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Strange fruit – Income tax in Australia and the Indigenocide State – very very rough talking notes

These are my very rough, to be edited, revised and added to before cutting in half, talking notes for a talk to various PhD students I am giving in a few days time.

Strange fruit – income tax in Australia and the Indigenocide State

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Billie Holiday and Abel Meeropol (1937)[1]

 

The fundamental relation of ‘capital’ to ‘income’ has been much discussed by economists, the former being likened to the tree or the land, the latter to the fruit or the crop … Pitney J, Eisner v Macomber [2]

 

In this talk I want to explore the strange fruit of income tax revenue in Australia, flowering as it does from the tree of exploitation, a tree with blood on its leaves and blood at its roots. The Indigenocide State is the guardener[3] of the tree and its fruit. It picks some of the fruit to protect the tree and to feed Aboriginal and working class blood and bone into the soil and around its roots.

I argue that around the time income tax began to come in and then cemented its place (1870s/80s/90s to 1915), was the time of the maturation of Australian capitalism over the long boom 1850 to 1890.

The various State and Territory Aboriginal Protection Laws saw a shift from the private/sometimes state extermination to state management of the survivors. It is not a clear cut process because the extermination adopts different forms, including protection, assimilation, banishment, closing communities, stolen generations, and today the Northern Territory intervention, the Basics Card  etc etc but I think it is an adequate generalisation. This state role then sees the colonies, States, Territories and Commonwealth both manage and extend the indigenocide such that it is appropriate to describe the Australian state in its various forms as the Indigenocide State. Income Tax revenue, arising from income taxes levied by the States and the Commonwealth from 1915 until the Second World War, and then in the form of Commonwealth grants from the Commonwealth income tax for the States and Territories and spending for its own programs, funded the Indigenocide State and its actions.

There is a current in tax, derived from Schumpeter,[4] called fiscal sociology that describes the state as the tax state.  Martin and Prasad, in arguing for a wider inclusive field of fiscal sociology, describe the meaning of fiscal sociology in this way:

The term fiscal sociology was popularized by the economist Joseph Schumpeter (1991 [1919]), who argued that public finance was the key to understanding the development of modern societies. Schumpeter’s essay on the tax state focused on the contribution of taxation to the emergence of constitutional governments in early modern Europe, and comparative historical sociologists have made several important contributions to the study of taxation and state building in early modern Europe.[5]

For Schumpeter the history of the last 1000 or so years is basically a history of the replacement of demesne revenues – these are the personal revenue rights of monarchs – by the tax state.[6] The tax state then emerges mainly from the need for increased spending on war.[7] John Passant has taken up among others the themes of war and tax, but in doing so recognises that the state of more modern times is a capitalist state, or, depending on which stage of history we are looking at, one in the process of forming.[8]

Rather than the tax state, which, following on from Martin and Prasad, is not an exclusive description, I want to examine the development of the Indigenocide State in Australia viewed very broadly through the prism of Australian income tax and its history. I limit the discussion to income tax because it is and has been the key national tax in Australia more or less for the last 100 years. It is and has been the main source of the state’s revenue and the base for that state’s carrying out, contribution to and reinforcement of Indigenocide.

Today in Australia income tax raises almost 58 percent of all revenue raised across the three levels of government (Commonwealth, State and Territory, and local government) and 72 percent of Commonwealth revenue.[9] Income tax is the key tax in understanding the development of what some call ‘the fiscal state’ both globally and in Australia.[10] However, while for those with an interest in tax the ‘tax state’ or description captures our interest and agreement, it is merely shorthand for a more complex set of arrangements and ignores or obfuscates the foundation of indigenocide on which the Australian capitalist state, to use a meaningful and meaningless descriptor, is built. The tax state ignores the exploitation of workers as the base upon which that state arises. The Indigenocide State recognises the pre-condition for that exploitation.

Income tax revenue is also an important source for the State’s funding of its part of the process of social reproduction through for example social welfare programs, health and education spending, some childcare support, retirement policy and the like.

Why is social reproduction, including the social reproduction processes the State supports, undertakes, directs, encourages, funds or subsidises, important? The answer is that reproducing labour power is ‘the very pivot of the capitalist economy.’[11] Social reproduction is essentially the reproduction of labour power. According to Tithi Bhattacharya:

Labor power, in the main, is reproduced by three interconnected processes:

  1. By activities that regenerate the worker outside the production process and allow her to return to it. These include, among a host of others, food, a bed to sleep in, but also care in psychical ways that keep a person whole.
  2. By activities that maintain and regenerate non-workers outside the production process–i.e. those who are future or past workers, such as children, adults out of the workforce for whatever reason, be it old age, disability or unemployment.
  3. By reproducing fresh workers, meaning childbirth.

These activities, which form the very basis of capitalism in that they reproduce the worker, are done completely free of charge for the system by women and men within the household and the community. In the United States, women still carry a disproportionate share of this domestic labor … [12]

I would add that it is not just in the United States that women bear a disproportionate share of domestic labour…

This process of social reproduction continues and reproduces the Indigenocide. As Meg Luxton says:

By developing a class analysis that shows how the production of goods and services and the production of life are part of one integrated process, social reproduction does more than identify the activities involved in the daily and generation reproduction of daily life. It allows for an explanation of the structures, relationships, and dynamics that produce those activities.[13]

Another question is why indigenocide? I use indigenocide rather than genocide to describe the destruction of Aboriginal life in Australia. I do this to avoid the unnecessary and in the end what I regard as circular discussions about the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, about intent, whose intent, the nature of the actors perpetrating the genocide, and to avoid any hint of diminishing the Holocaust.[14] I also use it because indigenocide captures a totality of destruction in a colonial settler context that genocide may not. What then is indigenocide? Evans and Thorpe say that indigenocide is a reference to:

… those actors (governments, military forces, economic enterprises or their agents, private individuals etc.) who carry out destructive actions, policies and practices on Indigenous/Aboriginal individuals, families and groups mainly because of their perceived indigeneity or ‘Aboriginality’.[15]

Evans and Thorpe describe it in these terms:

“Indigenocide” is a means of analysing those circumstances where one, or more peoples, usually immigrants, deliberately set out to supplant a group or groups of other people whom as far as we know, represent the Indigenous, or Aboriginal peoples of the country that the immigrants usurp.[16]

It is not an alternative to genocide but a better description of what happened and is happening in the Australian colonial settler state context.[17] As Raymond Evans said in a private conversation with John Passant: ‘This concept of indigenocide implies a combination of genocide (i.e. peoplehood destruction), ecocide (environmental theft and destruction) and ethnocide (cultural destruction). In short it is destruction in toto. It goes well beyond the UN definition.’[18] It includes immigrants supplanting and usurping the Aboriginal people.[19]  It includes ‘an obstinate war against indigenous economic and social conditions, as well as the violent plundering of their means of production …’[20] It is above all the destruction of one set of societal and economic arrangements with another through the theft of land.[21]

A Dirk Moses summarises it very well when he says:

Indigenocide has five elements: the intentional invasion/colonization of land; the conquest of the indigenous peoples; the killing of them to the extent that they can barely reproduce themselves and thereby come close to extinction; their classification as vermin by the invaders; and the attempted destruction of their religious systems. Indigenocide is consistent with the continued existence of indigenous peoples so long as they are classified as a separate caste. Accordingly, not all imperialisms are genocidal. The British occupation of India, for example, was not a project of settlement, and the fact that the colonizers relied on the labor of the locals was an impediment to physical genocide.[22] [Footnotes removed].

In Australia the main source of labour was the convicts, settlers and later, immigrants, although Aboriginal people were often gulaged and paid in rations or very low amounts of money.

Some of you may be asking: ‘And how is this relevant to income tax?’ In a nutshell and to paraphrase Patrick Wolfe, indigenocide – Wolfe refers to invasion – ‘is a structure not an event.’[23] The longer argument is, in essence, that the Indigenocide state best describes the state that imposes income tax on the strange fruit that grows from the tree thriving in the soil drenched in Aboriginal blood. As the song puts it there is ‘Blood on the leaves and blood at the root.” We reap a bitter crop. The Indigenocide state ensures that the social reproduction of the system built on indigenocide continues. Not only that but the logic of the system is Indigenocide.  Income tax is a key part of that process of reproduction and hence of Indigenocide.

There is an intertwining of the maturation of Australian capitalism, an official role of the state in indigenocide, and the move over time to income tax. To back track a little, ‘ In ‘Axis Rule in Occupied Europe’ (1944) Lemkin talks about two phases of genocide. One phase is the “destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group[,] the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor”.’[24]  However this is too black and white. The destruction is never complete. It is ongoing. Further the new pattern incorporates the old as well as destroys it; a duel exists between the remnants of the old and the reminders of an alternative life. Wolfe explains it better when he says …

Capitalism has various ages relevant to our discussion. These ages roughly coincide with Shakespeare’s seven ages: infancy, as a young child, a teenager, a young adult, middle age, old age, and dotage and death.[25]  Chronologically the history of income tax in Australia begins in the 1870s and gathers pace in the 1880s, by which time Australian capitalism and its classes had reached maturity during the long boom from 1850 to 1890. Almost all the colonies had by the 1890s some form of income tax, and the new Commonwealth had the power to impose such taxes from its creation in 1901. It imposed income tax in 1915, during the war. The Commonwealth income tax’s uneasy co-existence with State income taxes ended during the Second World War.

In examining if there was genocide in Australia, Markus identifies:

… two main phases, the period of dispossession when the main objective was to remove Aboriginal people from their land to pave the way for European economic activity, and a second phase when policy sought to deal with the surviving Aboriginal populations.’[26]

The first phase did not always involve positive genocidal state action. Much of the genocide was carried out by settler-invaders who drove Aborigines off their land or killed them if they resisted, as they often did. However this at least involved state acquiescence in the process of dispossession by settler invaders,[27] but not proactive mass killing by the penal state, or the developing capitalist state from the 1820s on. The second phase involved and involves state action to manage the indigenocide and its survivors. It began or became more prominent at roughly the same time the first income taxes appeared in Australia in the 1870s and 1880s.

By the 1890s almost all the colonies had income taxes. In 1915 the Commonwealth joined them all in imposing an income tax.  Most analysis puts this development down to the maturation of the economy (i.e. a pastoral and mining dominated capitalism), economic crises, the need to fund wars, the rise of democracy in Australia exemplified by universal suffrage for white men, the demands of the masses and the ongoing processes played out over generations to state centralisation and growing power in the eras of first colonialism and then imperialism. These are valid observations.

However the development of the Indigenocide state is never mentioned. The time of the rise of income tax in the colonies, States and Commonwealth, was the period when the State assumed for itself the role of managing the survivors of the Indigenocide. However managing the survivors is itself an act of genocide.

It was the Australian variety of settler colonialism that produced the initial indigenocide. Settler colonialism is a specific type of colonialism that ‘destroys to replace.’[28] This includes not just the liquidation of Aboriginal people. That is its negative. It has what Wolfe calls a positive aspect built on the negative of the ‘dissolution of native societies.’ That positive is that ‘elimination is an organising principle of settler-colonial society’[29] not just in the past but now and into the future. Or as Wolfe so eloquently put it about settler colonialism: ‘Positively, it erects a new colonial society on the expropriated land base—as I put it, settler colonizers come to stay: invasion is a structure not an event.’[30] That new colonial society grew and developed and has become Australia today and that Australia today not only includes the tax system, that tax system, income tax the key tax, sustains it. Not only that but the process of invasion is ongoing in the policies and actions of the Indigenocide state. Wolfe sets out some of these when he says:

 

The positive outcomes of the logic of elimination can include officially encouraged  miscegenation, the breaking-down of native title into alienable individual freeholds, native citizenship, child abduction, religious conversion, resocialization in total institutions such as missions or boarding schools, and a whole range of cognate biocultural assimilations. All these strategies, including frontier homicide, are characteristic of settler colonialism.[31]

 

Every step in Australia’s domestic history reveals itself in that paragraph. While the initial indigenocide was frontier extermination, over time the state became the key actor and perpetrator of indigenocide through policies and actions like protection, segregation, assimilation, isolation and today’s events like the Northern Territory Intervention, the destruction or removal of communities, the Basics Card and of course stealing the children.

The Indigenocide State is the guardener of the tree of Australian capitalism. It will pick some of the fruit and use the proceeds to protect the tree and fertilise the blood drenched soil and roots with more blood and bone from, in Australia, Indigenous people and workers.  (cf Poulantzas??)

 

 

 

 

[1] For the history of Strange Fruit, see David Margolick, Strange Fruit: The Biography of a Song (Harper Collins 2001). TIME named Strange Fruit the song of the century in 1999. <http://entertainment.time.com/2011/10/24/the-all-time-100-songs/slide/strange-fruit-billie-holiday/?iid=sr-link1> (last viewed 21 November 2016.)

[2] (1919) 252 US 189, 206. The tree and fruit approach has been followed in Australia. See for example the High Court decisions in Federal Commissioner of Taxation v Montgomery (1999) 198 CLR 639, 660-663, and Commissioner of Taxation v McNeil [2007] ATC 4223, 4228.

[3] This is not a mis-spelling but an intentional mix of two words.

[4] Joseph Schumpeter, ‘The Crisis of the Tax State’ in Swedberg, R., (ed) The Economics and Sociology of Capitalism/ Joseph A Schumpeter (1991, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press) 99-140.

[5] Isaac William Martin and Monica Prasad, ‘Taxes and Fiscal Sociology’ (2014) 40 Annual Review of Sociology 331-345, 332.

[6] Michael J Braddick, The nerves of state, Taxation and the financing of the English state, 1558-1714 (Manchester University Press, 1996) 12.

[7] Ibid.

[8] John Passant, ‘Historical Note: The History of Taxation is Written in Letters of Blood and Fire’ (2016) 10 (2) Australasian Accounting, Business and Finance Journal 93.

[9] Australian Bureau of Statistics, 5506.0 – Taxation Revenue, Australia, 2014-15 (Canberra 2016) <http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/5506.0> (last viewed 8 August 2016.)

[10] Toke S. Aidt and Peter S. Jensen, ‘The taxman tools up: An event history study of the introduction of the personal income tax’ (2009) 93(1-2) Journal of Public Economics 160-175.

[11] Susan Ferguson and David McNally, “Capital, Labour-Power, and Gender-Relations: Introduction to the Historical Materialism Edition of Marxism and the Oppression of Women,” in Lise Vogel, Marxism and the Oppression of Women (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2013), xxiv.

[12] Tithi Bhattacharya, ‘What is social reproduction theory?’ 10 September 2013 Socialist Worker < https://socialistworker.org/2013/09/10/what-is-social-reproduction-theory>

[13] Meg Luxton, ‘Feminist Political Economy in Canada and the Politics of Social Reproduction’ in Kate Bezanson and Meg Luxton  Social Reproduction: Feminist Political Economy Challenges Neo-Liberalism (Montreal MQUO 2006) 36-37

[14] On this reluctance to use the word genocide to describe what happened to Aboriginal people, see A. Dirk Moses, ‘Genocide and Settler Society in Australian History’, in A. Dirk Moses (ed) Genocide and Settler Society: Frontier Violence and Stolen Indigenous Children in Australian History (Bergham Books 2004) 3.  Colin Tatz has no such reluctance. He argues the Convention, rather than arcane academic formulations, is all we have and that the Australian experience was and is genocide under the Convention.  See for example

[15] Raymond Evans and Bill Thorpe, ‘The massacre of Aboriginal history’ (2001) 163 Overland 21–39, 36.  Asafa Jalata calls it colonial terrorism. Asafa Jalata, ‘The Impacts of English Colonial Terrorism and Genocide on Indigenous/Black Australians’ (2013) 3 (3) Sage Open 1-12.

[16] Raymond Evans and Bill Thorpe, ‘The massacre of Aboriginal history’ (2001) 163 Overland 21–39, 36.

[17] Thomas James Rogers and Stephen Bain, ‘Genocide and frontier violence in Australia’ (2016) 18(1) Journal of Genocide Research 83-100, 90.

[18] Ray Evans, in a Facebook discussion with John Passant about the meaning of indigenocide.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Rosa Luxemburg, The Accumulation of Capital

[21] Patrick Wolfe, Traces of History.

[22] A. Dirk Moses Genocide and Settler Society in Australian History, 27.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Andrew Markus

[25] No Sweat Shakespeare, ‘William Shakespeare, As You Like It: No sweat Shakespeare’ ‘Seven Ages of Man’<http://www.nosweatshakespeare.com/resources/seven-ages-of-man/> (last viewed 31 October 2016).

[26] Andrew Markus, ‘Genocide in Australia’ (2001) 25 Aboriginal History 57-69, 62.

[27] Colin Tatz

[28] Patrick Wolfe, 388.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid. I removed Wolfe’s footnote reference in support of his view. It says: ‘Wolfe, Settler Colonialism and the Transformation of Anthropology, p 2; “Nation and miscegeNation,” p 96’.

[31] Ibid, 388.

 

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