The Legacy of Pierre Broue

by Gerry Foley / October 2005 issue of Socialist Action newspaper

Pierre Broue, a great historian of the revolutionary socialist movement, died July 26 in Grenoble in the south of France, where he had been a university professor. He was 79 years old and had been suffering from cancer.

Broue was a friend of Socialist Action and spoke at some of our national meetings. As an organization, we honor his example and his work. As individuals, we cherish his memory.

In France, where Marxism has been a major current among intellectuals, Broue was able to follow a distinguished career as an academic historian and maintain his commitment to revolutionary Marxism.

Broue came to Trotskyism as a teenager in the French Resistance in World War II. He had joined the underground Communist Party, but was expelled as a Trotskyist when he tried to appeal to German soldiers as workers. By that time, the French CP had subordinated itself to the bourgeois nationalist resistance led by de Gaulle, who led units of the French army in exile supported by the British and U.S. governments. The line of the French CP was summed up in the slogan “chacun son boche” (“Let everybody kill a Kraut”).

Broue left a massive opus. His first major work was a history of the Spanish revolution and civil war in two volumes, written in collaboration with Emile Temime. It was published in Paris in 1961 and later translated into English and Spanish.

In 1963, his history of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (“Le Parti Bolchevique”) was published. This work followed the history of the Communist Party from its revolutionary origins under Lenin to the counterrevolutionary Stalinist party of the early 1960s, when the book was written. The most impressive part was Broue’s depiction of the Bolshevik party under Lenin’s leadership.

It is a rare, and perhaps the only comprehensive view of the emergence of the revolutionary party as a dynamic entity driven by many-sided political debates. It was in compelling contrast to both the Stalinist and anti-Communist descriptions of the Bolshevik Party as the product of the schemes of dominant leaders.

Later, Broue took up the problem of the decisive defeat of the wave of revolutions initiated by the Russian Revolution of 1917, the failure of the German revolutionary movements, in “The German Revolution 1917-1923.” It has just been translated into English, as one of the few books by Broue available to the English-reading public.

In 1977, he established the Institut Leon Trotski, devoted to the publication of Trotsky’s works, and founded the magazine Cahiers de Leon Trotsky. In the 1980s, he worked on Trotsky’s archive in the Harvard Library, which had just been opened up. It is in this period that Trotsky’s contributions to the discussions in the refounded revolutionary Marxist movement, the International Left Opposition and then the Fourth International, were published in multi-volume series in French and English. Broue was involved in this work. The French edition (27 volumes so far) was published mainly under his direction.

When the Stalinist dictatorship broke down in the Soviet Union and the Soviet secret archives were opened up, Broue took the opportunity to deepen his research and publish a number of new books. These included a biography of Rakovsky, one of Trotsky’s most distinguished collaborators—the culmination of a long labor to restore Rakovsky’s heritage as an unbroken revolutionist who maintained his principles against the Stalinist terror until the end.

In 1988, Broue’s comprehensive biography of Trotsky was published in French (more than 1000 pages). It is the major biography of Trotsky written from an orthodox Trotskyist point of view. The major biography of Trotsky in English, Isaac Deutscher’s trilogy, although a distinguished work of Marxist history, reflects Deutscher’s opposition to Trotsky’s project
of building a new revolutionary international and the author’s wavering attitude to Stalinism.

For most of Broue’s political life, he was a member of the political current associated with Pierre Lambert. But as this group veered further and further into sectarianism, it could no longer tolerate an original thinker of his stature. He was expelled in 1989.

Subsequently, he worked with other Trotskyist groups, like Socialist Action, the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire, the Socialisme et Democratie group in the French Socialist Party, and the international current, based in Britain, led by Ted Grant and Alan Woods.

All Trotskyist groups benefited from Broue’s work, and it will continue to be one of the foundations of efforts to build revolutionary organizations that can carry forward the legacy of Trotsky and the real lessons of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Hopefully, more of his books will eventually be translated into English.