"It is better to die on your feet than lies on your knees." - "La Pasionaria," Madrid, July 1936.

The big Russian limousine with curtained wiodows into a parking space on Gorky Street in downtown Moscow one afternoon last week. Sitting ramrod straight in the back, her chiseled features as severe as her plain black [WORD ILLEGIBLE] was the same "La Pasionaria" - Dolenses Tbarruri - who rallied Spanish Loyalists on the eve of the Civil War with her fiery declarations.

She is 81 now and seeing her unexpectedly though unmistakably in the half light of the enclosed car is haunting like coming upon a living relic, a figure long since consigned to legend.

Yet Ibarruri, who fled to Moscow in 1939 when her Loyalists were detented by Gen. Francisco Franco's Nationalists, may yet again stir the emotions of Spaniards. She is nominally at least still president of Spain's Communist Party and now that the party has been granted legal status by the new leadership in Madrid, Ibarruri wants to go home.

With the enmities of the past at last being laid to rest, she could merely get on a plane and return. But Ibarruri is waiting for an officially approved visa as a symbolic affirmation that her exile is over. The document is expected any day, and Ibarruri acquaintances say, is preparing to depart.

The role she will actually play in Spanish politics is not clear. Ibarruri's dogmatic orthodoxy and her commitment to the Soviet's Union that gave her and thousands of other Spanish Communists refuge, set her somewhat apart from Santiago Carrillo, the party's general secretary. He is considered as the staunchest of Euro-Communists, advocating independence from the Kremlin and adherence to democratic institutions.

Although Ibarruri tells visitors that she has no differences with Carrillo and actually chose him for the job, Spanish sources here say that "La Pasionaria's influence will be a good deal less than she expects. Her stature, they say, derives from history and is not suited to current problems.

She opposes the Spanish monarchy on principle, is openly contemptuous of leading centrist and right-wing politicians and insists that Euro-Communist or not, the guiding doctrines of "revolutionary strategy" must be those of Lenin. These are far more radical than those of her party comrades who really run its affairs.

But to dismiss "La Pasionaria" altogether would be ignore the commanding presence that earned her that title so long ago and that, Spaniards say, would be a mistake.

Born in 1895, the eighth of 11 children in a family of Basque miners, she set out to be a teacher. Poverty, however, forced her to work instead of study and she became a seamstress at 15. Later she was a household cook. From devout Catholicism she gradually converted to communism and became a member of the party in 1920.

Although jailed several times over the next decade, she married and had six children. Four died young including one son who fought for the Soviet army in World War II and was killed in the battle of Stalingrad. "The more I learned about socialism," she once told an interviewer, "the more reconciled I was to life which I no longer saw as a swamp but as a battlefield."

After the overthrow of the monarchy in 1931, Ibarruri became one of 16 Communist deputies in the Republican legislature and gained her reputation for oratorical presuasiveness. A stunning figure, dressed then as now in black, her impact was greatest in the turnultuous period just before the Civil War and until the cause was lost three years later.

It was in a broadcast on a summer night in 1936, the eve of the war, that Ibarruri called on the Spanish people to accept death over subjugation. Her challenge to the France armies was "no passaran" - they shall or pass. She formed a brigade of female volunteers to fight with the men on the Madrid front.

In the spring of 1938, Ibarruri led a might procession through blacked out and battled streets in Barcelons to protest rumors that the Republic's minister of defense wanted to end the war. The Socialist prime minister, Juan Negrin, was convinced an another round of battles followed.

With Frances triumphant, Ibarruri fled by air to exile in the Soviet Union. Once there were 20,000 Spanish Communists and leftists here but the number has dwindled. Most of the approximately 1,500 who remain are expected to leave for Spain over the next few months. This could pose a security problem for the Spanish government since some of the exiles have close ties to the KGB, the Soviet secret police.

From exile Ibarruri continued her political activities, speaking in program broadcast by Radio Moscow to Spain and attending international Communist meetings. In the 1960s she went to Cuba, and reportedly "La Pasionaria" was influential in persuading Fidel Castro to stay in the Soviet camp when his relations with Moscow were strained.

As the head of a foreign Communist party, Ibarruri received privilages from the Soviets. She lives in a spacious apartment near the center of the city with her long time secretary and companion, Irene Falcon. Her needs are met, including a limousine of the type usually reserved for Soviet Central Committee members.

Ramon Pedrous, Moscow correspondent of the Madrid newspaper ABC met with Ibarruri recently for the only interview she has granted since her decision to go home. He found her in good spirits and surprisingly strong, given her age and a recent stay in a sanitorium. She sipped black coffee and answered questions decisively and at times, he said, with the impassioned eloquence that once made her so formidable.

The left will at last prevail in Spain, she said, and "La Pasionaria" will take her rightful place in that victory.