The most interesting study for an intelligent worker to take up and make his own is, in our opinion, the study of the natural history of the ruling class. It is not only interesting in itself, but leads to and makes necessary excursions into all sorts of allied fields of study, so that once you have begun to take it up seriously you are led on almost unconsciously to a broadening of your field of vision, and a deepening of your insight into the heart of things. Also, as you grasp more firmly the lines on which the ruling class proceed, and the policy which enables them to retain their place in the saddle, you receive a higher opinion of the worth to the world of the mere toilers and humble ones whose place is among the ruled, whose backs itch with the gall sores of the saddle these gentry bestride.
Some such thoughts as these must surely be arising in the minds of many Irish workers in Dublin and throughout Ireland to-day. They must see around them continually accumulating evidences of the unscrupulous methods by which the ruling class strive to ensure a continuance of their ruling. They must see how in times of security the ruling class bully, brow-beat and tyrannise over the people, and how in times of insecurity these same rulers come around whining and crawling, and protesting their common interest with those whom but yesterday they denounced as dogs and rabble.
Do we need to particularise, to bring evidence of the truth of our assertion? Is not the truth striking us in the face at every fresh development of our public life?
When there is a strike on in any industry, when some body of workers, unable to bear any longer the miseries of their lot, strive to secure a little betterment by withdrawing their labour, what is the attitude of the master class to any poor wretches who betray their brothers or sisters by scabbing. They may be the most degraded wretches, the off-scouring of the jails and workhouses; they may be, and generally are, the most inefficient as workers; they may be sunk in crime and bestiality; they may be in their vile bodies carriers of disease and pestilence; but the master class will hug them to its bosom, will pay them better wages than ever was paid for self-respecting labour, and its press will laud them as heroes, benefactors, and souls of honour, the word of any one of whom is worth more in a Court of Law than the oath of ten thousand strikers of unblemished character.
Or is it perhaps a war that rivets the attention of the world - a war that endangers the interests of the particular nation whose life blood that section of the capitalist class is sucking. Marvellous again is the change! In times of peace that ruling class may have ruled with a rod of iron, may have sent its uniformed police into the homes of the poor to baton and murder and destroy, to beat their women and club their children and destroy their poor furniture; may have ordered the same callous brutes to charge and cripple and murder hundreds of unarmed passers-by until the streets of the city looked like a battlefield, and the blood of murdered men and women ran along its pavements. Or it may have orde[red its soldiers armed] with ball cartridges to [fire upon an un]armed crowd of men and [women and] children, and as the corpses of [the victims] were carried to their last resting pl[ace] may have set up its chief spokesman the place of government to say with a sardonic grin upon his sneering face that it would be found that no reflection could be cast upon the soldiery. But once the bugles sang for war that grin of defiance would disappear, that soldiery would be hastily smuggled out of sight; those policemen would be instructed to be as tolerant as they had been brutal; those pressmen would be instructed to praise the people whom they had vilified, to coax and caress and seduce the workers whom they had slandered; the haughty and noble and honourable lords and ladies and gentlemen to whom the poor had been as cattle, as scarcely human, as contemptible hewers of wood and drawers of water for their betters - those ultra-refined rulers and lords of the earth would come down to beg and cringe, and praise and flatter and fawn upon the poor that these latter might furnish soldiers as cannon-fodder, to fight in the armies that the same set of employers may continue to rob them, the same set of policemen to club, murder and imprison them on perjured evidence, that the same set of pressmen may continue to vilify them as they vilify the nation with whom they are at war, and that finally the same set of rulers may continue to rule and ride them in the same saddle and flog them with the same whips as before, if not with worse.
Or perhaps it is a municipal election that calls for the attention of the rulers. Again weird and wonderful is the change. It may be that the workers have stewed for a twelvemonth in the filthiest tenement houses in Europe; that the cleanliest woman finds it impossible to keep clean the miserable buildings in which her rooms are situated; that dark and dismal streets and hallways drive men and women to drink and boys and girls to destruction of soul and happiness; that disease rages around the families and rising from fetid yards and badly kept drains strikes down young and old in a never-ceasing slaughter; that the slums of the city are the byword and horror of civilization, and the city representatives the emblem for municipal incapacity and scorn of the electors. But let the working class electors so scorned resolve to take the matter in their own hands, and to elect one of their own number to save the honour of the city, the lives of the poor, and the dignity of their class; in the moment that decision is known all the harpies who feed upon municipal incompetence and social misery will flock to the ward like vultures to a feast. Every poor woman will be visited, and smiled upon, and petted and coaxed by suave and oily gentlemen from whose path her children would ordinarily be kicked like diseased reptiles; every poor man will be sure of a handshake from well-fed, well-clad business men who at other times encourage the police to club him to death as a ³ruffianly striker², each court and alley and slum will be haunted for days by the municipal representatives who have forgotten its very existence since the day they were elected, and cabs and cars and motors will be at the service of the poorest of the poor to bring them to the polling booth to vote for the men who during the rest of the year would, if they were hurt in their employment, make them pay for the car that took them to the hospital.
O, yes! The ruling class are worthy of study. The natural history of the ruling class is of fascinating interest. You begin with interest, you proceed with awe and admiration, you deepen into hatred, and you wind up with contempt for the nature of the beast. You realise that - The Capitalist Class is the Meanest Class that ever grasped the Reins of Power.
Republished in James Connolly: Lost Writings, (ed. Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh), Pluto Press 1997.