Rubén James Vargas

“Your ‘order’ is built on sand. Tomorrow the revolution will rise up again, clashing its weapons, and to your horror it will proclaim with trumpets blazing: I was, I am, I shall be!”

Rosa Luxemburg

This morning (Friday, 19 February) the Spanish State woke up with the hangover from last night’s events. The media and their political commentators have condemned the violence and labelled the youth who participated in the protests as “radicals”. In different cities across the Spanish state there have been rallies, protests and demonstrations against the imprisonment of rap artist Pablo Hasél, and demanding his freedom.

In most of these cities the demonstrations were carried out peacefully, without any violence. In others there was police repression and charges against peaceful protesters, as has been the case in Granada, Valencia and Tarragona. Finally, in some capitals the protesters have responded to these attacks with self-defence, building barricades to prevent the violent charges from the law enforcement authorities, as has been the case in Madrid and Barcelona.

The media has been quick to condemn young people who participated. They have even tried to racialise them, almost scrutinising under a microscope the pigmentation of the hand of a young person who was throwing a dust bin. They branded these protests as an “irrational violence”, trying to justify the authorities’ actions, although this view is far from the reality. Although these protests and civil unrest were triggered by Pablo Hasél’s conviction and imprisonment, these were only the latest in a series of events that have increased discontent amongst the population.

Pablo Hasél has been convicted of two “crimes” in his songs and comments on Twitter.

The first one is for an insult against the crown, based on an undemocratic law that dates back to the transition period following Franco’s death and the subsequent restoration of the Bourbon monarchy. It turns out that this part of the accusation wasn’t sustained: presumably due to the unseemly flight of the King Emeritus Juan Carlos to Abu Dhabi last summer, after his plundering the population with questionable financing and corruption became public knowledge.

The second crime, exaltation of terrorism, for which he is also condemned, which is an outright aberration since The Basque separatist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) – Basque Homeland and Freedom ceased its activity and dissolved itself ten years ago.

General threat

We must not hide the fact that Pablo Hasél’s political ideas are frankly Stalinist and very far from those we defend in Marx21.

Hasél commented in an interview that “Stalin and the USSR were good and necessary”, and that under Stalin “no one was brutally exploited”. He referred to Trotsky, leader of the Russian revolution of October 1917, as “a traitor, a vile envious rat… a CIA collaborator” (Trotsky was assassinated by Stalin in 1940; the CIA was created in 1947). These lies deserve strong political criticism, but he is not being persecuted for these, but for declaring some truths about the monarchy. His imprisonment represents a general threat, whatever opinion one might have about Hasél himself.

The fact is that convictions of this type have been increasing: Pablo Hasél is only the latest of a series of artists and other personalities who have been convicted, not for their actions but for what they say. Rapper Valtònyc —currently in exile in Belgium— is also facing similar charges. We should also remember the young people of Altsasu were also convicted of “glorifying terrorism” for a bar fight with off-duty agents. The puppeteers in Madrid who were condemned by the same law for a satirical banner that read “Gora Alka-ETA” which was a play on words that could be translated as Long live Al-QuaeETA. We must not forget the controversy that the presenter of El Intermedio Dani Mateo, among other personalities, suffered for making jokes about the attack against the Francoist leader, Carrero Blanco. Or how can we forget the application of the law “against the offense of religious feelings”, trying to protect the Francoist monument of Valle de los Caidos – Valley of the Fallen or the attack against the satirical and re-vindictive procession of El Coño Insumiso “The Unyielding Pussy” by the Catholic Church? Not to mention the sentences against leaders of the Catalan independence movement and the application of article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which suspended Catalunya’s democratically elected government, putting the country under direct rule from Madrid, as well as nullifying the referendum.

We also have to bear in mind that we have had to endure the application the Gag Law for five years, which the “most progressive government in the history of this country” —as the coalition of the Socialist Party and Podemos likes to call itself— has not repealed. This law, rather than guaranteeing social coexistence —which is what the ruling class tells us from their media outlets— restricts people’s freedom of expression.


Barely a week ago in the Andalusian city of Linares, two off-duty National Police Agents beat up a father and his teenage daughter, before the horrified gaze and mobile phone cameras of passers-by. When the aggressors’ fellow police officers arrived, instead of arresting them, they surrounded them and allowed them to mock the neighbours who had witnessed and were complaining at the atrocity.

The public anger at the events turned into riots which forced the transfer of the aggressors to the provincial capital of Jaén. Only then were these agents dismissed from the Police. We must add to this discontent all the other police aggressions that have been carried out with increasing intensity against the population —especially but not only migrants— including since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

All this police brutality and other events have been creating tension… while the far right can parade openly, protected by the police, carrying out whatever acts they want. There were no police attacks on the fascist, racist and antisemitic parade that paid homage to the División Azul —Spanish soldiers that fought alongside the Nazis in the Second World War— on 13 February. It is clear that the police have a double standard, depending on who is demonstrating.

What should working people learn from all of this? That the reformist coalition currently in office is incapable of solving the problems that afflict us. It seems that only when workers take to the streets and put pressure on the government that they agree to make decisions in favour of our class. What we see now is that these protests calling for Pablo Hasél’s freedom led to Podemos presenting the petition for a pardon.

The media’s political commentators throw up their hands in horror at the damaged street furniture and will have us believe that these acts are isolated and that the violence is irrational or excessive. However, the riots are nothing more than the discomfort and cry of working class people, especially young people, who find themselves in a more and more precarious social and economic situation. The working class sees how laws serve to discriminate and persecute, rather than to guarantee our rights. The riots reflect this situation: although by themselves they have a limited impact, they show the strength of the working class even if in a disorganised form.

Therefore, it is necessary for the working class to organise itself to be able to deal with the root of the of the problem which is the prevailing economic system: in this case capitalism and its neoliberal expression. It is important to participate in organising and building social mass movements in neighbourhoods and the workplace to face up to the suffering that capitalism imposes on society. It is important to build a revolutionary political organisation to fight for socialism from below.

Rubén James Vargas writes here as a member of Marx21, the group in the Spanish state of the International Socialism Tendency. He is also an activist in Extinction Rebellion Asturias.

Photos by Jordi Borras.