In Memory of Pierre Broué (1926-2005)

Pierre Broué, French historian, Trotskyist militant, and editor of the Cahiers Leon Trotsky, passed away in the early hours of Wednesday morning. His loss will be mourned by working class militants and revolutionaries everywhere.

In Spanish: En memoria de Pierre Broué (1926-2005)

Pierre Broué, French historian, Trotskyist militant, and editor of the Cahiers Leon Trotsky, passed away in the early hours of Wednesday morning. His loss will be mourned by working class militants and revolutionaries everywhere.

Pierre Broué was internationally renowned as a historian of the international revolutionary movement. For 45 years he was active in Trotskyist politics in France and internationally. He wrote important works on the Bolshevik party, the German Revolution and the Spanish Revolution. He edited and prefaced an authoritative French edition of Trotsky's post-1928 writings, and was at the centre of Trotsky research in recent decades.

His histories of the Bolshevik Party, the Communist International, the Spanish Revolution, and above all his recent Life of Trotsky have been widely admired. This biography (Trotsky, Pierre Broué, Fayard, 1988) is a very healthy antidote to the superficial and pretentious philistinism of Isaac Deutscher. His latest book on the Left Opposition was yet another outstanding book by this celebrated Trotskyist writer. Tragically, it was to be his last.

However, Pierre Broué was not just an intellectual, somebody who wrote books for universtities and commented on events from the the comfort of his study. He was an active and militant revolutionary who dedicated his life to the fight for international socialism. In his youth, Pierre joined the French Resistance to fight against the Nazi occupation of France. He joined the Communist Party, but soon came into collision with the Stalinist leadership.

He later became a militant of the Fourth International and remained a dedicated Trotskyist for the rest of his life. He never wavered in his revolutionary belief in the socialist future of humanity. The day after his death, his close collaborator, friend and comrade, Jean-Pierre Juy wrote to tell me that he retained this revolutionary fervour right to the end.

I only got to know Pierre in the last phase of his life, when he was already engaged in his last battle – a life and death battle against cancer. But I was very well acquainted with his work and ideas, mainly through our mutual friend Seva [Esteban] Volkov, Trotsky’s grandson. Seva Volkov was a close friend of Pierre, for whom he had a boundless admiration and respect. Many years ago Pierre encouraged Seva to participate more actively in politics. He told me that this was one of the things he was most proud of. He was delighted to read the reports of Seva’s visit to the congress of the Struggle in Pakistan and at the conference of the International Marxist Tendency in 2003.

It was in 2003 that I visited Pierre when he was convalescing in the picturesque foothills of the French Alps. I found him lively and alert, with a sharp and very Gallic sense of humour. His revolutionary spirit shines through in every sentence. He was not very interested in the picturesque scenery. His mind was elsewhere: with the world revolution. He was like a tiger trapped in a cage, or rather an old warhorse, champing at the bit and straining to get back into battle.

I asked him if he was doing any writing. He shrugged his shoulders with a gesture of impatience. "How can I write in this place? I do not have my books. I want to get out of here and get back to my library!" Evidently, the separation from his books was the worst form of torture for Pierre.

Pierre Broué and Alan Woods. Photo by Greg Oxley

The visit, on which I was accompanied by Greg Oxley, the editor of La Riposte, had very important results. Pierre Broué agreed enthusiatically to collaborate with our Trotsky Project, which has started to republish the works of Leon Trotsky. He told us: "The decision taken by In Defence of Marxism to republish the writings of Trotsky is therefore an excellent initiative, to which I give my wholehearted support. The youth must rediscover the extraordinary revolutionary traditions of the past."

I asked him how he came into contact with our tendency. He replied:

"When I read your material on the website, and on the website of La Riposte, I realised that we should have been in contact and that we should have been working together for a long time. I believe we are on the same wavelength politically. In terms of political analysis and theory, your tendency stands way above all the others. Unfortunately, now that we are finally meeting, I am rather ill, as you can see. I must get well as soon as I can. This is a new beginning for me in many ways."

Since then I have been in regular contact with Pierre by telephone and email. Despite his illness, he showed a stubborn determination (like all revolutionaries, he was a very stubborn man!). He sent us articles and wrote an introduction to the new edition of Not Guilty!, the summing up of the Dewey Commision on the Moscow Trials. He constantly apologised for not being able to write more and promised to do so as soon as his health permitted.

Pierre was a man of strong convictions. After breaking with the Lambertist tendency, he pursued an independent road, while consistently defending the ideas of revolutionary Marxism and internationalism – that is Trotskyism. He clearly understood the need for Marxists to orient to the mass organizations of the working class and to that end worked with left-wing elements in the French Socialist Party. No doubt some of them will try to claim that they have inherited the mantle of Pierre Broué, as will assorted sectarians and intellectual eunuchs, whose interest in Marxism extends no further than the university seminar. But the real Pierre Broué was not a left reformist, sectarian, or middle class academic.

Anyone who knew Pierre in the last period of his life knows perfectly well where his sympathies lay. Ever since he came into contact with the International Marxist Tendency and especially the web site, he made no secret of his admiration for our tendency. Whenever we discussed, he would always speak as a member of the organization. He would always talk about "us" – what plans we had, what was our perspective on … etc. He told me about a visit he had from some Argentinian Trotskyists (from the PTS, I think): "They seem to be good people," he said. "We should try to win them."

He followed the site very carefully every day and commented on it enthusiastically. He was particularly enthusiastic about our successes in Pakistan and above all about the work of our tendency in Venezuela. He poured scorn on the ultraleft groups for their incapacity to understand the Venezuelan revolution and their sectarian attitude to Chavez. He was delighted to read the report of my meeting with Chavez, whom he regarded as a sincere revolutionary. He told me on several occasions that he considered ours to be the only correct methods of work – methods that serve to connect the ideas of revolutionary Marxism with the real movement of the masses.

Pierre’s identification with our tendency caused him a few problems. He told me several times that he was having trouble with some of his old friends and comrades who were not at all happy about his relations with us. This did not worry Pierre in the slightest degree. "They are always ringing me up to complain," he told me. "They say: ‘What are you doing with the Grantists? They are very bad people!’" To which Pierre would answer: "You say they are bad people, but I do not see any bad people, only good comrades!"

As one of the foremost experts in the world on the history and political evolution of the Fourth International, Pierre had not the slightest doubt about the important role of comrade Ted Grant. He said that the history of the Fourth International would have been entirely different if it had accepted the positions defended by Ted and the British RCP. He had a very great respect and admiration for Ted. On the occasion of Ted Grant’s ninetieth birthday, Pierre said:

"Ted Grant is known to me for many years, of course. As we say in France, he seems to have been around since the days of Clovis [a medieval French monarch]! Unfortunately, I do not believe we have ever met, but we had a mutual friend in Raoul, who was a longstanding militant in the Trotskyist movement in France. He often spoke to me of Ted, and held him in very high esteem. However, for some reason, perhaps for fear of being accused of ‘factionalism’ or whatever - that's the way things happen in the organisation to which we both belonged at that time - he never showed me any of Ted's written material."

"Regrettably, I didn't make the effort to get in touch with him at the time. Only in the last few years I have been reading his material, which I found very interesting. Anyway, I am now very much looking forward to working together with your tendency. We must discuss politics, and methods of work, of course, and try to arrive at the fullest agreement. I believe this is quite possible."

Pierre sent a touching message to Ted Grant:

"Ted, you were always a fighter. You have been struggling for many years. You have always defended revolutionary ideas. This was very important work, and you accomplished a great deal. At ninety years old, you are not a young man any more, but I think I might yet be attending your 100th birthday party!"

Tragically, this meeting will now never take place. Pierre Broué is no longer with us. But his ideas and writings remain, a rich and undying source of inspiration to the younger generation of revolutionary class fighters of all countries.

In conclusion, I would like to reproduce the message that Pierre Broué sent to the world congress of the International Marxist Tendency held in Barcelona last year:

"To you, my friends and comrades, meeting in the second greatest city of the European working class after Petrograd in order to prepare a shining future, I send my affection and admiration for your work in the last century and the beginning of the new one.

"You are one of the best instruments of humanity, and possibly the best.

"Thank you for existing, for fighting and for providing help for all the class fighters of the world."

"Pierre Broué."

I write these lines from Barcelona, where a new conference has registered new and exciting strides forward for the Marxist Tendency on a world scale. Over two hundred class fighters from all over the world have once again assembled to defend the ideas that comrade Pierre Broué fought for all his life. This morning I made a brief homage to Pierre Broué and a minute’s silence was held to mourn his death and celebrate his life. As long as these forces exist, as long as we live, breathe and fight, Pierre Broué will never die.

We take our farewell from a great Marxist revolutionary:

Comrade Pierre,

Thank you for having existed, for fighting and for providing help for all the class fighters of the world.

Barcelona, 29th July, 2005.