“His death unleashed a frantic propaganda about the hero Durruti. Any discussion would end with the citation of his name. And each time he was named, a bit of his thought and work was killed.”
—Abel Paz, “Buenaventura Durutti”
Durutti is probably the best known anarchist in the world. His name is linked to the Spanish revolution, to the summer of 1936, when the Iberian proletariat rose up, arms in hand, against power and attacked the military bases, burned the churches, occupied the factories. It is this struggle, where he fought on the front lines together with the people of his column, that every one remembers. This is the struggle in which he lost his life on the morning of November 20, 1936, and due to which he became a hero to all.
And a hero is always right. No one ever dares to bring his statements or his actions into question. No one. The dark sides of heroes need never be put on display; they are justified. And Durutti had his dark sides as every human being does. Of those linked to his character, such as his hatred for homosexuals, there is nothing more to say. Everyone is made as they are, and besides so much water has passed under the bridge since then. But what of those linked to his choices in life? What can be said about these? What, for example, can be said about his past as a bank robber? Something needs to be said about it today when there are anarchists in prison accused of robbing banks. Can one sing the praises of that distant anarchist robber, dedicate a fine commemorative book to him and keep silent about the anarchist robbers of our time? A response to this is necessary; the comparison is far too obvious. And, as usual, the response is found in his time, in his implacable raids, in his ability to “objectively” change contexts and situations. And then there is the man, Buenaventura Durutti. Wasn’t he, in fact, the one who said – and the word of a hero is sacred – that “then I followed that method because the circumstances were different from those of the present day”, and “Banditry, no. Collective expropriation, yes! Yesterday is surpassed by the road of history itself. And anyone who desires to revive it, taking refuge in ‘the right to live’ is free to do so, but outside of our ranks, renouncing the title of militant and accepting individual responsibility for his action without compromising the life of the movement or its prestige before the working class”? Yes, he really was the one who said this, and we all need to remember it. All of us.
Only in this way could one forget. Forget that these words were said in 1933, when there were, to quote Durutti again, “a million union members” and “ a population awaiting the propitious moment to carry out the great revolution.” Forget that, after the propitious moment when he urged collective action had passed, it would be the time for Sabate, Facerias and other anarchist proponents of individual action – who were maligned and disowned for this by other anarchists afraid that their organization might lose its good reputation – to take this struggle up again.
But today, are we in a moment propitious for revolution? And besides, don’t Durutti’s thoughts exclusively deal with members of the FAI/CNT? Wasn’t it the militants of these organizations who were to renounce their “titles” if they decided to attack a bank? And what of those who have never been part of such organizations, aho have always strongly affirmed individual responsibility for their
Actions? Has Durutti’s meaning been erased in order to use his words against these people? Those who have something to say are only his self-interested interpreters, preoccupied with confirming for the millionth time that there is no salvation outside the church.
Poor Durutti. His name – when not used to christen an after-work bar for comrades – is reduced to a mere polemical tool.