Notes on Ta Power – Educational Piece 2
Firstly to explain how the Ta Power document came about, we need to outline a little about Thomas ‘Ta’ Power’s background and his political journey. At the age of 33, he was assassinated by the IPLO along with John O’Reilly, at the Rossnaree Hotel outside Drogheda. Ironically, he and O’Reilly had gone to the hotel to reach an agreement with the IPLO. Hailing from from Friendly Street in the Markets area of south Belfast, Ta Power had originally been in the Official IRA but joined the INLA in 1975 while a prisoner in the Cages of Long Kesh. Noted for having later spent the longest time on remand (4 years and 4 months) on the word of ‘Supergrass’ Harry Kirkpatrick, he was also held on the evidence of five different Supergrasses, and had just been released from Crumlin Road prison a short time before he was killed.Thomas Power was widely regarded as a theorist and thinker within republican circles and was highly respected within his community and among Republicans belonging to different movements.
The Ta Power document is part history and part analysis on the Republican Socialist Movement. He also pulls few punches in his analysis and it can be argued he was so bruntly fearless in his critique that he wanted to radicalise the movement into multi-faceted revolutionary political action.
Part one of the document is a broad history of the IRSM, which was formed out of the Official Republican movement in 1974. In 1969, Power argued that Costello saw the Officials at the time of the ‘split’ as possessing ‘the best possible conditions existing for the development of a revolution movement.” However after the state-sanctioned killing of the militant, Joe McCann, a respected OIRA Volunteer, in 1972 and the ceasefire which followed, Costello stated that should have left the Official Republican movement there and then, instead of trying to work inside the officials and try and change them. Power believed correctly that Costello hated splits. Costello believed that they led to demoralisation, acrimony and possible feuds. This was not only prophetic in Costello’s analysis but also in Power’s! Both assassinations, following their respective parting of the ways from former comrades were much to the severe determent of the Irish Republican Socialist Movement. Seamus Costello formed the IRSP and the INLA at a conference at the Spa Hotel, Lucan in 1974. Power then points out his analysis as to the difference between the various Republican movements of the time, which are reproduced here:
- The OFFICIAL’S approach to the national question was basically that it couldn’t be resolved until the Protestant and the Catholic working class “united”, that the six counties could be democratised, that a bill of rights was needed etc. This position ruled out the national liberation struggle, it ignored the fundamentally sectarian nature of the six county state-let and how the Brits through this maintained their rule and influence over the entire country.
- PROVISIONALS: At this time they still had a one-sided concentration on the national question, they were still controlled by the old traditional leadership which advocated a “federal solution” which Adams was later to refer to as “a sop to Loyalists.” They concentrated on the military effort to the exclusion of revolutionary socialist politics throughout Ireland. They maintained their abstention position. Costello criticised the Provisional’s for their “elitist and conspiratorial approach” which was no substitute for the development of a peoples struggle.
- Irish Republican Socialist Party: Most of the following are the direct words of Seamus Costello, upon outlining the programme of the IRSP, (a) “we must make no secret of the fact that we are a revolutionary socialist party, prepared to give leadership on the streets as well as in the elected chambers, and that we are out for a socialist republic.” (b) “Part of that struggle for a Socialist Republic entails resolving the national liberation struggle and ending British imperialist intervention. We stand for the unity of the anti-imperialist struggle and class struggle.” (c) “What are the vital social issues of the day? Along with the national question there exist many strands to the anti-imperialist struggle. To hold the national question above all others is to isolate oneself from the people and result in inevitable defeat. We must involve ourselves and the masses in issues, which affect them: political agitation, propaganda etc should not be confined to the six counties.”
Costello On Abstentionism
- There is no parliamentary road to socialism, but elected members should use such chambers as a platform for the pursuit of our policies and for achieving publicity for them, but members elected to parliament etc would have to be active in politics outside parliament, i.e. extra parliamentary and agitationary politics on the streets.
- We see both parliamentary institutions in Ireland as institutions that have to be abolished if we are to make progress towards establishing a socialist republic.
- When we say we are not an abstention party, we mean we are not a party, in principle, committed to abstention. But there are circumstances and conditions under which it might be desirable at any particular point in time to abstain from parliament, and if we felt it was tactically desirable then we would do so.
- To end imperialist rule in Ireland and establish a 32 County Democratic Socialist Republic with the working class in control of the means of production, distribution and exchange.
- The Broad Front: This advocates the maximum degree of Anti-imperialist unity. We recognise the absolute necessity of securing a constitutional solution to the present crisis, which will allow the Irish working class the freedom to pursue their interests as a class in the context of the development of normal class polities. In our view, the first step in securing a constitutional solution, which meets this requirement, must be for Britain to concede the right of the Irish people to exercise total sovereignty over their own affairs. This objective can only be achieved through the creation of a united struggle on the part of all Anti-imperialist Organisations. We would therefore support the formation of an Irish anti-imperialist front composed of delegates from affiliated organisations who support the agreed political programme of the front. The primary objective of the front would be to mobilise the maximum degree of support for its declared objectives throughout Ireland. The front should clearly be seen as the LEADERSHIP OF A MASS MOVEMENT against all forms of imperialist control and interference in Ireland.
The Broad front should have sufficient support and assistance from its affiliated organisations to enable it to open a head office with a full time staff. We propose the following political demands as the basis on which an Irish anti-imperialist front should organise:
- That Britain must renounce all claims to sovereignty over any part of Ireland or its coastal waters.
- That Britain must immediately disband and disarm the UDR, RUC and RUC Reserve and withdraw all troops from Ireland.
- That the British and 26 County Governments must immediately release all political prisoners and grant a general amnesty for all offences arising from the current conflict.
- That Britain must agree to compensate all that have suffered as a result of imperialist violence and exploitation in Ireland.
- Recognising that no country can be free and independent while it permits imperialist domination of its economic life, the anti-imperialist front, will oppose all forms of imperialist control over wealth and resources.
- The front rejects a federal solution and the continued existence of two separates in the 6 and 26 counties as a denial of the right of the Irish people to sovereignty and recognises that the only alternative as being the creation of a 32 democratic republic with a secular constitution.
- That the front demands the convening of an all Ireland constitutional conference representative of all shades of political opinion in Ireland for the purpose of discussing a democratic and secular constitution would become effective immediately following a total British military and political withdrawal from Ireland.
These were the primary differences between the IRSP, Officials, and the Provisional’s when Seamus Costello launched the party in December 1974.
Ta Power finished Part one on the death and subsequent loss to the IRSM of Seamus Costello. Here he quotes people who knew Costello and the various political roles Costello had been involved in at the time of his death. This demonstrates the severe blow his death was to the movement. This came basically as the movement was gathering pace.
- “Seamus was the greatest follower of my father’s teachings in this generation and I hope that his example shall be followed and that his vision for Ireland will be realised in this generation” — Nora Connolly O’Brien.
- “Seamus was the most sincere man I ever had the pleasure to know” — Father Piaras O Duill.
- “Without a doubt he was the greatest threat to the capitalist establishment since James Connolly” — Sean Doyle.
- “Seamus spoke for the IRSP and give a scintillating display of good humour, history, politics and hard facts. No one who listened to his three hours in the afternoon, and by unanimous demand, two hours repeat in the evening, now doubts that they will either have to shoot him or jail him or get out of his way, but they certainly won’t stop him! Costello, the revolutionary, Marxist socialist whose ambition is a secular, pluralist united socialist republic won’t go away until he gets it” — Dr Noel Browne.
From 1964 – 1974, Seamus Costello held the positions of Adjutant General, Chief of staff and director of operations in the Official IRA and the positions of vice president of Official Sinn Fein.
From 1974 to his death on the 5th of October 1977 he held the position of Chief of staff and director of operations in INLA.
At the time of his assassination he was a member of the following bodies: Wicklow County Council, Co Wicklow Committee of Agriculture, General Council of Committees of Agriculture, Eastern Regional Development Committee, Bray Urban District Council, Bray branch of ITGWU, Bray and District Trade Union Council, of which he was president between 1976-1977, the Historical Society, and chairman of the IRSP.
Ta Power: Marxist Revolutionary
Ta Power was a committed Marxist. He quotes Costello on a number of occasions and points out that his phrase, “I owe my allegiance to the working class” as an example for all comrades to emulate. He also points out that “we must also present our vision of what revolutionary socialist state means. When we say our programme that we want to establish a 32 county socialist state with the working class in control of the means of production, distribution and exchange we must be able to decipher it for the working class to understand what it means.” That is paramount comrades, which basic economic ideology has to be understood by all comrades.Ta Power embraces the notion of a broad front, but it must be lead by the working class.
Analysis of Part Two of The Ta Power Document
In part two, Ta Power discusses, using both historical analysis of the years 1974-1981, in various parts and it’s relevance of the movement. He uses a number of contradictions, most prominent of which is the problems associated with a party/army movement and the predominance of group ‘B’ over group ‘A’. This is a prolonged debate, in which he is fearlessly open and somewhat scathing of the culture then prevalent within the movement. It is deeply argued that his analysis is spot on here
He states that group ‘A’ by its very nature is “democratic, open structures, working openly, have its own priorities, tasks etc” where as group ‘B’ suffers from, “undemocratic, closed structures, working secretly, have its own priorities, tasks, etc.” Ta Power is particularly scathing when the dominance of group ‘B’ is over group ‘A.’ He goes into detail of the various outcomes that can arise. Ta is scathing of the macho image of group ‘B’ in particularly in the periods of 1979-1981 and again from 1982-87.
He also states that every time there was an attempt to shift power from ‘B’ to ‘A’, this has led to failure. Perhaps he is being prophetic here, indeed it was a result of a split and power struggle within the movement that led him to being assassinated fighting the very problems he tried to overcome. Indeed again in 1996 another acrimonious split led to the death of Gino Gallagher who was also attempting to implement Ta Power’s recommendations.
Ta Power argues that a common bond should exist. He also rightly argues that that 1981 Hunger Strike was about brave Volunteers dying so that political recognition of our prisoners was restored and that it would thwart any attempt to criminalise our struggle.
“Our movement played a full and committed role in the history of this period – on the streets, the IRSP mobilised in support of the prisoners, and in the prisons our members stood steadfast and firm. Three of our movement’s finest volunteers, Pasty O Hara, Kevin Lynch and Mickey Devine lost their lives on hunger strike.”
Ta then questions why after the Hunger Strike, why the movement didn’t reach its full potential. To this he noted two short words: INTERNAL TURMOIL
He looks at the B/A relationship and decided that the wrong people took control, were in power and there was a predominance of B over A. Ta argued for proper structure and placed a ten point strategy which he argues is extremely important for the movement to implement. The ten point structure is as follows:
1: Politics in command
2: Internal democracy
3: Absolute legitimacy
4: Collective Leadership
5: Central authority
Ta Power argues that there has to be coherence and discipline for the 10 point structure to work, any failures will result in each aspect being affected. Furthermore Ta continues to argue that our politics should be in control, the main concern, not the army. Ta argues that Costello wanted to grow the Party, but others deemed resources be ploughed into the army. Ta cites that as the first contradiction. This led to “loss of coherency and the formation of “power blocks” and factions, loss of politics, the political ideals which make us, as a movement are not being addressed.
Power states in his second contradictions that the party is entrusted with “building a revolutionary class conscious party with a revolutionary programme for development. However, in order for this to be achieved, finances, resources time and above all revolutionary mature leadership (The AC) which understood the importance of such, a party was required.
Ta Power goes on and states that the army stifled political development of the Party and firmly believes that without the proper political vehicle no revolution can be won.
The Third contradiction is that between 1974-1977, there was no collective leadership, Power Blocks, Macho man image, all of which points to early predominance of B over A, particularly within the Belfast leadership. Politically astute leadership is required, class consciousness and education within the movement is paramount. If division and power blocks continue that can (and did) lead to disaster, it was a prophetic for Ta Power.
It is argued that Ta Power wanted an armed struggle with soldiers who were politically aware and conscious and politicians who understood the need for armed conflict against the imperialists and capitalists. “Every Solider a politician, every politician a soldier.”
In conclusion, at every stage of the history of the IRSM, Ta argued that COLLECTIVE LEADERSHIP is extremely important. In all areas of the movement it has to be a democratic collective leadership has to initiate work and consciousness amongst the membership. To conclude, Ta Advocated
(1) Politics in command: A over B
(2) Principle of Collective Leadership (no one man shows)
(3) Stability (ending of factions)
This will then lead to a structure that will see the ten point theory being implemented.
How does that relate to recent developments? Well firstly, recently the movement has decided to involve itself in purely political action. The dominance is now in the court of A so to speak. The movement is still some way away from achieving the ten point structure but the right direction is being pursued.
Would Ta have welcomed the 2009 decision for group ‘B’ to leave centre stage, given the very different political climate of contemporary times? This is hard to analyse or answer, as Ta Power is sadly not around to offer his advice and consultation. Ta Power was no pacifist but as a revolutionary he would no doubt have been adaptable to contemporary conditions for modes of struggle. It could be argued that the revolutionary political road that the IRSM is currently travelling is in keeping with Ta Power’s credo of ‘politics in command’ with ‘every soldier a politician and every politician a soldier’ that he stridently advocated is closer than ever to being realised. Ta Power would certainly have advocated and supported the revolutionary education of party members and the continued fight on behalf of the working class.. He was a proud and brave INLA Volunteer, a great theoretician and political thinker. It would be a fitting tribute to him if we implement his ideals as best as we can.
To quote Ta Power, at the conclusion of his essay written 27 years ago:
“If we have achieved even part of that success, then the effort has been worthwhile.”
By: Daithi IRSP supporter