An article published in July 1937 by The Friends of Durruti, large portions of which appeared in the pamphlet “The Revolutionary Message of the ‘Friends of Durruti’” (PDF) that was translated into English via French. Here it is translated in full directly from Spanish for the first time.
In a recent collection of the writings of The Friends of Durruti that he edited, Agustín Guillamón writes:
“Issue 5 is one of the most interesting of ‘El Amigo del Pueblo’. On the first page there appears an article titled ‘A revolutionary theory’. Even this editorial alone would suffice to underscore the historical and political importance of The Friends of Durruti, not only in the history of the [Spanish] Civil War, but also in that of anarchist ideology. […] This text is fundamental, as it marks a milestone in the evolution of anarchist thought. The theoretical concepts deposited here, sketched out only very confusingly before, are now expressed with blinding clarity. These theoretical concepts would later be repeated and argued for in Balius’ pamphlet Towards a Fresh Revolution. But here they appeared for the first time, and no one can miss their novelty and importance within anarchist thought. […] The Friends of Durruti, of course, did not use Marxist terminology, but rather employed a different vocabulary proper to anarchist ideology: and this vocabulary, with which they explain the concept of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, is one more proof that we are dealing with an internal evolution of the Grouping, and not with a process of colonization or capture by an alien group. The social and historical reality was stubborn enough, and harsh enough, that the ABC of revolutionary theory could coalesce in a revolutionary group that simply kept its eyes and mind open.”
Editorial: A revolutionary theory
The turn that events have taken after the May Days is truly instructive. There has been a palpable change in the balance of the forces that made themselves felt in the streets during the days of July. In one year, the gigantic power that used to revolve around the CNT and the FAI has suffered a notable weakening. It is not the case that the working masses are no longer animated by the revolutionary spirit, which is inherent to the confederal and specific1 organization. The workers continue to embrace the excitement of the first days.
The downhill trajectory must be attributed exclusively to the absence of a concrete program and of immediate achievements, and to the fact that for this reason we fell into the trap of the counterrevolutionary forces at the exact moment when circumstances were unfolding in a manner that was nothing but favorable to fulfilling the aspirations of the proletariat. And by not giving free course to the July awakening, in strictly class terms, we have made it possible for a petty bourgeois dominion to arise – a dominion that could never have taken place if a unanimous decision to put the proletariat in control of the country had prevailed in the confederal and anarchist milieux.
But a vision of the lived consequences was lacking. In July, we failed to step up to the great moment [that presented itself to us]. We were afraid. The artillery of the foreign squadrons instilled cowardice in a large percentage of militants. We ceded ground to forces that would later confront the typically revolutionary organizations with demands of a strikingly reactionary character.
We do not think that only individuals should be blamed for the defeats. We have lines of evidence that immorality contributed enormously to the disengagement2 of the past days. But what truly contributed to it, that is to say, what was the decisive factor in the palpable demise of the revolution which could not but slip through the fingers of the incapable, was the lack of any guidelines that would have unmistakably marked the way forward.
Improvisation has always produced the worst of results. Our conceit – that social forms [would] materialize without there being any determining factor to zealously watch over them in order to safeguard the premises of the revolution – has been cast aside somewhat. In July, this determining factor was the CNT and the FAI, who made the naïve error of thinking that a revolution of the social type could share its social and economic heartbeat with enemy elements. And that was the greatest error of all, because in doing so, we gave strength to the petty bourgeoisie, which then furiously turned against the working class, once the former – as a result of the twists and turns of the war – found the so-called democratic powers firmly on its side.
In May, the same conflict reared its head once again. Once more, primacy was being contested when it came to control over the revolution. But during the May Days, the same individuals who in July took fright at the danger of foreign intervention again displayed that same lack of vision, which culminated in the fateful “ceasefire” that, despite a truce having been concluded, would later turn into the continuous disarming and ruthless repression of the working class. We have pointed out the cause. As for evidence, we have plenty of it. [Already] within a few days of [the] July [events], some militants who participated in hybrid formations publicly asserted that libertarian communism had to be renounced. What boggles the mind, however, is why this repudiation was not immediately followed with a clear and categorical reaffirmation.
Thus, by ridding ourselves of a program, for which read libertarian communism, we completely surrendered ourselves to our adversaries, who possessed and still possess both a program and [a set of] guidelines. From this moment on, our displacement [by the petty bourgeoisie] took shape, because we sided with the parties who we had so ferociously combated and to whom we handed on a silver platter a resolution that no one should have been able to haggle from us. The lack of class spirit has also contributed to the period of decline that we are now witnessing. By means of certain speeches, expressions of a counterrevolutionary character have been launched. And in our interventions, we have played catch-up with the mesocracy3 , seeing that it should have been the majority organization of July that commanded public affairs in an absolute sense. As for the petty bourgeois parties, we should have crushed them in July and in May. We are of the opinion that any other sector [of society], had it had an absolute majority like the one we enjoyed, would have put itself in total control of the situation.
In the previous issue of our newspaper, we elaborated a program. We feel the need for a revolutionary junta, with the unions exercising their dominance over the economy and with a free structuring of the communes. Our Grouping4 wanted to lay down a guideline, out of the fear that in circumstances similar to those of July and May, the same course of action might be pursued once again. The victory lies in the existence of a program that must be, without hesitation, backed up by rifles.
Notwithstanding the heap of errors that have been committed, the proletariat will presumably sooner or later assert itself once more. But what must be ensured is that on that immediate occasion, it will not be the timid and the incompetent who will prevail – as they did before, placing us on a terrain beset with utmost difficulties.
Revolutions without a theory do not move forward. We of The Friends of Durruti have outlined our thought, which may be subject to retouching owing to great social upheavals but which consists in two essential points that cannot be avoided: a program and rifles.
Let us uphold the principle we just laid down within the unions and in the workplaces. Let us strive to make our proposals victorious. Without barren nervousness, without counterproductive hastiness, let us prepare the working class so that it can once and for all assume its rightful place, which it has regrettably lost due to lack of a revolutionary theory.
Translated in April 2019 from the Spanish original published in El Amigo del Pueblo N°5 (July 20, 1937), the scans of which were made available by Somnis Libertaris.
- 1Específica – an organization that is specifically anarchist, as opposed to a mass organization that is numerically stronger but whose orientation may be less clear. The Spanish libertarian movement of the 1930s was considered to consist of a confederal organization (the CNT, a mass union) and a specific organization (the FAI, an anarchist federation).
- 2In the original text, deslunchamiento – a word that does not exist in Spanish, and is annotated with an “[?]” in some existing reprints. The translation offered here is a best guess inferred from the context.
- 3Literally “rule of the middle [class]”; bourgeois rule.
- 4The corresponding word is also capitalized in the original text, as it refers to the full name of the organization: “The Friends of Durruti Grouping” (Agrupación de los Amigos de Durruti).