The Durruti Column (Spanish: Columna Durruti), with about 6000 people, was the largest anarchist column (or military unit) formed during the Spanish Civil War. During the first months of the war, it became the most recognized and popular military organisation fighting against Franco, and it is a symbol of the Spanish anarchist movement and its struggle to create an egalitarian society based on collectivism and individualism. The column included people from all over the world. Philosopher Simone Weil fought alongside Buenaventura Durruti in the Durruti Column, and her memories and experiences from the war can be found in her book, Écrits historiques et politiques.
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The column was formed in Barcelona where, on 18 July 1936, the anarchists started fighting against General Goded and his armies. The republican government had done nothing to protect the city from the rebelled army under the command of General Franco; Barcelona was left undefended. Fearing attack, the anarchist and communist organisations such as CNT-FAI along with Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT), the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification ("Partit Obrer d'Unificació Marxista", POUM) and the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia ("Partit Socialista Unificat de Catalunya", PSUC) organised themselves into militia units and took weapons from the arsenals with the support of the people responsible for the arsenals, mostly non-commissioned officers. The anarchists, under the command of Buenaventura Durruti, one of the most popular leaders of Federación Anarquista Ibérica attacked the Atarazanas/Drassanes barracks. Later on, the headquarters of the Durruti Column were attacked at Bujaraloz, half way between Barcelona and Madrid.
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.
Intending to take Catalonia back from the Franquists, Durruti and his column headed toward Zaragoza, which was controlled by General Emilio Mola. They fought their first battle in Caspe, a city located about 100 kilometers southeast of Zaragoza. There they were joined by a small group of militiamen commanded by Captain Negrete from Guardia Civil. As Durruti left Barcelona, there were about 2,500 people in the column, and before they got to Zaragoza their number had increased to 6,000. The advance stopped near the city banks because Durruti became convinced by Colonel Villalba, the leader of all the republican forces, that if he reclaimed Zaragoza, he may become isolated from the rest of the fighters. Nowadays it is doubted if that was a good decision since the republican forces were greater in number; however, some state that in the event of open battle a lack of weapons and supplies could have led to total disaster. Durruti made his temporary headquarters in Bujaraloz. Waiting for the more convenient moment to attack Zaragoza turned out to be a grave mistake because, in time, Franco's forces 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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- Antony Beevor Walka o Hiszpanię 1936-1939. Pierwsze starcie totalitaryzmów, original title The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939, Kraków 2009, page. 186
- ibidem, pages 113-115
- "The first days of the Spanish Revolution, Durruti & the Durruti column... (often misspelled as Durutti)". Recollectionbooks.com. 2010-12-11. Retrieved 2013-09-06.
- Abel Paz Durruti in the Spanish revolution AK Press 2007, page 482
- José Andrés-Gallego, Luis de Llera, Juan Velarde, Nazario González España acutal - La Guerra Civil (1936–1939), Madrid 1989, pages 175-176
- Abel Paz, ibidem, page 485
- Abel de Paz. "La muerte de Durruti". Blog.pedropaz.com. Retrieved 2013-09-06.
- Colonel Romero accused Ricardo Sanz of mistreating the soldiers and of taking prostitutes to the trenches
- Historia del Ejército Popular de la Republica, Ramón Salas Larrazábal, Historia del Ejército Popular de la República. Editora Nacional, Madrid (España) ISBN 84-276-1107-2, p. 784, note 5.
- BBC, 8 July 2008, Meeting Spain's last anarchist
- for the history of the anarchist resistance movement see: Tomasz Sajewicz Zapomniana wojna. Anarchiści w ruchu oporu przeciw rządom Franco 1939-1975, Mielec-Poznań 2005
- For the organisation of different collectives see: Gaston Leval Wolna Hiszpania. Kolektywy podczas hiszpańskiej rewolucji 1936-1939 Poznań 2009
- Gabriel Jackson "Breve historia de la guerra civil de España", original title A Concise History of the Spanish Civil War, 1974 Ruedo ibérico)
- Beevor, ibidem, page 163
- Barbara Gola, Franciszek Ryszka Hiszpania Warszawa 1999, page 203
- for the exact numbers see: Abel Paz, ibidem, page: 487
- 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.