Ibárruri, Dolores (La Pasionaria) (1895–1989)

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Spanish Communist leader.

Dolores Ibárruri was born in Gallarta, Vizcaya (Basque Country), on 9 December 1895. Her father was a Catholic, conservative miner, and she herself was a deeply religious woman until she married a Socialist. Later, her older brother would fight on Francisco Franco's side during the Spanish civil war (1936–1939). She took part in the general strike of 1917, and, like her husband, moved to the left wing of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, joining the Spanish Communist Party (Partido Comunista de España, or PCE) when it was founded in November 1921. She used the pseudonym La Pasionaria (the passionflower) for her writings, including her first article, published during Passion Week of the Lenten season of 1918.

Until the civil war, the PCE was a very small, sectarian organization, constantly riddled with infighting. Moreover, the local leaders often resented the tactics imposed by the Communist International. In 1931 the International decided that the PCE should not support the newly proclaimed, and still widely popular, Second Republic. This and other decisions were met with opposition by the then secretary general of the party, José Bullejos, a protector of Ibárruri who had promoted her to the Central Committee in 1930. He was purged and expelled from the organization in 1932, and she had to recant her initial support for Bullejos, whom she now publicly condemned. This was the first and last time she opposed the International, becoming a bulwark of the nascent Stalinist orthodoxy.

The PCE got a significant political boost first with the adoption of the Popular Front strategy by the International and then with its inclusion in the center-left electoral coalition that won the general election in Spain in February 1936. Ibárruri was one of the seventeen Communists elected to parliament, where she did not particularly shine. Her jump to political stardom came in July of that year with the outbreak of the civil war. The PCE grew enormously during the conflict mainly because only the Soviet Union provided the republic with the weapons it needed to survive. In reality, during the war the PCE was directed by the International delegates, the best known of them being the Italian Communist leader Palmiro Togliatti. The secretary general of the party, the former baker JoséDíaz, was not a particularly effective speaker. It would be in this context that Ibárruri became the most celebrated public symbol of the Republican determination to resist the advance of the Fascist forces.

In the figure of Ibárruri many saw both the new Spanish (and universal) progressive, anti-fascist woman, and the supposedly best traditions of Spain. Always dressed in black, like most mature women of the Mediterranean basin, she was the proud, mourning mother of democracy, the Republican soldiers, and her own children. At this point she had lost two girls (of the five she had) in their infancy; later during the battle of Stalingrad she would lose her son Rubén in combat, who became the object of countless poems. But the suffering mother had another face, that of the wild courage of the aging communist Carmen confronting the horror of fascist aggression when so many men avoided doing so. Her bravery made her beautiful. Her eloquence seemed to open her bleeding heart to humanity in the sentences, discourses, and articles—for which she was credited authorship—that concentrated with precise, impacting words, this two-sided woman: "They shall not pass!" "Better to die standing than to live on our knees." Her constructed image, austere yet radiant, reproduced in posters and photographs, was widely circulated inside and outside Spain.

As the Republican resistance crumbled in the last days of the war, Ibárruri fled Spain for Moscow, where she would live in exile. After the death of Díaz in 1942, she became secretary general of the party, a position she held until 1960, when she was replaced by Santiago Carrillo. A committed Stalinist, Ibárruri supported the Soviet repression of the successive popular risings in Germany, Poland, and Hungary and the purges the late 1940s and 1950s; only reluctantly and timidly did she condemn the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. In fact, she never truly adapted herself to the increasing independence of her party from Moscow, which would lead to the adoption of the strategy of Eurocommunism. She returned to Spain after the death of Franco, and in June 1977, in the first democratic elections since February 1936, she was elected to parliament. She died in Madrid on 12 November 1989, just as the Berlin Wall was beginning to be dismantled, and although the circumstances that had made her a symbol of so many causes had by then long disappeared, her funeral was massively attended.

See alsoCommunism; Spanish Civil War.


Cruz, Rafael. Pasionaria: Dolores Ibárruri, historia y símbolo. Madrid, 1999.

Graham, Helen. The Spanish Republic at War, 1936–1939. Cambridge, U.K., 2002.

Low, Robert. La Pasionaria: The Spanish Firebrand. London, 1992.

Antonio Cazorla-Sanchez

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Ibárruri, Dolores (La Pasionaria) (1895–1989)

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