Thursday, January 31, 2013

Agorism in Wales

Every so often I make a truly serendipitous discovery, which nicely illustrates the idea of agorism in practice. My purpose in this article is to demonstrate how a bunch of Welsh non-conformists behaved in a manner very similar to that of modern day agorists.

Agorism has been described as: “the purest, most consistent, and revolutionary form of libertarianism. It can motivate and direct the underclass’s struggle against the overclass.” But how does one go about “motivating” and “directing” this struggle by the underclass to overthrow the overclass or ruling class? The agorist model is based on a non-violent resistance model, or what Benjamin R Tucker, the famous American individualist anarchist, calls passive resistance. Your modern day agorist would substitute the term counter-economics for passive resistance; nevertheless, the idea remains similar across time.

Counter-economics has been defined as follows: “All non-coercive human action committed in defiance of the State constitutes the Counter-Economy.” For the purposes of this article, I am going to limit myself to one aspect of the counter-economy, namely tax resistance against unjust laws. This is based on what Tucker calls “starving out Uncle Sam,” i.e., starving the parasitic state of resources by cutting it off from the flow of tax dollars.

The idea is certainly not new. For example, in Murray N Rothbard’s introduction to Étienne de la Boétie’s book The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, we see this idea being offered up in the year 1575:

The call for mass civil disobedience was picked up by one of the more radical of the later Huguenot pamphlets, La France Turquie (1575), which advocated an association of towns and provinces for the purpose of refusing to pay all taxes to the State. (18, bold emphasis mine)

What I found so fascinating is that Tucker, an American anarchist, when questioned about his idea to “starve out Uncle Sam,” responded to his critic by citing a historical example from Wales. Tucker, writing in an article called Passive Resistance, states that

the Balfour-clerical education bill, a reactionary measure, has largely been nullified in Wales by the refusal of its opponents to pay the school rates. (bold emphasis mine)

The story is rooted in an ongoing dispute between the Church of England and the Nonconformists. The nonconformists were still Christians because they were members of different Protestant denominations; however, they were not members of the Church of England. Most of the Nonconformists lived in the manufacturing areas and in Wales. I looked through an article on the Nonconformists, which you can access here. It seems to me that the Nonconformists launched their tax resistance campaign because of the State’s plan for them to pay Anglican taxes:

  • The Nonconformists did not believe in the teachings of the Church of England, i.e., they did not want to be forced to pay for something that they did not believe in
  • They complained about taxation without representation, i.e., they felt very underrepresented on the school board

With regard to the first objection, we read that “since the Anglicans had the great majority of church schools, Nonconformists argued that they would have to pay for religious education they believed was false.”

With regard to the second objection, about taxation without fair representation, the April 14, 1904 speech by Joseph Rice to the East Grinstead Urban Council provides a nice illustration. Rice mentions that the previous arrangement was fair, but the new arrangement discriminates against the Nonconformists in favor of the Church of England:

for over 20 years, East Grinstead had a School Board in town and Churchman and Nonconformists were fairly represented on it.

Now, gentlemen from Lewes, who know nothing about the circumstances of East Grinstead have appointed Robert Whitehead. The Committee, as chosen by the County Council, consisted of five churchmen and one Free Churchman, one-sixth only of the representation for Nonconformists, though 450 of the 800 children in the Board Schools had Nonconformist parents. (bold emphasis mine)

In other words, the Nonconformists have one-sixth or 16.67% of the votes; however, 56.25% (450 of 800) of the children come from Nonconformist families. So the Nonconformists feel as though they are getting underrepresented.

As a result of these grievances, “John Clifford formed the National Passive Resistance Committee and by 1906 over 170 Nonconformists had gone to prison for refusing to pay their school taxes” (bold emphasis mine). Our early twentieth century agorists in Wales suffered “numbers of prosecutions, seizures of goods, imprisonment, and disfranchisement” as reported here. As the BBC Wales History reports, “disestablishment became a distinctly Welsh national cause.”

Despite their attempt to overthrow the Balfour Education Act by refusing to pay their taxes and by going to prison in protest over the tax, “no change to the law was made.” It did lead to the Conservatives being overthrown in the next election as mentioned here.   The new Liberal government of 1906 attempted to repeal the earlier Balfour Act of 1902 but ran into problems in the House of Lords. See here. Consequently, I am not sure why Benjamin Tucker “declared victory” by boldly asserting that the tax resisters led to the “nullification” of the Balfour Act. Maybe, I can only guess at this point, he is referring to the fact that, as reported by the BBC Wales History article, “in 1920, after many vicissitudes, the Anglican Church in Wales was disestablished.”

As a young agorist research, I thoroughly enjoyed finding a non-American example of a tax resister campaign executed in real life. Actually, I worry that there are not enough examples in more recent history, at least not documented. Or maybe I am just not aware of them yet. Prior to this discovery, I only knew of one fairly recent tax resister campaign in Connecticut and it was more of a local campaign. I hope that my future research will find more examples of tax resister campaigns in action. I am curious to see if I can conclude something about an overall success rate of this non-violent tactic.

1 comment:

  1. You can learn a bunch about historical tax resistance campaigns here: