In Memoriam: Pierre Broué

Pierre Broué,
by Olivia Gall

Translation, Suzi Weissman

Saturday, 30 July 2005

On Tuesday July 26 Pierre Broué died in Grenoble, France, at 79 years of age. The history of his life and the large work he left behind constitute a profound meditation on the grandeur of the revolutions of the 20th Century – as well as the sequel of deception that they have left to us.

Pierre Broué was born in 1926 in the southeast of France to a family of strongly republican government employees. As an adolescent, Broué began to work with the French strikers of 1936 and with the anti-Franco combatants. Thanks to his junior high school teacher Elye Reynier, Broué found his other vocation: History. Broué joined the French Communist Party Youth, though he didn’t last long there – he and a group of friends were expelled because they wanted to organize a campaign of ‘internationalist’ agitation among the soldiers of the Wehrmacht. The expelled were accused of being ‘Trotskyists,’ an accusation which carried a violent sense that they still didn’t understand, but it caused them to seek out -- right and left -- the persecuted revolutionaries who called themselves followers of Trotsky, at whose side they would be politically active for many years. (See Le Monde 27/07/2005)

At the same time, Pierre studied the preparatory program of Literature in order to enter the Ecole Normale Supérieure – the highest level graduate and postgraduate French institution -- which he later left as Doctor of Letters. An erudite Parisian academic, Broué moved to the alpine city of Grenoble in the middle of the 60s, where he was named Full Professor at the Institute of Political Studies. I had the honor of being one of the many students who came from diverse latitudes to work under his direction. We learned much from his system of work, which combined theory and the methodology of research in contemporary political history with an almost detective-like imaginative subtlety to unravel the history of the left in the twentieth century.

A glance at the essential of his work takes us to 1961 when he co-authored The Revolution and The Civil War in Spain (published by Faber) with Emile Témime, one of the first studies that cracked the legend of the Anti-Fascist unity and brought to light the hunt that the Spanish revolutionaries suffered at the hands of the men of Stalin and the Comintern. In 1963, in The Bolshevik Party, Broué described the political genealogy of Stalinism, with the purpose of better understanding why and how the Party of Lenin ended up massacring almost the entire generation of October. In 1977 Broué founded the Institut Léon Trotsky, which has edited 27 volumes of the complete works of Trotsky and 79 issues of Cahiers León Trotsky, which have published numerous studies about the international revolutionary movement.

In 1978 Pierre Broué edited 1940, l’Assassinat de Trotsky, a meticulous investigation that shows everything Stalin did not only to eliminate him but also to try to discredit him for posterity. In 1988, Fayard published Broué’s monumental Trotski, the biography that took no less than thirty years of his life. In 1990 he published La question chinoise, dans l’internationale communiste, 1926-1927. In 1993 he wrote León Sédov, fils de Trotsky, victime de Staline, which shows how Lev Sedov, Trotsky’s oldest son and his principal collaborator, died in Paris on February 16, 1938, in suspicious circumstances after a successful operation for peritonitis became mysteriously ‘complicated’ in a clinic run by white Russian doctors. Sedov had been taken there by a man of confidence, the Russian Zborowski (alias Etienne) who would be identified in the United States by the FBI in the 1950s as a Russian spy of the Soviet secret services (GPU). In 1996 Rakovsky ou La Révolution dans tous les pays was brought out by Fayard, in which Broué looks again at the fascinating life and tragic death of Khristian Georgievitch Rakovsky, the key man of Bolshevism and the Comintern. Rakovsky was arrested in 1937. At that time he was already one of the outstanding, most distinguished leaders of the Left Opposition. In 1941 he was shot by the troops of the elite services of the GPU, the NKVD. As he was already considered highly dangerous and because he never “confessed” thanks to his will of iron, the body of Rakovsky was “stripped, cut into various pieces that were dispersed so that in the end his remains could not be found nor recovered in any place.” (Broué, 1996: 384.) In 1997 Pierre published the Histoire de l’Internationale Communiste (Fayard), a detailed study of the Comintern that puts in the open its tragic submission to the aims of the Soviet State. In the last months of his life, his children have told me, he finished his autobiography which today is in the hands of his editor.

When the Trotsky archives were opened in January of 1980, as stipulated by Trotsky when he deposited them at Harvard University, Broué was one of the first to penetrate their secrets. He was aided by Jean Van Heijenoort, Trotsky’s secretary from 1931-1939, who declared Broué to be the principal heir of his own unusual and trustworthy memory concerning the Left Opposition’s history. During the years of perestroika when the archives of the CPSU and the Comintern were opened, Broué, who read and spoke at least six languages including Russian, arrived in Moscow to submerse himself in the study of these archives which have led several historians to rewrite important chapters of Soviet history.

In 2003 some of Broué’s colleagues and friends saw him for the last time in Mexico, this land that he loved so much. He came to participate in the documentary about Trotsky in Mexico that the videographer Adolfo García Videla is about to bring out.

As the editors of the journal D&S write, we will always remember Pierre for his untiring energy and his unshakeable commitment with “historical precision to straighten out the clichés, to destroy the slanders, to restore the facts. His memory, his encyclopedic knowledge, his concern with being informed about all world political events and his immense capacity for work made him an extremely seductive and invigorating being, always vigilant, always preoccupied with education, theoretical discussion and revision of political practice.”

Olivia Gall is a Researcher at the Centro de Investigaciones Interdisciplinarias en Ciencias y Humanidades (CEIICH) of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and author of Trotsky en Mexico (y la vida politica en el periodo presidencial de Lázaro Cardenas: 1937-1940) (Era, Mexico, 1991).