Jeremy Corbyn’s recent speech to the Trade Union Congress is impressive. It is an unmistakable and uncompromising challenge to class power, privileges, and prerogatives, But I was also surprised by what it didn’t say, that is, the absence of any mention of other dimensions of the larger democratic struggle. Or the necessity of a policy of alliances in current and upcoming struggles with key social constituencies besides labor. Or the spike in xenophobia and racism in the wake of Brexit. If this isn’t an example, albeit an unfortunate one, of what the left in the UK calls “labourism,'” I’m not sure what is. But I’m not sure if the left there sees matters this way.
Defenders of Corbyn’s speech, of course, might say that he was talking to a trade union audience, but, actually, that is all the more reason to mention what went unsaid. The requisites of defeating the right and constructing a just society there as well as here and across the globe require concepts of analysis and struggle — class and otherwise — that are broadly constructed and elastic.
More to the point, they require an appreciation that class and democratic struggles aren’t separate, occupying different lanes at the analytical and practical level, Instead, they are organically joined by multiple threads and on many levels.
A narrow class approach, even when dressed in militant and substantive clothing as Corbyn’s speech to the Trade Union Congress was, ends up missing these interconnections, and thus doesn’t meet the political, strategic, and tactical test of this moment.
Indeed, if persisted in, it can easily demobilize necessary allies of labor, yield ground to the racist, xenophobic, and anti-labor right in Britisih politics, and shortchange the ideological understanding of a substantial section of the British working class that has been left behind by economic and technological change and neoliberal policies. A wider lens would serve labor and the UK well.