THE FRIENDS OF DURRUTI GROUP IN THE INSURRECTION OF MAY 1937 AND ITS PROGRAM
“The function of history would therefore be showing that the laws deceive, that the kings play a part, that power deludes and that historians lie.”
Michel Foucault, The Genealogy of Racism
The Friends of Durruti Group was an anarchist organization, founded in March 1937. Its members were militiamen from the Durruti Column who were opposed to militarization, and anarchists who were critical of the entry of the CNT into the republican government and the Generalitat.
The historical and political importance of the Friends of Durruti resided in its intention, which arose in 1937 within the ranks of the libertarian movement itself, to create a revolutionary Junta that would put and end to the abandonment of revolutionary principles and collaborationism with the capitalist state; so that the CNT would defend and intensify the “conquests” of July 1936, instead of gradually surrendering them to the bourgeoisie. The Group never actually proposed, however, to become, during the May Days of 1937, an authentic revolutionary alternative to the collaborationist leadership of the CNT-FAI, which had various Ministers in the government of the Republic and in that of the Generalitat.
THE FRIENDS OF DURRUTI GROUP FROM ITS FOUNDING TO THE MAY EVENTS
In October 1936 the decree militarizing the Popular Militias provoked major discontent among the anarchist militants of the Durruti Column on the Aragón Front.1 After long and passionate discussions, in March 1937 several hundred volunteer militiamen, stationed in the Gelsa sector, decided to abandon the front and return to the rearguard.2 An agreement was reached to the effect that the relief of the militiamen opposed to militarization would be sent within fifteen days. They abandoned the front, taking their weapons with them.
Once they arrived in Barcelona, together with other anarchists (defenders of the continuity and intensification of the July revolution, and opposed to confederal collaboration in the government), the militiamen from Gelsa decided to form an anarchist organization that was separate from the FAI, the CNT and the Libertarian Youth, an organization whose mission would be to channel the acratic movement into the revolutionary path. The Group was formally constituted in March 1937, after a long period of incubation that lasted several months, beginning in October 1936. The directive Committee chose the name of “Group of the Friends of Durruti”, a name that was in part testimony to the fact that most of its members were former militiamen of the Durruti Column, but, as Balius astutely pointed out, it was not chosen as a reference of any kind to Durruti’s views, but rather as a result of the popular cult that had grown up around his memory.3
The central headquarters of the Group was located on Las Ramblas, at the corner of Hospital Street. The group experienced a rapid and notable increase in its membership. Just before May 1937, the Group had distributed between four and five thousand membership cards. In order to qualify for membership, one had to be a CNT militant. The Group’s growth was the result of the discontent of a wide sector of the anarchist militants with the CNT’s betrayal of its principles. Another factor in its favor was the struggle that was underway against the implementation of the Collectivization Decree, which was being effected by means of budgetary decrees prepared by Tarradellas at S’Agaró, and by means of which the government of the Generalitat sought to control and direct the operations of all the Catalonian enterprises, subjecting them to a rigid state economic plan.4 The Catalan economy was in fact being transformed into a kind of collectivist (or trade union) capitalism of state planning, in which the government of the Generalitat exercised financial control over each and every one of the enterprises, and possessed the additional power of appointing an Inspector from the Generalitat, who acted on behalf of the government and directed the enterprise. From January to July 1937, in Barcelona, the industrial workers had attended numerous assemblies in the factories, which were often menaced by large contingents of police just outside the meeting halls, where the question of the conflict between socialization and collectivization5 was posed with greater or lesser clarity and effectiveness, together with the extremely serious problem presented by the decline in purchasing power of wages and the difficulties in obtaining food and meeting other basic needs. Collectivization implied that the ownership of the small and medium-sized enterprises and workshops had passed from their former owners to the workers in each enterprise, disconnected from and unsupportive of the wage workers in other, less productive enterprises, or enterprises that faced greater difficulties. This is therefore a form of collective ownership, on the part of the workers in each enterprise, although subject to the iron grip of state control, since the general direction of the economy was planned by the government of the Generalitat, which not only exercised financial control and therefore the power to starve out insubordinate enterprises, but also held effective managerial powers due to the Inspector, who in fact became the director and new boss, appointed by the government. In reality, collectivization had therefore become a kind of collective capitalism, under trade union management, with state planning and direction. Socialization, however, means the organization of the workers in Industrial Federations or Trade Unions, which are supposed to reorganize and rationalize production in an entire industrial sector, directed and planned by the trade unions, in which gains are supposed to accrue to the benefit of all of society, and not just the workers of each enterprise.6 The totality of all these Federations of Industry, rather than the bourgeois government of the Generalitat, should therefore be responsible for the direction and planning of the economy in all of Cataluña. Besides an ideological struggle, which it certainly was, it was above all a struggle for the mere survival of the worker-managed industries, for if Companys and Comorera had the power to tax the enterprises and establish the standards for their working conditions, as well as prevent access to credit or raw materials, they had in their hands the real control of any enterprise, by way of the Inspector they imposed, and with the generalization of this situation a kind of state capitalism was established, directed by the Generalitat.
This struggle was ideologically concretized in the slogan disseminated by the Group of the Friends of Durruti, in April and May of 1937, “All power to the trade unions”. Recall that the May Days were provoked precisely by the refusal of the workers to accept an Inspector appointed by the Generalitat at the Telephone Company.
The Group engaged in frenzied activity. From its formal constitution on March 17, up until May 3, the Group organized various public meetings (at the Teatro Poliorama on April 18 and at the Teatro Goya on May 2), distributed various manifestoes and pamphlets, disrupted Federica Montseny’s speech at the rally at the Monumental on April 11, and plastered the walls of Barcelona with posters explaining their program. Two of this program’s points are particularly noteworthy:
1. All power to the working class.
2. Democratic institutions of workers, peasants and combatants, as an expression of this working class power, which they called the Revolutionary Junta.
They also called for the trade unions to assume full economic and political direction of the country. When they spoke of trade unions they were referring to the confederal trade unions, excluding the Stalinized UGT. In fact, some of the members of the Group had abandoned their positions as UGT militants in order to join the CNT, and therefore to become eligible for membership in the Friends of Durruti Group.
In reality, although the working class origins of the members of the Group made all of them eligible to be members of the CNT, most of them were militants of the FAI, which is why it could very well be said that the Group of the Friends of Durruti was a group of anarchists who, from acratic doctrinal purism, but above all because they reflected the ongoing struggle for the socialization of the enterprises and against the militarization of the confederal militias, opposed the collaborationist and statist policy of the leadership of the CNT, and the FAI itself.
They were a dominant force in the food supply trade union, with branches throughout Catalonia, as well as in the mining districts of Sallent, Suria, Fígols and Cardona, in the vicinity of Alto Llobregat. They also had influence in other trade unions, in which they were a minority faction. Some of the Group’s members were also members of the Control Patrols. They never formed a fraction or a sub-group within the Patrol Controls, however, or ever attempted to infiltrate the Patrols.
We cannot characterize the Group as an affinity group, or even as a conscious and organized vanguard that was methodically carrying out a plan to present itself as an alternative to the FAI. It was, both from the numerical as well as organizational and ideological point of view, much more than a more or less informally constituted affinity group (which would usually have a maximum of between twelve and twenty members) formed on the basis of certain shared ideological views and common discontent. And although it would be even less correct to view it as just another branch of the Libertarian Movement (ML), such as the CNT, FAI and the Libertarian Youth, it could be compared to the Mujeres Libres of that time: an organization with its own goals, not completely demarcated by any of the three great organized branches of the ML. It was a large organization of militants (five thousand members before May) that instinctively felt the imperative need to confront the pusillanimous policies of the CNT and the constantly advancing counterrevolutionary process. Its most outstanding spokespersons were Jaime Balius and Pablo Ruiz. On Sunday, April 18, the Group held a public meeting in the Teatro Poliorama, where they intended to publicize their existence and present their program. Jaime Balius, Pablo Ruiz (the delegate of the Gelsa Group of the Durruti Column), Francisco Pellicer (from the Food Supply Trade Union) and Francisco Carreño (a member of the War Committee of the Durruti Column) spoke at this meeting. The event was a major success and the ideas expressed by the speakers were loudly applauded by the crowd. On the first Sunday in May (the 2nd), the Group held another informational rally in the Teatro Goya, which filled the theater to overflowing and provoked great enthusiasm in the audience. A documentary film entitled, “July Nineteenth” was shown, in which the most emotional incidents of the revolutionary days of July 1936 were depicted. Pablo Ruiz, Jaime Balius, Liberto Callejas and Francisco Carreño spoke at this meeting. During the course of the meeting the audience was warned that an attack by the reactionaries against the workers was imminent. The superior Committees of the FAI and the CNT immediately attempted to discredit the Friends of Durruti Group, whom they slandered as Marxists.
The program set forth by The Friends of Durruti, prior to May 1937, was characterized by its emphasis on the management of the economy by the trade unions, the critique of all the parties and their state collaborationism, as well as a strict return to acratic doctrinal purity. The Friends of Durruti explained their program in the poster with which they covered the walls of Barcelona at the end of April 1937. These posters now advocated, before the insurrection took place, the need to replace the bourgeois government of the Generalitat of Catalonia with a Revolutionary Junta. The posters read as follows:
“From the Group of the Friends of Durruti. To the working class:
1. The immediate constitution of a Revolutionary Junta formed of workers from the city and the countryside and combatants.
2. The family wage. Rationing card. Direction of the economy and control over distribution by the trade unions.
3. Liquidation of the counterrevolution.
4. Creation of a revolutionary army.
5. Absolute control of public order by the working class.
6. Firm opposition to any armistice.
7. A proletarian justice system.
8. Abolition of prisoner exchanges.
Attention, workers: our group is opposed to the advancing counterrevolution. The decrees on public order, sponsored by Aiguadé, will not be implemented. We demand that Maroto and the other imprisoned comrades be released.
All power to the working class.
All economic power to the trade unions.
Against the Generalitat, the Revolutionary Junta.”
The poster of April 1937 foreshadowed and explained the leaflet distributed during the May Days, along with many of the other themes and concerns addressed by Balius in the articles published in Solidaridad Obrera, La Noche and Ideas (on revolutionary justice, prisoner exchanges, the need for the rearguard to live for the war, etc.). And this was the first time that the Group advocated the necessity of a Revolutionary Junta to replace the bourgeois government of the Generalitat. This Revolutionary Junta was defined as a revolutionary government formed by all the workers, peasants and militiamen who had fought in the streets during the revolutionary days of July 1936 (and this excluded the PSUC, founded on July 23, and the ERC).
The most important point, however, was the combined expression of the three concluding slogans. The replacement of the bourgeois government of the Generalitat by a Revolutionary Junta appears alongside the slogan of “All power to the working class” and “All economic power to the trade unions”.
The political program expressed in this text, which was distributed immediately before the May Days, was undoubtedly the most advanced and lucid of all the programs of all the proletarian groups of the time, and made the Group the revolutionary vanguard of the Spanish proletariat at this critical and decisive moment. And that is just how the Group was viewed at the time by the POUM and the Bolshevik-Leninist Section of Spain.
THE MAY EVENTS7
There was no demonstration in Barcelona on May Day, which fell on a Saturday. The Generalitat had declared the day a working day, for increasing war production, although the real reason was fear of a confrontation between the different workers organizations, due to the growing tension in various towns and districts in Catalonia. On that same Saturday, the Council of the Generalitat met to deliberate on the disturbing situation of public order in Catalonia. This Council expressed its approval of the efficacy displayed during the last few weeks by the Ministries of Interior and Defense, to whom it agreed to grant a vote of confidence to resolve those questions concerning public order that still needed to be addressed.
The President of the Generalitat, on Monday, May 3, was conveniently absent due to a trip to Benicarló for a meeting with Largo Caballero, which allowed him to disavow responsibility for the first incidents. In any event, the political decision of Companys, with his absolute refusal to dismiss Artemi Aguadé and Rodríguez Salas, as the CNT demanded earlier that same day, was one of the most important trip-wires that led to the armed confrontations of the following days. On that same day, a large contingent of miners from the Alto Llobregat mining basin were present in Barcelona, who were interested in the agreements the government had to make concerning the export of potash,8 and who subsequently took an active part in the defense of the barricades.
On Monday, May 3, 1937, at around 2:45 p.m., three trucks carrying heavily armed assault guards pulled up in front of the headquarters of the Telephone company in the Plaza de Cataluña. They were commanded by Rodríguez Salas, a militant of the UGT and a dedicated Stalinist, who was the publicly appointed chief of the Commissariat of Public Order. The building containing the Telephone company had been confiscated and controlled by the CNT since July 19. The questions of the surveillance of telephone communications, control over the borders, and the control patrols were the bones of contention that had provoked various incidents since January pitting the republican government of the Generalitat against the confederal masses. It was an inevitable confrontation between the republican state apparatus, which claimed absolute dominion over all the responsibilities that “pertained” to it, and the defense of the “conquests” of July 19 on the part of the cenetistas. Rodríguez Salas attempted to take control of the Telephone building. The CNT militants on the lower floors, taken by surprise, allowed themselves to be disarmed; on the upper floors, however, serious resistance was organized, thanks to a strategically placed machine gun. The news spread quickly. Barricades were immediately erected throughout the city. It is not possible to speak of a spontaneous reaction on the part of the Barcelona working class, because the general strike, the armed confrontations with the police forces and the barricades were the fruit of the initiative taken by the Committee of Investigation of the CNT-FAI and the defense committees, which rapidly encountered support thanks to the existence of an enormous amount of generalized discontent, the increasing economic hardships occasioned by the rising cost of living, long queues and rationing, as well as the tension among the rank and file base of the confederal militants between collaborationists and revolutionaries. The street battles were initiated and carried out by the neighborhood defense committees (and only partially and secondarily by some elements of the control patrols). The fact that there was no directive from the superior committees of the CNT, whose members were acting as Ministers in Valencia, or from any other organization, to mobilize and build barricades throughout the city, does not mean that these actions were purely spontaneous, but rather that they were the result of the directives issued by the defense committees.9 Manuel Escorza had spoken at the assembly of the CNT-FAI on July 21, 1936, advocating a third way, as opposed to García Oliver’s half-hearted advocacy of the “go for broke” strategy and the overwhelming majority position of Abad de Santillán and Federica Montseny in favor of loyal collaboration with the government of the Generalitat. Escorza advocated the use of the government of the Generalitat as a tool to socialize the economy, and that it then be disposed of when it ceases to be useful to the CNT. Escorza was the highest ranking official of the Investigation Services of the CNT-FAI, which had since July 1936 been executing all kinds of repressive tasks, as well as espionage and intelligence. These Services had preserved their own separate organizational structure, autonomous and independent of both the government of the Generalitat as well as, during its brief existence, the CCMA. It was directly responsible to the superior committees of the CNT-FAI (the Regional Committees of the CNT and the FAI), while at the same time it exercised a coordinating role for the neighborhood defense committees and the CNT militants who were members of the public institutions of the Commissariat of Public Order and the Control Patrols: José Asens, Dionisio Eroles, Aurelio Fernández, “Portela”, etc. In April 1937, Pedro Herrera, the “conseller” (Minister) of Health under the second Tarradellas government,10 and Manuel Escorza, were the CNT officials who negotiated with Lluis Companys (the President of the Generalitat) to resolve the serious government crisis of early March 1937, due to the resignation of the “conseller” of Defense, the cenetista Isgleas.11 Companys decided to abandon the tactic employed by Tarradellas, who could not imagine a government of the Generalitat that was not a government of antifascist unity, and in which the CNT did not participate, in order to adopt the tactic advocated by Comorera, secretary of the PSUC, that consisted in using force to impose a “strong” government, one that would no longer tolerate a CNT incapable of keeping its own militants, whom he referred to as “uncontrollables”, in line. Companys was determined to break with a an increasingly more problematic policy of compromises with the CNT and thought that the time had come, thanks to the support of the PSUC and the Soviets, to impose by force the authority and the decrees of a government of the Generalitat that, as the facts had demonstrated, was not even strong enough to refrain from making deals with the CNT. The fruitless discussions held by Companys with Escorza and Herrera,12 which failed to arrive at any kind of political solution in two months of talks, and despite the ephemeral new government of April 16,13 led directly to the armed confrontations of May 1937 in Barcelona, when Companys, without conferring with Tarradellas (not to mention Escorza and Herrera) issued the order to Artemi Aguadé, “conseller” of the Interior, to occupy the Telephone building, which was then executed by Rodríguez Salas,14 Commissar of Public Order, at approximately 2:45 p.m. on May 3, 1937. The general strike order was not the product of a “spontaneous class instinct”. The order to seize the Telephone building was the brutal response to the CNT demands15 and an expression of contempt for the negotiations16 carried out during the month of April by Manuel Escorza and Pedro Herrera, representing the CNT, directly with Companys, who had expressly excluded Tarradellas. Escorza17 had the motive and the ability to respond immediately to the provocation staged by Companys from his position in the Committee of Investigation of the CNT-FAI, an autonomous organization that coordinated the defense committees and the CNT members who held positions of authority in the various departments of public order. This was most likely the trigger of the armed confrontations of the May Events, and created a favorable terrain for the activities of the Friends of Durruti. They were able to immediately adapt to what was required by the circumstances. While the workers were fighting with arms in hand, the Group attempted to lead them and give them a revolutionary goal. Its limitations soon became apparent, however. It criticized the leaders of the CNT, whom it called traitors, in its Manifesto of May 8, but it was unable to counteract the CNT’s directives to abandon the barricades. Nor did it propose to act outside of the framework of the confederal organization and its directives, which immediately sought to stop the insurrection that was started by the defense committees, when the great ones, such as García Oliver, Federica Montseny and Abad de Santillán, tried to put out the fire. The Friends of Durruti was incapable of realizing its proposal to form a Revolutionary Junta. Its members knew that its critiques of the anarchosyndicalist leadership were not enough to displace it from its ruling position in the CNT organization. Furthermore, the Group’s members were mostly young and inexperienced and lacked prestige among the confederal masses. Its ideas had not deeply permeated the rank and file militants.
While the Group was floundering in this situation of impotence it received a note from the Executive Committee of the POUM, requesting that an authorized deputation of the Group meet with the Executive Committee. This meeting was attended by Jaime Balius, Pablo Ruiz, Eleuterio Roig and Martín. At 7:00 p.m. on May 4, they met with Gorkin, Nin and Andrade at the Principal Palace on the Ramblas. Together they assessed the situation, and reached the unanimous conclusion that, given the opposition of the leadership circles of the CNT and the FAI to the revolutionary movement, the movement was condemned to failure.18 They agreed that it was necessary to carry out an orderly retreat of the combatants and that the latter should keep their weapons. That the withdrawal should be carried out before the positions have to be abandoned as a result of the actions of the enemy forces. That it was necessary to obtain guarantees that the combatants at the barricades would not be targets of repression. On the evening of the next day, the highest-level anarchosyndicalist leaders and officials again spoke on the radio, calling for an end to the fighting. And now the rank and file militants at the barricades no longer mocked the “firemen” of the CNT-FAI, or the kisses that García Oliver gave the assault guards.
On Wednesday, May 5, the Friends of Durruti distributed the well-known leaflet at the barricades that made them famous, whose text reads as follows:
“CNT-FAI. ‘The Friends of Durruti’ Group.
WORKERS! A Revolutionary Junta. Shoot those responsible. Disarm all armed government forces. Socialization of the economy. Dissolution of all the political Parties that have attacked the working class. We shall not surrender the streets. The revolution above all else. We salute our comrades of the POUM who have fraternized with us in the streets. LONG LIVE THE SOCIAL REVOLUTION! DOWN WITH THE COUNTERREVOLUTION!”
This leaflet was printed during the night of May 5th by workers forced to do so at gunpoint, in a print shop in the Barrio Chino. The improvisation and lack of infrastructure of the Group were evident. The text was drafted after the meeting with the Executive of the POUM, held at 7:00 p.m. on the previous day, when the Group and the POUM had already agreed on a position of defensive retreat, without abandoning any weapons, and with the demand that guarantees be secured against repression. The leaflet, approved by the POUM, and published in issue number 235 (May 6) of La Batalla, was not backed up by a plan of action, and was nothing but a declaration of intentions and an appeal to the spontaneity of the confederal masses to persevere in their actions against the advances of the counterrevolution. In reality, everything depended on the decision of the CNT leadership. It was absurd and illogical to think that the confederal masses, despite their initial reticence, and despite their criticisms, would not follow the leaders of July 19. Only if the leadership of the CNT was supplanted by another revolutionary leadership would it be possible, although even then it would be very difficult, for the masses to follow the directives and the action plan of a new leadership. Neither the Group, however, nor the POUM attempted to dislodge the confederal leadership, nor had either prepared any kind of plan of action. Both, in practice, encouraged a tailist policy with respect to the decisions of the CNT leadership. The Executive Committee of the POUM rejected the proposal of Josep Rebull19 to seize the Generalitat and any buildings that might still put up any resistance in the city center, arguing that this was not a military question, but a political one. The confrontations were restricted to the center of the city.
On May 5 there was a meeting between the Local Committee of Barcelona of the POUM and the Friends of Durruti, which the POUMistas characterized as a failure, because:
“They [the Friends of Durruti] did not want to directly intervene within the confederal structure to replace the leadership, they only wanted to have an influence on the movement without assuming any other kind of responsibility.”
In the leaflet distributed on May 5, The Friends of Durruti proposed a joint POUM-CNT-FAI action. As an immediate objective, to lead the revolution, they advocated the formation of a Revolutionary Junta. BUT THIS COULD NEVER BE CARRIED OUT IN PRACTICE. They were people of the barricades, rather than organizers. The proposal for joint CNT-FAI-POUM action did not go beyond a salute to the militants of other organizations, who were fighting shoulder to shoulder with them at the barricades. This proposal never proceeded from the text of the leaflet to a concrete pact. They did practically nothing to unseat the CNT leadership and deprive it of control over the confederal masses, who had repeatedly ignored the CNT’s orders to abandon the struggle in the streets.
The Friends of Durruti were the most active fighters on the barricades and completely dominated the Plaza Maciá (now the Plaza Real), with all the side streets blocked by barricades, and the entire length of Hospital Street. At the intersection of Las Ramblas and Hospital Street, under an enormous portrait of Durruti draped over the façade of the building where the Group had its headquarters, a barricade was built where they established their center of operations. Their absolute control over Hospital Street connected with the headquarters of the Confederal Defense Committee (the central barracks of the defense committees) at Los Escolapios20 on the Ronda San Pablo, and from there with the Brecha de San Pablo, secured by forty militiamen from the Rojinegra Column, who, under the command of the Durrutista Máximo Franco had “dropped in on Barcelona” for purposes of “observation and intelligence”, after both the Rojinegra Column as well as the Lenin Column, commanded by Rovira, had returned to the front after yielding to pressure exerted by Abad de Santillán and Molina, that is, by the cenetistas who were giving orders from the Department of Defense of the Generalitat, in the absence of Isgleas.
The POUM totally dominated the Plaza del Teatro with several barricades that defended an extensive perimeter around the headquarters of the Local Committee (in the Principal Palace) and the Hotel Falcón, which had been transformed into a fortress.
The bloodiest and most decisive battles took place on May 4th and 5th. The working class neighborhoods were under CNT-FAI control from the very first moment of the insurrection. In the heart of Pueblo Nuevo, for example, barricades were erected systematically to control the incoming and outgoing traffic on the Mataró highway, yet all was quiet in this area, and in those neighborhoods where fighting was necessary the battles were rapidly decided in favor of the defense committees, as was the case in Sants, where the defense committee, installed in the Hotel Olímpic on the Plaza de España, attacked the neighboring barracks of the Assault Guard (which housed 600 men) at the Plaza de España, and then, as a preventive measure, attacked the barracks of the National Guard (the former Civil Guard) at Casarramona21 (now the headquarters of Caixa-Fórum), held by a squad of 80 men, since the rest of the garrison, which had a total of 400 National Guards, had departed with orders to seize the radio station on Las Ramblas. As soon as they reached the vicinity of Los Escolapios they were defeated and took flight. In Pueblo Seco, the defense committee fired artillery salvos at the Cine América (No. 121 Paralelo), where about sixty of these National Guards had sought refuge during the course of their attempt to get back to their barracks.
The bloodiest battle was fought in the center of the city, and often involved confrontations between adjacent barricades erected by the POUM, CNT, PSUC, ERC and the Generalitat, to defend their respective headquarters and local offices.
The Plaza de Sant Jaume, where the Palacio de la Generalitat and the offices of the City Government were located, was defended by barricades manned by the mossos d’esquadra. The members of the POUM erected a barricade at the intersection of Las Ramblas and Fiveller Street (now Ferran/Fernando), from which they fired on the barricade of the Generalitat. The PSUC built a barricade at the intersection of Llibreteria Street and the Plaza del Angel (at that time, Dostoievski), right in front of the building containing the headquarters of the UGT federation of water, gas and electric power trade unions, located on the Vía Layetana (then known as Durruti). The resulting ability to open fire from two sides at once allowed them to dominate this sector of the Vía Durruti, and also blockaded the gates of No. 2, Plaza del Angel, where Berneri and Barbieri resided, who were kidnapped and murdered by a UGT patrol. There were also battles on Vía Durruti between the Commissariat of Public Order and the Casa CNT-FAI, which was defended by tanks. The combat in the Post Office building was fought floor by floor.
On the Paseo de Gracia gunfire was exchanged between the Casal Carlos Marx of the PSUC and the nearby local headquarters of the CNT’s Woodworkers Trade Union; there was also a battle at the Cinco de Oros, between the barricade erected in front of the POUM headquarters, on the Paseo de Gracia, and the barricade of the nearby Assault Guard barracks. Also on the Paseo de Gracia, the German anarchosyndicalists had built another barricade in front of the former German consulate, protected by a machine gun that raked the entire Paseo de Gracia.
On the Gran Vía, between Balmes and the Paseo de Gracia, there was a battle that pitted Assault Guards and special troops of the Estat Català, who had occupied the café Oro del Rhin and erected a barricade on the Rambla de Cataluña, against the cenetistas of the Food Supply Trade Union and the headquarters of the Control Patrols; meanwhile, from the Hotel Colón, which shared a courtyard with the building housing the CNT’s Graphic Arts Workers Trade Union, whose members were preparing to assault the hotel, shots were fired on the Telephone Building. On the upper part of Las Ramblas the headquarters of the Executive Committee of the POUM, endangered by gunfire from a platoon of Assault Guards who had constructed a fortified position in the adjacent Café Moka, was defended from the astronomical observatories of the Poliorama,22 a building located on the other side of Las Ramblas, from which gunfire was directed at the entrance of the Café Moka. There was also a fierce battle at the Parque de la Ciudadela, around the Parliament building, Azaña’s residence (the president of the Republic), the Mercado del Born and at the Estación de Francia, which was controlled by the cenetistas, but which was finally captured by the troops from the nearby Palacio de Gobernación. There were also battles between the Carlos Marx Barracks (PSUC) and the nearby Espartaco Barracks (CNT), formerly known as the Docks Barracks.
The patrols of the various factions searched and disarmed23 individuals and groups from other factions on the streets of Ensanche. Numerous incidents, brawls and armed clashes were taking place everywhere, but especially in the triangle formed by the Hotel Colón (the headquarters of the PSUC), the Palacio de la Generalitat and the Commissariat of Public Order, on the Vía Durruti. This counterrevolutionary bastion in the center of the city, composed of narrow and twisting alleys, easily blocked by small barricades, and still disputed, should have yielded to the resolute assault of the Barcelona workers, as Josep Rebull insistently demonstrated to the Executive Committee of the POUM with a map of Barcelona. But the radio broadcasts of the speeches of the anarchist Ministers and other dignitaries had a powerful demobilizing effect. Although at first some people actually fired their guns at their radios when they heard García Oliver say that he had to kiss the dead police,24 because they were antifascist brothers, the demoralizing effect of such broadcasts on the barricades soon became apparent,25 which witnessed a slow but steady desertion by the anarchist militants. Manuel Escorza and Aurelio Fernández immediately obeyed their superiors, with the excuse that it was “obvious” that the insurrection had been the “spontaneous” response to the provocation implied by the occupation of the Telephone Building at the order of the Generalitat.
At the Generalitat the top echelon leaders of the CNT, “protected” by the artillery of Montjuic that were aimed at the Palacio,26 the Stalinists and the Catalanist bourgeoisie did the only thing they could do: they formed another government, the same government with different names. The leaders of the POUM met with the Regional Committee of the CNT to appeal for caution! Among the barricades various Committees for the Defense of the Revolution arose, but they did not succeed in forming a Revolutionary Junta.27
Balius, the most outstanding theoretician of the Friends of Durruti Group, crippled due to progressive encephalitis, and spastic hemiplegia that affected the left side of his body, which made him unable to move his left leg and caused stiffness and trembling in his left arm, leaning on his crutches, read a proclamation from the barricade of Las Ramblas/Hospital in which he called for the revolutionary solidarity of the European proletariat, and especially the French proletariat, with the struggle of the Spanish proletariat. It was a powerful revolutionary image that captured the moment, as beautiful as it was unavailing.
Distributing leaflets at the barricades was not easy, and was often met with suspicion on the part of many militants, and even with physical force. On the evening of May 5, the Bolshevik-Leninists Carlini and Quesada28 held an informal meeting with Balius, without any other purposes or perspectives than to continue the struggle on the barricades. Jaume Balius also met with Josep Rebull,29 the secretary of cell 72 of the POUM, which, due to the small numerical importance of both organizations, had no practical result. The Friends of Durruti rejected Josep Rebull’s proposal to issue a joint Manifesto.
On Thursday, May 6, the militants of the CNT, as a demonstration of their sincere desire to bring peace to the city, evacuated the Telephone Building, where the conflict began, which was immediately occupied by the forces of the police, who guaranteed that the UGT militants would be able to keep their jobs, in order to resume telephone service. Faced with the protests of the anarchist leaders, the Generalitat responded that “it was a fait accompli”, and the confederal leaders chose not to publicize this new bourgeois “betrayal”, in order not to fuel the fires of discontent. The vernacular term for this was that they were acting as firemen, that is, putting out fires and/or conflicts. The abandonment of the barricades by the cenetistas was now generalized. Little gunfire was heard.
When the news was reported that a contingent of troops was on its way from Valencia to pacify Barcelona, Balius proposed the formation of a confederal column that should depart from Barcelona and intercept them. Once this column was formed in Barcelona, it would be joined by other fighters along the road, and it would also have the support of not a few militiamen from the Aragón Front: it could go all the way to Valencia and then assault heaven…! Commissions were formed to consult with the militants in the trade unions and the streets, but the proposal found no echo whatsoever. It was absolutely unrealistic.
On Friday, May 7, starting at 7:00 p.m., the troops from Valencia marched down the Diagonal and the Paseo de Gracia. A few days later only the barricades of the PSUC were still standing, which it wanted to preserve as monuments commemorating its victory.
On Saturday, May 8, order once again reigned in Barcelona. The corpses of Camilo Berneri, Alfredo Martínez, and many other persons who had been tortured and executed by the Stalinists, began to turn up. The superior committees of the CNT-FAI demanded the expulsion of the Friends of Durruti, although no trade union assembly would ratify this decision.
The confederal masses, disoriented by the appeals of their leaders—the same ones they had on July 19!—finally chose to abandon the struggle, despite the fact that at first they had laughed at the appeals from the CNT leadership for calm and to abandon the struggle so as to preserve antifascist unity.
The Manifesto distributed on May 8 by the Friends of Durruti Group, in which the Group presented their evaluation of the results of the May Days, was printed at the printing press of La Batalla. The Group, denounced by the CNT as an organization of provocateurs, had no publishing facilities of its own. A militiaman of the POUM, Paradell, a leader of the retail workers trade union, when he found out that the Group needed access to a press, told Josep Rebull, the editor in chief of the POUM newspaper, and the latter, fulfilling the most elementary duty of revolutionary solidarity, without consulting any superior ranks of the party, offered to print the Manifesto for the Friends of Durruti.
In this Manifesto The Friends of Durruti Group related the seizure of the Telephone Building to previous provocations. They identified the provocateurs of the May Events as the Esquerra Republicana, the PSUC, and the armed forces of the Generalitat. The Friends of Durruti proclaimed the revolutionary nature of July 1936 (and not just its nature as opposition to the fascist uprising) and of May 1937 (they would not be content with just another change of government):
“Our Group, which has been in the streets, on the barricades, defending the conquests of the proletariat, advocates the complete victory of the social revolution. We cannot accept the fiction, and the counterrevolutionary reality, of the formation of a new government with the same parties, but with different representatives.”
In opposition to the back room deals that the Group qualified as deceits, The Friends of Durruti offered their revolutionary program, already set forth in the leaflet issued on May 5:
“Our Group demands the immediate formation of a revolutionary junta, the shooting of those who are responsible, the disarmament of the armed forces, the socialization of the economy and the dissolution of all the political parties that have attacked the working class.” The Friends of Durruti Group did not hesitate to claim that the workers won the battle on the military field, and therefore that they had to put an end once and for all to a Generalitat that meant nothing. The Group accused the leaders and superior committees of the CNT, who had paralyzed a victorious workers insurrection, of “betrayal”: “The Generalitat represents nothing. Its continued existence reinforces the counterrevolution. The workers won the battle. It is inconceivable that the committees of the CNT have acted with such timidity that they would order a ‘cease-fire’ and that they would even order a return to work when we were on the verge of total victory. They did not take into account the real source of the aggression, they did not pay attention to the real meaning of the events of the past few days. Such conduct must be defined as a betrayal of the revolution, conduct that no one, for any reason, must every commit or sponsor. And we cannot even find the words to describe the nefarious work done by Solidaridad Obrera and the most well-known militants of the CNT.”
The term “betrayal” was used again when the Group commented on the expulsion order issued by the Regional Committees of the CNT against The Friends of Durruti Group, as well as in its discussion of the encroachment by the central government of Valencia on the security and defense powers of Catalonia (not those exercised by the Generalitat, but those controlled by the CNT): “This is betrayal on a vast scale. The two essential guarantees of the working class, security and defense, are offered on a platter to our enemies.” The Manifesto concluded with a brief auto-critique with regard to certain ineffective tactics employed during the May Days, and with an optimistic perspective on the future, which the immediate wave of repression that began on May 28 demonstrated to be vain and illogical. May 1937 did not end in a draw; it was a severe defeat of the proletariat.
Despite the pervasive mythology of the Events of May 1937, the one thing that is clear is that it was a very chaotic and confused situation, characterized by the eagerness to negotiate of all the parties implicated in the conflict. May 1937 was at no time an offensive and resolute workers insurrection, but merely a defensive struggle without any precise objectives, although it formed part of the ongoing struggle of socializaton against collectivization, and the struggle in defense of “the conquests” of July. The detonator of the conflict was the assault on the Telephone Building by the security forces of the Generalitat. And this action took place within the framework of the logic pursued by the government of Companys to slowly take over all the powers that the “anomalous” situation brought about by the workers insurrection of July 19 had momentarily deprived it of. The recent successes it enjoyed in Cerdaña cleared the way for a decisive showdown in Barcelona and all of Catalonia. It was obvious that Companys felt that he had the support of Comorera (PSUC) and Ovseenko (the Soviet Consul), with whom he had collaborated very closely and effectively since December, when the POUM was expelled from the government of the Generalitat. The policy of the Stalinists coincided with the objectives of Companys: the weakening and annihilation of the revolutionary forces, that is, of the POUM and the CNT, were Soviet goals, which could only be achieved by way of the strengthening of the bourgeois government of the Generalitat. The long open crisis of the government of the Generalitat, after the refusal of the CNT to consent to the transfer of the Carlos Marx Division (of the PSUC) to the Madrid Front, and after the Decree of March 4 ordering the dissolution of the Control Patrols and the disarmament of the rearguard, led to its inevitable violent culmination, after various episodes involving armed confrontations in Vilanesa, La Fatarella, Cullera (Valencia), Bellver, the funeral of Cortada, etc., in the assault on the Telephone Building and the bloody events of May in Barcelona. The stupid blindness, the unbreakable loyalty to antifascist unity, the high degree of collaboration with the republican government on the part of the principal anarchosyndicalist leaders (from Peiró to Federica Montseny, from Abad de Santillán to García Oliver, from Marianet to Valerio Mas) were not irrelevant factors, nor did they pass unnoticed by the government of the Generalitat and the Soviet agents. Their idiotic sanctity could always be counted on, as was abundantly displayed during the May Days. But Companys did not expect the rapid and decisive armed response of Escorza, from the defense committees, and then he was infuriated by the refusal of the Valencia government to order Díaz Sandino (who was the commander of the Republican air force) to bomb the barracks and buildings controlled by the CNT. Companys ended up forfeiting all the powers of the Generalitat with regard to Defense and Public Order, which had never been very extensive in the first place.
As for the activities of the Friends of Durruti during the May Events, there is certainly no justification to engage in a deceptive mythification of their participation in the barricades and of its leaflet, since the Friends of Durruti at no time called for the replacement of the confederal leadership, and limited its efforts to harsh critiques of its leaders and their policy of “betrayal” of the revolution. Perhaps they could not have done any more than that, given their small numbers and the slight influence they had on the cenetista masses. But we should emphasize their participation in the street battles, and their control of various barricades on Las Ramblas, especially the one in front of their social center, and their interventions in the struggles in Sants, La Torrassa and Sallent. We must, of course, acknowledge their attempts to provide leadership and minimal political demands, in the leaflet distributed on May 5. The distribution of this leaflet was not easy, and cost the lives of several of the Group’s members, but its distribution on the barricades could count on the sympathy and the support of many CNT militants. Among the noteworthy actions that took place during the May Days, we must not forget the appeal issued by Balius from the barricade on the corner of Las Ramblas and Hospital Street, for the active solidarity of all the workers of Europe with the Spanish revolution. The Friends of Durruti, once the group received news of the formation of a column of Assault Guards that was to be sent from Valencia to crush the rebellion, reacted with a call to form an anarchist column to intercept it. This idea never amounted to anything more than a vain proposal, which no longer found any echo whatsoever among the cenetista militants, who began to abandon the barricades. Meanwhile, Ricardo Sanz, the delegate of the militiamen of the Durruti Column, who had returned from the Madrid Front while awaiting transfer to the Aragón Front, remained inactive in the barracks of the Docks on Icaria Avenue, totally uninvolved with the street battles, as if he was unaware of them or they were taking place on the planet Mars.30
We must finally note, from a political point of view, the agreement made with the POUM to issue an appeal to the workers that, before they abandon the barricades, they should request guarantees that there would be no subsequent reprisals; and above all that the best guarantee was to keep their weapons, which they must never surrender. A defeated workers insurrection might not abandon its arms, but it cannot expect that repression would not be directed against the insurrectionaries, which is just what took place after June 16.
It is certainly true, however, that, once the fighting was over, the May barricades proved to be a nuisance for everyone: the troops that had arrived from Valencia tore up the membership cards of the cenetistas and forced peaceful passersby to tear down the barricades, at the same time that the Regional Committee of the CNT was calling for the rapid dismantling of the barricades as a sign of a return to normal. Within a few days only the barricades of the PSUC remained, which the PSUC wanted to preserve as a monument to and sign of its victory. The total casualties amounted to five hundred dead and several thousand wounded.
From a theoretical point of view, the role of The Friends of Durruti Group was much more significant after the May Days, when they began publishing their bulletin, which was given the name of the newspaper published by Marat during the French Revolution: The Friend of the People.
The leadership of the CNT proposed the expulsion of the members of the Friends of Durruti Group, but could not convince any trade union assembly to ratify this proposal. A large part of the confederal militants sympathized with the revolutionary opposition embodied by the Group. This does not mean that they either took part in the actions of or held the same views as the Friends of Durruti, but they did understand and respect the Group’s positions, and even supported its criticisms of the CNT leadership.
The confederal leadership deliberately used and abused the accusation of “Marxists”, the most serious insult imaginable among anarchists, which it launched on repeated occasions against the Group, and specifically against Balius. Balius and the Group, of course, defended themselves from this quite underserved “insult”, and not without reason. There was nothing in the theoretical propositions of the Group, much less in The Friend of the People, or in the Group’s various manifestoes and leaflets, that would allow one to call the Group Marxist. The Group comprised merely an opposition to the collaborationist policy of the confederal leadership, from within the organization and on the basis of the anarchosyndicalist ideology.
The first issue of The Friend of the People was legally published on May 19, with a large number of censored galley proofs. The front page, in black and red and in full sized format, was emblazoned with a sketch showing the smiling Durruti carrying a red and black flag. This first issue was not dated; the editorial offices of the paper were located at Number 1, Rambla de las Flores, on the first floor. The newspaper was published as the voice of The Friends of Durruti Group. It listed Balius as editor in chief, and Eleuterio Roig, Pablo Ruiz and Domingo Paniagua as editors. The most interesting article, signed by Balius, was entitled, “For the Record. We Are Not Agents Provocateurs” [“Por los fueros de la verdad. No somos agentes provocadores”], in which Balius complains about the insults and attacks originating from among the confederal ranks themselves. He referred to the leaflet and the manifesto issued in May, which he said he would not republish in order to avoid its certain and inevitable censorship. He directly attacked Solidaridad Obrera for its hostility towards The Friends of Durruti, and denied the slander spread by the CNT leadership: “we are not agents provocateurs.” To avoid censorship, starting with the second issue, The Friend of the People was published clandestinely. The fifth issue is one of the most interesting editions of The Friend of the People. Its cover page features an article entitled: “A Revolutionary Theory.” This editorial alone would be enough to assure the political and historical importance of The Friends of Durruti, not only in the history of the civil war, but in the history of acratic ideology as well. In this article, The Friends of Durruti attribute the advance of the counterrevolution and the failure of the CNT, after the latter’s undeniable and absolute victory of July 1936, to one reason alone: the absence of a REVOLUTIONARY PROGRAM. And this was also the cause of the defeat of May 1937. The conclusion of this development is set forth with great clarity:
“The descending trajectory [of the revolution] must be attributed exclusively to the absence of a concrete program and immediate efforts to implement such a program, and this is why we have fallen into the nets of the counterrevolutionary sectors at the very moment when the circumstances had become genuinely favorable for the crowning act of the aspirations of the proletariat. And because the awakening of July was not allowed to develop freely, in a genuinely class sense, we have made possible a petty bourgeois rule that could have by no means ever emerged if among the confederal and anarchist milieus a unanimous resolve had prevailed to install the proletariat in control of the country. […] succumbing to the foolish notion that a revolution of a social type could share its economic and social nerve centers with enemy elements. […] In May the same conflict was again posed. Once again, the wind was blowing in favor of the revolution. But the same individuals who in July were frightened by the danger of foreign intervention, during the May Days once again fell prey to that same lack of vision that would culminate in the fateful “cease fire” order that was later transformed, despite the declaration of a truce, into an insistent disarmament and a merciless repression of the working class. […] So that, by depriving ourselves of a program, i.e., libertarian communism, we have entirely surrendered to our enemies who possessed and still possess a program and various directives […] to the petty bourgeois parties that we should have crushed in July and in May. We think that any other sector, were it to have an absolute majority such as we possess, would have become the absolute arbiter of the situation. In the previous issue of our bulletin we published a program. We feel the need for a revolutionary Junta, the economic predominance of the Trade Unions and the free construction of Municipal bodies. Our Group has sought to provide a guide, out of fear that, should circumstances similar to those of July and May re-emerge, the same things would happen. And victory depends on the existence of a program that must be supported, without hesitation, with guns. […]”
“Revolutions that do not have theories do not get anywhere. The positions outlined by ‘The Friends of Durruti’ may be subjected to revision by major social disturbances, but they are rooted in two essential points that cannot be circumvented. A program and guns.”
This text is fundamental; it marks a milestone in the development of anarchist thought. The theoretical concepts set forth in this text, which had previously been only vaguely outlined, are now expressed with a blinding clarity. And these theoretical achievements would later be repeated and argued in the pamphlet by Balius, “Towards a New Revolution”. But this is where they appeared for the first time. And no one can deny their novelty and their significance for anarchist thought. The Friends of Durruti Group had accepted old theoretical concepts, formulated after a painful historical experience, which over the course of a civil war and a revolutionary process had starkly revealed the contradictions and the necessities of the class struggle. Is it possible to seriously believe and present documentation to the effect that this development in the political thought of the Friends of Durruti was due to the influence of a group outside the anarchist movement, whether Trotksyists or POUMistas? It is undeniable that this development was due exclusively to the Friends of Durruti Group itself, which in its analysis of the political and historical situation had reached the conclusion of the necessity, which is unavoidable in a revolution, of establishing a program and a government that would impose the dictatorship of the proletariat against the bourgeois enemies of the revolution.
The sixth issue of The Friend of the People was datelined Barcelona, August 12, 1937. The lead editorial was entitled, “The Need for a Revolutionary Junta”, which, following up on the editorial in the previous issue concerning the need for a revolutionary theory, claimed that what was needed in July 1936 was a Revolutionary Junta:
“Concerning the July movement, we have come to the conclusion that the enemies of the revolution must be crushed without mercy. This has been one of the main errors we have made that we are now paying for many times over. This defensive mission will be the responsibility of the Revolutionary Junta, which will have to be unyielding with enemy sectors. […]
“The importance of the constitution of the Revolutionary Junta is immense. This is not just another idea. It is the result of a series of failures and disasters. And it is the categorical rectification of the course that has been followed up until the present.
“In July an antifascist committee was formed that did not measure up to the importance of that sublime moment. How could the embryonic organ arisen from the barricades function with friends and enemies of the revolution side by side? Due to its composition, the antifascist committee was not the exponent of the July struggle. […] we advocate that only the workers from the city and the countryside, and combatants who, at the decisive moments of the battle have proven to be the champions of the social revolution, should participate in the Revolutionary Junta. […]
“‘The Friends of Durruti’ Group, which has formulated an exact critique of the May events, feels, from this very moment, the need to constitute a Revolutionary Junta, as we conceive it, and we believe it is indispensable for the defense of the revolution […].”
The development of the political thought of The Friends of Durruti was already quite noteworthy. After the recognition of the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the next question that was posed was, who exercises the dictatorship? The answer is a Revolutionary Junta, which is then defined as the vanguard of the revolutionaries who fought on July 19. As for the role of this Junta, we cannot believe that it would be any different than that attributed by the Marxists to the revolutionary party.
Munis, however, in the second issue of La Voz Leninista, criticized the sixth issue of The Friend of the People because he discerned in its claims a regression with respect to the same formulations made by The Friends of Durruti Group during, and immediately after, the May events.31
The eleventh issue of The Friend of the People was dated Saturday, November 20, 1937, which was the anniversary of the death of Durruti, and was almost entirely devoted to commemorating the popular anarchist hero. Among all the articles in this issue, mostly devoted to a more or less accurate commentary on the figure of Durruti, one article stands out, entitled, “Comments on Durruti”, in which the author engages in a polemical denunciation of Solidaridad Obrera with regard to the question of Durruti’s ideology and intentions. According to the anonymous author, Soli [Solidaridad Obrera] claimed that Durruti was prepared to renounce all revolutionary principles to win the war. The author of the article in The Friend of the People viewed such a claim as an outrage and as the worst possible insult against the memory of Durruti. The Group’s view of Durruti’s ideology was entirely contrary to that offered by Soli:
“Durruti never renounced the revolution. If he did say that everything except victory must be renounced, he was referring to the fact that we must be prepared for the greatest sacrifices, even of life itself, rather than submit to fascism.
“In the mouth of Durruti, however, the concept of victory does not imply the least separation of the war and the revolution. […] We do not believe, and of this we are convinced, that Durruti would have advocated that the class, which achieved total victory at the cost of such great sacrifices, would be the same class that is constantly making concessions and compromises for the benefit of the enemy class. […]
“Durruti wanted to win the war, but he always kept an eye on the rearguard. […]
“Buenaventura Durruti never renounced the revolution. The Friends of Durruti will never renounce it either.”
The twelfth issue of The Friend of the People, dated February 1, 1938, was the last issue of the bulletin of The Friends of Durruti Group.
THE BALIUS PAMPHLET: “TOWARDS A NEW REVOLUTION”
The pamphlet, “Towards a New Revolution”32 was published clandestinely in January 1938, although Balius began writing it around November 1937. It is the most elaborate of the texts of The Friends of Durruti Group, and therefore deserves a separate commentary.
The most important theoretical contributions of the pamphlet were already set forth in the editorials of The Friend of the People in issues 5, 6 and 7, that is, in the issues published between July 20 and August 31.
The pamphlet consists of 31 pages, and is divided into eight chapters. In the first chapter a brief historical introduction is presented, in which Balius offers a grotesque depiction of the period extending from the dictatorship of Prima de Rivera until October 1934. In the second chapter the events leading to the revolutionary insurrection of July 19 are analyzed.
Some of his claims are quite striking, and are no less true for being presented in such a blunt manner:
“The people looked for weapons. They got them. They obtained them by their own efforts. Nobody gave them to them. Neither the government of the Republic nor the Generalitat gave them a single rifle.”
We must call attention to the profound analysis of the revolution of July 19, 1936 carried out by The Friends of Durruti Group:
“The immense majority of the working class population was on the side of the CNT. The majority organization in Cataluña was the CNT. What happened that caused the CNT not to carry out its revolution, which was the revolution of the people, that of the majority of the proletariat?
“What happened was what had to happen. The CNT was without a revolutionary theory. We did not have a correct program. We did not know where we were going. A lot of poetry, but in the final accounting, we did not know what to do with those enormous masses of workers, we did not know how to give flexibility to that popular surge that poured forth in our organizations and because we did not know what to do we surrendered the revolution on a platter to the bourgeoisie and the Marxists, who played the same old masquerade, and what is much worse, we gave them the respite they needed to rebuild their forces and implement a victorious plan. No one knew how to realize the full potential of the CNT. No one wanted to follow through with the revolution with all its consequences.”
Thus, the revolution of July failed, according to The Friends of Durruti Group, because the CNT lacked a revolutionary theory and a revolutionary program. Many reasons, and diverse and various explanations have been offered from within the anarchist movement concerning the nature of the July revolution; some hypotheses are more or less convincing, but neither Vernon Richards, nor Semprún-Maura, nor Abad de Santillán, nor García Oliver, nor Berneri, have been as clear and as definitive, nor have they analyzed the nature of the July revolution with the same profundity, as The Friends of Durruti Group did in the paragraph we just quoted.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, however, because The Friends of Durruti, who were not brilliant theoreticians, or good organizers, but essentially people of the barricades, who defended their theoretical positions on the basis of their reflections on their experiences, without any other compass than their class instinct, were capable, in the text that we shall consider next, of one of the best contemporary analyses of the Spanish revolution. An analysis that deserves close consideration, and one that we must not label as anarchist or Marxist, because it is the analysis of men who did not play with words, but with lives, and first of all with their own: “When an organization has spent its entire existence calling for revolution, it has the obligation to carry that revolution out precisely when the opportunity to do so is presented. And in July this opportunity arose. The CNT had to step up and assume the leadership of the country, delivering a solid kick to everything archaic, everything ancient, and in this way we would have won the war and we would have won the revolution."
“But we proceeded in a manner contrary to this. The CNT collaborated with the bourgeoisie in the offices of the state at the very moment when the state was falling apart everywhere. It reinforced Companys and his entourage. A breath of fresh air was given to an anemic and cowed bourgeoisie.
“One of the causes that led most directly to the strangulation of the revolution and the displacement of the CNT is that fact that it acted like a minority faction despite the fact that we had the majority in the streets. […]
“We furthermore assert that revolutions are totalitarian no matter what anyone says. What happens is that various aspects of the revolution gradually continue to develop but with the guarantee that the class that represents the new order of things is the one that holds the greatest responsibility. And when things are done halfway, what happens is just what we are commenting on, the disaster of July.
“In July a committee of antifascist militias was constituted. It was not a class organization. It contained representatives of bourgeois and counterrevolutionary fractions. It seemed that this committee had arisen in opposition to the Generalitat. But it was a scene in a comedy.”
First of all, we must call attention to the Group’s definition of the Central Committee of Antifascist Militias as an institution of class collaboration, rather than the embryonic stage of a working class power. The critique of the confederal collaborationism in saving and rebuilding the state is combined with the tautology that the only duty of a revolutionary organization is to carry out the revolution.
So far, all the assertions of The Friends of Durruti are anarchist orthodoxy. As a direct consequence of these assertions, however, or perhaps it would be more correct to say, as a consequence of the contradictions of the CNT, that had become bogged down in a project as foreign to anarchism as the salvation and reconstruction of a decomposing capitalist state, we come to a notable theoretical breakthrough on the part of The Friends of Durruti: revolutions are totalitarian.
Totalitarian means, above all, “total”, although in this context we cannot exclude the second accepted meaning of authoritarian. If this claim is in contradiction with the libertarian spirit, then we would have to assert that an anarchist revolution is an irresolvable contradiction. The anarchists in Spain in 1936 experienced something like this.
The pamphlet by Balius, in the next chapter, addressed the revolutionary insurrection of May. The reasoning of The Friends of Durruti Group was as clear and as radical as it was precise: the cause of the May Events can be found in the July insurrection, because the revolution was not carried out in July.
“The social revolution in Cataluña could have been a reality. […] But events took a different turn. The revolution did not take place in Cataluña. The petty bourgeoisie, who during the July events had kept in the background, once they noticed that the proletariat was once again being victimized by a handful of sophistical leaders, prepared for battle.” “The revolution did not take place in July 1936.” This assertion on the part of The Friends of Durruti Group (as well as their assertion concerning the necessarily totalitarian nature of all revolutions) could not be more clear and emphatic. All the historians, however, including those who glorify The Friends of Durruti as superheroes and replace the cult of personality of Lenin or Durruti with that of Balius, disregard this declaration that is fundamental and crucial in understanding the rise, the reason for existence and the struggle of the Group.
The Group’s analysis of Stalinism, and the decisive role played by Stalinism as a spearhead of the counterrevolution, was not only astute, but was deeply rooted as well in the description of the social layers that provided their base of support. We must point out, however, that the word “Stalinism” was never used, but rather the terms, “socialism” or “Marxism”, with the evident meaning that we today give, from a historical and ideological point of view, to the word, “Stalinism”.
“Socialism in Cataluña has been disastrous. Its ranks have been filled with people who are against the revolution. They have assumed leadership of the counterrevolution. They have given life to a UGT that has been taken over by the GEPCI. The Marxist leaders have sung the praises of the counterrevolution. And they have made the united front a creature of their own, first eliminating the POUM, and then they tried to repeat this feat with the CNT.
“The maneuvers of the petty bourgeoisie allied with the socialist-communists, resulted in the events of May.”
According to The Friends of Durruti Group the May Events were a planned provocation, whose purpose was to create a climate of indecisiveness, which would make it possible to deliver a decisive blow against the working class, in order to definitively bring an end to a potentially revolutionary situation:
“… the counterrevolution sought to bring the working classes into the streets without a solid plan so they could be crushed. Their goals were in part achieved due to the stupidity of a handful of leaders who issued the order to cease fire and who accused The Friends of Durruti of being agents provocateurs when the street battles were being won and the enemy was being eliminated.”
The accusation directed against the anarchist leaders (although no names are mentioned, we cannot help but think of García Oliver, Abad de Santillán and Federica Montseny) was not meant to be an insult, but constituted an adequate description of their activity during the May Days.
The Friends of Durruti thought that the counterrevolution had attained its chief objective, which was the control of public order by the Valencia Government. The description and assessment of the workers response to the Stalinist provocation, that is, the May Events, carried out by The Friends of Durruti, is very interesting: a) It was a spontaneous reaction; b) There was no revolutionary leadership; c) The workers had achieved, in a few hours, an overwhelming military victory. Only a few buildings in the center of the city continued to resist, and they could have been easily taken; d) The defeat of the insurrection was not a military defeat, but a political defeat.
“Within a few hours the struggle was decided in favor of the proletariat of the CNT, which as in July defended its prerogatives with arms in hand. We conquered the streets. They were ours. There was no human power that could dislodge us. The working class neighborhoods immediately fell into our power. And our enemies who were gradually surrounded and bottled up in one part of the city—the downtown area—would soon have been conquered had the committees of the CNT not defected.” Next, Balius justified the actions undertaken by The Friends of Durruti during the bloody week of May 1937: The Friends of Durruti, in a situation of indecision and generalized disorientation among the ranks of the working class, distributed a leaflet and a manifesto, for the purpose of giving a revolutionary direction and goals to the events. Subsequently, the main concern of the Group, faced with the incredible position of the confederal leadership that sought peace and brotherhood, was that the barricades not be abandoned without conditions and guarantees.
According to Balius, in May there was still time to save the revolution, and The Friends of Durruti were the only people who were capable of rising to the challenge of the circumstances. The blindness of the CNT-FAI to the repression that would be inflicted with impunity against the revolutionary workers, had already been foreseen by The Friends of Durruti. The chapter of the pamphlet devoted to collaborationism and the class struggle is of great interest. Collaboration in the tasks of the government of the bourgeois state was the main accusation leveled by the Group against the CNT. The critique of The Friends of Durruti Group was even more radical than that of Berneri, because the latter criticized the participation of the CNT in the Government, while the Group criticized the collaboration of the CNT with the capitalist state. Nor was this just a matter of two verbal expressions with only a slight difference in emphasis; this involves an entire political conception distinct from the one that Berneri had in mind. As we read in the pamphlet:
“We do not have to collaborate with capitalism, not from outside the bourgeois state or from within its governmental departments. Our role as producers is to be found in the trade unions, strengthening the only bonds that must continue to exist after a revolution led by the workers. […] And one cannot preserve a state alongside the trade unions—much less reinforce it with our own forces. The struggle against capital continues. A bourgeoisie exists in our own land that is complicit with the international bourgeoisie. The problem is the same as it was years ago.”
The Friends of Durruti claimed that the collaborationists were the allies of the bourgeoisie, which amounts to saying that the anarchist Ministers, as well as all those who advocated collaborationism, were allies of the bourgeoisie:
“The collaborationists are allies of the bourgeoisie. The individuals who advocate this kind of complicity do not care about the class struggle nor do they have the least respect for the trade unions.
“At no time must we accept the consolidation of the power of our enemy.
“The enemy must be attacked. […] Between exploiters and exploited there cannot be the least contact. Only in the struggle will it be decided which side is victorious. Either the workers or the bourgeoisie. But by no means both at the same time.”
The Group, however, never took the next, decisive step, which could be none other than to break with an organization of a collaborationist nature, which had proven its inability to curtail and put an end to this policy of alliance with the bourgeoisie. The Group never proposed a break with the CNT, nor did it ever denounce this organization as an organization of capitalism. It did not draw all the conclusions of the ideological premises it set forth. It was easier to accuse a handful of individuals, a few leaders who advocated a policy of collaboration with the bourgeoisie, than it was to arrive at the brutal and painful conclusion that the CNT, which during the twenties and thirties had been the best organizer of the revolutionary proletariat in Spain, had become, over the course of the war, by way of its unconditional support for the policy of ANTIFASCIST UNITY, an organization of collaboration with and submission to the bourgeoisie. It was not the anarchist Ministers who were responsible for the CNT’s deviation from its principles; it was the CNT that produced such Ministers.
The trade unions of the CNT had by 1938 ceased to be working class organizations oriented towards the class struggle; they had been transformed into bureaucratic organizations in the service of the state, by means of the institutions that were responsible for the increase of and conversion to war production, at the same time that labor was being militarized. The trade unions now played an important and irreplaceable economic role.
The Group, however, thought that the trade unions were still organizations of the class struggle. Not even the Catalan UGT, Stalinist to the core, and the mere tool of the PSUC, the party of the counterrevolution, was viewed by the Group as an institution of the bourgeoisie.
After May 1937 the various Trade Unions and Federations of Industry underwent a change of function and nature, having become regulatory, coordinating and centralizing institutions for production, conveniently “inspected” by technical commissions. They had ceased to be class trade unions, defenders of the demands of the workers, in order to become “a new type of boss”33 that organized the economy in obedience to the directives issued by the government of the Generalitat (or, beginning in 1938, by the Republic). We have already seen34 how the collectivizations had been transformed from the workers expropriations of July 1936 into a capitalism of trade union management and state planning, legalized by the Collectivization Decree, in October 1936, and further authorized by the decrees of S’Agaró in January 1937. In the spring of 1937 a revolutionary struggle by the workers for socialization as opposed to collectivization of the economy was underway.
Beginning in June 1937, the Industrial Trade Unions, having lost their functions as representatives of the demands of the workers and once every revolutionary attempt had been defeated,35 became alienated from the workers, and their nature underwent a transformation, as they became institutions of economic management, as well as control and monitoring of labor productivity.
In this context, the revolutionary socialization promoted by the workers in the Trade Unions or Federations of Industry in the spring of 1937,36 was in fact converted, after the defeat of May, into a determined drive for economic and managerial centralization, coordinated from these same Industrial Unions, and subject to state planning, which in addition led to advocacy of the need, from an exclusively productivity-based perspective, of CNT-UGT unity. Managerial unity, presented demagogically as the culmination of “working class unity”.
The Industrial Unions, which prior to May 1937 were the revolutionary instruments of the workers for socializing the economy, had been transformed, after the defeat of the May insurrection, into the instruments of the counterrevolution to enforce the militarization of the economy and labor. The Group was incapable of analyzing this transformation.
It was therefore impossible for The Friends of Durruti to take the decisive step. If they were incapable of recognizing the real nature (in 1938) of the trade unions as an apparatus of the capitalist state, they could not propose a break with a CNT that had exchanged its working class and trade union character for that of a bureaucratic institution of the state. To the contrary, the trade unions played a key role in the Group’s theoretical arguments; its accusations were directed against individuals, not against organizations. The Group did not recognize the illness or its causes, but only a few of its symptoms. The pamphlet proceeds with an explanation of the positions and the program of The Friends of Durruti Group. The principles and characteristic political positions, of a tactical character, were enumerated in a partial, confused and imprecise way, compared to previous formulations, which was perhaps the result of the fact that the pamphlet was written in haste and under pressure, or else due to the insignificant support they encountered at the time.
The program was succinctly outlined on the basis of the experience of July, which The Friends of Durruti depicted very expressively as a triumphant insurrection, which only lacked a theory and revolutionary goals: “No one knew what road to follow. We lacked a theory. We had spent years revolving around abstractions. The leaders at the time asked themselves, what do we do now? And they allowed the revolution to slip away. During culminating moments like those we must not hesitate. But we have to know where we are going. And this is the vacuum we want to fill, since we understand that what took place in July and in May cannot be repeated.”
“In our program we introduce a slight variation within the anarchist tradition. The constitution of a Revolutionary Junta.”
The Revolutionary Junta was defined by the Group as a vanguard formed to repress the enemies of the revolution:
“The revolution, as we understand it, needs institutions that watch over it and that will repress, in an integral sense, those enemy sectors that current circumstances have demonstrated are not resigned to their own disappearance.
“Perhaps there are anarchist comrades who feel certain ideological scruples, but the lesson we have so harshly learned is sufficient to convince us that we cannot beat around the bush. If we want to prevent the next revolution from being an exact replica of what has just occurred, we must proceed with the utmost energy in dealing with those who do not identify themselves with the working class.”
Next, The Friends of Durruti set forth their revolutionary program, which can be briefly summarized by three major points: 1. The constitution of a Revolutionary Junta, or Council of National Defense, whose mission would consist of the conduct of the war, control of public order, international affairs and revolutionary propaganda; 2. All economic power to the trade unions—this implied the creation of an authentic trade union capitalism; 3. The Free Municipality, as the basic cell of territorial organization, halfway between a decentralized state and the typical anarchist federal conception. The pamphlet concludes with a final section, which has the same title as the pamphlet, in which a lapidary and realistic assessment is offered: “the revolution no longer exists.” After a long series of assumptions and questions about the immediate future, in which the force of the counterrevolution is verified, a voluntaristic, and perhaps rhetorical appeal is made on behalf of a future revolution capable of satisfying the hopes of humanity and the anarchist ideal. The victory of the counterrevolution in the republican zone, however, and the victory of the fascists in the war were already inevitable, as Balius acknowledged in his 1978 Introduction (entitled “Forty Years Ago”) to the English language edition of “Towards a New Revolution” (published under the title, “Towards a Fresh Revolution”).
The Friends of Durruti Group was, both with regard to its numerical strength as well as its goals, much more than just an affinity group, and was more like a sector of the libertarian movement, similar to the “Mujeres Libres”. It never attempted to propose a revolutionary alternative to the CNT-FAI. It only opposed the bureaucratic leadership of anarchosyndicalism, and was content to call for new leaders. It was not influenced, either in whole or in part, by the Trotskyists, or by the POUM. Its ideology and its slogans were typically confederal; at no time could it be said to have displayed a Marxist ideology. In any event, it certainly displayed a great deal of interest in the example of Marat, and one might be able to speak of a powerful attraction for the assembly movement of the Paris Sections, for the sans-culottes and the enrages, as well as for the revolutionary government of Robespierre and Saint-Just, which were studied by Kropotkin in his History of the French Revolution. It never referred to, and was perhaps unaware of, the anarchist Platform, with which it nonetheless possessed certain features in common.
Its goal was simply to confront the contradictions of the CNT, to provide the CNT with ideological coherence, and to rescue it from the rule of individuals and superior committees staffed by officials in order to return it to its roots in the class struggle. Its raison d’être was to engage in criticism of and opposition to the CNT’s policy of constant concessions, and of course to the COLLABORATION of the anarchosyndicalists in the central government and the government of the Generalitat. The Group was opposed to the abandonment of revolutionary objectives and of the fundamental and characteristic ideological principles of anarchism, which had been disregarded by the leaders of the CNT-FAI in the name of antifascist unity and the need to adapt to circumstances. Without a revolutionary theory there is no revolution. If principles are only cast aside at the first obstacle imposed by reality, perhaps it would be better if we admitted that we have no principles. The highest leaders of Spanish anarchosyndicalism thought they were clever negotiators, but they were manipulated like puppets. They renounced everything, in exchange for nothing. They were just so many opportunists without any opportunities. The insurrection of July 19 did not encounter a revolutionary vanguard capable of imposing the power of the proletariat, destroying the capitalist state and undertaking an authentic working class revolution. The CNT had no plan for what to do once the military uprising was defeated. The victory of July plunged the anarchosyndicalist leaders into dismay and confusion. They had been left behind by the revolutionary impetus of the masses. And since they did not know what to do they accepted the proposal of Companys to constitute, together with the other parties, an Antifascist Front government. And they posed the false THEORETICAL dilemma of anarchist dictatorship or antifascist unity and collaboration with the state to win the war, because in PRACTICE they did not know what to do with power, at a time when their failure to seize it left it in the hands of the bourgeoisie. The Spanish “revolution” was the tomb of anarchism as an organization and as a revolutionary theory of the proletariat. This is the origin and the reason for existence of The Friends of Durruti Group, which could not, however, nor did it know how to, save the anarchosyndicalist ideology from its death throes.
The limitations of the Group were very clear. And so, too, are its historical limitations. At no time did it ever propose a break with the CNT. Only an absolute lack of acquaintance with the confederal organizational mechanics37 could lead one to believe that a project of criticism or an attempt to foment a schism would not inevitably lead to expulsion, which in the case of The Friends of Durruti was prevented by the sympathy for the Group expressed by the confederal rank and file militants, although at the price of an iron ostracism, and almost complete isolation.
The Group’s maximum objective was the critique of the leaders of the CNT, and to put an end to the policy of confederal participation in the government. Not only did the Group want to preserve the “conquests” of July, but it also sought to continue and intensify a revolutionary process that it considered to be insufficient and neutralized. Its organization and the means at its disposal, however, were even more limited. Its members were people of the barricades, they were not good organizers, and were even worse theoreticians, although they had some good journalists. In May they put all their faith in the spontaneity of the masses. They did not effectively counteract the official CNT propaganda. They were incapable of providing leadership and coordination for the defense committees that had unleashed the insurrection of May. They did not make use of, or attempt to organize, the militants who were members of the Control Patrols. They issued no orders to Máximo Franco, a member of The Friends of Durruti Group, and the delegate of the Rojinegra Division of the CNT, who on May 4, 1937, wanted “to drop in on Barcelona” with his division but, except for himself and about forty militiamen on an “observation mission”, returned to the front (as did the POUM column, led by Rovira) as a result of initiatives undertaken by Molina. The high points of the Group’s activity were: the poster distributed at the end of April 1937, in which it proposed the overthrow of the Generalitat and its replacement by a Revolutionary Junta; its domination of several barricades on Las Ramblas, during the May Events; the reading of the appeal for solidarity with the Spanish revolution, directed at all the workers of Europe; the distribution at the barricades of the famous leaflet of May 5; and the summary of the events set forth in the Manifesto of May 8. The Group was unable, however, to implement any of its slogans: a Revolutionary Junta was never formed. The Group called for the formation of a column that would set out to confront the troops coming from Valencia; but it soon abandoned the idea in consideration of the scanty support it generated. After the May Events the Group began publishing The Friend of the People, despite its repudiation by the CNT and the FAI. In June 1937, although the Group had not been outlawed like the POUM, it suffered from the political persecution aimed at the CNT militants as a whole. Its bulletin was published clandestinely after the second issue (May 26), and its editor in chief Jaime Balius was arrested and imprisoned on several occasions. Other members of the Group were dismissed from their positions, such as Bruno Lladó, a councilman in the Sabadell municipal government; or Santana Calero, who underwent an inquisitorial persecution within the Libertarian Youth. Most of its members experienced attempts to expel them from the CNT, which was advocated by the FAI. Nonetheless, they carried on with their clandestine publication and distribution of the Group’s press and leaflets until February 1938. The Group’s most outstanding tactical proposals may be summarized in the following slogans: the economy run by the trade unions, federation of municipalities, army of militias, revolutionary program, replacement of the Generalitat by a revolutionary junta, and unity of action between the CNT-FAI-POUM. The Friends of Durruti Group was therefore a failed attempt, one that had arisen from within the libertarian movement, to constitute a Revolutionary Junta that would deliver all power to the trade unions. It proved to be incapable, not only of realizing its slogans in practice, but even of effectively propagating its ideas and providing practical orientations for the way to fight for them. Maybe the terrified bourgeoisie and the disguised priests saw them as a group of wild brutes, but among its members it included such journalists as Balius and Calleja, military commanders such as Pablo Ruiz, Francisco Carreño and Máximo Franco, and municipal councilors like Bruno Lladó, and trade unionists like Francisco Pellicer, and the leading member of the Libertarian Youth, Juan Santana Calero. Its remote origins should be sought among the libertarians who shared the revolutionary experience of the insurrection of Alto Llobregat in January 1932, in the FAI affinity group “Renacer” between 1934 and 1936. Its more immediate origins are to be found in the opposition to the militarization of the militias (especially in the Gelsa sector), and in the defense of the revolutionary conquests and the critique of cenetista collaboration, expressed in articles published in Solidaridad Obrera (from July until early October), and in Ideas and La Noche (from January to May 1937), especially by Balius. Its means of struggle were the leaflet, the poster, the bulletin and the barricade; but it never proposed schism or a break as a weapon of struggle, nor did it denounce the counterrevolutionary role of the CNT, nor did it even, during the May Days, make a serious effort to confront the confederal leaders to attempt to counteract the effect of the defeatist directives of the CNT-FAI. The Friends of Durruti had elaborated an alternative program to that of the CNT-FAI, but did not provide an alternative leadership, which left them defenseless against the measures taken to expel them.
The historical importance of The Friends of Durruti Group is undeniable, however. And its importance resides precisely in its character as an internal opposition to the collaborationist orientation of the libertarian movement. The political importance of its emergence was immediately recognized by Andreu Nin, who devoted a eulogistic and hopeful article to the Group, because it opened up the possibility of a revolutionary orientation of the cenetista masses who could oppose the treasonous and collaborationist policy of the CNT. This explains the interest in trying to influence The Friends of Durruti Group that was displayed by the Trotskyists as well as the POUM; an influence that they never managed to assert.
The principal theoretical contributions of the Group to anarchist thought can be summarized in these points:
1. A revolutionary program.
2. Replace the capitalist state with a Revolutionary Junta, which would have to be prepared to defend the revolution from the inevitable attacks of the counterrevolutionaries. Guns will be used to defend the revolutionary program.
Both points were recapitulated by the Group itself in its slogan: “A program and guns.”
Its traditional anarchist apoliticism caused the CNT to lack a theory of revolution. Without a revolutionary theory there is no revolution, and not seizing power means leaving it in the hands of the capitalist state. For the Group, the CCMA was an institution of class collaboration, and had no other purpose than to consolidate and fortify the bourgeois state, which the CCMA did not want to destroy and was incapable of destroying. Hence the advocacy by The Friends of Durruti Group of the necessity of forming a Revolutionary Junta, capable of coordinating, centralizing and fortifying the power of the multitude of workers, local, defense, enterprise, militia committees, etc., that were the only holders of power between July 19 and September 26. A power that was fragmented into multiple committees, which locally held all power, but because they did not federate, centralize and consolidate their operations among themselves, they were detoured, weakened and transformed by the CCMA into Popular Front municipal administrations, managing committees of trade union-run enterprises and battalions in a republican army. Without the complete destruction of the capitalist state, the revolutionary days of July 1936 were incapable of taking the step to a new structure of working class power. The degeneration and final fiasco of the revolutionary process were inevitable. The confrontation between the reformist anarchism of the CNT-FAI, however, and the revolutionary anarchism of The Friends of Durruti Group was not clear, precise and starkly outlined enough to provoke a split that would clarify the opposed positions of both sides. The accusation of “betrayal” hurled by the Group at the CNT-FAI in May, which was later withdrawn, did not explain anything either, nor did it amount to anything besides a deserved insult, but did not allow for the slightest progress. Thus, despite the fact that the political thought expressed by The Friends of Durruti Group was an attempt to understand the reality of the Spanish war and revolution from the perspective of anarchosyndicalist ideology, one of the main reasons why it was rejected by the confederal militants was its authoritarian and “Marxist” character.
These anarchosyndicalist militants, however, proved to be incapable of controlling their leaders, who made all the important decisions in secret discussions among “dignitaries”, which were then formally ratified and publicized at the official Plenums. The war rendered the horizontal and democratic organizational methods of the CNT, which were too slow and ineffective, obsolete, and the leaders issued orders to the militants by way of memoranda. Furthermore, the urgency of the decision making process and the privileged information to which they had access, due to their positions and responsibilities, made them indispensable. This is why their resignations or accusations of betrayal of principles were always ineffective. The widespread opposition of the anarchosyndicalist masses to the collaborationism of their leaders, documented and displayed at a myriad of meetings and local plenums, found no outlet, because it was expressed in the name of the same principles that their leaders professed. The strength of The Friends of Durruti, and the Group’s positive achievements with respect to this massive but “silent” opposition, resided in the fact that the Group had its own program to oppose to the confederal bureaucracy; its weakness derived from the fact that it was incapable of also opposing a leadership, a group of leaders that would be capable of opposing the aristocracy of “the men of action” or “the intellectuals”,38 who proved to be the only leaders possible.
We can conclude that The Friends of Durruti found themselves in a dead end. They could not accept the collaborationism of the leading cadres of the CNT and the advancing counterrevolution; but if they theorized the experiences of the Spanish “revolution”, that is, the need for a Revolutionary Junta that would overthrow the bourgeois republican government of the Generalitat of Cataluña, and violently repress the agents of the counterrevolution, then they were labeled as Marxists and authoritarians and therefore forfeited any chance of proselytizing among the confederal rank and file. We must ask ourselves whether the dead end of The Friends of Durruti was nothing but the reflection of the theoretical incapacity of Spanish anarchosyndicalism to confront the problems posed by the war and the “revolution”.
In Barcelona it was, and still is possible to hear words of hatred and contempt directed against Durruti and “his friends”, in the mouths of the class enemies; among working class milieus, however, people have always spoken respectfully of a mythologized Durruti, of the enormous demonstration of the proletariat at his funeral procession, of the indomitable revolt of the Durrutistas, of the anarchist and revolutionary achievements of July 19. During the long night of Francoism, anonymous hands wrote the names of Durruti and Ascaso on their nameless tombstones. It is not the historian’s job to respect myths; but it is his job to derive the important lessons of the class struggle. We need only retain two images. In the first, we see a submissive, persuasive and garrulous Companys, who on July 20 offered the anarchist leaders positions in an Antifascist Front government, because they had defeated the fascist military, and power was in the streets. In the second we see a Companys cornered, with the gloves off, who on May 4 was pleading with the government of the Republic to dispatch an air force squadron to bomb39 the barracks and the strongholds of the CNT, and all the other targets indicated by the military chief of the PSUC, José del Barrio.40 Between these two images roll the film of the “revolution” and the war. May 1937 was contained in embryo in July 1936. The Group had understood that revolutions are totalitarian (that is, total and authoritarian) or else they are defeated: this was its great merit.41 And it is on this basis that they must be rejected or accepted, if it is understood that some revolutionaries who are taking the factories and properties from their legal owners, cannot do so peacefully and politely, begging and saying, “please”. There is nothing more authoritarian and violent than stripping the bourgeoisie of its possessions, nothing is more authoritarian and violent than to defeat the army in the streets and seize weapons from the barracks, nothing is more authoritarian and violent than to burn churches and monasteries to put an end to the social and political power and influence of the Church of 1936. This should be obvious. The Friends of Durruti had understood that a revolution, besides being authoritarian and violent, must be TOTAL: one cannot make political agreements with the bourgeoisie and govern alongside it, it was necessary to destroy the capitalist state, abolish the Generalitat and exercise power from a Revolutionary Junta, constituted exclusively by the working class forces that had fought in the streets on July 19, 1936. Revolutions are totalitarian or they are defeated; this was the essential theoretical achievement of the Group.
The Friends of Durruti Group has been ignored and mythologized for a long time, and maybe the time has come to understand it in its historical context. In order to do so, however, we have to avoid transforming the history of The Friends of Durruti into a “situationist” comic strip of superheroes, because not only did its members not have the makings of heroes, but they also had their own theoretical and organizational limitations, since they could not, nor did they ever even attempt to become a “revolutionary alternative” to the CNT-FAI, from which they not only never split, but to which they always remained attached organizationally even in the face of attempts to expel them on the part of the superior committees.42
The Friends of Durruti Group became disturbing mirror for the CNT because they reflected a monstrous image, which many people did not want and still do not want to see: it was and is better to just break the mirror.
The fundamental question, the question that is taboo for the libertarian movement and the topic that so many books, militants and historians have been unable to elucidate, because they do not understand it, is why the revolutionaries of yesterday were transformed after a few months into Ministers, “firemen”, and counterrevolutionaries…. Why did the anarchist leaders and/or the libertarian movement renounce the revolution in July 1936 and in May 1937? The answer given by The Friends of Durruti themselves—“the BETRAYAL of the leaders”—was nothing but an insult that explained nothing. From the very first moment the libertarian movement, lacking a program or revolutionary theory, supported antifascist unity. It sought to unite with socialists, Stalinists, POUMistas, republicans and Catalanists to defeat fascism. During the thirties antifascism was the worst poison and the greatest victory of fascism. The sacred union of all antifascists to defeat fascism and defend democracy implied for the libertarian movement the renunciation of its own principles, its own revolutionary program, the revolutionary conquests, everything … that is, the famous slogan falsely attributed to Durruti: “we renounce everything except victory”, to submit to the program and interests of the democratic bourgeoisie. It was this program of antifascist unity, of complete and loyal collaboration with all the antifascist forces, that led the CNT-FAI, rapidly and unconsciously, to government collaboration with the sole objective of winning the war against fascism. It was this adherence to the antifascist program (that is, the defense of capitalist democracy) which explains why and how the same revolutionary leaders of yesterday became, a few months later, Ministers, “firemen”, bureaucrats and counterrevolutionaries. It was the CNT that produced Ministers, and these Ministers betrayed nothing and no one; they restricted their efforts to faithfully exercising their functions to the best of their abilities.
The difference between the insurrections of July 1936 and May 1937 resides in the fact that the revolutionaries in July were without arms, but had a precise political objective: the defeat of the military uprising and of fascism; while in May, despite the fact that they possessed more arms than they did in July, they were politically disarmed. The working class masses began an insurrection against Stalinism and the bourgeois government of the Generalitat, despite their organizations and without their leaders, but they were incapable of waging war to the end without their organizations and against their leaders. In May 1937, as in July 1936, there was no revolutionary party, which the proletariat had failed to create during the thirties. Neither the POUM nor the CNT-FAI were, nor could they have been, that revolutionary vanguard; to the contrary, they were the major obstacles to its emergence. The incompetence of the anarchosyndicalist leaders and the absence of any revolutionary theory left no other horizon than that of antifascist unity and the democratic program of the republican bourgeoisie. The methods and the goals of the proletariat had already disappeared from the stage. The CCMA not only failed to reinforce the power of the revolutionary committees, but it collaborated with the Generalitat to weaken and abolish them.
The barricades erected in July 1936 were still standing months later; while the barricades erected in May 1937 disappeared immediately, except for the few that the PSUC wanted to leave standing as a testimonial to its power and its victory.
May 1937, from this perspective, although it was undoubtedly the consequence of the increasing discontent in the face of rising prices, the shortages of food and other provisions, the struggle within the enterprises for socialization of the economy and workers control, the escalation of the attempts by the Generalitat to disarm the rearguard and seize control of public order, etc., etc., was above all the necessary armed defeat of the proletariat, which was required by the counterrevolution in order to put a definitive end to all revolutionary threats to bourgeois and republican institutions.
In 1938, the revolutionaries were dead, in jail or in hiding. The prisons contained fifteen thousand antifascist prisoners. Hunger, bombing and Stalinist repression were the masters and lords of Barcelona. The militias and labor had been militarized. Order now reigned throughout all of Spain, both in the Francoist part as well as in the Republican part. The revolution was not crushed by Franco in January 1939; the Republic had already finished it off many months earlier.
- 1 See Agustín Guillamón, “Habla Durruti”, in La Barcelona Rebelde, Octaedro, 2003. See also the interview with Pablo Ruiz in La Noche, No. 3545 (March 24, 1937).
- 2 “Not only do they refuse militarization, but they will not abide by the requests of either Committee [the Regional Committees of the CNT and the FAI] and instead cast down their weapons and abandon the front. […] seeing that it was not possible to harmonize the differences of opinion that existed in the Durruti Column […] since there was so much tension that it was feared that the dispute would degenerate into a bloody clash […] the majority of the comrades of the Gelsa group have abandoned the front against all regulations and in conflict with the agreements undertaken by both the specific and the confederal organizations.” FAI, Informe que este Comité de Relaciones de Grupos Anarquistas de Cataluña presenta a los camaradas de la Región, March 1937(?).
- 3 This chapter provides new information, and revises and corrects the account in a previous work, published in English: Agustín Guillamón, The Friends of Durruti Group, AK Press, San Francisco, 1996. The latter book is a translation of the contents of issue number 3 of Balance.
- 4 L’Obra normative de la Generalitat de Catalunya. El Pla Tarradellas, Edició del Comissariat de Propaganda de la Generalitat de Catalunya, Barcelona, 1937.
- 5 Anna Monjó, “L’economia entre revolució i guerra”, in Història, Política, societat i cultura del Països Catalans (Vol. 9), De la gran esperança a la gran ensulsiada 1930-1939, Enciclopèdia Catalana, Barcelona, 1999.
- 6 Trade Union of the Iron and Steel Industry of Barcelona, CNT-FAI, Colectivación? Nacionalización? No: Socialización, Imp. Primero de Mayo, Barcelona, 1937.
- 7 We shall not present a complete account of the May Days, but only of those aspects that involve the Friends of Durruti Group; in any case, the reader may consult the Appendix for more information.
- 8 Crónica del Departament de Presidencia del 3 de maig de 1937.
- 9 As Gorkin states: “In reality the movement was totally spontaneous. Of course, this spontaneity was quite relative, and must be explained by the fact that Defense Committees have existed since July 19, scattered everywhere, in Barcelona and Cataluña, which were primarily organized by rank and file elements of the CNT and the FAI. For a while these Committees were mostly inactive, but it can be said that on May 3 they were the ones who mobilized the working class. They were the action groups of the movement. We know that no general strike order had been issued by any of the trade union federations.” See Julián Gorkin, “Réunion du sous-secrétariat international du POUM—14 mai 1937”.
- 10 The second Tarradellas government was in office from December 16, 1936 to April 3, 1937.
- 11 Isgleas resigned because of the proposal that the Carlos Marx Division, controlled by the PSUC, should be transferred from the Aragón Front to the Madrid Front, and not, as some historians claim, due to yet another in a series of disarmament decrees promulgated for the rearguard that nobody took seriously. Isgleas was opposed to the weakening of the Aragón Front, and demanded that, in any event, the men of the Marx Division should be replaced by two thousand men from the police forces in the rearguard. This was intended as a countermeasure in response to the attempts on the part of Companys to disarm and control the rearguard.
- 12 “Actas de las reuniones de Companys con Herrera y Escorza del 11 y 13 de abril de 1937”.
- 13 In this government (in office from April 16 to May 4), the CNT Ministers were Isgleas (Defense), Capdevila (Public Services) and Aurelio Fernández (Health and Welfare).
- 14 According to the memoires of Joan Pons Garlandí, before May, in a meeting of the Committee of Internal Security, in the office of the Commissar of Public Order Rodríguez Salas, in the Palacio de Gobernación on Plaza Palacio, Artemi Aguadé persuaded Aurelio Fernández, who had put his pistol to the head of Rodríguez Salas, not to shoot. This anecdote reflects the great tension that existed between the CNT leaders and the appointees of the ERC who had positions of authority in the police forces.
- 15 Herrera and Escorza advocated the formation of Inspection Commissions in all the Ministries of the Generalitat, which would allow them to control what was done and what was planned in all the departments of the government, especially in those directed by the PSUC, as a safeguard to avoid future conflicts between the different antifascist organizations. It would be modeled on the Council of the Economy and the Commission of War Industries, which had proven so effective, according to Escorza and Herrera.
- 16 Josep Tarradellas, “La crisi política prèvia als Fets de Maig. 26 dies de desgovern a la Generalitat”.
- 17 Escorza was born in Barcelona in 1912, the son of a CNT militant in the Woodworkers Trade Union. He suffered from polio as a child, which left him permanently paralyzed. Of very short stature as a result of the atrophy of his legs, he used enormous lifts in his shoes that, in addition to his crutches, gave him a pathetic appearance and extremely limited his mobility. Of an extremely sour and severe disposition, he was very well educated and willful and would not allow anyone to help him move about. He was a militant in the Libertarian Youth and became a member of the Peninsular Committee of the FAI. At the beginning of the civil war he addressed an assembly of the CNT-FAI on July 20, 1936, advocating a third way, as opposed to García Oliver’s half-hearted advocacy of the “go for broke” strategy and the overwhelming majority position of Abad de Santillán and Federica Montseny in favor of loyal collaboration with the government of the Generalitat. Escorza advocated the use of the government of the Generalitat as a tool to socialize the economy, and then dispose of it when it ceases to be useful to the CNT. Escorza was the highest ranking official of the Investigation Services of the CNT-FAI, which had since July 1936 been executing all kinds of repressive tasks, as well as espionage and intelligence. The Committee of Investigation was organized in two sections: Minué was in charge of foreign espionage and Escorza himself was in charge of internal intelligence. Repression was directed not just at rebel organizations and individuals, but also against CNT militants. Escorza was responsible for the execution of José Gardeñas, of the construction federation, and Fernández, president of the Food Supply Workers Trade Union, at the order of the confederal organization, with the knowledge and consent of Federica Montseny and Abad de Santillán. García Oliver stated that Escorza’s intelligence and espionage work were excellent. His police work, intelligence activities and repressive measures relating to fifth columnists, as well as fascist elements and priests, and their activities, as well as those relating to the so-called “uncontrollables” within the antifascist camp itself, including those who were members of the CNT, conferred upon Escorza a sinister reputation that, combined with his handicap and his arresting appearance, transformed him into a figure of revulsion and horror, feared for his power over life and death of others, radiating a mythical aura that was half contempt and half terror, led him to be known as (in the words of García Oliver) “a cripple in body and in soul”. It cannot be denied, however, that he was extraordinarily effective (and this was acknowledged by García Oliver himself) with respect to his responsibilities in the matter of espionage, intelligence and repression, which he always carried out strictly under orders from the confederal organization. During the summer of 1936 he made outstanding contributions to the conversations between the Central Committee of Antifascist Militias of Cataluña (CCMAC) and the Moroccan Action Committee (CAM), whose representatives proposed that the government of the Republic grant independence to Morocco as a means to undermine the effectiveness of the Moroccan troops that had been recruited by Franco’s army. On October 22, 1936, Manuel Escorza and Dionisio Eroles, in the name of the Regional Committee of the CNT, and Pedro Herrera, for the FAI, signed the unity pact between the CNT-FAI and the PSUC and the UGT, which was explained to and submitted for the approval of a mass meeting held in the Monumental Plaza de Toros, at which Antonio Sesé, Federica Montseny, Joan Comorera y Vázquez, as well as the Soviet consul in Barcelona, Antonov Ovseenko, spoke.
- 18 See W. Solano, “La Juventud Comunista Ibérica (POUM) en las jornadas de mayo de 1937 en Barcelona”, in Los sucesos de mayo de 1937. Una revolución en la República, Fundación Nin y Fundación Seguí, Pandora Libros, Barcelona, 1999, pp. 158-160.
- 19 Agustín Guillamón, “Josep Rebull de 1937 a 1939. La crítica interna a la política del CE del POUM sobre la Guerra de España”, Balance, Issues 19 and 20 (May and October 2000).
- 20 “Pedro” (Gerö), in his reports to Moscow, identified Los Escolapios as the controlling center of the insurrection of May 1937. See Agustín Guillamón, “La NKVD y el SIM en Barcelona. Algunos informes de Gerö sobre la Guerra de España”, Balance, no. 22 (November 2001).
- 21 Juan Gimínez Arenas, De la Unión a Banat, Fundación Anselmo Lorenzo, Madrid, 1996, p. 59.
- 22 This is where the British author George Orwell was stationed.
- 23 The nephew of Francisco Ferrer Guardia was murdered by a PSUC patrol at one of these checkpoints, because he resisted being disarmed.
- 24 These are his exact words: “I declare that the guards who have died today, are like my own brothers: I bow down before them and kiss them.” (“declaro que los guardias que hoy han muerto, para mí son hermanos: me inclino ante ellos y los beso”). See El eco…, p. 427.
- 25 Testimony of Albert Masó March (a POUM militant), from correspondence with the author.
- 26 According to the account of Abad de Santillán, Por qué perdimos la guerra, Plaza y Janés, Barcelona, 1977, p. 211.
- 27 The Local Committee of Barcelona [of the POUM], “Informe de la actuación del Comité local durante los días de mayo que éste presenta a discussion de células de Barcelona”, mimeographed text.
- 28 Correspondence between the author and José Quesada Suárez.
- 29 Correspondence and interview of the author with Josep Rebull Cabré. See also Agustín Guillamón, “Josep Rebull de 1937 a 1939: la crítica interna a la política del Comité ejecutivo del POUM durante la Revolución española”, Balance. Cuadernos de historia, nos. 19 and 20 (2000).
- 30 Ricardo Sanz, El sindicalismo y la política. Los “solidarios” y “nosotros”, Edición del autor, Toulouse, 1966, p. 306. The barracks of the Docks (renamed “Espartaco”) was attacked by the Stalinists from the nearby Carlos Marx Barracks, but the troops under the command of Ricardo Sanz limited their activities to passive defense, without going into the streets. At this same barracks, militiamen from the Tierra y Libertad Column, who had participated in the street battles, obeyed the orders issued by the Regional Committee of the CNT on the evening of May 5 to halt all offensive operations. Only a group of Italians (who had brought four tanks to defend the Casa CNT-FAI on May 4 and on May 5 had delivered six armored cars to the Gran Vía to defend the headquarters of the Control Patrols and the Food Supply Workers Trade Union) continued to fight at the barricade erected on Icaria Avenue.
- 31 Munis, in the second issue of La Voz Leninista (August 23, 1937) subjected the concept of the “revolutionary junta” that was elaborated in the sixth issue of The Friend of the People (August 12, 1937) to critique. For Munis, The Friends of Durruti were suffering from a progressive theoretical deterioration, and a diminishing practical capacity to exercise influence in the CNT, which led them to abandon certain theoretical positions that the experience of May had allowed them to encompass. Munis claimed that in May 1937 The Friends of Durruti had simultaneously launched the slogans of “revolutionary junta” and “all power to the proletariat”; while in the sixth issue, dated August 12, of The Friend of the People, the slogan of “revolutionary junta” was proposed as an alternative to the “failure of all state forms”. According to Munis this implied a theoretical regression insofar as it reflected the assimilation by The Friends of Durruti of the experiences of May, which distanced them from the Marxist concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and once again dragged them into the ambiguity of the statist-anarchist theory.
- 32 Republished by Etcétera (Apartado 1363) and Ateneu Enciclopèdic Popular (Apartado 22212) [both 08080 Barcelona] in 1997, although accompanied by an inadequate preface containing erroneous information. [For an English language translation of this text, including the 1978 Introduction by Balius, see The Friends of Durruti, Towards a Fresh Revolution, Zabalaza Books, Johannesburg, n.d.; available online in October 2013 at: http://zabalazabooks.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/towards_a_fresh_revolution_fod.pdf.]
- 33 Anna Monjó, Militants, Laertes, Barcelona, 2003, pp. 465-471.
- 34 At the beginning of this chapter.
- 35 Most revolutionaries were in prison or in hiding. Those who had not yet suffered the impact of repression fled to the front to find refuge. The few who wanted to continue the fight for socialization in the factories encountered indifference or suspicion, or else were reduced to impotence by the new bureaucrats, who obtained the support of the flood of new members after July 19, 1936.
- 36 In the city of Barcelona the 24 Sindicatos Únicos were organized into 12 Industrial Unions. The FAI underwent a development similar to the one that affected the CNT: after July 1937, it was organized territorially into Groups, which replaced the traditional affinity groups. This reorganization of both the CNT as well as the FAI, was a consequence of the defeat of the revolutionaries in May 1937, and implied the transformation of the class trade unions (sindicatos únicos) into institutions of economic management and for enforcing the militarization of labor (industrial unions); and this was paralleled by the transformation of the FAI into an antifascist political party.
- 37 The horizontal and federative functioning of the CNT did not permit its militants to organize dissident poles in organized tendencies, with their own leaders and programs distinct from those of the superior committees.
- 38 García Oliver, Ascaso and Durruti were the prototypical “men of action”. Federica Montseny and Abad de Santillán were prototypical “intellectuals”.
- 39 According to the testimony of Jaime Antón Aguadé i Cortès, written and dated before witnesses in Mexico City on August 9, 1946: “During the May Days the government of the Generalitat requested that the government of Spain send airplanes to bomb the CNT strongholds and this request was denied. Companys then asked what he was supposed to do to get the situation under control and he was told that there was no other solution besides surrendering jurisdiction over Public Order in Cataluña to the central government, and Companys surrendered it.” These statements are confirmed by the teletypes exchanged between Companys and the government of Valencia, in the fragment that confirms the request by Companys to bomb Barcelona: “The President of the Generalitat, communicates to the subsecretary of the Council, that the rebels have brought artillery into the streets. It is requested that orders be conveyed to Sandino to place himself at the disposal of the Government of the Generalitat.”
- 40 Teletype from José del Barrio: “To Comrade Vidiella. Order from Comrade del Barrio. Say the following: ‘Situation Barcelona very serious. Must work to prepare air force and bomb when we advise, the Escolapios, Plaza de Toros Monumental, the Campos Sagrado rail depot, the Barracks at San Andrés, Pueblo Nuevo and the Hotel del Reloy at number 1 Plaza de España. The mission of the air arm is absolutely necessary by tomorrow morning (it is now already seven)’.” See Appendix.
- 41 “Revolutions are totalitarian no matter what anyone says. […] In July a committee of antifascist militias was formed. It was not a class institution. Bourgeois and counterrevolutionary fractions were represented in it. It might seem that this committee arose to confront the Generalitat. But it was a scene in a comedy. […] Neighborhood defense committees, municipal committees, supply committees were created. Sixteen months have passed. What remains? Of the spirit of July, a memory. Of the institutions of July, a past. But the whole nest of politicians and petty bourgeois are still standing. In the Plaza de la República of the Catalonian capital there is still that crowd of elements that only intend to live on the backs of the working class.” From the pamphlet of The Friends of Durruti Group, “Towards a New Revolution”, written by Balius.
- 42 These superior committees at the highest levels of the organization were reduced to a handful of bureaucrats, who, after May 1937, were profoundly hostile to one another due to personal grudges, pitting the National Committee of the CNT, the Regional Committee of Cataluña, the Peninsular Committee of the FAI and the Executive Committee of the Libertarian Movement against each other. At the end of the war, after obscure vacillations and miserable reversals of position on the part of the various factions, the opposition between the bureaucrats, who were totally indifferent to the rank and file militants who were preoccupied with hunger and bombs, had been reduced to the confrontation between the Negrinistas of the National Committee, controlled by Marianet and Horacio Prieto, and the Anti-Negrinistas García Oliver, Isgleas, Esgleas, Peiró, Montseny and the Nervio Group: Abad de Santillán, Pedro Herrera, Rafael Nevado, Fidel Miró and Germinal de Souza. Others, such as Joaquín Ascaso and Antonio Ortiz, condemned to hell by slander, fought to survive.