Rival Durrutis: A Posthumous Cult of Personality
Abstract of the 2010 George Watt Memorial Award in the Graduate Category. Read the full winning essay here.
Buenaventura Durruti was a hero to the anarchist movement, and his death on the Madrid front on November 20, 1936, saw a mass outpouring of grief from Spain’s anarchists. The paper details the development of the posthumous cult of personality of Durruti between his death and the Barcelona May Days of 1937 and their immediate aftermath. The work is concerned with the two rival representations of Durruti that were created in the period by the leadership of the anarchist Confederación Nacional del Trabajo and the union’s more radical elements, mirroring the ideological schism that was to reach its climax in Barcelona in May 1937. The paper follows Max Weber’s theory of charismatic authority and political charisma, asserting that the adoption of the Weberian model results in the focus of the study being not Durruti himself, but his perception within the anarchist movement. Consequently, this approach emphasizes the representation of the individual and in turn, the agents with influence over these representations. Following his death, Durruti was portrayed as an advocate of the counter-revolution, a non-partisan antifascist committed solely to winning the war, yet alongside this figure there was an alternateDurruti, the unrepentant revolutionary anarchist.
The paper examines the two depictions and the ideological motivations behind them, considering the use of Durruti’s cult of personality as a means of political mobilization. The central assertion of the work is best summarized by Jacinto Barras, an anarchist journalist for Solidaridad Obrera, who wrote in 1938 of Durruti:
In everything written to date, each author has delineated the spiritual profile of Durruti; not taking into account what it was but as each one wanted it to be. Catholics say that God made man in his image, when we all know that God is a product of the human imagination. Many commentators have done something like this with Durruti.
The work illustrates the veracity of Barras’ observation and how, following Durruti’s death, his legacy became a source of political capital in the CNT’s ideological schism.