Conclusions and concluding note

Submitted by Ed on October 15, 2011

The Friends of Durruti Group was an affinity group, like many another existing in anarcho-syndicalist quarters. It was not influenced to any extent by the Trotskyists, nor by the POUM. Its ideology and watchwords were quintessentially in the CNT idiom: it cannot be said that they displayed a marxist ideology at any time. In any event, they displayed great interest in the example of Marat during the French Revolution, and it may be feasible to speak of their having been powerfully attracted by the assemblyist movement of the Parisian sections, by the sans-culottes, the Enrages and the revolutionary government of Robespierre and Saint-Just.

Their objective was nothing less than to tackle the CNT's contradictions, afford it an ideological coherence and wrest it from the control of its personalities and responsible committees in order to return it to its class struggle roots. The Group had been set up to criticize and oppose the CNT's policy of concession after concession1 , and of course the collaboration of anarcho-syndicalists in the central and Generalidad governments. They were against the abandonment of revolutionary objectives and of anarchism's fundamental and quintessential ideological principles, which the CNT-FAI leaders had thrown over in favor of antifascist unity and the need to adapt to circumstances. Without revolutionary theory there is no revolution. If principles were good for nothing other than to be discarded at the first hurdle erected by reality, it might be better to acknowledge that we have no principles. The top leaders of Spanish anarcho-syndicalism imagined themselves skillful negotiators, but they were manipulated like so many puppets2 . They forswore everything and in return got . . . nothing. These were opportunists without opportunity. The uprising of July 19 had no revolutionary party capable of taking power and making revolution. The CNT had never considered what was to be done once the army mutineers had been defeated. The July victory plunged the anarcho-syndicalist leaders into bewilderment and confusion. They had been overtaken by the masses' revolutionary dynamism. And, not knowing what to do next, they agreed to Companys's suggestion that they set up a Popular Front government in conjunction with the other parties. And they posited a phony dilemma between anarchist dictatorship or antifascist unity and collaboration with the State for the purposes of winning the war. They had no idea what to do with power, when the failure to take it resulted in its falling into the bourgeoisie's hands. The Spanish revolution was the tomb of anarchism as a revolutionary theory of the proletariat. Such was the origin and motivation behind the Friends of Durruti Group.

However, the Group's boundaries were very plain and well-defined. As were its limitations, too. At no time did they contemplate a break with the CNT. Only utter ignorance of the organizational mechanics of the CNT could lead us to imagine that it was possible to carry out critical or schismatic activity that would not lead to expulsion. In the case of the Friends of Durruti, expulsion was averted thanks to the sympathies they enjoyed among the CNT rank and file membership, albeit at the cost of severe ostracism and near absolute isolation.

The ultimate aim of the Group was to criticize the CNT leaders and to end the policy of CNT participation in government. They sought not only to preserve the "gains" of July but to prosecute and pursue the process of revolution. But their means and their organization were still extremely limited. They were barricade-fighters, not good organizers and indeed were worse theorists, although they did have some good journalists. In May they trusted entirely to the masses' spontaneity. They failed to counter official CNT propaganda. They neither used nor organized militants who were members of the Control Patrols. They issued no instructions to Máximo Franco, a Friends of Durruti member, a delegate of the CNT's Rojinegra Division, which attempted to "go down to Barcelona" on May 4, 1937, only to return to the front (as did the POUM column led by Rovira) following overtures made to it by Molina3 . The high point of their activities was the poster distributed in late April 1937, in which the overthrow of the Generalidad government and its replacement by a Revolutionary Junta was urged: control of several barricades in the Ramblas during the May events: the reading of a call, addressed to all Europe's workers4 , for solidarity with the Spanish revolution: distribution around the barricades of the famous May 5th handbill: and the assessment of the May days in the manifesto of May 8th. But they were unable to put these slogans into practice. They suggested the formation of a column to go out and head off troops coming from Valencia: but they soon abandoned the idea in view of the cool reception received by the proposal. After the May events they began publication of El Amigo del Pueblo, although they had been disowned by the CNT and the FAI. In June 1937, although they had not been outlawed as the POUM had, they suffered the political persecution that hit the rest of the CNT's membership. Their mouthpiece El Amigo del Pueblo was published clandestinely from issue No. 2 (May 26) onwards, and its managing editor Jaime Balius endured a series of jail terms. Other Friends of Durruti members lost their posts or their influence, like Bruno Lladó, a councilor on Sabadell city council. Most of the Durruti-ists had to endure FAI-sponsored attempts5 to have them expelled from the CNT. In spite of all of which they carried on issuing their newspaper clandestinely and in mid-1938 they issued the pamphlet Hacia una nueva revolución, by which time the counterrevolution's success had proved final and overwhelming and the republicans had already lost the war.

Their chief tactical proposals were summed up in the following slogans: trade union management of the economy, federation of municipalities, militia-based army, revolutionary program, replacement of the Generalidad by a Revolutionary Junta, concerted CNT-FAI-POUM action.

If we had to sum up the historical and political significance of the Friends of Durruti, we should say that it was the failed attempt, originating from within the bosom of the libertarian movement, to establish a revolutionary vanguard that would put paid to the CNT-FAI's collaborationism and defend and develop the revolutionary "gains" of July.

The attempt was a failure because they showed themselves incapable, not just of putting their slogans into practice, but even of effectively disseminating their ideas and offering practical guide-lines for campaigning on behalf of them. The Group was constituted as an FAI affinity group. Perhaps the terror-stricken bourgeoisie and the disguised priest regarded them as savage beasts, but their numbers included journalists like Balius and Callejas, militia column commanders like Pablo Ruiz, Francisco Pellicer and Máximo Franco and councilors like Bruno Lladó. For their distant origins we have to go back to the libertarians who shared the revolutionary experience of the Upper Llobregat insurrection in January 1932 and to the FAI's "Renacer" affinity group between 1934 and 1936. Their more immediate roots lay in the opposition to militarization of the militias (especially in the Gelsa sector and within the Iron Column) and in the defense of revolutionary gains and criticism of the CNT's collaborationism as set out in articles published in Solidaridad Obrera (between July and early October 1936), in Ideasand La Noche (between January and May 1937), by Balius in particular. Their campaign weapons were the handbill, the poster, the newspaper and the barricade: but a split or rupture was never contemplated as a weapon, any more than exposure of the CNT's counterrevolutionary role, or, during the May events at any rate, confronting the CNT leaders in an effort to counter the CNT-FAI's defeatist counsels.

Yet the historical significance of the Friends of Durruti cannot be denied. And it resides precisely in their status as an internal opposition to the libertarian movement's collaborationist policy. The political importance of their emergence was immediately detected by Nin, who devoted an approving, hopeful article to them6 , on the grounds that they held out the prospect of the CNT masses' espousing a revolutionary line and opposing the CNT's policy of appeasement and collaboration.

Hence the interest which the POUM and Trotskyists7 displayed in bringing the Friends of Durruti under their influence - something in which they never succeeded.

The main theoretical contributions of the Group to anarchist thinking can be summed up as these:

1. The need for a revolutionary program.

2. Replacement of the capitalist State by a Revolutionary Junta, which must stand by to defend the revolution from the inevitable attacks of counterrevolutionaries.

Anarchists' traditional apoliticism meant that the CNT lacked a theory of revolution. In the absence of a theory, there is no revolution, and the failure to assume power meant that it was left in the hands of the capitalist State. In the estimation of the Friends of Durruti Group, the CAMC (Central Antifascist Militias Committee) was a class collaborationist agency, and served no purpose other than to prop up and reinforce the bourgeois State which it neither could nor wished to destroy. Hence the Friends' advocacy of the need to set up a Revolutionary Junta, capable of coordinating, centralizing and reinforcing the power of the countless workers', local, defense, factory, militians' etc. committees, which alone held power between July 19 and September 26. This power was diffused through numerous committees, which held all power locally, but by failing to federate, centralize and reinforce one another, were channeled, whittled down and converted by the CAMC into Popular Front councils, into the management boards of unionized firms and the battalions of the Republican army. Without utter destruction of the capitalist State, the revolutionary events of July 1936 could not have opened the way to a new structure of workers' power. The decline and ultimate demise of the revolutionary process was inevitable. However, the tension between the CNT-FAI's reformist anarchism and the Friends of Durruti's revolutionary anarchism was not plain and stark enough to provoke a split which would have clarified the contrasting stances of them both.

So, although the political thinking set out by the Friends of Durruti was an attempt to accommodate the reality of the war and revolution in Spain within anarcho-syndicalist ideology, one of the primary grounds on which it was rejected by the CNT membership was its authoritarian, "marxist" or "Bolshevistic" flavor. From which we may conclude that the Friends of Durruti were trapped in a cul de sac. They could not embrace the collaborationism of the CNT's leadership cadres and the progress of the counterrevolution: but when they theorized about the experiences of the Spanish revolution, that is, concluded that there was a need for a Revolutionary Junta to overthrow the bourgeois republican government of the Generalidad of Catalonia and use force to repress the agents of the counterrevolution, they were dubbed marxists and authoritarians8 , and thereby lost any chance they might have had of making recruits from among the CNT rank and file. We have to wonder if the Friends of Durruti's dilemma was not merely a reflection of Spanish anarcho-syndicalism's theoretical inability to face up to the problems posed by the war and the revolution.

We cannot wind up this study without a concluding note expressing our political repugnance and our repudiation, in our capacity as readers of history, of those who, hiding behind their alleged academic objectivity9 , dare to defame, judge, condemn, insult and hold up to ridicule persons and organizations from the workers' movement - all from a bourgeois standpoint, which they of course consider to be scientific and impartial, although they may have utilized no methodology other than misrepresentation of the facts and the most asinine nonsense.

There may be those who take the line that the criticisms articulated here of the Friends of Durruti's and the CNT's political stances have, on occasion, been very harsh: we shall be satisfied if they are also regarded as rigorous and class-based, and our response will be that the repression that the defeat of the proletariat brought in its wake was even harsher.

Balius was not the crippled, bloodthirsty ogre as which the terror of the bourgeois and the cleric depicted him in 1937: or as he is represented today by the "comic books" from the Catalanist publishing house of the Benedictines of Montserrat, and/or the unwarranted hogwash from quite a few academic historians. Balius was a modest, intelligent, honest person, a coherent and intransigent and extremely commonsensical revolutionary. But even if Balius had been - as he was not - the demon as which the terrified clergy and bourgeoisie imagined him, that would not have altered our assessment of the Friends of Durruti one iota. Precisely because we have acknowledged, analyzed and repeatedly emphasized in this work the limitations of the band of revolutionaries known as the Friends of Durruti Group, we cannot close without paying tribute to the memory of a working class organization which embodied the proletariat's class consciousness and which strove, at a given point, and with a full complement of limitations and shortcomings, to fill the role of a revolutionary vanguard.

In Barcelona it was and still is possible to overhear expressions of hatred and contempt relating to Durruti and "his friends" coming from the lips of the class enemy: however, in working class circles, the mythic Durruti, the huge proletarian demonstration at his funeral, the indomitable rebelliousness of the Durruti-ists, and the revolutionary anarchist feats of July 19 have always been spoken of with respect. During the long night of Francoism, anonymous hands scrawled the names on the unmarked graves of Durruti and Ascaso. It is not the task of the historian to respect myth: but it is the task of the historian to confront defamation, misrepresentation and insult when they pass themselves off as historical narrative.

And although we tackle that thankless task, we prefer to draw the lessons that matter to the class struggle. It should be enough to bear two pictures in mind. In the first, we see a humble, persuasive, loquacious Companys on July 21 , offering to make room for anarchist leaders in an Antifascist Front government, on the grounds that they had routed the military fascists and power was in the streets. In the second, we see a brazen, cornered Companys beseeching the Republican government on May 4 to order the air force to bomb the CNT's premises. The film of the revolution and the war is running between these two pictures.

May 1937 was incubated in July 1936. The Friends of Durruti Group had realized that revolutions are totalitarian or are defeated: therein lies its great merit.

  • 1According to Arquer [letter to Bolloten dated 16 July 1971, deposited with the Hoover Institution] the Friends of Durruti were a passing eruption which at one point articulated the deepest feelings of the CNT membership in Catalonia, and, had the anarchists succeeded that tendency might well have consolidated itself and grown, but once defeated, they lost all influence and their leaders came within an ace of expulsion.
  • 2The degree of familiarity and day to day friendly relations between Federica Montseny and the Russian ambassador, Rosenberg, defies belief, and the assistance and fillip which Abad de Santillán attempted to afford a discredited Companys likewise defies imagination. The sublime saintliness of the anarchist leaders accounts for the ease with which they were manipulated. By way of an example of what we are saying, see Frederica Montseny's own declarations (in Agusti Pons Converses amb Frederica Montseny: Frederica Montseny, sindicalisme i acrácia [Laia, Barcelona, 1977, pp. 169-170]):

    Before setting off for Russia, having been recalled, Ambassador Rosenberg who had become my friend - called to see me [. . .] [I] was staying at the Metropol, which was the seat of the Russian embassy. I was to be one of the last government figures to arrive in Valencia, when the government, in view of the military situation, resolved to move there from Madrid. Neither the Ministry of Health nor myself, who held that portfolio, could find anywhere to settle in. Everywhere was occupied. Until, eventually, the Russians very kindly turned over to me one of the floors of the hotel which had been turned into their embassy. Many a time I found a bouquet of red carnations in my room. But the flowers were only an excuse for rummaging around the whole room.

    But the following excerpt from Frederica Montseny's letter, dated Toulouse May 31, 1950, to Burnett Bolloten, strikes us as even more revealing:

    Rosenberg very kindly offered me two rooms in the Hotel Metropol [in December 1936, in Valencia] which was occupied by the Soviet Embassy and its personnel. I reckon that his intention must have been to keep me continually under his influence. I accepted, after consultation with Vazquez, who had just been appointed secretary of our National Committee, and I moved into the Metropol. I ate in the Hotel dining room, mingling with the Russian officials, and, very often, in the Ambassador's personal quarters. Virtually every night, he would invite me in for coffee. There I met Marty, Gallo, Kleber, Blucher, Tito [?] and Gorev, whom I had met before in Madrid. And very often I saw, or my secretary who was nosier or less discreet than me, saw Alvarez del Vayo, Garcia Oliver and López coming and going from Rosenberg's quarters. Occasionally, Mariano R. Vázquez was invited along with me, passing many a long hour in lazy conversation, drinking cup after cup of coffee or tea.

    See also the testimony of Abad de Santillán, from the FAI's Peninsular Committee: "We were none too pleased with the power for which the Militias Committee stood and could impose. There was a government, there was the Generalidad and we would have liked the thousands of problems and gripes and demands brought to us every day to have been heard and resolved by the lawful government, which was not recognized by the broad masses. During some casual get together, we invited President Companys to attend so that people might get used to regarding him as a friend of ours, whom they could trust." [Diego Abad de Santillán Alfonso XIII, la II Republica, Francisco Franco (Juúcar, Madrid, 1979, p. 349)]

  • 3Letter from Balius to Burnett Bolloten, dated Cuernavaca July 13, 1946.
  • 4According to Pablo Ruiz's claims in "Elogio póstumo de Jaime Balius," in Le Combat syndicaliste/Solidaridad Obrera of January 9, 1981.
  • 5See the articles in which the FAI moved that the Friends of Durruti be expelled, in Boletin de información y orientación orgánica del Comite peninsular de la Federación Anarquista Iberica, like "La desautorización de la entidad 'Amigos de Durruti"' in No. 1, Barcelona, May 20, 1937, and "La sanción publica a los inteurantes de la agrupación Los Amigos de Durruti" in No. 3, June 6, 1937.
  • 6Andres Nin "Ante el peligro contrarrevoluciónario ha llegado la hora de actuar" in La Batalla of March 4, 1937.
  • 7See Munis's article on the Friends of Durruti in La Voz Leninista No. 2, August 23, 1937, entitled "La junta revoluciónaria y los 'Amigos de Durruti.'"
  • 8The description 'authoritarian,' a term of abuse among libertarians, was not, however, a product of CNT propaganda, since one of the most significant of the Group's theoretical advances was its assertion of the authoritarian, or totalitarian character of any revolution. This is an assertion which the Friends of Durruti reiterated on several occasions. It was first made in an article which Balius published on December 6, 1936, under the title "El testamento de Durruti," and was placed in Durruti's mouth in the course of his harangue from the Madrid front on November 5, 1936: and the last mention was in the 1978 introduction to the English language edition of the pamphlet Towards a Fresh Revolution, which reads thus:

    In that booklet back in 1938, we said that all revolutions are totalitarian.

  • 9Spanish historiography on the civil war has turned from being militant history written by protagonists and eyewitnesses of the civil war, with all of the dangers implicit in that, but also the irreplaceable passion of someone who does not gamble with words because previously he gambled with his very life, into inane academic history written by ninnies and characterized by nonsense, incomprehension and indeed contempt for the militants and organizations of the workers' movement. Still, there are a few honorable exceptions - among them the lines of inquiry opened up by Vilanova, Monjo and Vega, which we might describe as an academic history that fulfills its function, and requires the addition of no further qualifying term.