Understanding Kenny's Davos blunder


Irish opposition politicians have called foul over Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s statement at Davos that the blame for the crisis in Ireland is that “people went mad borrowing” a month after he told the Irish people that “you are not to blame” in a national broadcast. But their are far more interesting issues that explain why the same man can make both statements without being aware of a contradiction than simple two-facedness.

Anarchists are often accused of people about banging on about class too much. Yet Kenny’s two statements are not necessarily contradictory if we understand that he had very different people in mind as “people” in the two cases.

In the December broadcast to the nation, the Taoiseach would have very much had in mind that he was addressing an audience that would have been a substantial portion of the population of the country, and a representative cross-section. That is to say, that he would have known that the vast majority of people watching him were ordinary Irish workers. With that image of the “people” he was addressing in his head, his statement that “you are not to blame for the crisis” is no more than the truth.

However, in an entirely different context, in Davos, his idea of who “people” are would be very different. Surrounded by an international crowd of the rich and powerful, a league of “players” that Kenny, like all politicians a sufferer of truly monstrous egotism, would be thinking of the kind of people he talks to. That is the rich and powerful back home, like Denis O’Brien who defended his comments today, and the rest of the rotten crowd of top Irish businessmen and developers and their political and media hangers on. Did those people go mad with greed and over-borrowing? In fact they very much did. Kenny, representing his peers (or at least the people he considers his peers in his over-inflated politician’s ego) to an international audience of top capitalists, was simply saying, again, nothing more than the truth as he sees it.

And here is the fatal ambiguity of “The People” once again. In the words of politicians and other tin-pot demagogues it can mean “people like us” in the populist sense, that tries to recruit workers to their cause, or, in a different context, it can mean “powerful people like me”, that is, the Irish capitalist class. The reality of our situation is that these two “people” do not have the same interests at all - and any attempt to imply as much, in the name of “the national interest” is to practice deceit. Like so many mainstream politicians this is a deceit that Enda Kenny has practiced for so long, that he’s capable of deceiving himself and making the contradiction clear in two equally, to him, guilelessly honest statements. This is the true meaning of this little storm in a teacup. One that the likes of Fianna Fail will never pick up on, because of course they suffer from the same disease (if not the guileless honesty part, obviously).

But there is a deeper and darker aspect to Kenny’s Davos blunder. In the right-wing populist German political discourse, there is a strong element of blaming the victim in their story of the current crisis of the Eurozone periphery. Kenny’s statement plays directly into this racist discourse. What gives here? Is Kenny really a “self-hating Irishman”, so eager to please the new Imperial masters that in a peculiar inversion of the black and white minstrel show, rather than being a racist masquerading and parodying the target of that racism, he is a target apeing the racists?

Not quite. One of the fundamental conceits of racists is the notion of collective guilt. If you, while cycling, are run off the road by a road-hog taxi driver who happens to be black, you will probably be angry at what a wanker that taxi driver was. But to a racist, that would be another episode “proving” in their mind, that all “Nigerians” were terrible drivers and shouldn't be allowed on the road. In racist logic the reprehensible actions of an individual are the collective responsibility of a whole category of humanity, no matter how contradictorily or mistakenly-defined.

In Davos, Kenny’s class-based ambiguity about who “the Irish people” are, meets German and other Northern European racist ideas about the Irish as an undifferentiated, de-individualised mass, with collective guilt for the crimes of that section of the Irish capitalist class that really are culpable for the absurd property bubble. Yet even that disguises the equal culpability of the German and other investors who stupidly poured money into that casino, and whose losses they are now trying to foist on Irish workers. Once again we see the entanglement of discourses of class and race in the politics of capitalist domination and subjugation. But of course, don’t expect to be reading about that in Denis O’Brien and Tony O’Reilly’s newspapers.