The current crisis of American capitalism, among other things, has shown the complete lack of any realistic and practical alternatives coming from the left. Most of the suggestions coming from American leftist commentators and analysts fall under the category of ‘how to bring back stability’ and/or ‘returning to some FDR-like social contract’.
In short, all suggestions are for saving the system and not challenging it on a fundamental basis. They all ignore the realities of their times. As argued by Immanuel Wallerstein, capitalism has morphed structurally to such a degree that it is becoming something else. So, wishing to go back to FDR’s New Deal, even if desirable for some, is simply a reactionary pipe dream. There is only the way forward.
So, I would like to return to a favorite theme: direct representation for taxation.
One issue that has been repeated unanimously (without any concrete suggestions, though) by the U.S. left is realization that there is a complete lack of representation for an absolute majority of the population; not merely the voting population (about 50% of eligible voters), but more so the entire population.
As I have argued, in relation to taxation, even a clear majority of the voting population does not get any representation for the taxes they pay. The recent robbing of the public treasury, virtually at gunpoint, to the tune of $2.1 trillion to be given to the richest bankers on land even as a majority of the population was clearly against it, proves (if any proof were needed) that the ‘representatives’ in the U.S. Congress represent not the people but the richest and the most powerful who own the Congresswomen/men.
When reading commentaries and analyses by the left, rarely do we see any plans for building a different kind of representation, one that would challenge the current system of representation, which is clearly bought and locked out of the reach of the working men and women, whose labor and sweat has built this society. ‘Capitalism’ has not built all the roads, the schools and hospitals, all the factories, all the goods produced, etc. Workers have. So, they need to build their own representative institutions.
Such institutions are of two types (actually three, if you are at the revolutionary-leap stages of a struggle): trade organizations, political organizations (and, the third, military organizations).
No matter the organization, the problem of modalities of representation will remain a constant in all three types of institutions. Here, I will discuss a form of direct representation, which I believe can be applied in any society (be it purely based on private capitalism, social democratic, or a transition/socialist).
As previously suggested, we need to introduce the idea of direct representation into our taxation systems. Taxation is not something that is supposed to disappear in a socialist society, as discussed in the Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels. So, for the taxes that we pay, who will get to decide how it should be spent? I argue that the taxpayers themselves shall make that decision. Taxes may take the form of actual money or labor-hours spent.
The current system of representation (highly mediated and extremely indirect) has been perfected to the benefit of a tiny minority at the very apex of society, the people who actually own the politicians in the Congress. So, we need to gut that representation altogether. We need to build parallel representation structures that are directly controlled by the people.
How do we do it? Simple: Every year, when we file taxes, we also hand the government a list of priorities that dictates how our tax money should be spent.
Detractors will argue two things: A) people are stupid and don’t know how to decide on such important things, and B) the current Congressional members will never allow this to happen.
Our response: A) people are not stupid, and have a much clearer understanding of their needs than anybody ‘representing’ them in some distant institution not in daily contact with their struggles and needs.
Unless in some metaphysical sense we can believe that people’s needs are stupid, this argument is moot. A family without healthcare has every right to wish for their taxes to be spent on healthcare, and there is nothing stupid about that. Any person who wishes their tax money to be given to victims of imperialist warmongering in Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan is not making a stupid decision; s/he is making a moral decision about where his/her money should be spent.
An aggregate of all the millions of decisions (regarding where our taxes should go) is far more representative of a society’s wishes than anything the current paradigms can provide. Even if such nonsensical statements regarding people’s level of intelligence were true, people’s stupidity cannot outpace the stupidity of the current system. Further, people with real needs have a higher likelihood of learning faster than does the current system, which has done all of its learning; as to how to build the best barricades against people’s wishes.
B) Our plan to reform the system of taxation is not going to be politely presented to the Congress, for them to decide whether they like it or not! It requires a state-by-state ballot initiative, which means it will in the process build a vast grassroots network of activists and citizens who are well educated and committed to this issue. Which is what’s needed for the move in this direction to be successful in the long run.
The time is now for serious, concrete, practical and realistic reform movements to be advocated by the socialist left.
Now, another objection is that this is ‘reformism’.
Our response: ‘reformism’ is reform for its own sake. Reform, per se, is neither here nor there. Just because something is a reform does not mean it is bad. All the improvements in the lives of the First World working classes have come in the shape of ‘reforms’. Marx himself was suggesting things in the Communist Manifesto, which were later enacted through reforms. Would our ‘revolutionaries’ object to those?
So, the real distinction that matters is this: Does the proposed reform idea reinforce or undermine the current setup?
I believe the idea of direct representation for taxation undermines the existing system in a serious way, and can create real conditions for fundamental change, since such direct representation cuts out one of the biggest safe-guards the system has erected against people’s wishes to determine how the social resources should be distributed back toward meeting people’s needs.
So, let’s raise the banner of Direct Representation for Taxation!