Kill the Bill failed. Now We Have to ensure it Succeeds.

Having lost the battle it is now time to contemplate how much we need to change ourselves in order to win the war.

There may be some slight problems with how we are doing things currently

With the Passage of the Policing, Crime sentencing and Courts bill through its 3rd parliamentary stage, the Kill The Bill movement failed the first phase of its campaign. This, of course, is extremely bad news, because the Bill is draconian, racist, an utterly typical example of the inner wrigglings of the Blues-Lives-Matter Tory brainworm. Despite our best collective efforts, the worm wriggles on. This was inevitable, predicted, and a known quantity by most people who got involved with organising against it: we all knew. Yet little was done to account for this eventuality, either in practice or in theory. The fact that we failed isn’t remarkable- it was obvious. The thing that is worth commentary is the fact that so few organisations in the movement were willing to explicitly confront and state this fact from the get-go, and that at no point did any change strategies, or even differ from the adopted norms of the “official” movement. This is despite many activists saying things along the lines of “ now we must take the fights to the streets/ prepare for a new campaign”: its common knowledge that this would happen, but there has not been common debate about what step two would look like.

Part of this was ordained by the fact that “phase one” was oriented in a way that made no room for that. In theory, one might suppose the purpose of the Kill The Bill movement was to bring an ongoing legislative process to a standstill, or to create a movement prepared for a long term campaign directed at repealing the law after it passes. The movement at large approached this using a coalition model, attacking the government mainly by means of mobilising existing political organisations, diaspora communities and social milieus through community action and street protest. This is the tried and tested tactic of the extra-parliamentary left in the UK, and on occasion it works. Needless to say we all hated the bill, us activists, and delighted in the chance to march out against our ancient foe. This did not take into account the fact that most of the time, march campaigns focussed on city centres fail, in acrimony and burnout, as in the case of all of the major street movement confrontations of the last 2 decades. If one thinks of any major national demonstration movement of the last 20 years, the score card is poor: The failures include the Anti war movement, the students movement, the anti austerity movement, Extinction Rebellion, and the Anti-Brexit/Remainer movement. These protest movements straddled a large array of ideological positions, and drew in an equally wide array of organisational support. All of these examples either failed outright, or achieved limited, containable success before being promptly yeeted out of relevancy.

KTB ( “official” or otherwise) failed to cohere a strong core that lasted the distance of this first campaign, not only in exactly the same way, but in a very short period of time. Its disappearance as a force of national political importance is striking for two reasons: its speed and its banality. Prior to the passage of the Bill through its third parliamentary stage, protests were still ongoing, and various sections of the “movement of movements’’ are still fighting on but the wide strategic picture is one of structural evaporation. If the movement were successful, or on a path to success during the coming time where the bill is law, then we would be precipitating a major crisis of state, and would have been doing so consistently for the last 3 months. In reality the government doesn’t even devote serious brain power to this issue: it is not high stakes for them.

The reality is that normal protests in the UK don’t actually work most of the time. They have a very bad track record for achieving policy changes in governments, and have a bad track record for being used as the core activity of successful movements. They do not exist because they are successful weapons, but rather because they are successful self perpetuating life forms in their own right: protest culture self perpetuates by absorbing the efforts of its adherents, many of whom realise this, and many of whom avoid this realisation out of emotional weakness. To be fair I am among one of these parties of the guilty.

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Even if we lived in a UK where the bill was not a live issue, mainstream “march through Whitehall” protests will not be a strategically optimal tool in the UK for the radical left ever again in our lifetimes. The strategic landscape does not exist for there to be a situation where a Tory PM ( nd they shall all be Tory PMs) will put their ear to the Downing Street window, hear the people singing, and Repent. In fact if Priti Patel or the other driving forces behind this piece of legislation were to have given even more than a handful of token concessions then that would be evidence of a sheer level of stupidity that the Tories simply do not possess. There is no reason to give concessions to a weak enemy! Would you have looked at the early Kill The Bill movement and given in? I wouldn’t have! The only moments of serious early resistance came via fiery moments of spontaneity or organisations that were later on dampened down or forced to the side by events. Sisters uncut and the Bristol rioters worked wonders, but even wonders have limits…

The “official” coalition was particularly notable for being a tactically and strategically conservative operation: few major innovations in street statics or methods of organising were displayed during this campaign, and those who attempted such things were swiftly clobberred. A to B marches, XR stewards, Zoom meetings, email lists, dead group chats with nought but a chain letter in them after the first 3 weeks… Most of the more effective or remarkable aspects of this struggle came from activist groups outside of the norm. Antifascists, squatters, and specialised organisations such as GRT socialists for instance were and still are a wonderful example of this. Also critical were some almost entirely unreported squatting campaigns, which seized multiple buildings, attracting heavy punishment from the cops, as well as certain unsung elements of the street mobilisations which provided critical resources in maneuvering against the Police on the few occasions where actual fire began the burn in the movement. Sadly many of these moments went unnoticed, and the fires never caught. But myself and others know that there are still embers. The question is whether they will catch again.

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I wrote at the beginning of this mess, analysing what I Felt the strategic conditions were. The essay is painful to read now, but that’s how losing a battle works. An overview may be helpful: I claimed that there were a set of basic presumptions that would dictate the course of events either towards a fizzle-out scenario or towards a radicalisation spiral. The first 2 of these referred specifically to the state of the protest movement. These were as follows:

1: That the movement cannot be defused, and that police violence would continue, and bring with it a short term radicalisation spiral which would inflame the situation drastically in our favour.- This turned out to be wrong. Police violence dropped off marginally, and this coincided with activist burnout, the toll of arrests, and a lack of both spontaneity and organisational cohesiveness, resulting in the movement defusing itself terminally. It still exists but is not capable of levying serious muscle, and the Police have not been forced into any major moments of dilemma. The protests over Palestinan liberation, and Pride over the last couple of months did not alter this.

2: That co-optation would be impossible via Labour Party channels and difficult to make terminal if done via the activist scene. This proved correct in the case of Labour, which has continued to decline as per the schedule. My main worry was that the Kill The Bill movement would get pounced on conclusively by “vestiges of XR, the more centre-liberal organisational elements of the BLM movements and the ex-Corbyn squad”. Broadly speaking this did happen, most particularly in the case of XR stewarding tactics, and labour activist influence over some marches, but in my opinion this only emerged as a symptom, rather than as a cause of failure. If we had been able to repeatedly fight the government in a more politically antagonistic manner, then they would have been too immobilised politically speaking to be able to do much.

Various other aspects of the earlier analysis come back to haunt me. The following passage particularly springs to mind :

As it turned out, we did not even need to be crushed, in the short term at least. Despite this, other aspects of the strategic situation remain unchanged since the open round back in March. The Police and the government are still faced with the same structural dilemmas I alluded to in my earlier piece: an inability to change their policing strategy, logistical limitations in the face of massive state strain under Covid conditions

Another comment I made about the impossibility of bribing the populace to keep quiet arguably turned out to be partially untrue, as the vaccine rollout has given a massive credibility boost to the government, which would have helped insulate them if a crisis of state had been precipitated in the early summer. This is of course, a little hypothetical.

In any case, the potential for a critical moment of confrontation over the early summer never materialised, and the worst habits of the left activist scene came out as per normal. There was a moment of opportunity for inflicting a crisis upon the state prior to the legislative process becoming sealed, but it’s effectively now passed.

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I think we need to do the following things in order to deal with the current situation:

Firstly we need to admit that we failed the first and most critical stage of this struggle and that the Kill the Bill movement is effectively not currently fit for purpose. Organisations and activists should be publically honest about this, and should admit that they used a bad method, not jump into another round of moral calls to action. “ We will simply continue to protest ‘’ is technically the right thing to do, but it’s not actually a plan, and it fails to address anything that went wrong with the tactics of the last 2 decades. It’s intellectually bankrupt to do so and refuse to comment on your own public strategic failure. If this is truly so important, then we should be smart and brave enough to talk publicly about what things we did, as a movement, that contributed to the current strategic failure. Individual activists and organisations need to debate, criticise, and analyse what happened and those inclined to dig their feet in and refuse to admit that we’ve lost should be challenged on this publicly. It’s one thing to defend decisions taken in specific organising contexts, but it’s quite another to simply opt out of or refuse to engage with debate in the context of such a total defeat.

Furthermore, serious thought needs to be put towards making sure that the current protest model is ditched. We focus too much on famous speakers, key photo-op sites, and marches down big deserted streets. Emotive moral calls to get boots on the ground for another big march are simply silly and patronising, and all the kind hearted liberal MPs talking into megaphones in Parliament square aren’t going to help, no matter how earnestly they get roped in. XR leftovers should be ignored and isolated, A-B march plans opposed with counter-plans for mobile operations targeting traffic hubs, economic centres, key shopping streets and shipping lanes, and mainstream organisers and speechmakers left to their own devices. A return to spontaneity is essential.

We need to reorient ourselves around viewing the strategic situation as a marathon, a siege, and an attritional campaign against the government. Make no mistake that it is a siege: the bill has passed, and by the time we have built up strength to fight the next big legislative nightmare, three more will have been passed anyway. We should therefore re-orient our street tactics in such a way as to suit that environment, and pick methods that exploit the long term weaknesses of the government: logistics, legitimacy, and the inevitability of things going wrong for them. For example, protests could focus on rapidly disrupting municipal infrastructure, moving from target to target, not for the purpose of photo ops, but for the purpose of creating shifting logistical blockages. This would be a natural departure from immobile speeches, whitehall marches, and easily isolated sit-ins. Bluntly, if we are going to be constantly burning ourselves out at them, protests need to get a lot cooler, a lot more confrontational, and a lot faster at avoiding the police.

The flashes of militancy that occurred at the start of the movement should not be left isolated again. The start was very impressive, creating a hardened anti-cop militancy across the left, with abolitionist politics taking centre stage. The cops were regularly confronted, on some occasions precipitating violent confrontations, which is very rare in the UK. As a result, on several occasions you could see that political planners at the top of the metropolitan police, and across whitehall, were deeply worried about long term political consequences! The enemy is no longer concerned- we no longer make them afraid. If they do not fear us they will act as they will! We wish to act according to our will. Accordingly, we need to become less easy to arrest, less easy to placate, and less concerned with our image or activist clout. We should be more evasive, angrier, unpalatable: a disgusting riotous mass.

Then there is the last issue: the objective. We must ask ourselves whether or not we want a nice friendly reformist piece of legislation that restores some portion of what we just lost, as a result of some great compromise, or if we want to develop enough of our own power to guarantee that the Police stop bothering us because they cannot safely harass protesters any more. I would rather attempt a drawn out conflict with the aim of dictating terms to the police and government, than a classic liberal protest march campaign which just sets up the Labour party for some legislative victory lap in ten years time. By then it will be too late anyway, and we all know that we need to build that autonomous power for ourselves anyway.

It’s our choice.

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