International Committee of the Fourth International
Fourth International (1990): 50 years since the assassination of Trotsky

Dolores Ibarruri (1895-1989), La Pasionaria: Symbol of Stalinist Betrayal

The death last month of Spanish Communist Party leader Dolores Ibarruri, known by her pseudonym La Pasionaria, symbolizes the terminal crisis of the Stalinist bureaucracy which she served loyally for 60 years. As she lay dying in Madrid, millions of workers and youth were demonstrating in the streets against the rotting Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe, and Gorbachev and the rest of Stalin’s heirs were openly abandoning any pretense of speaking in the name of Marxism or the international working class.

Dolores Ibarruri was born almost 94 years ago into a coal miner’s family in the Basque region, near the city of Bilbao. A founding member of the Spanish Communist Party, she was a delegate to the 1921 founding convention.

With her oratorical ability and her working class background, Ibarruri emerged as a prominent organizer and agitator for the party. She showed little interest in theory or any independence of thought, however, and she quickly became a spokesman and symbol for the Spanish Stalinists, as the weak Spanish party was transformed into a servile tool of the counterrevolutionary Soviet bureaucracy.

La Pasionaria used her talents to build up support for the Spanish popular front, in which the working class in the Socialist and Communist parties was subordinated to the bourgeois Republican government, with the claim that such “unity” was required to wage the civil war against the fascist rebellion led by General Francisco Franco.

Ibarruri was the focus of one of the twentieth century’s greatest exercises in historical falsification: the creation of the myth that the Spanish Communist Party was the leader of a great antifascist struggle in the civil war. In reality, Spain was the scene of one of the most monstrous crimes of Stalinism against the working class. The popular front strangled the proletarian revolution in Spain and handed the working class over to its executioners. The result was 30 years of fascist tyranny.

“It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees! They shall not pass!” said Ibarruri in her first radio broadcast after the outbreak of the civil war in 1936. But this was mere rhetoric. In practice, Stalinism demanded that the fighting Spanish proletariat get on its knees before the bourgeoisie. Ibarruri’s words were used to strangle and defeat the Spanish Revolution, in the interests of the Stalinist bureaucracy and its international policy of collaboration with the “democratic” imperialist powers.

The most prominent public spokesman of the Spanish party during this period, Ibarruri was fully responsible for every crime Stalinism committed against the Spanish and international working class. She lent her prestige to the Moscow Trials, in which the entire leadership of the October Revolution was framed up and exterminated. Inside Spain she worked closely with Stalin’s GPU executioners who carried out a war of extermination, not against the fascists, but against their working class opponents, both in the centrist POUM, as well as among the Spanish Trotskyists.

Spain was where Trotsky’s secretary Erwin Wolf was kidnapped and killed by the Stalinist murderers in 1937. It was also from the Spanish party that the assassin of Trotsky, Ramon Mercader, was recruited.

In the Spanish Civil War, Stalinism revealed most clearly its hatred of the proletariat and the brutal measures it would take to prevent a successful proletarian revolution anywhere in the world. This was done in the name of the fight for “democracy.” Stalinism resurrected all the lies and stupidities of Menshevism, which had insisted, at the time of the Russian Revolution, that the proletariat must not go beyond the limits of bourgeois democracy in its struggle to achieve the tasks of the democratic revolution.

The demand not to transgress the bounds of bourgeois democracy signifies in practice not a defense of the democratic revolution but a repudiation of it,” wrote Trotsky. Ibarruri and the other Stalinist leaders demanded that the proletariat, rather than advancing a revolutionary agrarian program that would have won the support of the peasant masses, instead surrender to the demands of the commercial, industrial and banking bourgeoisie and the bourgeois intelligentsia depending on them....

Two irreconcilable programs thus confronted each other on the territory of republican Spain. On the one hand, the program of saving at any cost private property from the proletariat, and saving as far as possible democracy from Franco; on the other hand, the program of abolishing private property through the conquest of power by the proletariat. The first program expressed the interests of capitalism through the medium of the labor aristocracy, the top petty-bourgeois circles, and especially the Soviet bureaucracy. The second program translated into the language of Marxism the tendencies of the revolutionary mass movement, not fully conscious but powerful. Unfortunately for the revolution, between the handful of Bolsheviks and the revolutionary proletariat stood the counterrevolutionary wall of the popular front.

(Leon Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-39), Pathfinder, pp. 307-14)

When the Spanish working class rose up against its capitalist exploiters in the midst of the civil war itself, the Stalinists led the forces of bourgeois counterrevolution. “The hounding of ‘Trotskyists,’ POUMists, revolutionary anarchists and left Socialists; the filthy slander; the false documents; the tortures in Stalinist prisons; the murders from ambush—without all this the bourgeois regime under the republican flag could not have lasted even two months. The GPU proved to be the master of the situation only because it defended the interests of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat more consistently than the others, i.e., with the greatest baseness and bloodthirstiness.”

After Stalinism had betrayed the revolution, Ibarruri and other CP leaders made their way to exile in Moscow. Ibarruri spent nearly 40 years in the Soviet Union, returning to Spain only in 1977, at the age of 81, two years after the death of Franco. After her decades of political experience, she remained an unreconstructed admirer of Stalin, telling an interviewer as late as 1983 that Stalin was the most “impressive” of the leaders she had met during her life.

Meanwhile, the Spanish Stalinists had pioneered the development of the rightwing “Eurocommunist” trend, taking the opportunist policies of Stalinism to their logical conclusion and more and more abandoning even any verbal professions of Marxism. These “Euro-Stalinists” were sometimes embarrassed by Ibarruri’s steadfast defense of the Stalinist past, but there were no fundamental differences on the essential basis of Stalinism—its repudiation of revolutionary struggle and its defense of the doctrine of “socialism in a single country.” Ibarruri remained a titular leader of the Spanish CP, and a representative in parliament for a number of years.

In their obituary notices, the New York Times and other leading journals of bourgeois opinion have gone out of their way to pay tribute to La Pasionaria as a historical figure and for her supposedly “indomitable stand” during the civil war. If these spokesmen of imperialism tactfully pass over Ibarruri’s role in the bloody crimes against the working class, it is not because they have forgotten them. On the contrary, they are grateful for the role of Stalinism as the executioner of revolutionists. The death of Ibarruri also coincides with increasingly open collaboration of Moscow and Washington against the working class in the USSR, the United States and internationally.