Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Buenaventura Durruti

Buenaventura Durruti Dumange (July 14, 1896 – November 20, 1936) was a central figure of Spanish anarchism during the period leading up to and including the Spanish Civil War.
Early life
Durruti was born in León, Spain. He started work at the age of 14 in the railway yard in León. In 1917 the socialist Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT) called a strike in which Durruti was an active and prominent participant. The government brought in the Spanish Army to suppress the strike: they killed 70 people and injured more than 500 workers. 2,000 of the strikers were imprisoned without trial or legal process. Durruti escaped to France. During his exile until 1920, Durruti worked in Paris as a mechanic. He was persuaded to go to Barcelona to organise the workers there. In Catalonia, with Juan García Oliver, Francisco Ascaso, and a number of other anarchists, he founded Los Solidarios ("Solidarity"). Members of this group attempted unsuccessfully to blow up King Alfonso XIII. In 1923 the group was also implicated in the assassination of Cardinal Juan Soldevilla y Romero, as reprisals for the killing of Salvador Seguí. They also, after Primo de Rivera had taken the power, organized a somewhat large-scale attack on the military barracks in Barcelona and on the border stations to France. The attack, though, was unsuccessful and quite a few anarchists were killed. The series of defeats made Durruti, Ascaso and Oliver flee to Argentina (in fact, they travelled in all of Latin America, including Cuba). Durruti and his companions returned to Spain and Barcelona, becoming an influential militant within two of the largest anarchist organisations in Spain at the time, the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI), and of the anarcho-syndicalist trade union Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT). The influence Durruti's group gained inside the CNT caused a split, with a moderate faction under Ángel Pestaña leaving in 1931 (becoming the Syndicalist Party).
In the Civil War
Working closely with his comrades in the FAI and CNT Durruti helped to co-ordinate armed resistance to the military rising of Francisco Franco, an effort which was to prove vital in preventing General Goded's attempt to militarily seize Barcelona. During the battle for the Atarazanas Barracks, Durruti's close friend and fellow militant Ascaso was shot dead. Less than a week later, on July 24, 1936 Durruti led over 3000 armed anarchists (later to become known as the Durruti Column) from Barcelona to Zaragoza. After a brief and bloody battle at Caspe (in Aragon), they halted at Pina de Ebro, on the advice of a regular army officer, postponing an assault on Zaragoza. In November 1936, Durruti led 4000 militiamen to Madrid to aid the besieged Republican defenders of that city. On November 19, he was killed while leading a counter attack in the Casa de Campo area (See also Battle of Madrid). According to author Anthony Beevor (The Spanish Civil War, 1982), Durruti was killed when a companion's machine pistol went off by mistake. At the time, the anarchists claimed he had been hit by an enemy sniper's bullet "for reasons of morale and propaganda". Another view, detailed in Durruti: The People Armed by Abel Paz, takes a more personal account of Durruti's death. Instead of being killed by a fellow soldier he was killed by distant gunfire near the Clinical Hospital in University City (Madrid), taken over by Moroccan fighters (recruited by Franco) and the Guardia Civil. After a fight to regain control and contact was re-established with troops cut off from communications, Durruti returned temporarily to the Miguel-Angel barracks to issue orders. A message from Liberto Roig arrived informing Durruti that the Clinical Hospital was in the process of being evacuated. Alarmed, he asked his Chauffeur Julio Grave to get his car and leave immediately for the Hospital. His chauffeur gives the following testimonial: "[...] We passed a little group of hotels which are at the bottom of this avenue (Queen Victoria Avenue) and we turned towards the right. Arriving at the big street, we saw a group of militiamen coming towards us. Durruti thought it was some young men who were leaving the front. This area was completely destroyed by the bullets coming from the Clinical Hospital, which had been taken during these days by the Moors and which dominated all the environs. Durruti had me stop the car which I parked in the angle of one of those little hotels as a precaution. Durruti got out of the auto and went towards the militiamen. He asked them where they were going. As they didn't know what to say, he ordered them to return to the front. The militiamen obeyed and Durruti returned towards the car. The rain of bullets became stronger. From the vast red heap of the clinical Hospital, the Moors and the Guardia Civil were shooting furiously. Reaching the door of the machine, Durruti collapsed, a bullet through his chest." He died November 20th 1936 in a makeshift operating theatre set up in what was formerly the Ritz Hotel at the age of 40. The bullet was lodged in the heart, the diagnosis was "death caused by pleural hemorrhage". The doctors wrote a report in which the path of the bullet and the character of the wound was recorded but not the calibre of the bullet, since they hadn't removed it and there was no autopsy. Durruti's body was transported across country to Barcelona for his funeral. Over a quarter of a million people filled the streets to accompany the cortege during its route to the cemetery on Montjuich. It was the last large-scale public demonstration of anarchist strength of numbers during the bitter and bloody Civil War.
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".


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