Tenth International Conference on War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns - Brussels, Belgium 2004

Who are we?

by Dominique Boisvert (Conscience Canada and Nos impôts pour la paix)

1.4

Diversity

What I discovered with great surprise was the enormous diversity of the movement around the world. Some movements are better organized, financed and staffed (Germany, England, Holland, USA) but most of them are much smaller but surprisingly active given their limitations (like VRAK in Belgium, CC and NIPP in Canada, Norway, Spain or Italy). Some seem to be on the rise (from past slumps like Germany? and CC/NIPP?) and others are smaller than they used to be (UK? Japan?). Some seem to be limited to individual contacts, either in Northern countries, like France which was absent, or in the South, where a certain number of individuals have been linked to the Conferences, sometimes for many years (India, Ghana, Honduras, Bangladesh, Colombia). In the South, the movement may well be larger though not as specifically centered on WTR-PTCs (like the Gandhi-in-action movement from India which has been present for the past numerous years and even held the 1998 Conference in New Delhi).

Some movements are mainly or only centered on war tax resistance in its various forms (and many of those involved might well never be satisfied with any peace tax bill that could be adopted) and some others are concentrating on obtaining some form legal recognition of fiscal CO or Peace Tax at the national and/or international levels (some of them being also individual WTR or withholding their war taxes and some others not doing so until they obtain legal recognition). Some movements are also doing both at the same time (Germany, United Kingdom, VRAK-Flanders, CC and NIPP) with more (CC) or less (NIPP) emphasis on obtaining a legal recognition. In the Netherlands the Movement Refusal Defense Tax (refusal to pay war tax and search for legal recognition for COs) has evolved to Euros for Peace (having as its purpose: to induce all sectors of society to use money to peace and not to violence).

Some movement are relatively well structured (with or without legal incorporation), sometimes with local branches in some cities (Germany, USA) and others are a relatively informal gathering of individuals from certain cities or from across the country who have in common the desire to oppose war and work for peace through the financial/tax angle (Spain, Italy).

Common denominator?

At CPTI, there is much more common focus because its ‘raison d'être’ is to push international bodies for more COMS (Conscientious Objection to Military Service) and COMT ( CO to Military Taxation) legal recognition both at the international AND national levels.

At the WTR-PTC Conferences, it is more difficult to identify the precise common ground, except at a more general level: everybody (movements, groups and individuals) is committed to work against war and for peace, especially through the financial/tax aspect. Individuals may speak from a WTR and CO perspective: I do not want to be part of it; as a collective they may say: we work to lower military spending, through our own withholding and/or through getting this ‘right’ to withhold for all interested taxpayers and/or through direct anti-war/pro-peace activism of all sorts.

This plurality of views/actions is not only reflected in the long Conference title (WTR and PTC) but also magnified by the extremely diverse legal and cultural contexts: Italy, for example, has obtained a sort of de facto recognition of the right to direct (some of?) their military taxes to international development or other charitable projects, while in many (most?) countries from the Third World, income tax does not even exist for most citizens who rather contribute only through indirect taxation.

Some would want the totality of their taxes (from all sources) to be directed to peace or a peace fund, while others would be satisfied with only the military portion of their taxes to be directed this way. That military portion varies from about 50% of federal taxes in USA to below 10% in many countries. Some are preoccupied with where exactly their military money will be spent (they want a right to monitor the trace of their money), while others would be satisfied with a solemn government annual declaration or commitment that none of the CO tax money would be spent on military purposes. Finally we also realized that in many northern countries, the military taxes we pay are having a direct effect on other countries. For example, it is not so much the Colombian people who pay for the horrifying war going on in their country, but rather the American taxpayers through the Colombia Plan.

Cooperation

This wide variety of approaches and situations raise the major issue: how could (and should) we best work together? That is where the experience of the anti-globalisation (‘altéromondialisation’ in French and Spanish) movement is interesting and useful. More and more, we are globally connected on many issues (peace being one of the major one) and we are learning how to work as large coalitions (rainbow coalitions) of people and groups with very divers purposes and/or strategies. Of course, it is not easy and we are just at the beginning. But the World Social Forum (WSF) experiences of the last 5 years shows us some interesting directions to follow, and it is not a coincidence if each WSF has made a clearer connexion between their social agenda and the war and peace issue. The culmination of this connexion has become very clear at the latest Mumbai WSF Declaration of January 2004.

Our direction seems to be working on how can we work together, with synergy and complementarity, out of our differences/diversity rather than on how can we resolve our differences or reach a minimum consensus on our analysis, purposes or strategy. This is even true of our various peace groups and movements within each country: Germany explained how many diverse peace groups had been able to work together to organize a common Peace Fair, but how it was nonetheless impossible to agree on a common position/reaction, among the same groups, to the 9/11 event.

The permanent and growing challenge will be: how can we respect, and even favour, diversity in our movement while making sure that we can use the ‘best of each approach’ in a complementary and collective ‘social building’ perspective?