Labour History Review

Chasing the Rat: The Language of Betrayal in Britain and Australia

Labour History Review (2003), 68, (2), 163–179.

Abstract

This article provides a brief survey of the language of betrayal in radical groups and organizations. It compares and contrasts the ways in which radical groups have used the discourse surrounding acts of betrayal — both alleged and proven. The paper contributes to historiographical debate by seeking continuities and discontinuities in the language used by a variety of radical organizations including the Chartists, the Social Democratic Federation and the Independent Labour Party. It extends this debate by comparing these continuities and discontinuities with those in the Australian labour movement: notably at the Eureka rebellion, and in the Victorian labour movement and the Australian Labor Party. The pre-history of the term rat is also traced. The article concludes that there was both continuity and discontinuity in the language of betrayal employed in radical organizations. The language of betrayal reflected the language of the people, shifting as popular culture shifted, but drew, at the same time, on inherent themes of prostitution and faction. A significant theme in the broader issue of trust and distrust in radical organizations emerges: the role of the rat in facilitating change in the aims and agenda of a radical organization, and in uniting those members who remained.

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Author details

Dickenson, Jacqueline