A Critique of War Tax Resistance Strategy from Spain

Today: more about the war tax resistance movement in Spain.

First a very interesting article, from the “Antimilitarist Tortoise Group,” published at Insumissia several weeks ago, addresses some criticisms of the tactic of war tax resistance and explores ways of making the war tax resistance movement stronger (translated by me; the usual disclaimer about how I’m not all that fluent in Spanish applies):

Anonymous War Tax Resisters Unite!

The present state of War Tax Resistance at the level of strategy

The ideological debate

From its origins to the present day, War Tax Resistance (WTR) has been criticized on both political and strategic grounds: that it does not grow sufficiently, that it does not accomplish reductions in military spending, that the practice is bureaucratic and cumbersome, that each time it is more complicated to object to the income tax because of technical changes that are introduced every year by the tax agency, that it does not exhaust the possibilities that civil disobedience can accomplish… There are even those who brand it as reactionary in that it challenges the only progressive tax or plants the possibility that conservative groups may use it as a springboard to obtain “a la carte objections” to those public issues that they don’t want to pay for. On the other hand, and from another political point of view, it is also accused of being reformist by not questioning the right of the state to levy taxes.

Conscious that most of these criticisms contain some truth, we remain confident in the validity of the reasons with which we embarked. In times of great social demobilization and the lack of real confrontation between social movements and the institutions, like those we are experiencing, WTR allows us to articulate a statewide campaign to denounce the present militarism with great potential to reach different classes and social sectors with its message. The other alternative that the pacifist/antimilitarist movement has at the present time in order to achieve the wide participation of people, is the protest against military operations abroad, or the successive military invasions by the international (or should we say imperial) coalition led by the US. But this type of work, which is also undertaken, and which affords us with good results, only functions intermittently as the media spotlight shines. Furthermore, the anti-war demonstrations often end up being a jumble of different political persuasions, often with messages difficult to assimilate by the nonviolent antimilitarism/pacifism, which is where we have enrolled ourselves.

The message of WTR is much sharper and more difficult to instrumentalize; it does not question a particular military intervention, but the very existence of the military, fought from the same root, that is, the money that society invests in making it possible. WTR is an ongoing task, in the short, medium, and long term, and even if nothing comes of it, it does not function reactively in response to the injustices of the governments. It not only questions the negative reality, but also proposes alternatives and points out the real needs that a society should want to defend and the most ethical methods to bring that about.

In addition, the argument is still valid that this political action has great possibilities to be exercised by many people because of its simplicity and the low level of repression that is suffered. Also we can mention the educational element present in it: WTR is a dignified exercise of civil disobedience that in practice appeals to society and invites it not to be afraid, to confront injustice and to learn to be the master of its own decisions. For these and other reasons it would take too long to explain, we don’t agree with the groups that understand the campaign as an effort to obtain an officially recognized WTR box on their forms when making a tax return.

Reforms in the Campaign

Some years ago, in Antimilitarist Alternative-MOC, a nationwide organization that belongs to our group, we restructured the campaign and made some modifications. Mainly we consider that it is more advantageous to emphasize the dimension of disobedience and protest against military spending, and not so much the aspect of solidarity that comes from redirecting quantities of money to entities that we want to support, usually in poor countries. It’s not that we had become insensitive, or that we don’t see this solidarity as important, which in any case has been ongoing; but the gamble was only to sharpen the political point capable of transforming consciences. So we decided to call for a “Campaign against Military Spending” and introduced a second motion of protest in Autumn, approving it during the processing of the General State Budget. Also, we decided to encourage the existence of local recipients of the redirected money, because we feel that it could, as it were, be a way of involving many different people and groups in the campaign, which could only result in the expansion and dissemination of its contents. Finally we focused on collecting a good set of data and on its subsequent release, to reaffirm the collective and political nature of WTR. We believe that the result of this effort has been good and has contributed to a campaign that is more well-known.

At the moment, we are trying to improve the part that has to do with a possible continuation of disobedience in those cases in which the Treasury reclaims the redirected money. We are improving our legal resource materials and are designing political campaigns to help resisters who are trying to exhaust all legal possibilities for their resistance. (See: campaign to support the war tax resisters of València.)

Booster organizations are lacking

Without a doubt the main obstacle that we face is the lack of organizations to promote the campaign in their cities and regions. This reality poses a real obstacle to its growth potential. And certainly, as we have said, such a group exists and the campaign can be carried out with an minimum of effort and responsibility and does guarantee certain results. We can give an example of our own Antimilitarist Tortoise Group. In the last five years, since we began to make a more committed effort to the campaign, the number of resisters in the province of Alacant, though always in small numbers, has not stopped growing. Our commitment to generate local destinations [for redirected taxes] at the provincial level has provided us with a rich set of contacts with numerous groups on the ground which have learned of the campaign and the same reality of military spending, converting some of these into local destinations and therefore into new disseminators of the campaign and its political content. In various places in Alacant each year, public events are staged to extend WTR, the occasional explanatory lecture is given, and informative materials are released, always in increasing numbers. It doesn’t work more or better than in other places, but we think that it can be a good example to inspire other people and groups to make similar efforts, as certainly they are not that onerous.

Everybody can participate

Given the small number of antimilitarist/pacifist groups in the state, it’s very important that they join in the campaign and with other groups of socialist, libertarian, feminist, ecological, local, syndicalist, and north/south solidarity natures… and also groups of resisters at a particular level. We have an archive with email addresses of resisters scattered in different parts of the state, and also groups more or less interested in the campaign. It would be more than interesting if in each place some of these people could meet and organize a small or large campaign at the local level. Since our group will gladly supply the addresses necessary to establish the pertinent contacts. If one flinches in the end at the deed of contacting with different entities, in order that in each zone there will be local destinations the least one can do (including photocopying) is distributing a leaflet from the campaign. Anything is good for restarting where years ago the collective work left off with WTR,

We have the good fortune to have sufficient documentation to know the whole labyrinth of military spending in Spain, and can calculate the different percentages that they represent in public spending. Our own Antimilitarist Alternative-MOC, and the J.M. Delàs Center for Justice and Peace, the Gasteizkoak group or the investigator José Toribio, among others, each year provide plenty of basic documentation for the campaign (see estimates for ). We also have graphic material for distribution that you can ask for from us and we will try to get it to you free of charge, and our Tortoise Group offers free-of-charge to adapt annual diptychs or tryptychs of the campaign of AA-MOC to the local facts of the groups that ask us (tortuga nodo50.org)

Also we are working on studies of the legal basis for resisters whose resistance is rejected by the state but who want to continue. By now, you know that such recourse has little or no likelihood of success, but it can be a good opportunity — as was realized in València — to propagandize WTR and the critique of military spending, provided that there is a support group behind the person resisting.

Obviously with this writing we are not uncovering anything new, nor saying things that have not been said before, but we have hope that it can serve to to generate hope and desire in some people and groups to dedicate a little effort to a cause as beautiful and transformative as the dream of a demilitarized society.

As Gandhi said, “there is no way to peace; peace is the way.”

Second, this note from Rebelión (excerpts):

Disobey the Wars in Your Tax Return

Conscientious Objection to military spending, or Tax Resistance, consists in refusing to pay the State the money that is destined to build and maintain militarism, and to divert it to an alternative destination that shows your identification with the objectives of the campaign. For this, it is necessary to fill out your tax return according to the Treasury, including the resisted amount in the section for deductions and adjusting the corresponding justification.

This documentation must be remitted to the deputy of the Treasury along with a manifesto-printout from the campgian. (View letter examples.)

This year, the newspaper Diagonal comes to form part of the tax resistance, with a project that is identified with the construction of critical attitudes about the militarization of society. For all who want to engage in tax resistance helping Diagonal, the steps to follow are:

  1. Pay the amount to object (84 euros, in protest of the 84 countries impoverished by external debt) to the account of the Asociación Punto y Coma (La Caixa 2100‒4065‒10‒2200111082).
  2. Send a copy of your receipt and a manifesto-printout to the deputy of the Treasury along with the rest of your paperwork.

From here, they go on to try to estimate the “military percentage” of the Spanish budget. The group Antimilitarista-MOC came up with two numbers, one based on a more strict definition of military spending (11.8%), the other with a more inclusive definition that includes spending on police, intelligence gathering, and incarceration (17.21%).

They recommend four possible methods of resistance:

  1. Redirecting a percentage of your taxes corresponding to the percentage of the budget that goes to the military (such as one of the numbers above, or as little as 5.7% if you strictly base this on the budget of the Ministry of Defense).
  2. Redirecting a fixed amount, such as the 84 euros suggested in the Diagonal-sponsored campaign.
  3. If you’re not ready to try tax resistance yet, calculate the amount of taxes you are paying to the military and send a check for that amount to an alternative project (in addition to your taxes), and make note of this in writing when you file your return. This isn’t tax resistance per se, but increases awareness of the war tax and seeks to mitigate its negative impact.
  4. If you have zero net tax payable, or don’t have to file, you can still send a letter demanding the recognition of the right to conscientious objection to military taxation.

All of this feels very familiar to me from my involvement with the war tax resistance movement in the United States. Although, ironically given the countries’ relative military budgets and ongoing military operations, the war tax resistance movement in Spain seems to be undergoing a resurgence while the one in the United States is in the doldrums.