The Guardian • Issue #1994

“For the sake of civility”: Grace Tame and the optics of politics

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #1994

Politics – broadly speaking – define all relations and aspects of society, culturally and economically. There are many “styles” of politics, each propagated and used by different groups or classes to advance various agendas. It should be no surprise then that the politics performed by the ruling class are contrary to those of the working class.

What does this mean?

To understand this point, we need look no further than the media coverage of 2021’s Australian of the Year Grace Tame’s photo-op with Prime Minister Scott Morrison. At the event, Tame was photographed looking unamused or, as political journalist and commentator Peter van Onselen qualified it, “ungracious, rude, and childish.” Onselen wasn’t the only person to criticise Tame’s behaviour. In a surprising and unfortunate twist, fellow former Australian of the Year Rose Batty stated that she has felt “uncomfortable” at times watching Tame’s blunt style, saying of the now infamous photo-op that she “felt a bit sorry for [Morrison] actually […]. No one knows what to say to you in a situation like that, they’re trying to be nice.” Speaking on her own style, Batty stated that she “was very careful about not being overly critical of the government.”

Speaking on the media outcry last Wednesday, Tame took to Twitter and wrote:

The survival of abuse culture is dependent on submissive smiles and self-defeating surrenders. It is dependent on hypocrisy. My past is only relevant to the extent that I have seen – in fact I have worn – the consequences of civility for the sake of civility.”

These strong, articulate words by Tame highlight precisely the farce and aim of “acting civil.” Why should Tame and other survivors play nice with a man who just last year, when given the opportunity to help lead a national conversation on sexual harassment and assault when a member of his cabinet was accused of rape, completely and utterly avoided that responsibility? Tame’s rage is justified because Morrison’s inaction demonstrates that his support for her struggle was nothing but opportunism used to bolster this public image.

The reaction from the ruling class over this photo-op display in the most transparent way the “politics of civility.” The politics of civility do not just apply here to the ruling class’ treatment of Tame but also to how it fends against working class rage at its exploitation. Much of this style centres on the need to be bipartisan and on “unity.” It pretends that we all need to come together in a “practical fashion” for the “betterment of all.” Rage and “sectarian demands” only create friction that stands in the way of progress. Why do they do this? According to Lenin:

The liberals, being the ideologists of the bourgeoisie, perfectly well understand the advantages to the bourgeoisie of ‘practicalness, sober-mindedness and seriousness’ on the part of the working class, i.e., of actually restricting its field of activity within the boundaries of capitalism, reforms, the trade union struggle, etc. Dangerous and terrible to the bourgeoisie is the ‘revolutionary narrow-mindedness’ of the proletariat and its endeavour in order to promote its own class aims to win the leadership in a popular Russian revolution.” (LCW, Vol. 9, 1977)

Here, Lenin clearly highlights that the bourgeoisie will always attempt to engage with the working class in a manner that is “sober-minded” that sounds “reasonable” to stop it from realising its real task: revolution.

Our ruling political parties have long practised the art of “civil discourse” in parliament, promoting this style of politics as “admirable” and “proper.” However, tempered disagreements have done nothing to relieve the working class of their suffering. We must allow ourselves to be angry and heard to win our demands. If we don’t, we risk allowing the ruling class to determine the terms of engagement and ultimately what we receive.

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