The Silenced Revolution Part 2
Durruti's Early Years and the Pistoleros
Ché, Lenin, Spartacus, Guy Fawkes, Joan of Arc...the list of the famous revolutionaries in history is well known, but for me has always lacked another name: Durruti.
Born in Leon in 1896, Durruti was the son of union man. As a young man, he becomes a charismatic union leader, committed to defend his fellow workers in a period when state-approved violence by employers against workers was an everyday occurrence.
Durruti and his Justiceros
Just as all hope seems lost for the struggling workers of Catalunya - riding in at the sun-set from San Sebatian comes the the Justiceros - the pistol waving bullets-for-peace gang led by our hero Durruti. This armed group of radical anarchists seeks out the private band of Pistoleros and kills them off or chases them out of town. "Yeehah!"
But the hand that fed the Pistoleros was still alive and functioning. Durruti takes the next logical step in the Justiceros manual: he decides if peace is still to have a chance, he must assassinate the archbishop. (Read more below)
Primo de Rivera and the King
Adhering to the Anarchist ideology - no-one is allowed a professional wage - all monies acquired are collected are used to fund the activities of the anarchist groups, including the building of libraries and schools. These examples of social and political direct action are far too threatening for the different Latin governments and so a price is put on Durruti's head, a price that increases from one country to the next. By the time of his return to Europe - this time to Paris in 1926 - he has a death sentence hanging over his head in countries across the world.
To Kill a Mocking King
Not one to bow down before any bourgeois states definition of justice, Durruti flees and spends his time organising in Germany, France, Belgium and even North Africa.
Durruti the Man
Physically, he is described as tall, solidly built, curly black hair with penetrating eyes and a disarming smile. Sociable, amiable and a dab-hand at networking, Durruti's reputation is also based on his simple lifestyle and simple needs. At home he always lived poorly. His house was a simple dwelling where he would often spend his time engrossed in doing the housework or cooking - much to the surprise of his compañeros. This was a man who wouldn’t hang up his libertarian ideals as he passed through his front door. At home they would breathe there too, and apply to all aspects of life in this new world opening before him.
In an interview that appeared in the Toronto Herald, the reporter Van passen asked Durruti what should happen if the war would continue and the workers are left with nothing but a pile of ruins. Durruti fixeed his disarming eye on the reporter, pushed back his hat and said:
“Yes this war may leave us with nothing more than ruins. We have always lived in ruins. We the workers are the only producers of wealth. We make the machines in the factories, we extract the coal from the ground, it is we that construct the cities… but we will rebuild them and build them better. We know we are going to inherit a world in ruins, but we carry in out hearts another world that is being born."
A Call to Arms
Once Barcelona is won for the CNT, his personal assembly: The Durruti Column are directed to free the city of Zarragosa, but without adequate arms their attempts to take the city are thwarted. Their weapons are too few and too antiquated. The central government looks on worried. It does not want to see the anarchists well-armed, despite their battle skills and their effective resistance to the military uprising in Catalunya. Durruti begins discreet negotiations to buy new arms from overseas suppliers with money from the central bank, but the Republican Government, finally withdraws from the deal.
Durruti feels frustrated and betrayed and now believes the government is more worried about halting the social revolution than fighting Franco. Now he is convinced of the growing influence of the Communists on government policy and their opposition to the anarchists ideals.
Drawing on his past, Durruti calls together a few of his most Trusted Compañeros and tells them that he has a sneaky plan to win the war. He draws them closer, checks over his shoulder to see if anyone else is listening, pulls down the peak of his hat and whispers into their eager faces: “Trusted Compañeros, we are going to steal the gold reserves from the Banco De España in Madrid!”
The Trusted Compañeros scratch their heads and look confused. "Alright, alright" says Durruti. " Forget I said anything about Hedge-funds. You can force your way into the bank and use pistols if you like."
The Trusted Compañeros give a collective sigh of relief. "Once you have the gold", continues Durruti, "it will be brought to Barcelona where it will be traded for the arms that I have already arranged to buy."
Amongst the eager faces of the Trusted Crew - staring into the penetrating eyes of their leader - was one face that continued to show a worried frown. His name was Santillán and he had doubts about the whole plan. "But Boss...How are we to get into the vaults? How are we to get the money out without raising suspicions? How will we get the gold back on the train without other passengers spotting the millions of gold bars in the overhead luggage rack?"
But Santillán didn't have the courage to ask these questions in public. So he kept them to himself, nodding in agreement with the rest of the group, slapping Durruti on the back and applauding him for his ingenious plan. But Santillán immediately stitched on our charismatic leader and informed the national committee of the CNT about Durruti's plans.
Upon hearing Santillán's comments, the CNT committee - who didn’t see a problem with the transport of the gold in the luggage racks - saw that Durruti’s plans could trigger yet another war between Catalunya and the rest of the country. They call him in for a talk and Durruti is forced to withdraw.
Perhaps this was all just as well for a lot of anarchist funds could have been wasted on the train tickets, or opening unnecessary Hedge-fund accounts. Unknown to either Durruti, the CNT committee, the Nationalists or the rest of the country - the Republican government had already given the go-ahead for the Communists to begin to move the gold from Madrid to Moscow.
- Why did Durruti and his column - those that had a reputation of never losing a battle - head off to Madrid and abandon their revolution in Catalunya?
- Who was responsible for the assassination of Durruti on the outskirts of Madrid?
- Why did the US embassy during the funeral entourage lower their flag in respect to the man who today would have been on the top of their global terrorist list?
- And what is the Durruti legacy today, almost 80 years later for the alternative left in Spain.
Read Part 3: Final Part of the Silenced revolution Here.
Want more on the Spanish Civil War? Read the Forgotten Stories Series -
The Ambulance Man and the Spanish Civil war
1984 and the Spanish Civil War