Every day new popular marches are departing from various cities in Spain. Valencia, Cádiz, Compostela and Coruña are already on the way. Yesterday in the bunker we have also seen images of the column departing from Barcelona.
It was one of those exquisite moments of historical ambiguity. The term ‘column from Barcelona’ resonated a famous episode from the Spanish Civil War, an anarchist march from Barcelona to Madrid in 1936, known as the Columna Durruti.
History has known many heroes, great and small. Horatius Nelson, Michiel de Ruyter, George Washington, you name them. Most of them are nationalist heroes. Their names and their legacy belong to a single nation.
The revolution has its heroes as well. Spartacus, Emiliano Zapata, Che Guevara. These people don’t have a fatherland. Their legacy belongs to all of man kind.
Buenaventura Durruti was the great revolutionary hero of the Spanish Civil War. He had been a miner and a mechanic, but above all he was a romantic. He started fighting his battles against injustice long before the war began. He was part of an anarchist group that assassinated a Spanish archbishop in 1920s. The bishop was said to have financed death squads to hunt down rebellious workers. After the assassination, Durutti had to flee. He went to Latin-America where he participated in acts of sedition all over the continent. He went to Paris where he picked up his occupation as a mechanic and a revolutionary.
When the second Spanish Republic was proclaimed in 1931 he went back to participate in workers’ revolts. The republic was notoriously instable. In the few years of its existence forces from the far left to the far right have tried to take control of it. In 1936 armed conflict ensued. Francisco Franco and other conservative generals made an attempt to take power and only partially succeeded. As a reaction to the coup, many workers and peasants rose up. Durruti participated in the revolt in Barcelona as part of an anarcosindicalist militia.
The city was taken. The red-and-black anarchist flag was waved from the roofs and from the windows. Workers took over factories and shops and set up assemblies to operate the means of production and distribution collectively. Peasants took over from the landowners. Churches were looted and burned.
This is the historical context in which the Columna Durutti was formed. Three thousand armed anarchists marching from Barcelona to Madrid, liberating villages and peasants on their way. It was one of the great revolutionary adventures of the twentieth century.
So yesterday we saw the images of the Columna from Barcelona. A couple of dozen people with backpacks and a banner saying ‘15M on the march’. They will walk about twenty kilometers a day, they will ‘liberate’ all the villages they pass. They will hold assemblies on the squares. They will invite people to join their march.
“This is our time,” I thought. “And it will only get better.”
In november 1936 Durruti and his column entered Madrid in time to help defend the city against the initial attack of the fascists. He was hit by a sniper bullet. The origin of the bullet will always remain a mystery. Durruti was still alive when he arrived at the building that was turned into a makeshift field hospital. It was the place where he died. Before the war it used to be the Ritz hotel.
“It is we the workers who built these palaces and cities here in Spain and in America and everywhere. We, the workers, can build others to take their place. And better ones! We are not in the least afraid of ruins. We are going to inherit the earth; there is not the slightest doubt about that. The bourgeoisie might blast and ruin its own world before it leaves the stage of history. We carry a new world here, in our hearts.”
– Buenaventura Durruti