Today marks the 125th anniversary of the birth of Dolores Ibárruri – La Pasionaria – the Spanish Republican and communist politician of the Spanish Civil War, known for her now famous slogan ¡No Pasarán! (“They shall not pass”) during the Battle for Madrid in November 1936. Here we reproduce a short biography of her life and contribution to the struggle originally compiled for the YCL’s 2019 International Women’s Day Series.
Dolores Ibárruri (1895-1989) was born to a Basque miner and a Castillian mother. She grew up in Gallarta, but later moved to Somorrostro in Biscay and joined the Communist Party of Spain (PCE) when it was founded in 1921. In 1931 with the advent of the Second Spanish Republic she moved to Madrid and became a writer for the PCE publication Mundo Obrero.
In 1933, she founded the Association of Antifascist Women (“AMA”), a women’s organization opposed to the rise of fascism in Spain. With the rise of General Franco in the lead up to the Spanish Civil War the AMA carried out a crucial role fighting against the rise of Franco’s army.
In February 1936 Ibárruri was elected to the Cortes Generales as a PCE deputy for Asturias. She emerged as one of the Communist deputies in the Republican parliament. The rise of Franco and the spread of fascism resulting in Civil War in 1936 pushed her into national prominence as she fought against the Falange, the movement in support of Franco, along with the PCE. A sometimes violent radio and street orator, she made such famous exhortations as “It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees”. The now famous slogan appears on monuments in her honour around the world, in Glasgow the famous memorial is the site of the annual tribute to international brigades.
In the early years of the Spanish Civil War, Ibárruri became a powerful orator in Madrid, addressing many thousands of people in the streets on behalf of the PCE. Her work is now world renowned and continues to inspire communists and antifascists the world over. As the civil war developed Ibárruri become a key figure in the fight against fascism during the civil war. As the civil war developed, Trotskyists fought with the communists and the republican movement began to splintered, as result Ibárruri referred to the Trotskyists and Anarchists as the “Fascist enemy within”.
Soon after Franco won the war with Italian and German assistance, Ibárruri was exiled from Spain. She relocated to the Soviet Union in 1939 with her family. Tragically her son Rubén Ruiz made the ultimate sacrifice fighting heroically against Nazi fascism in the battle of Stalingrad. Whilst in the Soviet Union, Ibárruri maintained her support for her comrades in the PCE and across Europe and worked as part of the Executive Committee of the Communist International Secretariat at the Communist International. Whilst there she wrote at length in support of Stalin, the Soviet Union as well as those fighting against fascism across Europe.
Following the death of the fascist despot Franco, the PCE returned from from exile and Ibárruri returned to Spain on May 13, 1977, some 18 months after Franco’s death and 34 days after the Spanish government again legalized the Communist Party. After her exile from Spain at the end of the Civil War, she was appointed General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Spain, a position she held from 1942 to 1960. She was then named honorary president of the PCE, a post she held for the rest of her life. Upon her return she was re-elected as a deputy to the Cortes, again for the region of Asturias- the same region she had represented under the Second Republic.
Ibárruri’s legacy is known around the world, while ultra-leftists may use her slogan ¡No Pasarán! to plaster over their banners, it is important for us as communists to remember there is more to antifascism than sloganeering. We must be prepared to physically fight fascism wherever it rears its ugly head, whether this is in our communities, workplaces or schools.
Challenge Editorial Team