It is pointless to merely and politely ask a living organism to cease to act as it does, of its own choosing. Would you or I cease to exist at the mere insistence of an enemy?
I am not arguing that we should not hold demonstrations. Not at all! We should have lots of them, in fact. I am however saying that by themselves they will not change anything fundamentally; not even superficially if not carried out massively and persistently over a long time, thereby making it impossible to carry out business as usual.
The reason Cindy Sheehan has become a symbol is because she has ceased to continue living 'as usual'. And by doing so, she has proved that to move against the ruling elite you have to stop acting in the business-as-usual fashion, and stick it out come what may, before you can hope to bring to a stop business-as-usual for the rulers.
Again, I am not advocating against strikes at all. We needs lots of strikes, in a lot of places, and constantly. In fact, right now, I would positively welcome any labor strike organized purely on political grounds of opposition to the occupation of Iraq, and purely to demand the immediate return of the troops. I am, however, pointing out the limited effectiveness of strikes when carried out in the isolation of singular crafts within singular industries or companies, for short time periods and completely in isolation from all the other social struggles going on in the society at large.
So, what else? Legislative drives such as ballot initiatives or single-issue campaigns have their clear limitations, too. From an insanely high ratio of input-to-output — input of the combined social energy of tens of thousands of individuals over all the years it takes, to the output of a piece of legislation well-stacked in the favor of the rich and the powerful, in the best of outcomes — all the way to, once again, the ultimate legitimation of the system.
Who Decides How to Spend Taxes All these forms of struggle, however, when combined and applied to achieving the goals of a social movement with clearly defined parameters for its view of social justice, can bring about real social change. Together, they can put an end to the business of merely begging the rulers to change their ways; something they have no interest in doing.
The question of taxation has also always been cast as a purely 'economic' factor, even as the very political procedure of changing the terms of the screw are publicly debated in the legislatures of the bourgeoisie worldwide.
So, for example, even as the Reaganite offensive was very clearly transferring increasing proportions of people's money from the lower classes to the very highest classes, in order to keep the debate's framework as 'economic', they had to come up with completely fantastical ideas they called “Reaganomics”. As if there was a seriously objective school of thought out there that could demonstrate and prove scientifically that giving the public goods to profit-seeking companies is anything other than theft of public goods.
It is in the framing of the question of taxation that, I believe, we can turn the political tables in a fundamental way, and, what is more important, in a realistic and practical way.
The question of taxation must be remarried overtly to the political dimension that it does possess. One need only remember that a pillar of the American Revolution and the War of Independence that a third of the population of the original colonies conducted against the British overlords, was crystallized into the slogan, 'No Taxation without Representation!'
And quite rightly so, too. Surely there must be some difference between a legitimate government of the people, for the people, by the people on the one hand, and on the other a bunch of racketeers. No government or state authority should be allowed to take anybody's money as 'taxes', for which no political representation is offered, or, worse, with which instruments of oppression of those very taxpayers are acquired.
But, we can revisit that slogan and give it a positively different quality all together.
We can demand a new system of taxation be instituted, whereby every year, as people file their taxes, they also file a 'priority list', submitting to the government their instructions for spending their money. In other words, at the same time as they hand over their money they dictate to the government the order of priorities for the expenditure of their money. So, for example, when I hand over my money to the IRS, I likewise hand over my instructions to the effect that of the taxes I have paid, the government must spend 25% of it on education for immigrants who are not documented; 25% on the health of the same population; 20% on environmental clean up efforts in poor neighborhoods and towns; 10% on infrastructure building in poor neighborhoods and towns; 10% on research into diseases; and 10% on the proliferation of artistic activities among the elderly. Individuals can choose any number of priorities, and rank them in any percentage they deem necessary. Citizens may even give any percentage of their taxes to go toward reparations to the victims of imperialist powers.
This new definition of taxation is something that brings about unities that will clarify the class divisions, almost immediately.
Representation for the taxes paid, today, with the statistical sciences available and with the technology that is available, can easily be wedded to the very individual who pays the taxes, and can therefore be the first real form of direct democracy that can and must be implemented.
There are no excuses for refusing this. It is not some 'nut case' 'commie' conspiracy. It is the continuation of the American Revolution, and in its pursuit methods used by Wobblies can be applied at will. It is a legal demand, yet the movement to bring it about, although 'reformist' in scope and form, is indeed revolutionary in spirit just as the Populist Movement was in the nineteenth century, and as much as Civil Rights movement became in the form of the Black Panther Party. Yet, it is a movement that need not pick up a single gun. At least not initially, and for as long as the system does not resort to violence to suppress it.
In terms of building an infrastructure necessary for a nation-wide party of the radical left in the US, or anywhere, the organizational implications of a movement to redefine taxation are immense.
In short, the conversation regarding the redefinition of taxes is one that can affect and bring together all other political conversations, as well as give them a realistic and practical channel to becoming a part of the actually existing political landscape. Further, the movement to achieve this redefinition of taxes, whether or not all its strategic goals are achieved, will be by nature a movement that can only lead to more radical possibilities; even in defeat.
Achievements Possible Let us first assume the best scenario. The movement achieves its first strategic goals, and a new system of taxation is instituted, whereby the citizens dictate to the government how to spend their money. This way, a stop will have been put to the political machinations by the fat cat Senators and Representatives, who are way too chummy with billionaire company owners who have them on pay roll to make sure all kinds of friendly legislation is passed to line their collective pockets ever so deeply.
This best-case scenario is a miniature utopia of sorts. It contains the seeds of bigger utopias. And it contains these possible bigger utopias in a real way discernable to the public. Each person may have a different utopia and, seeing the real possibility of bringing it closer to reality, will act to do so and consequently will break out of the prison house of history, out of 'just this'. Such a system of taxation encourages, nurtures and nourishes an enlightened citizenry.
An enlightened citizenry that has achieved enlightened goals will have also, in the same process, transformed and radicalized itself, and will have evolved into a more formidable opponent for the current system. And within this new political framework, the enlightened citizenry will be fighting the class enemies within a system that is far more to its advantage than the current one, and with much more confidence since it has transformed the system to its advantage. It will be an enlightened citizenry that has tasted its own powers and seen its power in action bearing concrete fruits that are long lasting.
Possibilities in Defeat Now, let us consider a less successful scenario. Even in complete defeat, this movement to radicalize taxation will, by its end, have come to a thorough understanding of the limitations of the institutions buttressing this system that brings about so much misery. That is an invaluable social education. I believe it was Marx who said, “The best way to understand something is by trying to change it.” Or, words to that effect.
The significance of such cracks in the system is tremendous, because the new taxation system is radically a different way of looking at not just at a small-potato issue. Taxation touches all dimensions of public life, from how this public life is organized, to who gets to 'play' in it, all the way to how the rules are set. In all those key and essential aspects, the discursive tables will have turned to our major advantage, should such notion of taxation take hold.
Also, in the process, a real movement will have been built not based on a single-issue at all, in fact. This movement, seeing the limitations of the system in the very process of getting its demands heard, and seeing the concrete obstacles the system throws its way, will have great potential for becoming more radicalized.
Further, the movement to bring about this redefined taxation will have created a de facto political organization nationwide; an organization that can easily evolve into a national party of the radical left.
From this point on, strikes, demonstrations, marches and rallies will find more cohesion since they are imbued with an in-built objective that drives them to garner any and all their capabilities in order to achieve their goals. In short, citizens will start to see their power more tangibly.
On the success side, again, such a movement, if and when successful, will dictate to a significant extent how the system may exist. That would be far more advantageous a position, from which to launch further strategic battles.
The historical struggle to fundamentally change this system must engage a point in reality that is of essential importance to the survival of the system as it is, and must radicalize itself, its goals and its methods as it develops, all the while engaged with social reality and its institutionalized forms. Our key tasks are to transform those institutions that must be transformed in order to benefit everybody, and get rid of those that are harmful to anybody's survival; so that over time, all social institutions benefit all, as opposed to having a situation that social institutions are merely erected in order to benefit only a tiny minority, at the price of immense misery for an insane majority.
About Reza Fiyouzat is an applied linguist/university instructor, and a freelance writer and analyst. He keeps a blog at Revolutionary Flowerpot Society.