Civil, Economic, and Comprehensive Disobedience

Here is another section from the Handbook of Economic Disobedience which represents some of the thinking in the hybrid war tax resistance / anti-capitalist movement in Spain today. (I translated another excerpt .)

My Spanish is pretty poor, so I may be missing some nuance, but the tone of the handbook strikes me as a little off-putting in the way a lot of leftist manifestos can be. I get the feeling of being spoken to from on high by someone with an encyclopedia of theoretical edifices at his disposal.

It is interesting to me how much of its historical underpinning of the justification for civil disobedience draws on non-Spanish sources: Henry David Thoreau, the American civil rights movement, and the Indian independence movement. (The theoretical underpinning, too: Gandhi, Ronald Dworkin, Hannah Arendt.) Is there a lack of good examples of civil disobedience in Spain?

Introduction to Civil Disobedience,
Economic Disobedience,
and Comprehensive Disobedience

“When injustice has become the law, rebellion becomes a duty.”

“As soon as one realizes that to obey unjust laws is contrary to one’s dignity as a person, no tyranny can overpower one.” — Gandhi

“…we have asserted that civil disobedience is a special sort of denial of certain contents of the law by some citizen of groups of citizens. By this we mean that although all civil disobedience is an act of disobedience to the law, not every act of disobedience to the law is an act of civil disobedience.” — Ronald Dworkin

What is Civil Disobedience?

By civil disobedience we mean a public, nonviolent, conscientious, political activity, contrary to a law or order of authority that is considered unjust or illegitimate, that civil society undertakes with the objective of nullifying said law or order and inaugurating a new legal order in which those social and civil rights that the law denies in practice are recognized. When, as in the Spanish State, the ways of political expression are limited to the institutional channels and a vote every four years, without any existing direct mechanisms of participation and consultation, civil disobedience becomes an indispensable tool for denouncing and voicing rejection of an unjust policy or law.

Some characteristics:
  1. In general, it is practiced by people who are conscientious and engaged with society. These are what Hannah Arendt called qualitatively significant minorities, which leads them to be so active as critics of certain political decisions that have become law. The activity displayed by those who practice civil disobedience is so intense and of such a character that overflows the usual channels of forming and executing the political will. Citizens who practice civil disobedience are able to imagine a better social order and in its construction civil disobedience becomes a useful and necessary method.
  2. It is understood that the behavior of these citizens is not motivated by selfishness but by the desire to universalize proposals that objectively improve life in society. This requirement does not deny that, on occasion, personal or corporate interests may coincide with interests of a general nature. It simply demonstrates that it would be impossible to build a civil disobedience movement that was solely limited to defending special interests.
  3. Consequently, citizens who practice it feel integrity in the way they think and behave. For them, civil disobedience is more of a civic duty. It is a demand that proceeds from certain convictions to which it is possible to attribute an objective and constructive value.
  4. So it is easy to guess that the exercise of civil disobedience must be public, which also contributes to the aim of those who practice it to convince the rest of the citizenry of the justice of their demands.

The consideration of civil disobedience in a political system like democracy must necessarily begin from the fact that this is an illegal activity because it violates valid and enforceable legal norms — though they may be morally and legally reprehensible — that is committed in order to produce a change. In this sense, civil disobedience does not only violate legal norms, but bypasses those ordinary channels, both legal and political, that in a democratic system exist for the purpose of changing governmental laws or policies — that is to say, it is located outside of the rules of the game that sustain this political system.

Before any act or process of opposition to a law or policy adopted by an established government, the actor must be aware that their acts are illegal or of questionable legality, and that they will be performed and sustained in order to obtain particular social ends.

Historical precedents for Civil Disobedience

there was a war between the United States and Mexico. In , at the beginning of the conflict, Thoreau announced his refusal to pay taxes for two specific reasons: he opposed financing the military conflict, and was not inclined to contribute financially to the maintenance of a government that continued to regard slavery as legal in the United States.

It costs me less in every sense to incur the penalty of disobedience to the State, than it would to obey. I should feel as if I were worth less in that case.Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil.” — H.D. Thoreau

Civil disobedience consists of thinking differently

If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.

Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.” — H.D. Thoreau

Gandhi’s campaigns of civil disobedience were a form of protest that consisted of refusing obedience to certain laws; that is, they refused compliance with them when they were considered unjust or illegitimate. This form of nonviolent struggle had the goal of publicly demonstrating the injustice of British colonial laws.

Their struggle for the independence of India was based on the right of resistance, which took on a collective, public, and peaceful form. When members of the Congress Party were arrested, they did not recognize the authority of the English courts to judge them. The noncooperation movement against the British authorities included the resignation from their posts of Indian officials. Other historical examples of actions of disobedience or resistance to the law may include refusal to comply with mandatory military service, desertion in exceptional circumstances (as occurred with young Americans during the Vietnam War), or, in the case of blacks in the United States, sitting in a public place barred to people of color.

Right of Rebellion. The initiative to generate a strategy of mass civil disobedience

As a people, if we organize, we will be able to create and defend spaces free from control and submission to power. When we achieve this, the power will not be blocked immediately, but will try to overthrow our people power in order to entrench itself as the only legitimate power in the area. So we are entering a time in which the strategies of action will have to be very well defined to become solid options that include a significant portion of society.

In this context we suggest civil disobedience to state decisions that affect us. As individuals, as free beings, we have in civil disobedience and in self-management, two essential tools of political action. As people organized on a mass-scale we have the responsibility to make the world in which we live and act what we want it to be.

We understand by civil disobedience an illegal action performed conscientiously and performed publicly in order to achieve a partial or complete transformation of society. The commitment to civil disobedience is a commitment to education through action, to the generation of a constructive way of visualizing the struggle, to communication by example and by personal and collective engagement. It is a course of action that empowers the grassroots and has had important precedents in the history of the last century.

One of the current strategies in the context of disobedience is the “We Will Exercise the Right of Rebellion” initiative, started in , declaring the lack of legitimacy of the management institutions of the State by means of the Manifesto that led to this initiative.

We are millions of people willing to act. We must free ourselves from our fears and insecurities in order to publicly acknowledge our commitment and share with those around us the experience of dignity, facilitating the liberation of each of us to live consistently with our deepest values.

Economic disobedience for self-management

The proposal of the Right of Rebellion is not only a proposal for coordinated civil disobedience, but also a strategy of action that wants to develop a worldview committed to self-management.

This is why we put special emphasis on economic disobedience, which would be all those modes of civil disobedience focused on freeing ourselves from the private or state economic power, so as to direct our resources to the construction of alternatives to the present economic system.

So economic disobedience includes all of those forms of civil or social disobedience that have as their objective empowering ourselves as free people, breaking the chains that enslave us to the current capitalist system.

This Handbook is meant for all those who want to take steps to make their lives an example of the way they think and feel. Specifically, for those who want to quit acting under coercion from economic pressure and who want to dedicate their time to an activity that is genuinely creative.

Also, for those who want their money, as the fruit of their labor, to go only for what they believe and not to the banks, or the salaries of politicians, or armaments, or grand infrastructures… among other misuses that come to mind.

Therefore, we call for complete tax resistance to the State in order to redirect our taxes to self-managed budgets from self-managed, local collectives that are much more deserving of sovereignty than the governmental institutions that the people are subject to. has coordinated the creation of the first and this second edition of the Handbook of Economic Disobedience. Also, in parallel, proceeds the creation of offices of economic disobedience, which are tools to support initiatives like tax resistance, unionizing of debtors, and bankruptcy as a form of action. You will find more information about all of these items in the following chapters.