Three Monkeys Online

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On Austerity and Europe – an interview with Paul Murphy M.E.P

What’s the thing that you’re most satisfied with from your work in the current Parliament?

The most satisfying thing is being able to offer real support to people who are fighting back against oppression and capitalism. It is not just a matter of making speeches, supporting resolutions or writing press releases but finding concrete ways of supporting struggles.

Exit from the Euro on the basis of capitalism is no answer at all. It would simply be another means for the crisis to be placed onto working class people. On the other hand, we think it is not honest to suggest that you can break the rules of the euro-zone and EU and stay within the euro – you will be kicked out.

So for example, when I first became an MEP in 2011, I took part in the Freedom Flotilla attempting to break the blockade of Gaza and deliver humanitarian aid. The Israeli forces aggressively hijacked our boat and I spent a week in an Israeli jail but it was successful in highlighting the blockade and plight of the Palestinian people.

Likewise, I visited Kazakhstan, a country in which the government two years ago massacred oil workers and was able to offer solidarity and practical help to these trade unionists. In the same way we have been able to offer solidarity and help to those fighting back in Turkey, Tunisia and South Africa, as well as supporting struggles in Ireland and Europe. This what I mean by using my position in the European parliament as platform for those fighting back.

You’ve written elsewhere that an ‘ideological shroud’ surrounds the euro. Can you explain what this is, and if you had the choice would you prefer to see Ireland in or out of the euro zone? What would the likely consequences be of an exit from the euro?

What I mean is the euro is presented as nothing more than simply a convenient means of exchange that makes cross border transactions across Europe easier. However, the launch of the euro and the ECB were an integral part of enshrining neo-liberalism in the European Union and is used as a weapon in trying to undermine workers’ wages, conditions and organisation. The euro is not, and never has been, a neutral currency which could be used for the benefit of working class people.

However, I think posing the question as one of in or out in the first place is a mistake. The crisis is a crisis of the system, not of a currency.

Exit from the Euro on the basis of capitalism is no answer at all. It would simply be another means for the crisis to be placed onto working class people. On the other hand, we think it is not honest to suggest that you can break the rules of the euro-zone and EU and stay within the euro – you will be kicked out.

The key question is breaking with austerity and the rules of capitalism – we simply cannot afford to impose more austerity. A likely consequence is certainly the threat and quite possibly the implementation of being forced out of the euro. However, we should refuse to accept this blackmail threat.

With socialist policies – such as democratic control of the banks, imposition of capital controls, establishment of a national central bank under democratic control and a democratic plan to redevelop the economy sustainably – being out of the euro would not be a disaster and a national currency could be used as a tool to help redevelop the economy.

In 2008 many were predicting the imminent collapse of global capitalism. Five years later and, despite the continuing financial crisis, neo-liberalism, global capitalism and the various institutions that back them up seem robust and recovered. Has that recovery surprised you, and why do you think that left wing politics hasn’t managed to gain more support over the last five years?

Well,  neither myself or the Socialist Party has ever held to the view that this crisis was some final crisis of capitalism. The system will not just fall apart because of economic crisis; to end capitalism we need a mass movement armed with socialist idea. The nature of the global recovery is weak and again none of the fundamental problems  have been dealt with.

I also think the institutions of capitalism have suffered a significant collapse in political authority, the anti-banker sentiment in society, the lack of real support for establishment in parties across Europe and in the collapse in support for institutions like the European Union. More importantly, the idea of revolution is back on the agenda with the revolutionary movements in Tunisia and Egypt, movement like Occupy and the revolts we hav had in the last year in countries like Turkey and Brazil

In terms of  the left failing to gain from the situation, I think partly the weight of the legacy of the collapse of Stalinism and the ideological offensive we saw in the ’90s still have an important impact. The idea of there being an alternative way of organising society to capitalism has been under sustained attack. Also, if you look at the experience of the Left in the US after the 1929 collapse, it wasn’t until the early-to-mid 1930s that the Left began to grow very substantially and become an important force – there is an element of a shock effect for a period of time.

It is essential though now that the Left does seize the opportunity and popularise a socialist alternative, because otherwise you can have opportunities for the far-right, as seen with the Golden Dawn in Greece.

Imagine for a moment that you had the possibility to change three things about the way that the European Union is run? What would they be and why?

I think the European Union cannot just be genuinely reformed in a positive direction; it is fundamentally a bosses club. Not only an important factor in driving forward austerity and attacks on workers rights in Europe, it also plays an imperialist role of defending the interest of EU companies across the world. It does this by vicious trade deals with poorer countries and we are also seeing an attempt to strengthen the EU as a military power.

I think those fighting for an alternative to the rule of the 1% need to develop an alternative Europe. For me that means socialist change in European countries and the building of a socialist federation of Europe.

Three things that would characterise such a Europe would be a reversal of the Maastricht, 6-pack, 2-pack and Fiscal Treaty rules designed to impose a neo-liberal straitjacket on all of Europe, an absence of any programme of militarisation and a massive programme of public investment in renewable energy to create jobs and enable a quick transition to a fossil-fuel free economy.

Voting in European elections has been in steady decline across the Union. Why, and what can be done to combat it?

I think it reflect a general trend in elections that people are fed up of tweedle-dee, tweedle-dum politics, in which all parties or candidates are saying nothing fundamentally different or if they are saying something different, when in power they do nothing different than their predecessors. This is somewhat amplified in European elections as people see the parliament as less important to national parliaments.

In terms of what can be done, I think it requires the building of a different type of politics and parties, ones that reflect the interests and are composed of ordinary people, not parties that are funded and backed by the super-rich.

There is an argument that the European Union is intrinsically neo-liberal through its institutions and structures. As such the best a Euro Parliamentarian who opposes neo-liberalism can hope to achieve is to block and amend legislation. What can socialists hope to achieve by participating in the EU parliament?

What are the most important issues for you as a candidate in the 2014 elections?

On the first question, as I said before, I agree with that analysis that the EU is intrinsically neo-liberal. However what an MEP can do is not only the limited options of blocking and trying to amend legislation, which is extremely difficult in any case because of the big majority for the right-wing parties (including the so-called Social Democrats). Instead, they can also campaign and mobilise outside of the Parliament, using it as a platform.

In terms of the important issues, what we desperately need is also a real debate on the twin issues of austerity and the attacks on democratic rights and how they affect working class people. This means, for example, talking about how unemployment is the highest it has ever been since the start of monetary union in Europe and how the austerity policies implemented in the interests of the 1% are directly to blame for this.

The elections will be a big opportunity to focus on the reality of the economic disaster for working class people, in contrast to the spin of the establishment parties, and much of the media, and to put forward the necessity of radical socialist change across Europe.

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