Ibárruri, Dolores (1895–1989)

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Ibárruri, Dolores (1895–1989)

Early Communist activist known as La Pasionaria who, during the Spanish Civil War, became an internationally recognized speaker for the loyalist cause. Name variations: Dolores Ibarruri; Dolores Ibárruri Gómez; La Pasionaria. Pronunciation: ee-BAR-ru-ree. Born on December 9, 1895, in Gallarta, Spain; died on November 12, 1989, in Madrid, Spain; daughter of Antonio Ibárruri and Dolores Gómez; married Julián Ruíz, in Gallarta, in 1916: children—six, including one set of triplets, but all but two died in infancy or childhood: son Rubén (1921–1942); daughters Esther (1917–1922); Amaya (b. 1923); Amagoya (1923, died young); Azucena (1923–1925); Eva (1928, died young).

Socialist activist in Vizcaya (1918); elected to provincial committee of Spanish Communist Party (1920); became editor, Communist newspaper Mundo Obrero (Madrid, 1931); elected to Parliament (1936); fled Spain for exile in Soviet Union (1939); became secretary-general of Spanish Communist Party (1944); received Order of Lenin (1965); returned to Spain after 38 years in exile (1977).

Selected works:

Speeches and Articles, 1936–38 (1938); The Women Want a People's Peace (1941); El único camino (1962, English translation, 1966); Memorias de Pasionaria, 1939–1977: Me faltaba España (1984).

Communist leader and propagandist Dolores Ibárruri Gómez, known to admirers and detractors around the world as La Pasionaria, became one of the most visible symbols of the loyalist cause during the Spanish Civil War (1936–39). Born December 9, 1895, in the ironmining town of Gallarta, near Bilbao in the northern Basque province of Vizcaya, she was

the eighth of eleven children of Antonio Ibárruri and Dolores Gómez . A monarchist and devout Catholic, Pasionaria's father worked as a miner all of his life. Prior to their marriage, his wife also had been employed in the mines.

Dolores Ibárruri frequently boasted of her working-class origins, describing herself in her autobiography as "the granddaughter, daughter, wife and sister of miners." However, her family was not as poor as she sometimes claimed, and there is no truth to a once-popular story that as a girl she worked as an itinerant sardine peddler. More fortunate than other miners' children, Ibárruri attended school through the age of 15. Her original ambition was to be a schoolteacher, but when she left school in 1910 she apprenticed for two years to a dressmaker, and for three years after that she worked as a domestic servant and a waitress.

In 1916, "seeking," as she recalled, "liberation from drudgery in other people's homes," Ibárruri married Julián Ruíz (c. 1893–1977), a mineworker and socialist labor organizer from nearby Somorrostro. Together they had six children, including one set of triplets; all but two died in infancy or childhood. Chronic poverty and repeated family tragedies, along with frequent periods of abandonment when Ruíz's political activities took him on the road or landed him in prison, soured Ibárruri on marriage, which she later described as a "joyless, dismal, pain-ridden thralldom." Ibárruri and Ruíz separated in the early 1930s but apparently never divorced.

Though Ibárruri's marriage was unhappy, it represented an important stage in her political and intellectual development. Introduced by Ruíz to working-class politics, she began to read Marxist literature. Because Ibárruri had more formal education than most labor activists, she was soon writing for a local socialist newspaper, El Minero Vizcaíno (The Vizcayan Miner). From the beginning, she signed her columns with the pen name La Pasionaria, literally "the passion flower." Because the pseudonym first appeared on an essay published during Holy Week, it was probably a reference to the Passion of Christ. Asked about the choice almost 70 years later in an interview for The New York Times, the veteran Communist Party functionary replied, "I can't explain it, except that I was very Catholic."

Dolores Ibárruri's conversion from Catholic schoolgirl to militant revolutionary was absolute and permanent. During a general strike in 1917, she helped to produce dynamite bombs for insurrectionary miners. As it did elsewhere, the October Revolution that year in Russia caused divisions among socialists in Spain, and, when the victorious Bolsheviks established the Communist International (Comintern) at Moscow in 1919, Ibárruri and Ruíz's group at Somorrostro promptly declared its affiliation. In 1920, the couple joined the newly created Spanish Communist Party (Partido Comunista Español), and Ibárruri was elected to the provincial committee for Vizcaya. The following year, the party merged with another Leninist organization to form the Communist Party of Spain (Partido Comunista de España, PCE), in which Ibárruri would continue to occupy leadership roles, both at home and in exile, for the rest of her life.

During the dictatorship of General Miguel Primo de Rivera (1923–1930), Spanish Communists suffered political persecution while wasting much energy in often violent sectarian quarrels with rival working-class organizations, in particular the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (Partido Socialista Obrero de España, PSOE). Meanwhile, Pasionaria's alliance with PCE Secretary-General José Bullejos brought her increasing preferment within the Communist Party. In 1930, she was named to the central committee and, in 1932, to the political bureau.

The fall of the monarchy and establishment of the Second Republic in 1931 produced major political changes in Spain. Responding to the new régime's openness, the Communists transferred Ibárruri to Madrid to direct the party's women's section and edit its national newspaper, Mundo Obrero (Workers' World). Republican authorities, however, proved even less tolerant of her activities than Primo de Rivera. Detained almost immediately upon her arrival in the capital, Pasionaria went to prison for the first of several periods of incarceration. Released in February 1932, she was jailed again in March and held until January 1933.

During her brief interval at liberty in early 1932, Ibárruri attended the PCE's first aboveground congress at Seville, where she managed to get in trouble with her own party. Following current Comintern policy, the Spanish Communists opposed the PSOE-backed government of Manuel Azaña (provisional president, 1931; prime minister, 1931–1933), condemning the socialists for their willingness to collaborate with bourgeois and anarchist parties. In 1932, however, when a rightist military revolt threatened the republic's survival, Pasionaria backed José Bullejos's effort to rally the PCE to its defense. For his deviation, Moscow ordered Bullejos expelled from the party and replaced him as secretary-general with José Díaz, whereupon Ibárruri recanted her error and denounced her former ally and patron. According to historian of the PCE Joan Estruch , it was the only time she ever strayed from the party line.

In 1933—the year of Pasionaria's first visit to the Soviet Union to attend a meeting of the Comintern—elections in Spain brought a coalition of rightist parties to power, ousting the PSOE from the government. As elsewhere in Europe, the emergence of fascism in Spain pressured the Communists to modify their previous insistence on sectarian purity. Ibárruri became the national organizer for Women Against War and Fascism, a Communist-led movement which included women of various leftist persuasions. When a socialist-inspired miners' insurrection broke out in 1934 in the northern province of Asturias, only to be brutally put down by the army, Pasionaria and her organization gained international recognition by coordinating the rescue and evacuation of children left orphaned or homeless by the violence. Because Ibárruri's expanding political commitments made it difficult for her to care for her own two children, early in 1935 she sent her son, Rubén Ruíz, and her daughter, Amaya Ruíz , to live in the Soviet Union.

There are so many fantasies about me. I don't know where they all come from.

—Dolores Ibárruri

Ibárruri herself was in Moscow in 1935 for another meeting of the Comintern when the Soviet directors of the international movement announced the Popular Front strategy, an abrupt reversal of previous policy. Placing immediate priority on the defeat of fascism rather than the workers' revolution, the new line called upon Communist parties to form alliances with socialist, bourgeois, and other anti-fascist groups. In elections in Spain in 1936, a PCE-supported coalition ousted the right-wing parties from control of Parliament and established a Popular Front government with Manuel Azaña first as prime minister, then as president (1936–1939). Released after another brief stay in prison, Dolores Ibárruri campaigned for the Popular Front in Asturias, where she was elected to Parliament as a deputy from Oviedo. On that occasion, Pasionaria added to her growing reputation when she intervened in a riot at a local jail by personally releasing the prisoners, many of them miners detained since the 1934 uprising.

Otherwise a troubled and unproductive time, the Second Republic did witness an expansion of opportunities for women in Spanish public life. Dolores Ibárruri was not the first woman to serve in Parliament. Three female deputies—Clara Campoamor, Victoria Kent , and Margarita Nelken —had been elected in 1931, even before women received the right to vote, but Ibárruri quickly distinguished herself as a spirited polemicist, engaging in fiery exchanges with leading conservative deputies, among them José María Gil Robles and José Calvo Sotelo. When Calvo Sotelo was shot to death in Madrid on July 13, 1936, rightists accused Pasionaria of having instigated his murder, a charge which she always denied and for which no convincing evidence has ever been presented.

Less than a week after Calvo Sotelo's death, on July 18, civil warfare broke out when army officers in Spanish Morocco declared themselves in rebellion under the leadership of General Francisco Franco. Joined by other generals and supported by various conservative, monarchist, and pro-clerical groups, Franco consolidated his personal control over the insurgency and established his headquarters at Burgos. Franco's Nationalist crusade sought to overthrow not only the Popular Front government, but also the republic itself, and it quickly received military assistance from Adolf Hitler in Germany and Benito Mussolini in Italy, who saw in the insurgent general the promise of a valuable ally in a fascist Spain. Of all the world's non-fascist leaders, only Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union came openly to the support of the Azaña government.

During the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), Pasionaria gained her greatest fame as a propagandist. In a radio broadcast the first night of the conflict, she exhorted Madrid's defenders to stand firm against Franco and the Nationalists, vowing dramatically that "they shall not pass!" This stirring phrase was not original with Ibárruri—it has been attributed to France's General Henri-Philippe Pétain at the battle of Verdun in 1916—but, through enthusiastic repetition, it eventually became one of the most familiar slogans of the loyalist cause. Other typical Pasionaria appeals were, "better to die on one's feet than live on one's knees," and "better a hero's widow than a coward's wife." Visiting the front often to bolster troop morale, Ibárruri was active also in recruiting and humanitarian work, and she posed spade in hand for publicity photographs showing her digging trenches for the capital's defense.

A tenacious political in-fighter, Dolores Ibárruri worked to expand the PCE's role within the loyalist coalition. In May 1937, she helped oust Socialist Prime Minister Francisco Largo Caballero and replace him with Juan Negrín, also of the PSOE but more receptive than Largo Caballero to Communist arguments on military and political strategy. In March the following year, Pasionaria helped to bring down Minister of War Indalecio Prieto, whose duties Negrín assumed personally. There is a story that in the Prieto case Ibárruri's motives were as much personal as political. To restrict PCE influence, the socialist war minister had ordered political commissars transferred to regular combat duty at the front, a directive which would have separated Pasionaria from her protégé Francisco Antón, 20 years her junior, with whom she was widely reported to be romantically involved.

Early in 1939, a series of military disasters finally led to the collapse of the republic. Cut off at Elda, near Alicante on the Mediterranean, when news came on March 6 of a coup at Madrid by previously loyal officers, Negrín and what was left of his government decided to flee the country. Escaping aboard one of the last three loyalist aircraft out of nearby Monóvar, Dolores Ibárruri abandoned many friends and supporters to an uncertain fate at the hands of Franco and his vindictive Nationalists, but she always claimed that she agreed to leave only when instructed to do so by the Communist Party. Pasionaria flew first to Algeria, then to Paris, and from there to Moscow. It would be 38 years before she saw her native land again.

Taking up residence in exile in the Soviet capital, Ibárruri was reunited with her children, and ultimately also with Francisco Antón, an arrangement disliked by many of her fellow PCE exiles. In general, Pasionaria adapted well to life under Stalinist rule, but she had to accept the fact that the outbreak of World War II in Europe displaced Spain's future as a matter of concern for her Soviet hosts. Especially after the German invasion in 1941, the defense of the Soviet Union came first. In September 1942, the new conflict cost Dolores Ibárruri dearly when her only son Rubén, who had served briefly in Spain and was now a lieutenant in the Soviet army, was killed at Stalingrad.

Despite her personal loss, Pasionaria continued her propaganda work, broadcasting to audiences at home on Moscow-based Radio Independent Spain (Radio España Independiente, REI), established in 1941. She also rose in the PCE hierarchy, pushing aside the party's ailing and disillusioned Secretary-General José Díaz. Following Díaz's suicide in 1942, Ibárruri asserted her own leadership. In 1944, she became PCE secretary-general, with Soviet approval but without a formal party vote. At the height of Pasionaria's power, she staffed top party positions with her personal adherents, including her reputed lover Antón, her daughter Amaya, and her faithful secretary Irene Falcón .

In 1945, expecting the end of World War II to lead quickly to Franco's overthrow, Ibárruri transferred party operations to France. However, the Spanish dictator, who had remained neutral during the global conflict, now took advantage of the emerging Cold War to align himself with the Western powers as a reliable anticommunist. By 1948, with Franco's position stronger than ever, the French authorities grew increasingly inhospitable. Pasionaria returned to the Soviet Union, where complications following surgery for a chronic liver complaint led to months of hospitalization amid concern that she would not live.

During Ibárruri's long illness, Santiago Carrillo emerged as her rival for dominance in the PCE. A Communist youth leader during the civil war, Carrillo was young, ambitious, and tactically gifted. He gradually established control over day-to-day party affairs, and, following Stalin's death in 1953, he won a major victory over Pasionaria by having Francisco Antón expelled from both the political bureau and the central committee. The de-Stalinization campaign launched in 1956 by Soviet Communist Party chair Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971) enabled Carrillo to consolidate his own authority, based on Moscow's greater tolerance for independence among local Communist parties. In 1960, Ibárruri stepped aside, accepting the honorific post of party president when Carrillo succeeded her as secretary-general.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Pasionaria continued her broadcasting work with REI, which in 1954 had relocated its studios and transmitter to Bucharest, Rumania. Increasingly, she was significant more as a symbolic link with the PCE's past than as a functioning leader. Soviet authorities bestowed upon her many awards and formal recognitions, notably the Lenin Peace Prize in 1964 and the Order of Lenin in 1965. When she was not traveling about the Communist bloc, calling on such leaders as Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia, Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam, and Fidel Castro of Cuba, Ibárruri found time to work on her autobiography, the first volume of which was published in 1962 in Spanish, and in 1966 in English. Occasionally, the Soviets employed her as an intermediary in disputes with Communist parties in the Spanish-speaking world. She is reported to have interceded with Castro to keep him aligned with Moscow in the continuing rift with the Chinese Communists, and in 1968 she helped resolve a disagreement with the PCE over its condemnation

of the Soviet military intervention that year in Czechoslovakia.

Following the death of Francisco Franco in 1975, a democratic transition began in Spain under a constitutional monarchy headed by King Juan Carlos I. Opposition parties, including the PCE, were legalized, and many exiles were allowed to return. After some hesitation on the new government's part, Dolores Ibárruri received her passport, and on May 13, 1977, she arrived from Moscow to an enthusiastic welcome in Madrid. In the following month's parliamentary elections—the first open elections since the fall of the republic in 1939—voters in Oviedo once again returned Pasionaria as a Communist deputy for Asturias. Much had changed in the 41 years since her last election victory, however. Spain was more modern, more secular, and more prosperous, and the PCE now identified itself with the independent-minded Eurocommunism of the major Communist parties in the West. Also, at 81, Ibárruri was only a thin shadow of the legend that surrounded the almost mythical figure of La Pasionaria.

In delicate health, Dolores Ibárruri left Parliament after only two years, but she continued on as president of the PCE. Accompanied by her longtime friend and personal secretary, Irene Falcón, Pasionaria reported daily to her office at party headquarters in Madrid, but she made few public appearances, in part because PCE leaders preferred not to draw attention to her unfashionable political views. As late as 1983, Ibárruri continued to cite Joseph Stalin as the most memorable Communist leader of her acquaintance, and to describe the Soviet Union as representing for her "what it always has—the possibility of establishing socialism in other countries." Dramatic changes in Moscow beginning in 1985 with the accession of Mikhail Gorbachev further undermined Ibárruri's familiar world, a fact she appeared to acknowledge in February 1988, when she made one of her last speeches. "Life doesn't stop," she told assembled delegates at the PCE's 12th party congress. "Everything moves. Everything changes."

On November 12, 1989, less than a month before her 94th birthday, Dolores Ibárruri died at Madrid following a long illness. Some 50,000 mourners paid their last respects to Pasionaria as she lay in state at PCE headquarters, and her public funeral on November 16 attracted official delegations from approximately 80 countries. Although rich in political symbolism, the passing of Dolores Ibárruri called to mind an observation made two years earlier by Joan Estruch, that as a historical personality Pasionaria had come finally to merit only "the respect due to things of the distant past which lack the capacity to influence the present." In fact, by 1989 the PCE held little appeal for contemporary Spaniards; in elections held the month before Ibárruri's death, the leftist coalition to which the party belonged had won only 9% of the vote. In the end, it was perhaps fortunate for Pasionaria that she did not live to witness the dissolution in 1991 of the Soviet Union itself, to whose service she had devoted seven decades of her life.


Camino, Jaime. Intimas conversaciones con La Pasionaria. Barcelona: Dopesa, 1977.

Darnton, John. "La Pasionaria at 87: Just Embers of Passion Remain," in The New York Times. June 24, 1983, p. 2.

Estruch, Joan. "Pasionaria: La verdad de Dolores Ibárruri," in Historia 16. (Madrid) No. 118. February 1988, pp. 11–24.

Gutiérrez Alvarez, J. "Dolores Ibárruri, mujer entre hierro y mármol," in Historia y Vida. (Barcelona) No. 23, 1990, pp. 4–14.

Ibárruri, Dolores. Memorias de Pasionaria, 1939–1977: Me faltaba España. Barcelona: Planeta, 1984.

——. They Shall Not Pass: The Autobiography of La Pasionaria. NY: International Publishers, 1966.

suggested reading:

Carabantes, Andrés and Eusebio Cimorra. Un mito llamado Pasionaria. Barcelona: Planeta, 1982.

Mangini, Shirley. Memories of Resistance: Women's Voices from the Spanish Civil War. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995.

Thomas, Hugh. The Spanish Civil War. Rev. ed. NY: Touchstone, 1986.

Stephen Webre , Professor of History, Louisiana Tech University, Ruston, Louisiana

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Ibárruri, Dolores (1895–1989)

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