War Tax Resistance: Fiscal Objection to Spanish Military Spending
For over thirty years, the Fiscal Objection Campaign has denounced military spending, with members 'redirecting' a portion of their taxes when making their tax returns. In this article, we explain and evaluate our experiences in Alternativa Antimilitarista (AA, or Antimilitarist Alternative), as part of a short workshop on this campaign at our summer conference (in Navacepeda de Tormes, Avila, in July 2014).
Fiscal objection to Spanish military spending has, from the beginning and to this day, been expressed in annual campaigns which open and close in tandem with the income tax collection campaign of the Tax Office. This form of direct action was proposed at the Nonviolent Assembly of Andalusia in 1982, the year in which Spain joined NATO after the attempted coup d'etat of 1981. In this same year the government contributed financially to the deployment of NATO missiles to Eastern Europe, giving rise to a social climate which keenly rejected Spainish association with the Atlantic bloc and the military spending entailed by such an association.
In 1983 the first campaign took place, which very quickly – indeed, as early as 1984 – gained national status, with the incorporation of the Conscientious Objector Movement (MOC), Barcelona Peace and Justice, and the Nonviolent Assembly of Cantabria. The National Congress of Fiscal Objection took place only five years later, in 1989. At this congress, the objective of ensuring recognition for the individual right to conscientious objection to military spending was put forth, and more social objectives were also proposed: the progressive reduction and eventual elimination of military spending; the denunciation of militarism and of the increasing militarisation of society; questioning current models of defence, with calls to promote a debate on the issue; contribution to the antimilitarist movement and the opening of new means of participation and struggle; collaboration with other struggles which defend that which ought to be defended: the rights of individuals and a more just society.
Confronted with the two tendencies of the international war tax resistance movement – taxes for peace and fiscal objection – our campaign has chosen the latter. The former calls on governments to provide a peaceful state alternative towards which the state itself can redirect the appropriate amount of war tax resisters' or conscientious objectors' taxes on their behalf. In contrast the latter, being an illegal practice, constitutes a form of civil disobedience; its development has been infused with the insubordinate character of the conscientious objection and Insumisión movement.
How do we carry out our fiscal objection?
Every year, when we make our tax returns, we 'redirect' a portion of our taxes towards an alternative project, asking the Revenue to deduct this amount from military spending. The most common practice over the years has been to redirect a fixed quantity, but it is also possible to redirect a proportional amount, equivalent to the portion of the state budget for defence or military spending.
Firstly, we pay the agreed amount directly into the current account of the campaign or directly to the alternative project we want to support. Secondly, when we complete our tax return, we write in a tax deduction such that we request the return of the amount redirected towards an alternative project from the Tax Office. When we complete the rest of our tax return, this provision obviously changes the overall outcome, in that the amount we need to pay is less (or that the amount we expect to receive back is greater), in proportion to the amount we have redirected. We attach a receipt to our tax return for the payment to the alternative project, and a letter in which we declare ourselves fiscal objectors, also giving our reasons. Finally, we fill out a fiscal objection survey which permits disobedient collectives to publicise the collective dimension of the campaign.
The Tax Office usually returns the requested amount. However – and apparently at random – some objectors receive notification of an 'error' in their tax return. The objector can then choose to pay or not to pay, knowing that if they choose not to pay, their accounts will be seized. Recognition of the right to fiscal objection has yet to be obtained via judicial routes, but the state has also failed to have fiscal objection considered a criminal form of tax evasion.
The campaign would not be a campaign without its collective dimension, centred on the Fiscal Objection group and the national strategy of awareness raising direct actions that denounce military spending and promote the Fiscal Objection campaign, alongside annual reports of the campaign results (the number of objections, the projects supported and the amounts paid to each).
The Evolution of Fiscal Objection
Over the trajectory of Fiscal Objection, we can highlight a few of the steps that have been taken:
• The first alternative projects supported by fiscal objectors had to do with welfare, but between 1987 and 1989 it was decided to choose antimilitarist projects, or ones with an alternative political content.
• Among Fiscal Objection's decisive moments, those which stand out include the successful campaign against the creation of a shooting field in Anchuras, Ciudad Real, and the action taken against the Gulf war of 1991.
• Other collectives begin to take up their own promotion of the campaign around 1997: the CGT union and Ecologists in Action, for example.
• In 2000, around the time of the campaign for 0.7% of GDP to be spent on foreign aid, an array of bodies put forward the possibility of a tax campaign for the so called 'dividends of peace', though this did not catch on.
• Since the end of the last decade, the amount you have to earn before you need to complete a tax return, alongside the greater convenience of completing a tax return over the phone, has translated into a fall in the number of people making their own tax returns. This has made it difficult to expand the campaign. In 2014, in nearly all of Spain's autonomous regions, the option of making the return without using the Tax Office's own programme for doing so is disappearing.
Participation and Organisation
The campaign was originally meant to complement the antimilitarist struggles of conscientious objection and insumisión, as well as to provide a means of participating in antimilitarist disobedience for those who could not directly disobey obligatory military service nor the alternative civil service: for those who couldn't be conscientious objectors and 'insumisas'. Many women took a prominent part in the campaign, making it a (more) inclusive space and one of feminist action too. The main forms of participation have been:
• Making a Fiscal Objection: mechanisms were soon developed to enable those who were exempted from making tax returns, or who didn't earn enough money to pay tax, to nonetheless make a Fiscal Objection also.
• Collaborating with groups which promote Fiscal Objection: given that Fiscal Objection is a decentralised campaign, such groups and their offices have been our means of collaboration. Most Fiscal Objection groups are local anti-militarist groups. The collective tasks of the campaign are distributed among these.
• Participating in activities and actions to denounce military spending: the campaign has always included actions denouncing military spending, some of them collective, some national. These actions have also dealt with war profiteering and militarism as a whole.
• Raising awareness of the campaign: many social collectives have raised awareness of the campaign among their members and affiliates, as well as by other means.
The organisation of the campaign has followed an 'assembly' model, with base groups which work as a network. The campaign has always relied on national coordination, which has leant it stability and coherence with its subject matter. For most of the campaign's history, there was a National Assembly of Fiscal Objection, which facilitated collective action between many of the constituent groups. Currently, Alternativa Antimilitarista .MOC (previously the Movement for Conscientious Objection) is the base from which the campaign is coordinated nationally. There is an Information Service on Fiscal Objection specifically for Catalonia. The campaign has produced logos, slogans, stickers and a shared web portal, but groups from different communities have designed materials in their own languages.
Fiscal Objection has its particular strengths: it clearly highlights military extravagance in times of crisis, and denounces military spending and the militarisation of society; it draws attention to our personal cooperation or non-cooperation with war via taxes, offering a form of direct action that is widely accessible; it relies on coordination at the national level, following an 'assembly' model, lending the campaign stability and integrity, enabling it to collectively create and update some resources while sharing others created at the local level, and allowing it to compile and disseminate information at both levels; at the national level is also where the social projects which offer an alternative of nonviolent defence are chosen; the 'assembly' model of organisation also draws in many grassroots local groups.
The campaign's internal weaknesses include the fact that its impact and scope remain small, with no more than 1,000 registered annual objectors; it tends towards atomisation and a lack of coordination; it requires consolidation and a plan for growth; it leaves other forms of state financing, such as indirect taxes, marginalised, and it is not succeeding at its goal of decreasing military spending, betraying a weakness as an act of civil disobedience (when detected, the ministry usually succeeds in recovering the amount that has been redirected). For some, it has also become a routine and thereby lost much of its attraction.
We identify the following as external threats: the increasing invisibility of war and the sanitisation of the military's image; the convenience of the ministry's automated tax return programme, and the public fear of the ministry; the virtual format of the return, which puts some people off modifying theirs'; the possibility of a progressive disappearance of the tax return as we know it; and the increasing invisibility of the campaign's repression, which takes an individualised form, with the Tax Office demanding corrections of the 'errors' in the tax return. If these are not corrected, and the 'redirected' sum not directed back to the Tax Office, a process is initiated, which, if the objector persists in her objection, will result in the amount being seized from her current account. Unfortunately, this process is carried out between the Tax Office and the individual, leaving little room to visibilise and politicise the struggle. So far, there has been no legal recognition of the right to conscientious objection in terms of paying war tax, though no objector has been convicted of fraud, meaning that any fines accrued have been annulled. The invariable result is that the Tax Office manages to get hold of the redirected sum plus interest for the delay incurred by the whole process, although this still only happens in those few cases where 'errors' are detected in the tax returns.
In terms of opportunities, we identify: the persistent and generalised de-legitimisation of military spending and its association with arms racing and war profiteering; the social legitimisation of civil disobedience and the activist climate produced by the recent surge of (popular) social movements; a social awareness spending cuts and the resultant precariousness, and the retrenchment of civil and democratic rights; the very existence of the tax return platform; the involvement of trade unions and other collectives. A challenge we are facing at the moment is the organisation of a national Fiscal Objection conference with the aim of creating an enhanced social base to underpin the future of the campaign.
The Fiscal Objection to Military Spending Campaign has enjoyed a great deal of stability over the three decades of its existence: alternative projects, investment of the sum to be redirected, the inclusion of this sum as a deduction of income, a letter to the ministry with a receipt for the payment of the redirected sum into the alternative project, and public actions. The basis of its success lies in its personal touch, but precisely for this reason it allows for a certain individualism and thereby invisibilisation, both of the results and of the repression of the campaign. Based on the results of the campaign, we can say that fiscal objection is a practical tool for exposing how we are made to passively support the armed forces and for provoking a debate about militarism. However, we are aware of the need to avoid getting stuck in a rut and to strengthen our objective of questioning military spending.
Translated from Spanish by Elisa Haf
1. For background information on this author, see the introduction to chapter 20, also written by AA.MOC.