George Walford: The Poll Tax Lesson

Writers in Freedom often traduce the state. They speak as if it were imposed on us by the rich, the rulers, the bosses, when in fact it is established and maintained mainly by the great body of citizens and subjects. Those who wield the power of the state, the prime ministers, generals and police chiefs, do so by tacit permission of the people.

The rulers know that anything the general body of the people will not accept is “politically impossible.” While posing as if they made the big decisions they take care to stay within the limits of what the people will tolerate. But sometimes they get it wrong, and then the truth comes out. The American rulers got it wrong with Prohibition and the British government got it wrong with Poll Tax. With each of these the state found itself up against a large part of the people, and in each case the state gave way. Soon after the first resistance to Poll Tax appeared the principle of equal payments for all was dropped; now the overall amount has been cut and a date set for abolition. Active campaigners helped but they could not have done it by themselves; they, like governments, succeed or fail as they comply, or fail to comply, with the preferences of the big numbers.

In Freedom for 14 July, 1990, the article ‘Anarchism’ by DR put it clearly: “The limits of political power are decided, not by the good will of the powerful, but by what the unpowerful will tolerate.” There’s only one thing wrong with that; it suggests that the rulers are the powerful ones. Taken individually, that is so; each ruler does have more power than each subject. But taken as a group, rulers against subjects, power lies with the subjects. In their millions, their tens and hundreds and thousands of millions, they are the powerful ones. The rulers oppose anarchism, but that hardly matters; if they wanted anarchy, and the people didn’t, we wouldn’t get it.

The enforced changes in Poll Tax have once more shown that “power belongs to the people” is not an aspiration but a direct statement of present fact. Anarchists who blame the rulers, the rich or the bosses for the persistence of the state, or for its actions, are misdirecting their attention; it survives, achieves what it achieves, and commits the horrors it does, because most of the ordinary people accept or support it.

Continue reading Angles on Anarchism by George Walford (1991):
Class Politics; an Exhausted Myth | Anarchy Renamed | Why So Few? | Gnostics as Anarchists of Old | The Two-Sided Anarchist | The Higher the Fewer | The Anarchist Police Force | Even Worse | In the Beginning | The Competitive Co-operators | I. Q. Against Anarchism | Anarchism in Series | Friendly Reason | Anarchist Research | Are They Not Anarchists? | The Trouble With Success | Of Governments and Gardens | The Poll Tax Lesson | Healthy Freedoms | The Conventional Artist | Underground Activity | The Cretan Egoist.

Angles on Anarchism now available on the Kindle.