Social Boycott Can Persuade People to Resist Taxes

A tax resistance campaign can increase participation by means of a social boycott practiced against non-resisting by-standers. Here are some examples of social boycotts of this sort:

  • Social boycott was an important tool of the Bardoli tax refusal campaign during the independence struggle in India. Mahadev Desai, in The Story of Bardoli, writes:

    It is this weapon that exasperated the Government, but they were helpless because social boycott was no offence under the Penal Code. And the Sardar [Vallabhbhai Patel, who commanded the campaign] poured ridicule on Government for grudging the people the use of this their only weapon. “What do you do yourselves? Yours is a close corporation maintained by force of arms and its motive is no nobler than keeping a nation in bondage. We resort to this weapon simply for the sake of self-defence and self-preservation.” But he never omitted to emphasize its limitations, the very first being that in no circumstances should a Satyagrahi refuse to minister to the physical needs of the party boycotted. “Eschew by all means molestation or oppression. We may not refuse anyone milk, water, foodstuffs, help in case of illness or worse. We cannot afford to prosecute boycott at the expense of our humanity.”

    Among the ways they could boycott landowners who capitulated to the government and paid their property taxes was to refuse to rent their fields or to work as agricultural laborers for them.
  • During the American revolution, boycotts of British imports were enforced by social boycott. One resolution of boycotters read in part:

    [W]e further promise and engage, that we will not purchase any goods of any persons who, preferring their own interest to that of the public, shall import merchandise from Great Britain, until a general importation takes place; or of any trader who purchases his goods of such importer: and that we will hold no intercourse, or connection, or correspondence, with any person who shall purchase goods of such importer, or retailer; and we will hold him dishonored, an enemy to the liberties of his country, and infamous, who shall break this agreement.

    another said:

    That whoever shall directly or indirectly countenance this attempt, or in any wise aid or abet in unloading receiving or vending the Tea sent or to be sent out by the East India Company while it remains subject to the payment of a duty here is an Enemy to America — … That a Committee be immediately chosen to wait on those Gentlemen, who it is reported are appointed by the East India Company to receive and sell said Tea, and to request them from a regard to their own characters and the peace and good order of this Town and Province immediately to resign their appointment.

    An Ipswich town meeting resolved:

    [W]e will not by ourselves or any for or under us directly or indirectly purchase any goods of the persons who have imported or continue to import, or any person or trader who shall purchase any goods of said importer contrary to the agreement of the merchants in Boston and the other trading towns in this government & the neighboring colonies until they make a public retraction or a general importation takes place.

  • Sicily’s branch of the “Confindustria” industrialists’ union unanimously voted in to expel any member who was caught paying protection money to the mafia, and a few dozen members in fact were expelled from the group under this policy.
  • Many Quaker “meetings” (congregations) had a policy of “disowning” members who failed to practice war tax resistance. Sometimes, even failing to report that the government had subjected you to “sufferings” for your resistance could make you suspect, and Quakers would be appointed to visit you and ask how you had managed to avoid government reprisals while maintaining your refusal to pay. Disowning was something akin to excommunication, and had the effect of removing the benefits of meeting membership from the disobedient Quakers until such time as they repented and made satisfactory amends — which might include reading an acknowledgment of the wrong of their behavior at a future meeting. Occasionally, as during the American Revolution, disownings like this would lead to schisms and the emergence of rival meetings.
  • During the Tithe War in Ireland, it was reported that

    Immense meetings are held, which form themselves into tribunals, before which persons accused of the crime of tithe-paying are summoned to appear, and give an account of their conduct; and defaulters undergo the punishment of being abandoned at once by every person in their employment. Country gentlemen and farmers are left without a servant or labourer to perform the most necessary work. The hay is left to rot on the ground, and the cattle to perish for want of the necessary food, drink, and care; and even on the roads it is common for the horses of the mails and stage-coaches to be changed by the coachmen and passengers, because the unhappy recusant innkeeper has been deserted by every one, even to his hostler. Such is the terror of this new species of judicial authority, that numbers of highly respectable persons have found it necessary, in order to avert ruinous consequences, to appear before these self-constituted courts, acknowledge their jurisdiction, and promise to give obedience to their decrees!

    Another report complained: “The man who in any way upholds the obnoxious system, whatever his previous character or services may have been, is branded as an object of universal execration.”
  • When resisters at the “New Rush” in South Africa in pledged to refuse to pay further taxes, they also pledged, “that I shall buy from, sell to, or deal with only such men as have also taken this pledge or obligation.”
  • Women in Pennsylvania who found themselves suddenly taxable in the wake of women’s suffrage were subject to strong social pressure to join in a largely unorganized but widespread tax boycott. According to one report:

    [A] woman, who is reported to have failed to pay her tax, asserted she was laughed at by her friends when she paid her tax in former years, and she would not be laughed at any longer.