Ken Knudson on Tax Resistance

Some details about the next NWTRCC national gathering, this Fall in Ohio:

The Nehemiah Center 6515 Bridge Ave.
Cleveland, Ohio
(Near west side of Cleveland at West 65th and Bridge Ave.)

Deconstruct War: Use tax dollars to construct peace

A mini-conference about cutting off war’s money supply and funding life-affirming programs. Save the dates!

Hosted by Dorothy Day Peace Tax Fund, Cleveland Catholic Worker, the Cleveland Nonviolence Network, and the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC)

The program includes presentations about war tax resistance and redirecting tax dollars to peace, stories of individual resistance, discussion about consequences and effectiveness, strategizing about all of our work against war and creating the world we hope to see. NWTRCC is holding its business meeting in Cleveland on Sunday morning, November 8 (open to all). Along with local activists, people from around the country who refuse to pay for war will participate in the mini-conference.

Come for the whole weekend or one session

Registration Information will be available mid-summer .

For more information:
National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC) or (800) 269‒7464

Wendy McElroy has been posting a lot of interesting stuff on her site lately, including Ken Knudson’s essay on The Contradiction and Tragedy of Communist-Anarchism (in three parts, so far: , , ).

There’s lots of interesting food for thought in the essay, but, this being The Picket Line, I’ll quote here an excerpt from part Ⅲ about tax resistance:

There is but one effective way to rid ourselves of the oppressive power of the state. It is not to shoot it to death; it is not to vote it to death; it is not even to persuade it to death. It is rather to starve it to death.

Power feeds on its spoils, and dies when its victims refuse to be despoiled. There is much truth in the well-known pacifist slogan, “Wars will cease when people refuse to fight.” This slogan can be generalised to say that “government will cease when people refuse to be governed.” As [Benjamin Ricketson] Tucker put it, “There is not a tyrant in the civilised world today who would not do anything in his power to precipitate a bloody revolution rather than see himself confronted by any large fraction of his subjects determined not to obey. An insurrection is easily quelled; but no army is willing or able to train its guns on inoffensive people who do not even gather in the streets but stay at home and stand back on their rights.”

A particularly effective weapon could be massive tax refusal. If (say) one-fifth of the population of the United States refused to pay their taxes, the government would be impaled on the horns of a dilemma. Should they ignore the problem, it would only get worse — for who is going to willingly contribute to the government’s coffers when his neighbours are getting away scotfree? Or should they opt to prosecute, the burden just to feed and guard so many “parasites” — not to mention the lose of revenue — would be so great that the other four-fifths of the population would soon rebel. But in order to succeed, this type of action would require massive numbers. Isolated tax refusal — like isolated draft refusal — is a useless waste of resources. It is like trying to purify the salty ocean by dumping a cup of distilled water into it. The individualist-anarchist would no more advocate such sacrificial offerings than the violent revolutionary would advocate walking into his neighbourhood police station and “offing the pig.” As he would tell you, “It is not wise warfare to throw your ammunition to the enemy unless you throw it from the cannon’s mouth.” Tucker agrees. Replying to a critic who felt otherwise he said, “Placed in a situation where, from the choice of one or the other horn of a dilemma, it must follow either that fools will think a man a coward or that wise men will think him a fool, I can conceive of no possible ground for hesitancy in the selection.”

Reading this, I wonder at two things: First, his matter-of-fact dismissal of isolated tax resistance by comparing it to isolated draft resistance as a “useless waste of resources.” What is more of a useless waste of resources for the isolated draftee, I wonder? Putting up with the consequences of defying the state and refusing to be drafted, or putting up with the consequences of obeying the state and submitting to the draft? It doesn’t seem so clear-cut to me at all.

Secondly, his insistence that if a fifth of Americans refused to pay their taxes all hell would break loose. Maybe so. But I note that of the most-refusable tax — the federal income tax — only about half of Americans are going to owe any this year anyway, and there’s already something like a 15% tax evasion rate. Still the government stands. So I’m not sure his confidence is well-placed. On the other hand, if 20% were to actively and loudly refuse, as opposed to just being under-the-line or quietly evading, that might have more of the effect he envisions.

I noted the case of James Stinson, who has decided to refuse to pay his council tax (in the U.K.) not from any high-minded philosophical principle but simply because he’s sick of being charged so much and getting so little in return.

A followup article gives an update on the consequent court case, in which he is facing fines and prison time for his stand:

“Someone has to stand up for what they believe in. I am prepared to go to prison over this — I believe that prison is a holiday camp nowadays anyway.”

“My lawful reasons for not paying are few and far between. What I am doing is illegal.

“However, I have a basic human right to afford to live and the crippling council tax I have to pay infringes that right.

“I hope that what I am doing will make people consider what they are paying in council tax and maybe they will start a petition or start protesting themselves.

“The increase in council tax has badly affected people in North East Lincolnshire. I have not taken this action lightly.

“I consider it to be a harsh increase during a recession. It is not a time when people should be demanding more money.

“It is a time when the council should look at ways of cutting costs.”