Social Boycott Can Make Life Miserable for Tax Collectors

Social boycott can also be a potent tactic to use against tax collectors or collaborators with the tax collection process. Here are some examples:

  • Adolf Hausrath writes about how social boycott was used to discourage tax collectors in Roman-occupied Judaea:

    The people knew how to torment these officials of the Roman customs with the petty cruelty which ordinary people develop with irreconcilable persistency, whenever they believe this persistency to be due to their moral indignation. In consequence of the theocratic scruples about the duty of paying taxes, the tax-gatherers were declared to be unclean and half Gentile.… among the Jews the words “tax-gatherers and sinners,” “tax-gatherers and Gentiles,” “tax-gatherers and harlots,” “tax-gatherers, murderers and robbers,” and similar insulting combinations, were not only ready on the tongue and familiar, but were accepted as theocratically identical in meaning. Thrust out from all social intercourse, the tax-gatherers became more and more the pariahs of the Jewish world. With holy horror did the Pharisee sweep past the lost son of Israel who had sold himself to the Gentile for the vilest purpose, and avoid the places which his sinful breath contaminated. Their testimony was not accepted by Jewish tribunals. It was forbidden to sit at table with them or eat of their bread. But their money-chests especially were the summary of all uncleanness and the chief object of pious horror, since their contents consisted of none but unlawful receipts, and every single coin betokened a breach of some theocratic regulation. To exchange their money or receive alms from them might easily put a whole house in the condition of being unclean, and necessitate many purifications. From these relations of the tax-officials to the rest of the population, it can be readily understood that only the refuse of Judaism undertook the office.

  • The current Greek “won’t pay” movement included a joint statement from several outraged groups that called for a social boycott of legislators who went along with the tax-and-austerity plans: “do not talk to them, do not listen, do not socialize, do not invite, do not serve them, do not put gasoline in their cars…”
  • A social boycott of tax collectors was practiced in the years before the American revolution. John Adams wrote:

    At Philadelphia, the Heart-and-Hand Fire Company has expelled Mr. Hughes, the stamp man for that colony. The freemen of Talbot county, in Maryland, have erected a gibbet before the door of the court-house, twenty feet high, and have hanged on it the effigies of a stamp informer in chains, in terrorem till the Stamp Act shall be repealed; and have resolved, unanimously, to hold in utter contempt and abhorrence every stamp officer, and every favorer of the Stamp Act, and to “have no communication with any such person, not even to speak to him, unless to upbraid him with his baseness.” So triumphant is the spirit of liberty everywhere.

    Sam Adams led those opposed to the tea tax to declare “That whoever shall directly or indirectly countenance this attempt [to send and collect duties on East India Company tea to America], 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.” and to decide “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.”
  • During the Whiskey Rebellion, the rebels passed a social boycott resolution that said in part:

    …[W]hereas some men may be found amongst us, so far lost to every sense of virtue and feeling for the distresses of this country, as to accept offices for the collection of the duty:

    Resolved, therefore, That in future we will consider such persons as unworthy of our friendship; have no intercourse or dealings with them; withdraw from them every assistance, and withhold all the comforts of life which depend upon those duties that as men and fellow citizens we owe to each other; and upon all occasions treat them with that contempt they deserve; and that it be, and it is hereby most earnestly recommended to the people at large to follow the same line of conduct towards them.

  • Islanders living off the coast of Galway County in Ireland refused to appoint tax collectors from among their number, and “where collectors are available on the mainland owners of boats have refused to facilitate their passage to the islands,” according to a newspaper account. “On a few occasions the Civic Guards have persuaded the owners to lend their service and their boats, or their boats alone, for the guards to cross. In such cases the guards have met with anything but a cordial reception.”
  • During the Dublin water charge strike:

    Through contacts in the trade union movement we were able to discover the names of all the water inspectors and imagine their surprise the night before disconnections were due to begin when each of them received a hand-delivered letter appealing to them as trade union members not to cut people’s water off. They decided not to respond positively to our polite request so the next morning when they left home under the cover of darkness, they each discovered a car-load of activists sitting outside their homes ready to follow them wherever they might go to try to do their dirty work. One of them didn’t like it so much that after driving around and being followed for an hour he went to the local copshop to complain about being intimidated.

  • During the Bardoli satyagraha, tax collectors and collaborators were vigorously shunned. Here are some excerpts from Mahadev Desai’s The Story of Bardoli:

    There were meetings in talukas contiguous to Bardoli… calling upon people in their respective parts not to cooperate with the authorities engaged in putting down the Satyagraha… by helping in the attachment of property by engaging as labourers or sending carts on hire…

    …the police proceeded to hire a taxi. The driver, whose car had been engaged by the Satyagrahis, refused to break his engagement and place his bus at the disposal of the Collector. His licence was demanded, it was not with him, but he showed his brass badge, which he was asked to surrender. Another taxidriver whose car had been engaged by [campaign commander] Sjt. Vallabhbhai was deprived of his licence too.

    Kadod… was trying to go one better than other villages by resolving to cut off supplies of provision, etc. to the attachment officer posted in the village. Sjt. Vallabhbhai in a long and moving speech expounded the principles of Satyagraha, and told them that their resolution was not in keeping with principles and must be canceled: “In a struggle based essentially on truth and nonviolence we must not do anything in resentment or anger. It is a sign of weakness. …do not refuse them the ordinary amenities of life. They must get whatever they want at market rates.”

    It would appear, that three carts were commandeered. for removing the kit and luggage belonging to the Deputy Collector from the Bardoli thana [district] to Valod. The man to whom the carts belonged came to realise his mistake and went to the thana in company with Sjt. Ravishankar to call back his men. One of the cartmen, as soon as he saw his master, said, they were not at all willing to go but they were helpless. Sjt. Ravishankar pleaded with the Mamlatdar that if the men were not willing they should not be forced. He was ordered to leave the thana which he did; and the cartman leaving the cart followed him. The other cartmen also ultimately left leaving the carts in the thana compound.

    Moderate reformist K.M. Munshi wrote to the government after visiting Bardoli:

    Your japti officer has to travel miles before he can get a shave. Your officer’s car which got stuck would have remained in the mud but for Mr. Vallabhbhai, officially styled “agitator living on Bardoli.” Garda to whom lands worth thousands have been sold for a nominal amount does not get even a scavenger for his house. The Collector gets no conveyance on the railway station unless one is given by Mr. Vallabhbhai’s sanction.

    The threat of social boycott also played out at other points in the Indian independence struggle, with one account noting for instance that “the native police, fearing social boycott if they pressed their own kinsmen too hard, in some cases sat idly by and watched proceedings,” during the Dharasana salt raid. When the salt march reached the sea near Danmi, where Gandhi planned to harvest sea salt in violation of the taxed monopoly:

    The police and labourers [who had been hired by the government to try to destroy all the natural salt deposits in the area] are boycotted by the villagers in the neighbourhood and have to journey to a village ten miles away to procure food.

  • During the Edinburgh Annuity Tax resistance, social boycott was practiced against tax enforcers:

    Of late months, no auctioneer would venture to the Cross to roup for stipend. What human being has nerve enough to bear up against the scorn, hatred, and execration of his fellow-creatures, expressed in a cause he himself must feel just?

    The cabman who brought the officers, seeing they were engaged in such a disagreeable duty, took his cab away, and they had some difficulty in procuring another…

    During the government investigation of the Annuity Tax resistance campaign the following exchange took place:

    Q: What was Mr. Whitten’s express reason for declining to act as auctioneer?

    A: He was very much inconvenienced on that occasion, and he believed that his general business connection would suffer by undertaking these sales, and that he would lose the support of any customer who was of that party.

  • During the Fries Rebellion, social pressure made it difficult for the government to recruit collaborators:

    [I]n every tavern [Jacob Eyerley] stopped at, the law was the subject of general conversation and denunciation, and great pains were taken to find the friends of government, in order to persuade them not to accept the office of assessor. In consequence of this feeling there was great difficulty in finding suitable persons for these appointments.

  • When Thatcher’s poll tax was being introduced, the government tried to recruit convenience stores and newsstands to be tax collection points. When the resistance got wind of this, they contacted the stores, letting them know they would be boycotted if they allowed themselves to be used in this way. Several then refused to participate.
  • A threat of social boycott was used to deter potential buyers of property seized from Steuben County resisters of taxes meant to pay back purchasers of crooked railroad bonds:

    The scene was upon the farm of William Atkins, where 200 of the solid yeomanry of the town had assembled to resist the sale… A Mr. Updyke, with broader hint, made these remarks: “I want to tell you folks that Mr. Atkins has paid all of his tax except this railroad tax; and we consider any man who will buy our property to help John Davis and Sam Alley as contemptible sharks. We shall remember him for years, and will know where he lives.” The tax collector finally rose and remarked that in view of the situation he would not attempt to proceed with the sale.

  • During a tax resistance campaign in the German countryside between the world wars:

    The carters refused, even with police protection, to carry off the distrained cattle, for they knew that if they did they would never again be able to do business with the peasants. One day three peasants even appeared in the slaughter yards at Hamburg and announced that unless the distrained cattle disappeared at once from the yard’s stalls the gentlemen in charge of the slaughterhouse could find somewhere else to buy their beasts in the future — they wouldn’t be getting any more from Schleswig-Holstein.