Passing of Pierre Broué—International Contributing Editor of “Labor Standard”

We have learned with sadness and regret of the death of Pierre Broué, who for many years was one of the International Contributing Editors of Labor Standard, as well as a close associate of George Breitman and Frank Lovell, two leading figures of the American Trotskyist movement who were central to the founding of our publication (originally under the name Bulletin in Defense of Marxism).

The following is a rough translation of a news report by Agence France Presse, posted on the Internet on July 26 with the headline “Death of Pierre Broué, historian of communism and Trotskyist militant.”

The historian and revolutionary militant Pierre Broué, an authority on the history of the Communist movement, died during the night of July 25–26 at the age of 79. This was announced by the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire (LCR) on Tuesday, July 26. [Note: The LCR is the French section of the Fourth International (United Secretariat).]

Based in the Grenoble region, where he earned his doctorate, Broué was one of the leaders of the OCI (Organisation communiste internationaliste), one of the main Trotskyist tendencies in France, for most of the second half of the 20th century. (The OCI later became the PCI, or Parti communiste internationaliste.) He was expelled from that organization in May 1989.

Broué’s name is connected with innumerable works dealing with the history of the Communist movement. Most notably he is the author of a monumental biography of Leon Trotsky (1,100 pages), which was published by Fayard in 1988 and has been reprinted three times. He is also the author of some fifteen other major works, including a history of the Communist International, or Comintern, which existed from 1919 to 1943 (published by Fayard), and a history of the Bolshevik party (published by Minuit). Other major works by Broué were devoted to the German workers movement of the 1920s and the workers movement in Spain in the 1930s.

In May 2005 he completed his “Political Memoirs” (Mémoires politiques), which he described as a collection of his reminiscences and portraits of the revolutionary men and women he had worked side by side with during his life.

He was also the director of the Institut Leon Trotski, and editor of the journal Le marxisme aujourd’hui (Marxism Today).

He was “certainly one of the most remarkable historians of the revolutionary workers movement in Europe and the most erudite of Trotsky’s biographers,” said Christian Picquet, a member of the leadership body of the LCR, which “paid homage” to Broué in a communiqué issued on July 26.

Text of LCR Communique:

“At the end of a long life as a revolutionary militant, Pierre Broué has passed away. A historian of great worth, who was true to his revolutionary convictions, Broué produced numerous works, especially on Trotsky and the history of Trotskyism, which constitute a precious acquisition for all revolutionary fighters. The LCR pays homage to his memory, unreservedly offers its condolences to his family, and assures them of its full sympathy and friendship at this sad time.”

Statement by George Saunders, Co-Managing Editor, “Labor Standard”

During most of the 1970s Pierre Broué worked very closely with George Breitman.

Breitman was the main editor and moving spirit in the publication of the fourteen-volume series Writings of Leon Trotsky, which covered the period 1929 to 1940, Trotsky’s “last exile,” as well as the three-volume series Challenge of the Left Opposition, which covered the period 1923 to 1929 (though much less exhaustively than the Writings series). Besides those two series, Breitman oversaw the production of a dozen or more books and pamphlets by Trotsky on particular subjects—on China, on Britain, on Spain, on Fascism in Germany, on France, on the Transitional Program for socialist revolution, on the bloc with Lenin against Stalin in 1922–23, against individual terrorism, on women and the family, on trade unions, on problems of everyday life, on the Balkan wars, on biographical portraits, political and personal, and reprints of the Russian-language Bulletin of the Opposition and, in English, of The Case of Leon Trotsky (text of the hearings of the commission of inquiry into the Moscow Trials headed by John Dewey) and Not Guilty (the verdict and findings of the Dewey Commission). In preparing or helping to prepare all this vast amount of material for publication, mostly by the Pathfinder and Monad publishing establishments during the 1970s, George Breitman had the continuous cooperation of Pierre Broué, who was simultaneously editing and annotating a similar series in French, the Ecrits (Writings) of Leon Trotsky. The correspondence between Breitman and his associate editors in New York and Broué and his associates in France was surely voluminous.

The challenges were huge. Not only were we keeping alive and making accessible the vital political ideas of one of the greatest revolutionaries of the twentieth century (Leon Trotsky), but there were innumerable challenges in keeping the historical record accurate—questions about authorship of documents, the identities behind various party pseudonyms, clarification of obscure references to events, places, people. George Breitman was a stickler for accuracy—and for translations that effectively conveyed the meaning of the original. And Pierre Broué could always be relied on for help in resolving all such questions.

Especially memorable for me were several weeks working closely with Pierre Broué at the Harvard Library in 1980, on the occasion of the opening of the “Closed Section” of Trotsky’s papers. Trotsky had sold his papers, for safekeeping purposes, to Harvard in 1940—not long before he was assassinated. Because of poor health, George Breitman could not go to the Harvard Library, but a team of several of us who worked closely with Breitman went to the Cambridge area from New York, and Broué brought a team of four or five from France. Each day we worked on the Trotsky papers at the Harvard Library, and in the evening we all made dinner together, compared notes, discussed what we had found during the day, and of course had farther-ranging discussions, both political and personal. I remember Pierre as a man of unfailing good spirits, who seemed to embody that wonderful French phrase, joie de vivre (“zestful enjoyment of life”).

He told us how he had first met Trotskyists, who were doing “deep entry” work in the Stalinist-dominated French Resistance during the Nazi occupation in the 1940s. He said he had come to Trotskyist conclusions on his own and when he made this known to these comrades, they revealed that they too were Trotskyists. He said he wanted to punch them. All that time they had been Trotskyists and they hadn’t told him about it. They had left him to arrive at those ideas, or not, on his own.

In later years, after many of us had been expelled from the Socialist Workers Party by a new “leadership team,” which essentially abandoned Trotskyism, I had the pleasure of meeting with Pierre a number of times, and we worked together on a number of projects. In 1989 we shared the speakers’ platform at another event at Harvard—this time with Maria Joffe, widow of Trotsky’s close associate, Adolph Joffe. This was the Gorbachev era, when Trotsky was officially cleared of the monstrous charges against him in the Moscow trials, and people like Maria Joffe were able to speak out more openly and to travel from the Soviet Union. (At that time, Pierre and I also discovered, by chance, that both our spouses suffered from a similar illness, which I felt created a special kind of bond between us.)

I was especially glad to hear, last year, that Pierre Broué had been in contact with Celia Hart, the Cuban revolutionary from a family of revolutionaries, who in the past year and a half has shown such an astute and powerful appreciation of Trotsky. That must have gladdened Pierre’s heart.

Pierre had a generosity of spirit that I will particularly miss. The last time I talked with him was probably ten years ago. (I was unable to attend the conference in 2000 at the Tamiment Labor Library in New York on the history of American Trotskyism, where Pierre was present; possibly that was the last time he was in this country.) Back in the late 1990s, when I last spoke with Pierre, a publisher had decided against doing a book of selected historical essays of his, which I had been translating (slowly and somewhat painfully, because I’m not as familiar with French as I am with Russian). I told Pierre I was sorry the project had been dropped, perhaps because my end of the work was going slowly. He said, “Don’t worry. I still love you.”

Statement by Alan Woods (excerpts):

With profound sadness we learned of the death of comrade Pierre Broué, the outstanding Trotskyist historian and veteran revolutionary militant, after a long and painful battle against cancer.

Pierre Broué will be remembered for his marvelous, books which trace the history of the international revolutionary movement and particularly the life and work of Leon Trotsky and his followers. Among these are his History of the Bolshevik Party, Communists against Stalin, [the biography] Trotsky, and many books on the Spanish and German revolution.

He was a man who dedicated his entire life to the cause of revolutionary communism. As a young man, he fought in the ranks of the French resistance against Nazi occupation. He joined the Young Communists, and soon adopted the standpoint of Trotskyism, which he has consistently defended ever since.

In the last years of his life, Pierre moved close to the political positions of the International Marxist Tendency, the public expression of which is

Pierre Broué enthusiastically supported the Leon Trotsky publishing project, which we launched two years ago. He recently wrote a preface to our edition of Not Guilty, the conclusion of the Dewey Commission on the Moscow Trials, which has been out of print for many years.

The death of Pierre Broué represents an irreparable loss for international Marxism. Had he lived, we have no doubt that he would have produced even more works of lasting importance for our movement.

We extend our heartfelt sympathy to Pierre’s family, friends, and comrades, in particular Jean-Pierre, his close collaborator, comrade, and friend.