Originally posted on January 17, 2013 on “Fubar and Grill”
By Mark E. Smith
I knew nothing about the Spanish revolution until recently, but reading some books has been very enlightening. Here’s a portion from a chapter called “The Clandestine Revolution,” in the book Durruti in the Spanish Revolution by Abel Paz, that I’ve just finished reading–this happened when the anarchist Durruti, who never accepted any rank or acknowledged being a leader in any way, was leading a column against the government forces:
While traveling from Bujaraloz to Barcelona, Durruti witnessed the change that the revolution had made both in people and circumstances. The whirlwind of the first days of the battle had passed and the peasants and workers were now focused on changing their ways of life and creating new social relationships.The people were still armed and guarded the entrances of their villages. There was no trace of Assault or Civil Guards at these checkpoints: it was the proletarians who defended the revolutionary order.
Durruti stopped his car at a checkpoint at a town in the Lerida province. He presented himself as a militiaman leaving the front for the rearguard and requested gasoline for his vehicle. By doing this he wanted to see how the peasants’ behavior had changed in that small town of some three thousand residents. A militiaman told him that he should speak to the town Committee in the old mayor’s office. They’d give him the “OK” that he needed to fill his car with gas.
Durruti crossed the town’s main square. It was around noon. The square was empty except for some women leaving the church with a basket of goods. Durruti asked them how to get to the Committee and also if mass was being officiated in the church.
“No, no,”they responded. “There’s no priest. The priest is working in the field with the other men. Kill him? Why kill him? He isn’t dangerous. He even talks about going to live with a town girl. Besides, he’s very happy with everything that is happening.”
“But the church is right there,” said Durruti, while pointing.
“Ah, yes,the church. Why destroy it? The statues were removed and burned in the square.God no longer exists. He’s been expelled from here. And, since God doesn’t exist, the assembly decided to replace the word ‘adios’ [with God] with ‘salud’ [cheers]. The Cooperative now occupies the church and, because everything is collectivized, it supplies the town.”
Durruti came across an elderly man when he entered what was once the mayor’s office. It was the town’s former schoolteacher, who had been replaced by a young teacher from Lerida three months earlier. The old man had been inactive during those months but, when the revolution broke out, he volunteered to look after the town’s administrative needs and assure the continued operation of the Town Committee. The other members of the Committee were working in the fields. They gathered at nightfall to discuss pressing matters that had come up during the day or tasks that they needed to accomplish the next day. At the time, they had to focus on taking in the harvest. Since the town’s young people had volunteered to go fight on the front, the remaining residents had to do the work.
“But don’t think,” the retired teacher said, “that the work weighs on anyone. We work for ourselves now, for everyone.”
Durruti asked him how they had selected the members of the Committee. Durruti’s straightforward and simple air inspired the teacher’s trust, who took him as one of the many curious militiamen from the city who wanted to see what was happening in the towns.
“We held a town assembly,” he said, “and considered everyone’s abilities and also their conduct before the revolution. That’s how we appointed the Committee.”
“And what about the political parties?” Durruti said.
“Parties?There are some old Republicans like myself and some Socialists too; but no, the political parties haven’t played any role. During our assembly, we considered a person’s ability and conduct and appointed those who seemed best to us. It was no more complicated than that. The Committee represents the people and it’s to the people that it has to answer.”
Durruti asked about the parties again.
“The parties?” the teacher replied, intrigued by his insistence. “Why do we need political parties? You work to eat and eat if you work. Party politics don’t sow wheat, gather olives, or tan animal hides. No, our problems are collective and we have to solve them collectively. Politics divides and our town wants to be united, in total community.”
“By all appearances, everyone is happy here. But what about the old landowners?”Durruti inquired.
“They aren’t happy,” the teacher responded. “They don’t say so outright, because they’re afraid, but you can see it on their faces. Some have joined the community, others have chosen what we now call ‘individualism.’ They’ve kept their land but have to cultivate it themselves, because the exploitation of man by man no longer exists here, and so they won’t find any employees.”
“But what happens if they can’t cultivate their land themselves?”
“That simply shows that they have too much land and the town takes what they can’t tend to. Leaving the land uncultivated would be an attack on all of us.”
Durruti said goodbye to the teacher, and when he returned to the checkpoint, the workers on guard asked him if he’d received the gasoline that he needed. He told them yes with a smile and threw them a “Salud!” from the car as he took off for Barcelona.
As they did in Germany, the Communists in Spain paved the way for fascism by killing or co-opting the anarchists along with anyone else who opposed governmental militarism. The Communists insisted that organization was necessary in order to defeat fascism. But the unorganized anarchists had been defeating fascism, and once the Communists took over, fascism prevailed. The Communists wanted to”fight fascism” by using the very military discipline that is the essence of fascism, and fascism, particularly when it is playing fascism’s game by fascism’s rules, can never defeat fascism.