In the days leading up to Thursday, Jeremy Corbyn was perhaps already attuned to the inevitable outcome of the referendum, stating to Sky News that he is “not going to take blame for people’s decision […] whatever the result, we have got to work with it.” If the Labour leader adheres, as he repeatedly expressed, to a socialist and working-class platform, he must also understand that it is fatal for a left-wing party to be alienated from its popular support.
While we must not fail to realize and minutely account for the fact that Britain’s exit from the union will cause a strong blow to the infrastructure and future of the country, instead of viewing it as a paralyzing disaster for the Left, it is possible and even necessary to treat it as a partial, albeit Pyrrhic, victory that may open up a significant political opportunity. At most times, political affairs, such as this one, proceed in ‘an uneven development’, as Althusser puts it. This nonlinearity at times makes it necessary for the left to be temporarily aligned with various forces, and at every moment of eruption like this referendum, the political conjuncture opens up new paths for change previously undiscerned.
The shock of the economists and liberals across the world at the vote gives the left an abruptly new configuration in which, as Corbyn has expressed – “we have got to work with it.” The key here is not only to mobilize the disenfranchised working class of Britain, but to mobilize them differently. Of course, this is easier said than done. To rally behind the immigrant and refugee populations while handling a widely antagonistic white working class base entails significantly new tactics and ways of thinking on the part of the Labour Party.
Labour’s alliance with Remain must not become dogma, and it must now work to strategically draw a line of demarcation from the Right. Through that, the more radical tendencies of the Labour Party and the rest of the British Left may be mobilized and rallied to assert a strategy and program for the working class, not only to prepare them for the unpredictable socio-economic effects that are to come, but also to take the initiative to re-connect to their working class base with an alternate plan of a progressive future outside the EU and the anti-immigrant right.
And we must also recognize that the same opportunity to mobilize them exists for the British right, easily riding the momentum of Brexit to assert their force. But that is not to say the possibility for the left to seize the moment is dismally slim: in fact, it may very well be stronger than before. Brexit offers a different playing field for radical politics, allowing the Left to step out of its war of attrition with the EU. It allows us to climb out of the trenches to fight a different, more effective, kind of battle.