14 April 2014.
A Spanish high court sentenced the 25-year-old rapper "Pablo Hasel" (Pablo Rivadulla Duro) to two years in prison for "glorifying terrorism" on 1 April. Several years ago, this "anti-system rapper," as he calls himself, declared, "If they put me in prison, that will prove I'm right" – right that almost 40 years after the end of the fascist regime of Francisco Franco, despite economic, social and political changes, the Spanish state is still the enemy of the majority of Spanish people and the people of the world and "the critical spirit".
Hasel was arrested in November 2011, during a time of upsurge in the country's streets, when the police raided his home in the night and confiscated his digital devices, papers and books as evidence. At his trial before the high court for political cases, the judge ruled that the only question was whether or not Hasel was the author of the dozens of videos uploaded on YouTube and elsewhere on the Net. Since Hasel unhesitatingly stated that he was, the conviction was all but automatic. Hasel argued that he had the right to freedom of speech, but the judge ruled that while that freedom exists in Spain for some speech, Hasel's rap constitutes "hate speech," prohibited by law, and further, that "terrorism is the worst violation of human rights", so no one has the right to defend it. (El Pais, 1 April 2014)
This is the standard legal double-talk that is the hallmark of the Spanish state: "terrorism" is an affront to "democracy", so those accused of it have no rights, those who defend those accused of it have no rights, those who argue for those people's rights are "apologists for terrorists" and so on in a widening spiral. But in sentencing an artist to prison for nothing but his words, this is a further step in demonstrating the truth of his words, that in capitalist countries "freedom of expression is nothing but freedom to lie or shut up, and like democracy, freedom of expression is one of history's greatest swindles."
What does it mean, Hasel says, to talk about freedom in a country where six million people have been robbed of their jobs, half a million people have been kicked out of their homes, "and if you protest you get beaten or killed?" One of his videos shows him in a June 2011 march of "Los Indignados" (the Outraged) in Valencia. The police attacked it viciously, as they did protests in other cities in Spain in those months. They sought not just to stop it but to break the heads, faces and arms of as many young women and men as possible, as the footage clearly and indisputably shows. Another rap video, "El reino de los torturadores" (The kingdom of torturers), features the battered and crushed faces and bodies of young women and men arrested at mass demonstrations defending Basque nationalist "terrorists" and then beaten and tortured while in custody – in the name of defending "democracy".
How can Hasel be convicted of "hate speech" and being a threat to "democracy" when Franco-era torturers are considered respectable citizens, protected from arrest by law, even when clearly identified by their victims; Franco regime political figures are still prominent in public life; the main monument to fascism is untouched and untouchable; and it is perfectly legal and respectable to publicly praise Franco and seek to continue his work?
Franco came to power through a military uprising against an elected government in 1936 and an exterminating civil war, with the backing of Nazi Germany and Mussolini's Italy, and the complicity of all the Western powers. His regime, which today could be called a Catholic jihad in its religious zeal and enforced cultural purity, targeted secular forces and workers and labourers, imprisoned all known opponents and executed many thousands. As was recently revealed, it stole thousands of babies from their mothers to ensure that they would have a proper conservative Catholic upbringing. Despite Franco's alliance with the defeated Axis powers in World War 2, his regime survived by becoming a key American ally afterwards. Why today is it allowed to praise Franco but not groups that fought his regime? How can the upholders of the Spanish state accuse anyone else of "hate speech"? In fact, how can they label the political violence of their opponents as terrorism when they murdered people and broke lives on a vast scale for their political ends?
Perhaps Hasel's greatest "crime" – and his greatest merit – is that since his 2005 breakthrough album "Eso No Es Paraiso" (This isn't heaven) he raps about Spain as still a capitalist dictatorship. He says that brutal repression on the one hand, and elections and illusions about "freedom of expression", the post-Franco regime's supposedly greatest achievements on the other, are two sides of the same coin, and combine with a media-cultivated "dictatorship of stupidity" that encourages a "Stockholm syndrome" where the masses of people identify with the capitalist system that exploits and oppresses them. He is very clear that not only is the currently-governing Popular Party the political successor party to the fascist regime, but that the Socialist Party "is worse or at least as bad", and that the parliamentary "left" is just a tail on the Socialists.
The Socialists (Hasel spells the party's initials P$OE) made it possible for the Spanish ruling class to switch over from a fascist to a bourgeois democratic (electoral) form of rule almost painlessly, by protecting the continuity of persons and institutions and the bulk of the state apparatus, and agreeing to what some people call "the law of silence" protecting fascist personalities from legal consequences for their terrorist rule. The mass graves were kept secret and the killers given new jobs or allowed to keep up their work.
The Spanish Socialists led its own terrorist campaign against Basque nationalists when they came to govern. In the "dirty war", Spanish death squads in France assassinated exiled Basque nationalists, ordinary Basques and French and other revolutionaries and bombed taverns and other public places. Neither ruling party has a right to call anyone else terrorists.
As a Socialist party MP shamelessly explained in commenting on a new case where the courts refused to hear the complaints of a former student activist against the official who tortured him in 1975, "I just don't think it would be good for the country. We don't know where it starts and where it finishes. If we take someone who was a torturer in 1970, why aren't we going to go after some ministers in Franco's government who are still alive? Why not the courts? Where do we set the limits?" (The New York Times, 8 April 2014). Yes – what if we went after the same courts once led by Franco that have now sentenced a young rapper to prison? Might that not imperil the repressive efficiency and legitimacy of the state itself?
No wonder the Spanish ruling class, despite its current democratic finery, zealously maintains the monarchy that smoothed the transition from open fascism to parliamentary democracy and still serves as the guarantor of the continuity of the Spanish state. Hasel's hatred of the monarchy (one of his videos is called "Muerte a los borbones – Death to the Bourbons", the royal family) takes its political meaning from this context, and is made all the more forbidden by the fact that he is not just attacking a cultural relic.
When Hasel raps about "democracy you mother-fucker" and talks about Spain's and other "capitalist terrorists taking over the world", rampaging through the Middle East and bringing misery everywhere, he connects with the truth. But when he raps about the alternative, which he sees as a society like Cuba or Venezuela, there is a disconnect with truth. As fierce as his critique of capitalism may be, it's not thorough enough.
Despite their opposition to the U.S., these countries have not broken with the framework of the world imperialist system. The profit motive still rules the organization of the economy and society despite the existence of state enterprises and social welfare programmes. Their fate hangs on the imperialist world economy – and even simply the price of oil or sugar on the world market. They have not liberated their people from imperialist domination in the most profound sense of enabling them to take the road of overcoming all capitalist economic relations and institutions, all the enslaving social relations and the ideas, customs and habits born of exploitation.
Hasel does not even try to paint Cuba as a liberating society, but simply points out that Cuba puts Spain to shame when it comes to homelessness, illiteracy and other social ills. This is true, but has more in common with the revisionist (pseudo-Marxist) idea of socialism as a welfare state than a conception of a liberating revolution in social relations on the road to communism, where human beings are no longer enslaved by the division of society into classes.
This is linked to Hasel's tendency to praise all armed struggles against what he calls imperialism, as though opposing the U.S. and one's own ruling class were sufficient, without caring enough about the social and political content of those struggles, their ultimate goals. And when, as Hasel does, someone calls themselves a communist, and wears a USSR t-shirt, they need to be clear on the difference between the kind of non-liberating and dismal society that the Soviet Union became with the overthrow of socialism after Stalin's death (even while socialist forms were retained for several decades, as in Cuba), and the revolutionary transformations of the previous period, which were taken much further in Mao's China. These are not just old questions; they have everything to do with whether a total social revolution is possible, how, and what that would mean today. When Hasel calls for young people to wage "war for the future", what is that future?
As strong as Hasel's exposure of capitalist rule in Spain, it would be much stronger – and his stand even more powerfully attractive – if based on a more complete understanding of the basic problem and solution.
The timing of Hasel's initial arrest, on the heels of system-defying protest by massive numbers of Spanish youth and others in those months of 2011, signals something about the fears of the Spanish ruling class. It is also important that hundreds of youth rallied in his defence in his home town of Lerida immediately after. More than a few youth are "looking beyond their own bellybuttons and their personal horizons," as he says, and looking for radical answers.
(See the PabloHaselOfficial channel on YouTube, including the interview "Entrevista con rapero revolucionario", and the transcribed version on kaosenlared.net, in Spanish only.)