolutionary Theorist and Guerrilla

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We hear a lot about the 'Ta Power Document' but what exactly does it contain? Certainly, one can read the Ta Power critique in an afternoon but in my opinion, the best way to appreciate fully what is contained in his critique is to take the time to read it as one would approach a serious study. This is because there is so much data compounded into those 67 x A4 pages that a quick reading will not do justice to the project (which was so comprehensively written under the most difficult of conditions in a cramped prison cell).

It is also helpful to acquaint oneself with the life of Ta Power as the INLA guerilla and the revolutionary socialist theorist. Ta Power's life was very closely associated with the earlier years of the Republican Socialist Movement. Within the pages of the "Ta Power Document" are contained the early genuine history of the Irish Republican Socialist Movement written by a realist and Marxist-Leninist who knew only too well that as a revolutionary he was simply a "deadman on leave!" James Connolly, Ireland's first Marxist revolutionary wrote 89 years before Ta Power's assassination that:

"Apostles of Freedom are ever idolized when dead, but crucified when alive"

These were prophetic words both for Connolly and for Ta Power!

The Ta Power Document

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Thomas 'Ta' Power was an Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) volunteer and Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) activist whose dissertation on the history of the broad Irish Republican Socialist Movement (IRSM) contained a clear blueprint for its rejuvenation based on the 'Primacy of Politics' or 'Politics in Command'. Tragically, Ta Power who famously stated that 'revolutionaries were dead men on leave' was assassinated by counter-revolutionaries in January 1987 and never lived to see his 'politics in command' doctrine being implemented within the IRSM.
Gino Gallagher, who equally tragically was cut down in the prime of his life by a hired hit-man working on behalf of counter-revolutionaries in 1996, described Ta Power as 'the greatest influence in my life.'

Collective Leadership

Contained within the pages of his dissertation Ta Power's primary legacy to contemporary Republican Socialists are his analysis of previous mistakes of structure and culture within the IRSM, so that such negative 'contradictions' should never be allowed to develop again.
He uses examples of collective leadership in Mozambique to relate to Republican Socialists how this was a democratic bulwark against the politically disastrous practice of allowing power-bases or Bonapartism, which ultimately led to the IRSM's very public interregnum, of which Ta Power was a leading casualty. He also relates how collective leadership is a prudent counter-measure against the sudden removal of one central leader, such as Seamus Costello's assassination, becoming an 'incalculable' loss to a revolutionary movement, concluding:

"the reality is, there is no substitute for the principle of collective leadership; no matter who the individual, or what his capabilities, no one person can substitute the basic fundamental principle"


Politics in Command

When Ta Power wrote his dissertation, the IRSM were very much on a war-footing but even then with guerrilla war being waged, he spells out the necessity of the primacy of politics. He is not simply referring to the party being the lead body in any party/army model but he also writes about the culture which had been allowed to develop in the IRSM where political activism was viewed as a very poor second to army-orientated actions. Ta Power's analysis was fearless when one thinks back to the realities of the recent conflict and his reasoning and methodology were effective, as, in his own words, he sought to 'understand the past so that we may analyze the present in order to influence the future.'

With the recent brave decision by the INLA to leave the center stage, Ta Power's 'primacy of politics' doctrine is doubly relevant to the survival of the IRSP as a vibrant political force in Irish politics. He ably points out how past contradictions within the IRSM, where political activism was seen as less desirable or fashionable than military operations, inevitably leading to further contradictions such as power base building on the back of one-dimensional militarism and the rest is a matter of historical record. Ta stated,

'therefore there arises a definite trend of spurning A-type work as being beneath their style, standing etc; there arises contempt for those involved in A-type work, etc.'

Therefore in the present Irish realpolitik where armed struggle is not on the agenda, for the foreseeable future, the Ta Power doctrine's central tenets are not about countering the domination of one dimensional militarism but they are a 'survival guide' for the Republican Socialist Movement itself.

(The Ta Power Document is available in booklet form from all IRSP offices and outlets).

Memorial plaque to Ta Power, his brother Jim and his comrades John O’Reilly and Emanuel Gargan

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Useful links

  • Irish Republican Socialist Party
    The Irish Republican Socialist Party was formed in 1974 by republicans, socialists and trade unionists who believed the class struggle and the Irish national question are one in the same.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2020 Liam A Ryan