Durruti – Ever heard of him?

Durruti was a well known name able to induce panic anywhere in Europe in the 1930s.  He was a prominent Spanish anarchist dedicated to the violent overthrow of bourgeois society.  He really came into his own during the Spanish Civil War where he led troops in fighting against the Fascists in the battle for Madrid.

While he was a terror to the establishment everywhere, he was an inspiration to the downtrodden.  When he was killed in 1936 it was predicted that Durruti’s nobility while living would cause ‘a legion of Durrutis’ to spring up behind him.

There is a feeling that you can kill people but you can’t kill ideas.  So if you kill an influential person all you will achieve is making a martyr of him so enhancing the appeal of the idea. So a lot of the coverage of the death of of Bin Laden comes with the health warning that although the man is gone his ideas live on and will continue to trouble us for many years to come.

It does sound plausible doesn’t it.   And a bit scary too.  But is it true?  Well maybe, but it didn’t work for Durruti after all.  Eighty years after his I don’t suppose one person in a thousand has ever even heard of him.  And I can’t think of a single other case in history where a dead person’s ideas have had much impact.  It is live people with lots of resources at their disposal that make the difference in history.  This is almost always people with the support, in some way, of a state.

Bin Laden is often portrayed as some kind of ideological genius who works in an area outside state control.  The facts don’t support this.  He was sponsored indirectly by the US, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.  That he remained in hiding with at least some level of collusion from the government of Pakistan seems, at least, a possibility.

Violence is expensive.  To do serious damage takes serious resources.  Very few organisations apart from governments can sustain a threat for any length of time.  Although Bin Laden may have started out as a relatively rich individual he wouldn’t have been able to fund decades of struggle from his own pocket.  Semtex doesn’t grow on trees.  You need to eat while you are training.

I have a feeling that far from being a figure of huge historic significance Bin Laden will, like Durriti, be forgotten pretty quickly.

Wikepedia entry on Durruti

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