Article examining successful methods of resistance, following the introduction of the Poll Tax in Scotland in April 1989.
On April 1st 1989, the Poll Tax came into operation in Scotland. Meanwhile in England and Wales, the bureaucracy to manage Poll Tax south of the border was put into operation - hordes of snoopers will emerge from the recesses of council buildings to scour the locality for over 18s to register. As they do so, lefty and nationalist politicians (and other poseurs) look hard at their consciences and wonder whether to opt for new realism or be a (wo)man of the people".
The thing about the Left’s Anti-Poll Tax campaign is that it is a wonderful way of focusing working class discontent on parliamentary solutions. Whether it is hard campaigning (We won’t pay), or soft campaigning (we will pay, but won’t enjoy it), such campaigns lead to reforms which aren’t even reforms - they merely return things to the miserable state they were at before. Labour Party hacks (in England) can be leisurely in their approach, knowing full well that the logic of such campaigns leads to kicking out the tories at the next election. Hence their pathetic "Poll Tax Protest Petition" which offers such gems as "Labour says that tax should be fair and based on ability to pay". We are not interested in alternative ways to finance the state.
Don't delay - throw it away
The left’s non-payment campaign focuses on a public stance, in particular on getting MPs and councillors to give the lead by committing themselves to non-payment. The example of the campaign in Scotland so far shows that the best tactic is not to draw attention to yourself as an individual. In the Lothian area up to 60,000 have succeeded in not registering by ignoring the forms sent to them. All the people fined for non-compliance (about 100) had entered into correspondence with the authorities.
Another point to remember is the opposition to the 1981 Census. Prominent Liberal politicians stood up to be not counted, and were promptly taken to court as exemplary cases. But thousands of proletarians simply told census collectors to fuck off, and despite various threats, were by and large left alone. Of course, Poll Tax is a lot heavier than the census, so such an outcome is less likely. But nevertheless, there is not much point in conducting a campaign which will centre on a few public figures trying to gain popularity by being dragged through the courts and possibly jail, with the idea that this purgatory will lead to the heaven of election. Poll tax must be resisted in a way that draws people together to resist the state, landlords and bosses in a stronger way and undermines the politicians.
Registering our resistance
Firstly the Poll tax is given the pretty name "Community Charge" - an attempt to incorporate a seventies buzz word. This is designer legislation aimed at fragmenting the opposition. For a start, certain crucial sectors will have little choice. All those in receipt of state benefit will be sent a form to "apply" for an 80% reduction. These forms have not yet emerged from the bastions of the DHSS, so at this stage it is unclear how this will be worded. But underlining it is the threat that if you don’t make such an application you will be liable to pay the full whack. This is going to be a pretty effective argument for applying - which amounts to registering. That’s one slice of the population captured. Secondly, students will be netted when they turn up to register at college. There will be a "Community Charge cop" making sure that all their particulars are taken down.
It is of course possible that workers both in DHSS offices and College offices will refuse to do this dirty work, as could other workers who have to co-operate with the tax in some way, such as council workers and postal workers. A strategy based on this alone is liable to fail as these sectors of workers are unlikely to stick their necks out on masse, while the rest of the proletariat applauds from the sidelines. They might get involved however if the struggle hots up elsewhere. We can make a start by resisting registering - every effort should be made to make sure that the scumbags have to dig up library lists, the voters register etc. etc. (Also as well as avoiding getting names on lists, it is possible to flood the lists with false names - preferably living in posh streets!) Such tactics can effectively delay implementation, but they will not prevent it or stop it
Can't pay, won't pay
This is the hardline position, and the state has plenty up its sleeve. Docking money from benefit payments will not be hard - already they have put the boot into claimants to such an extent that they presume they’ll be little resistance. In fact, in this respect there is no reason to see Poll Tax as any different from other cuts in benefit.
It will be harder to dock workers wages. Where it’s a matter of picking off isolated workers, it will be quite easy. (By this stage the mass media will be talking about "meanies" who don’t wait to help the "community" in the same way they spoke of ‘scroungers" in the seventies.) The bosses are ready to victimise workers who don’t pay. But this can be resisted - John Lewis stores in Scotland backed down over such sackings after threats to picket stores over Christmas. The best possibility of resistance is where a substantial section of the workforce in a workplace have decided together not to pay, and to strike if pay cuts are imposed.
Aside from docking money, there is the possibility of the state seizing people’s belongings and evicting them if they won’t pay. This of course must be resisted - regardless of whether it stems from Poll Tax or from rent increases or any other trick the boss class has up its sleeve.
By way of conclusion
Poll tax is merely an element in the state’s arsenal of new weapons to attack us with. In the class war, it is pointless to complain about the weapons the other side is using. The point is to resist - to resist in the work place, on housing estates, in the benefit offices. Poll Tax, Employment Training, Benefits cuts, changes in the housing laws - all these things spell out more misery, more poverty, and more homelessness. The left offers an isolated anti-Poll Tax Campaign which does not deal with these underlying issues.
So once again we have to stress, to underline that it is only the proletariat organising itself to fight its own struggles, that will keep these attacks at bay This is not to say that anti-Poll Tax groups are useless, but to say that they are only of any use if they break with labourite and nationalist reformism and merge with specifically class resistance. Groups set up to resist Poll Tax evictions can be used to resist other evictions for instance. But we must fight attempts to turn them into channels to divert resistance into the open arms and empty hands of politicians.
The Red Menace, number three, June 1989. Taken from the Practical History website.