Is there an American War Tax Resistance Movement?

I pointed out some discussion that was taking place on the wtr-s email discussion group about the possibility of turning the loose affiliation of American war tax resisters into something more like a war tax resistance movement.

Larry Rosenwald, one of the participants in that discussion, has since turned his thoughts on the subject into a more fully fleshed-out exhortation that is due to be discussed at the NWTRCC national gathering in Kansas City . (And this is only the latest refinement from Larry on a theme he has been addressing for more than a decade.)

To summarize: Larry is trying to describe a war tax resistance movement that would be able to exert political power and act as a “counter-friction” (in Thoreau’s sense of the word) against the war machine. He thinks in order to do this, resisters need to narrow down the large variety of techniques they use to a subset that has the following characteristics:

  1. It is illegal (that is, actual civil disobedience)
  2. It is public (not just trying to avoid taxes and stay under the radar)
  3. It is accompanied by a common set of clear and specific demands for change on the part of government

He is critical of the sort of war tax resistance that is primarily conscientious objection rather than protest. If a resister is satisfied merely to wash his or her hands of militarism by personally not paying for it, without making his or her resistance confrontational, Larry thinks, the resister is missing an opportunity to make the resistance make a difference and to make a noble individual stand stronger by making it part of an effective collective movement. That at least is my understanding of what he means.

I have some doubt about whether such a movement would be practical to organize or would be politically effective at this stage of the game. I also think that the variety of methods of war tax resistance is one of the strengths of the movement, such as it is, today — it gives people more options and is respectful of people with a variety of lifestyles, risk tolerances, and goals. I worry that trying to narrow down these options to a subset of “real” war tax resistance varieties might weaken the movement rather than strengthen it, by making it seem less possible or attractive to some potential resisters. (For some other perspectives on the proposal, see the responses by Claire Schaeffer-Duffy, Karl Meyer, and Bill Glassmire in the latest issue of More Than a Paycheck.)

But it’s a proposal worth thinking over. Coincidentally, the day after I read about Larry’s proposal I stumbled on a Spanish pamphlet, published in , titled Guía Práctica de la Objeción Fiscal a los Gastos Militares (Practical Guide to War Tax Resistance). It has a section that harmonizes very well with Larry’s proposal. Here is my translation:

Characteristics of Tax Resistance

For us, tax resistance is, among other things, a struggle. And as we struggle against militarism, this struggle must be nonviolent. It contains within itself a model of the society that we are aiming for. Here we express some of the characteristics of our struggle:

Because we want to transcend the very noble and respectable personal and individual choices in order to constitute a group of disobedient activists.
Because in the face of institutions we must make very clear our intentions for what we are putting into practice. And in the face of public opinion we must act in the streets, write in the press, demonstrate, bicycle from Vitori to Nanclares, etc.…
In this way, through tax resistance, we also reclaim the right of all people to participate in democratic life in a profound and responsible way, without losing track of the serious problems that affect humanity, in the neighborhood around us [“el barrio de al lado,” probably an idiom I’m unfamiliar with —♇], in social services.

Because in tax resistance we are required to go beyond opinion, that we stop to take a stand against military spending, the manufacture and trade in armaments, against the military. A topic so grave cannot be left in the hands of the professional chatterboxes that join the legislature.

And by means of tax resistance, together we contribute to the citizenry a small seed for growing a deep democracy, one that is participatory and as direct as it is possible for us to imagine.
We struggle against an unjust order of militarist violence, but always we do so without using violence, preferring the strength of our reason. We strike out against the state of affairs, while valuing people.
Our objective is to transform state policy, the use made of public funds, in order to employ them effectively in the regulation of social conflicts. If we do not advance toward this goal, we do not find our work useful. We intend to convert the military power into the popular power of civil society.
Tax resistance is a form of struggle that consists of disobedience to an unjust law that promotes violence as a way of resolving conflicts. There are many historical examples of disobedience to unjust laws. Must we ask for a law that would legalize the right to conscientious tax resistance? Here there are not many who ask for this. If such a law were made, military spending would not go away, but would be further legalized. The total revenue from the state would not diminish military spending. They will not make the law that we want. So meanwhile we will publicize the justification for disobeying unjust laws.
The tax resistance campaign will be more effective if the relationship between the ends and the means used are consistent; if we perform all actions such that we clearly demonstrate what we hope will follow and explain our reasoning; if we will open real and possible paths to social transformation even for people who are less committed. We will continually reflect on what we do and on alternatives we propose.