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Dolores Ibárruri, the eighth of eleven children, was born in Gallarta, Spain, on 9th December, 1895.
Ibárruri was born into a family of miners, Ibárruri experienced poverty as a child. Although an intelligent student, her family could not afford to pay for her to be trained as a teacher and instead became a seamstress.
In 1916 she married a miner and had six children but only two survived to adulthood. She later wrote that they had died because of her inability to provide adequate medical care and nourishment for them.
The family's financial situation deteriorated when her husband, an active trade unionist, was imprisoned for leading a strike. After reading the works of Karl Marx, Ibárruri joined the Communist Party (PCE). Ibárruri wrote articles for the miners' newspaper, El Minero Vizcaino, using the pseudonym Pasionaria (passion flower).
In 1920 Ibárruri was elected to the Provincial Committee of the Basque Communist Party. She soon became an important local political figure and in 1930 was elected to the Central Committee of the Spanish Communist Party. The following year she became editor of the left-wing newspaper, Mundo Obrero. Over the next few years she used her position to campaign for an improvement in women's conditions in Spain.
In September 1931 Ibárruri was arrested and charged with hiding a Communist comrade on the run from the Civil Guard. After being held in prison in Bilbao she was released in January 1932. She was then re-arrested and held in prison until January 1933.
Ibárruri was a member of the Spanish delegation of the Communist International which met in the Soviet Union in 1933. She also attended meetings of the Comintern where she supported what became known as the Popular Front policy.
Concerned by the emergence of fascism in Italy and Germany, Ibárruri helped organize the World Committee of Women Against War and Fascism and was a delegate at its first conference in France in August 1934.
In 1936 Ibárruri, now known by everybody as (La Pasionaria), was elected to the Cortes. During the first few months as a deputy she campaigned for legislation to improve working, housing and health conditions. She also sought land reform and rights for trade unionists. Ibárruri also successfully negotiated the release of several political prisoners in Spain.
During the Spanish Civil War Ibárruri was the chief propagandist for the Republicans. On 18th July, 1936, she ended a radio speech with the words: "The fascists shall not pass! No Pasaran". This phrase eventually became the battle cry for the Republican Army. In another speech she declared at a meeting for women: "It is better to be the widows of heroes than the wives of cowards!"
In September 1936 Ibárruri was sent to France and Belgium to rally support for the Republic. At one meeting she used the phrase "the Spanish people would rather die on its feet than live on its knees." She became a member of the committee designated to administer funds sent to Spain by the Comintern. Ibárruri was also involved in the destruction of the Worker's Party (POUM) and the dismissal of Francisco Largo Caballero and Juan Peiro from the government and supported the appointment of Juan Negrin as prime minister.
At the end of the war Ibárruri fled to the Soviet Union. Her only son, Ruben Ibárruri fought for the Red Army during the Second World War and was killed at Stalingrad on 3rd December 1942.
Ibárruri became Secretary General of the Communist Party (PCE) in May 1944. After the war she remained in Moscow and in 1964 was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize and the following year the Order of Lenin. However, in 1968 she strongly attacked the Red Army invasion of the Czechoslovakia. The Russian leadership responded by sponsoring a breakaway Spanish Communist Party led by Enrique Lister.
After the death of Francisco Franco Ibárruri returned to Spain and in 1977 was elected deputy to the Cortes. Aged 93, Dolores Ibarruri died of pneumonia on 12th November, 1989.
A married woman was a domestic slave with no rights. In the home, the wife lost her personality; she gave herself, by dint of sheer necessity, to a life of sacrifice. She bore the brunt of work, of privations, slogging in every way to make the lives of her children, and of her husband, more pleasant, less harsh, less difficult, until she had annihilated herself, eventually turning herself into 'the old girl' who 'doesn't understand', who just gets in the way, who at best is a servant for the young ones, a nanny for the grandchildren . When my first daughter was born, I had lived in less than a year an experience so bitter that only the love of my little one kept me hanging on to life. And I was terrified not only by the present, hateful and unbearable as it was, but by the future which I could foresee as appallingly painful and inhuman.
The crude reality, the bare truth, hit me as it did every woman, with its unforgiving hands. A few short, fleeting days of illusion and afterwards. In my own experience, I learned the harsh truth of the popular saying 'Mother, what does it mean to be married? Daughter, it means to sew, to give birth and to cry'. To cry, to cry over our misfortunes, to cry over our powerlessness. To cry over our innocent children, to whom all we had to offer was our caresses soaked with tears. To cry over our pain-filled lives, without prospects, with no way out. Bitter tears, with a permanent curse in the heart and a blasphemy on the lips.
I was moved. She was wearing rope-soled sandals, a huge shawl of pretty colours and, as always, dressed in black. Despite this simplicity, she seemed to me like a queen. There emanated from her a dignity, a majesty that is so often found in the women and men of our people. What seduced me, apart from her beauty, was her extraordinary charm when she laughed or spoke. In those days, in the Party, she was the great tribune who mobilized the multitudes, because she had a voice which grabbed you by the throat and extraordinary gifts as an orator. Above all, she had political instinct, an always correct instinct about how to position herself and play her cards in any situation. Certainly, where tactics were concerned, she could sometimes go too far, carried away by the passion and sincerity of her character. People came up to touch her as they would a saint.
To the severe, masculine atmosphere of the Politburo, excessively dominated by the rule-book, the presence of Dolores brought warmth, joy, a sense of humour or of passionate anger. She was particularly hard-line when it came to keeping promises. Dolores would arrive with her joyful spirit, with her happy, mischievous smile, well turned-out, elegant even, despite the simplicity of her dress, always black. She would sit down, put her hands on the table and slightly bending her large and beautiful head, listen in silence to the conversation. At other times, dead tired, struck with sorrow by something, depressed, her face grey like stone, looking old, she would slump heavily into a chair by the door, in a corner, and also say nothing. Then, suddenly, she would interrupt something someone was saying and then it would be pointless to try to stop her until, without pausing for breath, she had poured out her long tirade, which could be happy, funny, ingenious, and triumphant or gloomy, angry, almost plaintive, full of pained reproaches, of accusations, of protests and of threats against the obvious or hidden enemy of the day, against the bureaucrat or the saboteur who had prevented arms or food being sent to the militias at the front, or who had offended the workers or who was involved in intrigue from outside or inside the Party.
In the afternoon I attended, in Valencia, a mass meeting of the Popular Front (to which neither the anarchists nor POUM belong). There were about 50,000 enthusiastic people there. When La Pasionaria appeared on the platform enthusiasm reached its climax. She is the one communist leader who is known and loved by the masses, but in compensation there is no other personality in the Government camp loved and admired so much. And she deserves her fame. It is not that she is politically minded. On the contrary, what is touching about her is precisely her aloofness from the atmosphere of political intrigue: the simple, self-sacrificing faith which emanates from every word she speaks. And more touching even is her lack of conceit, and even her self-effacement. Dressed in simple black, cleanly and carefully but without the slightest attempt to make herself look pleasant, she speaks simply, directly, without rhetoric, without caring for theatrical effects, without bringing political sous-entendus into her speech, as did all the other speakers of the day. At the end of her speech came a pathetic moment. Her voice, tired from endless addresses to enormous meetings since the beginning of the civil war, failed her. And she sat down with a sad waving gesture of her hands, wanting to express: 'It's no use, I can't help it, I can't say any more; I am sorry.' There was not the slightest touch of ostentation in it, only regret at being unable to tell the meeting those things she had wanted to tell it. This gesture, in its profound simplicity, sincerity, and its convincing lack of any personal interest in success or failure as an orator, was more touching than her whole speech. This woman, looking fifty with her forty years, reflecting, in every word and every gesture, a profound motherliness (she has five children herself, and one of her daughters accompanied her to the meeting), has something of a medieval ascetic, of a religious personality about her. The masses worship her, not for her intellect, but as a sort of saint who is to lead them in the days of trial and temptation.
Except for La Pasionaria, the leadership of the Communist party consists of people who do not yet have authority on the national level. The party's real general secretary was an individual about whom I wrote you. Because he occupied just such a position not only within the Central Committee but also outside it, he besmirched the reputations of two institutions with all the people in the Popular Front. However we evaluate his role, in any case, the fact that he himself took the place of the leadership hindered the formation, from the leadership cadres, of independent political leaders.
The Communist party, which has attracted some of the more politically conscious elements of the working class, is, all the same, insufficiently organized and politically strong to take on even to the slightest degree the political work for the armed forces of the revolution. In Catalonia, about which I can judge only through partial evidence, the party is significantly weaker and undoubtedly suffers from the provocative activities of Trotskyists, who have won over several active leaders, like, for example, Maurin. Undoubtedly the party is still incapable of independently rousing the masses to some kind of large-scale action, or of concentrating all the strength of the leadership on such an action. What is more the example of Alcazar has been in this connection a notoriously negative test for the party. However, I will not give a more definite evaluation of the cadres and strength of the party, since this is the only organization with which I have had insufficient contact.
Back in Barcelona, I was particularly anxious to meet La Pasionaria, the famous Spanish woman Communist leader. After I had been kept waiting for some days, an appointment was made for me through the British political commissar. I bought a huge bunch of scarlet gladioli - there was no food in the shops, but there were plenty of flowers - and presented myself at the headquarters of the Spanish Communist Party, a large building, as closely fortified and guarded as a fortress. There were armed men everywhere. In due course I was ushered into an important and well-furnished office. Dolores Ibarruri rose from her seat behind a big mahogany desk, and came forward to greet me. She had a matronly but magnificent figure, and bore herself with that unselfconscious nobility and dignity that is so characteristic of certain
Spaniards, irrespective of birth or class. Her features were regular, aquiline; her eyes dark and flashing. She had splendid teeth, and her smile was young and feminine. The voice that in public meetings could enthrall thousands was, in private conversation, low and melodious, though still decisive. She told me with gleeful amusement stories of the terrible tales that had been spread about her by her political enemies. To the fascists she was a dread, Medusa-like legend.
In fact, she was the daughter of an Asturian miner, and from childhood had been used to abject poverty and violent political strikes and battles to gain even the slightest amelioration of the living and working conditions of her people. She had been illiterate until her teens. Against tremendous odds, however, she had educated herself whilst earning her living. Her devotion to the Spanish working class was absolute and completely sincere. She became one of the greatest orators her country has produced, on a par with such oratorical stars as Jaures and Cachin in France. Her nickname was due to the fact that the passion which filled her whole personality and her voice when she defended her people or attacked their enemies was a mystical one, and the passion with which she preached her cause was akin to religious fervour. The hatred which she was certainly capable of feeling as well as inspiring was due to an unusual sensibility, an outraged compassion for her fellow men and women, the inversion of the immense love and loyalty by which she was equally inspired.
The Spanish people would rather die on its feet than live on its knees. And do not forget, and let no one forget, that if today it is our turn to resist fascist aggression, the struggle will not end in Spain. Today it's us; but if the Spanish people is allowed to be crushed, you will be next, all of Europe will have to face aggression and war.
Comrades of the International Brigades! Political reasons, reasons of state, the good of that same cause for which you offered your blood with limitless generosity, send some of you back to your countries and some to forced exile. You can go with pride. You are history. You are legend. You are the heroic example of the solidarity and the universality of democracy. We will not forget you; and, when the olive tree of peace puts forth its leaves, entwined with the laurels of the Spanish Republic's victory, come back! Come back to us and here you will find a homeland.
The Prime Minister, Senor Caballero, found time to see us, and in reply to a question I put to him, assured me that, in the event of a Republican victory, there would be full religious liberty. But by far the most interesting personality I met was the woman member of the Cortes, Dolores Ibarruri, commonly known as La Pasionaria. I had been reluctant to see her, as her nickname had suggested to me a rather over-emotional young person, but on Ellen Wilkinson's pressure I agreed to meet her.
I have never ceased to be glad that I did so, for the only person with whom I felt La Pasionaria could be compared was the woman I had always regarded as the greatest actress I had seen, Eleonora Duse. She had Duse's wonderful grace and voice, but she was much more beautiful, with rich colouring, large dark eyes, and black wavy hair. She swept into the room like a queen, yet she was a miner's daughter married to a miner - a woman who had had the sorrow of losing six out of eight children. I could understand nothing that she said, and she talked with great rapidity, but to look and to listen was pleasure enough for me.
I saw a deep-bosomed Spanish woman of about forty or a little more, with a hearty laugh and a firm hand. There was a splendid earthy quality about her laugh, but her face was very sad in repose. The voice was not what is usually called 'musical' - that is, it had no melodious tones and little sweetness. It was a little higher and lower than the average, had a greater range, but that was all. Where it became quite unlike any other voice I have ever heard was in the effect of passionate sincerity. This expressive gift abides in Dolores' voice throughout, in her slightest remark as in the great sweeping statements, with the result that it is impossible to disbelieve anything she says while she is actually saying it.
Sometimes she gave it to them so straight and hard that you could hear the gasp of the whole audience. Her purpose was, of course, to make such failures and mistakes rarer in the future. She criticized the government not at all, but her own and the other revolutionary parties came in for some terrific lashings. And then, having frightened the audience into breathlessness by her picture of disaster, she set out to prove that victory was possible, and on what conditions. To an ordinary American journalist in the front row of the hall it seemed that she was asking these people to stop being Communists altogether, at least until the war was won. The genius of Dolores - her unquestionable genius as a speaker, the most remarkable I ever heard - worked upon them its customary miracle, and she had the whole audience cheering with enthusiasm when she finished.
My meeting with Pasionaria hurt me deep down and I did not like it. I expected to find her on the stage at the Bolshoi Theatre, holding the hand of Stalin, and being introduced as one of the greatest living Communists. I found her alone in a little room closely guarded by units of the Red Army. If any living creature had the right to everything we had, to me it was Pasionaria. She had never given up the struggle for the Spanish people. She took her chances with the men in the line. She was the mother of a family which had made great sacrifices, and one of her sons had given his life. She was a worker born of the working classes, and her loyalty and integrity was beyond doubt, yet at this moment, she was far from
happy. Spain to the Soviet Union had become an embarrassment. The Brigade was beginning to pass into history. Future Soviet policy would wish to forget it. Her new-found friends had no time for Pasionaria. The Soviet-Nazi Pact had already become an immediate possibility. This woman, with her deep convictions and loyalty to principles, was likely to become a political problem.
Everyone we met seemed to be inspired by Dolores Ibarruri - La Pasionaria - the renowned and courageous communist whose emotional oratory did so much to maintain the morale of those on the Republican side. She was a miner's daughter, born in 1895, and did everything during the Civil War from running a creche for the children of fighters to manning machine-gun posts. Although she was a devout Marxist, La Pasionaria reached across political boundaries by turning the Civil War into a crusade for the independence of her country. It was moving after Franco's death, over forty years later, to see this aged but still distinguished and defiant lady return to a free democratic Spain under the renewed monarchy.
Funeral of Dolores Ibarruri ´La Pasionaria´ The police forms a human cord before the pass of the funeral cortege that transports the mortal remains of ´The Pasionaria´
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La Pasionaria – the story of Dolores Ibárruri
On Friday 4 th August at 2.15, local historian, Anne Twomey will speak of the life of Dolores Ibárruri known as “La Pasionaria”, the Passion Flower. This talk forms part of an afternoon and evening of events devoted to an examination of the issues and lessons of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and events devoted to some of the Irish people who fought in the International Brigades.
Dolores Ibárruri was born into a mining family in Gallarta in the Basque country in Northern Spain in 1895. In a curious similarity to the early life personal tragedy of Mother Jones, Dolores trained as a dressmaker, poverty prevented her from becoming a teacher although she almost completed her studies. She married a miner, Julian Ruiz from Asturias in 1915. They had six children, five girls and a boy including triplets, however four of those died soon after birth, while her son Ruben died during the Second World War in the Soviet Union.
Monument to Dolores Ibarruri (La Pasionaria) in Glasgow by sculptor Arthur Dooley (Photo Ciaran Roarty via Wikimedia Commons)
Born a Catholic, she became a member of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) in 1921 and wrote extensively in miners’ newspapers. Becoming more prominent in the party she was known for her fiery and passionate speeches, which aroused great loyalty among her supporters. Dolores was elected from the Asturias to the Spanish parliament (the Cortes) in 1936.
She was centrally involved in many of the events leading up to the outbreak of the Civil War. Known as La Pasionaria (The Passion Flower) she oversaw the emergence of the Spanish Communist Party into a central role during the war. She was to the forefront in the struggles with the anarchists during the initial stages of the war. Fleeing Spain in 1939, she eventually arrived in the Soviet Union where she assisted with the war effort through the 40s. She lived in Moscow and was well regarded and close to the Soviet regime, including Stalin. Serving as General Secretary of the PCE for many years from 1942 to 1960, she stayed in the Soviet Union until 1977 and met all the major communist and socialist leaders across the world.
In the meantime Dolores was involved in establishing an underground resistance in Spain to Franco, which achieved little success in the initial decades due to much internal conflict and the total control of Spain by the Franco government. On her return to Spain, she was re-elected to Parliament but suffered from ill-health and retired from active politics. She died in November 1989, aged 93 years. (the same age as Mother Jones!)
She is best remembered publicly for her broadcast on Madrid Radio in November 1936, where in another echo of history she exhorted the defenders of the besieged city that “It is better to die on your feet than live for ever on your knees! They shall not pass!” “No Pasarán” became the battle-cry of Madrid and the besieged Republic. Later in October 1938, she delivered her passionate message of appreciation to the departing members of the International Brigades which is still much quoted.
Dolores Ibárruri (Pasionaria) - History
The death last month of Spanish Communist Party leader Dolores Ibarruri, known by her pseudonym La Pasionaria, symbolizes the terminal crisis of the Stalinist bureaucracy which she served loyally for 60 years. As she lay dying in Madrid, millions of workers and youth were demonstrating in the streets against the rotting Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe, and Gorbachev and the rest of Stalin’s heirs were openly abandoning any pretense of speaking in the name of Marxism or the international working class.
Dolores Ibarruri was born almost 94 years ago into a coal miner’s family in the Basque region, near the city of Bilbao. A founding member of the Spanish Communist Party, she was a delegate to the 1921 founding convention.
With her oratorical ability and her working class background, Ibarruri emerged as a prominent organizer and agitator for the party. She showed little interest in theory or any independence of thought, however, and she quickly became a spokesman and symbol for the Spanish Stalinists, as the weak Spanish party was transformed into a servile tool of the counterrevolutionary Soviet bureaucracy.
La Pasionaria used her talents to build up support for the Spanish popular front, in which the working class in the Socialist and Communist parties was subordinated to the bourgeois Republican government, with the claim that such “unity” was required to wage the civil war against the fascist rebellion led by General Francisco Franco.
Ibarruri was the focus of one of the twentieth century’s greatest exercises in historical falsification: the creation of the myth that the Spanish Communist Party was the leader of a great antifascist struggle in the civil war. In reality, Spain was the scene of one of the most monstrous crimes of Stalinism against the working class. The popular front strangled the proletarian revolution in Spain and handed the working class over to its executioners. The result was 30 years of fascist tyranny.
“It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees! They shall not pass!” said Ibarruri in her first radio broadcast after the outbreak of the civil war in 1936. But this was mere rhetoric. In practice, Stalinism demanded that the fighting Spanish proletariat get on its knees before the bourgeoisie. Ibarruri’s words were used to strangle and defeat the Spanish Revolution, in the interests of the Stalinist bureaucracy and its international policy of collaboration with the “democratic” imperialist powers.
The most prominent public spokesman of the Spanish party during this period, Ibarruri was fully responsible for every crime Stalinism committed against the Spanish and international working class. She lent her prestige to the Moscow Trials, in which the entire leadership of the October Revolution was framed up and exterminated. Inside Spain she worked closely with Stalin’s GPU executioners who carried out a war of extermination, not against the fascists, but against their working class opponents, both in the centrist POUM, as well as among the Spanish Trotskyists.
Spain was where Trotsky’s secretary Erwin Wolf was kidnapped and killed by the Stalinist murderers in 1937. It was also from the Spanish party that the assassin of Trotsky, Ramon Mercader, was recruited.
In the Spanish Civil War, Stalinism revealed most clearly its hatred of the proletariat and the brutal measures it would take to prevent a successful proletarian revolution anywhere in the world. This was done in the name of the fight for “democracy.” Stalinism resurrected all the lies and stupidities of Menshevism, which had insisted, at the time of the Russian Revolution, that the proletariat must not go beyond the limits of bourgeois democracy in its struggle to achieve the tasks of the democratic revolution.
The demand not to transgress the bounds of bourgeois democracy signifies in practice not a defense of the democratic revolution but a repudiation of it,” wrote Trotsky. Ibarruri and the other Stalinist leaders demanded that the proletariat, rather than advancing a revolutionary agrarian program that would have won the support of the peasant masses, instead surrender to the demands of the commercial, industrial and banking bourgeoisie and the bourgeois intelligentsia depending on them.
Two irreconcilable programs thus confronted each other on the territory of republican Spain. On the one hand, the program of saving at any cost private property from the proletariat, and saving as far as possible democracy from Franco on the other hand, the program of abolishing private property through the conquest of power by the proletariat. The first program expressed the interests of capitalism through the medium of the labor aristocracy, the top petty-bourgeois circles, and especially the Soviet bureaucracy. The second program translated into the language of Marxism the tendencies of the revolutionary mass movement, not fully conscious but powerful. Unfortunately for the revolution, between the handful of Bolsheviks and the revolutionary proletariat stood the counterrevolutionary wall of the popular front.
(Leon Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-39), Pathfinder, pp. 307-14)
When the Spanish working class rose up against its capitalist exploiters in the midst of the civil war itself, the Stalinists led the forces of bourgeois counterrevolution. “The hounding of ‘Trotskyists,’ POUMists, revolutionary anarchists and left Socialists the filthy slander the false documents the tortures in Stalinist prisons the murders from ambush—without all this the bourgeois regime under the republican flag could not have lasted even two months. The GPU proved to be the master of the situation only because it defended the interests of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat more consistently than the others, i.e., with the greatest baseness and bloodthirstiness.”
After Stalinism had betrayed the revolution, Ibarruri and other CP leaders made their way to exile in Moscow. Ibarruri spent nearly 40 years in the Soviet Union, returning to Spain only in 1977, at the age of 81, two years after the death of Franco. After her decades of political experience, she remained an unreconstructed admirer of Stalin, telling an interviewer as late as 1983 that Stalin was the most “impressive” of the leaders she had met during her life.
Meanwhile, the Spanish Stalinists had pioneered the development of the rightwing “Eurocommunist” trend, taking the opportunist policies of Stalinism to their logical conclusion and more and more abandoning even any verbal professions of Marxism. These “Euro-Stalinists” were sometimes embarrassed by Ibarruri’s steadfast defense of the Stalinist past, but there were no fundamental differences on the essential basis of Stalinism—its repudiation of revolutionary struggle and its defense of the doctrine of “socialism in a single country.” Ibarruri remained a titular leader of the Spanish CP, and a representative in parliament for a number of years.
In their obituary notices, the New York Times and other leading journals of bourgeois opinion have gone out of their way to pay tribute to La Pasionaria as a historical figure and for her supposedly “indomitable stand” during the civil war. If these spokesmen of imperialism tactfully pass over Ibarruri’s role in the bloody crimes against the working class, it is not because they have forgotten them. On the contrary, they are grateful for the role of Stalinism as the executioner of revolutionists. The death of Ibarruri also coincides with increasingly open collaboration of Moscow and Washington against the working class in the USSR, the United States and internationally.
Dolores Ibárruri (Pasionaria) - History
This is the first part of a two-part article. The second part will be published on Thursday, December 24.
On December 9, Jacobin magazine, which is closely linked to the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), published an article titled “La Pasionaria, Heroine of the Spanish Civil War.” The occasion was the 125th anniversary of the birth of Dolores Ibárruri, gushingly described by the author, British historian Paul Preston, as “an inspirational Civil War heroine and a universal earth-mother figure.”
The article is an exercise in historical falsification, political cover-up and Stalin-era hagiography. It was accompanied by a second article (“La Pasionaria, Spanish Anti-Fascism’s Greatest Orator, Remained Defiant in Exile,” by Lisa A. Kirschenbaum), which provides a feminist slant to the whitewash of Ibárruri and Stalin’s GPU murderers.
Preston’s’ pro-Stalinist presentation of the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), elaborated in a number of books, is summed up in the Jacobin article by his reference to the “May Days” uprising of workers in Barcelona between May 3 and May 8, 1937 as “infamous.”
The general strike by the Barcelona proletariat, the most militant section of the Spanish working class, was deliberately provoked by the bourgeois Republican Popular Front government of Catalonia, at the instigation of the Communist Party of Spain (PCE) and Stalin’s NKVD/GPU operatives in the country. It was done to justify the unleashing of murderous repression in the name of “defending the republic” against alleged Trotskyist and anarchist agents of military coup leader General Francisco Franco and his German ally Hitler.
The crushing of the Barcelona uprising, in which at least 1,000 militant workers were killed, was followed by a months-long campaign of mass arrests, torture and murder that targeted Trotskyists, anti-Stalinist militants of the centrist POUM (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification) and anarcho-syndicalist workers in the National Confederation of Labour (CNT). Andreas Nin, former leader of the International Left Opposition in Spain and head of the POUM, was arrested and horribly tortured before being murdered by Stalin’s thugs. Another victim of the mass purge was Trotsky’s secretary, Erwin Wolf, sent to Spain after the May Days to rally the Trotskyist forces in the ongoing fight against the Stalinist betrayal of the revolution.
During the months of June and July 1937, the Popular Front government in Madrid, politically controlled by the Kremlin and the PCE, liquidated workers’ militias under the control of the POUM and the anarchists that were stationed at the fronts of Aragon and Huesca. The Stalinist suppression of the Barcelona working class and ensuing blood purge broke the back of the revolution and ensured the victory of Franco’s fascist forces, which was finalized with the unconditional surrender of the Republican government on March 31, 1939.
Ramon Mercader, the GPU operative who murdered Leon Trotsky in Mexico in August 1940, cut his teeth as a Stalinist killer during the mass repression in Spain.
None of this is even mentioned in the Jacobin article. Both the revolutionary upsurge of the Spanish workers and poor peasants and its bloody suppression by the Stalinists and the Popular Front government are ignored. So too is Ibárruri’s prominent role in the liquidation of Trotskyists and other anti-Stalinist militants, based on a filthy libel of all left-wing opponents of the bourgeois republican government as agents of Franco and Hitler.
One finds a far more accurate and honest presentation of events in the Wikipedia post for Ibárruri. It notes that Stalin’s chief GPU agent in Spain, Alexander Orlov, “used the same methods of terror, duplicity and deception that were employed [within the Soviet Union] in the Great Purge (1936–38).”
It quotes a speech by Ibárruri following the suppression of the May uprising in Barcelona in which the “earth mother” declared:
The Trotskyists have long been transformed into the agents of fascism, into the agents of the German Gestapo. We saw this on the ground during the May putsch in Catalonia we saw this clearly in the disturbances that occurred in various other places . Trotskyism must be rooted out of the proletarian ranks of our Party as one roots out poisonous weeds. The Trotskyists must be rooted out and disposed of like wild beasts.
Following her flight from Spain shortly before the surrender of the Popular Front Republican government to Franco, Ibárruri for many years headed the PCE in exile in the Soviet Union. She continued to propagate the counterrevolutionary Kremlin line and promote the cult of Stalin until the mass murderer’s death. She supported the Stalin-Hitler pact in 1939 and the arrest and execution of PCE members in exile in the USSR at the hands of the GPU in the 1940s and early 1950s. She returned to Spain in 1977 following the death of Franco to participate in the establishment of a new bourgeois setup that provided amnesty to the fascist criminals and allowed them to retain their positions of wealth and power.
Jacobin’s choice of Professor Preston to write its panegyric to Ibárruri was a politically conscious decision. In April of 2009, Preston moderated a panel discussion at the British Academy held to mark the 70th anniversary of Franco’s victory in Spain. He set the tone for the presentations by professors Angel Viňas and Helen Graham by attacking George Orwell’s damning exposure of Stalinist crimes in Spain, Homage to Catalonia, based on Orwell’s personal experiences as a member of a POUM militia in Catalonia. Preston then attempted to prevent a member of the British Socialist Equality Party in the audience from asking a question. In responding to her assertion that the panel members were ignoring the fact that the Spanish Civil War coincided with a social revolution of the workers and poor peasants, he called the very notion of a Spanish revolution “the most extreme tabloid exaggeration.”
It is not possible here to deal in detail with the events of the Spanish Civil War. However, it is a matter of historical record that the military coup against the Republican government launched by Franco on July 18, 1936 was initially repulsed in most of the country not by the bourgeois government, but by the working class.
The vast bulk of the military and the most decisive sections of the bourgeoisie lined up behind Franco. When the Republican government, desperately seeking an accommodation with the fascists, initially refused to give arms to the workers, the workers rose up, first in Barcelona and then in cities and villages across the country and took matters into their own hands.
Workers set up committees to operate key utilities and communications facilities and formed militias to fight the fascists. The revolutionary movement that began on July 19, 1936 established a situation of dual power, in which real power was in the hands of the workers. However, they were blocked by their parties—the Socialist Party (PSOE), Communist Party (PCE), POUM and CNT, all of which supported the liberal bourgeois-led Popular Front—from taking political power into their own hands.
There followed months of efforts by the government, urged on by the Stalinists, to whittle away the workers’ hold over elements of the economy, crush insurgent peasants who had seized the estates of the great landowners, and dissipate the revolutionary wave. This culminated in the May Days events, precipitated by the decision of the Catalan government to retake control of the telephone exchange in Barcelona.
The Popular Front government in Spain, as well as its counterpart formed the same year in France, represented the application of the policy adopted by the Comintern at its Seventh Congress in 1935 (which Ibárruri attended). Stalin reacted to Hitler’s coming to power in 1933 by abandoning the ultra-left policies that had led to the defeat of the German working class and adopting the class collaborationist call for “People’s Fronts against fascism and war.”
In an attempt to induce the Western imperialist powers—Britain, France and the US—to join an alliance with the Soviet Union against the fascist powers—Germany and Italy—Stalin ordered the Communist parties to support and, where possible, join capitalist governments led by liberal sections of the bourgeoisie. Flowing from the anti-Marxist, nationalist program of “socialism in one country” proclaimed by Stalin in 1924, the policy of the Popular Front meant, in practice, the renunciation of socialist revolution. In the name of defending “democracy,” the Communist parties defended bourgeois property and the capitalist state against the revolutionary movement of the masses.
The working class was subordinated to the supposedly “progressive” bourgeoisie and its revolutionary aspirations sacrificed to the diplomatic needs of the Soviet Union, as perceived by the ruling bureaucracy. The latter was driven not by the interests of the working class, but by the preservation of its own privileges, which, based on the property relations established by the 1917 revolution, were directly threatened by fascism.
In his dealings with Western imperialism, Stalin was explicit in his repudiation of world revolution. In a March 1936 interview with Roy Howard of Scripps-Howard Newspapers, the following exchange took place:
Howard: Does this, your statement, mean that the Soviet Union has to any degree abandoned its plans and intentions for bringing about world revolution?
Stalin: We never had such plans and intentions.
Howard: You appreciate, no doubt, Mr. Stalin, that much of the world has long entertained a different impression.
Stalin: This is the product of a misunderstanding.
Howard: A tragic misunderstanding?
Stalin: No, a comical one. Or, perhaps, tragicomic.
The Popular Front and Stalinist counterrevolution in Spain
Under conditions of a world Depression that was driving the working class into revolution across Europe and internationally, the implementation of the Popular Front required the Communist parties to unite with the bourgeoisie in carrying out counterrevolutions. The chief target of this strategy was the Trotskyist movement, which implacably and consciously opposed the Stalinist betrayal of the October Revolution and fought for the program of world socialist revolution upon which the revolution had been based.
In Spain, the counterrevolutionary role of Stalinism on the international stage found its most naked expression. Writing in December of 1937 (“The Lessons of Spain: The Last Warning”), Trotsky explained:
The reasons for the rise of the Spanish Popular Front and its inner mechanics are perfectly clear. The task of the retired leaders of the left bourgeoisie consisted in checking the revolution of the masses and thus in regaining for themselves the lost confidence of the exploiters: “Why do you need Franco if we, the republicans, can do the same thing?” The interests of [Spanish President] Azaña and [Catalan President] Companys fully coincided at this central point with the interests of Stalin, who needed to gain the confidence of the French and British bourgeoisie by proving to them in action his ability to preserve “order” against “anarchy.” Stalin needed Azaña and Companys as a cover before the workers: Stalin himself, of course, is for socialism, but one must take care not to repel the republican bourgeoisie! Azaña and Companys needed Stalin as an experienced executioner, with the authority of a revolutionist. Without him, so insignificant a crew never could nor would have dared to attack the workers…
The left Socialists and Anarchists, the captives of the Popular Front, tried, it is true, to save whatever could be saved of democracy. But inasmuch as they did not dare to mobilize the masses against the gendarmes of the Popular Front, their efforts at the end were reduced to plaints and wails. The Stalinists were thus in alliance with the extreme right, avowedly bourgeois wing of the Socialist Party. They directed their repressions against the left—the POUM, the Anarchists, the “left” Socialists—in other words, against the centrist groupings who reflected, even in a most remote degree, the pressure of the revolutionary masses…
This political fact, very significant in itself, provides at the same time the measure of the degeneration of the Comintern in the last few years… This has acted to fix definitively the counterrevolutionary character of Stalinism on the international arena. (Leon Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931–39), New York, 1973, pp. 310–11)
Trotsky elsewhere summed up the essence of the Popular Front as the alliance of bourgeois liberalism with the GPU.
No less important than geopolitical considerations in the Stalinist program of the Popular Front were internal questions. The Stalinist regime was a regime of acute crisis. The bureaucracy headed by Stalin was a parasitic tumor on the body of a workers’ state created by the conscious revolutionary intervention of the working class into political life, under the leadership of a revolutionary Marxist party, the Bolsheviks.
The ruling bureaucracy lived in constant fear of an uprising by the Soviet working class, whose indignation over the usurpation of its political power by a corrupt and unaccountable elite was deep and irreconcilable. The Stalinist ruling clique was acutely aware that a successful proletarian revolution anywhere in the world, and, above all, in the advanced capitalist countries of Europe and North America, would revive the revolutionary confidence and consciousness of the Soviet masses. The program advanced by Trotsky for a political revolution to overthrow the bureaucratic regime, restore workers’ democracy and return to the strategy of world socialist revolution would acquire mass support.
Between August 1936 and March 1938, a series of three show trials, known as the “Moscow Trials,” were staged by Stalin. Virtually all of the leaders of the October Revolution and Lenin’s Bolshevik Party confessed, under torture, to plotting with Nazi Germany and other foreign and domestic enemies to overthrow the Soviet Union and assassinate Stalin. These monstrous show trials were the domestic counterpart of the counterrevolutionary policies carried out under the banner of the Popular Front on the international arena.
The chief defendant was Leon Trotsky, living in exile first in Norway and then in Mexico, who was convicted and sentenced to death in absentia.
The trials were the public face of the “Great Terror”—a multi-year wave of mass arrests, murders and deportations to labor camps by means of which hundreds of thousands of genuinely socialist Communist Party members, intellectuals, scientists and artists were exterminated, in what the International Committee of the Fourth International has called a “political genocide.”
The united front vs. the Popular Front
The Stalinists falsely presented their Popular Front policy as an extension of the “united front” tactic introduced by Lenin and Trotsky at the Third (1921) and Fourth (1922) Congresses of the Communist International. In reality, the Popular Front was a policy of class collaboration with a section of the bourgeoisie, and therefore diametrically opposed to the united front, which was a means for the revolutionary Marxist party to take the initiative in uniting all sections of the working class in struggle against the whole of the bourgeoisie.
The foundation of the united front tactic was the political independence of the working class from all factions of the capitalist class and the international unity of the working class. The difference between the united front as elaborated by the Comintern under Lenin and Trotsky and fought for by Trotsky in the struggle against fascism in Germany, on the one side, and Stalin’s Popular Front, on the other, was the difference between revolution and counterrevolution.
Ever since the 1930s and to this day, opportunist and revisionist tendencies have sought to disguise political adaptation to Stalinist and social democratic organizations, pro-capitalist trade union bureaucracies and bourgeois liberals as the application of the “united front” policy. This terminological sleight of hand is employed to aid in confusing and strangling workers’ struggles.
Lenin and Trotsky fought for Communist Parties to adopt the united front tactic at a time when the initial wave of proletarian revolutions in Europe, following the October Revolution of 1917 in Russia, had been defeated, due primarily to the immaturity and mistakes of the revolutionary leaderships. Under conditions of a highly fragile and temporary restabilization of European capitalism, they stressed the need for the parties of the Third International to first win the allegiance of the masses before launching the struggle for state power.
To this end, they advised that the parties in France and Germany in particular call on the social democratic parties and reformist and anarcho-syndicalist trade unions to join in a united front with the Communists to carry out specific joint actions to defend the workers’ organizations against attacks from the fascists and the capitalist state and to fight for basic social demands. The preconditions for such united fronts were the full organizational independence of the Communist Parties and full freedom of criticism of other workers’ organizations in the united front.
The united front was defined as an agreement for joint action between mass working class organizations. There would be no mixing of banners and no watering down of the revolutionary program of Marxism. The slogan was “March separately and strike together.”
In his theses “On the United Front” from March 1922, Trotsky wrote of the united front tactic in France:
One of the most reliable methods of counteracting inside the working class the moods and ideas of the ‘Left Bloc,’ i.e., a bloc between the workers and a certain section of the bourgeoisie against another section of the bourgeoisie, is through promoting persistently and resolutely the idea of a block between all sections of the working class against the whole bourgeoisie. [Emphasis in the original]. (Leon Trotsky, Marxists Internet Archive)
Far from offering any sort of political amnesty, the revolutionary party would by means of the tactic demonstrate in action and before the eyes of the entire working class its readiness to lead and take decisive action in defense of the class and expose the vacillations and capitulations of the reformist leaderships, in the process winning over critical sections of the social democratic workers to the Communist Party.
As early as September 1930, Trotsky agitated for the German Communist Party, dominated by Stalinist handraisers, to abandon its ultra-left “Third Period” policy of refusing to collaborate in any way with the Social Democrats while branding them as “social fascists,” and to adopt the tactic of the united front to unite the working class in struggle against the growing menace of Nazism. Trotsky and his supporters in Germany advanced this policy following national elections, held under conditions of deepening depression and surging unemployment, which recorded a nearly 16 percentage point rise in the Nazi vote.
Stalin and the German CP leadership rejected this policy, concealing behind ultra-left rhetoric a fatalistic acceptance of the inevitability of a fascist victory, combined with an adaptation, in a sectarian form, to the Social Democratic leadership. The result, against which Trotsky had repeatedly warned, was a catastrophic defeat for the German and international working class.
5. While in jail, she organized the inmates
The first time she was arrested was in September 1931. The place where she was jailed had common and political offenders mixed up.
Dolores persuaded all of them to begin a hunger strike demanding freedom for political offenders. Next time she was arrested in March 1932 she managed to organize inmates to sing “The Internationale” while they were in the visiting room.
Also, she fought against hard labor for which inmates were paid poorly. Even though imprisoned she was elected as a member of the Central Committee of Communist party during their 4th Congress, which took place on March 17, 1932, in Seville. Ibarruri was arrested many more times, mostly for political activities and sometimes for her engagement in wars in Spain.
The fearless woman who led Spain’s battle against fascism
“W orkers! Farmers! Anti-fascists! Spanish Patriots!,” the woman cried to the crowds in Madrid in July of 1936. “The whole country cringes in indignation at these heartless barbarians that would hurl our democratic Spain back down into an abyss of terror and death.”
It was a call to unify, a plea to Spain to defend itself against the threat of fascism.
“The fascists shall not pass! They shall not pass!”
Dolores Ibárruri’s famous speech was, in fact, a battlecry. It marked the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, a nearly three-year struggle between the sitting democracy and Francisco Franco’s fascist coup. Already a vocal liberal activist, Ibárruri’s leadership in the left-wing resistance solidified her role as an iconic, longstanding opponent to radical nationalism.
Born in 1895 to a Basque mining family, Ibárruri was the eighth of 11 children. She quit school at 15 years old to work as a seamstress and later a cook. Her humble roots helped inform her interest in radical leftist politics, which she explored with her new husband. Soon she was writing political articles under the pseudonym La Pasionaria (the passionflower) and delivering speeches clad all in black.
Ibárruri became one of the founding members of PCE, Spain’s Communist party, and later led its department of women’s affairs. She became fascinated by Soviet politics and in 1933 moved to Russia for a year. “Two names,” she wrote, “struck me in my heart and in my head — Russia and Lenin. I no longer felt sad, I no longer felt alone.”
But soon she returned to Madrid amidst growing concerns for Spain’s democratic foothold. On July 11, 1936, when Finance Minister Jose Calvo Sotelo criticized the elected republican government during a parliamentary session, Ibárruri yelled, ‘’This is your last speech!’’ Two days later, Calvo Sotelo was kidnapped and executed by left-wing terrorists. On July 17, the conservative, largely aristocratic rebels declared war on the republic. Ultimately the coup was unsuccessful, but the act marked beginning of the Spanish Civil War.
The forces aligning in Spain would soon be reflected in World War II writ large. Nationalist forces would receive support and ammunition from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The civil war revolutionaries were aided by Communist Russia and socialist Mexico — with many ex-pats from England and America volunteering to fight on their side as well.
Still, there weren’t enough weapons. And Ibárruri even encouraged people to fight with knives and hot oil. She improved morale among fighters in one 1936 speech, she famously said, “It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.” Her authority made her de facto leader of Spain’s Communist party. Her enormous influence was unparalleled. The character Pilar in Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls is widely believed to be based on Dolores Ibárruri’s work during the war.
“The name of La Pasionaria sums up an entire era in the struggle of workers and the Spanish people for freedom, democracy, and progress,” Cuban President Fidel Castro later wrote in an article published for Ibárruri’s 90th birthday.
As the war proceeded, the republic and its revolutionaries weakened as fascist forces took city after city, and ultimately, Madrid. Spain’s new leader, conservative dictator Francisco Franco, would rule the country for 38 years. Meanwhile, Ibárruri fled to the Soviet Union in 1939 where she remained for 21 years. Her only son lost his life in 1942 defending Stalingrad, and was named a Hero of the Soviet Union.
As part of a small but powerful contingent of Spaniards in the USSR, Ibárruri was active in the government and named secretary-general of the Spanish Communist Party. She was so committed to communist ideals that she may not have seen reality clearly. Ibárruri became a loyal Stalinist, delusionally extolling the dictator’s provision of a “joyous life” and “abiding security” for his people.
In 1977, Ibárruri finally returned to Spain, which had been reestablished as a parliamentary monarchy (a democracy) following Franco’s death. Crowds greeted her with chants: ‘’Si si, si, Dolores esta aqui.” (‘Yes, yes, yes, Dolores is here.”) And she was duly elected back to the Parliamentary seat she lost in the 1920s. She was 82 years old.
Despite her regrettable devotion to Stalin’s Russia, Ibárrui’s early and stalwart opposition to fascism galvanized a whole country, and was an early flashpoint in what became a global conflict. Ibárruri eventually died a beloved figure at age 93. More than 50,000 people attended her funeral in Madrid.
Her resounding “They shall not pass!” is still a rallying cry for protest movements today.
Dolores Ibarruri Spanish Civil War’s La Pasionaria
Dolores Gomez Ibarruri, famous as La Pasionaria, the legendary heroine of Spain’s Civil War, died in a hospital from double pneumonia Sunday night at 93.
La Pasionaria (Passion Flower), a lifelong Communist who remained honorary president of the Spanish Communist Party, won fame for galvanizing resistance during the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War.
La Pasionaria’s cry of “No pasaran” (They shall not pass) rallied thousands to the Republican cause, and she became a symbol of resistance to the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco.
“Dolores, this flower of the 20th Century, lives on in the daily activity of thousands of men and women in Spain and in the world who aspire to a society where life and human beings are regarded as the center of all social and political initiative,” the party said in a statement after her death.
Dr. Juan Beltran, head of the Ramon y Cajal Hospital in Madrid where she died, said several members of Ibarruri’s family and Communist Party leaders were by her side when she died.
Ibarruri fell ill with pneumonia in September but had begun recovering and returned home three weeks ago. She was readmitted to the hospital last week after suffering a relapse.
A local news agency report quoted party sources as saying Ibarruri’s body would be embalmed.
Many literary scholars believe that she was the model for Pilar, the energetic heroine of Ernest Hemingway’s novel of the war, “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”
Although her forces were defeated by Franco, she outlived the Spanish dictator and ended a 38-year exile in the Soviet Union by returning in triumph in 1977.
In the first democratic elections since Franco set off the bloody three-year civil war, she won back the Parliament seat she had held four decades earlier. She later gave it up because of her age.
On Dec. 9, 1985, figures from the international Communist movement--and from Spain’s Socialist government--feted La Pasionaria on her 90th birthday.
Born Dec. 9, 1895, into a Roman Catholic mining family in Gallarta in the Basque province of Vizcaya, Dolores Ibarruri was the eighth of 11 children.
In her autobiography “The Way,” Ibarruri wrote that she had “an unhappy childhood and an adolescence without hope” and said the harsh conditions in which her family lived turned her into a revolutionary.
“I knew the terrible pain of days without bread and winters without fire.”
Her family was too poor to pay for schooling so she abandoned her ambition of becoming a teacher. She married Julian Ruiz, a socialist activist five years her senior. Ruiz, who claimed he guided La Pasionaria politically, once recalled her as being as independent as a mountain goat.
Separated from his wife since the 1930s, Ruiz died a few weeks after her return to Spain from Moscow.
Ibarruri wrote that she found married life “odious and unbearable.” Four of her six children died in infancy, including triplets born in 1923.
Ruiz was often jailed for labor agitation and unable to feed their two remaining children--a son, Ruben, who died in the battle of Stalingrad, and a daughter, Amaya, the sole surviving child.
Dolores Ibarruri turned to politics after Ruiz introduced her to socialism and Marxism. She read about the Russian Revolution. “Two names,” she wrote later, “struck me in my heart and in my head--Russia and Lenin. I no longer felt sad I no longer felt alone.”
She began a career as a labor organizer and strike leader and wrote articles she signed as La Pasionaria, a name she chose in 1916 because her first article appeared during Holy Week, known in Spanish as the week of the Passion.
In 1934, she led a rebellion by 40,000 miners in the northern province of Asturias.
Soviet communism became La Pasionaria’s religion. She visited Moscow in 1933 and 1935, when she was elected deputy to the Parliament from the town of Oviedo.
When the civil war broke out in July, 1936, she sent her surviving children to the Soviet Union, remaining in Madrid to lead rallies, visit Republican forces and make her ringing radio broadcasts.
Her ability to recruit fighters was so strong that her enemies often claimed that she was being guided directly by Moscow.
With Franco’s victory imminent, La Pasionaria fled to the Soviet Union in 1939. She was named secretary-general of the Spanish Communist Party in exile in 1942. She became president in 1954.
She saw the once powerful Spanish Communist Party, which she helped found in 1920, split into factions and become a minor political force under the constitutional monarchy of King Juan Carlos I.
She witnessed the party’s move away from Moscow without saying a word. But she always remained an unshakeable supporter of the Soviets, who gave her the Order of Lenin, one of the Soviet Union’s most prestigious honors.
The Seeds of Revolution are Planted
Dolores Ibárruri was born on December 5th, 1895, in the Basque Country of Spain. Her father worked in the mines and her mother was a homemaker. During her childhood, Dolores attended the local school alongside her brothers, where religious education was given the utmost priority and disciplinary action was severe. The fiery Dolores often found herself in trouble for chanting revolutionary songs, playing in mock-gang fights, and pulling pranks, and was once taken to a priest by her mother for a supposed exorcism.
In her teens she left school and moved to a nearby city to work as a seamstress, housemaid, and then waitress. It was here she met Julián Ruiz Gabiña, a Communist revolutionary who was jailed several times for his activism. They had a child, and married in 1915.
It was during this time when Dolores began reading the works of Karl Marx and became passionate about the worker’s movement that was sweeping across Spain. In 1918, she published a piece in the workers’ newspaper, El Minero Vizcaíno, in which she criticized the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church. Due to its publication at the time of Holy Week, and the nature of the verbal attack, she signed off on the piece with the name that history would always remember her by: La Pasionaria.
Red Youth salutes the revolutionary women of the world! Our young cadre will be publishing short pieces all this week to celebrate our revolutionary heroines in the run up to International Women’s Day. Today, Austin, aged 15 from Leeds, discusses Dolores Ibárruri.
Red Youth will be meeting to celebrate International Women’s Day on 9 March, at 1.00pm, at the CPGB-ML party centre 274 Moseley Road, Highgate, Birmingham.
No passaran! (They shall not pass!)
– La Pasionaria
Dolores Ibárruri was an inspirational leader, a revolutionary fighter and an influential speaker who was heavily involved in the resistance movement against the fascist rebellion by General Franco that sparked the Spanish Civil War.
Dolores was born in Gallarta, Spain on 9 December 1895 into a family of miners. She experienced horrendous poverty as a child and her dream of becoming a teacher was never realised, owing to her parents’ inability to finance her education. Instead, she became a seamstress and then a housemaid.
Her husband, an active trade unionist and revolutionary socialist, was imprisoned for his part in the general strike of 1917, and, as a consequence, her financial situation deteriorated. She spent her nights reading Karl Marx and other books she found in the library of the local workers’ centre, and his works influenced her to become a communist.
In 1920, Dolores was elected onto the provincial committee of the newly-founded Basque Communist Party and, ten years later, she was promoted to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Spain (PCE). During these years, Dolores had six children. Of her five daughters, four died very young. Her only son died at the battle of Stalingrad, leaving just one daughter to survive into adulthood and old age.
Comrade Ibárruri was a regular writer for the party’s newspaper, Mundo Obrero, signing off her works with the pseudonym La Pasionaria (Passionflower) – a name she coined when she wrote her first article against religious hypocrisy for a miners’ newspaper in 1918. She used her journalism as a platform to campaign against the unfair treatment of women in the country and to improve their lot through socialist revolution. In 1931, she was appointed the paper’s editor and moved to Madrid.
That year also saw the beginning of the second republic in Spain. King Alfonso III left the country when a majority of seats at the election were won by anti-monarchist candidates. During the first five years of the republic, communists continued to be persecuted, however, particularly after the fascistic, semi-feudal coalition of right-wing forces that made up CEDA won the 1933 election. Dolores was jailed four times in this period.
In 1936, the policy of the united front was adopted by communists all over Europe, and the Spanish Popular Front emerged victorious in the February election. The communists gained enough votes for a single seat in parliament – and it was taken by Dolores. The Popular Front’s electoral programme had included a commitment to freeing all political prisoners, so, without waiting for any other authorisation Comrade Ibárruri went straight to the jail to see her comrades released:
As soon as the victory of the Popular Front in the elections became known I, already an elect member of parliament, showed up at the prison of Oviedo the next morning, went to the office of the director, who had fled in a mad panic because he had behaved like a genuine criminal toward the Asturian prisoners interned after the revolution of October 1934, and there I found the administrator, to whom I said, ‘Give me the keys because the prisoners must be released this very day.’
He replied, ‘I have not received any orders,’ and I answered, ‘I am a member of the republic’s parliament, and I demand that you hand over the keys immediately to set the prisoners free.’ He handed them over and I assure you that it was the most thrilling day of my activist life, opening the cells and shouting, ‘Comrades, everyone get out!’ Truly thrilling.
I did not wait for parliament to sit or for the release order to be given. I reasoned: ‘We have run on the promise of freedom for the prisoners of the revolution of 1934. We won – today the prisoners go free.’
However, in the face of the newly-forged alliance between social democrats, republicans and communists, the fascists struck back, backed up by military aid from Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy. They launched a full-scale rebellion under the leadership of General Franco against the newly-elected progressive government.
Imperialism, which was seriously threatened by the developments in republican Spain, sought to strangle the country’s progressive forces by sending aid to the fascists while preventing aid getting through to the government. In this way, it hoped to hold back the rising tide of working-class militancy and communism.
At a time when fascism – the most nakedly brutal form of monopoly capitalism, in which all pretence of democracy was being discarded in favour of an iron dictatorship aimed at keeping down the workers’ anger at a time of deep capitalist crisis – was on the rise and spreading throughout Europe, the western media was publishing propaganda against, no, not Germany, Italy or Spain, but against the Soviet Union.
The ‘collectivisation famine’ lie was published in 1935 by the Hearst press at a time when socialism was proving itself to be the only sane solution to the worsening capitalist crisis and the rise of fascism. Instead of hailing the achievements of the industrialisation and collectivisation programmes in the USSR under Stalin’s leadership, the ‘democratic’ capitalists chose to demonise socialism and to support the rise of fascism.
The British, French and US imperialists, while claiming to uphold democracy, refused to help the Spanish government against Franco. They drew up a ‘non-intervention’ agreement that pretended to be neutral, but was in reality aimed at cutting off supplies to the republic. This did not help Dolores and the revolutionaries in Spain who were defending their nation against the fascists.
However, with a little help from its friends – namely, the Soviet Union and Mexico – the People’s Army (the resistance movement formed by the anti-fascists in Spain) was supported by the formation of the International Brigades.
The call went out from the Comintern (the Communist International) to revolutionaries in Europe, the Americas and all over the world that volunteers were needed to fight with their brothers and sisters in Spain against fascism. Meanwhile, Comrade Ibárruri was very active on the committee that transferred funds from the Comintern to the republican army.
As well as giving every possible support to the formation of the brigades, the Soviet Union helped directly by sending food, medicine, equipment and advisors to the resistance forces, even as it was also busy preparing itself for the biggest and most catastrophic war the world had ever seen. The Soviet Union’s leaders understood that the war in Spain and the rise of fascism were both symptoms of the deepening capitalist crisis, and that the crisis was bound to lead to a bigger conflict if not stopped by revolution.
Throughout the civil war, Dolores was extremely active, and she coined many of the republicans’ most famous slogans. As chief propagandist for the republican forces, she ended a radio speech in 1936 with the famous words, “The fascists shall not pass! No pasaran!” This passionate slogan became the battle cry for the republican army, who defended the city for three long years.
Later, at a meeting for the women of Spain, she famously stated: “It is better to be the widows of heroes than the wives of cowards!” And, in 1936, at rallies in both France and Belgium to mobilise support for the republican army, she cried:
The Spanish people would rather die on its feet than live on its knees!
However, the republican army was threatened from within by the formation of POUM (Worker’s Party of Marxist Unification), a coalition of Trotskyite and anarchistic parties. The POUM objected vigorously to the influence of the Soviet Union within the republican army, and did much to undermine the discipline of the republican forces. POUM was dubbed the fascist “fifth column” after Emilio Mola, a fascist general, stated in an interview in 1936 that he had four columns of soldiers heading towards Madrid and a fifth one (the POUM) behind enemy lines.
The POUM’s endless demands for ultra-revolutionary sounding measures such as self-governming workers’ co-ops in the cities and immediate collectivisation in the countryside were not only a diversion from the urgent struggle against fascism but an outright service to fascism. Trotskyism in the Service of Franco, written by George Soria and based on first-hand observation and on the study and analysis of official documents and papers, explains how this came about.
In the end, the republican army could not hold off the might of Franco’s army, which was financed heavily by Germany and Italy, and the republicans eventually lost the civil war. On 1 November 1939, Dolores made a powerful speech to over 13,000 people at a farewell parade in Barcelona expressing her gratitude to all the volunteers who had come to the aid of the republican government from the people of Spain:
From all peoples, from all races, you came to us like brothers, like sons of immortal Spain and in the hardest days of the war, when the capital of the Spanish republic was threatened, it was you, gallant comrades of the International Brigades, who helped save the city with your fighting enthusiasm, your heroism and your spirit of sacrifice …
Today many are departing … You can go proud. You are history. You are legend. You are the heroic example of democracy’s solidarity and universality in the face of the vile and accommodating spirit of those who interpret democratic principles with their eyes on hoards of wealth or corporate shares which they want to safeguard from all risk.
At the end of the war, Dolores fled to the Soviet Union, where she lived a happy life, despite the difficulties and tragedies of the war.
Her son fought for the Red Army but sadly died at the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942. Delores remained active within the PCE and became the party’s secretary general in May 1944. She lived in Moscow for many years, receiving the Lenin Peace Prize in 1964 and the Order of Lenin Prize in 1965.
When General Franco died, Dolores moved back to Spain and in 1977 she was once more elected as a deputy to the Cortes (Spanish parliament).
On 12 November 1989, at the age of 93, Dolores Ibárruri died of pneumonia. Although only one of her daughters survived her, her legacy lives on in countless generations of the men and women workers all over the world that she inspired with her bravery, her steadfastness and her indomitable spirit.
La Pasionaria is remembered as a woman who never capitulated to fascism who fought for rights for women and who tied those rights to the need for socialism. She was a revolutionary fighter, an activist, a writer and a speaker. Her inspiration is a shining star whose light guides us in our struggle against imperialism and reaction, and for liberation and socialism.
La Pasionaria statue in Glasgow, Scotland