More than just a statue

By Clara Castrillo

‘La Pasionaria’, was created by Liverpudlian sculptor Arthur Dooley in 1977, honouring the international symbol for resistance and revolutionary women, Dolores Ibarruri. The statue is dedicated to the 2100 men and women who volunteered in the International Brigades and defended democracy and freedom against the Fascist front in the Spanish Civil War, from 1936-1939, 65 of which came from Glasgow.

Like many women in this historical time, Ibarruri was often criticised as being immoral, sacrilegious and deviant for speaking out and being active in public life, however, her passion and strength inspired many men and women, in Spain and abroad, to join the ranks against fascism and resist Franco. In this way, Ibarruri challenged women’s roles in early 20th Century society, as she encouraged women to question marriage, poverty, capitalism and fascism and all the other oppressive institutions that confined women and their aspirations. 

Many of the Pasionaria’s speeches during the war stressed women’s active role in the resistance, and it was speeches like these that reached Ethel MacDonald in Motherwell, and motivated her to join the International Brigades as a correspondent, and defend democracy so far away from home. Like Ibarruri, MacDonald also came from a working-class family, in an urban and industrialised area, and had strong affiliations with socialist, communist and anarchist parties. Joining the International Brigade for the men and women who volunteered, was a way of escaping their poverty and making a stand for what they believed in, but Ibarruri made it mean so much more. In her farewell speech to the brigades in 1938, Ibarruri thanked them for their “limitless generosity” and the “heroic example of the solidarity and universality of democracy” their actions in the Civil War represented. Ibarruri now recognised these volunteers as legendary, historical figures, who shall not be forgotten- a truth that, no doubt, was more emboldening to the women volunteers, who had defied gender roles as much as their class status. 

Ibarruri led the way for women everywhere, invading “male territory”. She became vice-president of Las Cortes (the Spanish legislative chambers) during the Civil War, and ambassador for the Republic abroad. She was fearless in her negotiations and was unmatched in boosting morale and inspiring fighters with her famous slogan “No Pasarán!” (“they shall not pass”). Relentless in her activism, Ibarruri returned from exile in Moscow in 1977 and was re-elected as a deputy to ‘las Cortes, and remained involved in Spanish politics until she died in 1989. Clearly her accomplishments in life were monumental in themselves, but La Pasionaria did much more to change the agenda for women. She fought hard for women to become self-realized, and for their contributions to society to be valued and acknowledged.  Ibarruri rejected the role most women eventually found themselves in; “the old lady who doesn’t understand” and instead saluted the militiawomen in the front line, and the Scottish anarchist correspondent who calls for action against fascism and an end to class society.  

More than 40 years after her statue was unveiled, La Pasionaria’s legacy lives on, arms reaching into the sky, feet firmly on the ground, Dolores Ibarruri’s words “better to die on your feet than live forever on your knees” epitomize the strong, revolutionary woman she was, and her legacy ensures that women will not be devalued as crazy old women anymore.