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The first days of the Spanish Revolution, Durruti & the Durruti column... (often misspelled as Durutti)


from "El Acratador" #54

In Barcelona the revolution is triumphant, the government of the Generalitat is symbolic, & in the streets businesses are socialized. The military barracks are distributed among the different workers organizations that comprise the Central Committee of Antifascist Militias, which replaces the army, renaming them Bakunin, Espartacus & Salvochea for the CNT-FAI, Lenin for the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificacion Marxista - Workers Party of Marxist Unification, non-stalinist communist party T.N.) & Carlos Marx for the PSUC (Partit Socialista Unificat de Catalunya, Catalunya's communist party T.N.). Hotels, tycoons' mansions & employers centers become the headquarters of workers organizations. Luxury restaurants become popular dining rooms.

On July 24 the Durruti Column, made up of 2,000 militiamen leaves Barcelona towards Zaragoza. Minutes before departing Canadian journalist Von Passen has an historic interview with Durruti titled: "Two million anarchists fight for the Revolution". Some of Durruti's statements were:

"There are only two roads, victory for the working class, freedom, or victory for the fascists which means tyranny. Both combatants know what's in store for the loser. We are ready to end fascism once and for all, even in spite of the Republican government."

"No government fights fascism to destroy it. When the bourgeoisie sees that power is slipping out of its hands, it brings up fascism to hold onto their privileges."

The column overwhelmed the enemy in a few days. Local party bosses, large landowners and tycoons escaped in a panic. The first serious combat was the taking of Caspe. In a few days they were 20 km from Zaragoza. Finally the front stabilized at Pina de Ebro due to lack of weapons for the assault on Zaragoza. The column's general headquarters was installed in Bujaraloz. From there it promoted the creation of the Council of Aragon, against the wishes of the CNT's directive that was beginning to cooperate with the republican government. With respect to the ruin caused by combats Durruti said to Von Passen:

"We have always lived in shantytowns and if we destroy we are also capable of building. It was us who built the palaces and the cities. The workers can build them again, and better ones; we are not afraid of ruins, we have a new world here in our hearts".

One of Durruti's main worries was the lack of weapons. He travelled to Madrid and Barcelona seeking weapons or funds to acquire them. Faced with Largo Caballero's refusal to allow gold from the National Treasury to be used for the purchase of weapons, Durruti planned an assault on the Banco de Espan~a. To that end he sent 3000 catalan anarchists from the "Land and Freedom" column charged with keeping an eye on any government's dictatorial attempts and at the same time to take part in the transport of gold to Barcelona aboard especial trains.

The CNT's national committee opposed this action and two weeks later the gold was transported to the Soviet Union, the inmense national treasury created by the surplus value of workers toil ended up in the hands of Stalin who in return sent weapons of inferior quality literally paid for in gold.

In October Franco's army concentrated its best troops for the assault on Madrid. At the beginning of November the government moved from Madrid to Valencia, against the wishes ofthe four CNT Ministers. This government decision was much criticized by the working class as the government was abandoning the people of Madrid at the decisive moment. On the road to Valencia, 40 kms from Madrid, an anarchist batallion stopped and disarmed six ministers and two generals accusing them of cowardice and of abandoning the people, making the intervention of high ranking CNT officials necessary to secure their release.

Durruti was called to the defense of Madrid, but he refused to leave the Aragon front. Later he was persuaded as his presence would lend moral support to the fighters.

On November 15 1,800 militiamen from the best centuries of Durruti's column entered into combat a the University City (Madrid). The combat and the bombings were terrifying. Madrid was the first civilized city in the world subjected to a fascist attack as a prelude to World War II. Franco initiated the attack he thought would be the final one. At University City combat was hand to hand.

On the 18th only 700 of the 1800 anarchist militiamen remained. On the 19th Durruti was told that some militiamen were deserting their positions as they had been without eating or sleeping for five days. Durruti went by car to the Clinic Hospital and on the way stopped to persuade some militiamen to return to their positions. As he got back in the car he was mortally wounded by a shot to the chest. He died at dawn on November 20.

There have been all kinds of speculations about his death in such unusual circumstances. The official version was death by a bullet from the enemy positions. But the wound showed that it was fired at close range. There was talk of a communist, falangist or even anarchist attempt. The most credible hypothesis says that the bullet was accidentally shot from Durruti's assistant, sargeant Manzana's "naranjero" (sub-machine gun).

His funeral on the 22 of November in Barcelona was attended by hundreds of thousands. His death demoralized many anarchists. Most of them left Madrid in fear of the Stalinist secret service, who were begining the purge of Trostkyists and anarchists in their private prisons.

Durruti's image was used to justify all kinds of counterrevolutionaryu measures, the return of private property, militarization of the militias, subordinating the CNT to the government, ...attributing to him a sentence he never uttered: "We renounce everything except victory" and forgetting his public declarations a few days before his death such as:

"This war we wage is to squash the enemy in front of us. But the enemy is also he who opposes the Revolution's conquests."

(Radio speech, November 7)

"We make war and revolution at the same time. The militiaman has to know that he fights for the conquest of the land, the factories, culture... the pick and the shovel are as valuable as the gun."

(Interview October 3).

"The first days of the Revolution," from El Acratador #54


The Friends of Durruti Group is formally established, March 16, 1937. Balius is appointed vice-secretary. Ruiz & Carreño are on its steering committee. The "Friends of Durruti Group," is extremely active & dynamic.

The Group mounted a number of rallies (in the Poliorama Theater on April 19 & the Goya Theater on May 2), issued several manifestoes & handbills & covered the walls of Barcelona with posters setting out its anarchist program. Two points stood out in that program:

1. All power to the working class; &, 2. Democratic workers', peasants' & combatants' organs as the expression of this workers' power, which was encapsulated in the term "Revolutionary Junta".

They took their name, in part, as invocation of their common origins as former soldiers in the Durruti Column, &, as Balius was correct in saying, there was no reference intended to Durruti's thinking, but rather to his heroic death & mythic status in the eyes of the populace.

Membership of the Group grew remarkably fast, & between 4-5,000 Group membership cards were issued. One of the essential requirements for membership was CNT membership. The growth of the Group was a consequence of anarchist unease with the CNT's policy of compromise.

http://www.spunk.org/texts/places/spain/sp001780/chap1.html