“The only certain thing, death and taxes” (unless you are a big corporation in the UK). The Putney Debates strike back

26.10.2012 - Silvia Swinden

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“The only certain thing, death and taxes” (unless you are a big corporation in the UK). The Putney Debates strike back

First stated by Daniel Defoe, in The Political History of the Devil, 1726: “Things as certain as death and taxes, can be more firmly believed.” Benjamin Franklin in 1789, gave it its current form: “‘In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Is death certain?

Only the physical transformation of the body is, from living and breathing to inert and rejoining the recyclable molecular pool. What happens to the rest of the person has been the subject of more debate, conjecture and experimentation than perhaps any other theme in the world. And in parallel with the decay in social and personal sense of meaning brought about by dehumanising Social Darwinism, a new spirituality is finding its way to bring experiences rather than, (but not opposing the myriad of) beliefs/non-beliefs to a new revolutionary moment.

Are taxes certain?

It depends on who we are talking about. A recent study in the UK has detected the scandalous way in which corporations and rich individuals avoid paying taxes in spite of making stratospheric profits in the country.

Some examples: Starbucks (Coffee chain) has paid no tax on UK earnings in the past three years by using legal tax-avoidance tactics, paying £8.6m – a ridiculously tiny fraction of the sum reasonably expected – in taxes on a reported £3 billion UK sales since 1998, and nothing in the past three years. Returns filed with Companies House show no profits made, but the business has stated they are happy with their UK profits.

Amazon UK, Britain’s biggest online retailer, generated sales of more than £3.3 billion in the country last year but paid no corporation tax. Vodaphone, billions traded but no corporate tax paid. “Rich corporations and individuals collectively get away with dodging £95bn every single year. We are told that there is no alternative to drastic cuts to public services but collecting the tax dodged by the super-rich would render the vast majority of the government’s spending cuts unnecessary.” (UK Uncut)

In Ivana Trump’s (in)famous words: “Only the little people pay taxes”. The same people who suffer the worst effects of “austerity”, which is in fact just another strategy towards concentration. There it is, in black and white, no pretence of any kind of human equality, or compassion.

We shall not repeat here the role of Tax Havens and other loopholes that saw most of the banks bailout money disappear into hidden private pockets.

The New Putney Debates

Something wonderful happened in 1647 in England. But the English Civil War is mainly remembered for Charles I’s regicide, and the short spell in which England became a Republic (of sorts) only to decide that it was not really better off and went on to restore the Monarchy.

In the midst of the upheaval a group of soldiers from Cromwell’s New Model Army – a number of the participants being Levellers – held discussions concerning the makeup of a new constitution for England, democracy within the Army, access to land and equal voting rights for all (men, of course). Certain “native rights” were declared sacrosanct for all Englishmen: freedom of conscience, freedom from compulsive recruitment into the armed forces and equality before the law. Although the leaders of this remarkable early democratic group were defeated – many killed – by Cromwell’s faction of Grandees the proposals collected in the “Agreement of the People” went on to inspire countless other egalitarian and democratic movements. It is worth stressing that the Grandees and the rich in Parliament were the true winners of the moment and they have held supremacy through the power of money ever since then.

Like many other revolutionary moments, the questioning of hierarchies did not end with the political and economic structures. A spiritual revolution was also brewing after the Catholics and Protestants virtual war promoted by the kingdom’s authorities. The Putney Debates contained another vision of religious life proclaiming freedom of conscience and freedom of worship. Soon after the Quakers emerged, skipping religious hierarchies altogether and committing to pacifism.

Celebrating the 365th year anniversary of the original Putney Debates, Occupy London  is holding a series of events inspired by the Levellers’ and Diggers’ demands for social justice, civil rights and equal access to the land.

Just as the English Civil War began when the king reconvened Parliament (which he had previously dissolved) to demand money to wage war, one of the themes of this “revival” will be: “When war is illegal (1), paying taxes is a crime” by Taxpayers Unite (perhaps we should be grateful to the tax dodging corporations for not increasing the war chest? ;-). World without Wars and Violence is committed to promoting awareness throughout its world network about legal ways to divert taxes on the bases of International Law.

The Programme of the New Putney Debates also includes:

–          Creating a Movement on Understanding the Common Good

–          Economics and democracy: Inequality: the enemy between us? Tax Haven Britain, Predator and Victim. Income Equality – a co-operative approach.

–          The English Revolution, the Putney Debates and the making of the British Constitution.
What would real democracy look like?

–          Socially useful banking

–          War, Tax and Law

–          Land and democracy

–          Human Rights, Democracy and Law: Who does the legal system benefit?

–          Capitalism is Crisis (Another World is Possible…)

–          Housing Crisis

–          The courage to pay: tax, honesty and business

–          A New Economy

–          Food and democracy, Energy and democracy. Law, environment and democracy

–          Reclaiming the Commons: practical steps and galvanizing action.

–          A new Agreement of the People for 2012

 

(1). The following is a list of International Laws and Agreements that make most (in fact almost all) wars of aggression illegal:

1928 Kellogg–Briand Pact

1945 United Nations Charter

1946 Judgment of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg

1947 Nuremberg Principles formulated under UN General Assembly Resolution 177

1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

1970 General Assembly Resolution 2625

1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court entered into force in 2002

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