Born into a military family, he broke with family tradition by doing teaching studies and subsequently obtaining a degree in history at the University of Barcelona. Working as a teacher, in 1972, he joined the clandestine Communist Party of Spain (PCE) and five years later he became a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Andalusia (PCA).
In 1979, he was elected as Mayor of Córdoba with a clear majority in the first municipal elections of the current democracy, which thus acquired the distinction of being the first provincial capital governed by Communists since the Second Republic. His administration overcame the misgivings felt by many, contributing to the establishment of democratic normality and earning him appreciation as a leader in his party. He was reelected in 1983, but in 1986 he resigned, becoming the new United Left candidate for the regional government (Junta de Andalucía). In these elections the coalition would obtain the 17.91% of the votes. In February 1988 he was elected as secretary general of the PCE, and the following year he became the leader of IU, gaining a seat in Congress in the same year.
He was also elected Congress Member and spokesman of the parliamentary group of United Left in the Congress in 1993 and 1996, the years when IU had better than average electoral results. He advocated a political program for United Left based on the two shores theory, consisting of the establishment of differences between, on the one hand, the People's Party and the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, and, on the other, the United Left. He also said that pacts with PSOE should be established under programmatic single agreements, not systematically (a conception expressed in his well-known motto programa, programa, programa).
After a third cardiovascular problem at the end of 1999 he relinquished his candidacy for chairman in the 2000 elections to Francisco Frutos on health grounds. Likewise, he was relieved as general secretary of the PCE by Francisco Frutos. In an interview in 2004, however, he said the main reason had been dissatisfaction about the political agenda of IU. In the VI Assembly of United Left, in October of that same year, he was replaced as General Coordinator by Gaspar Llamazares.
Under his leadership, United Left defined their political program and reached what was, at the time, their best electoral results in their history.
His son Julio Anguita Parrado was one of the two Spanish journalists who died in Iraq during the Anglo-American invasion in 2003, in his case under Iraqi fire. On receiving the news of his death during an event in support of a Third Republic he said: "It was an Iraqi missile but it doesn't matter, the only thing I can say is that I will come again some other time and I will keep fighting for the Third Republic. Damned be the wars and the scoundrels that support them" ("Ha sido un misil iraquí, pero es igual, lo único que puedo decir es que vendré en otra ocasión y seguiré combatiendo por la tercera república. Malditas sean las guerras y los canallas que las apoyan"). This last phrase was heavily used by demonstrators in protests against the war in Iraq.
After his first book Corazón Rojo (Red Heart, 2005) where he testifies over his life after the cardiovascular problems, he published in 2007 the Prologue of the book La Globalización Neoliberal y sus repercusiones en la educación (The Neoliberal Globalization and its impact in the education) from the University teacher and researcher Enrique Díez, and in 2008 he published El Tiempo y la Memoria (Time and Memory), written in collaboration with the Cordoban journalist and writer Rafael Martínez Simancas where he manifests his will to keep fighting