The Durruti Column
The Durruti Column (Spanish: Columna Durruti) was the largest anarchist column formed during the Spanish Civil War (its number came to about 6,000 people). During the first months of the war it came to be the most recognized and popular military organisations fighting at the republican side. It is one of the best known symbols of the anarchist movement in Spain and its struggle for creating an egalitarian society based on collectivism and individualism. The column include people from all over the world. One of the best-known Catholic philosophers of the 20th century, Simone Weil fought alongside with Buenaventura Durruti in the Durruti Column. Her memories and experiences from the war can be found in one of her books, Écrits historiques et politiques.
The column formed in Barcelona where, on 18 July 1936, the anarchists fought against the General Goded and his armies. The government had not done anything to protect the city from the uprising of the army under the command of General Franco, Barcelona was left undefended. Being aware of that, anarchist and communist organisations such as CNT-FAI along with Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT), the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (POUM) and the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSUC) in danger of the incoming attack of the military forces organised themselves into militia units and took weapons from arsenals (they had support of the people responsible for these places, mostly non-commissioned officers). During this day some of the militarists joined the anarchist cause and aided them in the fight. The next day in the morning the anarchists attacked the Atarazanas barracks under the command of Buenaventura Durruti, one of the most popular and best recognized leader of Federación Anarquista Ibérica.
The headquarters of the Durruti Column was at Bujaraloz . When the force was 6000 men. Several centuries contained foreigners:
- la centurie Sébastien Faure, composed of French and Italians, include Saïl Mohamed, Jean Mayol, Marcel Montagut, Simone Weil and George Sossenko;
- la centurie Sacco and Vanzetti, composed of Americans;
- la centurie Erich Mühsam, composed of Germans.
The anarchists started to take Catalonia back from the hands of the Franquists. They were headed towards Zaragoza controlled by General Emilio Mola and the Durruti column, concentrating 2,000 people at that time contrary to other units did not stop too much to liberate the countryside, they were moving only towards the city, mostly because of the lack of proper maps. They fought their first battle in Caspe, a city located about 100 kilometers southeast of Zaragoza. There they encountered a small group of militiamen fighting fascists commanded by Captain Negrete from Guardia Civil. While leaving Barcelona there were about 2,500 people in the column but before they got to Zaragoza their number increased to 6,000. The advance stopped near the city banks because of the Colonel Villalba, the leader of all the republican forces who convinced Durruti that if he had reclaimed Zaragoza, he may have been isolated from the rest of the fighters. Nowadays it is doubted if that was a good decision because of the superiority in numbers of the republican forces, but some state that in the event of open battle lack of weapons and supplies could have led to total disaster. Durruti installed his temporary headquarters in Bujaraloz. Waiting for the more convenient moment to attack Zaragoza turned out to be a grave mistake, because in passing of time the forces of Franco became more powerful there and made it impossible to reclaim the city. The offensive stopped at this point and there was no major battle. Most of the advances were small and were mostly initiated due to the actions of guerrillas. Durruti was concentrating himself on helping the collective.
Death of Durruti
At the beginning of November 1936 Buenaventura Durruti with more than 3,000 people from the column directed themselves to Madrid. At the time the capital of Spain was in grave danger of being overtaken by the fascists and Federica Montseny convinced Durruti to leave Catalonia. His arrival to Madrid strengthened the morale of the inhabitants. He was ordered to defend and then started the offensive at Casa del Campo. Efficient in street battles, the militants had neither enough power nor experience to stand a chance against the disciplined and well-armed army from Morocco. Having suffered huge casualties the Durruti column escaped the battlefield. On the 19th of November Durruti was shot and died in the hospital after some time. The origins of the bullet are unknown, some say it was an action taken by the responsibility of the Soviet special forces, other that it was failure of Durruti's gun. The column was after commanded by Ricardo Sanz in Madrid and by Lucio Ruano on the Aragon Front. Colonel Romero had disagreements with anarchists, asked for the dismissal of Ricardo Sanz, proposed the dissolution of Durruti Column and the distribution of their men among other units. In January 1937 the new general delegate of the column José Manzana allowed the militarisation of the column which then became part of the 26th Division.
After the Durruti Column
Due to the soviet forces growing in power, the other militias were organized into regular army and the Durruti Column was transformed into the 26th infantry division. After the war many of the fighters were either put in prison or executed. Those who survived and escaped to France which right before the World War II experienced rise of nationalist sentiments, were put into concentration camps. After the German invasion of France many of the former anarchist fighters played an important part in the French Resistance. Some managed to escape to different countries of Latin America and stayed there for the rest of their lives, sometimes even organising with the indigenous people mini-anarchist states in the jungle, as did Antonio García Barón.
After the end of the World War II the former republican fighters experienced a huge disappointment. They hoped that the democratic countries would now liberate Spain from Franco's dictatorship. But even Mexico which was one of the most active helpers of the republicans and France after so much help refused to start fighting the dictator. Some of the anarchists, many of them former members of the Durruti Column decided to organise their own resistance. They had their headquarters in France, many times collaborated with later formed ETA and did not stop fighting until the end of the regime.
The collectivisation of the countryside started right after leaving Barcelona. Even though the column did not stop to liberate as much countries as other columns, due to its size, it created the majority of the libertarian communes. At the beginning there were some acts of violence and some people were forced to join the collectives. But it is said that Durruti himself defended the individualists who did not want to work share their land. Such people were left having as much land as they could cultivate with their families without any hired labour and could always join the collective. Depending on the place, the individualists could have been put under more or less stronger economical pressure to make them join the commune.
On 20 of July 1936 Durruti and other anarchists such as Juan García Oliver and Diego Abad de Santillán, participated in a meeting with Companys, the President of Catalonia. The next day, as the outcome of that meeting, they formed with other leftist organisations The Central Committee of the Antifascist Militias. Despite being in the majority they took only one third of the committees seats. The Committee was responsible for supplying and coordination of the actions different militias. After some time, it became dominated by the communists. The Durruti Column is said to be the first anarchist military formation with discipline based on solidarity and hierarchy but not based on privileges, only the orders to attack certain places. Durruti, as happened in other columns, agreed to have his own military advisor, in this case it was captain Enrique Perez Farras. Due to the lack of armaments the column did not engage in open battles and moved forward mostly thanks to small guerilla actions. Also in Bujaraloz, the place of the War Committee the fighters were provided with services such as: health care, food and mechanic support.
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- Abel Paz, Buenaventura Durruti 1896-1936: a libertarian soldier in the Spanish Revolution, Editions de Paris, 2000, 488 p. ISBN 2-905291-98-2
- (Spanish) Abel Paz and José Luis Gutiérrez Molina, Durruti en la Revolución Española, Fundación Anselmo Lorenzo de estudios libertarios, 1996, 773 p. ISBN 84-86864-21-6
- Robert Alexander, The Anarchists In The Spanish Civil War, Lim Janus Publishing Company, 1999, 509 p. ISBN 1-85756-400-6
- Posty Pierre Marqués, Spain 1936. War correspondents. The final despatch, L'Harmattan, 2008, 270 p. ISBN 2-296-05562-1
- (Spanish) Andreu Castells Peig, Las Brigadas internacionales de la guerra de España, Ariel, 1974, 685 p. ISBN 84-344-2470-3
- Julián Casanova (edited by Paul Preston and translated by Andrew Dowling and Graham Pollok), Anarchism, The Republic, and civil war in Spain, 1931–1939, Routledge, 2005, 229 p. ISBN 0-415-32095-X
- José Valls Peirats (edited by Chris Ealham and translated by Paul Sharkey), The CNT In The Spanish Revolution, ChristieBooks.com, 2005, 269 p. ISBN 1-873976-24-0.