Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 22, 2011

Does the slogan “tax the rich” serve the ruling class?

Filed under: economics,Occupy Wall Street — louisproyect @ 5:38 pm

Plank #2 of the Communist Manifesto, “A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.”

Last night Mike Ely of the Kasama Project gave an interesting and impassioned talk at the Brecht Forum that urged the left to embrace the Occupy Wall Street movement, something I strongly agree with. It was time for the left to supersede the sectarian debates of the past and focus on unity around the pressing needs of the mass movement, again something I have supported since 1980 when I began working with Peter Camejo to build the North Star Network.

Ely stated that unity should not paper over real differences, however. He gave an example of one question that he thought should constitute a line of demarcation, namely the “tax the rich” slogan that is strongly identified with liberals like the MSNBC hosts, the Nation Magazine, et al. He warned, however, that this demand amounts to a kind of Trojan horse of the big bourgeoisie since by helping to “level the playing field”, it opens up the door for wholesale attacks on Social Security, Medicare and other gains won by the working class. He stated that once the taxes on the rich are raised, Obama will have a green light to intensify the attacks on the 99 percent saying something like “everybody will have to sacrifice now.”

Yesterday I heard an argument along the same lines from Dan K., a Marxmail subscriber in France who can be described as an anarcho-Marxist:

As Marxist revolutionaries, students of Marx’s materialist analysis, we are not be fooled.

Demanding an end to income disparity (we are the 99%) is laudable, and will in fact benefit the working class. For a time that is.

I mean, seriously. If a government clamps down on big business by  wrenching a part of their profits off them and redistributing it to the  people, big business is going to … pay their workers more in the  progressive state, and immediately outsource production to countries  where they can extract more profit from an unskilled workforce. If they  are obliged to pay more taxes in a given, industrialized, nation, they  will be forced to comply, they will moan and eventually cough up… and  they will promptly fire half the workforce and blame the government for  the ensuing social crisis. “Told you so ! there ain’t such a thing as a  free lunch folks !” That’s what their spokespersons will say.

I have to admit that I have almost a knee-jerk reaction against such arguments since the first time I heard them was in the Militant newspaper, the voice of the moribund and terminally insane SWP of the United States.

In the June 6, 2011 edition Steve Clark, an odious hit man assigned to degrade party members in the pages of the newspaper, took the Los Angeles branch to task for issuing a leaflet that called for raising the taxes on the rich. He said that “communists” are not for such measures since they foster illusions in the system and are an impediment to achieving the dictatorship of the proletariat. (Never in a million years would I have imagined back in 1967 that my party would end up sounding like the Socialist Labor Party:

There is no way for workers to tax our way to the expropriation of the capitalist exploiters. That can only be done as the product of a victorious revolutionary struggle to end the dictatorship of capital and establish a workers and farmers government—a government that helps advance struggles by working people against exploitation, racism, the second-class status of women, imperialist war, devastation of the earth’s air, soil, and waters, and every form of oppression and brutality produced and reproduced by capitalist social relations.

The most recent Militant connected the “tax the rich” slogan to the Occupy Wall Street movement and warned that it could be its undoing:

The problem is not “greedy” bankers or “fat cats.” It cannot be touched by raising taxes on the wealthy, revenue extracted from the capitalists’ surplus to be used by their government to balance their budgets, pay the bondholders—including themselves—fight their wars, and whatever else they decide.

Pointing blame at greedy banks with demagogic appeals to “tax the rich” serves to obfuscate the real problem and the class enemy. It is advanced today by supporters of the Democratic Party, aimed at bringing into office the very same politicians who are advancing an assault on working people on a scale not seen for many decades.

My first response to Dan K.’s post on Marxmail was to raise the following concern:

Put yourself in the position of a socialist member of the NY State Assembly (yes, I know, it is hard to do but use your imagination). How would you vote on extending the “millionaire’s tax”, something the atrocious Gov. Andrew Cuomo opposed? What would working people think if you voted along with Cuomo? Something to think about…

Not long after posting this to the list, I began to do some research on socialism and taxation, going naturally to the indispensable Marxist Internet Archive. A search there on “taxation” revealed some interesting contributions from a variety of sources.

Harry Quelch, born in 1858 and one of Britain’s first Marxists, wrote an article in 1909 titled “Socialism and Taxation” that admitted “Hitherto it has been a sound axiom among Socialists that the incidence of taxation was a matter which did not greatly concern the working-class.” But considering the fact that the tax system is just one of many means to fleece the working class, it was incumbent on the revolutionary movement to support a policy that was in its interests, one in which “all taxes should be levied upon incomes over a fixed minimum, so as to ensure that those who drew the largest revenues should contribute the largest share towards the cost of their own government.” That “largest share” was just another way of describing a steeply progressive income tax.

Albert Weisbord, a member of the American SWP in the 1930s who is best known for getting pilloried by James P. Cannon as an ultraleftist but who deserves better (especially for his writings on the Spanish Civil War), wrote an article titled “A Brief Explanation of Taxes for the Working Class” that is undated but appears to emanate from the 1960s since it refers to the GATT. Weisbord, who nobody in their right mind would ever accuse of reformist illusions, supported taxing the rich:

The income tax should be a progressive tax, that is, it should tax only those with income more than sufficient for an average comfortable life, with rates increasing rapidly to the point where the wealthy support their own State to the tune of 100%. This is very far from the actual situation. The progression of the tax is very low, large numbers of wealthy pay nothing and others much less than they should. The main burden is on the working and middle income classes. Many workers, for example, pay 20% to 30% of their wages in income taxes (when we add sales and other forms of consumer taxes it may run to as high as 40%, to which interest payments on their debts must be added). Here is a primary method of reducing the real wages of the workers while seemingly giving them increased nominal wages. In the end, as the statistics of the aged show, the great mass of workers are poverty stricken and destitute during their older years and must be supported.

T.N. Vance was a leading member of Max Shactman’s organization who wrote a book titled “The Permanent War Economy” in 1951 that is archived in the Trotskyist section of MIA. Part VI, titled “Taxation and the Class Struggle”, is an eye-opening refutation of the idea that the tax structure of the Eisenhower era was “egalitarian”, a claim made by liberals in their ongoing fight with Republicans along the lines of “If Ike did it, why can’t Obama?”

Thus, after a decade of the Permanent War Economy, taxes took about one-fourth of total personal income, with Federal taxes now accounting for more than three-fourths of the total tax yield. Nevertheless, the completely regressive nature of state and local taxes still combines with such regressive features of Federal taxes as excise taxes and corporation taxes to produce a situation where the lowest income group still pays a higher percentage of its income in taxes than all except the 5.3 per cent of the spending units in the $7,500 and over category. If there were a finer income breakdown in the higher income groups, the beginnings of a progressive tax structure would become apparent at a somewhat lower figure than in 1938-39, but there has been no fundamental change in the incidence of taxation nor in the character of the American tax structure.

Now I know what some of you are saying. Who the hell are Quelch, Weisbord and Vance? Sounds like a law firm, doesn’t it? They may have been for soaking the rich but give me the name of someone with a little bit of clout, not these obscure figures from the musty past. Would V.I. Lenin do? Sure, why not.

We see that the demand put forward by the Social-Democrats—the complete abolition of all indirect taxes and their replacement by a real progressive income tax and not one that merely plays at it—is fully realisable. Such a measure would, without affecting the foundations of capitalism, give tremendous immediate relief to nine-tenths of the population; and, secondly, it would serve as a gigantic impetus to the development of the productive forces of society by expanding the home market and liberating the state from the nonsensical hindrances to economic life that have been introduced for the purpose of levying indirect taxes.

The capitalists’ advocates usually point to the difficulty of assessing big incomes. Actually, with banks, savings societies, etc., at their present level of development, this is a purely imaginary difficulty. The one difficulty is the class-avarice of the capitalists and the existence of undemocratic institutions in the political structure of bourgeois states.

That’s from the 1913 article titled “Capitalism and Taxation” that was written in response to articles in the Russian liberal press about the American income tax. The article was peppered with Lenin’s observations about the unfairness of the tax code that discriminated against working people and that likely would have earned the wrath of Steve Clark:

Half a million capitalist families receive an income that is greater than that of almost 9,000,000 workers’ families. What, might we ask, is the role of indirect taxation and of the planned income tax?

I should mention, however, that Clark would have also denounced the author of this item as well:

Tax the rich, not working people

In the midst of all the hoopla about the tax cut proposed by President George Bush, and countermeasures by the Democratic Party, workers and farmers can raise one demand: Tax the rich, not working people! From its earliest days the modern working-class movement has fought for a steeply graduated income tax–up to 100 percent–on the wealthiest individuals. Working people, who create all wealth and who face a capitalist government that does not represent them, should not pay one penny of any kind of tax whatsoever.

Bush promotes his tax cut as one that will “add up to significant help” for working-class families, while downplaying the huge windfall it will give the superwealthy bourgeois class that lives off the labor of workers.

Recent figures from the Internal Revenue Service indicate that the wealthiest U.S. citizens are paying a shrinking amount of income tax, even as they amass more wealth, and the gap continues to grow between the rich and the vast majority of the population. The IRS data also shows that the income of the top 1 percent of taxpayers grew eight times as fast as the bottom 90 percent over the 10-year period between 1989 and 1998. And as if all that were not enough, the president’s budget plan ensures that the rich get the lion’s share of the new tax breaks.

That’s an editorial from the Militant newspaper dated March 12, 2001 when the SWP still had one pinky finger clinging to the planet Earth.

39 Comments »

  1. Not to mention plank #2 of the Communist Manifesto, “A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.” The real message of that Militant editorials is this, directed to any SWP members who may still get inspired when they see masses of young people in the streets: “We are only at the opening stages of the crisis that in coming decades will look much more like the Great Depression …” Nothing to see here, comrades, move along …

    Comment by Fred Murphy — November 22, 2011 @ 5:51 pm

  2. There is a difference between liberal demands to tax the rich and the same demand made by radicals. We can support this and also use it as an education tool, to show the sham of bourgeois democracy. And we can tie the tax revenues to other radical demands in terms of the use of such monies. Taxes have always been a good thing for me to discuss in classes for workers. Not much is even known about the class dimensions of the tax system. It has always been a good opening for more radical discussions. Of course, I maybe would rather say “Shoot the rich.”!!!!

    Comment by Michael Yates — November 22, 2011 @ 6:04 pm

  3. Maybe it is time to stop “urg[ing] the left to embrace the Occupy Wall Street movement”. Do the established leftist organizations or individuals who still withhold their support really have anything to offer?

    Comment by justin — November 22, 2011 @ 6:33 pm

  4. And weren’t we always taught in the old SWP that struggles around demands for what could be viewed as reforms or partial measures that don’t in the immediate sense implicate the overthrow of capitalism were worthy and that it was wrong for ultralefts and sectarians to say otherwise? that the working class learns from and benefits from these struggles and any “gains” they might produce, like strikes for union recognition, higher wages; better housing, democratic rights etc. It is a sad commentary that The Militant is drifting into a half baked version of stuff we would expect from outfits the Spartacist League et. al.

    Comment by Tom Cod — November 22, 2011 @ 6:36 pm

  5. Maybe it is time to stop “urg[ing] the left to embrace the Occupy Wall Street movement”. Do the established leftist organizations or individuals who still withhold their support really have anything to offer?

    Hmm, you may have a point…

    Comment by louisproyect — November 22, 2011 @ 6:38 pm

  6. One of the last campaigns I worked on in the SWP was the 1977 campaign of Richard Ariza for governor of New Jersey. At that time there was a big controversy over a new state income tax introduced by then-governor Brendan Byrne (a Democrat), who was running for re-election. The SWP’s slogan—and I designed the campaign brochure—was “Tax the Rich, Not Working People.” It made sense then. I think it makes sense now, especially when it’s combined with ending the ongoing wars.

    Comment by Tom the Printer — November 22, 2011 @ 7:00 pm

  7. to Louis Proyect:

    My own computer skills are negligible, so I’m asking you to do what you can to make the following clip “go viral,” as younger, more computer- literate folks would put it:

    Occupy Philly: “Forclosure on Wells Fargo Bank” (YouTube)

    I’m 66 years old, have been an activist for over 40 years, and I’ve seldom seen anything as impressive as the above. The mis-spelling of foreclosure is in the original. I can’t imagine quibbling with what these people did. Their courage and generosity challenges each of us.

    Ed Mulready

    Comment by Ed Mulready, Newark, Delaware — November 22, 2011 @ 8:15 pm

  8. Demands is a tactical question, a means to an end. Most of OWS does not support raising formal demands at this time, so arguing for or against any particular demand is not the best use of our time in my opinion. The racial tensions exacerbated by the Byzantine “horizontal” process are more pressing:
    http://www.readmetro.com/en/usa/boston/
    http://www.metro.us/ArticlePrint/1030829?language=en

    Occupy the Hood is having issues with the G.A., facilitation, and (ironically) the people of color group locally as well.

    Comment by Binh — November 22, 2011 @ 8:16 pm

  9. The socialist slogan should be not only to “raise taxes on the rich”, but more importantly to “end taxes on working people”. It is this second clause that is vital to distinguishing this tactic from that of liberal demagoguery, who otherwise really are setting us up for “shared sacrifice”. At the same time, it undercuts the reactionary “anti-tax” demagogues of the Tea Party and the Republicans in general.

    It also puts forward the class character of the state. It’s their state, let them pay for it. It addresses the strong current of “anti-tax” sentiment that has long existed within the U.S. working class, a sentiment that reflects the reality that they see few benefits from the taxes they pay.

    Liberals are more than anxious not to bring this up, as it puts an end to the endless ping-pong game they like to play with their right wing partners.

    Comment by Matt — November 22, 2011 @ 8:26 pm

  10. Considering all of the tributes which Obama has made to Reagan, I don’t really think we need to be very worried about Democrats pushing taxes on the rich. Sure, I suppose it’s possible that some of the more recent (i.e., from the time of Bush II) tax-cuts might be temporarily, partially reversed. But Democrats since the 1980s have made it clear that they have no intent of demanding taxation of the kind which Republicans in the days of Eisenhower would have taken for granted.

    While it is true that socialists must put forward a wider program than merely taxation of the rich, it sounds paranoid to claim that Democrats are going to use this to “buy off” the working class. In Woodrow Wilson’s era, that was true. Not anymore. The worst thing about The Nation is not that they call for tax-increases on the rich, but that they try to imply that Democrats can be pushed into enacting such. Anything which encourages faith in the Democrats is bad, but calls for taxing the rich can themselves function as a kind of “transitional demand” for the Left.

    Comment by PatrickSMcNally — November 22, 2011 @ 8:41 pm

  11. It’s a bit surprising that there’s no mention here of a wealth tax-i.e. a tax on all accumulated assets including intangible assets (not limited to taxation of real property, the main revenue stream for states and localities).

    This is functionally redistributive/expropriative taxation and would seem the appropriate radical demand to be worked for “within the system.”

    Comment by John Halle — November 22, 2011 @ 8:46 pm

  12. I don’t think so Fred. From the latest Militant.

    http://www.themilitant.com/2011/7543/754305.html

    Comment by dave r — November 22, 2011 @ 10:37 pm

  13. Does not the current two-party con consist of this: If you allow us to “tax the rich” we will agree to cuts in “entitlements.”

    Comment by dave r — November 23, 2011 @ 12:05 am

  14. Does not the current two-party con consist of this: If you allow us to “tax the rich” we will agree to cuts in “entitlements.”

    No. The current 2-party con is to reduce taxes and cut entitlements. Obama has consistently caved in to Republican Party pressure. A Leninist position on taxes would read like the article by Lenin that is quoted in this post.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 23, 2011 @ 12:11 am

  15. Nationalize Big Oil, Big Coal, etc. and there is no need for most taxation. The capitalist state of Norway has like a $500 billion pension trust fund from North Sea oil. Privatization happy UK, operating in the same waters, has nothing,

    Comment by purple — November 23, 2011 @ 12:35 am

  16. I wrote about this issue and others in my recent article Lessons from the recent resource rent tax expereince in Australia in the Canberra Law Review. http://www.canberra.edu.au/faculties/law/attachments/pdf/canberra-law-review-2011-vol.-10-2/Passant-John-Lessons-from-the-Recent-Resource-Rent-Tax-Experience-in-Australia-_2011_-10_2_-Canberra-Law-Rev.pdf

    I argue that tax law and policy are a reflection of the balance of class forces and the level of class struggle in society. I say that the left should be invovled in the debates and battles over tax and tax policy as part of the wider struggle for a new society in which production is organised democratic need.

    Comment by John Passant — November 23, 2011 @ 1:04 am

  17. A very minor point in an otherwise fascinating and important essay. Adam Weisbord was never in the SWP. Adam and his partner Vera followed a somewhat similar trajectory as James Cannon. Adam was in the IWW, laterin the left wing of the Socialist Party, then joined the CP in 1924.Later the Weiibords were briefly in Cannon’s CL. They left this and for a time led their own Trotskyist organisation, the “Communist League of Struggle” The CLS for a time claimed to be the true Trotskyists and railed against the “imposters of the so called Cannon clique”. Cannon and his friends regarded the Weisbordists the way Trotskyists today regard the Sparts, entertaining but crazy. Trotsky himself wryly referred to this group as the “ultra leftists in our midst”.

    The Weisbordists officially broke with Trotsky in 1934. Their organisation seems to have broken up by the late 30s. Adam Weisbord’s writing, especially after the break w/Trotsky is interesting and some of this can be found on the MIA.

    Comment by Kate Devlin — November 23, 2011 @ 1:27 am

  18. The question is: “Does the slogan ‘tax the rich’ serve the ruling class?”

    The answer in no.

    But one should keep in mind the moral precepts articulated by Trotsky in his classic “Their Morals and Ours” in the Chapter “The Crisis of Democratic Morality”:

    http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/morals/morals.htm

    “In order to guarantee the triumph of their interests in big questions, the ruling classes are constrained to make concessions on secondary questions, naturally only so long as these concessions are reconciled in the bookkeeping.”

    This axiom of bourgeois politics is basically the “reconciled bookkeeping” — reiterated in what Lou said @ #14: “The current 2-party con is to reduce taxes and cut entitlements.”

    That’s because class struggle, the driving force of history, is ultimately a zero sum game, The bourgeoisie insists on having it’s cake and eating it too. Why it’s impossible to achieve their goal indefinitely is simple. An employer of labor always has as its primary objective interest getting the most amount of labor for the least amount of wages. By contrast the laborer always has as its primary objective interest to get the most amount of wages for the least amount of labor. On this fundamental irreconcilable class antagonism all of modern society is built.

    The problem is the stanchions of this rotting, tottering society built on such antagonisms and the morality that it’s based on are erected upon inherently unstable & shifting sands. What’s little understood by the rising up angry youth, as Trotsky said as if it was written yesterday, is “that morality is a function of the class struggle; that democratic morality corresponds to the epoch of liberal and progressive capitalism; that the sharpening of the class struggle in passing through its latest phase definitively and irrevocably destroyed this morality; that in its place came the morality of fascism on one side, on the other the morality of proletarian revolution.”

    The point is that before Obama (essentially Bush’s 3rd term) all the liberal specters of fascists taking over if the democrats didn’t win were largely paranoid nonsense until 9 weeks ago insofaras prior to that there was no genuine organic working class movement that threatened an alternative to bourgeois rule.

    The difference now is that OWS has both sparked and glommed onto an entirely international resistance to bourgeois rule, albeit nascent and groping its way through the abyss of historic left failures trying to articulate an alternative through the sheer movement (worth a million proclamations) of energetic young people tired & fed up with the status quo of militarism, corporatism, banksterism, and environmental destructionism — such a movement, especially when it begins to spark a potential for general strikes and working class conscious raising, that’s precisely when fascism really looms large as a future to reckon with, like Rosa Luxembourg said, of either socialism or barbarism.

    As Trotsky concluded: “The masses, of course, are not at all impeccable. Idealization of the masses is foreign to us [OWS proletarian revolutionaries]. We have seen them under different conditions, at different stages and in addition in the biggest political shocks. We have observed their strong and weak sides. Their strong side-resoluteness, self-sacrifice, heroism – has always found its clearest expression in times of revolutionary upsurge…. Afterward a different historical chapter loomed when the weak side of the oppressed came to the forefront: heterogeneity, insufficiency of culture, narrowness of world outlook. The masses tired of the tension, became disillusioned, lost faith in themselves… In this epoch the [revolutionaries]… found themselves isolated from the masses. Practically we… learned the rhythm of history, that is, the dialectics of the class struggle. [We]… also learned, it seems, and to a certain degree successfully, how to subordinate [our] subjective plans and programs to this objective rhythm. [We] learned not to fall into despair over the fact that the laws of history do not depend upon [our] individual tastes and are not subordinated to [our] own moral criteria; [We] learned to subordinate [our] indivdual desires to the laws of history; [we] learnd not to become frightened by the most powerful enemies if their power is in contradiction to the needs of historical development. [We] know how to swim against the stream in the deep conviction that the new historic flood will carry [us] to the other shore. Not all will reach that shore, many will drown, but to particiape in this movement with open eyes and with an intense will – only this can give the highest moral satisfaction to a thinking being!”

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 23, 2011 @ 6:13 am

  19. This reminds me of a meeting that happened almost 40 years ago in Adelaide (Australia).
    For most of the post-WW2 period Australia had near full employment except for brief recessions in 1952 and 1961.
    Well in 1972 another recession hit and I was laid off from my job in a bottle yard – which involved neaving sacks of used bottles around and than sorting them. It was about the worst job I had.
    Adelaide was hit hard because a lot of the inustry there relied on the car industry.

    Around March?April thay year the local Communist party branch called a meeting to discuss the issue and what could be done about unemployment. There must have been about 40-50 people there.
    The radical socialist group I was then involved in turned up in force- about 8 of us. Sitting in front of us were the Adelaide Revolutionary Marxists. They later changed their name to Australian Revolutionary Marxists once they gained some confidence. They took pride in their Marxist reading and understanding.

    Many of the points made at the meeting seemed to centre on the fact that the CPA was not getting the same response they got during the Great Depression and what could be done about it. Perhaps some of the students (meaning us) would like to say something? The fact was that none of us wre students. Unlike the rest of our branches we were all workers- unemployed or otherwise. Not a single university student. Finally after a another call for the students to speak I got up and started.

    I opened with the fact that I was not a student but was an unemployed worker. I than put forward what should be a key demand which was ‘The Right to Work’. Well the shit hit the fan as they say. I was immediately stopped in my flow by a number of the good comrades in the ARM who said ‘You are demanding the right to be oppressed’. Oh dear! It appears that some book reading does some people no good at all. The interesting point is that many of the people in the ARM later joined the CPA and became part of the Left Tendency.

    Comment by Douglas Jordan — November 23, 2011 @ 6:47 am

  20. Re: @17: Vera Weisbord’s husband was ‘Albert’, not ‘Adam’.

    The Albert & Vera Weisbord Archives can be found at http://www.weisbord.org/.

    Comment by Old Red — November 23, 2011 @ 7:03 am

  21. Comment no. 2 from Michael Yates is a good point.

    The wealthy should pay more taxes and stop getting breaks from the government that average citizens don’t get.

    But also demanding that those taxes be applied to critical programs that are always first to be trimmed down under budget cuts like Social Security and Medicare.

    And people argue if taxes go up, big business will outsource jobs.

    Well they have been outsourcing for quite sometime and continue to do so, when taxes have been low for years especially after Bush implemented the tax cuts that leftist hero Obama extended.

    My point is low taxes for the rich won’t stop layoffs or outsourcing and certainly isn’t an incentive for hiring.

    The rich just take the surplus and line their own pockets with it.

    These tax breaks have been in place for years all while the economy and job market has fallen apart since 2008.

    Taxing the rich is critical but we as radicals must demand that these taxes monies be put to good use.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 23, 2011 @ 3:31 pm

  22. The demand to tax the rich was one of the first united front demands put forward by the revolutionary workers of Stuttgart in November 1920: http://isreview.org/issues/79/feature-unitedfront.shtml

    Not that events in Germany in the middle of a revolutionary crisis almost 100 years ago should necessarily determine strategy and tactics for socialists in OWS. But it’s kinda cool.

    Comment by James — November 23, 2011 @ 4:35 pm

  23. We must make sure people come to realise that this crisis isn’t like an act of god or nature, it is not that the rich are trying to impose the cost of `the crisis’ onto the workers but that the rich are actively and desperately trying to recover their money invested in the busted credit bubble a credit bubble that itself was necessitated by the total monopolisation of capital and resultant overproduction. The debt, most of it counterfeit, is owed to them and they are destroying the real economy to recover it. However, tax the rich is not a demand that creates illusions I don’t think. The more it is demanded the more it will be realised that it cannot be achieved as long as capital dominates. In a socialist society there will still be income and a state and a state budget. That budget will have to provide for necessary and desirable public goods and it must be balanced therefore only an adequate tax on income to cover the budget will do until the state, money and all the rest of the crap withers away. So we cannot eschew this demand merely expand on it.

    We should always include in our programme the demand for adequate taxation on income to balance the state budget to cover necessary public spending along with our demands for the socialisation and democratisation of the private corporate monopolies, an end to the bank bailout and for a state monopoly of credit, and of course an immediate regime of full employment. All this should be discussed by marxists, socialist and in the movement remembering that the mustering of the movement is more important at the moment than programmatic purity. Lenin didn’t call for power to the soviets until the Bolsheviks had won, through political, not organisational or sectarian, struggle the leadership of those soviets.

    Comment by David Ellis — November 23, 2011 @ 9:22 pm

  24. In regard to nationalizing industry, as mentioned by purple, it raises an interesting point about OWS. OWS has engaged in a populist critique of the US financial system, a critique, that, over the long run, could well move people towards accepting such measures. Along these lines, ‘tax the rich’ is shorthand for the reinstitution of the Keynesian social welfare state. But, once it becomes obvious that such a reinstitution is no longer possible, it will be interesting to see where things will go from there. That’s why leftists should support OWS instead of devising doctrinaire objections like this.

    Comment by Richard Estes — November 23, 2011 @ 9:22 pm

  25. Does anyone remember Rong Yiren, the “Red Capitalist”?

    http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/world/archives/2005/10/28/2003277706

    Unless socialist revolution follows a nuclear war where the prime task is to clean up the debris, I think it’s self-evident that there will still remain rich and poor in the immediate aftermath of some future socialist revolution. While taxation alone is not the only, or even primary, tool by which a hypothetical socialist government would address such issues, I think it will certainly be one relevant tool. So on those grounds alone a socialist should have no principled objection to the call of “Tax the Rich!”

    It becomes a different issue when The Nation begins preaching “Vote for Obama because he really wants to tax the rich in his second term!” That is where the attempts at hoodwinking people begin. That is where a socialist must seek to step in and argue that Democrats will do no such thing because the decline in the rate of profit caused the crisis of overproduction in capitalism means that the capitalist class will no longer tolerate taxation policies which were once taken for granted by both major parties. In this context the role of Obama is to fool people into accepting “compromise” of a kind which Reagan would have been proud of, and the role of The Nation is to fool people into accepting Obama.

    Comment by PatrickSMcNally — November 23, 2011 @ 11:04 pm

  26. Patrick you are so right.

    Obama extended the tax cuts but now since the election is creeping near, he says we must tax the wealthy as part of his plan.

    We all know too well that predictably he will just cave in to the Republicans if he gets a second term which is something that he’s done throughout his presidency cuz he doesn’t have a backbone.

    Some leftist hero.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 24, 2011 @ 1:10 am

  27. “Tax the rich” under today’s conditions reminds me a lot of the “Impeach Nixon” campaign of an I earlier era. It rolls of the tongue, a lot of people are saying it, and nearly the entire Democratic Party and all their minions are behind it. And I don’t agree with comrades who think a tax hike on the rich is unlikely or impossible. I think it’s very likely and extremely possible, but to the tune of three or four, six or seven percent. Big deal! That’s gum money to these tapeworms. Just enough to give the green light to the Big-Business government and Rachel Maddow to begin the deconstruction of social security, medicare and especially medicaid under the slogan of “shared sacrifice.” I concur that in times like these one has to be on guard against ultra-left errors, which is essentially the criticism directed towards Clark and Ely, when socialists begin to weigh heavier the maximum aspects of the our traditional program. For these reasons, I think nationalize the banks, energy, food production, etc…, under workers control and thirty hours work for forty hours pay are better slogans than the more class-neutral “Tax the rich”.

    Comment by dave r — November 24, 2011 @ 1:16 pm

  28. And, of course, a massive jobs program to put to work EVERYONE who is seeking employment.

    Comment by dave r — November 24, 2011 @ 1:35 pm

  29. For these reasons, I think nationalize the banks, energy, food production, etc…, under workers control and thirty hours work for forty hours pay are better slogans than the more class-neutral “Tax the rich”.

    Don’t forget worker’s defense guards. With M-16’s, to be sure.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 24, 2011 @ 1:51 pm

  30. Slogans are not just utilitarian, they are also educational. We are in an era of a jobs program, not so much an era of defense guards.

    Comment by dave r — November 24, 2011 @ 2:02 pm

  31. #28 What would be the basis of that Job Programme Dave R? It sounds a bit like Keynesian demagoguery the way you’ve expressed it there.

    Going back to the Tax the Rich slogan. We should of course also point out that any additional tax collected today doesn’t go to paying for public services (they are cutting back on those budgets) but to pay off the bankers Ponzi bonds. It removes money from the real economy in much the same way as the austerity cuts are doing leading to economic contraction and probably a global depression. There must be a fair income taxation system to pay for public goods and balance the budget but without addressing the question of the debt and the unerlying reasons for the debt it makes no difference.

    Comment by David Ellis — November 24, 2011 @ 2:10 pm

  32. Rowland, you are hopeless. Don’t you understand that if you stopped apologizing for the SWP, you will not be sent to hell? The fact that it has dwindled down to a 100 or so aging members should tell you that there is something basically wrong with it politically. What makes you sort of unique is that you are the only supporter of the SWP who tries to make it look reasonable in cyberspace. All the other former members are content to return to lives of quiet desperation. Were you raised in a Catholic household? That would explain the clinging to the faith.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 24, 2011 @ 2:12 pm

  33. Who said anything about the SWP? I didn’t bring it up – you did. There are others who have expressed like opinions that have nothing to do with the SWP. Jeez, Louis, get off my back about the SWP. I’m just expressing my opinion based on my experience and my reading of the situation. After all, I do have a slight amount of actual experience to base an opinion on. Sure, I am informed by my past associations, but so are you. There have been plenty of times since we met that the only people on the face of the earth who agreed with you was the SWP as well. So what?

    A jobs program would not only alleviate the actual misery of those without an income, but would be a tremendous boost to the moral, mood, the fighting capabilities of the working-class and the union movement.

    Yes, Catholic. But I don’t believe in hell or quiet desperation.

    Comment by dave r — November 24, 2011 @ 2:28 pm

  34. 33 `A jobs program would not only alleviate the actual misery of those without an income, but would be a tremendous boost to the moral, mood, the fighting capabilities of the working-class and the union movement.’

    Yes I know that but I asked what kind of job program. One based on Keyenesian demagoguery or something else? Is it New Dealy, Hitlerian, Stalinist or what?

    Going back again to the Tax the Rich slogan we of course must absolutely opppose the Tobin Tax nonsense. Giving the masses an economic interest in the creation of ponzi schemes, the rape of the Third World and a blief in funny money beyond what they already have is not possible and if it was possible would mark the end of socialism as a viable project.

    Comment by David Ellis — November 24, 2011 @ 3:21 pm

  35. Comment no. 27 Dave R. you are right.

    If they do tax the rich, it will be so little of an increase that it won’t matter much. Of course this will be done to achieve two objectives: 1. Keep the bourgeois happy and 2. Silence critics who’ve been demanding a tax increase on the wealthy.

    This is a political ploy obviously. Not a real heavy progressive or graduated income tax.

    I also don’t believe in catchy slogans because they have a short shelf life.

    But as a marxist, I certainly don’t support a capitalist endorsed tax system that charges a higher tax rate for a secretary’s wages than it does for the millionaire CEO boss all while the boss gets deductions and uses loopholes that the secretary is ineligible for.

    The more you earn, the more you should pay.

    It’s not the utopia we all dream of, but it’s a start getting the bourgeois in the pocketbook where they never want to make sacrifices that the government asks the rest of us to make.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 24, 2011 @ 4:02 pm

  36. `It’s not the utopia we all dream of,’

    It is a complete utopia or at least far more of a utopia than what we all dream of which is actually an objective necessity and therefore very realist. If you could tax the rich to the point where all the surplus value they steal off the workers was expropriated in the form of taxation then you’ve basically had a social revolution but of course you can’t have a social revolution without a social revolution. We will have a heavy, progressive income tax once we have socialism. It cannot be achieved under capitalism. That is how the demand should be used. To expose the class nature of the system not to create illusions in it.

    Going back to Dave R: personally I’d say the only realistic programme for Full Employment and I agree with him that such a thing is an aboslute urgent life and death issue is by taking steps to share the already available productive work.

    Comment by David Ellis — November 24, 2011 @ 4:56 pm

  37. Well said Mr. Ellis. You can’t expect change without a fight.

    America taxes the shit out of the working class and lets the wealthy keep most of their money.

    That’s capitalism and the system must be abolished.

    I am for taxing the rich but it is true that either the tax increase will be so minimal it won’t amount to squat, or it won’t happen at all.

    As long as the regime of capitalism with its two party dictatorship remains in power, the oppression will continue including the grossly unfair tax laws that favor the rich and punish the average worker.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 25, 2011 @ 3:02 am

  38. This should clarify some questions which people had about the Dems:

    http://home.peoplepc.com/psp/newsstory.asp?category=TopStories&id=20111214/2b050f41-db5f-4257-bdb2-ac19fa0253bf

    Dems drop millionaires tax in year-end dispute

    Comment by PatrickSMcNally — December 15, 2011 @ 1:54 am

  39. Looking back at this page more than 6 months after the last previous comment on it, I am struck by the fact that none of us even mentioned the fact that most federal taxes (perhaps excluding the Social Security tax that is supposed to be dedicated to a specific purpose) go to pay for imperialist violence, and that a big chunk (in some cases, most) of state and local taxes go to pay for cops, prisons and other parts of the repressive apparatus.

    I’m not arguing that shifting the burden of taxes to the rich shouldn’t be a demand. However, raising the demand to “tax the rich” without explicitly and forcefully opposing the horrific things that so much tax money pays for can’t help to reinforce the idea that those expenditures are acceptable.

    Maybe, instead of “tax the rich”, we need demands like:

    End taxes on workers and the poor!

    End spending on war and repression!

    Comment by Red Snapper — June 18, 2012 @ 7:12 am


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