Buenaventura Durruti was born in Leon, Spain on July 14, 1896. He had eight brothers and his father worked at the rail yard in Leon. At the age of fourteen, Buenaventura left school to work as a trainee mechanic with his father.
In 1917, the leader of the railway workers union called for a strike. Buenaventura decided to take a large role in the strike, which ended up becoming a general workers strike after the government refused to accept the terms offered by the union. The Spanish government ended up bringing in the army, which crushed the rebellion within three days, using barbaric methods. The strike left 70 workers dead and over 500 wounded, while the surviving 2,000 workers were tossed into prison.
Buenaventura managed to escape the crackdown and fled to nearby France, but he was left with a lasting imprint of the government's oppression. Over the next three years, he worked as a mechanic in Paris while things calmed down. In 1920, he moved across the border into San Sebastian, where he met some anarchists and joined their cause. The president of the Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) convinced him to move to Barcelona, where the anarchist cause was being heavily suppressed.
In Barcelona, tensions were extremely high. In 1919, over 100,000 workers went on strike after officials in the CNT were arrested and the city was placed under martial law. The military arrested thousands of workers, giving them outrageous prison sentences. The police and military continued to crack down on the anarchists, resorting to violence and murder. Buenaventura and his fellow anarchists met this violence with violence, returning assassinations in kind. From 1919 to 1922, the war in the streets continued, resulting in the deaths of many prominent anarchists.
In 1921, Buenaventura worked with his fellow anarchists to have Dato, the dictator of Spain assassinated. He was killed in 1921, but the anarchists did not stop there. A powerful and corrupt cardinal, Soldevila of Saragossa, was reaping wealth through gambling and hotels and financially supporting the government's crackdowns on anarchy. Buenaventura planned the assassination and carried it out, removing a corrupt holy man from the Spanish underground.
In 1923, Primo de Rivera seized power in Spain and brought on a highly oppressive state. All anarchist journals were banned and most prominent anarchists were jailed or killed. Buenaventura fled to Argentina, where he was received with great recognition by the working class. The Argentinian police found out about his arrival and immediately began harassing him, eventually forcing him to leave after putting a bounty on his head. He traveled from country to country in South America, but was constantly driven out by the governments.
In 1924, Buenaventura left for Paris, where French anarchists were gathering and helping Spanish anarchists in their efforts. When King Alfonso XIII of Spain came to Paris, Buenaventura plotted his assassination, but was arrested by the police and jailed for a year. Although the Argentinian government tried to have him extradited, the French government decided not to after the French anarchists exerted pressure. He was released in 1925 and attempted to escape to several countries before returning to France to hide.
Over the next several years, Buenaventura went back and forth between several countries, spending a lot of time in prison. In 1927, he was finally granted political asylum by the Belgium government. That same year, he met secretly with many other anarchist leaders in Valencia, Spain at a secret meeting. At that meeting, the major anarchists agreed to band together to form the Federacion Anarquista Iberica (FAI), which would coordinate nearly all of the anarchists throughout Spain.
In 1931, the Spanish monarchy collapsed, allowing Buenaventura to return. The following elections greatly reformed the government by allowing politicians from socialist and republican parties into the parliament. That summer, strikes throughout the country resulted in hundreds of deaths. The quality of life fell to extreme lows as unemployment rose and Buenaventura led raids on Spanish banks to give money to the poor.
In 1932, the FAI organized an insurrection, but the government cracked down, deporting 120 anarchists to Spanish Guinea (including Buenaventura). He was forced to remain there for several months before political pressure by the anarchists allowed him to return to Spain. Once there, he tried to settle down, but the police continued harassing him. He worked in a factory in Barcelona, but continued working with the unions and anarchist movement. The police had him arrested several times, leaving him in prison without any charges or trial for large amounts of time.
In 1934, political movements in Spain were gradually spiraling the country into chaos. The anarchists and socialists banded together to fight the Catholic Church, burning down cathedrals and covenants. The army took its revenge by killing over a thousand workers and wounding several thousand more. Within two months, the government had put over 30,000 workers into prison for political offenses.
In 1936, a group of activists seized a radio station in Valencia and declared that they would do the same to several other radio stations. General Franco, the leader of the army, called on the nation to allow him to establish a dictatorship in Spain to regain control. The anarchists and workers declared open war on this fascist movement and took to the streets, seizing weapons and creating barricades throughout the country. Buenaventura joined the movement, leading assaults on military barracks. The anarchists managed to seize control of the city of Barcelona, placing it under total anarchy.
In July, Buenaventura formed a massive army of 10,000 workers and left for Sargossa. The city was successfully captured after the fascists were defeated and the anarchist army continued on to Aragon, which was also freed from fascist control.
After these important victories, the anarchists faced their hardest battle when Franco brought all of his armies to attack Madrid. Franco declared that he would rather burn the city to the ground than leave it to the liberals and ordered numerous bombing runs. Nazi troops from Germany aided Franco in the attack, which lasted over a month, since Hitler did not want liberals taking power in a nearby country. Eventually, Franco's forces managed to seize the city, once again placing Spain under the control of a fascist dictatorship.
On November 20, 1936, Buenaventura was leaving his car when a stray bullet caught him in the head. He died instantly and his body was put on display in Barcelona, where half a million people attended his funeral. Today he is remembered as one of the greatest anarchist leaders in history who led the workers in an anarchist revolution that left Spain in a state of chaos for nearly a year.