Labor Action Editorializes Against War Tax Resistance

As I mentioned , American communist newspapers could have a stand-offish, skeptical stance towards war tax resistance: politely applauding the spirit of dissent and rebellion, but doubting the wisdom of the tactic.

Here’s another example: In its issue, Labor Action reported on the war tax resisters who had begun to organize under the Peacemakers banner:

Statement on Tax Refusal, by Tax Refusal Committee of Peacemakers (Alternative, )

The pacifist monthly bulletin (formerly Pacific Views [sic]) carries the text of the declaration issued on by the above-named committee, accompanying the group’s announcement of refusal to pay income tax. It begins “War is to us abhorrent…” and presents fiscal conscientious objection as a means of direct action to stop war.

“Today is the deadline for payment of income taxes. Unitedly we affirm our determination to refuse to pay taxes which are levied for the purpose of carrying on war.…

“Some of us feel that because the major activity of the federal government is war, we must refuse the total amount of the income tax we owe. Others of us feel we must refuse to pay the proportion which corresponds to the percentage of the national budget now allocated to war preparation.…”

The problem quite unsolved by this type of action, however, still remains: Any worker employed in industry, especially heavy industry, is “contributing” as much to war preparation as a taxpayer. Do the pacifists recommend that they all quit their jobs? Or is the tactic merely a road to individual salvation of conscience, regardless of its possible efficacy?

This prompted a back-and-forth in the issue:

The Pacifist Tactic — an Exchange

From the Editors of Alternative

To the Editor:

We were glad to see in the issue of Labor Action a reprint of part of the statement of Tax Refusal from the March Alternative.

Following your quotations from the Refusal statement you say that this type of action leaves the problem quite unsolved. We would like to point out that we have a full program for social revolution. We never implied that refusal to pay taxes was by itself a solution to any of our social ills.

You ask if pacifists believe that persons working in heavy industry should quit their jobs. Most pacifists believe that no one should work in any plant that produces war materials. We believe that any worker finding himself engaged in work that is destructive should do all he can to change the type of work his company is engaged in. Failing this he should quit his job and try to obtain work of a constructive nature. It should be noted that the first plank in the Program of the Committee for Non-Violent Revolution, which publishes Alternative, calls for the workers taking over production from the capitalists.

Yours for socialism,
Robert Auerbach for the Editors

By The Editors

“The problem” which the pacifist Tax Refusal Statement left unsolved, according to LA’s comment, was not that of a “full program for social revolution,” but only the one which correspondent Auerbach’s letter takes up in his last paragraph. The LA comment had no intention of implying that Alternative considered tax refusal any basic solution to our social ills.

We think, however, that our correspondent’s letter reinforces our criticism of tax refusal as a futile tactic.

We raised a question suggested by the tax-refusal policy: Should, then, workers also refuse to work in plants which are vital to the carrying on of war? Our correspondent confirms that “most pacifists,” or at any rate the editors of Alternative, carry their tactic out to this point also. This in our opinion is consistent (which is a lot more than can be said for many people today) — but it is wrong.

In the first place, it should be understood, we think, that this proposed labor-refusal could not be applied only to plants directly manufacturing munitions, airplanes, etc. If the tactic is to remain consistent, it would be just as important, if not more important, to apply it also to plants producing the unfinished, semi-finished and raw materials which are just as important to the production of war goods as the labor in the last-step factories. One may have a greater personal distaste to machining a gun turret than producing the steel which goes into it — but surely this question is not a matter of personal taste.

However, whether the tactic applies only to direct war goods or also to the wider industrial field behind the production of war goods, the essential consideration is the same: the tactic would withdraw precisely the best elements from precisely the field in which they can do the most good — industry, in which they are in daily educational contact with other workers.

The Power of Example

A proposal for a general withdrawal of labor on a mass scale — in three words — a general strike — would, of course, be a horse of another color, with different considerations behind it. But we need not here go into the criticisms which Marxists have made of the general-strike slogan as a cure-all for war. The fact is that the pacifist tactic of labor-refusal today has to be considered, with regard to effectiveness, as the tactic of a very small group of workers who could be induced to favor it.

What should this small group of workers do? It is quite meaningless to propose that they should try to “change the type of work [the] company is engaged in.” They can’t. This idea might have meaning for the employee of a small shopkeeper, but war will not be prevented or stopped on these levels. A meaningful policy must at least concern itself with the basic industries of the country, run by giant corporations.

Should they then quit their jobs, and earn a living in some vocation totally unconnected with the war effort, if they can find one? (And of course they have to earn their living, even under capitalism…) But their aim presumably is, or ought to be, to convince other workers to agree with their anti-war views. The tactic advocated by our correspondent only divorces them from living contact with those workers, without stopping the drive toward war at all.

The thought behind the pacifist tactic is, we realize, quite at variance with this objective result. This thought is roughly: “If everybody acted as we do, war would be impossible. Let us, therefore, take the initiative in so acting, hoping that our example will be an inspiration and a model for all others.”

What is admirable in this reaction is an element which is rare enough nowadays, and for which certainly the pacifists have our ungrudging respect: acting on one’s conviction, lead where it may. It is the “convictions” — the pacifist tactic — with which we disagree.

We do not belittle the power of example per se — not to the slightest degree. But a would-be demonstration of an “example” from afar has never been and never will be effective — any more than was the example of the saintly hermits who withdrew from man’s sinful society in order to live in purity. This did not serve to reform Christian mores. In justice to the hermits, however, it should be added that reforming others was not their only, and perhaps not their main, aim in view: they had their own souls to save. Since many pacifists become irritated when it is suggested that this is also the only result of their own tactic, we mention it here only to point the difference between the goal of individual salvation and the goal of changing the world.

Mass movements are not created and organized and led by examples from afar which are divorced from participation in the life of the masses themselves. The meaning of the example has to be demonstrated to the people through the lessons of their day-to-day experience. The day-to-day experience and life of the working class is spent (most of it) in the factories, and the most important job of one who advocates social change is to be among them. If the pacifist tactic were successful in its own terms, it would empty the plants of workers with anti-war convictions. There could be few greater disservices to the cause of either labor or peace. Distributing leaflets at patriotic rallies — an activity which is certainly useful — is no substitute, though it may understandably give the distributor a feeling of taking “direct action.”

Symmetrical Errors

On the other hand, we have no sympathy with the pseudo-radical who develops the convenient rationalization that the best way to have an effect upon the mass of workers is to take on the coloration of their political views, so that one is not accused of “sectarianism.” The pacifist tactic is the reverse of this, and just as wrong: for fear of being tainted by any connection with the war, they advocate divorcement from the mass workers’ movement (in effect). The hardest road is to fight in the mass workers’ movement without yielding to the prevailing backwardness and conservatism of its views, but rather educating for and teaching one’s own socialist view. This has always been the Marxist policy.

This policy of socialist education is also today being carried on by only a small group of workers. We are not criticizing the pacifist tactic because it would be followed only by a small number. We are criticizing the tactic because it means that this small number voluntarily deprives itself of the possibility of ever effectively influencing a larger number.

Finally, we wish to emphasize a point which has already been indicated in passing above and which today deserves to be emphasized.

We think the absolute pacifists are quite wrong, as we have explained, but we feel ourselves to have infinitely more in common with them and their ends than with the much larger number of self-styled “socialists,” “peace-lovers,” “radicals” (tired or still spry), “hard-headed liberals” and other, political specimens of our generation who give their “leftist” blessings in one form or another to the greatest crime of our age — the preparation of the third and atomic imperialist war against civilization. We would like to convince the pacifists to fight our way and with us — and vice versa, no doubt — but this is on quite a different plane from the case of those who refuse to fight at all or who fight for the ideas of our enemies.