Awareness of Tax Resistance History Can Help Today’s Campaigns

Why have I bothered to catalog all of these techniques of historical tax resistance campaigns? I hope to help future tax resistance campaigns be more successful.

Many of the campaigns I researched that seemed best-organized and most-successful have also had good awareness of their predecessors. For example, the resisters of taxes for sectarian education in Britain around were well aware of the earlier tithe resistance of the Quakers or the Irish Catholics; the tax resisters for women’s suffrage who followed took lessons from the education tax resisters and carried with them a banner featuring 17th century English tax resister John Hampden; Gandhi took notes on the suffragists and the education tax resisters when he was forming his own tax resistance campaigns, and, along with the more recent Poll Tax resisters, hearkened back also to the 14th century resistance of Wat Tyler, and he fashioned his khādī (homespun) campaign after that of the American revolutionaries, who had also spun and woven their own cloth to boycott British textiles during their struggle to break from that Empire.

Sometimes, tax resisters I meet seem to have a magical view of activism in which one day they take a noble and confrontational conscientious stand and the following day the government sorrowfully repents and rescinds its unjust policies. In reality, the successful tax resistance campaigns I have studied have involved struggles on many fronts, using a variety of tactics, and with a great deal of hard work and organizing behind the scenes — the dramatic sit-ins and salt-marches and so forth are just the fruit of well-tended trees, where much of the work is happening at the roots.

You are unlikely to have a successful tax resistance campaign if you limit it to tax resistance. To be most successful, your campaign must also develop strategies to support and sustain resisters, recruit new resisters, deploy additional techniques of resistance, frustrate the government’s countermeasures, and amplify its effect with good publicity. These are some of the fronts on which a successful tax resistance struggle takes place, and the tactics I have categorized address these various fronts.

When I say that I hope my work will be helpful to future tax resistance campaigns, I don’t mean that every tax resistance campaign deserves help. Some historical tax resistance campaigns have been in the service of unsavory causes — for instance the campaigns to reinstitute white supremacist government in the post-Civil War American South. But I am of the opinion that coercive taxation is itself bad, and that institutions that enforce it can be assumed to be at least to that extent pernicious, and that therefore a tax resistance campaign, whatever else can be said about it, at least has one thing clearly in its favor. In my survey of historical campaigns I have much more frequently been sympathetic with the resisters and their cause, than with the taxers and theirs, and so I am happy to offer constructive advice to the tax resistance campaigns of the future, sight unseen.

I know that this is currently an unpopular opinion, and that readers may come to my book eager to learn how to help their own tax resistance campaign, while seeing their campaign as an exception to the general rule that taxes are good and ought to be paid and make us all better off in the long run. I hope that my book will be just as helpful to resisters like these as it will be to skeptics of the value of taxation like myself.