Nobody can really claim to understand the amerikan tax code. Lawyers try to, and, in fact, they like the way taxation works in the united $tates at the moment precisely because they are the only ones who can even begin to sift through it and draw meaning from the well over 70,000 pages it takes to describe it. It is less about actually generating a state income as much as it is about concretising bourgeois and petty bourgeois class power in the state. After all, despite their falling numbers, lawyers still represent roughly 40% of the amerikan legislature, and have a tremendous impact on policy making in the various political think tanks that craft tax reform. Trump’s tax plan, although claiming to clamp down on the loopholes which literally define amerikan taxation, really doesn’t put much of a dent in the need for lawyers to pick over its meaning and determine the most effective ways for the big bourgeois to avoid it altogether.
There’s no need to really go into the meat of Trump’s tax reform, democrats have already got us covered there. Rather, what would be a more fruitful discussion is toward a proposal for how socialist taxation could and should work, at least on a level of principle. Nobody really has the critical insight to know precisely how our tax structure should work at all levels of development, mostly because we are not yet confident on where the transition will begin or what it will entail, especially once we factor the necessary dissolution of the amerikan colonial state. However, working from principle we can come up with a few notions to guide us and how we think about the current form of taxation.
Bourgeois tax code is, as mentioned previously, predominantly utilized by lawyers and is also commonly created by them. This achieves two very negative results: First of all, it solidifies the power of the professional petty bourgeoisie in the state, prominently employed by the big bourgeois to guard their financial interests. Secondly, it reinforces the division of labor, making it so incomprehensible to normal people that you require a long professional career to be able to really unpack it and make it work how you’d like it to. This works very well for the bourgeoisie, who utilize this systemic “back door” to translate their economic power into political power, with the ability to wage the tough legal battle that determines how they deal with taxation. The partnership between legal professionals and the bourgeoisie is one of the defining, concrete elements of the bourgeois dictatorship. Working in reverse, we can start to see where we should start when thinking about taxation.
From a communist perspective, our primary tasks are to advance class struggle to unseat the bourgeoisie, and to deconstruct the division of labor which penetrates all elements of governing, distribution and production. First on our list should be simplicity. Our tax code, at all stages, must aspire to undo the legal nightmare that is bourgeois taxation, and aim to wrest power from the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeois professionals. There is something to be said of the simplicity of Bernie Sanders’ “tax the rich” slogan, which finds its way through many “progressive” corners of the democratic party, but what is the real aim of our tax system? Certainly it is to curtail the economic and political power of the bourgeois, but that is not simply done through higher taxes. After all, many of the ways in which the bourgeois avoid such high taxes is not in the actual brackets, but in the legal loopholes they investigate with their team of highly educated lawyers.
This is why it is so important to understand the underlying class basis for these codes, and what they imply on a structural level. So although “tax the rich” is a fine slogan, we must also strive for a simple tax system, one that, to the maximum degree possible, sidelines the legal professionals which currently dominate its processes and which leaves little wiggle room for the big bourgeois. As Lenin said, every cook should know how to run the state, and for that we need to make its functions sensible to the proletarian project. Of course these things must start somewhere, and we will need to utilize, for a time that cannot be predetermined, the machinery of the bourgeois state to run the state or states which come after, but in order to lock out the professional class from its central role in planning the new government, our first task should be an overall simplification of its architecture.
That is one of the many reasons that people like Sanders fail to break out of the mold of typical bourgeois functionaries. Their plans hold a kind of shine, and sound pleasant, but they do not strike at the heart of class power in the state, and do not provide for its undoing. Then again, we should also remember that they never promised it would. Socialists throughout the parliamentary “left” have proposed grafting social reform onto the architecture of the bourgeois state, and while some reforms may hold revolutionary value (such as comprehensive prison reform) ultimately we as communists must work from a different model. It is control of the state architecture which is the primary objective, not necessarily the mundane work of setting the specific tax brackets. We can adjust the tax burden to overwhelmingly punish bourgeois profit, but so long as the formula remains the same, so will the result: bourgeois power will be stable and perhaps even strengthened. Imperialism will certainly not flinch, and we will be stuck in place.
But if we must instead create a political architecture which serves a proletarian class-interest, and is available to our base, then we gain the ability to push the bourgeois in whatever direction we like. We no longer have to rely on an army of aristocratic lawyers and bourgeois functionaries to craft and explain our tax system. Instead, we can put the engine of social development in the hands of our proletarian mass organizations and the vanguard party, and make the formerly professional task of setting policy vulnerable to the broad masses. That is where our policy can be developed, and the control of the bourgeois class can be further eroded and replaced.
1. Although the official base-page count for the amerikan tax code as of 2014 is approximately 2,600 pages, the full bulk of content needed to effectively understand it and its continuity is well above 70,000 pages. All designed specifically to the needs of lawyers, which are largely responsible for interpreting it.