Date: Sat, 15 Mar 97 11:47:26 CST
From: (Peoples Weekly World)
Subject: “La Pasionaria”—Dolores Ibarurri (1895–1989)
Organization: Scott Marshall
Article: 7362

“La Pasionaria”—Dolores Ibarurri (1895–1989)

By Francesca Patai, People's Weekly World, 15 March 1997

Dolores Ibarurri's long life—as revolutionary political theorist, champion for the emancipation of women, organizer of the disenfranchised, Spanish Communist Party leader, world-renowned embodiment of resistance to tyranny—is central to the history of Spain and to anti-fascist fights internationally. How was this working-class woman, born in the Basque mining province of Vizcaya, able to exert such influence on twentieth and twenty-first century history and become flesh-and-blood symbol for all who wage the good fight?

Here she explains how poor women's devalued status made her aware of the inevitability of on-going, radical political change:

“I was the eighth of 11 children … the granddaughter, daughter, sister and wife of miners … My mother worked in the mines until she was married … I’ve not forgotten anything … the frequent cave-ins, the brutal treatment of the miners who worked from dawn till dusk … They had no alternative but to meet death with dignity. That was our life … a deep pit without horizons …

“But the transformation of an ordinary, small-town woman into a revolutionary fighter, into a Communist … was a process … At 15 I finished school, worked as a domestic [until] I married a miner … Woman's goal, her only aspiration, had to be matrimony…giving birth, serving our husbands …

“Women were freed from brutalizing mine work only to be converted into domestic slaves … I rebelled against the idea that we were condemned to drag the shackles of poverty and submission through the centuries like beasts of burden …”

Daily deprivation and subjugation were her catalysts to class consciousness. Political activities were her education.

“… when, for lack of food, I hadn’t enough milk to nurse my baby, I confronted my husband with a desperate question: ’Do you think we can go on living like this?’

“… The intimate, daily contact with harsh reality began to fray the fabric of my religious convictions … I was beginning to learn that our poverty—the lack of the most basic human necessities—was not caused or altered by the will of any deity. The source of our misery was not in heaven but on earth. It arose from institutions established by men which could be altered or destroyed by other men.”

She began to read Marxist literature, wrote about the class war, and increased her Communist Party work. Elected to the Central Committee in 1930, she soon became editor of Mundo Obrero and a prominent spokesperson for those who had no voice, especially for silenced women—legally exploited by machismo and classism.

Her insistence on changing the feudal system of land ownership was an important factor in the 1931 election when the Spanish people replaced centuries of monarchy with a popularly-supported Second Republic. During her work to bring about this democratic revolution, she was often imprisoned, whereupon she organized with sister-prisoners (many of them violent criminals) to share scarce resources, preserve dignity, and repulse jailers' sexual abuses. Solidarity often meant survival. She used prison to educate women that their double oppression of poverty and gender discrimination were social constructs that could and must be obliterated.

In 1933, with Irene Falcon, Clara Campoamor, and others, she founded the Organization of Anti-fascist Women which formalized Ibarurri's conviction that women's public participation in reshaping society was fundamental to a successful revolution and to Spain's survival. Dolores and the women's collectives stressed that a free society was impossible unless women re-defined their own priorities and status. Furthermore, Ibarurri and her comrades took many risks to defend their political analyses. They were unique among many Communists in stressing that women's autonomy was central to their emancipation.

In 1936, Asturias elected her Communist Party deputy to the Cortes, where she expanded her fight to defeat the fascist bloc and continued working with women of all political parties and classes to achieve previously unattainable rights—rights to be educated, to vote, to work outside the home for wages equal to men, rights to divorce, to legal, safe abortion, to birth control information and access to contraceptives.

Ibarurri encouraged women to seize their new opportunities for independence, to self-educate through the process of political activism, and to work for political power for all women. Such involvements prepared many women for action during the Civil War (1936-1939)—whether fighting for the Republic in the streets and on the front lines, distributing food and supplies, running factories, or organizing political support groups.

The war began on July 18, 1936 when mutinous army officers (led by Franco) invaded the Spanish mainland from Spanish Morocco which they had seized the day before. Ibarurri's words heard over Radio-Madrid: “It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees,” stirred freedom-lovers around the world and rallied the Spanish people to acts of resistance seldom paralleled in modern history. During the siege of Madrid, she urged women to throw boiling oil at the invaders and organized women's brigades which fought alongside men in battle.

When Ibarurri appealed for international help for the Spanish people to resist the insurgents' coup d’etat, 40,000 women and men volunteers from 53 countries responded - including 2,800 U.S. volunteers of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion and hundreds more in their medical services. People's solidarity underscored the shameful non- intervention of western governments to the rise of world fascism.

But, the words of Nieves Torres, a poor woman, factory worker, resistance fighter, best illustrate how Ibarurri's actions and character inspired the International Brigadistas and their Spanish comrades to drive back Franco and the mighty armies and modern war technology of his fascist allies Hitler, Mussolini, and Salazar:

“That seventh of November [1936], everyone thought was the end for Madrid. All we could think of was that the Fascists were going to enter the city … We had no food, no wood … nothing … Then Dolores shouted, ‘No pasaran!’ She told it to the soldiers, to the rear guard, to everyone. And they all rose up and said: ‘No, no, no pasaran …’ We all accepted the challenge. The men who hadn’t already gone to the front went off to fight. We women accelerated production … Some went to the front as soldiers, above all, as nurses. Women went into factories and workshops, taking the men's places … Fortunately, ‘they’ didn’t pass.”

“No pasaran” became the rallying cry to route the fascist onslaught.

Her talent for organizing people of diverse backgrounds and ideologies to unite in a common-cause proved invaluable during the Popular Front and the Civil War. She transcended championing the rights of repressed working classes; internationally, she was a catalyst stimulating anti- fascism at home and on the battlefield.

Her genius somehow managed to resolve contradictions: to be an independent, militant woman, but not alienating; a radical theorist and stalwart Marxist, but appealing to various classes and political advocacies; a non-conformist to traditional patriarchal concepts of “good womanhood,” yet a beloved epitome of the universal feminine and mother. The archetypal ‘Pasionaria’ was also one's personal comforter, ‘Dolores.’

But bravery and commitment to la causa were insufficient to counteract Nazi might and democracies' indifference. The 1939 fall of the Republic was Spain's tragedy and a double defeat for women: the loss of the democratic freedoms that began in 1930 and a regression to the locked-in oppression of poverty and patriarchy. The brief blossoming of women's rights was extinguished and replaced with Nazi biopolitics and almost 40 years of Franco's dictatorship. Consistent with all fascist regimes, human rights were restricted and political dissent forbidden. Fascism's ideology and practices meant power derived from inequality and brutality. War and colonization reigned as ultimate patriarchal values.

When the Republic fell, Ibarurri and her personal assistant, Irene Falcon, had to leave Spain for a new home in the Soviet Union. Despite 38 years of exile, they continued working for world peace through international socialism. Ibarurri established Independent Radio Espana, directed the International Federation of Women, was elected President of the Spanish Communist Party, was an effective leader within and beyond the Party. Confident of the eventual fall of the dictatorship, she co-founded the Women's Democratic Movement, as support for women to assume decision-making roles in Spain's re-birth and future progress—an inevitability she viewed as a continuously evolving process.

Franco died in 1975—ironically, The International Year of the Woman—and Dolores, who had suffered the loss of her comrades, the death of four of her six children, and the defeat of the Republic, proclaimed, “I have survived him … because the ideas of solidarity, the spirit of liberty and the passion for equality have survived the despair of Francoism.”

Two years later, the Spanish people joyfully welcomed Pasionaria back home (a return symbolic of Spain's change toward democracy) as crowds chanted, “Si, si, si, Dolores esta aqui!” Again, her old mining constituency of Asturias elected her to the Cortes where she participated in approving the new Constitution. In the 1980s she was twice reelected president of the Communist Party of Spain, working for democratic progress for everyone: A socialist solution in step with the needs and desires of the nation, with the participation of not only Marxists, social democrats and anarcho-syndicalists, but of all groups and sectors who do not fear the historically inevitable changes in the economic and political structure of our country.

She continued her struggle for democracy, for peace, for socialism until her death in Madrid in 1989.

In 1938, her farewell to the departing international volunteers noted:

“Comrades of the International Brigades: Political reasons, reasons of State, the welfare of that same cause for which you offered your blood with boundless generosity, are sending you back, some of you to your own countries and others to forced exile. You can go proudly. You are the heroic example of democracy's solidarity and universality …

“We shall not forget you, and when the olive tree of peace puts forth its leaves again, entwined with the laurels of the Spanish Republic's victory—come back! …”

In November 1996, the world witnessed her invitation come to life as 462 veteran Brigadistas from 28 countries (including 25 women volunteers) did return to a now- democratic Spain to be honored (along with their fallen comrades) by the Spanish people of all ages and classes.

The Cortes (Spanish Parliament) voted unanimously to grant honorary Spanish citizenship to all Brigadistas. The sports palaces of Madrid and Barcelona echoed as 10,000 Spaniards cheered, threw flowers, and sang The International. There were bittersweet tears, raised fists and shouts of, “Solidarity is without borders,” and “No pasaran!” Together, elderly veterans and their Spanish compatriots reaffirmed undiminished commitment to anti-fascism.

In the 1990s (and in the next century) we must be vigilant against revisionist, reductivist history, especially when couched in the self-indulgent, “postmodernist” jargon of deconstruction. Ibarurri's insight reminds us that “History” too often is packaged as the accumulation, manipulation, and presentation of the thoughts and deeds of the powerful, the conquerors. “What really happened” is best revealed from primary sources: testimonies of participants usually ignored—the marginalized, the poor, women, people of color, etc. History is made by “ordinary people” whose eloquence and analytical sophistication surpass “experts' explanations”

Ibarruri's life and analyses are our legacy. Transnational capitalism and its evils of our time—antiimmigrant oppression, racism, male supremacy—hit poor women especially hard. These problems persist in various contexts: discrimination against women's seeking equal pay, employment outside the home and control over their bodies; overt and covert state policies that subvert women's autonomy for their unpaid labor at home and the “protection” of benevolent despotism.

Dolores Ibarruri demonstrates that, through socialism and with solidarity, women of different cultures, ideologies, and classes can unite to achieve emancipation and universal social justice. The alternative may be fascism.