Dolores Ibárruri: Pasionaria was the first woman to lead a party in Spain. This is the story of a myth of communism | Ideas


Dolores Ibárruri, in an image taken approximately in 1936.
Dolores Ibárruri, in an image taken approximately in 1936.Keystone (Getty Images)

“You were born to give direction to the winds”, expressed Miguel Hernández in his poem Pasionaria. Dolores Ibárruri Gómez (Gallarta, Bizkaia, 1895-Madrid, 1989) belonged to the first generation of communist militants, the one that, dazzled by the glare of October, broke with a social democracy sunk by the immolation of the European working class in the trenches of the Great War to turn to the construction of a party capable of replicating the Bolshevik Revolution. From the hand of the miner Julián Ruiz – whom he married at the age of 20 in the parish of Gallarta on February 19, 1916 – the daughter of Antonio and Juliana, that young woman who saw her vocation to train as a teacher frustrated, changed the Catholic rituals in the Apostleship of Prayer for militancy in the PSOE, which he entered in December 1917.

Since 1919, the Somorrostro Socialist Group, to which they belonged, advocated joining the Communist International. The following year, after the split unleashed by the leadership of the Socialist Youth, they joined the Spanish Communist Party, which in November 1921 merged with the Spanish Communist Workers Party (the result of another division in the PSOE) to light up the Communist Party. from Spain.

Until her appointment as a member of the Central Committee in 1930, Pasionaria (a pseudonym she used since 1918 to sign her articles in the leftist press) was one more militant in the Biscayan mining basin, in a decade marked by the early death of her daughters Esther, Azucena, Amagoya and Eva, victims of the misery that plagued that modest home. They were also critical years for a Communist Party hit by the repression of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship and weakened by its radicalism and sectarianism, to the point that it was unable to understand the significance of the proclamation of the Second Republic on April 14. 1931. That day, Dolores Ibárruri took her children, Rubén and Amaya, to the Muskiz Town Hall square to share the popular joy.

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Dolores Ibárruri, in her office of the Communist International in Moscow (1940).
Dolores Ibárruri, in her office of the Communist International in Moscow (1940).Archive of Dolores Ruiz-Ibárruri Sergueyeva

On September 30, she left the life of a housewife in Bizkaia behind, ended her marriage and came to Madrid to work at the PCE newspaper, Workers World. As of 1933, already as a member of the Political Bureau and head of the Women’s Secretariat, she had a certain role in the progressive turn of the party’s strategy, particularly when promoting in 1934 the creation of the National Committee of Women against War and Fascism. .

Elected deputy for Asturias in the candidacy of the Popular Front in 1936, it was in the first weeks of the war when, in the midst of the epic of the first people who raised their arms to stop the advance of fascism, the myth of Pasionaria began to be forged. And with the impulse of the powerful propaganda apparatus of the Communist International, her figure became the universal icon of the republican resistance, accompanied by that slogan that stood out in the appeal of the PCE to the citizenship against the military uprising and that she read before the Unión Radio Madrid microphones on July 19, 1936: “They will not pass!”

A speech by Ibárruri before the International Brigades in 1936/37.
A speech by Ibárruri before the International Brigades in 1936/37.ullstein picture Dtl. (Getty Images)

The Communist Party became a mass organization and due to its discipline and its political and military positions in the axis of the defense of the democratic Republic, not without tensions with the ideological orthodoxy that identified it. His role was crucial, for example, during the dramatic defense of Madrid in October and November 1936, when Dolores Ibárruri starred in rallies at the Capitol or Monumental cinemas, in a city mercilessly bombed by Franco’s aviation. In the opposite angle, and as a reflection of Stalin’s purges, throughout 1937, the PCE deployed a fierce dialectical campaign against the POUM, classified as “Trotskyist” and “agent of fascism”. On August 10, a month and a half after the kidnapping, murder and disappearance at the hands of Soviet agents of Andreu Nin (his secretary general), at a rally in Valencia Pasionaria called for “the extirpation of Trotskyism from the proletarian ranks of our country.” .

The war ended in the worst possible way for the Republic, after the coup of March 5, 1939 led by Colonel Segismundo Casado, Julián Besteiro and Cipriano Mera against the Government of Juan Negrín and its most loyal ally, the PCE. The next day, the communist leader arrived in Oran by plane and a month and a half later to Moscow, where together with her comrades she immersed herself in a self-critical debate about the causes of defeat. The outbreak of the Second World War committed the PCE to the interests of the Kremlin: at the beginning of 1940, in two articles Pasionaria defended the occupation of a part of Poland by Soviet troops. After the invasion of the USSR by Nazi Germany on June 22, 1941, through the microphones of Radio España Independiente (La Pirenaica) and Soviet stations, almost daily Dolores Ibárruri read comments calling for unity against the fascism in a war that on September 3, 1942 hit her to the core, with the death of her son Rubén in the first fights of the Battle of Stalingrad. Thousands of Spanish communists contributed heroically in the French Resistance and in the Red Army to the defeat of Nazi-fascism.

In December 1945, the majority of the leaders of the PCE met in Toulouse on the occasion of the 50th birthday of who, after the suicide of José Díaz in 1942 and the purge of Jesús Hernández in 1944, was already its general secretary, the first woman in leading a Spanish party. Pablo Picasso attended that celebration and from Mexico Juan Rejano dedicated a poem to him: “Our mother, honeycomb, vein of fire, / hero’s poppy, guerrilla …”. In those 1940s, when the successive attempts to rebuild the party in the interior of Spain and forge a resistance to the dictatorship – also from the maquis – were shipwrecked before an implacable repression, many communists stood with dignity before the firing squads invoking Pasionaria . On February 15, 1946, a few days before being executed in Carabanchel, Cristino García Granda, a hero of the French Resistance, wrote: “Your name, which is admired and loved by millions of Spaniards, is our flag…”.

Dolores Ibárruri, with Mao Tse-Tung during his visit to China in September 1956.
Dolores Ibárruri, with Mao Tse-Tung during his visit to China in September 1956.Archive of Dolores Ruiz-Ibárruri Sergueyeva

The Cold War led to the banning of the PCE in France in September 1950 and the last processes of Stalinism in Eastern Europe even indirectly affected Irene Falcón, one of the people closest to Dolores Ibárruri. In 1956, three years after Stalin’s death, Nikita Khrushchev’s “secret report” at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) about the crimes of the revolutionary leader shocked the international communist movement, which until then he had revered her figure. Pasionaria was the first PCE leader to read it. It was in September 1968 (during the important meeting of the Central Committee that ratified the condemnation of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the troops of the Warsaw Pact) when she expressed her opinion on that document most harshly: “For me it was – as women say in our country— my shadow sticks fall off… ”. Since 1956 he has never quoted Stalin again, neither in his public speeches nor in his articles.

In June of that year, the PCE launched its National Reconciliation Policy, which from the 1960s allowed it to become the “party of anti-Francoism.” With Santiago Carrillo as general secretary since December 1959 and Dolores Ibárruri as president, the communists played a decisive role in the creation and structuring of the Workers’ Commissions, in the student struggles, in the demands of the neighborhood movement, in the alliance with the sectors Catholics who broke away from the social base of the dictatorship and in attracting professionals, sectors of the middle classes and intellectuals to the long fight for freedom. “There will be no human force that can prevent the reestablishment of democracy in our Spain”, proclaimed Pasionaria in Rome on December 14, 1975 before Enrico Berlinguer, PCI secretary general, and the 20,000 people who filled the sports palace on the occasion his 80th birthday.

Pasionaria, in Congress with the communist deputies Santiago Carrillo, Rafael Alberti and Ignacio Gallego in 1977.
Pasionaria, in Congress with the communist deputies Santiago Carrillo, Rafael Alberti and Ignacio Gallego in 1977.EFE (EFE)

With Franco dead, he still had to remain a year and a half more in Moscow, with the anguish of dying in exile. He returned to Madrid on May 13, 1977, five weeks after the legalization of the PCE that “Red Holy Saturday”, and his figure was stamped in some of the iconic images of the Courts that approved the 1978 Constitution. More than 200,000 people attended his funeral on November 16, 1989, seven days after the fall of the Berlin Wall and two years before the extinction of the USSR.

“Being a communist”, expressed Dolores Ibárruri in 1947, “does not only mean defending in the first place the interests of the working class and the peasants. (…) It means fighting for the rights and social equality of women and against the feudal obstacles and prejudices that have made women through the centuries not only the slave of society, but also the slave of men’s selfishness ” . Despite the fact that even in the last years of her life she refused to define herself as a feminist, with her permanent defense of equal rights she was a pioneer of feminism in Spain. “Pasionaria dedicated herself body and soul to the active and conscious politicization of women and reading it from feminism is fundamental because, simply and simply, without her today I would not be here myself,” Irene Montero, Minister of Equality, has recently pointed out.

Dolores Ibárruri symbolizes the centuries-old history of the Communist Party of Spain. Rafael Alberti, Lina Odena, Marcelino Camacho, Julio Anguita, Matilde Landa, Jesús Monzón, Paco Rabal, Horacio Fernández Inguanzo, María Teresa León, Juan Genovés, Juana Doña, Tina Pérez, Marcos Ana, Enrique Líster, Simón Sánchez Montero, Josefina Samper , Gerardo Iglesias, Juan Antonio Bardem, Domingo Malagón, Juan Diego, Carlos Castilla del Pino, Elisa Úriz, Manuel Tuñón de Lara, Virginia González, Manuel Gerena, Antonio Gades, Aurora Picornell, Víctor Díaz-Cardiel, Yolanda Díaz… The political history , social and cultural of Spain in the last century cannot be explained without the red thread of the PCE.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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