The Silenced Revolution Part 2
Bank robber, kidnapper, rousing speaker, reputed assassinator of kings and archbishops, anarchistic leader and a man on the run from death sentences in at least 4 countries. Today, in PART 2 of the Silenced Revolution (if you haven't read Part 1 yet, you can read it here) we look at a man followed by millions when he drew his pistol, grinned knowingly at the enemy and launched into his next revolutionary act. Today we introduce Buenaventura Durruti.
In Spain of the 1920’s, the big employers in cities like Barcelona were using armed groups to hunt down and eliminate “agitators” - a euphemism for CNT workers and anarchist leaders. This practice became known as pistolerismo and alongside the ley de fugas (where agitators were shot 'trying to escape' from political sentences in jail) almost every well-known union or anarchist leaders between 1919 and 1922 was murdered.
Helping organise this political repression of workers in Spain, were figures such as the Cardinal Soldevila of Zaragossa, who had financed alternative employer-backed unions with money raised from his gambling empires. After a period of time in exile, Durruti returns to Spain and helps form a new group to combat this wave of violence. "Give Peace a Chance" will be a slogan for later era. Now, argues Durruti, peace needs more than a chance, it needs bullets.
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
Somewhat unpleased with the murder of their Archbishop - and displeased immensely with the newly found strength of the working classes to fight back - the state begins to organise itself in the shape of the curiously moustached King - Alfonso XIII who pacts with the military and installs Primo de Rivera as military dictator with the king's blessing. Rivera’s aim is to halt the rise in militarism amongst the working people, and so increases the militarism of the state. Simple enough. The CNT is forced underground and all Anarchist newspapers are banned. ( Recognise that moustache? Yes this is the same Alfonso that appears in "Inside The Tortilla")
Durruti is eventually exiled once more. This time he moves to Latin America and continues his series of campaigns and bank robberies by joining the anarchist movements in Cuba, Mexico and Argentina.
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
In Paris, The tapa king Alfonso XIII is visiting the French monarch in order to show off his new moustache. Durruti plans the assassination of the moustache and whilst at it, the rest of his useless body. But before he can carry out the deed, someone informs on Durruti's foul deed and he is arrested and imprisoned.
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
All this constitutes the life of the anarchist leader before the outbreak of the Spanish civil war. Durruti has established himself as the Malcolm McClaren of the emerging anarchist movement, with his recognisable trademark jacket, the one pistol at his side, and the characteristic hat on his head.
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.
As the civil war broke out and the revolution in Catalunya spread, Durruti’s influence, example and prestige grows proportionately.
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
For the anarchists, the military uprising that leads to the civil war is not about challenging the reformist policies of the democratic republic, but rather a final attempt by the privileged classes to halt the spreading anarchist revolution. Durruti and the CNT decide to extend the work of the collectivisation process, moving the revolution to the smaller towns, setting up schools, libraries and to begin to organise the anarchist militia groups to fight against the nationalist uprising.
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 Spanish reserve is valued at 700m dollars and is guarded 30m below ground. Durruti tells his compañeros that with the aid of the CNT rail workers, a train will carry a 1000 of his men from Barcelona to Madrid. There, they will join up with other members of his column and enter the bank. Each militia member is to enquire about the conditions and interest rates on savings accounts, ask for a mortgage or a private loan, ask about hedge fund options for political bodies - anything - to keep the staff busy whilst the rest of the team steal the gold.
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.
Next week - in the final episode of the Silenced Revolution
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
Why Orwell is essential to understanding Spain today. More here - Forgotten Stories From Spain
Find out More about the ebook and audio
Forgotten Stories From Spain Book HERE
And Watch The Tortilla Intro Video here...
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