International Gathering of Activists Discuss “Peace Tax” Schemes

Ruth Benn has followed up on her earlier report on the 12th International Conference on War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns. Excerpts:

Although WTR was never really really strong in other countries, I did sense at this meeting that there were fewer resisters from countries other than the U.S. and Britain than my first meeting way back 20 years ago, which most attendees attributed to the quickness to collect/seize in many countries. (Or are people being drawn into peace tax fund efforts as a safer alternative?) However, although the German groups seem to be all about peace tax fund efforts, they also told about holding a vigil for a resister who was taken to court recently. And I didn’t write about War Resisters’ International in Britain, which is a case of an organization choosing to refuse to send on withheld taxes voluntarily because that is the only way the staff can resist. Their board had to make that decision. They await Inland Revenue’s showing up to sticker their equipment for seizure now, but they are also trying to figure out how to make their resistance more public and convince other orgs that they can do this (even though Inland Revenue usually collects, it is at a point of forced payment).

Still, while I can see these good examples, I do find it discouraging that in the times we are in there are not masses turning to this form of resistance (or even to the peace movement in general for heaven’s sake!) in the U.S., if not elsewhere.…

War tax resisters and peace tax fund advocates have some similarities in the sort of goals they’re aiming for: they think that their governments overspend on the military and they’d like their own money spent in better ways. But tactically, they’re miles apart: peace tax funds are about the polar opposite of conscientious tax resistance, and in fact are most likely to be enacted as a weapon in the government arsenal to fight against war tax resistance should it ever become sufficiently popular to be troublesome.

A lot of peace tax fund promoters don’t see it this way. They think of peace tax fund schemes as being a natural extension of the same impulses that cause people adopt war tax resistance, and they support the former for the same reasons that other people support the latter. So, to that extent there’s some harmony between the groups: peace tax fund promoters typically have their hearts in the right place and just need to appropriately reposition their heads to match.

But, since peace tax fund schemes are really inimical to conscientious war tax resistance, there is necessarily some tension here.

I think it might be useful to rethink the “big tent” that brings war tax resisters and peace tax fund advocates together in conferences like this one. Not that I think there should be a formal divorce, but maybe instead we should consider making the tent even bigger, to include tax resisters who resist from different motives than antimilitarism. The invitation of George Rishmawi was a good example of this (he was one of the organizers of tax resistance during the intifada in Palestine) — too bad he couldn’t make it.

Here’s another example: what appears to have been a sophisticated campaign of tax resistance from Mexico, where the motives of the resisters were to protest that the government simply wasn’t providing the minimum of service in return for the taxes. (From the Saltillo Palabra a couple of years ago; the translation is mine, which is why it’s clunky):

 — The executive council of the National Chamber of Commerce [Canaco] in Tijuana decided to hold back taxes from the three levels of Government since they do not provide security to the city, said César Cázares, president of the organization.

“There is a group of tax lawyers who are advising us. We are going to stop paying taxes. Already we have had agreements, meetings, plans. It’s a method of civil disobedience," he said.

So far this month, 24 people have been assassinated in Tijuana, among these was the assistant chief of security who was ambushed Thursday.

Cázares asserted that tax resistance is being tried because the retailers of Tijuana are very worried about the constant crime wave, and they do not see a response from the authorities.

He explained that since Thursday Canaco is consulting with the College of Accountants of Tijuana to find a way to redirect the taxes to some government entity and for the retailers not to be sanctioned as tax delinquents.

“The possibility exists that the taxes will be redirected to an account in the Federal Court for them to hold in escrow so long as the government fails to return security to us,” he emphasized in the press conference.

About 35 presidents of skilled groups from Canaco entreated Cázares to ask the state authorities for the intervention of the Army.

In addition, they will initiate a campaign to urge the rest of the population to stop paying taxes: property, vehicle, and others.

Cázares indicated that there are commercial sales losses of 30–50% due to the insecurity that Tijuana suffers.

Canaco Tijuana includes 2,300 companies in packaging, pharmacy, hardware, used car sales, junkyards, and repair shops, among others.

War tax resisters in many ways have a lot more in common with tax resisters like these shopkeepers in Tijuana — for instance how we organize, what legal complications we have to deal with, what sort of mutual support we provide, and so forth — than we have with peace tax fund promoters. I think we’d probably have a lot more to talk about, too.