2. La Pasionaria


Dolores Ibarruri 1895-1989

The following is an abbreviated version of her New York Times obituary in 1989:

Ibarruri was better known at home and abroad under her battle name, La Pasionaria. A Basque left-winger who was a founder of the Spanish Communist Party, she won international renown during the Spanish Civil War.

In her first broadcast after the outbreak of war in 1936 she told Spanish republicans: ”It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees! They shall not pass!” The last two words – ”no pasaran” in Spanish -became the rallying cry of the dying republic.

While the Franco regime never forgave her for her role before and during the civil war, which ended in 1939, Spanish anti-Communists would reluctantly acknowledge that she had shown courage and determination. Some backers of Franco would even say privately that La Pasionaria, though in error, was ”a great Spaniard.”

A Delicate Child, Dolores Ibarruri was the 8th of 11 children of a miner’s family in the harsh mountains near Bilbao, in northern Spain. Born in the village of Somorrostro in 1895, she went to school until she was 15, two years longer than required by law, because she was of delicate health and her parents thought she might become a teacher rather than a manual worker.

The family’s poverty prevented this. After being apprenticed to a dressmaker for a short time, she worked for three years as a maid.

At the age of 20 she married Julian Ruiz, a miner from Asturias who had migrated to the Basque country. Her memoirs, The Only Way, were published in Paris in 1962.

Deeply religious as a girl, she lost her Roman Catholic faith when she started reading Karl Marx and other radical writers. In 1918 she began working on the miners’ newspaper El Minero Vizcaino. Soon she chose her pseudonym for contributions to revolutionary publications.

She was a member of the first provincial committee of the fledgling Spanish Communist Party in her home province in 1920 and was elected a delegate to the first national Communist congress, which led to the formal founding of the party in 1921. During the next years she emerged as a spellbinding orator, agitator and organizer.

In 1930, elected to the Central Committee of the party, she backed the national leadership in its fight against Trotskyists in Catalonia – a quarrel that was to come into the open again during the civil war.

La Pasionaria moved to Madrid in 1931, having been placed in charge of the party’s official organ, Mundo Obrero. Her first visit to the Soviet Union was in 1933-34. She was elected to the Spanish Parliament as a deputy for Asturias in 1934. There, as in other public places, she invariably appeared dressed in black.

In a dramatic session on July 11, 1936, La Pasionaria is said to have exclaimed, ”This is your last speech!” when Finance Minister Jose Calvo Sotelo, the monarchist leader, attacked the republican Government. On July 13 Calvo Sotelo was kidnapped and murdered by left-wing terrorists, an event that marked the beginning of the civil war. Anti-Communists accused La Pasionaria of having instigated the killing. She denied it.

As the civil war proceeded, the Communist Party, though comparatively small, became more and more powerful and La Pasionaria was the most influential Spanish Communist.

In the spring of 1936, acting on Moscow’s orders, she helped bring about the downfall of Francisco Largo Caballero, the Socialist who had been the republic’s Prime Minister since September 1936. Juan Negrin, who was Mr. Largo Caballero’s successor, is known to have intensly disliked La Pasionaria, but he kept collaborating with the Communists until the republic’s collapse in 1938.

La Pasionaria left Spain early in March 1938, shortly before the fall of Madrid. Together with Mr. Negrin and other republican leaders she flew to France and then proceeded to Moscow, where she had sent her two surviving children, Ruben and Amaya, in 1934 for schooling.

After 38 years in Moscow, she returned to Spain in 1977, two years after Franco died. When she made her first appearances in post-Franco Spain, crowds greeted her with chants of ”Si si, si, Dolores esta aqui – ”Yes, yes, yes, Dolores is here.”

The Spanish Communist Party was made legal two years after Franco’s death. In 1977 La Pasionaria was re-elected to Parliament, but she later withdrew because of infirmity and age.