In only a few weeks it would have been 40 years ago when I first met Pierre Broué. I entered the Institute of Political Studies at Grenoble University not knowing anyone, and having to choose a teacher I selected him because he was offering also an optional course on the History of the Soviet Union. My major was economics, but I had come to the Institute in an effort to understand my own history. This Professor, in my opinion, would give me the best introduction for what I was looking for.
His performance in the classroom was amazing. He did not come to simply read from prepared notes. He invited us to join him for a moment of collective intellectual creativity. For me Broué's history courses were living moments of thought in action. He was always totally engaged in what he was explaining, in a controlled and serious voice. This voice I shall never forget -colored at time by his native Ardèche accent, with an incomparable resonance. In the instant of a demi-pause, he would look inquisitively at his listeners, then continue. He was at his best, in my opinion, when teaching the Russian revolution. On this subject his considerable evocative powers were nothing less than captivating : he described the taking of the Winter Palace as if he had participated. We had before our eyes not only Broué, but the dramatic images of Eisenstein and the spirit of Maïakovski! It was as if the revolution had affected the auditorium which was transformed by the same theater of history!
Students came to his courses to listen to him as much as to learn. Seated behind the large table which filled the front of the auditorium, he placed before him a few folded sheets of notes and a watch with a gold metallic wrist band. These were his instruments of navigation. On this half-sheet format he traced his line of argumentation in a tight small handwriting - this was his roadmap for intellectual travel. He glanced at it from time to time, no doubt to emphasis a particular point, but it was his mind which brought forth the words at every moment. Like the great chefs d'orchestre who direct without looking at the sheet music laid out before them. For two hours, without a microphone, he could hold in suspension the entire auditorium, and during the short break groups of students would come to surround him with questions and comments on what he had said.
The "Broué method" : the established facts, presented in all their contradictory complexity, a thorough chronology scrupulously respected, the search for causal relationships. In his courses, in his books and in his many articles this trilogy is always present. In fact, this is the same method that Leon Trotsky adopted to express his own thoughts. In a word, the history courses of Broué provided a lively demonstration of the method of dialectic materialism and its explanatory powers in specific scientific investigations. Naturally, it was not until much later that I understood the full importance of this method.
In this manner Broué offered us, without evading any questions, an understanding of what largely determined our own history as young Europeans born after the Second World War. And basically what concerned us the most, even if it was not clearly formulated at the time, was the understanding of the link between the October Revolution and rejection socialism which all Stalinist regimes represent. In his characteristic manner -calm and methodical, without ideological gibberish empty rhetoric (without "isms") Broué tried indefatigably to provide us with the keys necessary to understand Berlin 1953, Budapest and Warsaw 1956, and the soon approaching Prague spring of 1968. But these keys were also the instruments that would provide us, the new generation, with the means necessary to realize the transformation of society that we so much wanted for our own countries.
In this way, in an ostensibly simple but inescapable manner, Professor Pierre Broué lead us implicitly to confront a Choice. It was a choice he himself had confronted when he was a high school student at Privas, when he decided to join the Resistance Movement against the Nazi occupation and the Vichy government. As he had done in his youth, many of us understood that we were going to take up the same struggle which had begun with the head of Red Army after the October Revolution.
Like youth everywhere we were insatiable, we wanted to know more. He helped the more politically advanced students establish The Circle of Marxist Studies at Grenoble. We decided together what questions to debate, and what issues to analyze. The meetings were held in the back room of café, and everyone interested in the subject of the day was invited to attend. Mostly students, but also young workers would attend. The meetings took place on Wednesday evenings, and the room was quickly filled. Discussions were totally open and friendly.
In 1968 came the moment when our long compaignship would unite us even more closely. We were no longer professors or students, but instead actors engaged with millions of other men and women in a general strike. For the first time we could truly see and feel what Marx meant in the famous quote from the Communist Manifesto: "The emancipation of workers will be the work of workers themselves."
We were at the center of the irruption, but comrade Broué had already given us the keys to understand what was happening from the very first day of the general strike. I was impressed by the ease with which he always spoke, whether to a crowd of thousands of demonstrators or to an administrator in his office. He was the first to impress me with the fact that in situations such as May-June 1968 the self-assurance that one possesses can only come from a sincere effort to express in one's own words the will of thousands for whom one was at that moment only the spokesperson..
That was the way in which a new generation of militants was educated, in the proper sense of this term.
At this instant, upon his unexpected departure, it is not materially possible for me to develop this evocation of Pierre. But I would like to conclude this homage with the words of a woman who was never a Trotskyist, but who was his student and who wrote about his great passion: "He knew how to give life to history; now History must give life to him."
By way of conclusion, I would like to leave the last word to Pierre, this speech which, like that of Jean Jaures's, enlightened, scolded, and inspired. It is from the conclusion of his History of the Communist International, 1919-1943, written in the spring of 1997. This citation is long, but a moment of meditation is not forbidden Marxists.
"People of this century's end are concluding their great millenary breath with an exhale which is going to give space for an inhale. With all that which accompanies it, like momentum, creativity, imagination, collective ambition, solidarity, the desire for individual and collective independence, all that in a gigantic commotion which will signify the return of history, a history which will never end.
In this history without end and probably with countless Internationals, humankind will copy no model, but it will continue to mount on the shoulders of the generations which have preceded it, in order to open paths, both old and new, for their children. Mankind will need to understand this prehistory which we have attempted to reconstruct, as much as it will need to understand the history we are now living, and which runs through our fingers like Jacques Prévert's "clay of dead people". It will be the foundation of their future. To repeat a well-worn expression, this book is dedicated to the honor of those who would like to storm heaven but who have fallen into the hands of the gravediggers. Tomorrow will be another day. It will begin a tiny bit earlier and be a little bit more clear than yesterday.
"When mankind will live from love
There will be no more misery
Soldiers will be troubadours
But we, we will be dead, my brother"
"It is the living and the dead who will sing this, with other songs still more beautiful, in the infinity of time and in the spiral of history that they have made, that they are making and that they will make.
"I know that my readers are now following and will continue to follow, by taking support from this work, the ultimate advice Antoine Thibault gave from his death bed to his nephew, Jean-Paul, as was recounted by Albert Camus : "Always advance in the midst of everyone, on the same path where, in the obscurity of the species, crowds of men, for centuries, have staggered toward an inconceivable future."Farewell Pierre.