The Friends of Durruti Group from its inception up to the May events

Submitted by Ed on October 11, 2011

In October 1936, the order militarizing the People's Militias provoked great discontent among the anarchist militians of the Durruti Column on the Aragon front. Following protracted and bitter arguments, in February 1937 around thirty out of the 1,000 volunteer militians based in the Gelsa sector decided to quit the front and return to the rearguard1 . The agreement was that militians opposed to militarization would be relieved over a fortnight. These then left the front, taking their weapons with them.

Back in Barcelona, along with other anarchists (advocates of prosecuting and pursuing the July revolution, and opposed to the CNT's collaboration with the government), the militians from Gelsa decided to form an affinity group, like the many other affinity groups2 in existence in anarcho-syndicalist circles. And so, the Group was formally launched in March 19373 , following a lengthy period of incubation that had lasted for several months, beginning in October 1936. The Steering Committee made the decision to adopt the name "Friends of Durruti Group," the name being, in part, an invocation of their common origins as former militians in the Durruti Column, and, as Balius was correct in saying, there was no reference intended to Durruti's thinking, but rather to his heroic death and mythic status in the eyes of the populace.

The Group's central headquarters was located in the Ramblas, at the junction with the Calle Hospital. The membership of the Group grew remarkably quickly. Somewhere between four thousand and five thousand Group membership cards were issued. One of the essential requirements for Group membership was CNT membership. The growth of the Group was a consequence of anarchist unease with the CNT's policy of compromise.

The Group was frenetically active and dynamic. Between its formal launch on March 17 and May 3, the Group mounted a number of rallies (in the Poliorama Theater on April 19 and the Goya Theater on May 2), issued several manifestoes and handbills and covered the walls of Barcelona with posters setting out its program4 . Two points stood out in that program: 1. All power to the working class; and, 2. Democratic workers', peasants' and combatants' organs as the expression of this workers' power5 , which was encapsulated in the term Revolutionary Junta.

They also called for the trade unions to take over the economic and political governance of the country completely. And when they talked about trade unions, they meant the CNT unions, not the UGT unions. In fact, some of the members of the Group had quit the UGT in order to affiliate straight away to the CNT, thereby fulfilling the essential prerequisite for membership of the Friends of Durruti.

In reality, although the working class provenance of the Group's members ensured that they were CNT members, most were members of the FAI, on which basis it can be stated that the Friends of Durruti Group was a group of anarchists which took a stand on purist anarchist doctrine and opposed the collaborationist State-centered policy of the leadership of the CNT and of the FAI proper.

They had the upper hand inside the Foodstuffs Union, which had ramifications all over Catalonia, as well as in the mining areas of Sallent, Suria, Figols, and Cardona, in the Upper Llobregat comarca. They were influential in other unions too, where they were in the minority. Some members belonged to the Control Patrols. But at no time did they constitute a fraction or group, nor did they attempt to infiltrate the Patrols.

We cannot characterize the Group as a comprehensively conscious, organized group that would undertake methodical activity. It was one of many more or less informal anarchist groups formed around certain characteristic affinities. Nor were they good propagandists or theorists, but instead a group of proletarians alive to an instinctive need to confront the CNT's policy of appeasement and the accelerating process of counterrevolution.

Without question, their most outstanding spokesmen were Jaime Balius and Pablo Ruiz. From March 1937 to May 1937, the Libertarian Youth of Catalonia6 also set out in their wall newspaper7 demands similar to those of the Friends of Durruti.

On April 14, 1937, the Group issued a Manifesto8 in which it set its face against the bourgeois commemoration of the anniversary of the proclamation of the Republic, on the grounds that it was merely a pretext for reinforcing bourgeois institutions and the counterrevolution. Instead of commemoration of the Republic and in opposition to the Generalidad and Luis Companys, which were the cutting edge of bourgeois counterrevolution, the Friends of Durruti proposed commemoration of July 19th and exhorted the CNT and the FAI to come up with a revolutionary escape route from the dead-end street of the Generalidad government's crisis. That crisis started on March 4th with a decree ordering dissolution of the Control Patrols: the CNT's failure to comply implied the exclusion of CNT personnel from the Generalidad government.

The Manifesto catalogued a host of trespasses against revolutionaries, from the most celebrated case of Maroto, which even drew indignant comment from the docile Solidaridad Obrera, through to lesser known cases, such as the incidents in Olesa de Montserrat. In fact, the Manifesto reiterated the program points which had been incubating since early March in articles by Balius, Mingo and others in La Noche. And these were summed up in the opening paragraph of the Manifesto:

The capitalist State, which suffered a formidable setback in the memorable events of July, is still extant, thanks to the counterrevolutionary endeavor of the petit-bourgeoisie [. . .]

The Generalidad crisis is categorical evidence that we have to build a new world, wholly dispensing with statist formulas.

It is high time that the legion of petit-bourgeois, shopkeepers and guards was ruthlessly swept aside. There can be no compromise with counterrevolution. [. . .]

This is a time of life or death for the working class. [. . .] Let us not hesitate.

The CNT and the FAI, being the organizations that reflect the people's concerns, must come up with a revolutionary way out of the dead-end street [. . .] We have the organs that must supplant a State in ruins. The Trade Unions and Municipalities must take charge of economic and social life [. . .]"

On Sunday April 18, 1937, the Group held a rally in the Poliorama Theater, by way of bringing its existence and its program to the attention of the public9 . Jaime Balius, Pablo Ruiz (delegate from the Gelsa Group), Francisco Pellicer (a delegate from the Iron Column) and Francisco Carreño (a member of the Durruti Column's War Committee) all spoke. The meeting was a great success and theIdeasset out by the speakers were roundly applauded.

On the first Sunday in May 1937 (May 2) the Group held a further introductory rally at the Goya Theater: the theater was filled to overflowing and the rally moved those attending to delirious enthusiasm. A documentary film entitled "Nineteenth of July" was screened, reliving the most emotive passages from the revolutionary events of July 19, 1936. The speakers were De Pablo [Could this be Pablo Ruiz?], Jaime Balius, Liberto Callejas and Francisco Carreño. The meeting heard a prediction that an attack upon the workers by the reactionaries was now imminent.

The leadership committees of the CNT and the FAI did not pay undue heed to this new opposition emanating from within the libertarian movement, despite the scathing criticisms directed at themselves. In anarchist circles it was not unusual for groups to bubble to the surface, enjoying a meteoric rise, only to vanish into nothing as quickly as they had arisen.

The program spelled out by the Friends of Durruti prior to May 1937 was characterized by its emphasis upon trade union management of the economy, upon criticism of all the parties and their statist collaborationism, as well as a certain reversion to anarchist doctrinal purity.

The Friends of Durruti set out their program in the poster with which they covered the walls of Barcelona towards the end of April 1937. Those posters which, even then, ahead of the events of May, argued the need to replace the bourgeois Generalidad government of Catalonia with a Revolutionary Junta, stated as follows10 :

Friends of Durruti Group. To the working class:

1. Immediate establishment of a Revolutionary Junta made up of workers of city and countryside and of combatants.
2. Family wage. Ration cards. Trade union direction of the economy and supervision of distribution.
3. Liquidation of the counterrevolution.
4. Creation of a revolutionary army.
5. Absolute working class control of public order.
6. Steadfast opposition to any armistice.
7. Proletarian justice.
8. Abolition of personnel changes.

Attention, workers: our group is opposed to the continued advance of the counterrevolution. The public order decrees sponsored by Aiguadé are not to be heeded. We insist upon the release of Maroto and other comrades detained.

All power to the working class. All economic power to the unions.

Rather than the Generalidad, a Revolutionary Junta!

The April 1937 poster foreshadowed and explains the leaflet issued during the events in May and incorporates many of the themes and concerns dealt with by Balius in the articles he published in Solidaridad Obrera, La Noche and Ideas (especially revolutionary justice, prisoner exchanges, the need for the rearguard to take the war to heart, etc.). For the first time the need was posited for a Revolutionary Junta to supplant the bourgeois Generalidad government. This Revolutionary Junta11 was defined as a revolutionary government comprised of workers, peasants and militians.

Most significant of all is the consolidated message of the last three slogans. Replacement of the bourgeois Generalidad government by a Revolutionary Junta appears alongside the watchwords "All power to the working class" and "All economic power to the unions."12

The political program implicit in this poster immediately before the events of May is undoubtedly the most advanced and lucid offered by any of the existing proletarian groups, and makes of the Friends of Durruti Group a revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat of Spain at this critical and crucial juncture as the POUM and the Bolshevik-Leninist Section of Spain were to acknowledge13 .

  • 1We can find a detailed description of the Gelsa militians and their opposition to militarization, which was closely connected with the launch of the Friends of Durruti, in the interview with Pablo Ruiz in La Noche Año XIV, No. 3545, of March 24, 1937.

    See also the claims made by Balius himself: "The Friends of Durruti Group has its origins in the opposition to militarization. It was the Gelsa Militians Group that relocated en masse to Barcelona. At the head of the Gelsa Group was comrade Eduardo Cervero. So, in the Catalan rearguard, there was a considerable number of comrades from the Aragon front around, sharing the opinion that there was no way that the libertarian spirit of the militias could be abjured. Lest we embark upon an interminable list of comrades who moved to the Catalan capital with arms and baggage, allow me to recall, with great affection, Progreso Ródenas, Pablo Ruiz, Marcelino Benedicto and others. It was agreed that a group should be set up in Barcelona, and it was determined that it would be under the aegis of the symbol of Buenaventura Durruti. Other members of the Durruti Group included comrades Alejandro Gilabert, Francisco Carreño, Máximo Franco, the delegate from the Rojinegra Division, Ponzán, Santana Calero, and lots of others." (Jaime Balius "Por los fueros de la verdad" in Le Combat syndicaliste of September 2, 1971).

    With regard to the number of militians from the Gelsa Group who, having repudiated militarization, decided to quit the front, taking their weapons with them, Pablo Ruiz is a lot more statistically precise, and probably a lot nearer the mark. "[After taking part in the storming of the Atarazanas barracks], I joined the Durruti Column, and I led the 4th Gelsa Group, comprising over a thousand militians (. . .) whenever the Popular Army was foisted upon us from within (. . .) I resigned and rejoined the rearguard along with three decades of comrades. On that basis and at the instigation of comrade Balius, we founded the Friends of Durruti Group (. . .)" [Pablo Ruiz "Elogio póstumo de Jaime Balius" in Le Combat Syndicaliste/Solidaridad Obrera of January 22, 1981]

  • 2The FAI was organized as a federation of affinity groups. During the civil war, prominence was achieved by affinity groups like "Nosotros" (which had previously gone under the name "Los Solidarios"), "Nervio," "A," "Z, " "Los de Ayer y Los de Hoy," "Faro," etc.
  • 3The newspaper La Noche on March 2, 1937 (page 6) carried the first report on the foundation of the Group, which was formally launched on March 17, 1937, according to this notice in the March 18,1937 edition of La Noche:

    "The 'Friends of Durruti' Group has been launched. A steering committee appointed. The meeting to launch the 'Friends of Durruti' was held last night.

    The social premises - located on the first floor of 1, Ramblas de las Flores - were packed with people. Proceedings got underway on the stroke of ten o'clock. A panel was appointed to oversee the discussions. Several comrades from the front and from the rearguard took part in the discussion. Every one of the comrades who spoke reaffirmed his absolute support for the postulates of the CNT and FAI. There was broad discussion of the revolutionary course followed since July 19 and it was palpable that all of the assembled comrades wish the Revolution to press ahead. Certain counterrevolutionary maneuvers were lashed severely. [. . .]

    In a disembodied way, our Durruti presided over the launch of the group. It was notable that there was no hint of idolatry, but rather a desire to carry out the wishes of our ill-fated comrade.

    Next, the steering committee was appointed, along with a working party to draft the intentions by which the new group is to be informed. [. . .] The steering committee is made up as follows: secretary, Felix Martinez: vice-secretary, Jaime Balius: treasurer, José Paniagua: book-keeper, Antonio Puig Garreta: committee members, Francisco Carreño, Pablo Ruiz, Antonio Romero, Serafin Sobias, Eduardo Cervero. The working part comprises: Pablo Ruiz, J. Marin, Jaime Balius, Francisco Carreño and José Esplugas.

    Before the proceedings were wound up, the gathering agreed by acclamation that a telegram should be sent to the CNT National Committee, demanding the release of comrade Maroto and of the comrades incarcerated in Valencia."

  • 4Let us attempt to catalog all of the manifestoes, handbills, notices and posters signed by the Friends of Durruti Group, insofar as we know them. We shall not indicate place of publication because that is the city of Barcelona throughout. Virtually all of these documents can be found in the Archivo Historico Municipal de Barcelona (AHMB):

    :arrow: "Al pueblo trabajador" [Manifesto issued late March 1937. Double-sided handbill.]
    :arrow: "Al pueblo trabajador" [Manifesto opposing the commemoration of the anniversary of April 14.]
    :arrow: '"¡Trabahadiers! Acudid el próximo dimingo, dia 18, al MITIN que la Agrupación Los Amigos de Durruti celebralá en el Teatro Poliorama" [Notice advertising the rally on April 18, 1937.]
    :arrow: "Agrupación de Los Amigos de Durruti. A la clase trabajadora." [Poster pasted on walls and trees. Late April 1937.]
    :arrow: "ACTO organizado por la Agrupación Los Amigos de Durruti. Domingo, 2 de mayo a las 10 de la mañana, en el TEATRO GOYA." [Notice of the May 2, 1937 rally.]
    :arrow: "CNT-FAI. Agrupación 'Los Amigos de Durruti'. ¡TRABAJADORES!" [Handbill distributed on the barricades on May 5, 1937.]
    :arrow: "CNT-FAI. Agrupacion 'Los Amigos de Durruti'. Trabajadores." [Manifesto distributed on May 8, 1937.]
    :arrow: "Trabajadores. Miércoles dia 19. Aparecerá el 'Los Amigos de Durruti'. " [Notice of the appearance of the first issue of El Amigo del Pueblo, scheduled for May 19, 1937.]

    There are also some notices of lectures by Francisco Pellicer, sponsored by the CNT Foodstuffs Union, which we have not included.

  • 5See Juan Andrade "CNT-POUM" in La Batalla of May 1, 1937. Reprinted in Juan Andrade La revolución espanola dia a dia (Ed. Nueva Era, Barcelona, 1979, p. 248.) The extract in which Andrade refers to the Friends of Durruti is this one:

    "For instance, the 'Friends of Durruti' have framed their program points in posters in every street in Barcelona. We are absolutely in agreement with the watchwords that the 'Friends of Durruti' have issued with regard to the current situation. This is a program we accept, and on the basis of which we are ready to come to whatever agreements they may put to us. There are two items in those watchwords which are also fundamental for us. All Power to the working class and democratic organs of the workers, peasants and combatants, as the expression of proletarian Power."

  • 6Ruta, the mouthpiece of the Libertarian Youth of Catalonia, had been radically opposed to the CNT's collaborationism since November 1936. Between March 1937 and late May 1937, it carried articles by Santana Calero (a member of the Libertarian Youth of Malaga), who was also a prominent contributor to El Amigo del Pueblo and a member of the Friends of Durruti. Issue No. 25 of Ruta, dated April 1, 1937, carried an article from the Friends of Durruti Group, entitled "Por el concepto anarquista de la revolución," in which the same arguments are set out as in the late March handbill/manifesto: that the CNT-FAI had failed to impose itself on July 19 and agreed to collaborate as a minority player and afforded full scope to the petit-bourgeoisie: that the war and the revolution had to be one: "the war and the revolution are two aspects that cannot be dissevered. The War is the defense of the revolution": that the unions should have the direction of the economy: that the army and public order should be under workers' control: that arms had to be in the hands of workers only, by way of a guarantee of the revolution: that the petite bourgeoisie should man the fortifications battalions: that the rearguard should take the war to heart: that work should be compulsory and unionization obligatory, etc.
  • 7This was Esfuerzo: Periódico mural de las Juventudes Libertarias de Cataluña. A weekly publication, comprising of one poster-sized page for posting on walls, it came out between the second week of March and the second week of May. Completely anonymous, it was made up, not of articles, but of watchwords, short manifestoes and appeals. It was a highly original wall newspaper. The following "articles" stand out: "El dilema: Fascismo o Revolución social" (in No. 1, second week of March 1937), "Consignas de la Juventud Revolucionaria" (No. 2, third week of March), "El Orden Público tiene su garantia en las Patrullas de Control..." (No. 3, fourth week of March), "Los 'affaires' por la substracción de 11 tanques. La provocación de Orden Publico en Reus, por Rodriguez Salas . . ." and "A los ochos meses de revolución" (No. 4, first week of April 1937). The last issue of this wall newspaper, No. 9, is dated the second week of May 1937. Although the Friends of Durruti Group is never mentioned by name, its watchwords, vision and ideological content were very similar to those articulated and championed by the Friends of Durruti.
  • 8'Friends of Durruti' Group "Al pueblo trabajador" Barcelona [April 14, 1937]
  • 9This meeting to introduce the Group was reported in detail by Rosalio Negrete and Hugo Oehler in a report written and date-lined in Barcelona the same day. That report was first published in Fourth International Volume 2, No. 12, (1937). See Revolutionary History Volume 1, No. 2, (1988), London, pp. 34-35.

    The meeting had been called by means of handbills announcing that Francisco Pellicer would speak on the problelm of subsistence, Pablo Ruiz on the revolutionary army, Jaime Balius on the war and the revolution, Francisco Carreño on trade union unity and political collaboration, and V. Perez Combina on public order and the present time.

    The following notice was carried in the daily newspaper La Noche (19 April 1937) about the progress of the meeting:

    "Yesterday morning, in the Poliorama Theatre, a meeting was held by the Friends of Durruti Group. There was a considerable attendance and the meeting was chaired by comrade Romero, who, after a few short remarks outlining the meaning of the meeting, called upon Francisco Pellicer, who opened with a recollection of Durruti.

    Next, attention turned to the problem of subsistence, and he stated that it was impossible to eat on current rates of pay [. . .] Pablo Ruiz spoke on the revolutionary army [. . .] Then Jaime Balius read some jottings [. . .] in which he reviewed the initial fighting against fascism on July 19 [. . .] He stated that the Revolution should go hand in hand with the war and that both have to be won. [. . .] Francisco Carreño spoke last on the topic 'trade union unity and political collaboration' [. . .] He, like the rest of the speakers, was very warmly applauded."

  • 10Acta de la sessió consistorial del 22-5-1937 del Ajuntamente de Sabadell, Archivo Histórico de Sabadell. On page 399 of the book of minutes No. 16, the poster from the Friends of Durruti, issued in April 1937, is reproduced in full. This poster, which council member Bruno Lladó (who was also the comarcal delegate of the Generalidad's department of economy [headed by Diego Abad de Santillán]) had put up in his office on Sunday, May 2nd, joined the book of evidence against him when the councilor was accused of inciting rebellion against the Generalidad government in the course of the events of May in Barcelona.

    The text of this poster, according to the minutes of the May 22, 1937 sitting of Sabadell Council was reprinted in Andreu Castells: Sabadell, informe de l'oposició. Annex per a la história de Sabadell (Vol. V) Guerra i revolucio (1936-1939) (Ed. Riutort, Sabadell, 1982, p. 22.8)

  • 11The definition of the Revolutionary Junta offered by the Friends of Durruti was not always the same, as we shall see anon. But the significance of the watchwords in the April poster eluded no one. Establishment of a Revolutionary Junta implied not only the winding up of the bourgeois Generalidad government, but the introduction of dictatorship of the proletariat: "all power to the working class" and "all economic power to the unions." In an interview granted to Lutte Ouvriere in 1939, Munis took the line that the terms "revolutionary junta" and "soviets," as used by the Friends of Durruti, were synonymous.
  • 12Balius was very conscious of the importance of the watchwords set out in the April 1937 poster. "May 1 1937 is the Spanish Kronstadt. In Catalonia, uprising was feasible only by virtue of the CNT's might. And just as, in Russia, the sailors and workers of Kronstadt arose to a cry of "All power to the soviets," so the Friends of Durruti Group called for "All power to the unions," and we did so publicly in the many posters stuck up all over the city of Barcelona and in the manifesto we issued and managed to print up while the battle raged." (Jaime Balius "Por los fueros de la verdad" in Le combat Syndicaliste of September 2, 1971)

    See also Munis's comments in La Voz Leninista No. 2 of August 23, 1937.

  • 13Juan Andrade "CNT-POUM" in La Batalla of May 1, 1937. See also G. Munis "La Junta Revolucionaria y los 'Amigos de Durruti"' in La Voz Leninista No. 2, of August 23, 1937.