Direct Action: From the Union Eight to the Chicago Seven

, Dwight Macdonald wrote a letter to the IRS in which he said “[a]s a patriotic American concerned for my country’s good name, I can no longer find it in my conscience, or in my common sense, to continue to pay taxes in support of my government’s military operations in Vietnam.”

Macdonald is one of a handful of radical pacifists who turns up frequently in the pages of Direct Action: Radical Pacifism From the Union Eight to the Chicago Seven, which, coincidentally, I’ve just finished reading.

The movement chronicled in this book includes many of the movers-and-shakers in the war tax resistance movement in in the United States, which is part of what drew me to read it (war tax resistance only features in a small part of the book). The story in summary is about a small, dedicated core of activists in the United States who broke from the Marxist “old left” in to explore a brand of activism influenced by Christian anti-war traditions, the non-violent confrontation techniques of Gandhi, and American contrarian individualist thinking along the lines of Thoreau.

This group of activists was forged in the camps for conscientious objectors that were run by America’s traditional peace churches as part of a compromise during World War Ⅱ, survived the McCarthyist in part due to their principled distancing from authoritarian communism, and came to play decisive roles in shaping the form of the civil rights movement and the movements against the Vietnam War and the nuclear arms race.

It’s an interesting story — and the author, James Tracy, is good at pointing out how the principles and theories of these activists served them well at some times (allowing them to outlast the “old left” and influence the “new left” for instance), and proved unhelpful at other times (the radical individualism and focus on lifestyle change that allowed the group to stay focused during the conformist scaled poorly to the sort of mass movement that coalesced around civil rights and Vietnam in ).

Among the budget proposal elements the Bush administration is expected to bring forward in is a plan to allow private collection agencies to work for the IRS, probably on a percentage basis, to go after tax debts.

As I mentioned , the IRS fails to collect, or even pursue, about 60% of the known delinquent tax debts, about 75% of people who don’t bother to file tax returns, and about 79% of taxpayers whom they catch using “known abusive devises” to evade taxes. So they could certainly use the help. But Congress is hesitant to give the IRS more enforcement power, and there are even more concerns about letting a bunch of repo men rummage through people’s tax information to try to go after ’em.

Still, this strikes me as a logical next step for the government to take, and I think it is worth keeping an eye on.