Buenaventua Durruti

Buenaventua Durruti

Buenaventua Durruti was born in Spain in 1896. He became a railway worker and as a trade union activist took part in the General Strike of 1917.

Durruti became an anarchist and with Juan Garcia Oliver and Francisco Ascaso helped establish the Solidarios group in 1919. Two years later members of the group were involved in the murder of Eduardo Dato, the Spanish prime minister. In 1923 the group assassinated Juan Soldevila Romero, the Archbishop of Sargossa, in revenge for the murder by the police of Salvador Segui, a CNT leader.

Durruti and Francisco Ascaso fled to France in June 1923. In protest against the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera, Durruti took part in the border raid at Vera del Bidosa on 6th November, 1924. Threatened with extradition to Spain, Durruti moved to Cuba. Constantly on the run, he later lived in Mexico, Chile and Argentina.

Durruti returned to France in 1926. He was arrested but protests by the left resulted in him being released. Durruti now moved to Belgium where he lived until going back to Spain in 1931. He settled in Barcelona where he became involved in organizing strikes. In January 1932 he was arrested and deported to Spanish Guinea.

Durruti returned to Spain but was once again arrested in December 1933 for leading an uprising in Saragossa. In the 1936 Elections Durruti urged anarchists to support the Popular Front in order to defeat the extreme right-wing. After the victory of the Popular Front he joined with Federica Montseny and Juan Garcia Oliver to establish communes and workers' committees.

On the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War Durruti helped establish the Antifascist Militias Committee in Barcelona. The committee immediately sent Durruti and 3,000 Anarchists to Aragón in an attempt to take the Nationalist held Saragossa.

Members of the Durruti Column in Aragón (August, 1936)
Members of the Durruti Column in Aragón (August, 1936)

At the beginning of November, 25,000 Nationalist troops under General Jose Varela had reached the western and southern suburbs of Madrid. Five days later he was joined by General Hugo Sperrle and the Condor Legion. This began the siege of Madrid that was to last for nearly three years.

On 14th November Durruti arrived in Madrid from Aragón with 5,000 men. He immediately went to the frontline where the Manzanares River passed through the University of Madrid. On 19th November, 1936, Durruti was shot by a sniper from one of the upper stories of the Hospital Clinic.

Buenaventura Durruti died the following day. Ethel MacDonald, a British anarchist employed by the CNT-FAI's foreign language information centre, claimed that Durruti had been killed by a member of the Communist Party (PCE).

Primary Sources

(1) Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, General Consul of the Soviet Union in Barcelona , top secret document sent to NKVD (November, 1936)

The dispatch of aid to Madrid is proceeding with difficulty. The question about it was put before the military adviser on 5 November. The adviser thought it possible to remove the entire Durruti detachment from the front.

This unit, along with the Karl Marx Division, is considered to have the greatest fighting value. To put Durruti out of action, a statement was issued by the commander of the Karl Marx Division, inspired by us, about sending this division to Madrid (it was difficult to take the division out of battle, and, besides, the PSUC did not want to remove it from the Catalan front for political reasons). However, Durruti refused point-blank to carry out the order for the entire detachment, or part of it, to set out for Madrid. Immediately, it was agreed with President Companys and the military adviser to secure the dispatch of the mixed Catalan column (from detachments of various parties). A meeting of the commanders with the detachments on the Aragon front was called for 6 November, with our participation. After a short report about the situation near Madrid, the commander of the Karl Marx Division declared that his division was ready to be sent to Madrid. Durruti was up in arms against sending reinforcements to Madrid, sharply attacked the Madrid government, "which was preparing for defeat," called Madrid's situation hopeless, and concluded that Madrid had a purely political significance - and not a strategic one. This kind of attitude on the part of Durruti, who enjoys exceptional influence over all of anarcho syndicalist Catalonia that is at the front, must be smashed at all costs. It was necessary to interfere in a firm way. And Durruti gave in, declaring that he could give Madrid a thousand select fighters. After a passionate speech by the anarchist Santillan, he agreed to give two thousand and immediately issued an order that his neighbour on the front Ortiz give another two thousand, Ascaso another thousand, and the Karl Marx division a thousand. Durruti was silent about the Left Republicans, although the chief of their detachment declared that he could give a battalion. In all, sixty-eight hundred bayonets are shaping up for dispatch no later than 8 November. Durruti then and there put his deputy at the head of the mixed detachment (Durruti agreed to form it as a "Catalan division"). He declared that he would personally be with the detachment until the appointment (of the new head). But Durruti unexpectedly pulled a stunt, holding up the dispatch. Learning about the "discovery" of a kind of supplementary weapon (Winchester), instead of sending the units from the front on a direct route to Madrid, he sent these units unarmed into Barcelona, leaving their weapons (Mauser system) at their own place on the front and instead calling up reserves (without weapons) from Barcelona. His anarchist neighbours did the same thing. Thus Durruti got his own way - the Aragon front was not weakened. About five thousand disarmed frontline soldiers were gathered in Barcelona, and Durruti raised the question about immediately arming them at the expense of the units of the Barcelona gendarmerie and police. Through this, Durruti would achieve a continual striving by the CNT and the FAI to undermine the armed support of the present government in Barcelona. Since the weapons seized from the Garde d'Assaut and Garde Nationale (about twenty-five hundred rifles) were still not enough, it was proposed to get them from the "rear soldiers," and instead of weapons of a different sort, the Garde d'Assaut and Garde Nationale would also, according to Durruti, receive Winchesters in place of Mausers. Here the government's decree on the handing over of weapons by the soldiers at the rear has already been frustrated.

(2) Edward Knoblaugh, Correspondent in Spain (1937)

It was common property in Madrid and Valencia, but not in Barcelona, that the noted Catalonian Anarchist leader, Buenaventura Durruti, one of the most valiant of the civilian commanders, was killed by his own men on the Madrid front as reprisal for disciplinary measures which they believed too severe. The autopsy, held secretly, revealed he had been shot in the back at close range. His death was rather a shock to me, for I had come to know him rather well. My first conversation with him was in the Barcelona prison following the October, 1934, revolt. My last was during a luncheon in the Grand Via Restaurant a few hours before he was killed.