War Tax Resistance in Context

Workshop Number 15

Led by Martin Voigt with Pedro Otaduy

The workshop covered two major areas: war tax resistance in relation to laws and tax collection practices in each country, and war tax resistance in the political context of individual countries and the world.

Each country presents a different situation for war tax resisters.

In Spain, where income taxes started within the last 20 years, people can resist and give the money to a fund for good projects, but the government still collects the tax money it doesn't receive.

In the Netherlands there is a pay as you earn system and it can be difficult to keep money from the military, but it is possible. There are cases of individuals having possessions confiscated and auctioned for nonpayment of taxes.

In the USA, there are different ways to resist: live below the taxable income (in some countries this level is impossibly low to live on); increase allowances reported so that the tax deducted from paychecks is reduced; work as self-employed so that you are responsible for submitting all taxes paid (there is no withholding system for self-employed).

There was some discussion about employers and whether they will support war tax resisters. In the USA, there are a few who do; most employers (including peace churches) tend to honor the internal revenue orders.

War tax resistance as ‘illegal’ or ‘criminal’ was discussed.

In the USA, refusal to pay taxes owed is illegal, but rarely is anyone charged with a criminal offense where the penalties would be higher than the civil penalties (fines) that are usually imposed.

Many USA residents in the group felt that now is a favorable time for war tax resistance as the Republicans in Congress have put a lot of pressure on the IRS against their seizure procedures. Also the IRS budget has been cut and there are fewer agents, older computers, etc., so it is more difficult for them to collect.

In the USA some war tax resisters are working on campaign finance reform, which would allow for public financing of elections and remove the ability for corporations and the wealthy to buy a politician's vote. In this case, what would we do as war tax resisters? If we refuse taxes we keep our money from this possible positive development. This situation does not apply in other countries.

In Germany there is a right for freedom of conscience as part of the constitution. So far this only applies to military service. The right to conscientious objection to military taxation was taken to court, but so far all the cases have been turned down and now the courts just refer to them when any new case is brought up.

As to the political context, one issue in many countries (Canada was an example) is the use of the military for ‘peacekeeping.’ Many citizens perceive this as a good use of the military, so it is harder for resisters to build support for their stand against any military spending. How to respond to this issue is something we must all work on.

The bombing of Yugoslavia created much controversy in Europe. While resisters felt stronger in their resistance, there were calls in Europe to become more independent of the USA by building up their own militaries.

Another lesson of the bombing for pacifists was the need for more prevention of war. The new proposal for a Peace Force was brought to everyone's attention. There are studies that show the early warning signs of how a conflict can gradually develop into a violent situation. We need to learn more about these and call for preventative measures and conflict resolution early.

Ruth Benn, reporter