Dead Man On Leave

Although the name of Thomas 'Ta' Power is virtually unknown outside of Irish republican circles, Steve Potts explains why he continues, despite his death, to have a profound and lasting effect upon Red Action.

The violent death of over a dozen members of a fraternal organisation would have a profound and lasting effect on anybody. Not least when links built up over the years meant that many involved in the 1987 INLA/IPLO feud were personal friends. When the dust had settled, RA was determined that it at least, should learn the lessons of this tragedy.
Recently circumstances within AFA have pushed these lessons to the fore once again. A campaign of intense vilification by the 'Real AFA', opposed to the AFA policy of fighting fascism politically as well as physically, saw one of their number, (who had some years previously been expelled from AFA) offering to slash a RA member in order to things to a head.
On December 22 1986, when leading Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) member, Thomas 'Ta' Power, was released from jail after the collapse of the Supergrass system, he was, to quote his comrades, "a man on a mission." Ta, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment, had used his time in jail to analyse in detail the problems that had dogged the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) through much of it's existence. It would be necessary, he believed, to entirely transform the INLA/IRSP if it was to develop into a genuine revolutionary force. This could only be done he offered, by "confronting the basic contradiction" within the movement. Not to do so, by making only cosmetic changes, would, he argued, result in the same problems simply replicating themselves at a later date. On his release he debated his ideas extensively. He was, as a colleague later commented, "a breath of fresh air, displaying a vitality and zest for the work ahead that served as an inspiration to us all, here was a man with a breadth of vision." Within a month he was dead. Murdered by those opposed to the contradiction being unravelled.
Fortunately, before he was murdered, Ta committed a number of his ideas to paper. His essay, An historical analysis of the IRSP; its past role, root cause of its problems and proposals for the future, was eagerly consumed within RA ranks. Part of the essay referred to the relationship between the INLA & the IRSP. Ta argued that the previous relationship, where the IRSP played junior partner to the INLA, should be reversed: instead the INLA would become the cutting edge of a new, revitalised, revolutionary party. The tail would no longer wag the dog. Under his proposals, all new recruits into the INLA would have first "gone through the training school of building [the political wing]; they will all have this background, with revolutionary politics uppermost, with allegiances to [the party]; with being familiar with all the trends in [the IRSP], with all its problems, personalities, policies - and never 'divorced' from these."
Alternatively as Ta pointed out, "When it's asked: What is the imperialists... policy and how do we aim to thwart this? - we get the same old answer ie. that it's necessary to confront them, that the struggle goes on; we get no analysis, we get no strategy outside the basic confrontation - it simply becomes an end in itself due simply to the fact that they don't know of any other strategy.Other trends manifest themselves due to this for e.g. psychological traits: there arised the condition of elitism, superiority etc, that we're the lads, that this is the real macho way to do things, that those in [the political wing] are wankers, bluffers etc, who always harp on about 'meaningless' things. Therefore there arises a definite trend of spurning [political] type work as being beneath their 'style,' standing etc; there arised a contempt for those involved in [political] type work etc. Another trend arises of prestige building, of wanting to be seen and known as the 'lad' etc. This in turn attracts the ambitious power seeking individual who in turn begins to consolidate his position, to build a power base etc. A lowering of standard eventually comes into being - where criminal type elements, unsavoury characters, inept individuals are allowed entrance and rise to prominence - the result is constant crises, factions, instability, discredit."
Many column inches have been given over in recent editions of Red Action to deal with the debates that have gone on within AFA, but I think Ta Power probably best summed up the 'Real AFA' mindset 12 years ago. Simply replace "imperialists" with "fascists" and I think you have it in a nutshell.
Although in many ways our circumstances differed our high profile involvement in physical action against organised fascist gangs, has meant that we always had to be alert to the danger of people joining RA for the wrong reasons. Of course, we can't expect anyone to join RA as the 'finished article' but RA studiously ensured that the left's much cherished stereotype of the apolitical bootboy, never actually became fact. In practical terms, a motion was put to the 1988 RA conference calling for the formation of a 'Stewards Group' to deal with all matters of our organisations security. Initially there was some opposition. Some members voiced the concern that an 'organisation within an organisation' was being proposed. However, the vote was carried by a large majority, with those in favour arguing that the ad-hoc nature of stewarding at that time could lay it open to the kind of abuse that had been witnessed in the Irish republican socialist movement and that what was required was a stewarding body whose activities could be held directly accountable by the organisation as a whole.
In a rare, insightful moment in an otherwise deeply flawed book Jack Holland and Henry McDonald (INLA - Deadly Divisions) point out that, "Subordinating military struggle to carefully thought-out political strategy had been Ta Power's dream for a long time. In the 1980s Sinn Fein and the IRA made that a reality with their ballot box come armalite policy. The provos learnt well from the lessons and mistakes of the IRSP/INLA." And they weren't the only ones.

Reproduced from RA Vol 3, Issue 6, April/May 1999