Revolting Women: ‘La Pasionaria’ – the woman who fought Franco
This post is part of a series on the theme of women and protest. The full series is collected under the tag “Revolting Women”.
(‘They shall not pass!’)
-Dolores Ibárruri, July 19, 1936 (Madrid, Spain)
No, not Gandalf: La Pasionaria. Or, ‘The Passion Flower’ in English. Before I continue to talk about Ibárruri, I acknowledge that I’m a bit of a giddy schoolchild when it comes to praising anything Basque in a public sphere and that having a Hispanic Studies degree means I take some knowledge for granted. So some background information is probably going to be pretty useful for you all.
The Spanish Civil War began in 1936 when General Francisco Franco led troops in an attempted coup d’état against the Second Republic. Although the government were caught unawares and significant numbers of Spain’s army were behind Franco, the events of July 1936 turned into a three year civil war. Having written several thousand words on the subject during the course of my degree, I could go into much greater detail but I don’t want to detract from our main focus. Basics to remember: Franco et al were far-right/fascist; the Second Republic was left/socialist. Now we can move on to our woman of the hour.
Isidora Dolores Ibárruri Gómez was born on 9th December 1895 in Gallarta, within the borders of the Basque Country in Spain, into a poor mining family. In 1918 she adopted the pseudonym ‘Pasionaria’ on the publication of an article, highlighting religious hypocrisy, which coincided with Holy Week in a devotedly Catholic country. In 1920 she was appointed as a member of the Provincial Committee of the Basque Communist Party and in 1930 moved up to the Central Committee of the PCE (Communist Party of Spain). In ’31 she moved to Madrid alongside the formation of the Second Republic and was jailed in September ’31 for the first in several arrests over the following five years.
There are many amazing things that she did as a prominent pre-war communist woman in politics in Spain, and for a succinct overview of them all I urge you to have a look over on her Wikipedia entry. There’s only so much I can say within one article and I want to focus on her wartime contributions to the fight against Franco and fascism.
During the war she was, above all, an astounding orator and a passionate figurehead for the men and women trying desperately to battle Franco’s advances. As a communist she was no stranger to strong retaliations against her speeches and actions, but during the Civil War she became much more than just a voice for communism. She became a central figure for the Republicans trying to push fascism back and defend Spain against Franco.
The whole country cringes in indignation at these heartless barbarians that would hurl our democratic Spain back down into an abyss of terror and death. However, THEY SHALL NOT PASS! For all of Spain presents itself for battle.
[...] The Communist Party calls you to arms. We especially call upon you, workers, farmers, intellectuals to assume your positions in the fight to finally smash the enemies of the Republic and of the popular liberties. Long live the Popular Front! Long live the union of all anti-fascists! Long live the Republic of the people! The Fascists shall not pass! THEY SHALL NOT PASS!
- Dolores Ibárruri, No Pasarán speech (translated here)
- Youtube:an original speech
- Youtube: Maxine Peake reading her International Brigades’ sendoff speech
- Daniele Conversi, The Basques, The Catalans and Spain: Alternative Routes to Nationalist Mobilisation (2000)
- Helen Graham, The Spanish Civil War: A Very Short Introduction (2005)
- Paul Preston, The Spanish Civil War: Reaction, Revolution and Revenge (2006)
Most people will know, however, that Franco won. Ibárruri spent much of her life thereafter in exile, but returned to Madrid in 1977 and lived in Spain for the remaining 12 years of her life. On her 90th birthday, the PCE organised a party in Madrid with upwards of 15,000 guests; when she died of pneumonia at age 93 thousands of people paid their respects and attended her funeral, where they chanted “They shall not pass!”. The life and actions of La Pasionaria were felt internationally (e.g. there’s a statue of her in Glasgow) and there remains strong opinion on both sides of the political spectrum on her in Spain (if you read Spanish, have a glance at some of the comments on the YouTube video).
I know this has been brief, but there is plenty more to discover for yourself; I am only here to open the door.
It is better to die on your feet than to live forever on your knees.
- La Pasionaria