Ricardo Rodríguez Rebuts Pablo San José’s Defense of Tax Resistance

The debate continues! These translations take me hours, as my Spanish is so rudimentary, so I don’t know how much longer I can keep up. Especially as the argument seems to be descending into hot, dark, flame war territory at this point (in this latest dispatch Rodríguez seems to mostly be restating the points in his first one, but in a heightened tone of indignation).

But anyway, here Ricardo Rodríguez responds to Pablo San José’s rejoinder to Rodríguez’s critique of tax resistance (translation mine):

Clarifications concerning tax resistance

Pablo San José has had the courtesy to respond to my critique of the tax resistance campaigns in an article that appeared, like mine, in Rebelión.

I would like to make some clarifications, with the promise that I will not bore readers with a new essay on this same subject:

  1. The finding that I have poorly chosen the time for my writing, given that we find ourselves in the midst of tax season, depends, naturally, on what is your opinion about tax resistance. Mr. Pablo San José would have to admit the possibility that there are those who are not in accord with it, and that, for those who think thusly, tax season is the most opportune moment to express what they think.
  2. It would be healthy some time for us to begin to respond without referring to prejudices of individual taste. As Don Pablo San José is not pleased by what I think, he pigeonholes me without reservation in the group that advocates “democratic centralism in the Leninist style” or, alternatively, in the camp of “eurocommunism” and those who have a blind faith in the State. Thereby I am grouped in the company of evil, making it much easier to continue your article drawing on the categories of “us” (the things we do, the risks we take, the antimilitarists) and “them” (the sectarian communists who do nothing and are limited to censuring the actions of others). Polemicizing in this way is very simple, but is not honest.
  3. In no place in my writing do I equate the organizations that develop projects of social aid with private for-profit enterprises. I said it constitutes a “private safety net.” Depending on the case, not only do I admire such but have personally collaborated in it with my work, but I do argue that what we must aspire to is that the management of social services be public, because this is the only way to provide them with a guarantee of full justice and universality. It is commendable that there are groups of people disposed to mitigate the suffering of other human beings, but the ideal is that the community be collectively addressing the needs of everyone. My goal is that the State comes to vanish and be substituted by assemblies of citizens who take the fundamental decisions with the free and considered participation of all. To the extent that we are fighting for this utopia, the privatization of public services does not appear to me as the best road to take.
  4. Concerning the question of elitism, I must have explained myself poorly and I will try to correct myself now:

    In a number of writings favorable to tax resistance that I have read, I have encountered two aspects related logically to each other. On the one hand is proposed an act of symbolic struggle against the militarism and other injustices of the system. On the other hand, is demanded that the right to object be recognized by Law as a civil right. But, clearly, when one requests to be able to exercise a right it is assumed that one is disposed to admit that others can exercise it with purposes different from yours, and when someone suggests a form of protest, it should give provision for what serves for other objectives when others see that it is a valid form of protest.

    Probably, Pablo San José is ignorant that there are other tax resistance campaigns, in particular one that promotes an important policy of the Catholic Church in opposition to abortion. You can find information about it at http://www.arbil.org/100fiscal.htm. I, as Pablo San José imagines, am a die-hard enemy of militarism and a partisan, on the other hand, of the right of women to make free decisions about motherhood; under no opinion are the ends of the two campaigns comparable. But the means is the same and the right that is claimed is to be able to carry out both. And truly in a democratic society that allows tax resistance, why can a citizen not claim that with “his” income tax payment public health practice of abortion is not to be funded? In fact, it is sufficiently improbable that the State will go so far as to admit that one may resist military spending, but it is not outrageous to imagine that, within their regulatory capacity, regional governments such as that of Madrid introduce at one time or other an option such as for abortion. In such a case, your movement has put forward an essential part of this argument’s arsenal.

    And here is where we touch on the core that Pablo San José mentions but on which he did not want to elaborate: individual liberty. In no place do I oppose it. That which I question is whether one can have the option to decide individually what the whole community can do with that which he contributes. I said, and I repeat, that such a claim is reactionary. If tax resistance became a recognized right, it would be economic capability that would determine the ability to have influence over collective decisions, and then we would not be facing a society of free and equal individuals. The absence of real democracy in the modern capitalist states must be overcome with the collective force of socially organized citizens, as much for a Leninist as for a follower of the beautiful ideas of Kropotkin. And if that is the goal, the methods are to point towards it, and not in the opposite direction. This is what I said.

    In regard to the concrete practice of resistance as a form of protest I also ought to explain something. I did not write that those who receive a refund are unable to resist, but that for them it is more difficult. Neither did I say that it is impossible for those who are not obligated to file, but that for such people the result of filing will not be a refund. It would be absurd for a person not obligated to file to file a return to pay (something that Pablo San José will know is not infrequent), put forward the income tax to pay that which he is not obligated to pay, and subtract the quantity for the resistance. Come on now, I say. And then I mentioned people so poor that they don’t pay income tax, independently from their obligation to file, but who pay a multitude of consumption taxes every day. That about “the more purchasing power, the more money can be redirected” (I did not use those words, so I don’t understand the quotation marks), was referring only to when the percentage-of-the-tax formula is used. I imagine that this latter will not be denied: whether or not the quantity is more important, it is mathematics that if you resist a percentage, in general the people with higher taxes will fail to pay more to the Treasury.

    But, to sum up, this again does not rebut the fundamental question, which is whether the power to protest or to decide be based on ones economic capacity, such that it would lock out from participation a particular number of citizens, perhaps a thousand or three million. Because of this, I think that it is elitist, it is the end that will come from the right to resist being legalized, and it is the means, because the means have adjusted to the ends. Authoritarianism is not the road to freedom, and economic exclusion is not the road to equality.
  5. San José notes two inaccuracies in my article. He says, firstly, that it is not true that in at present it is recommended to appeal to the bitter end if the tax agency demands the unpaid amount. I am happy to be able to correct my error on this point, but I must clarify that an article published this week in Kaos en la Red and taken from the Diagonal speaks of continuing “with the protest, appealing to such demands (those from the tax agency) until exhausting all of the legal avenues”, without advancing prevention of the unfavorable consequences. By coming in one of the publications promoting resistance, I supposed that the information was correct.

    Secondly, San José asks for an explanation why in some tax returns with refunds the tax agency refunds the expected amount plus the resisted quantity. Well, the explanation is the same as that for tax returns where money is owed. The large-scale control of the correction of tax returns is computerized. There are a series of filters. Most of them are cross-checked with information provided to the agency by third parties, also filtered by increasing of the amount, or specific filters (for example, statements of death always contain information for claiming accreditation documentation of the endowment of the heirs from whom they charge a refund). If no computer filter catches the mismatch, from the low quantity or because it appears in an entry that does not conflict with any third-party data, the process continues its course: the tax return is validated without parallel output or recourse whether it is for a payment or a refund is requested. Only the returns flagged by the system are reviewed by staff and there isn’t an individual decision from a bureaucrat for each of these returns. But then, if Mr. San José wants to continue thinking of other possibilities, he may do so.
  6. I’m not going to add more (and I have had enough already) about the proposals I protest. I get the feeling that I have not been understood very well, that historical allusions have been mixed in with that which I propose today, or the simple act of removing money from a bank account (an legal act that in principle carries no legal risk) is equated with the action of Enric Duran (that in fact I have supported).

    That which concerns me more is the small importance that appears to be given to taxes on the left. In this area, the ideological defeat is overwhelming. It may be said that a consumption or indirect tax that all citizens pay is equal with a tax that can have an effect on redistributing the wealth; that we don’t mind that great estates avoid tax, or that it carelessly brings us the incessant rewarding of the corporations with deductions from social security tax. I don’t say anywhere that the income tax is revolutionary; I say it is one of the few taxes that conserve some progressivity, and that if we choose to begin a campaign of protest with reasons legitimate in principle, it would be more careful that we do not give ammunition to our adversary for tightening the screws on the path to economic inequality. Of that there is more than enough, unfortunately.

    To me it seemed that this was sufficient reason to waste my insignificant time in offering my opinion. I have under my belt nearly twenty years of political and social militancy, collaborating in diverse campaigns, confident that not in this will I cede to Pablo San José. Always I give my opinion with sincerity and admit that I may be wrong. But never have I tolerated from anyone, nor am I going to tolerate, that I am required to selflessly toe the party line in order to have the right to do so. Neither will I, for my part, require that from anyone else.