Mr. Casero’s disputed vote and other scenes of decadence

4 February, 2022

Electronic voting interface of the Spanish deputies and senators.
Electronic voting interface of the Spanish deputies and senators.

The topic of the day in Spain is the approval yesterday of the Labor Reform in Congress thanks to the blunder of a PP member of parliament who was not allowed by the Presidency to change his electronic vote once it had been cast. The representative insists that it was a “computer error” but in the same day he had made a mistake in at least three votes. What at first glance seems just an anecdote of parliamentary formalism actually reveals the historical moment of the society in which we live.

Table of Contents

The ruling classes of decadent systems devalue work and the appreciation of their tools.

The cultural results of the Castilian counter-revolution

Execution of Padilla, Bravo and Maldonado after the defeat of Villalar.
Execution of Padilla, Bravo and Maldonado after the defeat of Villalar.

After the Revolt of the Comuneros (1520-1522), the first great European bourgeois revolution, Emperor Charles V and the Church initiated a true counter-revolution aimed at reaffirming the class balance.

The feudal classes saw the danger nearby, knew that the exploitation of the overseas colonies would inevitably reinforce the same type of elements who had created “communities” – a word that would become synonymous with disorder – and tried to “put in their place” the “villainy” (the original name of the bourgeoisie, the class that prospered in the Castilian towns (villas)), putting an end to the “infiltration” of its elements within the state.

This infiltration had been very apparent for decades to the nobility, since during the dynastic wars for the throne of Castile, Isabella had greatly increased the number of knights and lavished privileges of hidalguía (lower nobility) to win supporters among the then ascendant class. As this recognition exempted the families that received it from taxes, it diminished both the villas and the aristocrats, who saw not only their social base undermined, but also their direct income as administrators and beneficiaries of taxes.

The questioning around the origin of the new lower nobility will shape all the clichés about the so-called “Spanish golden century”: from the obsession with “purity of blood” and the persecution of the “marranos” to the figure of the nobleman bankrupted by the first crisis of capitalist globalization, the one caused by the inflation of American silver, who falsely asserts chivalrous traditionalism, rejecting any profitable work and embracing misery while “keeping up appearances”.

Beyond exaggerations, what Don Quixote and much of the literature of the time tell us is a phenomenon characteristic of all the ruling classes of a decadent mode of production: the exacerbation of their detachment from work.

Although, contrary to what the literary myth asserts, part of the hidalgos found a place in the wool or overseas trade and in the bureaucratic service to the Crown, the immediately inferior stratum of the nobility, the knights, the most numerous, exalted the unproductive character of their social condition.

What most turned our people away from the legitimate activity that matters so much to the republic [commonwealth] was the great honor and authority that is awarded by fleeing from work.

Martín González de Cellorigo, “Memorial de la política necesaria y útil restauración de España”, Valladolid, 1600.

This will be of paramount importance for the subsequent “backwardness” of the bourgeois Revolution in the peninsula, since the “caballería villana”, especially in regions such as Extremadura and Western Andalusia, had been becoming gentrified for a century and laying the foundations for what would eventually only be seen in England: the reform of property and agrarian exploitation that capitalism could not be born without.

The new culture of the feudal counter-revolution, paradoxically, will permeate even the villains (the bourgeoisie) in their own sphere. It is very significant, for example, the division that the bourgeois themselves, who had already taken over the guild workshop, established between vile and mechanical trades.

There were also vile trades, not to be confused with mechanical trades. The latter were all those that required physical effort, manual labor, which entailed a certain disqualification; therefore, those craftsmen who had an interest in proclaiming the ingenuity of their art, strove to make it clear that they performed only the masterly work, leaving the material aspects of their task to their assistants.

Pharmacists had young men who ground, heated and mixed the ingredients, painters made use of their servant to prepare the canvases and colors (the case of Juan Pareja with respect to Velázquez), and so on. But although mechanical activities were considered incompatible with nobility, they did not disqualify the artisan, who had his place on the social scale and in the processions was grouped behind the banner of his guild. On the other hand, the vile profession debased those who practiced it.Antonio Domínguez Ortiz, La España del Quijote (Quixote’s Spain)

“The vile trade debased the one who practiced it”, that is to say, it unskilled him. To debase, as we see, is the first name for proletarianization. But in the midst of a feudal counter-revolution, in which the ruling class tries to put as much distance as possible from labor, deskilling carries not so much an economic as a moral meaning. The very adjective “vile” which until then had its original Latin meaning of “buyable” comes to mean “morally inferior” and by extension, evil..

The absolutist state encouraged manufacturing, but court culture further exacerbated the ruling class’s rejection of tools and implements

The aesthetic clash occurring in the meeting between Louis XIV and Philip IV on the island of the pheasants shows how the ruling classes of the absolutist state exacerbate even more than the heirs of the Castilian feudal reaction their distance from work and its tools.
The aesthetic clash occurring in the meeting between Louis XIV and Philip IV on the island of the pheasants shows how the ruling classes of the absolutist state exacerbate even more than the heirs of the Castilian feudal reaction their distance from work and its tools.

The rejection of labor and with it the distancing from its tools will persist in Spanish legislation for generations. It will only begin its decline after the Royal Decree of March 18, 1783 of Charles III. The Bourbon King, influenced by the new bourgeois “economist” sects that flourished in the French court and promised to save the royal treasury and to consolidate the submission of the aristocracy to the monarch, declared that it was honorable and honest to exercise artisan trades.

By which it is declared that not only the tanner’s trade, but also the other arts and crafts of the blacksmith, tailor, shoemaker, carpenter and others in this way, are honest and honorable; and that the use of them does not debase the family or the person of the one who exercises it; nor does it disqualify him from obtaining the municipal jobs of the republic [commonwealth] in which the artisans and artisans who exercise them are settled; and that neither should the arts and trades prejudice the enjoyment and prerogatives of the lower nobility, to those who legitimately hold it…

Excepted from this rule are artists [=technicians] or artisans [=qualified craftsmen] or their children who abandon their trade and that of their parents and do not dedicate themselves to another or to any other art or profession with application and profit, even if the abandonment is due to wealth and abundance;

in understanding that my Council, when it finds that in three generations of father, son and grandson a family has exercised and continues exercising the commerce or manufactures with notable advances and of utility to the State, will propose to me, as I have foreseen, the distinction that can be granted to the one that is known and justified to be the director or head of such family that promotes and conserves its application.

Royal Decree of March 18, 1783, by Charles III.

As in France, the revaluation of manufacturing work and of the craftsmen able to keep the techniques (arts) of the trade is a product of its usefulness for the income of the feudal state increasingly afflicted by gigantism, another typical phenomenon of the decadence of a mode of production.

But let us not deceive ourselves: only the most fractious part of the ruling class of the time enters into some kind of connection with the craft, and only through new forms of bourgeois socialization such as Freemasonry, which will never go beyond the symbolic ritual in its revaluation of the tools of the trade. Masonic aristocrats could use a plumb bob or a trowel in their ceremonies, but they still did not know how nor care about how to put them to material use.

In fact, the aristocracy of the court of Versailles, from Louis XIV, grandfather of Charles III, exaggerated even more than the aristocracy of Madrid its distance from work and its tools. It was the time of the French-style suit, wigs and high heels, menage, courtly “wit” and manicures, which, as seen in the famous painting of the meeting between Philip IV and Louis XIV on the island of the pheasants, made the attire of the peninsular nobles modest and functional by comparison.

The bourgeoisie’s time

Photo of the "first email" sent by a US President. Clinton required assistance to do it and he himself sowed doubts as to whether he had really written it or had just pressed the send button... with help.
Photo of the “first email” sent by a US President. Clinton required assistance to do it and he himself sowed doubts as to whether he had really written it or had just pressed the send button… with help.

In the midst of the decadence of capitalism the bourgeoisie has developed a similar tendency that has been exaggerated over the last 40 years. Since the days of Clinton’s first emails, political and corporate leaders have displayed their clumsiness in the use of computer tools as these spread as work tools through workshops, call shops and offices.

In Europe, the CEO whose secretary prints out e-mails, the intellectual who sees distinction and authenticity in his own incompetence with digital work tools, or the captain of industry who denies knowing how to program a numerical control are not strange figures, nor do they receive any social censure.

And it could not be otherwise. Like any ruling class of a decadent mode of production, the bourgeoisie distances itself from social work, disavows its centrality and stages its own separation from the spaces of collective work. They no longer see themselves as that class which directly organized social production, which was physically present in the factory or the countryside and whose leaders had personally directed the creation of new products and the implementation of new methods of work and factory organization.

In the era of state capitalism they are, as was previously the aristocracy of absolutism, a courtly class, attentive to the management of power and removed from both production and the wars multiplied by systemic decadence. For example, the number of industrial CEOs who do not “visit” their factories even once a year or of technological leaders who have never set foot on the programmer farms that support their products is staggering.

On the sidelines and inattentive to the work they exploit, they define themselves as “decision-makers” whose permanent success “creates wealth” by a social magic that requires as little explanation as the absolutist king needed to explain the correspondence between his physical body and the body politic of the kingdom. They imagine themselves at the head of a great control panel whose technical intimacies are as degrading to them as the art of dyeing wool could be to a baroque nobleman.

And when the time comes, they are useless even for pressing a virtual button.

Read also the «historical materialism» entry in our dictionary.

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