A wave of mass protests has spread across Spain in response to yet another display of crass sexism by the Spanish state. In an unambiguous case of brutal gang rape, the so-called La Manada affair, a Spanish court has delivered a verdict of “sexual abuse”, not rape. One of the three members of the jury even called for the acquittal of the accused. As a result, the defendants have received shockingly lenient sentences.
This scandal will be enormously consequential. It comes after the feminist strike of 8 March, when millions of women and men took to the streets of Spain to express their indignation against the male chauvinism that women encounter in all walks of life. More generally, this affair takes place at a time when all the fundamental institutions of the Spanish bourgeois state, the so-called 1978 regime, are being questioned – the legal system above all.
La Manada affair
In July 2016, during the festivities of San Fermín in Pamplona-Iruñea, in Navarre, a group of five men in their mid-twenties assaulted a 18-year old woman in the early hours of the morning. They carried her to the hallway of a residential building and took turns brutally raping her in every depraved way imaginable. They then stole her mobile phone and left her half-naked in the hallway. They broke the SIM card and threw away the phone, leaving her without means of communication.
The men filmed the entire incident, and then shared it with their friends on a WhatsApp group called “La Manada” (the “Wolfpack”), created to boast about their ‘exploits’. The group of men linked through La Manada group had already done similar things in the past, humiliating and degrading women. Several of them had a criminal record for violent behaviour. In the WhatsApp group they had discussed using the date rape drug rohypnol to assault women. This is a textbook case of horrendous gang rape.
Significantly, one of the men belonged to the Civil Guard, a militarised police unit with a long history of repression and abuse, the latest episode being the violent crackdown on the Catalan 1 October referendum. Incredibly, this individual was part of a division dealing with violence against women. Another member of the group belonged to the Spanish military. During the two-year criminal proceedings, and until this very day, both continue to be on the public payroll and receive 75 percent of their wages.
The trial was coloured by the sexism and the hubris of the entire judiciary. Outrageously, the defendants employed a private detective to gather information on the victim, to try to present her as “promiscuous” and to argue that she had continued to have a “normal life” after the incident. The judges accepted this as valid evidence! It seemed it was the survivor who was being tried. The reactionary media joined the chorus of judgmental, male chauvinistic moralism. The idea was raised that “she was looking for it”, and that “she mustn’t have suffered much”, if she had not been left in a state of utter depression. The defendants were also afforded juridical protection, which helped conceal their identity from the media.
The final verdict, delivered public last Thursday, sentenced the accused to nine years in jail. Since they have already spent two years under provisional custody, they will only serve seven years. And because they are subjected to a mild prison regime, they will be potentially allowed to leave on parole after completing two thirds of their sentence. All in all, they may only spend four or five years in prison.
Crucially, the five men have been convicted of “continued sexual abuse”, and not for rape. The difference between rape and abuse is significant, because the latter implies non-consensual sex, but does not involve violence or intimidation. So, in the eyes of the judges, five grown men encircling an 18-year-old in a closed space is neither violent nor intimidating! This is an absolute scandal. The sentence itself accepts, on the basis of the video evidence recorded by the accused, that the victim was seen “shrunken and cornered against the wall by two of the accused,” expressing “cries that reflect pain.” However, the judges did not deem this violence or intimidation, as the woman did not seem to put up any resistance. For them, only active, physical resistance – on the part of an intoxicated teenager against five, powerful grown men – is suggestive of rape! Even by their own, warped standards, the judges apparently forget that resistance to rape often leads to murder.
The decision was rubber-stamped by the right-wing People’s Party Minister of Justice, Rafael Catalá, who thought the sentence was “harsh enough”. To make matters worse, one of the three members of the jury called for the acquittal of the rapists. In a long-winded, revolting resolution, judge Ricardo González explained that in his eyes the victim enjoyed the intercourse. He sees “sex in a mood of merriment and pleasure”. This disgusting bigot is a typical creature of the Spanish judicial system. He has been on the public payroll since 1986, he is the son of a judge, and his two brothers are also judges, a typical trait of a notoriously inbred and nepotistic system.
This sentence reveals the profound, sexist prejudices of the Spanish judicial system and of the Spanish state in general. Many have rightly asked: if such a controversial trial, which has been in the spotlight for two years, has led to such scandalously lenient sentences, what are we to expect of ordinary cases that go unnoticed by public opinion? Some past cases have surfaced that shed light on the leniency of the courts towards rape and sexist violence. For instance, Nagore Laffage, in comparable incident, was raped and murdered in Pamplona in 2008 after trying to fight back against an assailant. The perpetrator, who hails from a wealthy family belonging to the powerful Catholic sect Opus Dei, was sentenced to only 12 years in jail and was released on parole after eight.
Public outrage followed quickly after the sentencing. As news of the verdict was made public on Thursday, dozens of demonstrations were improvised in the evening in towns and cities across the country. Already at noon, an angry crowd had gathered outside the courthouse in Pamplona, where the trial had taken place. When the sentence was read out, protesters attempted to storm the building. The protests were massive and extremely militant. Protesters blocked roads and encircled court buildings. In Córdoba, Minister of Justice Rafael Catalá, who was visiting the local courts, was surrounded by the demonstrators and had to be escorted to safety by the police. In Barcelona and Madrid, tens-of-thousands gathered in the main squares, but rather than hold a symbolic gathering and go home they then marched to the Ministry of Justice in Madrid and the Catalan Supreme Court in Barcelona.
The movement did not end on Thursday, but has continued to mobilise hundreds-of-thousands every day in different cities in spontaneous rallies, demonstrations, and mass assemblies. Often, the most combative sector in these protests are girls in their teens; who are at the forefront of the movement, raise the most radical slogans, linking “patriarchal justice” with capitalism and the bourgeois state, and are the leading voice at the assemblies and demonstrations. They belong to a generation that will not put up with oppression and male chauvinism any longer, and that is sick of the hypocrisy of the system.
This round of protests comes less than two months after the milestone of the feminist strike of 8 March, when millions of women and men struck and demonstrated against the deep-rooted sexism that exists in society. The central slogans were directed against wage differentials, against the discrimination of women in the workplace and in public life, and against the unfair burdens of domestic and reproductive work. But the movement goes well beyond that. There is a thorough questioning of the morality and the values of class society, and a rebellion against the day-to-day, ‘ordinary’ episodes of male chauvinism, harassment, abuse, and condescension against women that usually go unnoticed and are accepted as ‘normal’.
La Manada has rekindled these discussions, and the hashtag #cuéntalo (tell your story) has revealed the pervasiveness of rape, intimidation, and abuse against women. Those who speak-out face countless obstacles and difficulties. There is enormous social pressure not to report these aggressions, to normalise them, and to put the blame on women. By highlighting the commonplace injustices faced by women, the mass movement on the streets and social media has also affected the consciousness of millions of men, resulting in a change of their attitude towards women.
Rather than admit their fault, the judiciary has come out in defence of “the rule of law”. Various legal associations (including some supposedly progressive ones) have complained of the “pressures” and “frenzied criticisms” directed against them. The parties of the 1978 regime, PP, Ciudadanos, and the PSOE, have expressed mild concern about the leniency of the verdict, but always from the standpoint of “respect for the judiciary”. They are all concerned that this scandal may place in question the ‘impartiality’ of the bourgeois state and reveal its real, reactionary character.
The double standards of the law
La Manada scandal has erupted at a moment of generalised ferment in Spanish society. The autumn of 2017 saw the extraordinary insurrection of the Catalan people in defence of self-determination and its democratic rights, both of which were trampled by the Spanish state. In March 2018, there was the feminist strike and a round of mass demonstrations by elderly citizens whose pensions are being cut and who are being pushed to poverty. There has also been a wave of more localised protests and numerous strikes. The 1978 regime has been rocked by a series of crises and corruption scandals, the latest involving the president of the Madrid region, Cristina Cifuentes. It was revealed she was gifted a master’s degree by a public university, in exchange for high-profile appointments, political influence, and various other perks for the university bureaucrats and leading professors. There is a mood of distrust towards all the institutions of the 1978 regime: the ruling parties, the monarchy, the police and the army, the universities, and, in particular, the judiciary.
As we have already explained, the Spanish state, using the judiciary as its battering ram, has been curtailing democratic rights for several months. Brandishing hazy and dubious allegations, and benefitting from the repressive ‘gag law’ passed by the Rajoy government, they have banned books and exhibits, condemned left-wing rappers and artists to jail for criticising the Monarchy, punished expressions of atheism and of opposition to the Catholic church, and cracked down heavily on social and labour activism and for the Catalan and Basque pro-independence movement. This reactionary mood has been courageously denounced by a group of rappers (who have been hit hard by a wave of repression) in the song Los borbones son unos ladrones (‘The Bourbons are thieves’), which so far has 2.3 million hits (subtitles in French, Italian, Catalan). In the track, they take turns repeating the lyrics for which their colleagues have been sentenced, defiantly repeating their “crime”:
On 10 April, the Catalan and Spanish police carried out a round-up of seven activists involved in the Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDRs). This came after the CDRs organised roadblocks to call for the release of Catalan political prisoners. One of the detainees, arrested by heavily armed, bandana-clad Civil Guards, was taken straight to the National Court in Madrid under accusations of terrorism and of leading a clandestine committee to wreak violence and sabotage. In the end, it transpired she was an ordinary activist and the only thing the Civil Guard could come up with is that she had a screenshot from Google Maps of a police barracks. In the end, even the National Court judge was forced, given the lack of evidence and public outcry, to throw out charges of rebellion and terrorism, and the activist had to be released following the lesser charge of “public disorder”.
Another, even more serious incident is the ‘Altsasu affair’. Eight youths from the Basque-speaking town of Altsasu, in Navarre, are accused of terrorism for having participated in a bar brawl with off-duty Civil Guards in 2016, during the town’s local festivities. For decades, this part of Navarre has been subjected to virtual military occupation by the Civil Guard. The Basque youth in particular have had to put up with a systematic stop and search regime, their organisations have been closed down indiscriminately, and the barracks of the Civil Guard in places like Altsasu have been dens for illegal detention and torture (which, when women are involved, often include rape and sexual assault).
According to the account of the brawl by the Civil Guard, these youths were part of a well-organised and ideologically-driven lynch mob. The prosecutor has developed the case further and come up with a very imaginative story linking the bar brawl to an attempt to rebuild the disbanded Basque armed group, the ETA. Three of the youths have been kept in custody for almost two years, in a jail over 400 km away from their home, and held in isolation under the FIES system, which is reserved for very dangerous prisoners. They face up to 62 years in jail each under charges of terrorism. The ‘Altsasu affair’ is being tried by the National Audience, a reactionary institution inherited directly from the Franco regime set up to try “crimes against the state”. The judge in the case is married to a colonel in the Civil Guard.
The prosecution’s case is full of contradictions, which are now being revealed during the trial. Last Thursday (coincidentally, the day of the verdict on La Manada affair), a video was made public from the night of the brawl in Altsasu. It shows an unscathed Civil Guard wearing a spotless, well-ironed white shirt, completely drunk and displaying a provocative attitude, while the youths are seen to be on the defensive:
The prosecution alleges that this Civil Guard sergeant had been stomped on while on the floor by the attacking crowd and as a result had foot imprints on his shirt In short, the video has revealed that the account of the Civil Guard, promoted by the prosecutors and by the bourgeois media, was an absolute sham. The takeaway is that you may be liable to spend the rest of your life in jail just for being young and Basque.
However, the most serious instance of arbitrariness and authoritarianism by the Spanish state involves the former Catalan government that organised the 1 October referendum. Six Catalan ministers are in jail in Madrid, along with two popular civil society leaders and the former president of the Catalan parliament. Former president Carles Puigdemont, along with three ex-ministers and two former MPs, are in exile. Several of them are charged with rebellion: an extremely serious crime that carries a sentence of up to 30 years in jail. Yet this crime, drawn from the Franco-era penal code, speaks of a violent, armed uprising, which clearly did not take place in Catalonia. The judge responsible for the investigation, Pablo Llarena of the Supreme Court, has twisted the evidence in all possible ways to shoehorn the events into this legal category. Understandably, attempts to extradite the exiled politicians on this basis have been rejected by the Belgian, Swiss, British and German authorities, on the grounds that there was no violence and the charges are unsubstantiated. The stance of these foreign courts has put the Spanish judiciary in a very difficult position.
Llarena has now tried to secure Puigdemont’s extradition from Germany on the basis of the alleged embezzlement of public funds for the ‘illegal’ October referendum. To do this, he has used a Civil Guard report that alleges the misuse of over 2m euros. But even on this score he has run into trouble, for the Spanish exchequer, headed by PP minister Cristóbal Montoro, insists that they prevented any misappropriation of state funds through strict controls, which had been imposed on the Catalan finances. On closer examination, the Civil Guard report was seen to be full of incongruities and dubious sources.
In addition to these developments, the country has seen many other, less spectacular instances of authoritarianism in the last few weeks. Rommy Arce is a local councillor in Madrid for Podemos, who, not insignificantly, is a Latin American, female migrant. She has been indicted with “incitement to hatred” against the police after the death of a Senegalese street seller in suspicious circumstances led to several days of protests. In a message on twitter she linked the death to the persecution and racial profiling the police mete out against African street vendors.
During the recent final of the Copa del Rey football match between BFC and Seville, the Barcelona fans, many of whom were carrying banners calling for the release of political prisoners, saw all their political paraphernalia requisitioned by the Spanish police in thorough and humiliating searches. This included the seizing of yellow shirts, as yellow is the colour used to demand the release of Catalan political prisoners. On 19 April, Roberto Mesa, 28, a left-wing activist from Tenerife, was taken in cuffs from his home and kept in custody by the police for hate crimes and insulting the Crown over some Facebook posts he had made (including: “the Bourbons to the sharks”).In the aftermath of La Manada trial, as millions of people called for disciplinary action against the judges, the only public figure actually dismissed was a female officer from the Catalan police (no coincidence), who had criticised the verdict on her personal twitter account.
This wave of prosecutions contrasts with the leniency with which the Spanish state treats right-wing violence. As part of an upsurge of Spanish nationalist hysteria fanned by the government and by right-wing media, there have been a series of attacks and threats made against Catalan politicians and activists. For instance, in March, a fascist gang set fire to a left-wing social centre in the neighbourhood of Sarrià, in Barcelona. No arrests or indictments have been made so far. A group of policemen from Madrid, who made death threats on social media against left-wing mayor Manuela Carmena and expressed extremely racist and fascist views, have been acquitted. Likewise, a group of soldiers and civilians who made a video threatening Puigdemont from the top of a tank inside an army compound have also been acquitted:
The judges adopt a similar attitude when it comes to corrupt politicians and businessmen. Several scandals have rocked the PP, especially in its center of power in Madrid, the latest affecting the aforementioned Cristina Cifuentes. However, virtually no one has been jailed for this, and the very few who have face extremely mild sentences.
The lesson from all these incidents is clear. If you are a rapist, a male chauvinist, a police officer, a fascist, a Catholic priest, a member of the Opus Dei, from the upper classes, or a corrupt businessman or politician, you can expect the Spanish state to treat you with silk gloves. If you are a young woman, a Catalan or a Basque, a left-wing activist or a rapper, a trade unionist, or are poor and destitute, you can expect an iron fist. The real political and social character of the bourgeois legal system is becoming evident to millions of people.
The social and political character of the state
The ruling class devotes great energies to presenting the state in general and the judiciary in particular as neutral, balanced, and impartial institutions, vested with omnipotence to preserve the commonweal. But there is no commonweal and no impartiality in a society that is sharply divided between the oppressors and the oppressed. The pompous aura that envelops the ‘rule of law’ is nothing but an ideological coating to conceal its crass defence of the interests of the rich and the powerful and to keep the exploited in check.
The fundamental aim of bourgeois law is to protect the status quo. And the status quo is sexist, racist, based on class exploitation, and (in Spain) right wing and nationalist. The state defends and nurtures these ideas as a bastion against change. In a society so irrational, so sharply divided between the rich and the poor, the ruling class has to lean on the most backward and barbaric attitudes; it has to divide the oppressed by fanning sexism, racism, classism, and national oppression, and has to combat change and free thought wherever they arise.
The reactionary character of the law is ensured through the social selection of the judiciary. To become a judge (or to reach the upper echelons of the state bureaucracy in any capacity), it is necessary to go through long years of study, to learn by heart entire legal codes and verbose rulings. These exams are of little practical use, but they serve as a filter. Only the children of the rich (and often of those who come from families of judges) can usually afford the time and the energy to make it through.
This can be seen in the example of the sexist judge Ricardo González: the scion of a lineage of reactionary judges. The privileged material conditions of the judiciary and the upper echelons of the state bureaucracy bring them closer to the mindset of the bourgeoisie, and instill a strong, conservative bias. If this is true of the judiciary in general, ‘special’ institutions such as the Supreme Court or the National Audience are even more detached from the views and living conditions of the majority of the population, and more firmly controlled by the ruling class. In short, the state bureaucracy is organised as a closed caste to cocoon it from pressure from below and tie it ideologically and materially to the ruling class by a thousand threads.
The police and the armed forces also go through a process of social selection, albeit slightly different from that of the bureaucratic elite. These watchdogs of the bourgeois state are entrusted with the task of fending off the poor and the oppressed. Most of the time, they persecute petty thieves and dealers; they harass the poor, the homeless and the street vendors; they carry out evictions and persecute debtors; or, as in Catalonia, repress mass political movements. Although there are occasional exceptions, and those who come to question their own role under enormous pressure, in general the police force tends to select those who are willing to play the part of an overseer. Often, they justify and naturalise their own repressive role through racist, fascist, and other reactionary ideas. This is particularly true with especially oppressive ‘elite’ forces such as the Civil Guard. If this is true of the bourgeois state apparatus in general, in Spain we have to add the fact that the existing apparatus was inherited, untouched, from the Franco dictatorship and never underwent any (bourgeois) ‘democratic’ purge.
Down with the regime!
La Manada affair is the last straw after a series of scandals and abuses by the Spanish state. The rotten character of bourgeois law and of the 1978 regime is plain for all to see. Millions have taken to the streets to protest against its sexist, racist, right-wing and Spanish chauvinist character. It is time to bring together all the different strands of discontent into a united front to overthrow the hated 1978 regime on a programme for the emancipation of all the oppressed and the exploited.
This mission ought to correspond to the leaders of Unidos Podemos, but so far they have not been up to the task. After the verdict of La Manada, its leading figures have come out calling for the legislation against rape to be hardened. But the root of the sexism of the Spanish judiciary is not to be found in the wording of its laws, but in its reactionary social and political nature. The judges, the prosecutors, and the police twist the laws and evidence as they please. What will harsher laws achieve when judges like Ricardo González see “merriment and pleasure” in a case of brutal gang rape?
The reactionary essence of the Spanish state cannot be chiselled out by dint of legislation, it has to be smashed by revolution. The feminist movement, the movement for the democratic rights of Catalonia, of the pensioners, of the students, of the workers, have to come together to bring down this rotten state that weighs like shackles on everything that is free and progressive in Spanish society. For too long, the jails have been filled with the poor, the wretched of the earth, the discriminated and the oppressed, and with those who dare to stand up to the system. It is time to turn things upside down. It is time to fill the cells with the real criminals: the rapists, the male chauvinists, the fascists, the torturers, the exploiters and their lying sycophants; the imperialists, the corrupt politicians and businessmen, and the neo-Francoist monarchs.