A film about Durruti

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Wed Dec 13 13:09:35 MST 2000

Le Monde diplomatique
December 2000

The revolution on film

Ken Loach's Land and Freedom was released in France in 1995 just before a
wave of strikes in December that brought hundreds of thousands out on the
streets in opposition to a proposed reform of the social security system.
The film's British hero joins the ranks of the Leninist, Trotskyite,
anti-Stalinist Poum (United Marxist Workers' Party) to fight fascism in the
Spanish civil war. For many who saw it and were unaware of the differences
between the Poum and the FAI (Anarchist Federation of Iberia), the film
enshrined the memory of the libertarian revolution. Since then, to judge by
the number of debates and publications, the interest in anarchism
continues. More than 60 years after the outbreak of the Spanish revolution,
film-makers are encouraging us to reflect on this little-known chapter in
the history of the workers' movement.

French director Jean-Louis Comolli focuses on the figure of the Spanish
anarchist Buenaventura Durruti (1896-1936). His film raises the question of
the physical representation of a man who became a legend in his own
lifetime and died on the Madrid front at the age of 39. In it, a theatre
company plans a play based on Durutti's life. "How can the commitment
demanded for work of this kind be squared with the material necessities of
an actor's life?" asks a member of the troupe, who has just been offered a
role in a TV commercial. Durruti's biographer Abel Paz, who is also the
film's historical consultant, warns the troupe that "the actor who plays
Durruti is finished. For one thing, he must be almost unknown. And once he
has played the role, he might as well put a bullet through his brain. Never
again will he have the chance to play so strong a character."

Durruti remains to this day the symbol of the freedom fighter. But the
image of a man who spent three quarters of his life in prison or in hiding
has been distorted by his communist and nationalist enemies. Durruti
himself rejected the idea of the professional revolutionary and sought to
avoid a personality cult. In fact, Comolli might have done better to stick
to his original title, Nosotros (We). The libertarian experiment of 1936
cannot be reduced to the life of one man.

Following two bloody setbacks in 1932, self-management of land and
factories became a reality in March 1936, four months before Franco's
military putsch. In a famous speech, Durruti's close friend Francisco
Ascaso summed up the symbiosis of ideas and direct action that was the
strength of the Spanish anarchists: "The finest theories have value only if
rooted in the practical experience of life ... The essence of our people is
ceaseless action. In marching forward they surpass themselves. Don't hold
them back, even to teach them the most beautiful theories".

Comolli and the director and members of the Els Joglars troupe have worked
hard to produce a sound pedagogical work, using archive footage from time
to time, but they run up against the limits of the narrative genre. A
feature-length film just cannot do justice to the complexity of the ideas
and historical events involved.

How can the weakness of the anarcho-syndicalist CNT (National Confederation
of Labour) despite its 1.2m members be made intelligible without showing
the terrible repression it endured at the hands of all governments from the
beginning of the 1920s? How can a work of fiction explain the divisions
within the CNT that led its leaders to choose - once the war had started
and against Durruti's advice - to collaborate with the socialist republic,
which feared the people in arms almost as much as a nationalist victory?
How can it explain the stubborn determination of the European democracies -
especially France under Leon Blum's Popular Front - not to intervene in the
Spanish conflict when Hitler and Mussolini came to Franco's aid right from
July 1936? How can it depict the infiltration of the republican government
by agents of the GPU and Stalin's determination to tame a revolution that
was proceeding without his consent?

Yet despite these intrinsic limitations, Durruti is stimulating, even funny
at times. It gets us thinking once again about the problems of revolution
and revolutionary action. Impromptu conversations among the troupe as they
prepare their play convey the current crisis of politics and political
commitment. Against this background, anarchist ideas take on new relevance.

Full article at: http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/en/2000/12/18films

Louis Proyect
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