We Must Counterattack Immediately
There shall be a hot summer. The Pigs are in the streets, sent forth by the great beast of the State. They have to do this: and so do we. The massive political crisis generated by the murder of Sarah Everard, and the subsequent grassroots opposition to the Police and Crime bill has revealed a critical technical problem in the governments program for controlling UK Domestic politics. This is partially due to the increasingly defiant fledgling abolitionist/anti-carceral movement, which has been gaining power due to the emergence of the BLM movement in the UK, amongst other influences, and contextual collapse of public trust in the police, and partially due to a range of pressures and limitations on the state. The current anti-policing movement, if it can crystallise into a coherent front, has an opportunity to strike at this weakness and deal serious damage.
In the context of the last few years, a number of pressures and restrictions have emerged, all having a serious negative influence on the ability of the state to maneuver in any way that is not fundamentally aggressive to the population. This has created a relatively unusual moment of opportunity, and if we are to use it to full effect, then we need to capitalise on the current wave of action. To put my argument in short: the current campaign, led by groups like Sisters Uncut, against the Police and Crime Bill, is not important purely because of the content of the law in question. It is also important because of the role that such a campaign could play in fundamentally weakening the British state. The great beast is squealing! It is terrified, angry, and need only be backed a little further into its current corner before something has to give.
Let us understand why the enemy is behaving the way it is: The conservatives have spent the post-election environment oscillating back and forth between two extremes. On one extreme they enter brief phases where they capitalise on their newfound power in increasingly arcane, malevolent ways- such as the Passing of the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Act, assisted by Keir Starmer. On the other extreme, they move from governance crisis to governance crisis on a practically weekly basis. Over the last two weeks alone they have blundered heavily in an attempt to support Nicola Sturgeons failed ouster, directly overseen a disastrous policing operation which effectively precipitated a wave of anti police protests may even have precipitated a general confrontation between central and local government across the board, with their ongoing attempt to take over management of the city of Liverpool following a series of local scandals.
The general air of brutal, crude, “ the cruelty is the point” politics is now stagnant. There’s a number of organisational and environmental contradictions building up, and a direct push against an organ of state power such as the police threatens to blow all of these contradictions open like pus sacs.
The main issues that the government faces are as follows:
1. Defusing the movement is probably not a viable long term option:
Its borderline politically impossible to compromise with the popular forces driving the current wave of protests. This is true on the level of the policy U-turn being difficult to bear ( ministers, MPs, high ranking cops, and the media would not like this one bit, not to mention the core tory vote blocs) but also on the level of it simply being practically very challenging. Genuinely accepting any part of the protesters demands would require a proper effort to contain the anger of the police. It is unclear that the state even knows how to do this and they clearly don’t want to. I have been out on the streets at several protests, and witnessed the violence at the vigil- the cops are palpably furious. If you are an experienced political militant of any stripe you will also be able to tell this: the police are aching to beat out their anger onto people. If an attempt was made to accomodate part of the demands of the present anti-police violence protests without senior politicians restraining the police beforehand, then it would instantly fall apart as soon as the cops killed someone in custody again or kicked in another protesters teeth. At current rates of Police workforce productivity that would take a few days at most for one of those events to occur. In fact, during the time taken to draft this piece the police in Bristol inflicted one of the most high profile incidents of deliberate police violence against protesters in years.
Obviously this makes the possibility of a short term fakeout compromise unworkable, whereas in the case of Extinction Rebellion, which was neutralised as soon as a handful of local authorities “declared a climate emergency”, this was an easy route out.
2. Official Co-optation will be difficult:
If Starmer were more left wing and oppositional, then he would arguably be of some use to the State apparatus than he currently is now. As things stand, Starmer is too tainted by association with the spy-cops scandal, and his own history of law-and-order derived ideological stances, to be a credible safety valve. Basically, he’s in the ironic position of being too invested in the role of being an amateur Quisling to be effective at it. Besides, Labour are committed to a pro-cop position anyway, and were under Corbyn as well. Therefore, Labour cannot be easily repositioned as a tool for co opting this specific struggle in a short time period.
This means that co-optation will have to be done via NGO’s and careerist activists, and possibly the occasional outspoken Labour backbencher, determined in their belief that they are doing the right thing. On the policy level, there are very few routes available for co-optation that can be guaranteed to be successful, which means they’ll probably have to try several. Accordingly, if there is an attempt outside the tory party to co-opt this issue then we can probably expect some mixture of proposed independent reviews, local policing outreach initiatives, and talking head blathering about whether “reforming” is better than “defunding” or vice-versa. The fact that reforming the cops is literally a sick joke, and that austerity has made relative levels of defunding a de-facto baseline for many areas of law enforcement will of course be ignored, because co-optation attempts are allergic to such inconveniences. The strong likelihood of escalating incidents of police violence also means that the reach of careerist activists will reach a limit, as they will not have the capacity to maintain control over genuinely dynamic protests.
It is therefore unclear how effective co-optation by the usual left wing media pundits will be. The remaining avenues for Co-optation will probably be via the vestiges of XR, the more centre-liberal organisational elements of the BLM movements and the ex-Corbyn squad. The specific iteration of this that has the most potential for neutralising the movement is going to be Reclaim the Streets, a deeply liberal and wretched effort to solve this problem by having cups of tea with Cressida Dick. As long as that kind of con-artistry can largely be ignored, side-lined or avoided, then efforts to defuse matters will only work if the police chill out for a significant period of time.
3. The Police are trapped by intersecting organisational dilemmas.
Police forces in the UK are, if one temporarily takes the point of view of the arch-technocrat, underfunded and underpowered in physical terms compared to their continental European and American counterparts. The explicit purpose of much of the Police and Crime bill is to respond to the profound irritation that senior police officers, politicians, and civil servants, felt with relation to the BLM and XR protests. These were, notably, very liberal and easily containable protest movements, where many internal organisers held quite liberal, institutionalist positions and willingly dispersed efforts to radicalise the movement. Despite this the BLM protests which occurred halfway through the initial stages of the pandemic seriously rattled the pundit class and the police. Part of this was due to the inherent ideological challenge to white supremacy in Britain, and part of this was because it exposed serious issues in the ability of the police to contain large mobile city centre demonstrations in London- a dedicated core of more militant BLM protesters effectively cleared the far right off the streets and had the run of large parts of the city during the latter end of the BLM protests, resulting in several high profile incidents of street nazis getting battered whilst the metropolitan police stood by, not interceding as they normally would have, though cops will often avoid intervention if they intend on kicking in doors later. In fact, they did exactly this after the 2020 BLM protests.
Despite that caveat it is worth noting that the Police had enough manpower to contain the protests but not enough to do so easily in the context of massive budget strains and staff incapacity due to the pandemic. Essentially, mass/mobile demos, particularly “spiky” ones, posed a logistical challenge to them due to the need to funnel in reinforcements. This is a notable parallel with the Miners strikes, where city police forces faced manpower issues for large periods of time due to the need to move them into the north and into rural Wales. Furthermore, if police resources are being focused at hotspots, this means that they are not available elsewhere. This has obvious implications for direct action campaigns, particularly ones focused on asymmetrical tactics. The police were clearly aware of this with relation to XR, hence the implementation of the Police and Crime Bill in the first place!
The police are also facing a staffing and recruitment crisis in more general terms- hence the large recruitment promises made by the Tories and Corbyn’s Labour prior to the last election. Government funds, especially in a context of resurgent covid-brexit-austerity financial armageddon, are thin, which probably places a restriction on the range of responses available if a sudden reallocation of crisis funds is needed.
The logistical issue was notable in the case of the Hong Kong riots, which essentially saw the HKPF being fought to a standstill for several months on end. Other police forces, similarly much more militarised than the UK’s cops, have faced similar problems recently- more than one American municipal police department literally ran out of tear gas ammo during the last phase of insurrection over there prior to the US presidential election.
This means that the government either has to crush the movement fast, or put it in a position where it burns out via boring marches and clout-activism without being able to establish grassroots infrastructure that can maintain a popular struggle.
4. Bribes are not feasible
Long term fixes to problems of social cohesion in capitalist republics either take the form of counter revolutionary violence, or reformist bribes. The latter is basically not structurally possible in the current case. The government is unwilling to engage in the kinds of spending programs that would be required to actually knit British society back together in a manner amenable to a surviving liberal political culture. One basis for this is because the Conservative party is plainly going through a phase of deep libidinal fascism, with people like Priti Patel practically drooling at the chance to screw over any and all possible vulnerable sections of the populace. The other is all about the money: basically, the bribes still structurally available are either not big enough to work for very long, or they are too big to be implemented without screwing up key portions of the conservative gameplan.
Bribes based on general public spending clearly aren’t going to happen with relation to areas that might actually reduce tension between street movements and the government. In theory there are a few areas of possible bribery- public spending on education, healthcare, housing, law and order etc. the main issue with all of these is that spending increases will have no effect on the issue of Police violence, which is now becoming a positive feedback loop.
Education spending would be far too gradual in its effect to work, and it would stick in the craw for ideological reasons, especially as there was major noise from education sector unions earlier this year. Housing policy is aimed at placating landlords, not renters. Expanding police spending will inflame matters further. That leaves a bribe based on the NHS. Although this is not remotely connected to the issue at hand, it’s conceivable that a wannabe machiavelli somewhere in Whitehall might take the chance that a general populist spending measure could go a long way to defusing the other sources of social conflict and collapse in trust for the government. However they can’t do this because they are staring into a dead end of privatisation and organisational collapse, because of the damage done by prior policy and by covid. and given that they hate the NHS that actually suits them fine anyway
Therefore there is no feasible medium term bribe in terms of expanded spending.
5: The expansion of Police powers brings its own issues
The actual text of the law isn’t full armageddon- we aren’t at the stage of full blown fascism yet. However it is a massive escalation of powers, and will create a totally new dynamic. For one thing, it will feed into the proto-fascist cult mindset of UK Police officers, of the brave Thin Blue Line standing against migrants, muggers, black and brown people, and leftist scum. The proscriptions against Unions specifically also destroy key feedback systems that otherwise would be used to facilitate capitalist governance. The anti-trespass law, and the implications of the bill for the GRT community will also create and enflame sites of conflict. Lastly, it effectively makes protest politics non viable unless the specific actions in question are too small and meek to matter, or they expand into full insurrections and totally ignore the law.
All of these factors threaten to combine into a positive feedback loop of police violence, counter protest, brutal evictions, and repression of all forms of leftist organising. This will create a long term source of conflict in the UK that the government may not be able to bludgeon out of existence.
Ironically, the lack of militarisation of UK police not only means leftist pundits can’t really make the case for a halfway house campaign of “defunding” the police, it also means that there is room for expansion after the government escapes its current financial woes. The Tories may be bad at running the country but they’re good at controlling it: despite their current tendency towards restricted public spending, which applies even to state security forces as mentioned earlier, they know full well that they need big goons with sticks to keep us down. The change in the law almost certainly precedes a big expansion in the physical capacity of the police to match the expanded legal powers. Even if they don’t plan to do so yet, the government will find itself in a position where they have to pump large resources into a restructuring operation. This is because an over-empowered but under-resourced security force will lead to exactly the kinds of problems that they think they are clamping down on by passing this law. The failure of the “short sharp shock” model of state security will therefore be looped back into more chronic tendencies of semi-privatisation, emphasis on directed force and violence, and the conscious removal of the myth of “community policing”. In other words we are looking at a sort of tepid paramilitarization of the police, a diet-coke version of the American model, which the conservatives drool over in all regards.
The “Kill The Bill’’ movement is not going to be able to prevent the law from being passed. Patel is clearly in the throws of a high-fascist passion for blood and this kind of challenge will only inflame her desire for this law to be passed. This means we either fold up the entire thing inside of a year, or we are set for a poll-tax style long term campaign. This has big, obvious strategic implications for all of us, and they all point in the same direction: we have to throw the kitchen sink at fighting this expansion of police powers, and be ready to keep doing so, over a long period of time, probably for years if not decades, assuming we even win.
The qualitative nature of this struggle is very different from previous struggles fought in the UK by the left as a whole. Neither the anti-war/BDS movement, the big union battles, the poll tax campaign, nor the anti austerity movement can be used as direct analogies. Closer analogies to our situation are the Hong Kong anti-extradition law movement, and the American BLM/anti police struggle that has now been raging for years, most notably over the course of 2020. Both struggles were characterised by mass, multi level resistance to an armed police force, with heavy central government backing, paramilitary physical resources, and, critically, without the backing of an empowered and institutionalised opposition party capable of contesting control of parts of the government. The Hong Kong electoral opposition was small, and was rapidly wiped out, whilst the Democrats simply either did not care about the movement, or condemned it.
The stage is therefore set in a very similar way to those struggles: Labour is obviously not going to lift a finger, and the police are entering a phase of their historical development where they are getting more and more gung-ho about random violence.
So where is the opportunity in all of this if the backup is so thin on the ground and the enemy so empowered? I think that it can help to view things as follows: given that the police will find it difficult to take a step back and cool off, and given that the protest movement is likely to keep mobile throughout this calendar year, and given that the government and the official opposition have very little room to maneuver, we can probably expect a high likelihood of the situation spiralling. What I mean by this is that we can expect multiple incidents of violent clashes orchestrated by the police, probably directed at relatively “normal” protests.
As this will therefore combine an increase in shared images of injuries, videos of police bludgeoning defenceless people, funding campaigns for arbitrary fines and so on, our social environments are going to be filled with emotive content that brings together many people, coalescing their conscious interests against the police as a political force. Meanwhile, mainstream information brokers will play the opposite tune to the older, conservative audience, which will result in an increased polarisation of society. Specifically it will lead to an increased polarisation on the issue of anti-carceralism and police violence. If you thought UK cop twitter culture was bad before, wait until you see what’s coming next. This will generate increased political backing for the government from its more hardcore voting blocs, matched by increasing organisation and mobilisation from milieus on the opposite side, which could then feed into anti-carceral political movements gaining more steam.
A lot of this relates to specifically urban political struggles, which will also tie into the increasing divide between centre-left voting municipalities and conservative ambitions for more solid and uninterrupted national govnermental control. Also notable in more rural settings will be an increase in stochastic and state led violence against traveller communities, which will bring a new wave of state induced violence into relevance in areas of the country where anti-carceral movements have little to no purchase.
This means that a determined response that starts now and maintains its efforts will pay dividends.
This is because it will have the following potentials:
1- Radicalisation will occur due to the police crackdowns, at the same time as an increase and re-emergence of proper organising in the post-lockdown environment. Therefore there will simultaneously be a genuine anti-state radicalisation dynamic, crucially at the same time and within the same milieus as are experiencing a resurgence of coherent organising. This did not happen with the Extinction rebellion movement, or with the Corbyn movement. It happened in a somewhat diluted form with the initial wave of BLM protest in 2020, largely in London.
2- The police may face tactical defeats if the right situations prevail at protests this summer. This will be good because it will teach us what works, and will be extremely good for morale. British radical politics unfortunately borrows on the general British cultural tradition of timidity in the face of authority, hence the existence of the Owen Jones’s of this world. It would be beneficial to shake a bit of this stupor from the mind of the movement.
3- The Centrists will go into paroxysms over this because they have no response. Even if defunding or reforming could work they would find it impossible to opt for. Starmer clearly hasn’t got the political capital to spend on maneuvering in this regard. This will help remove elements of their legitimacy, and will make radical visions more competitive, if they are articulated in a non-pathetic manner.
4- The restriciton the States ability to maneuver outlined in the first half of this piece mean that it will not only opt to double down, but will probably do so in ways that fuck up other programs it wishes to implement. Essentially, anti-cop politics will invade every strata of the culture war, which means that any area of domestic policy that touches on culture-war issues will be drawn into the conservative national psychodrama. This is rather unpredictable in its specific effects, but a determined attack in this area of British national fascist psyche could cause lasting psychic damage.
5- If increased paramilitarization of the police is attempted later this decade, then it would be better to attack the police state NOW. Otherwise we are simply waiting for them to become stronger and better equipped. The government has just put a delay on the bill. That means that they sense strategic advantage in waiting. This is so that they can wait for our power and commitment to diminish, whilst they plan and organise the next state move in the class war. Our advantage can be found in one of two strategies: either forcing a short term decisive confrontation, or creating a gradually escalating campaign that builds on existing areas of conflict with the state. As we are not in a position to force a grand set-piece mass protest/riot into existence, we must opt for the latter, and take care to construct it in a way that excludes bullshit, and includes a wide mass of committed anti-cop radicals so that the struggle can become an asymmetric political harassment war- this is clearly the only way to strain them logistically, politically, and psychologically all at once.
6- Accordingly, though we are currently rather weak- the defeat of Corbynism, and the back-to-back routing of several progressive street movements in a row has not done us wonders- this is exactly the kind of struggle which can condition and train a movement to become more comfortable with insurrectionary methods. This means that this specific struggle is a critical moment of opportunity.
7- This is all happening at a time of acute and chronic state disfunction. Leaving aside the specifics, the ability of national capitalist governments to accommodate this level of flux in the class struggle on a general level is highly limited. We have not seen major revolutionary insurrections in places as varied as France, Iraq, Hong Kong, the USA, Myanmar, Sudan and so on for no reason: international capitalist safety mechanisms are not functioning. In the UK the State is so beset by crisis that its practically a miracle there hasnt been an insurrectionary collapse of control already. Thus far, British radicalism has not really contributed much to this heroic counterattack against capital. It is clearly high time to correct this, and this may be a good opening.
8. Because the State cannot satisfy the demand for change, that means that demanding it louder and louder directly damages it in an irreparable manner. Pushing ahead, if done in a way that seizes the moment, can seriously disrupt the legitimacy of the state, across a wide strata of society, and could go a long way towards breaking the supine, submissively paternalistic and nationalistic element of the British political psyche
Accordingly we must counterattack immediately.