A short biography of the Spanish anarchist Lola Iturbe, fighter for women's liberation
“All those companeros who appear so radical in the cafes, the union meetings and even the affinity groups, seem suddenly to lose their habit of defender of the liberation of women as soon as they pass through the door of their home. They behave with their companeras like ordinary “husbands”. Lola Iturbe, in Terra y Libertad, April 1935.
Dolores “Lola” Iturbe Arizcuren was born on 1st August 1902. Her mother, Micaela, of Basque origin, had been abandoned by her boyfriend after becoming pregnant (she had worked as a maid from the age of eight, standing on a chair to help with the cooking). As a result she was disowned by her family. She was forced to move from her home town of Monreal in Navarre to Barcelona where Lola was born.
Micaela through economic necessity was forced to give her daughter to a Valencian couple living in the city. This family soon moved back to Cerda in Valencia. When she was very small she fractured her ankle as a result of a fall and a limp remained with her all her life.
Micaela came to Cerda to reclaim her daughter who was now seven years old. Lola had not realised that she had another mother. The move to Barcelona was difficult or her with the contrast between a quiet provincial town and the big city. In Barcelona Lola and her mother worked for the wealthy Posenti family, caring for an asthmatic daughter with Lola sleeping in her room. Lola also worked as a cook in the household. It appears the family were quite kind to Lola, taking her with them on visits and to the theatre. When Senor Posenti went bankrupt, Micaela opened a pension. As well as helping with tasks at the pension, Lola started working as a seamstress rom the age of nine years.
The pension had an important role in Lola’s political development as many anarchist workers lodged there and she was first introduced to advanced political ideas there.
In 1916 at the age of fourteen Lola started work in a factory making trousers. Her best friend there was Conchita, later to be the companera of the anarchist militant Miguel Garcia Vivancos. Together they joined the garment workers union of the Confederacion Nacional de Trabajo (CNT) with the encouragement of the anarchist Juan Manent. The pension became a hiding place for anarchists fleeing persecution in Badalona. Lola began to be involved in solidarity work for imprisoned anarchists, providing food for them and taking care of their dirty clothes, standing on pavements and shouting encouragement to passing corteges of prisoners.
Lola educated herself through her own efforts. In the early 1920s she joined the anarchist affinity group Germen, where she was the only female member. There she met Juan Manuel Molina, nicknamed Juanel, and Faustino Vidal. She formed a relationship with the latter.
They had a daughter, Aurora, in 1923. These were tougher years than usual for Lola as Faustino had contracted tuberculosis of the throat and he died in 1924. She attended the condemned anarchists Juan Montejo and José Llacer in their cell in the early hours of November 10th, 1924, shortly before their execution for an attack on a barracks at Vera del Bidasoa. A few months later she established a relationship with Juanel. They moved to Granollers outside Barcelona.
With the Primo de Rivera dictatorship came increasing persecution against the anarchist movement. In 1926 Lola and Juanel were forced to cross the Pyrenees to France with Aurora and a child born of their union, Helenio. They eventually settled in Paris until Juanel was expelled and escorted to the Belgian border. The couple then reunited in Brussels.
With the fall of the dictatorship they returned to Barcelona at the beginning of 1930. In 1932 Juanel was imprisoned for practically the whole year and Loa had to singlehandedly take care of the children and her mother. In 1933 Lola began to write for the libertarian weekly paper Tierra y Libertad, the voice of the Federacion Anarquista Iberica (FAI) under the pseudonyms of Kyra Kyralina and of Kiralina (Kyra Kyralina featured in the novel of the same name by the Romanian proletarian novelist Panait Istrati, the “Gorki of the Balkans”). She also used the nom de plume of Libertad when writing articles. She debuted as a speaker on November 16th, 1933 at a rally organised by Tierra y Libertad on behalf of the FAI with Francisco Ascaso, Buenaventura Durruti, Alejandro Gilabert, Vicente Pérez and Domingo Germinal, at the Palace of Decorative Arts in Barcelona to which a crowd comes, in which he begins by saying: “Here is a magnificent and exciting act, in whose splendour and enthusiasm the voice of women workers and anarchists could not be lacking”.
She supported the uprisings of 1933 and 1934 and harboured a young woman from the general strike in Saragossa. A bronchial condition toward the end of 1935 led her to move to Jumilla, Juanel’s hometown, where she convalesced.
With the Francoist coup Lola joined the editorial board of Solidaridad Obrera, the paper of the Catalan CNT. She wrote the first leaflets calling for resistance to the coup in Barcelona, some of which were distributed from airplanes. She also took part in the occupation of the offices of the bosses’ organisations. She also cared for the wounded at the offices of the land and maritime transport workers union of the CNT. She soaked a copy of Tierra y Libertad in the blood of the fallen anarchist Francisco Ascaso and kept it for months.
She subsequently worked in the field hospitals during the military campaigns and acted as correspondent at the front for Tierra y Libertad, Mujeres Libres and Tiemps Nuevos (New Times). She also participated in the Comité de Milicias Antifascistas (Committee of Antifascist Militias). After the May Days of 1937, Lola joined the juridical section of the CNT and gained the release of several CNT and POUM members from Stalinist jails.
She was one of the founders of the libertarian women’s movement Mujeres Libres. She wrote for its paper of the same name under the name of Kiralina. She participated in the creation of the Casa de la Dona Treballadora (House of the Working Woman) and in the campaign by Mujeres Libres to rehabilitate prostitutes with the Liberatorios de Prosticucion.
She accompanied Emma Goldman on her visit to the front in summer of 1938. She was described by Goldman as a “talented and ardent feminist”.
With the collapse of the Republic, she once more crossed the Pyrenees and settled in the Ariege region. She later managed to meet up with Juanel at Nimes. Here during the Nazi occupation, she painstakingly sought to reconstruct the Spanish libertarian movement together with Juanel.
At the end of the war Lola and Juanel moved to Toulouse, where Lola worked as a trousers maker once more. Juanel returned to Spain to take part in underground activity in 19946, and he was subsequently arrested after a raid by 80 members of the CNT, and sentenced to 15 years in prison. The couple reunited in Toulouse when Juanel was released in 1952.
Lola continued to be active in the CNT and the Mujeres Libres in exile. Lola wrote the book Women in the Social Struggle: The Civil War in Spain in 1974 which was published in Mexico and subsequently reprinted in Barcelona in 2004 and Tenerife in 2006. She read from her book at the exhibition-conference Sous le Signe de l'Année Internationale de la Femme. Grande Exposition du Livre (Français-Espagnol), held at the Maison de l'Europe in Lyon, on November 8th 1975.
With the death of Franco, Lola returned to Spain for the first time since 1939, with her only identity paper that of her corresponent’s card for Tierra y Libertad, signed by Juan Garcia Oliver! She and Juanel settled in La Verneda in Barcelona. She continued to be active in the CNT, and then in the CNT-Renovado which became the CGT.
She featured in the documentary film De Toda La Vida made in 1986 by Lisa Berger and Carol Mazer on the Mujeres Libres.
After the death of Juanel on September 20th 1984 she spent more time in the Asturias with Ramon Alvarez (Ramonin) with whom she had a close relationship.
She died on 5th January 1990 in Gijon. She was buried in Barcelona next to her beloved Juanel two days later.
She was a prolific writer and among her works were the series Heroic Women which appeared in both Tierra y Libertad and Mujeres Libres in 1937, Our Fighters (Mujeres Libres, 1937), Women in the Spanish Libertarian Movement (1959), Women in that distant July (1956), Women of the CNT in Spain (1966). On the centenary of her birth Antonia Fontanillas and Sonya Torres published the book Lola Iturbe: Life and Ideals of An Anarchist Fighter, which includes some of Lola’s own memoirs as well as some of her articles.