Durruti Column

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Durruti Column
Columna Durruti
Country Spain
Allegiance CNT-FAI
BranchSpanish Republican Army
RoleHome Defence
Motto(s)Llevamos un mundo nuevo en nuestros corazones (We carry a new world in our hearts)
EngagementsSpanish Civil War
Buenaventura Durruti
Ricardo Sanz García

The Durruti Column (Spanish: Columna Durruti), with about 6,000 people, was the largest anarchist column (or military unit) formed during the Spanish Civil War.[1] 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 with elements of individualism and collectivism. 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. The Durruti Column was militarised in 1937, becoming part of the 26th Division on 28 April.


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 rebellious 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.[2] Later on, the headquarters of the Durruti Column was attacked at Bujaraloz, half way between Barcelona and Madrid.


Intending to take Catalonia back from the Francoists, Durruti and his column headed toward Zaragoza, which was controlled by General Emilio Mola.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6] 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[edit]

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 19 November, Durruti was shot and died in a hospital some time later. 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.[7] The column was later 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,[8] proposed the dissolution of Durruti Column and the distribution of their men among other units.[9] 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[edit]

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.[10]

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.[11]


The collectivisation[12] of the countryside started right after leaving Barcelona. Even though the column did not stop to liberate as many areas 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.[13] 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 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 committee's seats.[14] 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.[15] Due to the lack of armaments[16] the column did not engage in open battles and moved forward mostly thanks to small guerrilla actions. Also in Bujaraloz, the place of the War Committee the fighters were provided with services such as: health care, food and mechanic support.

International Group[edit]

The column also had an international group, containing fighters from several countries, including Germany, France, Britain and the United States. Several centuries contained foreigners:

The group grew to approximately 400 fighters, and functioned as an autonomous group within the column command structure. Although used primarily as a shock battalion, the group occasionally performed guerrilla operations. The column was almost wiped out in October 1936 after an offensive around the town of Alcubierre, 50 kilometres northeast of Zaragoza. All but two of the group (at that time numbering around 40) were killed, including the group leader, Frenchman Louis Berthomieu. New members continued to join, however, and the group fought at Madrid in November 1936, with many members continuing to serve in the 26th Division after the militarisation of the column.[18]

Notable members[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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
  2. ^ Antony Beevor Walka o Hiszpanię 1936-1939. Pierwsze starcie totalitaryzmów, original title The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939, Kraków 2009, pages 113-115
  3. ^ "The first days of the Spanish Revolution, Durruti & the Durruti column... (often misspelled as Durutti)". Recollectionbooks.com. 11 December 2010. Archived from the original on 11 November 2013. Retrieved 6 September 2013.
  4. ^ Abel Paz Durruti in the Spanish revolution AK Press 2007, page 482
  5. ^ José Andrés-Gallego, Luis de Llera, Juan Velarde, Nazario González España acutal - La Guerra Civil (1936–1939), Madrid 1989, pages 175-176
  6. ^ Abel Paz Durruti in the Spanish revolution AK Press 2007, page 485
  7. ^ Abel de Paz. "La muerte de Durruti". Blog.pedropaz.com. Retrieved 6 September 2013.
  8. ^ Colonel Romero accused Ricardo Sanz of mistreating the soldiers and of taking prostitutes to the trenches
  9. ^ Salas Larrazábal, Ramón. Historia del Ejército Popular de la República. Editora Nacional, Madrid (España) ISBN 84-276-1107-2, p. 784, note 5.
  10. ^ BBC, 8 July 2008, Meeting Spain's last anarchist
  11. ^ 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
  12. ^ For the organisation of different collectives see: Gaston Leval Wolna Hiszpania. Kolektywy podczas hiszpańskiej rewolucji 1936-1939 Poznań 2009
  13. ^ Gabriel Jackson "Breve historia de la guerra civil de España", original title A Concise History of the Spanish Civil War, 1974 Ruedo ibérico)
  14. ^ 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 163
  15. ^ Barbara Gola, Franciszek Ryszka Hiszpania Warszawa 1999, page 203
  16. ^ for the exact numbers see: Abel Paz Durruti in the Spanish revolution AK Press 2007, page 487
  17. ^ Antony Beevor (amongst others) describes the Sacco and Vanzetti centuria as composed of Americans, but Kenyon Zimmer has found this particular assertion to be false: Kenyon Zimmer, 'The Other Volunteers: American Anarchists and the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939', Journal for the Study of Radicalism, x, no. 2 (Fall 2016), 30, 47.
  18. ^ Paz, Durruti in the Spanish Revolution, 486-8, 550-1; Matt White, ‘In November We Remember: IWW members who fought in the Spanish Civil War’ in Industrial Worker, cx, no. 9 (November 2013), 9; Dieter Nelles, ‘The Foreign Legion of the revolution: German anarcho-syndicalist and volunteers in anarchist militias during the Spanish civil war’ https://libcom.org/library/the-foreign-legion-revolution Libcom.org accessed 30 October 2014.
  19. ^ https://libcom.org/history/articles/1896-1937-louis-emile-cottin Libcom.org accessed 31 July 2018.
  20. ^ https://libcom.org/history/einstein-carl-1885-1940 Libcom.org accessed 31 July 2018.
  21. ^ Alfonso Daniels, 'Meeting Spain's last anarchist', BBC World Online, 8 July 2008.
  22. ^ https://libcom.org/history/articles/1913-2003-helmut-kirschey Libcom.org accessed 31 July 2018. See page on German Wikipedia https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helmut_Kirschey
  23. ^ Carl Marzani, The Education of a Reluctant Radical, vol. 3: Spain, Munich and Dyring Empires, Topical Books, 1994.
  24. ^ https://libcom.org/history/thalmann-clara-1910-1987 Libcom.org accessed 31 July 2018.


  • Abel Paz, Buenaventura Durruti 1896-1936: a libertarian soldier in the Spanish Revolution, Editions de Paris, 2000, 488 p. ISBN 2-905291-98-2
  • (in 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
  • (in 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.