Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 9 No. 4
Pierre Broué (1926–2005)
First version 14 August 2005.
Vincent Présumey’s article casts an interesting and critical light not only on Pierre Broué, but equally on the political tendency of which he was a member, indeed at times a leader, from 1944/5 until his de facto expulsion in 1989, the PCI/OCI/PT – generally known as the “Lambertistes”.
It is fascinating as a description of the tensions between an individual’s personal views and his loyalty to an organisation. It is fascinating too as a critical description of the evolution of a political tendency. Many former members of Trotskyist and other Left groups will recognise some of the descriptions as ones that they may feel similar to their own experiences.
But it is, in many senses, an “insider’s” view of an organisation which has had little influence on Trotskyist politics in Britain. It is an “insider’s” view in a broader sense, too, in that Présumey writes from within certain traditions on the French Left.
As an “insider” there are aspects of both traditions that Présumey takes for granted and which may require a brief explanation for those unfamiliar with the French labour movement, with post-war French history or with the tradition from which Présumey comes. This is the task of this Introduction.
I shall not enter into great detail on any of these aspects, particularly on the history of the “Lambert tendency”. Much of the latter is referred to in the article and, for those who can read French, there are easily available good sources.
One tradition that Présumey assumes as a base for some of his arguments is one shared, in different ways, and to different degrees by a wide range of people and organisations on the French Left and Centre-Left – from “left radicals”, through Socialists to Communists, Trotskyists and Syndicalists. This is the aspiration to a “République democratique, sociale et laique” [a secular, democratic and social republic]. I emphasise the word “secular” because this is a particularly important issue among teachers in the state sector (where Broué and the Lambert group were active in the trades union) and explains much of the debate in France over the “Muslim headscarf” issue over recent years. Although the secular republican tradition can claim a heritage going back to 1792, its particular origins lie in the debates of the late19th and early 20th centuries when state education was made secular and Church schools were pushed into the private sector. This tradition was further reinforced (particularly among Stalinists and Social Democrats) by the confrontations of the 1930s with a Far Right which was not so much Fascist in the German or Italian senses but was anti-democratic, often Catholic and, sometimes, monarchist. This attitude was, in turn, reinforced by the active participation of many of these elements in the Vichy and collaborationist regimes during the Nazi occupation of France (and in the Front Nationale today). This thus relates directly to Présumey’s discussion of Broué’s views on Trotsky’s preliminary debates (cut short by his murder) on the Proletarian Military Policy.
I turn now to the French trades union movement. As most readers are probably aware French trades unions are (in general) divided into various Confederations along semi-ideological lines. Membership density, with some exceptions, is low and unions operate as activist networks and electoral machines within the corporatist structures created after WW2. The key players in the period of Broué’s main involvement were the CGT and FO. The remaining unions were mainly scab, local, organisations; except for the mainly Catholic CFDC whose leadership dropped the Christian reference in the late 1960s to become the CFDT (for a time a “left socialist” union but now a key ally of the wholly reformist PS), still in the 60s/70s mistrusted by more traditional trades unionists – see Présumey’s cynical refence to one faction in the teachers’ union recruiting from the “CGEN-CFDT”.
The CGT after WW2 was dominated by the PCF, becoming increasingly Stalinist. FO, to be more precise CGT-FO, was a minority breakaway encouraged (if not actually created) by the French State and the CIA (which was heavily involved in splitting CP-led or influenced unions and parties in the early years of the Cold War). Its main influences were a mixture of Right Social-Democrats, “Left” Social Democrats and old-fashioned French Syndicalists, some still seeing themselves as “Revolutionary Syndicalists”, even Anarchists. Many of the leading figures in all of these political tendencies had become bureaucrats by the late 1950s. FO’s main bases were in the state sector. Trotskyists and other leftists held two rather different views about FO. For some, particularly the “Lambertistes” and some old-fashioned Syndicalists, it was the union of choice. For others the CGT, as the biggest union, was where one would want to be, but often the Stalinist leadership made this impossible, so FO was a second-best.
The FEN (Fédération de l’Education Nationale – a telling name, Nationale meaning State, thefore secular) was an exception. It had, for complicated reasons, managed to remain united at the time of the CGT/FO split. Rather like British trades unions, but with the particularly French way of allowing “formal” “tendencies”, it was a battleground for differing political and strategic conceptions. Most of the “hard left” belonged, as Présumey mentions, until the splits of the late 60s/70s to the Ecole Emancipée grouping which saw itself as inheriting the “old” French Syndicalist tradition. The PCF had its Unité et Action grouping. The FEN was divided “vertically” into sectors – SNI represesenting elementary school (up to 14) teachers, SNES/SNET representing high school and technical college teachers, SNESup representing University lecturers. Effectively these were independent unions on Industrial Relations and detailed Educational issues, coming together only on big national questions (incidentally this structure was the inspiration, particularly in the former NATFHE, for those seeking to create a unified teachers’ union in Britain).
Because the “Lambertistes” prioritised work in FO it is important to say something about this union. For many others on the left it was a sell-out organisation which, as I say above, they only joined because of Stalinist repression in the CGT , or because it was locally strong. In particular it lined up with French Social Democracy (the SFIO) in supporting, or at least not opposing, De Gaulle’s “peaceful coup” in 1958. It was run, until the early 1980s, by corporatist Right Social Democrats (notably Bergeron) but had a sizeable “left social democrat/syndicalist” wing. Sadly, many of those in this “left” were full-time officials and local bureaucrats who were reluctant to take on the leadership in anything other than a purely formal way. At various points Présumey refers to this, and to the “Lambertistes” conniving with it, but never follows the analysis through to any clear critical conclusion . It was from its allies in this “FO Left” that the Lambertistes gathered the rest of the membership of the PT (Parti des Travailleurs – Workers’ Party) when it formed it in the 1990s.
Présumey summarises much of the history of the Lambertist tendency but does so very much from the “inside” and thus reflects what other groups saw as a trend after the 1952 split from the “Pabloite” “4th International” for this group to see themselves and their particular strategies as the sole representatives of genuine Trotskyism and as the essential core of any “restructured” 4th International in a way that separated them from others. They rarely worked in campaigns initiated by other groupings. Where they did involve themselves in broad campaigns these were generally ones where they could control both the agenda and the allies with whom they worked.
Thus both the famous “desertion” on the May 68 “night of the barricades” (see Présumey pp. 36/37) and the relations between Lambertists and the FO Left tended to be seen by other groups as “typical” of a style seen as bureaucratic, “rightist” and sectarian. This view was reinforced by the physical conflicts (presented, rightly or wrongly, by Présumey as mainly a case of self-defence) in which they became involved in the late 60s and early 70s. These were seen by other groups as attempts to take control of a movement in which they had failed to be fully involved at its height. On the other hand their associates in FO had, in fact, played an important role (e.g. at Sud-Aviation in Nantes) in the strikes and factory occupations which made May 68 so much more than student romp.
Présumey says little to situate the developments within the Lambert tendency within a wider Left context, except where this relates directly to internal debates or to attempts to “rebuild the 4th International”. To explore all the relevant points needed to explain this tendency is beyond the scope of this Introduction.
Those who wish to follow this up and can read French could consult Benjamin Stora, Paris: Stock, 2003.
We must acquire a taste for the truth. It is through it that science is created. It is through it that the revolution will forge its victory. Marceau PIVERT
The death of Pierre Broué constitutes a significant loss both for liberatory, working-class and revolutionary struggles and for the science of history. These two are indissolubly linked as the significance of this great historian derives precisely from the fact that, for him, writing history was an act of political militancy, something that in no way detracts from the necessity to seek the truth, indeed quite the opposite.
This same necessity for truth is thus the first requirement in relation to Broué himself, now he is dead as much as when he was alive.
I myself was very close to Broué politically and was personally quite fond of him in the period 1982–1985. But I managed this without ever becoming part of the circle of his “disciples”, for disciples there certainly were or at least there seemed to be. Looking back I am proud of this. During this period we had a sort of complicity based on our common origins in the Ardèche and on previous relationships of family or friendship, all things that were to become, for him, part of a paranoid episode, something to which he had, in fact, been prone for a long time.
During one of our first real political discussions Pierre Broué said to me “Look out for one thing: don’t mix the emotional and the political”.
What an ambiguous sentence. It is the private and the political that shouldn’t be mixed: respect for individuals should be both an end and a means for revolutionary militants, the loss of this respect is one of the things that, in a general sense, characterises the Stalinists and their clones. That, sometimes, political struggle both demands and produces an emotional involvement obviously means neither denying this nor combating it but rather recognising it so as to manage it. It is, too, a necessity, precisely in relation to that respect for individuals which is indispensable. For without “emotion” politics becomes unprincipled cynicism. A revolutionary is involved in politics through love and for that reason must respect the separation of the private and the political and respect individuals.
Pierre Broué was hardly dead when the AFP put out a dispatch, hastily put together after a phone call to the HQ of the LCR or somewhere similar, which told us that he had met Trotsky “three times”. As a result this tale turned up in various articles in French, English and Spanish. Then followed the “spiritual children”, the “he was my master, I was his disciple”, or even more the “he was one of us”, “no-one can possibly challenge the fact that he had joined our current” and so on. And let us not forget the “he was a great Resistance fighter in ’44 in the Ardèche”, a rumour that might, at a pinch, spread in northern Dauphiné fifty years later – but never in Ardèche.
As we all know, the dead, for a little while, have all the desirable qualities. But after the flowers and the wreaths the negative revisions and stories start turning up – along with the venom of those who kept quiet, with varying degrees of shame, during the official period of mourning. So, during the months that followed his death, we can note plenty of reactionary historians, along with the unrepentant or unrefined Stalinists whom he loved to taunt, observing just such a silence. And let us not forget the central apparatus of his former party the OCI, now transformed into the apparatus of the PT which affected to be unaware that, after the death in 1997 of Stéphane Just and before that of Pierre Lambert, the organisation had lost one of the key individuals who had helped build it (in this respect the obituary in Informations Ouvrières dated 4 to 10 August 2005 and signed by Jean-Jacques Marie is a little monument to things “not said”, a veritable non-obituary).
True respect must involve the truth. While I have no more or no less a right to talk about Pierre Broué than any other of his former comrades, it is a matter of duty not of rights to tell the truth, to say what one knows, or at least what one thinks one knows or has come to understand. I say this not only as an individual militant but because the Lettre des Liasons as a small, but genuine, political “pole” is in part the heir of a struggle in the OCI based on some of Pierre Broué’s ideas as well as coming out of the battles of the Filoche current (which has a shared history with Pierre Broué) in the LCR.
This, then, is the reason for this article. A great historian is dead and, to put it simply, if we are to understand his work we must understand his place in history.
While, naturally, I cannot assert the absolute accuracy of everything I write here, I can at least assert that I write what I consider to be accurate. The sources for this text are, in the first place, Pierre Broué’s own accounts, told to me generally between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. when I dropped in to see him in his tower in Grenoble to recover my sanity after heavy meetings of the Isère department committee of the OCI. I have then used a range of writings that are readily available to anyone who wishes to avail themselves of them, as well as my own analysis and, above all on his beginnings, accounts by Ardèchois family and friends.
It is a methodological principle for anyone striving to reconstruct the facts to not take at face value the evidence of one of the actors involved, especially when the facts in question are those of the life of that witness. One could therefore quite rightly make the following criticism: in this text much of what I say derives from Pierre Broué’s own accounts, even though I do regularly question these accounts. Indeed I have precisely managed to note the contradictions between what I “picked up” from Pierre Broué at any particular moment and what he said, or implied, later on. I have not based myself in this piece on a crude adherence to the statements of this actor but on a critical comparison of his successive statements. I would dare to claim that this is precisely how one develops historical thinking, going beyond crude adherence to a source but also beyond being always doubtful of it.
Conversations with some of those close to Pierre Broué since the first version of this piece was distributed on the internet in August 2005 have led to further clarifications which have tended to reinforce rather than to invalidate most of the interpretations in it.
Since the publication of that first version it has become even clearer to me that the duty to tell the truth is urgently necessary following the publication in a friendly magazine, La Commune, the journal of a French trotskyist group, of what was presented as a future biographical entry about Pierre Broué in the Maîtron (the biographical dictionary of the workers’ movement) which is rightly regarded as an authoritative historical resource.
This journal states that the entry was drafted by Jean-Guillaume Lanuque based on an interview with Pierre Broué in 2000. It proved, if there was any more need to do so, that the work of an historian does not consist in repeating the “evidence” of an historical actor just as it came and that “memory” is not the same as history.
In it are many errors of a personal or private type. These regrettable errors are not in themselves historically or politically significant but demonstrate that it was inappropriate to include all these details without verifying them, or, in other words, demonstrates that the work of a biographer, a collector of pieces of evidence, a historian should not consist of being satisfied to let it be put about by one’s subject that he was (for instance) top of his class and to reproduce this tale just like that!
In addition, the article is shot through with contradictions about the period of the war and the occupation which I discuss below. Worse, to judge from the relative length of the different parts of the article, the Maitron will present Pierre Broué as a militant whose core activity took place before the end of the 1940s!
But beyond the issue of the 1940s there is a general lack of serious research. We learn, for example that “from the 1960’s he had spent several periods in Eastern Europe” followed by the “example” of an academic and political trip to Yugoslavia which we are supposed to see as one specific case among the “Eastern European countries”. The article continues by saying that these “journeys” “enabled him to make contacts in Poland and Czechoslovakia as well as in Yugoslavia itself”. But in any Eastern European country other than Yugoslavia someone like Pierre Broué could only have travelled in secret, if he travelled at all. If such clandestine trips to Poland and Czechoslovakia had actually taken place a historian should have undertaken some serious research on them rather than leaving us with this sort of confused and convoluted allusions. Be that as it may, the only serious position to take is that this supposed biography for the Maitron will simply serve to create a legend – pure balderdash.
On the other hand readers will find no mention of key names such as Varga or Mélusine, references to whom might have been troublesome, and might well want to know exactly why Pierre Broué was excluded from the leadership of the Grenoble OCI or on what issue he had a “major conflict” with Stéphane Just in 1967 – although answers to these questions were available years before 2000 (and can, indeed, be found in this piece) if one had taken the trouble to search for them.
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It would be a waste of time to expect to find in this sort of “work” even the shadow of an outline of an analysis of Pierre Broué’s political positions or of his disagreements with the organisation – the PCI/Verité group/OCI – to which he belonged from 1944 to 1989.
In the course of the article Louis-Paul Letonturier becomes Louis-Paul Tonturier and Jean-Francois Godchau becomes Godechau – the sorts of errors that are a real insult to Pierre Broué the academic. And this sort of stuff is destined, with the best intentions in the world, for the prestigious Biographical Dictionary of the Workers’ Movement. Stop here; we are engaged in secular history, not The Lives of The Saints. Hagiography belongs in the realm of religious freedom and this latter should belong in the private sphere.
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My subject is not someone’s private life but it is a person, and persons cannot be neatly dissected; furthermore, “private” aspects will necessarily emerge to explain or clarify this or that moment in life. Indeed I have already done this when, because one must call a spade a spade, I earlier used the word “paranoia”. But this word goes hand in hand with earlier ones – a militant in the struggles for liberation and a great historian. History and truth form a single unit. We must take them as they are, arming ourselves with reason, or put them aside in favour of “memory” or suppression of facts.
To begin at the beginning
Pierre Broué was born on 8 May 1926 at Privas in the Ardèche, one of two children of the head teacher of the Collège Moderne at Privas (the girls secondary school, formerly the École Primaire Supérieure), she was also a musician and choir leader. His father was a civil servant in the tax office. The family held republican views, no more, no less (neither Syndicalism nor any known involvement with the “left”).
But growing up where he did he was close to an important source of inspiration. That source the young Pierre Broué had the good fortune to meet outside but alongside, indeed physically very close to the political world of his own milieu. He was Élie Reynier, retired teacher from the École Normale (he returned there in 1945) historian and militant, a great figure known for his rectitude and erudition who despite (or because of) the clarity of his political, trades union and ethical choices was universally admired in the world of secular education in the Ardèche.
There can be no doubt that the adolescent saw in him an intellectual model, moreover Élie Reynier was the only person whom Pierre Broué was subsequently to refer to as a model, to sometimes claim as an inspiration. However Pierre Broué was far from always emphasising this connection. Thus in that piece supposedly destined for the Maitron, Pierre Broué passes rather rapidly over Élie Reynier and, in fact, pushes the start of his political commitment back to his early childhood.
It is of course possible that Pierre Broué fell prey, very precociously, to the appeal of speaking or writing to audiences hanging on every word of a speaker or every sentence of a writer. This was a man who, according to one of his anecdotes about his childhood, started his memoirs at the age of 7 with the words “I look back on that immense past which is mine”, or something like that. It is possible that the climate of the 1930s (the Spanish war, the 1936 strikes, and, too, the battles between secular and religious education) caught the mind of a precocious child, perhaps over-gifted and very concerned to assert himself.
The more we know about Élie Reynier, both as a militant and as an historian, the more obviously he appears as the decisive figure for Pierre Broué on the threshold of his politically-conscious life. It is not rash to assert that Pierre Broué took from Élie Reynier his own double vocation as both historian and militant. The revolutionary will and the will to talk of struggles, hopes and suffering, to “do history” and to make history are here all of one piece. Anyone who has really read Pierre Broué will agree with this. But it was precisely Élie Reynier who was both the first militant and the first historian to inspire and to educate Pierre Broué.
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So we must say a few words about him here. He came out of the world of Ardèchois schoolteachers, himself the son of teachers – his parents were protestant private-school teachers.
Élie Reynier was a pre-1914 syndicalist. In 1912 he had written a monograph on the Ardèche for Pierre Monatte’s Vie Ouvrière (the distant, though very different, ancestor, of the CGT journal). Monatte liked to recall that this work was the model of a monograph on a local working class and that it came close to Alphonse Merrheim’s “sectoral” monograph on the metallurgical industry. Syndicalist militants would have recognised here, in the very concept of historically and geographically specific work, the double structure of the French working-class movement after 1902; the bringing together of the sectoral federations and the local Bourses de travail in the confederation.
Élie Reynier, local scholar and first among Ardèchois local scholars in a milieu where priests and protestant pastors worked alongside teachers, was, when the young Pierre Broué saw a lot of him, working on his History of Privas. But we must careful that the term “local scholar” does not sound belittling. The sort of history that Élie Reynier sought to write was really a total history, a history of the land, of the countryside, of work and of workers. He was of the school, if we can talk here of a “school”, of Maurice Dommanget and of Albert Mathiez, the historian of the French Revolution who died in 1932. He was very familiar with the new academic historical school of the journal Annales and he opened his library to Pierre Broué, lending him books by Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre as well as by Georges Lefebvre. But he himself wanted to tell history as it is, as that of struggles conducted by individuals who lived and thought, suffered and acted. This aim was later to become well and truly the programme of Pierre Broué as historian.
Politically, Élie Reynier defined himself as a revolutionary syndicalist and a pacifist. At the same time this individual, in his own way a genuine local worthy, possessed all the traits of a socialist at the turn of the 20th century. He was President of the Ardèche League of the Rights of Man and was one of those few who were to rescue the honour of that organisation when its leaders prostituted themselves in their support for the Moscow Trials. During the war he was interned in the Chabanet camp.
As a respected teacher he made a major contribution to the construction in Ardèche of the United Education Federation. He was closely linked, both by friendship and by common purpose, to Gilbert Serret who was a national leader of this federation and who died in mysterious circumstances during the Occupation. Gilbert Serret and his partner France (who, unlike Élie Reynier, were not among those people that Pierre Broué or his family knew at the time,) saw themselves not as syndicalists following the Amiens Charter, but rather as Leninists. While they were not Trotskyists, they had met Trotsky in 1935. Gilbert Serret was in close contact with the wider left-communist milieu. He also served to deepen Reynier’s passion for local monographs from the angle of the role of revolutionary teachers in organising the peasantry.
Reynier and Serret represented two generations, two approaches, different positions – Serret belonged to the tendency of the federation Majority along with Bouet, Dommanget etc., which was an anti-Stalinist communist tendency, Reynier was part of Monatte’s Syndicalist League. But between them there was a close understanding and respect. This mutual respect was an expression of the moral essence of the women and men of the old United Education Federation; it had in it plenty of purified Protestantism, of Kantian moralism, but the rigidity that could come from this background, which did indeed come from it, needed to be rounded off, quite simply, by the warmth of friendship.
In Ardèche, after the union re-unification of 1935, the local section of the SNI (the National Teachers’ Union) was in fact a continuation of the old Federation, whereas elsewhere this had put an end to it. During the war the clandestine union section continued to operate through the activities of militants such as Yvonne Issartel (who also died in 2005). At the same time the young Pierre Broué was regularly visiting the old Reynier.
This then was the background that Pierre Broué made out, detected behind Élie Reynier’s bookshelves among which he had, in 1940, been given permission to ferret about: books are living things!
And there was in this library a book which Élie Reynier lent him, when, in 1940, it was “midnight in the century” and when its author was murdered. A book which he saw as a model of a history book which tells a tale and which, through the stories of events carried through by the actions of people who think, struggle and act and are thus responsible for their actions, rather than by some “deep forces” or other types of deus ex machina has the wondrous effect of making us feel just what the real deep forces are – those of classes in struggle made up of living individuals. This book, written by a man who had “done history” because he had made history, was Leon Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution.
The War – Memory and Reality
At the time he was devouring old Reynier’s library Pierre Broué sympathised with the generally widespread hostility to the petty tyrants and the few Pétainist teachers at the school which was the general mood at the Collège de Privas, he also took part in Scout hikes with his friend, the future psychiatrist Jean Ayme.
It was with all this in his mind that Pierre Broué, after passing his Baccalauréat at the Collège Moderne de Privas (which served as a lycée, even though it wasn’t a lycée) entered the hypokhâgne course  at the Lycée Thiers in Marseille, where he went to stay with some cousins. It seems evident that this period – his adolescence – greatly shaped him, and, if we want to write history scrupulously rather than hagiography, we must note that it is difficult after the event to distinguish between actions linked to the sorts of ragging, often in dubious taste, which was typical of the “khâgneux” and those linked with a first active militant involvement with the Resistance to the occupation. Here we must be very prudent – we must avoid the sort of story which appeared in a québécois paper according to which Pierre Broué was in the maquis in the Ardèche in 1941. In 1941 there was no maquis, but, that aside, it is not necessary to fabricate after the event a “Pierre Broué, maquisard with gun and bandolier” because the real story is enough in itself and is actually much more interesting.
The story that Pierre Broué in fact told in the early 1980s was simply this: he joined the MUR in 1943, participated in a training course for the maquis which was also a sort of political discussion camp and in autumn 1943, by now in Paris, joined the Communist Party (PCF) and the Union of Communist Students (UEC).
In the preparatory article for the Maîtron biography, published by the journal La Commune he says that he got in contact with a school supervisor Paul Cousseran who was himself in contact with the Pericles network – one of the resistance networks that were part of the MUR (United Resistance Movements, bringing together Gaullists and Socialists). With no detail or supporting evidence, the article talks here of collecting intelligence, getting parcels to prisoners and transporting arms and explosives. Who was being spied on, what was to be blown up? Pierre Broué never said anything about this [to me] and it was much later (I come back to this below) that he began to increasingly call up this period. The article continues by asserting that “Paul Cousseran was approached by the Pericles network and, following this, Pierre was put in charge of setting up a leadership school for maquis officers”.
Here we begin to tip over into mythomania and it is surprising that so few precautions were taken in drafting a biography. Our lycéen who had never set foot in a maquis became from one day to the next responsible for setting up a training school for “maquis officers” pompously entitled a “leadership school for officers”. Even though we know that many young fighters rose rapidly through the ranks of the Resistance an instantaneous promotion like this is not credible.
In fact Cousseran organised resistance activities in Marseille, recruiting from the Scouts at the Lycée Thiers (Pierre Broué doesn’t seem to have been involved in this but he may have known about it) and then, recruited by his own father, became a member, indeed a significant member, of another network, the Alibi network, which was directly linked to the British secret services and was particularly targeted at spying on German telephone lines. This was in July 1943 (see: Sylvaine Baehrel: Alibi 1940–1944. Histoire d’un réseau de renseignement pendant la seconde guerre mondiale: editions de l’Amicale du réseau Alibi). These activities of Paul Cousseran, which Pierre Broué did not know about, exclude any possibility that he would have been involved in other activities such as propaganda or “actions” and thus mean that he could not have involved Pierre Broué in such actions after July 1943. He could thus only have involved Pierre Broué in the Pericles network in June 1943 at the latest, after observing him over the preceding months.
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This training course in the summer of 1943 must therefore have followed after Paul Cousseran’s recruitment of Pierre Broué. It took place, according to the interview with J.G. Lanuque, at Theys in the Isère. There certainly was a “maquis school” there, which, in 1944, became a true maquis and took part in the liberation of Grenoble. Pierre Broué’s presence at Theys in the summer of 1943 would assume that he travelled from Marseille to the Isère via the Ardèche and La Côte-Saint-André, where his mother had set up home, during the 1943 school holidays. This would not have been a clandestine journey, though one for a clandestine purpose. In a very late article in Cahiers Leon Trotsky in April 2002 Pierre Broué nevertheless says nothing about the Theys school and, contradicting what came before, claims to have joined Combat in November 1942 – now the Pericles network was quite distinct from Combat, but had links with it through the MUR – but above all he writes that he had “discovered the class struggle in the maquis through Captain Durandal’s contempt for the workers and the communists and through the courage of the communist worker Prévot who was under a death sentence – both are pseudonyms”. All this information is very confused.
It is impossible to work out what “maquis” we are talking about here; it is fairly certainly the training course of summer 1943. On top of this, we shouldn’t confuse Theys with Thueyts in the Ardèche, sometimes referred to by Pierre Broué as another “maquis” area. This would not be possible in the context of his movements in summer 1943. We should further note that in an article by two Italian militants, Paolo Brini and Francesco Giliani of the Committee for a Marxist International written at the end of August 2005 (Pierre, friend, revolutionary, marxist: in English on the site: In Defense of Marxism) which repeats, with no critical distance, various of Pierre Broué’s comments and allusions, there is a further reference to this communist worker Prévot, said to come from Chalons-sur-Saône.
In short to have a clear picture of Pierre Broué in summer 1943 we oscillate between two opposed versions. On one side, the one which he allowed to be understood towards the end of his life: of a summer of “yomping” with a geographical mobility worthy of a Jean Moulin.  On the other, in reaction to the suspicions that the first version inspires, we can accept that there was at least one underground training course with a network that was still being built and was looking to select young graduates or future graduates to form a leadership cadre of the MUR, a sort of underground summer school – as the “yomping” corresponded precisely with the school summer break.
Moreover we need to know: did Pierre Broué discover the class struggle through the “communist worker” Prévot, of whom he said nothing else, or in June 1936 at the age of 10 in Privas? Let me dare to resolve the issue: let us render unto Élie Reynier that which is Élie Reynier’s.
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In fact his participation in the MUR can be seen as Pierre Broué’s first independent political position, as Élie Reynier himself was a resolute pacifist. Indeed Pierre Broué was to remain extremely grateful to him for not giving him a heavy lesson on this issue and for having instead listened to him in a questioning and understanding manner. The move of the MUR over to the CP can be explained by the growing influence of the party over the whole of the youth Resistance and by the way it positioned itself as the most determined force in that fight. In Pierre Broué’s case it is possible that it followed heated debates with the “bourgeois”, purely nationalist leaders, not so much of his “maquis” but of the network to which he belonged, but it is difficult to be sure. In any case his decision to join the CP corresponds almost precisely with his entry, as a boarder doing the khâgne, in September 1943 to the Lycée Henri IV in Paris. This was, paradoxically, made easier by the “reunification” of France carried out following the occupation at the end of 1942 of the whole country.
In October 1943 he joined a student communist cell at Henri IV under the patriotic pseudonym of Michel Wattignies (an allusion to a battle during the French Revolution). He took up this pseudonym again for his articles in Marxisme Aujourd’hui – this patriotic complexion may have been added by his comrades as Attignies, without a w is the name of a character of Malraux’s and Pierre Broué was a keen reader of Malraux – the latter, along with Theodore Pliever who wrote the story of Stalingrad, was one of his few “authors”.
According the article in Cahiers Leon Trotsky cited above, Pierre Broué claimed to have been part, in the spring of 1944, of the “leadership triangle” (“one of the three leaders”) of the UEC in the Latin Quarter, along with Vincent Labeyrie (known as Dosseaux) and Jean Poperen (known as Linières). This assertion comes back to claiming that he was one of the three principal underground leaders of the PCF Paris youth in the spring of 1944. With no other source to back this up it is quite simply implausible and doesn’t fit with his subsequent activity as a militant. In the interview carried out to prepare for the Maîtron piece this “leadership triangle” is not of the whole of the Latin Quarter but rather of the Lycée Henri IV. This too needs to be verified if possible. What we can say for certain is that Pierre Broué had become an active militant involved in comradely relationships which had led him to know many other militants, more, indeed, than he would have been allowed to under the strict security rules based on the “triangle” system which decreed that one should only know one’s higher contact and one other. By the spring of 1944 a desire to breathe more freely was on the rise, along with the general sense of tension.
His first serious conflict with the “Party apparatus” occurred quite rapidly. It concerned the first significant action undertaken by the PCF students in the spring 1944 Paris context – a public demonstration, almost with flags raised, in April in the Latin Quarter. Pierre Broué participated in it but expressed disquiet in meetings as to the adventurist nature of the action.
Although he didn’t know about it, or at least doesn’t mention it, his was not the only such intervention as, according to the biography of Jean Poperen, at the time the effective communist leader in the Latin Quarter – and himself a khâgneux at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand – the latter also criticised individualist and adventurist actions, which bears witness to debates among leaders (see Emmanuel Manuel, Jean Poperen, une vie a gauche: Bruno Leprince editions). Jean Poperen in fact found himself on the opposite side to his friend Jean Maspero (killed a little after this) on the matter.
The second point of contention between the young Pierre Broué and the PCF apparatus focussed on anti-German patriotism; Pierre Broué claimed to have argued in his cell that he did not wish to kill ordinary German soldiers but rather SS men.
There is nothing to show that this went further than a sharp debate in the cell although it was always possible that it might have gone further, for example deciding to force the young militant to undertake a mission involving murdering soldiers.
According to his own accounts Pierre Broué thus got himself expelled for “Trotskyism” – Jean Poperen, the future leader of the left wing of the PSU and then of the PS, was supposedly the “expeller” – this would undoubtedly have been in May 1944 just before educational institutions were closed due to the imminent allied landing.
* * * * *
In fact he explains in the interview theoretically destined for the Maîtron that he already had a Trotskyist “contact”, this being the khâgneux Donald Simon a member of the Communist Internationalist Committees (CCI) which was just about to reunify with the other current laying claim to the 4th International, the Internationalist Workers’ Party (POI) to form what, under the names PCI, OCI or La Verité group (also called Lambert group), was to be Pierre Broué’s party for 45 years.
To get oneself expelled from the PCF at the end of May 1944 would have been risky, especially if this were for “Trotskyism”. Claims, in the interview destined for the Maîtron, that his physical liquidation was a real possibility would thus be credible. But it is therefore astonishing that under these conditions he returned to the same place with the same fellow-students and the same roommates when courses resumed in September 1944, and that he claims to have “resumed contact” with the PCF though, of course, this was only to “record the split”. We can thus surmise that, in fact, the process of distancing himself and finally breaking away was spread over the spring, summer and early autumn of 1944. This puts in doubt the core of the hagiographic version which holds that the young communist had challenged the chauvinism of the leaders and thus discovered “Trotskyism” …
The theme of a future Trotskyist leader expelled in his youth from the CP for “Trotskyism”, though he had never heard of this sickness, and then, as a result, informing himself about it and becoming a genuine Trotskyist is in fact a familiar biographical story about Trotskyist militants of the Thirties and Forties and anyway is often true (as in the cases of Pierre Lambert and André Essel). But Pierre Broué’s case is different: his reading and conversations at Élie Reynier’s had already equipped him to have a much clearer idea of what he was getting into with “Trotskyism”. This was “book-learning” but was significant and to it he could add the combined experience of his determination to fight the occupiers including in armed struggle (such as in the FTP) while at the same time remaining an internationalist (like Élie Reynier). Perhaps it was the search for such a synthesis that led Pierre Broué to join the Trotskyist ranks.
In any case, even if Donald Simon had made contact with him in Spring 1944, his activity in the PCI couldn’t have become effective until the autumn when he returned to Paris and the Lycée Henri IV. In the interval, which coincided both with the “holidays” of that special summer and with the allied landing, Pierre Broué went back to stay near his mother at La Côte-Saint-André in the Isère. He was deeply affected by the scenes he saw and experienced on his journeys there and back – distressed young German soldiers in the stations, mobs of crass petit-bourgeois who, after making a packet under the occupation, now sought to “get themselves some boches”, or, if they couldn’t do this, to shave the heads of women accused of having slept with the boches.
According to his recollections in the piece I have already referred to in Cahiers Léon Trotsky this was thus the time (the only one in fact) when, as he wrote, he “found himself in the patriotic militias with a big Colt” which he used, according to his article in the July 1994 edition of Démocratie et Révolution to dissuade a bunch of jingoists from bashing in the heads of young German soldiers with shovels.
* * * * *
I’ve attached some importance here to clarifying the events of these years and this clarification has ended up, above all, with some uncertainties and with a severe critique of some of the texts I refer to. There is a reason for this: in the last 15 years of his life Pierre Broué said, or, in essence, allowed those who wished to do so to believe – for instance in Dauphiné libéré (the Grenoble, but not the Privas edition) – that he had been active in the Resistance at a high level, including involvement in armed struggles. It is astonishing to find the historian that he was giving us no convincing evidence as to facts, places or dates about any of this. Let us be clear: we find ourselves here in mythomania territory and respect must exclude credulity. Confronting the accounts Pierre Broué put about or published in the last years of his life with their multiple contradictions clearly demonstrates this. Let me remind you of the documents which, in addition to “oral memory”, I have used here. They are: the biographical note drafted by Jean-Guillaume Lanuque to go in the Maîtron the first part of which was published in November 2005 in La Commune; Pierre Broué’s accounts in nos. 16 and 17, June and July 1994, of Démocratie et Révolution (now Démocratie et Socialisme); and his article on La politique du PC pendant la guerre in: Cahiers Léon Trotsky, no. 77, April 2002.
For all this, our duty to the truth does not consist in minimising the real commitment of a young man which has no need of hagiography to be recognised as of great human and political interest, but on the contrary of restoring it to its true worth. The encounter with Élie Reynier, his journey through the ranks of the MUR, then the PCF, his distancing himself from the latter and his entry into the PCI at the time it was being constituted – this itinerary is captivating in itself.
In terms of courage the gilded legend of armed struggle is not necessary. When an aide de camp of Marshall Pétain visited the prefecture of Privas some respectable bourgeois shouted “au balcon”  so Pierre Broué, Jean Ayme, Pierre Marijon and some other teenagers set up a shout of “A bas le con” [“down with the cunt”]. This was in itself an act of resistance without a capital R, similar to the actions of thousands of young people – defacing STO posters, imprudently hiding a cross of Lorraine in a sock or a bicycle bell – which led them towards insurrection – social as well as national.
So let’s not demand that Pierre Broué should have led a maquis group in the mountains above Privas. Shouldn’t it be enough in itself to have been an active underground communist and to have got himself expelled from – or even, perhaps, quite simply to have walked out of – the PCF because of his internationalist position.
* * * * *
From some of his rare subsequent hints, we can conjecture that Pierre Broué didn’t necessarily find himself comfortable in his new party the PCI, in which he effectively became a militant at the end of 1944. He had thought it possible to be involved in armed struggle against the occupiers while still remaining internationalist. Now he found himself in a “party” that at the time had about 700 members; which had genuinely remained internationalist and had paid for this in the blood of some of its members; which expressed mistrust of armed struggle and of any zealous actions which might be tainted with nationalism; a party which explained that it had corrected the “nationalist deviation” of its leader Marcel Hic, the first organiser of the underground European Secretariat of the 4th International (Marcel Hic was no longer there to defend himself as he had died in a concentration camp). This was a party which believed that “bourgeois democracy” would not survive after the war and that civil war, with the PCI playing the role of the Bolsheviks, was on its way at high speed.
This party was born from the fusion of the POI and the CCI, organised by Michel Raptis (known as Michael Pablo) who had taken over from Marcel Hic, fallen in the struggle. The former CCI militants were fewer in number in the fusion but possessed a strong esprit de corps and fought against the nationalism and the “petit-bourgeois” behaviour of the former POI members – between themselves they called the latter the “petits pois”. Pierre Broué observed, without fully understanding, the sectarian behaviour of the former supporters of Raymond Molinier, widely regarded as an “adventurer”, who had “disappeared” in 1940. The latter were themselves divided by bitterness arising from old faction fights during the dangers of underground life. Among them were both Pierre Frank and Pierre Lambert, the latter, though a bearer of the same political culture, had been banished from the CCI just before they all found themselves back together in the new united party.
Perhaps it is from this period that Pierre Broué’s ambiguous relationship with the “Molinier culture”, that is to say in more general terms with the rather “naughty boy” and ultra-activist political style affected by these young men, began to take shape. He was to take a critical stance towards them but at the same time wanted to be one of them, indeed to play a major part. In his memoirs the militants who came out of the CCI are often tiresome sectarians but it was they who had initially recruited him, while those from the POI seem, right from 1944, to have come across to him as unreliable bohemians. And he fell under the spell of a pure product of this “Molinier culture” in the person of Claude Bernard, known as Raoul, a boastful “good-looker” who talked up his female conquests – he was later to claim the actress Rita Hayworth among them, a claim repeated by Pierre Broué in the issue of Cahiers Leon Trotsky that Broué devoted to Bernard. For Broué, Claude Bernard was activism, an activism, by the way that he found brave, intelligent and full of laughs. Part of this was the extraordinary organising work in the Vietnamese workers’ camps in France, where Pierre Broué claimed to have been brought in by Claude Bernard for a meeting to build cadres with a view to their return to their own country (see Cahiers Leon Trotsky, no. 56, p. 41).
Francesco Gilliani and Paolo Brini (see article referred to above) are keen to push to the limit Pierre Broué’s oppositional attitudes towards the leadership of the PCI and visibly want to push these back as early as possible. Thus they present, echoing Pierre Broué’s statements, made many decades after the facts presented there, what, according to them, would be among the first of his “oppositional” stances: at the end of 1944 Pierre Broué is said to have demanded that the PCI send an enquiry team to the Haute Loire to investigate the murder in the maquis by the Stalinists of several Trotskyist leaders, among them founding member of the Italian CP Pietro Tresso, known as Blasco, but the leadership of the PCI, already casting longing eyes on the PCF, “the great party of the working-class”, is said to have refused to do so. This story has too neat a taste of a reconstruction carried out long after the event to be credible. This argument is borne out by one thing: the total absence of the story in the book co-written by Pierre Broué and Raymond Vacheron, published in 1997, Meutre au maquis. This book devotes considerable attention to the efforts of Trotskyist militants and of the partners and friends of those who “disappeared” to cast light back to 1944. Their quite justified insistence on demonstrating the lack of enthusiasm by the leadership of the PCI to take up this “business” would have required them to refer to Pierre Broué’s positions of the time if these had existed, and one would think that he was in a good position to know about them!
The only kernel of truth in this is that Pierre Broué had a position on the armed struggle and the maquis that was “non-orthodox” – and closer to reality – compared with that of the PCI leadership, and no doubt held this position to a considerable degree at the time. But for decades he stifled this position and gave up, for the time being, arguing about it in the little party.
In this party he was one of the organisers of the youth sector, specifically the student youth. They operated through links forged in the Front National des Lettres, an organisation that existed for a while around the “Liberation” and was linked to the communist students. These student militants, however, tended to be kept out of things because of workerist and sectarian attitudes which led to clashes with the “youth leader” of the time Marc Paillet (later a well-known essayist and novelist). According to Pierre Broué’s accounts in the articles in Démocratie et Révolution and in the piece supposed to be destined for the Maitron he recruited the equivalent of three whole student cells. These responsibilities could have lead to him being brought into the party leadership from this period. He was not far from this in 1948 when he had a friendly relationship with Daniel Renard who (along with Pierre Bois of the UCI, ancestor of LO) set off the 1947 Renault strike (though there is no indication that he organised Renard’s “protection” as the article destined for the Maitron claims), and spent a brief period on the Central Committee, undoubtedly in early 1948.
But in reality the youth organisation, the JCI (Jeunesse Communiste Internationaliste) rapidly became a mere shell and Pierre Broué, after his last year of teacher training, lived half in Paris and half in Privas. After leaving Henri IV he became a penniless history student, first in Paris, then, in 1947–8, in Lyons, at the same time doing casual teaching in Privas where he was based most of the time.
Though many well-known militants of the organisation in the Paris area came out of the collective recruitment while trying to build a youth organisation (Robert Berné, known as Garrive, Robert Chéramy and Louis-Paul Letonturier) it was in his native Ardèche that Pierre Broué based his political activity.
* * * * *
Thus the fact is that in following his journey though all the years of the war and the “Liberation” we come back to our starting point, Privas, the town of Élie Reynier. We will thus have passed from the great “yompings” through hill and vale of the Resistance, the lofty spheres of the Latin Quarter, then the PCI, to the organisation of a circle of teacher trainees and sixth-formers in a provincial département near his mother and, in fact, under her grudging protection (the meetings took place in the Collège Moderne).
This apparent shift in dimension, this return to the fold, suggests in my view that, in reality, the adventures and dreams of the war years constituted perhaps a parenthesis, perhaps a censored moment (one to which he was to go back to later in a distorted and exaggerated way in his memoirs, a true political reversion of the repressed). In fact, the whole story of Pierre Broué, historian and militant up to 1989 could well be written with its starting point as the little JCI circle of the École Normal and the Collège Moderne at Privas in the years just after the Liberation, to which the hypothetical yomping in the summer of 1943, the experiences of the Lycée Thiers and of the Lycée Henri IV, and the alleged escapades with Raoul and with Daniel Renard add precisely nothing. I could myself have easily written this while cutting out both the real and the doubtful facts of this period and avoiding putting in doubt a great part of their reality. This would have been a mistake: it is Pierre Broué himself who wrote … in 1989, that the Second World War was the skeleton in the cupboard of the 4th International.
* * *
Michel Broué, Pierre Broué’s first son, was born at the end of 1946, his mother Simone Charras, Pierre Broué’s partner since 1942, is the daughter of the Director of supplementary education in Privas.
The rise of a militant in difficult times
He gained 5 or 6 members at the École Normal, undoubtedly around ten if we include the sixth forms. In order to recruit, influence and debate Pierre Broué forced himself to join the Youth Hostel organisation that these young people had built, there he had to do the cleaning etc. and sing in the choir. This politically active milieu was equally influenced by the revolutionary syndicalism prevalent among the teachers, with Yvonne Issartel the leader at the time of the SNI in the Ardèche: to a certain degree the “young trades unionists” tended to identify themselves with the young Trotskyists, at least for some years. Here, then, is the real starting-point.
A very small number of lasting militants have remained from this period in the Ardèche, some in the OCI, others who followed the “Pabloite” current then that of Michèle Mestre and Mathias Corvin. Among these was Jean Coulomb who, doing the Stalinist (for we can thus summarise the orientation of this current: one had to “do the Stalinist” because, allegedly, there was nothing else one could do), contributed to swinging over [to the Stalinist led tendency in the teachers’ union] the orientation of the departmental union and to a break with, indeed a blanking-out of, this union’s splendid past. But we mustn’t be misled by the small number who continued to be active in the currents that came out of Trotskyism: all the others still retained something profound from this experience.
The PCI at this time had tried to “broaden” its youth organisation, the JCI into an MRJ (Revolutionary Youth Movement). It turns out that this movement only really developed in the Ardèche and the Hérault departments. In fact the decline of the little party, despite its role in the 1947 strikes, had already begun. It was marked by three splits, one large and two small. The large one was that of the “rightists” (Yvan Craipeau, Paul Parisot, Albert Demazière, Jean-René Chauvin …) who, in Spring 1948, tried to set up a new political grouping with a part of the former Young Socialists from the SFIO. The first of the small ones was that of the Socialisme ou Barbarie group (Cornelius Castoriades, Claude Lefort) which considered that the USSR and its satellites should not be called “Workers’ States” and saw in them exploitative societies of a new type; Donald Simon [see above] was part of this group which today is one of the great legends of the French intelligentsia. A third group including the teachers Marcel Pennetier and Jaques Galliene saw the USSR as “State Capitalist”. There is no indication that Pierre Broué sympathised even to the smallest degree with these currents that left the PCI.
At the start of the 1948 academic year he took up a position as an assistant teacher in the collège [secondary school] of Nyons in the Drôme.
In the summer of 1950 he was part of the big trip by militants of the PCI and other European sections of the 4th International to Yugoslavia where they worked in the volunteer work-camps and travelled round the country while the leaders were hoping for “contact” with the leadership of the Yugoslav Communist Party whom Stalin had recently excommunicated and indeed had called for their murder.
From the start of the academic year in the Autumn of 1950 he became supervisor of the boarders at the École Nationale Professionnelle at Voiron in the Isère, then, from 1st Jan. 1951 at the collège technique Vaucanson at Grenoble. If this wasn’t what he would have hoped for, it provided the professional stability that enabled him to engage in long-term trades union activity, as representative of the boarders’ supervisors section of the SNET (National Union of Technical Education, affiliated to the National Education Federation), a milieu in which there was plenty of work to do.
In 1950–1951 he did his Diplome d’Études Superieures [roughly an M.Phil] devoted to an historian of the French Revolution from the Ardèche, Paul Mathieu Laurent, known as “de l’Ardèche”, and entitled Un Saint-Simonien dans l’ arène politique: Laurent de l’Ardèche, 1848–1852. From 1828 Laurent of the Ardèche took on the task of refuting the lies and the monarchist and priestly distortions about the Revolution.
Then came the “Pabloite” crisis in the 4th International. This was a confusing and demoralising crisis for the militants, caused, by a divergence between what they [the “Pabloites”] thought was a “bolchevik-type” representation of the post-war and the real world of the “thirty glorious years” which was just beginning and of the Cold War which they then believed could soon heat up. Pierre Broué was part of the [French] majority including Marcel Bleibtreu, Pierre Lambert and Daniel Renard, who were opposed to Pablo – who wanted to force them to bury their positions and their history to launch sui generis entrism to the PCF – and which got itself expelled in a bureaucratic manner from the 4th International in 1952. It was probably because of his union activities as a representative of the boarding supervisors that Pablo put him on the first list, though in the last place, of 16 militants supposed to ask for membership of the PCF and to make every concession necessary to be let in. But Pierre Broué was far from Paris and his memories of this important moment in Trotskyist history stressed above all the confusion of the situation.
During the summer of 1953 he returned to Privas and, with the support of the ageing Élie Reynier intervened in a rally of Guy Mollet’s. A few weeks later, Élie Reynier, angered by the sacking of FO post-office militants following that summer’s big strike, launched a campaign of demonstrations and petitions across the whole town. A few months later Élie Reynier died.
In the Autumn of 1953 Pierre Broué, thanks to the intervention of the SNES, avoided being sent as a boarding supervisor to North Africa and returned for a year to the Collège of Nyons as an assistant teacher. At this time he wrote his first political leaflet, devoted to the revolution in Bolivia, for the PCI under the pseudonym of Pierre Scali – after, yet again, a Malraux character, from the novel L’Espoir – Scali was to be his main pseudonym. The take-off had happened, the start had been made: that is to say the take-off of a Trotskyist militant in the difficult times after the “Pabloite crisis”.
In 1954 Pierre Broué obtained a post as assistant teacher at the Collège of Beaune in the Côte d’Or where he settled with his second wife, Simone Pleynet, herself an active militant.
From 1956 he taught in the Paris area, half as a union full-timer and member of joint union-management committees, first at the lycée Concordet in Paris, then from Autumn 1957 at the lycée Montaigne and then for several years at Montereau and became a more and more well-known trades unionist in the SNES “classical and modern”.
* * * * *
This period thus corresponds with the beginning of the crossing of the desert by the French Trotskyists of the PCI expelled by Pablo whose numbers steadily dwindled to about 50, some of whom were demoralised, by the end of the 1950s. This dwindling was made still worse by the expulsion of some notable militants such as Jaques Danos and Marcel Gibelin in 1953, Marcel Bleibtreu, Michel Lequenne and some others in 1955. The party was by now a “group” and began to be known as the “Lambert group”, united around a person who was neither a theoretician, nor a man for the masses but, as Claude Bernard called him, a “Contact Man”, skilful and pragmatic with links to Messali Hadj, to the leaders of FO and to the expelled PCF leader André Marty, and who could play on these links.
Later, after his expulsion from the OCI, Pierre Broué was to emphasise the oppositional analyses made at the time – in private but well-known to all the comrades in the organisation – by Claude Bernard who was very critical but was also a supporter of loyalty in the ranks and let it be understood that he himself, along with François de Massot (known as François Forgues and to his friends as “Mamasse”) had been influenced by these commentaries, personal analyses, the boasting and the “regroupment” projects (see Pierre Broué’s Cahier Leon Trotsky on Raoul – no. 56, July 1995). Claude Bernard had, moreover remained on friendly terms with the Socialisme ou Barbarie group and had already criticised the, at the time unconditional, alignment of Lambert and the group with the Algerian national leader Messali Hadj.
Apart from this former friendship with Claude Bernard, reclaimed 25 or 30 years later, nothing leads us to a hypothesis that would wish us to see in Pierre Broué, from that time onwards, an “opponent of Lambert”. He described the group to me personally as a very united circle where “we debated massively and passionately” and considered that things became spoiled when there were more people in it, in the 1960s, with the arrival of “intermediary organisers”, not always very shrewd and with a tendency to pass on distorted versions of the centre’s orders to the militants. This was a version that was fairly close to the way that the OCI itself right up to the 1980s presented the politico-organisational problems of its own development: the difficulty of “moving from a group to an organisation” and the need to create “political units” (Regions and Federations) in place of simple “networks”.
The simplest and most plausible view is to accept that Pierre Broué obviously had, as is normal, some mental reservations about this or that development of his organisation but that at the time he was not at all an “oppositionist” and didn’t want to be one and that he was also politically in solidarity with the group, which also means that he freely took on responsibility, whatever he may have thought of them, for the first expulsions which were subsequently to be labelled “Lambertist”.
* * * * *
In 1955, Robert Berné, who had been recruited during the student work after the War and who led the “youth” sector died accidentally of drowning while on a bathing party with Lambert, Stéphane Just and their partners (many years later the worst sort of rumours began to circulate about this drowning but in the absence of any evidence one must retain good sense).
In 1956 Pierre Broué and Claude Bernard worked passionately to decipher the press dispatches of the British Communist Party on the Hungarian workers’ council Revolution. The originator of these dispatches was a great CP journalist Peter Fryer. Peter Fryer had watched the working-class population of the small town of Magyarovar lynch the head of the political police who had commanded the murder of 11 demonstrators. Thus he sent this dispatch: “This was no counter-revolution organised by fascists and reactionaries. It was the upsurge of a whole people, in which rank-and-file Communists took part, against a police dictatorship dressed up as a Socialist society – a police dictatorship backed up by Soviet armed might.” (Fryer, Hungarian Tragedy, 1956 quoted by P. Broué in the review Arguments, no. 4). This dispatch was censored by the CP. Peter Fryer broke with the party and published a book that began with an account of the struggle in Magyarovar. He joined the OCI’s sister organisation in Britain, Gerry Healy’s future Socialist Labour League, then fled it at top speed calling it a paranoid sect.
Based on this “live time” work by Pierre Broué on the press dispatches and various other publications his organisation published his pamphlet La revolution hongroise des conseils ouvriers, written under the pseudonym François Manuel.
Through this work of political and theoretical analysis and of solidarity with refugee militants he came into contact with Balàzs Nagy, one of the organisers of the Petofi Circle, the student circle that had been at the origin of the ’56 movement. For many years Pierre Broué claimed that in 1960–61 he had recruited Nagy under the pseudonym Eugène Varga, along with a group of émigrés, to Trotskyism and to the organisation. Later he said rather that the “recruitment”, certainly prepared by him had suddenly been announced by Lambert who, in short, had “robbed” him of his Nagy. This version of events is contradicted by the choice he made in 1963 to dedicate his The Bolshevik Party to Nagy. This was doubtless in part a reconstruction after the event to try to come to terms with his own role in the “Varga affair” which we will come to later. In any event Nagy-Varga became an important figure in the organisation, because he represented the “East” with all that this implied politically and symbolically.
Following this, in 1960, Pierre Broué undertook for the organisation a correspondence with the old Polish militant Kazimieriz Badowski, a Trotskyist who had survived under the Stalinist dictatorship in his country and who organised a small circle in which two future important figures in Polish history, Jacek Kuron and Adam Michnik were participants.
Also in 1956 Pierre Broué collaborated, episodically, with a small left review of great merit Arguments, created by intellectuals, notably Edgar Morin, who had recently been expelled from the PCF or had left it.
His main contribution to Arguments was for issue no. 4, June–September 1957, devoted to the workers’ councils in Hungary (and, worthy of note, also contained the debate between the Socialisme ou Barbarie group and Edgar Morin) Under the title Témognages et Etudes sur la révolution hongroise he presented an overview of the books and articles on the subject and concluded by posing a number of questions. These included the question of the relationship between the Hungarian workers’ councils and a constituent assembly; he stated that “all” the workers’ councils had demanded the latter but that he himself, as a good “orthodox Trotskyist”, or assuming himself to be one, thought that this should be ruled out in a future Hungarian Council Republic as likely to lead to the restoration of capitalism. He also raised the question of party pluralism in the Hungarian workers’ councils where he stated that the councils had restricted this solely to parties recognising common property in the means of production.
The Hungarian socialist François Fejtö responded in the same issue of Arguments, emphasising the national and democratic dimensions of the revolution and the fact that the Stalinists had deprived Hungary of a “bourgeois revolution” which it had perhaps needed to make for itself. The dissident communist Jean Duvignaud, though still in the grip of a very ideological view of Stalinism as simply authoritarian dogmatism, noted that Pierre Broué failed to grasp the significance of a figure such as F. Fejtö for his moral and “existential” worth due to a “too traditionally historical and political” analysis.
This fascinating debate had, as such, no follow-up (at least not in public). It did however pose questions about the relationship between revolution and democracy.
* * * * *
All that we have just referred to had turned Pierre Broué into a kingpin in the policy of the creation of broader regroupments that, under the impetus of Pierre Lambert, the group was pursuing at the time. This took the form of the “Liaison and Action Committee for Workers’ Democracy” (CLADO) and its paper La Commune, a regroupment formed, on the basis indicated by its name, to defend militants supporting Algerian independence as well as anti-Stalinist Hungarian fighters. Pierre Broué housed and transported leaders of various tendencies of the centralised Algerian nationalist party, the Movement for the Triumph of Democratic Liberties, and then, after it broke up into FLN and MNA, of Messali Hadj’s MNA. He was the editor in chief of CLADO’s paper which published 6 issues until February 1958 and which involved the old Marceau Pivert, the young Michel Rocard of the Socialist Students and intellectuals who had broken with Stalinism: Edgar Morin and Jean Duvgnaud. It constituted a space for free opinions and in it Edgar Morin presented his self-portrait, of what he was at that time – a militant who had broken with Stalinism – and expressed his astonishment at the divisions among Trotskyists. (no. 3, June 1957)
Pierre Broué’s historical work which was now beginning was a ferment of collaborations with historic militants from various currents. He exchanged views on Spain with Marceau Pivert an important figure on the socialist left and in the early sixties was to go for a short stay with the Rosmers, Alfred and Marguerite, friends of Trotsky and figures of militant honesty after the fashion of Élie Reynier. It was during this period that a petition in defence of Algerian militants was brought out including the signatures of Lambert and of the Abbé Pierre (1955).
* * * * *
The Gaullist coup d’état of 1958, the advent of the 5th Republic and Messali Hadj going over to De Gaulle put an end to this period which is the one in which Pierre Broué undoubtedly joined the central committee and the political bureau of the little organisation in a long-term way. The uncontested leader was Pierre Lambert but Pierre Broué’s role as a trades unionist, in his international contacts with the Hungarian refugees and in the regroupment round La Commune was significant. This role was to expand even further in the even more difficult period that began with that defeat of the working-class and of democracy which the coup d’état of 1958 constituted.
The most important aspect of this period, and that which will remain as its resulting monument, is naturally his historical works, but we must first say some words about his trades union activities as he was at the centre of the policies of the PCI/Lambert group/OCI in secondary education between 1956 (and particularly 1960) and the end of the sixties.
Before his arrival this policy was represented by two noteworthy militants; Robert Chéramy and Louis-Paul Letonturier (known to his friends as “Tontu”) who were both leaders of the Paris academic section of the SNES “classical and modern”, as it was called at the time (the National Union of Second-Level Teachers affiliated to the FEN). From 1953 the group no longer intervened under the label École Émancipée inherited from the old unified Federation but integrated itself into the federal majority known as “autonomous”, that is, to use “revolutionary” jargon, into the reformist union apparatus. It was in this context that Pierre Broué appeared among the leading names on the majority’s list for the 1956 SNES internal elections and was later to sit on its national bodies (his role was thus far greater than that summarised as “representative of assistant teachers in the Paris section of the SNES-FEN” – as Jean-Jacques Marie’s non-obituary in Information Ouvrières implies).
The FEN was the most powerful federation of the French workers’ movement, the fortress of secularism, the only national union federation to unify the different historic tendencies in the workers’ movement and to recognise their rights to organise within the union, the only one to have fought against both the repression in Hungary and the Suez intervention and the pillar of the struggle for trades union unity and of a reunification in a big CGT. It was to be the only one really to resist the establishment of the 5th Republic, first on the streets and then in the voting-booths. In First-Level education (the SNI) the revolutionaries, including the Trotskyists, agitated for and within the École Émancipée (EE) tendency. In Second-Level (the SNES) the EE was weak and the Trotskyists were integrated into the “autonomist” majority, which itself had a certain internal diversity. When one is in a union one has to play one’s role in a union, but it serves nothing to inappropriately paint this in red. A militant writing in Pierre Monatte’s magazine said of this: “I have known, in the FEN and elsewhere, revolutionaries from Marxist, anarchist or even straightforwardly syndicalist backgrounds who held official positions. We didn’t just talk the talk, when confronted by the realities they acted like reformists or they didn’t do their job. I await a riposte.” (Charles Cordier, Révolution Prolétarienne, January 1967)
I believe that Pierre Broué was well aware of this point on which he was in agreement with Lambert, providing that it was well understood that playing one’s role in a union did not mean backing any old policy in order to become integrated in the leadership.
Now it was in fact in 1959 that Lambert and Hébert for the first time voted to endorse FO’s “rapport moral” (Annual Report). This in 1959, when the Bothereau leadership had a pitiful record in relation to Gaullism, quite different to that of the FEN and to the latter’s advantage. The FEN, along with the CGT, had appealed for a “No” vote on the Gaullist constitution but FO had not. This vote on the Report constitutes a significant moment which is ignored by the various “historiographies” of “Lambertism”. Its adversaries have a cosmic hostility to Lambert which leads them to lay as many charges as possible against him and to push these back to the most distant times (see Michel Lequenne in Le trotsysme, un histoire sans fards), while hagiographies written by those who were themselves involved accord historical worth to the Lambert’s vote for the rapport moral in … 1969 which they falsely present as being the first such vote (see for example the book Itinéraires by Daniel Glückstein and Pierre Lambert).
It is obviously more “acceptable” from a “revolutionary” point of view to link [the group] going over to the leadership of Force Ouvrière with the No vote in the Gaullist referendum of 1969 which constituted a working-class and democratic victory rather than with the endorsement of the refusal to vote No … in 1958. But facts are facts and we gain from knowing them: they are borne out by the union archives and by the surprised, indeed shocked, articles in Révolution Prolétarienne and by anarchist and revolutionary syndicalist currents. Alexandre Hébert, Secretary of the Loire-Atlantique Union Départmentale for many decades, was not a member of the OCI or the group but was nevertheless associated with its leadership from this period on. Let me take advantage [of raising this issue] by noting in passing that the call by FO for a No vote in 1969, which was a genuinely significant point in the victory over De Gaulle, emerged from a bureaucratic deal between Lambert, Hébert and Bergeron according to which the Union would have participated in the “corporatist Senate” in the case, which they thought probable, of a Yes victory!
In Cahier Leon Trotsky, no. 78, November 2002, in his obituary of Robert Chéramy, Pierre Broué wrote these lines about this period at the end of the fifties and the beginning of the sixties:
This period constituted a golden age for the trades union work of the PCI. Chéramy gave to Lambert his immense human qualities, to the profit of the group. We were all well aware of this.
This trades union work can be summarised as that of the Lambert and Hébert current in FO and the rising position of Pierre Broué in the SNES and the FEN along with the intervention of Paul Duthel among the primary-school teachers in EE. All the leaders in secondary teaching except Pierre Broué (Robert Chéramy, Louis-Paul Letonturier, Charles Cordier) were to be lost to the group. These militants, with the agreement of Lambert had joined the PSA (Autonomous Socialist Party) which had been created by socialists who supported the No to De Gaulle. But when in 1960, after a fusion, the PSA became the PSU (Unified Socialist Party) under the aegis of an important bourgeois politician, Pierre Mendès-France, the group considered that they must leave it as the future PSU would not be a potential context for regrouping militants who broke from social-democracy or Stalinism but was rather a deception covering up manoeuvres to fabricate “democratic” bourgeois parties against De Gaulle – here we already find, this time over the PSU, the debate that was to be reproduced over the nature of the PS founded 11 years later at Epinay and led by Mitterand.
These militants like Chéramy who had come to be quite happy in the PSA refused to lead the struggle against “Mendès”. Pierre Broué was even sent in to the PSA for a time to recapture Chéramy. There were many to-ings and fro-ings at this time: Claude Bernard who was practising his particular entrism in the UGS (Union of the Socialist Left) was to really try to carry out a struggle against the fusion with “Mendès” and founded the ephemeral Union For Socialism before officially returning to the La Verité group (“Lambert group”). Among the youth won by the Trotskyist organisation from this little group was Jean Ribes. Among the youth won from the PSA was the last spiritual son of Marceau Pivert, Jean-Jacques Marie.
Chéramy was thus expelled from the group. At the same time he joined the national Bureau of the SNES and became a genuine reformist union leader, in the end he was to be a presidential advisor on education questions from 1981–1984. In the obituary that I quoted above, the Pierre Broué of years later claimed him with vehemence as “My friend, my comrade” and presented this expulsion as follows:
Lambert writes in IO [this refers to the obituary of Chéramy in Informations Ouvrières at the time of his death in 2002] that Chéramy was not expelled for allowing himself to be won over by the PSA (the first version of the PSU), which he had been sent into as a “faction”, as Lambert listened to his heart and betrayed his memory: he drafted an expulsion motion which he was to support and one against which he was to entrust to me. I have forgotten the rest of what happened except that all this nauseated me.
It is clear that Pierre Broué wanted to imply the opposite of what he wrote: on the one had he had forgotten nothing of what happened and had taken an active part in it. On the other hand he is like Lambert, or would like Lambert to be like himself: to have “listened to his heart and betrayed his memory”. But the memory remains, repressed though it be, and the heart suffers for it. This, too, is what he says here to Lambert …
* * * * *
From 1960 Pierre Broué was to write more regularly in École Émancipée. In 1962 and again in 1964 he headed the EE list in the SNES “classical and modern” (4% to 5.5% of the vote). The return at this point to the tactic of belonging to the union tendency that called itself revolutionary set him against the position of Chéramy and Letonturier. It allowed Pierre Broué to intervene in École Émancipée as a whole which he did on a pragmatic basis – supporting a “binomial salary” for teachers, a compromise between the theoretical and historical position of the revolutionary syndicalists in favour of a single salary-scale and the demands for an hierarchical revaluation of salaries proposed by the SNES section at Montereau.
Trades unionism in French secondary education in the 1960’s was an ever-shifting field of activity. Various sub-tendencies had left the autonomous majority: some supporting the privileges of classical teachers against the weight of the primary-school teachers in the SNI, others on the other hand wanted to move closer to the SNI, the latter included people close to RP and to FO (e.g. Paul Ruff). The numbers in the profession were growing, the union was expanding but teaching conditions were declining and the “actions” launched particularly under pressure from the “Unity and Action” (U&A) tendency linked to the PCF, such as banning overtime or boycotting administration, led to defeats. The U&A tendency, which was far from a mechanical reflection of all the PCF’s positions, advanced strongly. The fusion of the SNES “classical and modern” with the SNET (technical teachers) gave birth in 1966 to the SNES and the leadership was taken over by U&A the following year.
There is no doubt that Pierre Broué had demonstrated flexibility and powers of adaptation in this changing union. Without having to research in detail just what he did in the union there are two indices which are enough to understand it: his relationship with Louis Astre and his influence on the student supervisors in the U&A tendency.
Louis Astre had been the General Secretary of the SNET and became the joint General Secretary of the new SNES just before losing the internal elections to André Drubay, an U&A leader. He was, in short, the leader at the secondary level of the majority tendency in the FEN known as UID (“Unity, Independence & Democracy”) at the moment when it lost its leadership position. This pure and sincere reformist socialist, today and since its creation in the FSU – a fact not without significance – spoke before Pierre Broué’s cremation: only a trades unionist, even a reformist, and no-one among the Trotskyist or socialist clubs and groups which laid greater or lesser claims to a share of Pierre Broué, could have done it as he did.
The secretaryship of the MI-SE (supervisors), a bastion of U&A, was held in 1963–4 by the former UEC leader Philippe Robrieux who got to know Pierre Broué in this period: he never became a Trotskyist but was to be the true historian of the PCF, which no doubt, and by his own testimony, would not have been possible without this crucial encounter. Through this “youth” section of the union, in these pre-68 years when he was himself envisaging “passing on” to the University, Pierre Broué came into contact with students. Let it be said in passing that this shows that it was not only the Ligue and the Maoists who fed off the crisis in the UEC. Pierre Broué recruited to the organisation the leader of the Dijon UEC, Pierre Roy, today the historian of the heritage of pacifist and anticlerical war memorials and a PT militant.
* * * * *
If we align Pierre Broué’s trades union work, his emergence as an historian (which we will discuss below), his role in the regroupments around the Trotskyist group and in the formation of Balàzs Nagy’s Hungarian group and consider that, during the years 1958–62 the organisation had lost the Chéramy and Letonturier team, that Stéphane Just stopped being active for several years and was not to play a significant role in the orientation of the organisation until 1965, that Daniel Renard was tired and that new generation of militants; Jean-Jacques Marie, Charles Berg, Jean Ribes, François Chesnais, Pierre Roy, Claude Chisserey etc. were either completely new or had not yet joined, then it appears clear that for some years, with, but behind Lambert, Pierre Broué was without doubt a central figure in what was to become the OCI at precisely the moment when that organisation had started recruiting and was beginning to create a small structural apparatus of organisers and full-timers. At the very beginning of the 1960s the other key personalities in the organisation, Nagy/Varga and Boris Fraenkel were in effect in a much more marginal situation as was Gérard Bloch to whom, rightly or wrongly (probably both) was attributed a sort of “Professor Nimbus” image. 
We have already come across Balàzs Nagy, as to Boris Fraenkel, he had been recruited directly by Lambert eight years earlier as education organiser for the organisation. But in 1967 Boris Fraenkel was expelled in great haste along with some of his young comrades like Jean-Marie Brohm (but one of them was a coward: Lionel Jospin) for having had printed on the presses of the organisation a pamphlet of translated texts by Wilhelm Reich. He was soon to be accused of putting the sexual struggle in the place of the class struggle and we read in Quelques enseignements de nôtre histoire [Some lessons from our history] that he had created a “sexual-sectarian clique” – no more details are given!
It is worth noting, and the “leftists” of the time would not have missed the chance to note it, that the OCI was an organisation from which one could be expelled for propaganda in favour of sexual liberation. But it is just as worth noting that it was precisely this organisation which, for eight years had “sheltered”, as its organiser of youth education, the person who promoted the ideas of Reich and of Marcuse in France. The real characterisation of the organisation is not to be found in the first of these facts but in both of them and in the contradiction between them. We can note that in his little book of memoirs (Profession – Révolutionnaire, Le Bord de l’Eau, 2004) B. Fraenkel says that at the time Pierre Broué had “howled with the wolves”.
From 1966 Pierre Broué was based in Grenoble. It seems probable that, during this period, as his stature as an historian was growing, his role in the leadership of the organisation was, relatively, diminishing. In 1967, following a meeting in Lyons on the fiftieth anniversary of the October Revolution which was attacked by the Stalinists, he considered that Charles Berg, a youth organiser who had been present, had put out a false report about this meeting and, at the OCI congress, opposed his election to the Central Committee, this cost him an aggressive intervention by Stéphane Just in defence of the “youth” – and Charles Berg was duly elected. It is this incident which is evoked, but not explained in the article which was announced as due to appear in the Maîtron as a “serious conflict” with S. Just in 1967. It is not certain if it had considerable significance at that point although it undoubtedly marks a certain distancing from and weakening of Pierre Broué’s personal position in the organisation at a national level. Later on the latter was to consider this as one of the founding events in relation to the conflicts in which he was to oppose first Charles Berg and then Stéphane Just.
* * * * *
Thus Pierre Broué “passed on” to the University sector in 1965-6, first as an assistant and later as a Professor of Contemporary History in the IEP (Institute of Political Studies) at Grenoble. His first officially “academic” work consisted of republishing, prefacing and annotating the Histoire de la Fédération unitaire de l’enseignement des origines à l’unification de 1935 written by the core of the old Federation (Bernard, Bouet, Dommanget, Serret) which was the key work of reference on this subject until the recent publication of Loïc Le Bars’ La Fédération Unitaire de l’Enseignement (1919–1935). Aux origines du syndicalisme enseignant (Syllepse, 2005).
Pierre Broué the university teacher, still held a seat on the national body of the SNESup, during the May 1968 period. But in terms of the OCI’s union work, and undoubtedly of Pierre Broué himself, there is a break at this point. With new horizons opening towards his students he probably underestimated it even though he played a major role in it; we are talking of the death, through its 1969 split, of the old École Émancipée. In expressing myself thus I have no doubt that I shall excite the fury of thus who claim historical continuity, that Holy Grail which must be held by someone to prevent the demons from controlling the cosmos, but people like this are no less fetishist among “revolutionary syndicalists” than among “Trotskyists”.
The facts, in outline, are as follows: to the extent that École Émancipée had a clear orientation in the years 1964–68, this came from the Trotskyists of the OCI. The tendency condemned the Gaullist projects aiming at integrating the unions with the State and their concrete form as “administrative reform” – that sea serpent now called “reform of the State”. For this story continues along with the 5th Republic and will do so to a “bastard and uncompleted” end as the OCI used to say. In EE’s name, its primary teachers’ representatives, led by Paul Duthel of the OCI, had, at Lille in 1964, resigned from the national bodies of the SNI. This “act of Lille” was denounced, by those militants whom we can describe (to further simplify things) as of more “libertarian” tendencies, as having been imposed as a fait accompli. A sickness set in. It turned into an abscess when, in May 1968, EE said what amounted to very little and OCI militants led an invasion of the FEN’s offices at the time when the latter was trying to organise a return to work. The EE disavowed this action while at the same time deploring the sanctions that followed it within the union.
From then on matters speeded up, for the OCI’s Political Bureau saw EE as an obstacle in the struggle for the workers’ united front, an obstacle to be destroyed while at the same time claiming its historical heritage: according to Pierre Broué, who wrote this much later, in passing, (Cahier Leon Trotsky, no. 62, May 1998), the CAOTE (Committees for a Workers’ Alliance of Education Workers) had been created to this end and had, moreover, ceased to exist after the split. At the end of 1968, Marcel Valière, the last secretary, in 1935, of the old Federation had taken the lead and pushed through a motion declaring membership of the CAOTE incompatible with membership of EE; this was a split.
Without falling into the mythological characteristics that this episode has acquired over time in the real or fictitious memories of EE militants of a later period (Lambertist hordes are said to have taken meetings by storm, taken over the platform, rigged votes etc.) and thus not taking their side on the matter (a desire to expel the Trotskyists was clearly recognisable), one cannot help being struck by horrified feeling, among the “old guard” of the tendency, that they were dealing with an attack on free thinking and trades union independence. The majority of this “old guard” came together in a common declaration in September 1969 where they compared the OCI offensive with the one waged by the Stalinists against the old Federation in the late 1920’s. Even Yvonne Issartel signed this declaration, though she was later to join the PT she certainly never changed her views on this point. In Marseille in 1930 the young Stalinists had abused the old Federation. Valière believed that he found himself in the same situation at the meeting of the EE assembly on 23 December 1968 where the young people in the audience, members of the OCI and the CAOTE, harassed and interrupted the platform: a troika of leaders, Broué, Duthel and Neny organised these manoeuvres.
Of the two EEs which were born in 1969 one straightforwardly the EE, called EE-SR (meaning revolutionary syndicalist) by the OCI was soon to be filled by the whole extreme left of the period, including the Mao-Stalinists, and to recruit non-union members and members of the SGEN-CFDT, which was not exactly what Valière had hoped for in 1969. The other, EE-FUO (Workers’ United Front), was to become simply the union appendage of the OCI which swung between becoming a union tendency and trying to fit in, when this was possible, with the union apparatus of any given time, trying to make the latter “play its proper role” – this was, moreover, what Pierre Broué seems to have done in the SNESup.
Today, four tendencies in the FSU come out of EE: the “official” EE in reality is part of the leadership of the FSU: the Emancipation tendency tries, quite sincerely, to reclaim what it sees as the “old” revolutionary syndicalism; the PRSI tendency is an extension of the PT, and thus of the FO leadership: the United Front tendency corresponds with the supporters of Stéphane Just, who was expelled from the PCI in 1984. None of them carries on the “old” EE and even less the “old” Federation, which, moreover, one cannot purely and simply regard as revolutionary syndicalist. One can certainly think that this disappearance of an historic current in the French working-class movement was inevitable, but it remains the case that this was not a natural death: the assassination well and truly took place in 1969.
A great historian asserts himself
Pierre Broué’s association with the people from Arguments, particularly Edgard Morin, opened up doors to publication for him, through Éditions de Minuit.
He had been working on the Revolution and war in Spain since 1948 and had nourished the idea of writing this history as an adolescent, at Élie Reynier’s, at a time when the memory of the refugees of 1939 was still fresh.
From this, thus came Revolution and Civil War in Spain of which he wrote the first part which goes up to the point where the revolution was crushed in Republican Spain. Émile Téminé, later to be the historian of migration in Marseille, wrote the second part in which there is no longer a revolution but only war, which was thus lost, against Francoist barbarism. The tome came out in Éditions de Minuit in 1961. With it began a series of major books to which we must also add republications and prefaces such as Bukharin & Preobazhensky’s ABC of Communism from Maspéro (from before1968, republished in the “petite collection Maspéro”), Oscar Anweiller’s Soviets in Russia from NRF in 1972, the dossier on The Moscow Trials from Juillard in 1964, The Chinese Question in the Communist International from EDI in 1965 and the start of publishing all the texts of the latter’s congresses (two volumes from EDI, in 1969 and 1970).
* * * * *
Revolution and Civil War in Spain is a great book for it succeeds in creating that same synthesis that Trotsky achieves in his History of the Russian Revolution; to tell history as it effectively is, a succession of events, of gestures, of acts and from that itself forming movements of social classes and political forces in struggle. This poignant book tells how a revolution, initially victorious against Franco’s putsch, was to be destroyed from the inside, firstly through the hesitations and uncertainties of its leaders and then deliberately by the Stalinists organised from top to bottom as a policing power and who, for the first time, were to develop in Spain as a cancer on the body of the revolution. They aimed, through the Popular Front, to create a republican, rather than a revolutionary, Spain; they thus assured the defeat of the Republic and the terrible victory of Franco, therefore, reversing Lenin’s formula, transforming a civil war into an imperialist war and opening the door to the Second World War.
This book was to play an active role. It is without doubt the one of his books that engaged Pierre Broué the most, for it became a bible, a source of rejuvenation and reflection among the sixties and seventies generation of anti-Francoists and anti-Stalinists. Smuggled into Spain it became the base for contacts and debates. These discussions between the OCI, the POUM and the anarchists in exile, notably during the memorable study days organised by the Circle for Marxist Studies in Paris at which the main protagonists were Wilberto Solano of the POUM and Pierre Broué, are enthralling despite the fact (and, perhaps, enthralling for that in itself?) they never led to common organisational initiatives.
It was frequently read by anarchists, socialists in the Caballerist tradition and even by young trades unionists and young CP militants.
Paradoxically – but this is the paradox of post-Franco Spain – it was to be a less effective weapon when it was published in Spain after Franco and debated on the spot. This “transition” had as its base the claim that this past had been buried. This amounts to saying that this book will return and that its republication is particularly necessary, as today, especially since the Spring of 2004 the shock-wave of the past is again rocking Spain.
* * * * *
In 1963 The Bolshevik Party came out in the same collection. This is the most read of Pierre Broué’s books, although it is much less innovative than others. But it lent itself the most to being used, incidentally in the Ligue as much as in the OCI, in a “training school” type of way. To put it another way, although it is a good book it is by no means the best of them. It consists of a synthesis of the historical facts as they were known at the time on Bolshevik and then Stalinist Russia and explained for the first time in a systematic manner the stages of the factional struggles (between Stalinists, Trotskyists, Zinovievists, Bukharinists) in the Communist Party of the USSR between 1923 and 1929.
It was dedicated to “my master” Élie Reynier and “my friend” Balàzs Nagy – a double dedication which has been missed out of the recent electronic edition of the work on the Marxist Internet Archive website.
Contrary to the symptomatic error in Jean Birnbaum’s sympathetic obituary in Le Monde, it does not deal with “how the party of Lenin finished, under Stalinism, by wiping out the totality of the October generation”, rather it explains how the Stalinist bureaucracy wiped out the party of Lenin and the October generation, which is obviously not at all the same thing.
However, an ambiguity inherent in his treatment of the subject facilitates this sort of misinterpretation. The structure of the book appears to deal with one single party that transforms itself over time, while at the same time Pierre Broué presents the party which emerged from the purges as a different party, a counter-revolutionary party in power, from the revolutionary Bolshevik party.
We cannot blame the author for this ambiguity, which may even have been imposed without his knowledge. It is at the heart of the problem, of that continuity/discontinuity between October and Stalinism through which passes the whole calamity of the century. If Stalinism had only presented itself like Versailles massacring the Commune everything would be altogether more simple.
In this ambiguity resides the question of the relationship between democracy and revolution. Pierre Broué situates the roots of Stalinism entirely in the conditions facing the Russian Revolution and, most decisively, in the isolation of the revolution caused by the defeat of the European, and notably the German, revolution; the Russian tragedy thus comes back to the key issue of Germany, as we shall see later. This did not prevent him thinking and writing – not so much in the book itself but in an aside, that is to say in his article Remarks on the history of the Bolshevik Party in Arguments, no. 25/26 (the penultimate issue 1st and 2nd Quarters 1962) – that the apparatchiki, komitechiki and other “old Bolsheviks”, with whom Lenin often clashed, in the most radical way in 1917 to assure the victory of the revolution, did have a tendency to operate as bureaucrats. But essentially, on the fundamental issues Pierre Broué – and let me add we too – agreed with Rosa Luxemburg when she spoke thus of the October Revolution:
In the present period, when we face decisive final struggles in all the world, the most important problem of socialism was and is the burning question of our time. It is not a matter of this or that secondary question of tactics, but of the capacity of action of the proletariat, the strength to act, the will to power of socialism as such. In this, Lenin and Trotsky were the first, those who went ahead as an example to the proletariat of the world; they are still the only ones up to now who can cry with Hutten “I have dared”.
This is the essential and enduring in Bolshevik policy. [...] In Russia the problem could only be posed. [...] And in this sense the future everywhere belongs to “bolshevism.” (Rosa Luxemburg, The Russian Revolution)
In 1967 his The Communist Movement in France came out (again published by Minuit). This was a selection of articles by Leon Trotsky on France with a significant critical apparatus and introductions by Pierre Broué. With this book he began to make himself the editor of Trotsky. The cutting remarks that he let fly in passing in the notes at Pierre Frank and the Molinier current would not have pleased those to whom they were addressed but, leaving aside the legend according to which Molinier (who was soon to reappear in the Ligue) had become a circus director in Latin America, they were not let fly at random – and they do pose the problem of “methods” and of mutual respect in the revolutionary movement.
* * * * *
In 1969 Minuit published the French translation of the first volume of The Russian Revolution by Edward Hallet Carr, a great democratic figure, former Foreign Office official, gripped by passion and sympathy for his subject but whose career as an historian was to be brought down in full flight because he had been deceived by a fake document.
This work has to be counted as part of the series of fundamental and indispensable ones along with Pierre Broué’s other tomes published by Minuit. On the one hand this is because in it we can find a part of his own inspiration, a way of writing close to his own, as well, incidentally, as an irreplaceable account in all their detail of the early years of Bolshevik power and an account of the internal debates in Russian revolutionary social democracy which is far more detailed than the overview in The Bolshevik Party.
It must, on the other hand, also be taken into account because this first volume was translated into French by Andrée Broué, head of the language laboratory at Grenoble IUT, Pierre Broué’s third wife and mother of his four other children – Françoise, Catherine, Martine and Jean-Pierre, with whom he had gone to live in Grenoble. Two other volumes, covering the economic and foreign policy of the “soviets” up to 1921, appeared in 1974.
* * * * *
1972: this is his greatest work, and the one that Pierre Broué’s adulators know least well, this is his The German Revolution (1917–1923), the book that, of all Pierre Broué’s works was, for him, the hardest struggle to write.
This book was a struggle as a piece of work, a huge piece of work which had, in reality, been started in 1957 and which had forced its author to learn to read German as he went along (he learned it to write the book, then forgot it!), to research the archives, to have the doors of those who, at the time, were on “the East” closed to him and which, above all, was to be his weapon for confronting the University and becoming “Professor”, as it was his Thesis. Obtaining this title became a matter of political confrontation, Pierre Broué was obliged to assert himself as a worker by force upon a jury of academic superstars, in their majority dubious on the political level (apart from Pierre Naville, and even then …) and with a fundamentally hostile president of the jury: the former Stalinist harpy Annie Kriegel who had led the attacks on syndicalist and Trotskyist pro-Yugoslav meetings in 1949 and who had by then, faithful to herself, become a harpy of the Right. The thesis was accepted – not to have done so would have created a massive academic, political and intellectual scandal – and thus allowed its author to become himself an officially recognised “big shot”, indeed a superstar, something of which he was entirely aware and satisfied. While, let us note, his son Michel was, in exactly the same period, to become a significant mathematician.
This book was above all a political struggle, in the first place against the main objection which, though wrapped up in praises, was made at the time of the viva on the thesis by the historian Jacques Droz. Pierre Broué, in the little report that he typed up of this greatest moment of his life as an historian and a militant, summarised it like this:
JACQUES DROZ: stated that he was fascinated by this work […] M. Droz, for his part, thought that at no point had there existed in Germany a real revolutionary situation and that the idea of revolutionising Germany was a dream. Social Democracy had its reasons for gaining the maximum political and social advantage, could doing so be considered a betrayal? [my emphasis – VP]
Pierre Broué recounted as follows his response, in the form required to play the bull in this courteously bloody arena where it is claimed that careers can be created and destroyed:
[in response] to Droz, I acknowledged his general critiques and recognised that I should have expanded on the balance of forces, given that it was the communists in this period that I was studying. […] Finally I said to him that if revolutionising Germany was a dream, then struggling against barbarism was one too, and I refused to believe that.” [my emphasis – VP]
In demonstrating – through facts, accounts, biographies and equally the photographs at the end of the book – the reality of a revolutionary confrontation, not among Ukrainian or Andalucian peasants, nor metalworkers from Petrograd or Barcelona but in the industrial heart of Europe, facing an extremely sophisticated state bureaucracy in a country with extremely dense cultural traditions Pierre Broué had been very naughty: the revolution could not, truly could not, be treated as exotic and the concrete problems encountered by the German revolutionary communists between 1918 and 1923, while they had the bloodstained dimension of a revolution at stake, also appeared to be of much the same nature as the concrete problems encountered here and now by Western European militants.
In particular this concerned the question of the Workers’ United Front, the fetishised formula in all the recent crises in the École Émancipée. In The German Revolution Pierre Broué shows us its origins: the formulation of the need for “transitional slogans” by the leadership of the working-class bastion of Chemnitz in 1919; the proposal by reformist union leaders of a “workers government” to defend the [Weimar] republic against the military putchists of 1920; the Open Letter from trades unionists and those close to Paul Lévi in the VKPD (Unified German Communist Party) proposing united action around the most urgent demands and the disarmament of the pre-nazi paramilitaries; and finally the discussion and eventual adoption of the United Front policy by the Communist International in 1921–1922.
As an historian Pierre Broué takes sides, without moreover needing to say so, but this emerges from the very exposition of the facts and of the arguments: he not only situates himself, obviously, in the camp of the revolution and the German Communists, but also, within this camp, he is with the most “rightists” – that is to say those who developed the Workers’ United Front policy against the “leftists” and who, he thought, had thereby created a possible route to victory.
Taking this position might annoy those currents who took inspiration from the left communism of the period, represented by the KAPD and the trade union groups such as the AAUD. In truth Pierre Broué accorded them very little significance, including at those points where he talked of “leftism”. This early “leftism”, associated with the refusal to join unions or take part in elections, was in a majority among the first great wave of German communists and contributed to sending them into futile battles. But it later emerged in the form of leaders, full-timers with authoritarian mind-sets who wanted to force the pace of things. The leftism with which Pierre Broué crossed swords was not – one could say, to their great annoyance, was not even – that of the KAPD, of Goerter and Pannekoek; it was that of the emissaries of Moscow, of Bela Kun and Rakosi, passed on into the VKPD by the current led by Ruth Fisher and Arkadi Maslow. This is a leftism whose features are far more authoritarian than libertarian and which does not seem as “juvenile” as the other one, the one targeted by Lenin in his Infantile Disorder. But take care: for Pierre Broué there are two, complementary, perceptions of this leftism. On the one hand there is a leftism which is already bureaucratic in its methods, which comes to ally itself with Zinoviev in Moscow. On the other hand there is a mass “working-class leftism”, which the first type builds on and which runs through the entire history of German communism from 1918 to 1923.
Pierre Broué thought that leftism could get on perfectly well with bureaucratism and that the methods of directives from above were its characteristic feature. In March 1921 these methods were to engage the German party in a catastrophe, a sort of equivalent of the 1917 July Days in Russia, but which were to be badly led by the party; thus we even saw, in industrial Germany, guerrillas attacking banks and police stations. Paul Lévi publicly attacked the “March Action”: so he had to be expelled. Lenin and Trotsky, themselves in difficulties in relation to their own “leftist bureaucrats” or “bureaucratised leftists” – officials of the revolution, little bosses sending the rank-and-file into battle – had to agree to the expulsion and denunciation of the “traitor” Lévi. Pierre Broué liked this woman’s man, a refined intellectual and the spiritual son of Rosa Luxemberg (this too is a detail that the spontaneists who claim this title for themselves find disagreeable).
There is thus a debate about Paul Lévi (dealt with at the end of the book in the chapter Paul Lévi était-il communiste?) to whom Pierre Broué has restored his true stature. But this debate is but the antechamber to the main debate – that on 1923. For official history 1923, the German October does not exist and ought not to exist. For Stalinism there can be no question of a German October because – from … 1924 – it is a matter of building so-called socialism “in one country”. And even for the left communist currents (left of Trotskyism: Bordiga, KAPD, Pannekoek etc.) the story stops at the latest in 1921 and we must not go as far as 1923. Well?
Well, in Pierre Broué’s account, in 1923 the Workers’ United Front made the victory of the revolution possible in Germany and the insurrection was minutely prepared. United Front governments were formed in some Länder, in Saxony and Thuringia (Karl Korsch, who was later to become an ultra-left theoretician, was then a minister in Thuringia!). But the left social-democrats hesitated and the emissaries of Moscow agreed with the VKPD leaders to call off the insurrection. The counter-order reached Hamburg too late, leading to carnage and defeat. The final catastrophic retreats can be explained by the long wait that had preceded them, by the hesitations impelled from the top, right back to Moscow, to a party that, despite the great progress it had made, was still immature, for it had been beheaded at its birth by the murders of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, but also because the expulsion of Lévi and the weight in it of the “bureaucratic leftists” – soon to become “Zinovievists”, foot-soldiers of Stalinism – had, since 1921, truncated the party’s development.
This precise factual account and the analyses made by the actors themselves were rounded off in the 1990s by the publication of the wonderful reportage of Victor Serge and, in Cahiers Leon Trotsky, by speeches from Trotsky, Zinoviev and Radek from the period as well as what Paul Lévi himself thought (he was totally sceptical – on this Pierre Broué was thus no longer “with him”) all put together by Pierre Broué. All this, we must fully understand, bears on the major turning-point of the 20th Century: the German revolution, and thus the European revolution, would not take place, there would be Stalin and Hitler, the second world war followed by the division of the world and the cold war, in short the conditions that led to minority struggles and the distancing of perspectives, through to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Pierre Broué himself, in a quite striking fashion, returned little to his major work, which had left him both worn out and satisfied. He spoke about the German revolution and Rosa Luxemburg often with reticence, he who was so talkative, even “gossipy”, about every subject. This was partly for a bad reason – he wanted to be, first and above all, the “historian of Trotsky” – and partly for a good one – he felt that the “knot” of the common drama was to be found there and thus that the threads of the individual tragedies were tied up with it. As an event, and more than that as a non-event whose absence was to be decisive, the German October, which for academic historians is not even discussed – for it should not have had even the shadow of a beginning of an existence – is at the heart of the thinking of a Marxist historian of the 20th Century and of the understanding by militants of the past that has forged their present.
The German Revolution is thus Pierre Broué’s most significant book and the one whose republication would be politically the most useful both for the culture of militants and for those who really want to cultivate their minds. Studying it, if done seriously, would in fact constitute the most certain antidote for sparing young, and not so young, theoreticians from talking nonsense on the “United Front”. One such theoretician will explain to you that the united front is worth nothing today as there are no longer any workers’ parties, nor even workers’ unions, while another such will explain to you that Pierre Broué’s works on Germany show that Lenin was wrong to found the 3rd International, a surprising conclusion to say the least. All these theoreticians are in need of some rereading – and therefore of its republication. Though I talk here about “theoreticians”, rank-and-file worker militants for their part know that workers have an organic need to unite together in full independence in their unions, their strikes, their mass meetings, their struggles with all their organisations. But republication would be even more useful for them, as they would learn how a great struggle had been brought, once and once only, right to the threshold of a victorious revolution in a major, modern, European country.
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The great collection of “tomes” published by Minuit finished in 1975 with a new collection of texts by Trotsky chosen, presented and commentated by Pierre Broué, La Revolution Espagnole (1930–1940) – he had begun with Spain, now he signed off with it. This last book added some significant details to Revolution and Civil War in Spain notably through documents published as appendices. Pierre Broué had been put on the track of some of these by the old left communist militant Gaston Davoust. These documents tended to relativise, contextualise and explain the conflict between Trotsky and the POUM which had been the subject of a great debate that had begun in the 1960s following the publication of the first book and which Wilbaldo Solano, leader of the POUM youth in Barcelona in 1936 and Pierre Broué’s main interlocutor on this topic, was still pursuing in depth – in my opinion pretty effectively in favour of the POUM – in his book Le POUM: Révolution dans la guerre d’Espagne.
Let us note that by his manner of seeming to wish to reconcile the great revolutionaries Trotsky and Nin, over and above their shared murder by the same Stalinist police, as well as his open sympathy for Paul Lévi in the German revolution, Pierre Broué ranked himself, in relation to the orthodox activists that the OCI and the AJS were starting to mass produce and in relation to their cousins in the Ligue, enthusiasts for guerrilla struggles in the Sierras, or by default in the salons and the Latin Quarter, as an arrant “rightist” – with them as “Zinovievists”? But all this, in 1975 and for some length of time thereafter, was to be reserved to the initiates, and Pierre Broué had no intention of widening this circle.
In La Revolution Espagnole, and here too mainly for the initiates – to the extent that one must admit that taking the trouble to read everything in a book is something for an initiate to do – Pierre Broué settles his accounts with the accusation of neglecting the “underlying forces” in history. Marxist history is factual for it revolves around class issues whose resolution depends on the attitudes and choices made by responsible human beings. He added the following note to a passage by Trotsky. It worth quoting as Pierre Broué wrote little explicitly on his conception of the historian’s work. Yet here was truly his subject, though we will observe that this work is wholly envisaged as needing to be that of a revolutionary militant:
we can, moreover, note the current vogue in intellectual milieux for that interpretation of history, presented as “Marxist” which looks exclusively in the infrastructure – relations of production, relations between classes etc. – for a posteriori explanations of the history of class struggles and revolutions. Historians who seek explanations at the level of the policies carried out by human beings, parties and organisations stand accused of carrying out “factual” history and of neglecting the “true” explanations, which would involve looking, according to these critiques, solely at the level of “deep structures”. If such an interpretation were correct this would only signify that the defeat of the socialist revolution in all the countries where it has been defeated since October 1917 was engraved in the “reality” of social relations. It would be honest for the defenders of this sort of interpretation of Marxism to present themselves not as Marxists or “marxisants” but as the resolute conservatives that they really are, seeking to show that the revolution had only ever been defeated because it was not possible and that all the rest – in particular the revolutionary organisation – is but gesture and chit-chat.
This note was a comment on the following passage of Léon Trotsky’s article Class, Party and Leadership which takes up, so to speak, a defence of the revolutionary capacities of the masses against the leaderships:
The historical falsification consists in this, that the responsibility for the defeat of the Spanish masses is unloaded on the working masses and not those parties that paralysed or simply crushed the revolutionary movement of the masses. The attorneys of the POUM simply deny the responsibility of the leaders, in order thus to escape shouldering their own responsibility. This impotent philosophy, which seeks to reconcile defeats as a necessary link in the chain of cosmic developments, is completely incapable of posing and refuses to pose the question of such concrete factors as programmes, parties and personalities that were the organisers of defeat. This philosophy of fatalism and prostration is diametrically opposed to Marxism as the theory of revolutionary action.
Apogee and Turning-Point
The years 1968–1975 were years of great activity, in fact of hyperactivity, for Pierre Broué. He completed and defended his thesis and finished the publication by Éditions de Minuit of his series of great tomes, he had a family and, above all, he was building the OCI in Grenoble and the region around it.
Let us note that Michel Broué independently joined the OCI in 1970 after being “trained” in the GER (Revolutionary Study Groups) by Lionel Jospin who had been attached to Pierre Broué’s cell some years earlier and who was at the time a militant with a special status (not intervening publicly) in Stéphane Just’s cell. In particular Michel Broué organised the Committee of Mathematicians at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s. This had obtained the liberation from the Stalinist bureaucracy of the Ukrainian Leonid Pliouchtch (on this see: Laurent Schwartz, Un mathématicien aux prises avec le siècle, Odile Jacob, 1997).
* * *
The list of militants recruited at this time as a result, directly or indirectly, of the effervescence coming out of Political Sciences (the Grenoble IEP) in the climate of the years 1968 and 1970 is a significant one. Most, but not all, were students: René Revol, Martine Verlhac, Jean-Paul Joubert, the Québécois Roch Denis, the Venezuelan Armando Gaviria, André Tiran, Jean-Pierre Doujon, Marceau Rochette, Michel Barbe, Dan Moutot, Danielle Moutot, Fabien Gallet, Gérard Roche, Jean-Jacques Ayme, Antoine Thivel, Paule Gauthier, Bruno Flasher,. This list is eclectic in terms of their evolutions and is incomplete.
One of them, Jean-Pierre Juy, has given this testimony on the atmosphere of Pierre Broué’s lectures in this posthumous tribute:
An amazing teacher. He did not turn up to read us what he had written earlier. He took his place before us for a moment of intellectual creation. For me, Broué’s lectures were living thought in action. Through all that he explained there was a person engaged with what he expressed in his strong, deep voice. That deep voice, at times tinged with the accent of his native Ardèche, resonated like no other. He would half-pause for an instant, look questioningly at his audience and then carry on. For me the best lectures were those on the Russian Revolution. There, his evocative powers were literally captivating: he recounted the seizure of the Winter Palace as if he had taken part in it. We had before our eyes not only Broué but also Eisenstein’s images and Mayakovsky’s inspiration! It was as if the revolution shook the lecture theatre which, through this, became the theatre of history!
These words of Jean-Pierre Juy well recall the enthusiasm aroused by Broué’s lectures: they were truly lectures, without inverted commas, magisterial lectures in the highest sense of that term. His voice counted for a lot, a voice spontaneously or deliberately (undoubtedly both) honed over decades, including in his lycée teaching, though at the lycée the mood of the students and the constraints of the syllabus gave less freedom that that which Pierre Broué was to enjoy hereafter. Jean-Pierre Juy goes on:
The students came as much to listen to him as to learn. Seated behind the wide desk that filled the entire platform, he spread out before him a few sheets of folded paper and a watch with a gilt metallic strap. These were his navigation instruments. On these half-sheets of paper he had written out his line of argument in close writing, it was the route map for rolling out his thinking. He glanced at it from time to time, no doubt to maintain the course of his speech, but it was his brain that created the words at any given instant. (He was) like certain great conductors who can lead the orchestra without reading the score. He went on for two hours, the lecture theatre full, hanging on his every word, with no mike, and, at the break, groups of students congregated around him.
Like all young people we were insatiable, we always wanted to know more. So, with the most politically advanced students, he set up the Grenoble Marxist Study Circle. We decided together what questions to debate, we prepared talks. The meetings took place in the back room of a café, all the people concerned with the subject of the day were invited. Who came? The majority were students but there were also young workers. It was Wednesday evening, the room was quickly packed out. The discussion there was completely free and fraternal.
Naturally, however much time, shorter or longer, was spent in a “study circle”, and even though Jean-Pierre Juy doesn’t say so directly, it was the OCI, the Internationalist Communist Organisation, which was being built this way, it was to this that the students were recruited, integrated into cells, attending more and more meetings, distributing leaflets for the liberation of this or that Bolivian or Polish militant or just selling Informations Ouvrières, with a short speech, every day, be it at the University canteen, at factory gates or at markets.
This time of construction, which was the time of May 68, was, there is no doubt, an exhilarating time. May 68 in Grenoble was its summit. [There were] daily meetings of the SNESup, whose local leadership had just been taken away from the Stalinists and mass demonstrations of students and youth at which Pierre Broué spoke regularly. It is probable that the intervention of Trotskyist militants and the study circle around them had, at that time, a greater local influence than at national level: indeed it was after De Gaulle’s radio intervention of 30 May, which, across the country, marked the beginning of the great retreat, of the counter-attack by the regime and of the break-up of the general strike that a central and united demonstration with 30,000 participating was again called in Grenoble by the CGT departmental union, the SNESup and the UNEF. The police went crazy over rumours – totally fantasist ones – of an anticipated appearance of Cohn-Bendit at this demonstration …
However, on the national level the CGT had appealed for its supporters not to support the demonstration called for 1 June by the UNEF. The capacity to pull the UD CGT into such as demonstration was to have no follow-up. Nationally the OCI had been very shaken-up by the general strike, even though the wave of factory occupations had been set off by their militants, starting 14 May with the FO section in the Sud-Aviation factory at Nantes. On the one hand the absence of slogans at the level of taking power – such as demanding a PCF/PS government – and the subsequent absence of self-criticism and on the other hand the decision to not participate in the “night of the barricades” in the Latin Quarter as well as the police repression, had placed the organisation on a paradoxical defensive vis-à-vis the “leftist” wave for the rest of 1968 and the years that followed.
* * * * *
At what rate did this atmosphere of relative downturn, of a citadel under siege, gain ground in the “Grenoble federation” of the OCI? Certainly not straight away. The exhilaration could still be fully sensed, although it is on a tragic subject, in the pamphlet Le Printemps des peoples commence à Prague written by Pierre Broué with a lyrical pen and published by the organisation under his own name. With his help, a refugee Czech comrade, Karel Kostal, settled in Grenoble.
As a political educator Pierre Broué at the same time appealed to the intelligence of his audience and played on seduction and fascination. At the end of one political meeting he announced to the young people present that now we would “play a Stalinist meeting”: in this, falsely impromptu, happening he played the role of Jacques Duclos and those present had to try to throw him by taking on this or that role. His imitation was gripping, with the cheeky humour and the treachery of the old “GPUist”; Pierre Broué dominated all his theatrical interlocutors except, partially, Bob Lacondemine, teacher and former militant, who took the role of a “progressive Christian” who had come to seize the hand held out by the “stal”. All this was full of humour and intelligence and showed to the young militants to what point the Prof was capable of being a Stalinist if he decided to act as one …
* * * * *
But the group of young people insatiable for “free and fraternal” discussion carried on its shoulders the consciousness of being responsible for the reconstruction of the 4th International and thus of the future of humanity and, for that, in the immediate period, to battle against participation in the management committees of the university (which, incidentally, Pierre Broué practiced in his SNESup capacity) by preserving the union, UNEF, as a tool, against leftists and Stalinists. Soon a coalition of these two emerged against the “AJS-SS”, “AJS-iron bars” and utilising to the maximum the confused order issued by Stéphane Just on the evening of the night of the barricades in Paris in May: to march away as a procession because a mass meeting had been planned and it could not be cancelled as this would “liquidate” the building of the party, thus to march away leaving thousands of young people fighting the police and the state.
It so happens that this fight was at its most bitter in Grenoble. A loose grouping calling itself anarchist specialised in the “anti-AJS struggle”. At the end of 1969/beginning of 1970 the Grenoble university campus became infected by a group specialising in anti-Trotskyist struggle. This was held together, from a base in the Berlioz university residence, by a person known as “Max” who came in some sense or other out of the Mao-spontaneous group “Revolution” and who was manipulated by the police. It escalated from the spectacular – a young woman exposed her buttocks on which she had had tattooed “AJS-SS” – to the violent: the militant André Tatin was hit and hospitalised. The OCI and the AJS locally and nationally, Pierre Broué, Stéphane Just, Pierre Lambert, and the growing team of stewards led by Lionel Malapa, stood up in total solidarity to “Max’s gang” and returned blow for blow, and sometimes more. The OCI, the AJS and the UNEF (Unité Syndicale) asserted their right to exist. It had to be done, but this came at the price of developing an esprit de corps at the highest level of sectarianism and authoritarianism.
In Pierre Broué’s view the Grenoble OCI, and himself personally, became, at this time, entitled to a sort of special treatment, which it might not be going to far to think had been plotted in the top levels of the state apparatus, and which served the function, objectively at least, of aligning the Grenoble OCI with the relatively sectarian style and form of the organisation at the national level.
Gestures, habits, life-styles became “identikit”, assuming that they were not so to some extent already. And, because one was from the OCI, in short from the Bolshevik Party, bearer of an “historical continuity”, from the “last generation of October” – understood as those who would make October in France and in Europe, who would take power – so one was not a leftist, sprouting after the last rains, or a studentish 68er like the “Pabloites” of the LCR. One cultivated the appropriate, nay distinguished, look; one was scholarly but virile, one was not a feminist pain in the neck …(to be accurate: the macho aspect of militant student culture in this period, sometimes accentuated in the AJS-OCI to the point of homophobia, had without doubt appeared less in Grenoble before 1975 due, according to a comrade who knew this period, to the presence of a number of female militants with leadership positions, but the militant “style” was globally the same for the rest).
But we must not therefore imagine that this “culture” did not exist in the time of the OCI Isère Federation and its student section led by Pierre Broué; that these were at that time just splendid intellectuals, valiant students and remarkable historians who were suddenly followed, after Pierre Broué, by the gang who were “identikit”, super-activist, did little academic work, at once a bit lumpen and a bit bureaucratic on the edges. This was how they appeared (to others!), when, with 80 militants on the campus already, I was one of them myself.
On the international level it was during these years that the OCI broke with Healy’s Socialist Labour League (SLL) in Britain and at the same time found itself new allies, incidentally infinitely less respectable, the Bolivians of Guillermo Lora’s POR (Workers’ Revolutionary Party) who are the heart and soul of the working-class movement, of miners’ unionism, in their country.
Until General Banzer’s putsch in August 1971, Bolivia had been going through a revolutionary upsurge. The POR had played a central role in this. They had pulled the Bolivian CP and national union, the COB, into forming a unified command and then a “People’s Assembly”, hailed by the OCI, but also by many workers in Latin America, as “the first Latin American Soviet”, but had judged it premature to call for a workers’ government, only for the coup d’état to intervene. For this they were accused of “Menshevism” by other currents, with the exception of the OCI.
Bolivia had also been the key country for the other big branch of Trotskyism, the Unified Secretariat of which the Ligue Communiste then constituted the French section. Here the Bolivian myth was centred around the figure of Che and the “Lora” POR, linked to the OCI, was held up to public obloquy for having stayed resolutely impervious to the seductions of guerrilla struggle.
In fact, it was once, two years later, the Chilean working-class and the Chilean people had been crushed that, as a result, the partial defeat of the Bolivian revolution became definitive.
Balàzs Nagy-Varga was hostile to the formation, based on the OCI and the POR, of the new Organising Committee for the Reconstruction of the 4th International (CORQI). In reality, in the new situation arising from 1968, what would have been needed was an open, in depth, debate, taking into account the evolution of all the currents of Trotskyist origin, about the appropriate organisational forms for Trotskyists. The new perspectives were positive, indeed exhilarating; so they should be grasped – and this should not be the dead grasping the living.
This debate was not to take place. Indeed Nagy had not sought it, but, suspected by Lambert and Just of “factional activity” behind their back – indeed of maintaining contacts with Healy – he, and his supporters, were expelled in an extremely violent manner (physical violence took place, genuine and serious beatings-up), all in the name of Stéphane Just’s alleged discovery, that Nagy-Varga was “a KGB and CIA double agent”. The damning proof of this is supposed to be found in Just’s pamphlet L’itinéraire d’un provacateur. Anyone of sense who reads the pamphlet will search in vain for the proof, in any rational sense of the word, of the accusation set out in it. But the militants were enjoined to acquiesce: “yes, Nagy is a provocateur” – those who did not explicitly acknowledge this could therefore well be ones themselves …
To demand explicit acceptance of the absurd is a procedure characteristic of bureaucracies based on belief. I believe because it is absurd said St. Augustine. To accept that something has been demonstrated when, quite explicitly, it has not been is a test of orthodoxy of the type demanded by the Popes of the 17th Century; that is to say, for example, that the Jansenists had formulated this or that thesis when it was well-known that this was not in the writings in question, but to say it all the same because the leaders demanded it and because what mattered was unconditional allegiance to the absolute collective – to the Party of which these leaders are supposed, by definition, to be the incarnation.
For the “rank-and-file militants” in 1973 Pierre Broué was one of those leaders who demanded and obtained such things. In reality he was mortified. He said in private and continued to repeat that it was crazy rubbish. Or he implied this to a young militant who didn’t know what to think, with a mysterious or menacing air and no further word. Moreover, in this matter, Pierre Broué wanted, later on and perhaps at the time, to be basically as distant from Nagy as from Lambert between whom there had developed, at least since the 1966 London “world conference”, a battle of leaders, a sort of game of liar poker or of billiards off many cushions, where the third actor was Gerry Healy.
But, however this may be, he ratified the position, he advised obedience even though he didn’t actually force people in his own cell to swear to a lie and he broke with the “Varguistes”. At the end of a general meeting in Grenoble on the “affair” one militant asked Pierre Broué what one should do if one met “Varguistes” in the street and he replied that this had happened to him recently and they had said hello to each other but that “now that I know what I know I would spit in their faces”. The comrade who told me this said that it seemed to him that Lambert was in the room to oversee what he said. If old Reynier had been there he would have, this time, really given Pierre Broué a lesson. A well-deserved one.
* * * * *
I must here return for a moment to the article by Francesco Giliani and Paolo Brini. Pierre Broué had indeed clearly claimed to them that in 1971, at the time of the foundation of the new Socialist Party at Epinay, he had fought for entrism with flags unfurled into this party, which would have avoided a drift like that of Lionel Jospin whose entrism had nothing at all unfurled, which made him into that which everyone knows. They therefore took up this episode in the article and made of it, as well one would, a step in the long march of Pierre Broué away from Lambert and towards Ted Grant.
Assuming that a debate like this took place, this version is, sadly, highly questionable. Charles Berg, then leader of the AJS, the youth organisation parallel to the OCI has also claimed to have, at the time, supported this position – one which indeed merited real examination. Pierre Broué professed a certain degree of hostility in his regard. It is remarkable that both of them should have claimed to argue for this same political position.
At the time of the Epinay Congress it seems that the dominant debate in Lambert’s eyes was rather about whether the new PS was still a “bourgeois workers’ party” (organising the working-class and coming out of its struggles, even though led by an apparatus tied to the bourgeoisie) or whether, from the fact of it being taken over by the bourgeois adventurer Mitterand it was a replay, worsened and magnified, of the takeover of the PSU at its birth by Mendès-France in 1960, that is to say a party analogous to the American Democratic Party or, as Alexandre Hébert thought, a party contaminated by Christian Democracy. There wasn’t really any debate, but if the above was the dilemma for the leadership of the OCI the eventuality of entrism by the AJS youth thus had few chances of being seriously considered. As to the clandestine entrism of Jospin and a few others it was the subject of no discussion at all as it was in a reserved area – “defence secrets” so to speak …
* * *
In the 1960’s Stéphane Just had developed his characteristic talent as a self-taught theoretician and pamphleteer. He was fond of fierce attacks, in a rather heavy manner, on Ernest Mandel who on the one hand wrote under his own name in journals of the left intelligentsia and on the other, as a militant who claimed to be a Trotskyist, used his pseudonym Germain, and, according to Just, didn’t necessarily say the same thing, or not always in the same way, in each case: Just glossed him as “Janus-Germain-Mandel”.
This figure of Janus comes to mind when we follow Pierre Broué’s route through this period and it was in the minds of militants, historians and many students who knew or appreciated his works and at the same time observed the organisation in which he was, let us remember, not a marginal figure but the figure best known to the “great public” – more so than Lambert – even though he wasn’t “the” leader and doubtless no longer even “a” leader. Janus-Broué-Scali?
We have reached 1975, Broué’s last tome from Minuit has just appeared.
“The Historian of Trotsky”
Pierre Broué, rank and file militant? He claimed to have special relationships with the leadership, with Lambert himself and to take on confidential missions. He was soon to be the “Contact Man”, or at least he would have liked to be recognised as such, vis-à-vis the Unified Secretariat and the American SWP (Socialist Workers’ Party), towards which the OCI and the CORQI had turned after the break with Healy and the “Varga affair” – Pierre Broué had hosted Ligue militants after its dissolution. He was the educator of the young militants that the OCI were in the course of recruiting … inside the LCR (therefore as “moles”) around Christian Nemo (Leucate). He also implied that, with Lambert, he followed through the “East” work – but in fact a large part of this work was followed up in an entirely independent way by his son Michel. And, seen from Paris, Pierre Broué had not, already for some years, been considered as an important person in the organisation and was beginning to be perceived by the young militants as an out of touch intellectual.
At the formal level he had not been on the Political Bureau since 1973 and what is more not on the Central Committee since 1975. From the same date he was no longer responsible for the Isère Federation, nor for his main “pillar” the “student sector”. The latter was led by Jean-Paul Joubert who successively appeared as the “anti-Broué and then, when the national leadership took away all his local leadership roles from him, became closer to him (the more so as they became colleagues at the IEP). At the beginning of the 1980s the student sector with Yacime Halmechat as leader and the General Association of Students (UNEF Unité Syndicale then UNEF-ID) led by Denis Bailly, were carefully kept apart from Pierre Broué and Jean-Paul Joubert. Pierre Broué was later to renew his contact with students through Damien Durand, then through the author of these lines and later still through two new militants, Patrick Enreille and Alain Dontaine.
* * * * *
Ever since the “Varga affair” he had considered that the problem of his organisation was that it had endowed itself with an apparatus of bureaucratised intermediate cadres – but he didn’t say “bureaucratised”, he said “Zinovievist”, this was less risky but also gave more to reflect on. He reflected on the question of methods, as he was not in disagreement with the general political line developed in Informations Ouvrières: achieving PS-PCF unity to kick out Giscard, direct organisation of youth and workers around this objective and the developments of strikes and class-struggles in general. But this general line was distorted in its application: phoney committees were created, the group passed from one petition to another without any sense of follow-up, militants ran from one place to another, the militants got slagged off, militants were incapable of discussion with militants of other tendencies, any old ten-franc piece from a guy who had left his address at a market sale counted as a militant’s “phalanx” (a sub-payment) …
Incidentally, the theme of “the OCI’s methods” was at the heart of critiques and sometimes ukases hurled against this organisation by the rest of the far left, notably by the LCR. Seen from the outside, Pierre Broué was henceforth to be “the historian”, less simplistic and less brutal than the impolite organisation to which he belonged and whose methods he concealed, even though he didn’t use them himself. The great storyteller had learned how to manipulate an eloquent silence, the art of implication … of whatever people were willing to have implied.
“People often say to me that I am an honest man in an organisation of crooks. I reply that they are undoubtedly not as crooked, and I am undoubtedly not as honest as they imagine”. At this he would let out a big laugh; this time the laugh served to avoid explanation, the laugh was no longer an open one.
* * * * *
Debates on the future of the organisation and thus on revolutionary perspectives never went beyond the leading circles and always took the form of “factional” struggles that were resolved by expulsions and anathemas. In retrospect, it is not difficult to understand how in the second half of the 1970s the question of the building of the OCI could present itself from different angles, more or less complementary with each other but which could well become contradictory with each other.
There was the possibility of building directly on a (relatively) “mass” scale; this was the official line for “an OCI of 10,000 militants” – it had reached 6,000 soon after this, the biggest force calling itself far-left in France, and that by a long way. Including the turnover at least ten times more had passed through it.
There was its identification with a union sector, essentially in FO where the former FO lefts had been absorbed or liquidated to the benefit of the tendency embodied by Pierre Lambert and Alexandre Hébert, the customary left cover for André Bergeron.
There was the battle for “Trotskyist unity”, looking to an eventual unification with the Ligue (indeed, in theory, with LO) in a party which would inevitably be made up different tendencies and factions, this would assume a global debate on the history of the IVth International, that debate which had in reality burst out earlier, after the failure of the Bolivian revolution and for which the violence of the “Varga affair” had been a substitute.
What is more there was the unsaid (to militants), that is to say Jospin and his comrades in the PS – where it was easy to “rise” – “as a faction”. Mitterand, incidentally, was well aware of this game and wasn’t worried by it in the least.
From 1976, under the pressure of the Portuguese revolution and of the official contacts opened up in 1975 between the OCI and the American SWP, an official discussion had begun between the Unified Secretariat and the CORQI, the latter had been demanding this since 1973. Neither of the leading groups really wanted unification which would have assumed that all the cards would be reshuffled and all the “occupied spaces” called into question. Nonetheless there really and truly was an “objective” pressure for such a discussion.
Undoubtedly Pierre Broué had sincerely hoped this discussion would let in some fresh air. In retrospect – for I am rather sceptical as to whether he thought this so clearly at the time – he told me that in 1962 the OCI ought to have taken part in the re-unification through which Mandel and the SWP had formed the Unified Secretariat, although they should have set out political reservations (this was roughly what Nahual Moreno’s Latin American current did when it entered the SU in 1964). To the extent that this or that leader of the OCI identified himself with a particular model of [party] construction his was thus more that of “Trotskyist unity” and stood opposed to that of Stéphane Just and Charles Berg, the adulators of the “party of 10,000”, even, indeed, for the latter of the “third workers’ party” on top of the PS and the PCF.
His fame as an historian allowed Pierre Broué to organise debates with people from the SU, who were by no means a homogeneous bloc. It was at this time that he gained the respect of and influence over a young leader of the rather turbulent LCR, Gérard Filoche, who then wrote a remarkable book on the revolution in Portugal Printemps Portugais which was to be published by editions Acteon in 1984. This fine book owes much, as one can feel in reading it, to Pierre Broué’s great narratives of revolutions in the Minuit editions. It could be added to the series; this is one of the greatest compliments one could pay to its author.
* * * * *
But the fact is that there are two sides to this story. Two commissions of enquiry were to mark the Trotskyist landscape in 1976–1977.
One had been demanded by the supporters of Nagy-Varga, although he himself had refused to participate (and had set up his own made up entirely of his own current). Leaving aside the divers twists and turns in the relations between the currents who participated, some less, some more, in this commission (the Ligue, LO, the American SWP, the Spartacist tendency and Alan Thornett’s British SWL – a group of worker trades unionists expelled from the Healy group), what obviously emerged from its investigations was that nothing in the accusations formulated against Varga could be proved. Pierre Broué and Jean-Jacques Marie, who had known Varga before he joined the OCI, refused to respond to the commission, although it had nevertheless heard Pierre Lambert, Claude Chissery and Gérard Bloch. This refusal was obviously under orders.
The other commission aimed to defend the honour of two historic leaders of American Trotskyism, Jo Hansen, Trotsky’s former bodyguard, and George Novack, who had been accused by Gerry Healy’s current and its American group (David North) of having been CIA and GPU (KGB) agents. This bout of paranoia towards another organisation followed on, in the case of the Healyite current, from the crisis in its American organisation where suspicions of CIA infiltration (incidentally quite possible) had appeared and had provoked the expulsion of two leaders, Tim Wolforth and Nancy Fields. The crisis of internal terror, here too, allowed a ban on all debate about the future.
A large number of revolutionary militants from all countries signed the “verdict” defending Hansen, Novack and the SWP against the calumnies. For France, in addition to Margarerite Bonnet and Daniel Guérin, Pierre Frank, Alain Krivine Pierre Rousset and Gérard Vergeat were the signatories for the LCR, Arlette Laguiller and Michel Rodinson for LO, and for the OCI: Pierre Lambert and Pierre Broué.
To put the moral authority of the OCI behind such an affair thus required two signatures in all and for all, and it had to be these two: Lambert and Broué. But the difference in attitude towards these two commissions of enquiry also shows that, to paraphrase Orwell, for these are Orwellian phenomena which we see here, “though all calumnies are equal, some are more equal than others” …
* * * * *
The fortieth anniversary of the proclamation of the 4th International in 1978 and the study days to which it was to give rise, together with the approach of the opening of the closed section of the Leon Trotsky Archives deposited in the Houghton Library at Harvard, due to the end of the forty year’s delay imposed to protect militants, friends and relatives notably in the Soviet Union, mark out this period linked to the debate between the Unified Secretariat and CORQI.
Pierre Broué now really got to know the “old guard” of the American SWP after having, along with George Breitman, defended Jo Hanson, who died in 1978, against calumnies. George Breitman was Trotsky’s publisher at Pathfinder Press, the expert on the American workers’ movement, the man who had won Malcolm X to Trotskyism just before his assassination by the FBI : he fought politically from the wheelchair to which he was confined by a painful illness. With men like these Pierre Broué rediscovered militants who were his elders towards whom emerged the admiration that he had had in the past for Reynier and, differently for Claude Bernard who had remained a turbulent old mate but invisible to rank-and-file militants, although organiser of the sector of the OCI working with artists and actors, invisible perhaps to Pierre Lambert too, but now no longer.
The story of Pierre Broué’s relations with the men coming from the SWP thus begins at the same time as the project of publishing in French the complete works of Trotsky and of creating for that purpose a cadre thar would be “ecumenical” in relation to diverse organisations but would at the same time be an cadre of recognised academics and would be controlled by Pierre Broué who would, in any case, be the indispensable worker: this would be the Leon Trotsky Institute.
The Leon Trotsky Institute was founded in 1977, its first president was Marguerite Bonnet and had associated with it academics such as Michel Dreyfus (until 1985) or Jean Risacher and Broué’s OCI militant colleague at the IEP, Jean-Paul Joubert. It had the support of the OCI but also of the LCR (a point that Jean-Jacques Marie “forgot” in the non-obituary signed in his name) notably in the form of François Godchau. It set itself the aim of publishing the works of Leon Trotsky and the publication of journals. Pierre Broué had established contact with Sieva Volkoff, Trotsky’s grandson. The first volume of the Works came out in 1978 and the first Cahier Leon Trotsky the following year. The task was to recapture, in French and by introducing, after 1980, the supplementary material from that part of the archives up till then closed, the publishing work carried out by George Breitman and supported in the US by the SWP. This signified a double, wholly justified, choice in the manner of starting the publication of the whole of Trotsky’s works: firstly the choice of making known the correspondence and the vast quantity of articles of short or medium length, immensely rich material, full of life, of details, of lessons, which was the least known type of Trotsky’s writings; then the choice, by beginning with the year 1933 which is that of the victory of Hitler and consequently, for Trotsky, of the decision to fight for a 4th International, to focus on questions relating to the 4th International. This is confirmed, incidentally, by the first number of the Cahiers which published the minutes of the 1938 founding conference, held discreetly at the home of Alfred and Marguerite Rosmer.
This editorial orientation conceived around the 4th International, while judicious in itself, was obviously not unrelated to the immediate Trotskyist context of the end of the 1970s, that of a possible re-unification of the SU and the CORQI or at least of a regroupment that would favour the discussion of issues hidden away for decades – the evolution of capitalism, Stalinism the political experiences and the organisational forms of Trotskyists themselves …
Pierre Broué thus began, so to speak, the second great phase of his work as a militant/historian. His greater free time since 1975 allowed him more than before to travel enormously to conferences and seminars. After the great series of tomes from Minuit, publishing Trotsky together with his academic work made him genuinely the “historian of Trotsky” to which his name will stay attached.
It was in this capacity that he was invited to appear on the TV programme Les dossiers de l’écran alongside Krivine, Ellenstein and Sanguinetti where, no doubt feeling cornered or tired, perhaps, too, preoccupied with not getting into any polemics while his publication project was just getting started, he was to intervene above all to state that “Trotsky had the head of a lion” and was thus far greater than the actor who portrayed him in the sorry film that went out that evening! The innocent public saw in him a decent bloke with a passion for his hero. For its part the Political Bureau of the OCI turned out a humiliating note on the political capitulation in front of the cameras of the historian.
* * * * *
This misadventure, in itself of no great significance, signalled the end of the political hopes of the second half of the 1970s. There would be neither a reunification of the Trotskyist movement nor a sufficiently profound international debate nor an evolution in the running of the OCI. Worse still, the Trotskyist movement was, with the transformation of the SWP into a Castroist and anti-Trotskyist group, to experience one of the tragedies in its history. Despite all this the opening of the closed section of the Trotsky archives was to nourish the work of Pierre Broué as the historian of Trotsky though it did not therefore continue under the political circumstances in relation to which it had been started.
* * * * *
On the international level the turning took place in 1979. By way of a prologue, the OCI expelled the Bolivian POR and the Argentinian group Politica Obrera. Stéphane Just made himself the prosecutor of these Latin American militants who, placed in the most difficult of conditions, found themselves accused of having, in Argentina and Chile, participated in union structures controlled by the state (when one has no choice, one does what?). This, therefore, avoided a debate in depth around the – quite normal – differences that were emerging notably around the theme of the Constituent Assembly slogan and, rightly, around the way to reconstruct the 4th International and to discuss with the SU.
But these discussions were to stop short in the second half of the year. There was a revolution in Nicaragua; Nahual Moreno’s current had organised a Simon Bolivar Brigade which had intervened to expropriate bosses on plantations on the East side of the country, but the new Sandinista government, with the help of Cuban forces had intervened and arrested these militants, some of whom were mistreated.
As OCI militants we had a tendency to see here the history of the Spanish Revolution repeating itself, with our Trotskyist comrades, though they came from an exotic current of which we knew little, playing the role of revolutionaries repressed by the “republicans” just as in Broué and Téminé’s book.
Conversely, a sector of the Unified Secretariat considered that Nicaragua was a second Cuba and the Simon Bolivar Brigade operation was a provocative diversion which the Sandinistas had been right to repress. And this was not any old sector; not the former guerrillistas of the Latin Quarter but the supposed orthodox Trotskyists of the American SWP.
The Morenoist current (the “Bolshevik Faction”) and the Trotskyist-Leninist Tendency (TLT, led in France by OCI moles), under the impetus of Moreno, then decided to split from the SU whose leadership could not make up its mind to condemn clearly the SWP’s attitude of support for anti-Trotskyist repression in Nicaragua. And very quickly three movements, CORQI, the Bolshevik Faction and the TLT declared a “Joint Committee for the Reorganisation/Reconstruction of the 4th International”.
For Pierre Broué this amounted to giving up the hunt to chase shadows. Indeed one and a half years were to suffice for the official idyll of Lambert and Moreno, the two moustaches, to turn into a split and, as Claude Nougaro was to say “each went back to his own car”: at the end of 1981 Moreno accused the OCI of opportunism towards the Mitterand-Mauroy government which had just been formed in France following the 10 May 1981 [election] victory, the dance was over.
* * *
Pierre Broué claimed to have been informed and consulted by Lambert and Just at each stage of the process. Stéphane Just had proudly shown him the many amendments with which he had repackaged the proposals for theses submitted by Moreno, Pierre Broué had grumbled. Nahuel Moreno – a great personality – had insisted, during his French tour, on a trip to Grenoble and in front of a packed hall had paid homage to the “great historian” who was sitting in the body of the hall rather than on the platform. Pierre Broué telephoned Ernest Mandel: he claimed to have declared to him “Basically this suits you well, the Moreno business, we are no longer your interlocutors?”, which Mandel had not contradicted. At the root of his thinking was the view that this suited Lambert just as much. I think that he had a small “soft spot” in the joint committee regroupment for the Central American groups which had joined the TLT, whose figurehead was a militant whose history placed him in a difficult position: Fausto Amador, former Sandinista leader had renounced the Sandinista movement under torture then, once free again, had become a Trotskyist. But it was precisely these groups in Nicaragua, Honduras and Panama that had been excluded from the joint committee, as a paragraph in Correspondence Internationale, the organ of said committee announced without further explanation. The joint committee was Lambert and Moreno, the TLT being merely the French section, which in the end purely and simply joined the OCI (from which came the provisional name, so to speak, when it then became the “Unified OCI”). There was no question that any other components than those who had signed the central pact existed in any autonomous way, right up to the denunciation of that pact. Adolfo Gilly, the historian of the Mexican Revolution and more of a “Pabloite” said to Pierre Broué “You should say to Lambert, from me, that if he wants to ally himself with Moreno, he’ll need to do some politicking but he’ll also need to always keep his hand on his wallet”. He passed on the good advice. When it came to the break-up Lambert phoned Pierre Broué “And you should say to your mate Gilly that I always kept my hand on my wallet!”. No-one would have doubted this.
I’ve just given here a version of these events which is not an analysis of them but which attempts to restore Pierre Broué’s view of them, for this is an issue which we discussed in considerable depth.
We should add some further points, some other clarifications. Seen from the “other side”, from the LCR, according to the accounts of militants, all the issues concerning the evolution of the American SWP’s evolution towards Castroism after its “turn to the workers” (advocated at the time in the LCR) with its positions on Nicaragua, but equally on Iran, Afghanistan and Poland, had generally escaped the attention of rank-and-file militants. Thus Mandel along with Charles Michaloux and Charles-André Udry seem probably to have sincerely wanted the debate and the reunification and considered this the route to a “party of 10,000 members” in France; but Daniel Bensaid and the majority of the French leadership who came out of the JCR didn’t want it, and here there was a real contradiction. This story, rich with virtualities and missed appointments, thus remains largely to be told.
One of these virtualities was that of a regroupment of currents which had drawn the lessons from each other, militants who had come back from leftism and were vaccinated or in the course of being vaccinated against the methods of apparatuses and authoritarianism of infallible mini-leaders. It would have been nice to believe after the event that such regroupments were going on, a ferment of the reunification of world Trotskyism around its principles and its programme and with a democratic debate as we stood on the thresholds of new revolutions in Poland, Nicaragua and Iran and with the birth of the Workers’ Party in Brazil. And now come Francesco Giliani and Paolo Brini, in the articles cited earlier with what they think will come as a revelation: Pierre Broué had formed a “secret tendency” with Raoul (Claude Bernard) against the leadership of the OCI. A book published in Italy with a colleague, a professor of history (and not a member of the OCI), Hubert Desvages, was supposed to provide the secret funds for the secret tendency.
There is a certain unintended cruelty in such a “revelation”. As, on the one hand neither Pierre Broué’s private remarks nor Claude Bernard’s boasts were unknown. On the other hand can a secret tendency, so secret that it is only spoken of after the death of its two members, be seen as a great political success? “To pose the question is to answer it”, as Lambert would have said.
In the absence of who knows what secret tendency, whose possible existence amounts in reality to its non-existence as a political current carrying on a real struggle, there were in the late 1970s one or more subjective “sympathies” inspired, without he himself having sought them, by Pierre Broué, at once from his books and from the impression [that he carried on] a broader and more intelligent political practice than the major part of the OCI
This started from Grenoble militants, but also spread among the Quebec group, largely built or intellectually influenced by Pierre Broué, who himself had links with Quebec, and undoubtedly among Italian militants where the organiser of the Italian cell of the OCI, Franco Grisolia, who had distanced himself from the OCI at the time of the Varga affair but had been, through various successive regroupments, the originator of a significant Trotskyist current. And a worker trades unionist militant like the English Alan Thornett, kicked out by Healy in 1975, the originator of a small organisation that had participated as an observer in the meetings of the Lambert-Moreno committee and was later to join the SU, would undoubtedly have been close to these “sympathies”. But in fact neither Pierre Broué nor Claude Bernard had organised anything which, from near or from far, looked like an international current and if such an “axis” had existed anywhere it was above all in the suspicions nursed by Lambert and Just.
The sequel to this story, rather, shows clearly that this theme, of a “secret tendency” organised against Lambert, in the statements that Pierre Broué may have made to his two Italian listeners is mere bragging which veils his attachment to regrets for battles not fought and, perhaps, something worse still. And whether this was real or imaginary changes nothing about the matter, for if it was real this is even worse for it means this: “in secret” we are valorous battlers for democracy in the organisation; in practice we cover up we apply the policies and we may well add to them. What we have here are habits of mind which are a feature of bureaucracies and their members.
* * * * *
At the national level in the OCI itself 1979 was to be the year of the “Berg affair”. Charles Berg was, for Pierre Broué, the prototype of the young “look at me” leader, authoritarian and “Zinovievist”. Bit by bit a personal antagonism had developed between them. At the 22nd Congress of the OCI a problem that had arisen in the accounting of the “phalanges” brought to light the gap between fiction and reality, between the theoretical number of militants and the real number of comrades effectively operating in the cells of the organisation. The congress very quickly unearthed a guilty party, which was very handy because he denounced himself as corrupt, for having kept a part of the funds collected in his possession. This was Charles Berg. Stéphane Just conducted the trial with as much speed as that with which he had, politically, pushed the “party of 10,000” line, along with Charles Berg, on the Political Bureau.
* * *
This political and personal elimination gave satisfaction to Pierre Broué but he knew, if only from his children who had passed periods time in the ranks of the organisation, that Berg was not the only one to profit from the system, that there was an “apparatus” made up of full-timers who would soon have their expense accounts, with variable limits, enabling them to draw on the funds of the organisation to satisfy their needs or to pay for hotels and that they were a long way, a very long way, from the poverty of the few full-timers at the end of the war …
He was therefore to try to drive home the point and to undertake a “sortie” in the internal bulletin. This sortie was to be the only serious attempt that Pierre Broué was to make to modifier the internal regime of the OCI/PCI, and it was a timid one.
In this text Drawing Our Strengths from Our Weaknesses he puts forward the idea that the “authority principle” is in essence bourgeois and one has to be aware of this when, as is sometimes necessary, one has recourse to it, that methods have a certain autonomy in politics, and if an apparatus is necessary one must beware of it and that the way to do this is to be careful and to cultivate debate and the level of education in it (I say all this from memory as I no longer have it to hand, but I am certain that I have reconstructed the spirit of it).
Basically this was a text that didn’t go very far. But the reply from Lambert, though courteous in its form, showed that the message had been both received and challenged one hundred percent. “Comrade Broué’s text lacks any direction for practice”; this little phrase wasn’t addressed to Broué but to the militants to say to them “this is an intellectual with his head in the clouds”. Lambert went on to say that as far as bureaucracy was concerned “all the seats are taken”; there was the reformist bureaucracy which lived off the emoluments of the bourgeois state and the Stalinist bureaucracy which lived off those of the degenerated workers state and that, all in all, there was nothing left in the till to sustain a third bureaucracy. These arguments show, between the lines, that Lambert understood very well what was at issue: was he a bureaucrat? Was Berg one? Could the OCI apparatus become bureaucratised? The “materialist” response was No. This pseudo-“materialism” reduced the sources of bureaucracy to dosh and thus excluded any autonomous role for power relationships although these are fundamental (and are at the heart of the Marxist analysis of the state). It implied that, in very essence – in a thoroughly metaphysical way! – Lambert couldn’t possibly be a bureaucrat. What perfect theoretical protection!
Lambert’s “response” was finished off by Stéphane Just in La Vérité where he launched a polemic against Pierre Broué without naming him and drove home the point: Berg was just an “adventurer”, the OCI was pure and spotless, the problem of “Berg’s methods” had been solved, there was no problem of “OCI methods”, on the contrary these should be strengthened in the way they were already developing – more centralisation, more of the “objectives – results method” – there had been but one tumour in a healthy body and it had been “eradicated” (why had it appeared? A mystery!). So the issue was closed, there was silence in the ranks and silence from Pierre Broué who retired into his shell, so if he shut his mouth others would not take the risk….
* * * * *
The decade of the 1970s thus drew to an end with the closure of the hopes with which it had begun and in a climate of suspense; Pierre Broué was regarded as a dissident but he had the ear of the leadership. This type of relationship can be found in all bureaucracies, including, above all, the Stalinist bureaucracies – it is that, to call a spade a spade, of “His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition”, who would be easy to get rid of but who may also be useful in case of need.
Trotsky, the SWP, Van and back to the Second World War
This decade, however, ended on a different note. This was his journey to the United States (Pierre Broué had had to give up a trip to Nicaragua to get his visa for this) [to work on] the greater part of the up to then closed archives of Leon Trotsky. Their discovery, the complementary discoveries of other pockets of archives, such as the Sedov dossiers found by Jean Van Heijenoort at Hoover University among the papers of Menshevik historian Nicolaievsky’s widow, the work of perusing this in its entirety (an enormous task that began with six young researchers) as well as getting rid of a Healeyite squad who wanted to get their hands on the heritage, all took place following a significant 2 month visit in January/February 1980.
The main new historical facts that came out of these archives were to be exploited by Pierre Broué and Jean-Paul Joubert who were to establish that Trotsky’s contacts in the USSR right up to the middle of the 1930s were more significant that had been thought, that the position of Stalin had been seriously weakened at several points, notably at the time of what Pierre Broué called the “Moscow Spring” of 1932 and again in 1934/1935 and that the trials and purges of 1936–1938 could not be considered only as an hysterical crisis of a paranoid tyrant massacring his real and, even more, his supposed opponents but really as a series of acts of a civil war against real adversaries – that although the broken victims of the Moscow Trials no longer represented what they once had done, they remained a force in the Soviet Union, and a force that might have been capable of uniting the workers against the bureaucracy, even going as far as its physical elimination.
This new conception of the history of the USSR had not (apart from Moshe Lewin’s work which was parallel to it but operating on a different plane) been taken into account by official history which had been, willingly, sterilised by the asphyxiating myth of “Bolshevik totalitarianism”.
In this context, these archives also allowed Pierre Broué to quite rapidly bring out a small book, The Assassination of Trotsky (editions Complexe), and above all to reconstruct the history of the mass struggles carried out by the Trotskyists in the camps and “isolators” and of their debates as well as those of the decist current (an oppositional Bolshevik current that placed itself to the left of the Trotskyists). In these debates, which he presented without comment, the question of the nature of the Soviet Union was obviously a key issue and one to which the response often did not correspond to the theory of the “degenerated workers’ state” that Trotsky had formulated in exile, as they tended generally to no longer consider the USSR as a “workers’ state”; thus Rakovsky spoke of a “bureaucratic class” holding power.
* * * * *
In travelling and working on both sides of the Atlantic, not only in the Anglo-Saxon United States but also in those heterogeneous United States which are the Brazilian lands (where he was to participate in summer camps and forums of the Workers’ Party, then on a rapid rise), Pierre Broué was also confronted as an involved spectator by the tragedy of the American SWP which, from its traditions and its way of operating had been the organisation which most resembled what had been the OCI.
The United States Socialist Workers Party was born in 1938 at the same time as the 4th International. This, the biggest in the world of the small Trotskyist parties, weakened by the 1940 split with Schachtman and his supporters for whom the USSR was no longer a “workers’ state” and after having literally handed over the 4th International to Pablo after the war, had been the international ally of the OCI (and Healy) from 1953 to 1962. As a pillar of the Unified Secretariat, which had been founded by its reunification with Ernest Mandel’s current in 1962 (Pablo, at the time an adviser to Ben Bella in Algeria, had left in 1964) it had set itself in the 1970s to oppose those who, for the OCI, were “Pablo-Mandelites” on the issues of guerilla struggles in Latin America and of the United Front. The prestige of the SWP came not only from its historical and intellectual proximity to Trotsky at the end of his life but also from the fact that it was led by a valiant “old guard” of typically yankee worker militants, former leaders of strikes that were quite rightly mythologised, like the Minneapolis truck drivers of 1934.
The “old guard” had traversed the McCarthyite desert of the 1950s and during this period had lost their union positions. In the 1960s it had recruited a youth organisation, the YSA, which had played a leading role around 1970 in the struggle on the campuses against the Vietnam War. After the expulsion of Tim Wolforth who had opposed the over-unconditional support offered to Cuba and Fidel Castro and who was then to sail in Healy’s waters, this youth organisation was then to be led with an iron hand by Jack Barnes. At the end of the 1970s the “old ones”, Tom Kerry, former Seamen’s Union leader and Farrell Dobbs, former leader of the heroic truck drivers’ strike, to whom Cannon (who died in 1974) and Hansen (died in 1978) had already passed the baton, passed it in their turn to Jack Barnes.
The Barnes leadership of the SWP then launched itself into a new political orientation (though one could find partial antecedents for it) of unconditional support for the Cuban and Nicaraguan governments, supporting, as we have already seen, the repression against the Simon Bolivar Brigade. Although this political line was seen as a turnaround on the international level, for it was a quite explicit and cynical turnaround – “You can call me Pablo” declared Barnes – as the SWP had up to then battled against the Guevarist and guerillerist errors of, for example, the Ligue in France, it was followed in an apparently homogeneous manner by the SWP militants (the first departures involved isolated militants or former leaders with eccentric histories such as Tim Wolforth – who we have already encountered in this tale and who had returned for a brief period to the SWP – and John Keil). The crisis in fact broke out in the SWP in the years 1980–1983, that is just at the time of Pierre Broué’s most frequent trips to the United States, who thus witnessed them and drew close to the “old guard” militants, George Breitman to start with, who were entering into opposition.
The oppositions appeared one at a time, as and when Barnes went further down a neo-Stalinist route: unconditional support for the “Iranian Revolution” (interpreted as being the ayatollahs who were its supposed leaders), refusal to support the Polish Solidarnosc unions – Pierre Broué for his part had been able to travel to Poland in the summer of 1981 – and finally taking up Stalin’s old “theoretical” critiques of Trotsky (the “under-estimation of the peasantry” etc.) and an explicit break with Trotskyism. The major part of the Trotskyists in the SWP, that is the old militants were to become “dissidents”. But to do this they had to join together, to create external “islets”, as if they were in exile, to contact each other secretly, to dissemble – exactly as under a Stalinist regime.
As these militants began to reflect on the situation the omnipresent question was obviously “how did we get to here?” Their Party, or what they thought was theirs (as Trotsky had considered the USSR as his state) had turned against them, had trapped them and wanted to make them repudiate everything or to impose silence on them. If it had been in power we would have had a one-party regime – this was Barnes’ “Cuban” model – and these militants would have been in prison!
The old generation of the SWP who had been thrown out regrouped mainly in two organisations, between which there were many links, the Fourth Internationalist Tendency (FIT) and Socialist Action, linked to the SU, which, however, in fact gave no help to them. Pierre Broué was to be regularly invited to meetings and education schools of these groups who weren’t cut off from life but continued, in the hard conditions of the Reagan years to intervene in the class-struggle in the US, supporting strikes and working in the unions.
The conclusions that a majority of them reached are now available on the internet in English (on the Marxists.org site) but these significant texts had not at the time been published outside the US and had been little circulated, but Pierre Broué knew of them. As a general rule, the FIT and Socialist Action militants considered that James Patrick Cannon’s old SWP was a model of workers’ democracy. Frank Lovell, for example argued that the regime in the organisation – which, according to a 1946 speech by J.P. Cannon, saw itself as the already existing American revolutionary party – had become routinist during McCarthyism, that the leaders Dobbs and Kerry had then allowed a system operated by activist petty apparatchiks to develop among the youth in the 1960s, and there had then emerged an intergenerational break between the working-class old guard and the young intelligentsia. This was something that Tom Kerry in particular had become aware of only on the eve of his death and he had begun to prepare to attack Barnes. Thus the degradation of the regime followed as Cannon bit by bit withdrew [from leadership].
The description of the militants from the Barnes generation, recruited on the campuses, bears a striking resemblance to that of the AJS and OCI militants in the 1970s, in this latter case the “Cambadélis” generation. It is enough here to evoke a “detail”: Benjamin Stora in his book of testimony La dernière generation d’October recalls that the Francis Ford Copppola film The Godfather was a cult movie for him and his mates, and that they felt very clearly who was their godfather (Lambert; it was then to be Mitterand!). Paul Le Blanc in a text on the SWP also raises the point that this film was a reference point for Barnes and “his” militants, Barnes went so far as to argue that the essence of Leninism could be understood through it. This Mafia-type manipulation by enlightened leaders with the militants and the working-class as a mass to be manipulated, theory and history as decorative accessories if needed but which should not be a constraint, here lies a moral universe which is at the antipode to that of a Reynier, which disgusted Pierre Broué too, but he himself had one foot in it and had passed through it.
Finally, the SWP at the end of the 1970’s was in good condition. The party had dollars and so there was an extraordinary proportion of full-timers (one in 10 or one in 7), members were controlled in their working lives in the name of “proletarianisation”, and this was soon to be extended to their private lives too – whereas this type of thing did not occur systematically in the OCI where French “laique” culture had acted as a shield against this sort of drift. The old generation who got together to restore continuity with Trotskyism and with the American working-class and trades unionist tradition which was joined with it in the SWP were thus a generation of survivors of a shipwreck that they hadn’t seen coming.
What the reflections of this old generation seem to have excluded is to go back as far as Cannon to look for the causes that had produced Barnes, and while we are at it why not as far back as Trotsky. Now it is probable that Pierre Broué had posed this question to himself as his historical work had presented him with the components in the form of the stages, fusions and splits that had gone into the building of the SWP in the 1930s and particularly in what might be called its founding, or at least paradigmatic, crisis of 1940.
He discovered that Cannon had a “hard fist” and that Trotsky had often acted to moderate this and had worried about his authoritarian tendencies. He had thus found there that damned “Zinovievism”, that brutality of militants, who were not bureaucrats but who became apparatchiks, who built the antechamber for bureaucrats. This resonated with his earlier encounter in the course of his research with the “leftist” emissaries of the Communist International in Germany, with the critique of “Molinier’s methods” in the 1930s which was long rejected by Trotsky and then picked up by him with his words about this “poison of the Comintern” which is still amongst us (interview between Trotsky and C.L.R. James in Le mouvement Communiste en France) and, inevitably, with the living experience of the OCI, what he had seen develop, what he had seen done, what he had done himself …
Pierre Broué was not to go further in this line of thinking at least not in the written traces of it that he has left us. He established that, in the 1939-1940 debate on the nature of the USSR, which was a very concrete debate prompted by the Hitler-Stalin pact and its consequences in Poland and Central Europe, and which ended in the split and the expulsion of Max Schachtman’s current from the SWP, Cannon had had a tendency to be more heavy handed than Trotsky who had even written that the existing difference on the nature of the USSR ought to be able to survive in one and the same organisational context, therefore that in itself it justified neither a split nor an expulsion. But Trotsky had also characterised the Shachtman current as a “petit-bourgeois opposition” and the Cannon current as a “proletarian core” and by this provided a decisive cover for the split and the expulsions. Pierre Broué did not, at least in writing, involve himself in a more extensive investigation of this important moment in the history of Trotskyism which is also the moment that the second world war began. The double barrier – that of Trotsky’s own organisation conceptions in 1939–1940 and that of the critique of the theory of the USSR as a “degenerated workers’ state” – was not crossed.
This is not some Byzantine issue. These two subjects come back basically to one; that of democracy. Is it conceivable to characterise a totalitarian state denying all democracy and crushing the working-class physically and politically as a “workers’ state”? And doesn’t characterising oppositions who raise this question as “petit-bourgeois” play the game of that “poison of the Comintern” elsewhere denounced by Trotsky? Pierre Broué did not take the step towards this critique, in other words he remained on the terrain of “orthodoxy” as can be confirmed, for example, by re-reading his preface to volume 22 of Trotsky’s Works, written in 1985, which discuses the SWP crisis of 1939–1940. In this preface he even finds curious the development into discussion of the dialectic that occurred, on Trotsky’s initiative, in this debate, seeming not to see the significance of the necessary confrontation between Marxism and American pragmatism (nor of what place that this might have in this debate). This confrontation was precisely aborted, on the philosophical level as well, by the 1940 split.
Nonetheless we could say that he did go back “as far as Cannon” as far as methods were concerned. One of his interlocutors on these questions was the researcher and militant Alan Wald who had been looking into the evolution to the right of the American anti-Stalinist intelligentsia (this work was echoed by Pierre Broué) and who – temporarily – quarrelled with George Breitman because he had argued that Cannon had not, at various points, been a “democrat” or, one might prefer to say, had not respected the principles of workers’ democracy. A contrario, Breitman had republished texts by Cannon from the 1950s and 60s which showed that the old leader had been more and more preoccupied with questions of democracy. He recalled that, by the testimony of the most zealous of Barnes’ apparatchiks themselves, Cannon would have been expelled from the SWP in the 1980s for practising direct “horizontal contacts” with the militants, without passing via the appropriate authorities (the “horizontal” circulation of texts had become a reason for arrest for party members in the USSR in about 1922 …). George Breitman died in 1986.
George was a friend of the ILT, collaborated in the work of Cahiers and wanted to do a special issue on the history of the trotskyist movement in the United States.
George Breitman, many times operated on, amputated, disabled had more than his share of suffering but undoubtedly the greatest would have been his expulsion from the party to which he had given his entire life – he didn’t “leave” it, contrary to what The Militant cynically wrote. […]. This was a precious man for, even on complex questions, he spoke and wrote in a very simple and directly comprehensible way. [P. Broué, obituary, CLT, no. 26, June 1986.]
* * * * *
His reflections on and from the experience of the SWP had been important for Pierre Broué, hence, no doubt unexpectedly for certain comrades, the importance that it has here. For these reflections were, through a key encounter, to take him back to his own point of departure, to himself.
This encounter was with Jean Van Heijenoort, formerly Trotsky’s secretary, who, after his withdrawal from militant activity in 1948, had become an eminent mathematician and logician. Pierre Broué had known him since the end of the 1960s but their relationship took on considerable importance once he had become involved in his work on the Trotsky archives. Although he took his time Van seems to have chosen Pierre Broué as the person in whom, to use the latter’s expression, to “dump his bag”. This is a curious expression but well describes the curious process that developed between them:
Year by year I seemed to notice that he couldn’t remember anything at all about episodes which he had personally recounted to me. Once I had verified and re-verified this I cautiously mentioned it and he dumbfounded me with his smiling self-satisfaction. He was, he said a very well perfected machine because, as he got older he solved the problem of his brain overload by only cutting out those things which he was sure had been preserved. [Obituary of Van in the same CLT as that of Breitman]
Van died in 1986, killed in a domestic quarrel by his lover, he had visited Pierre Broué in Grenoble a few months before on the occasion of Olivia Gall’s presentation of her thesis on Trotsky in Mexico. Van had thus “unloaded” a part of himself into Pierre Broué.
Among the many memories and experiences that he brought to him were those of the SWP during the 2nd World War seen from Van ‘s perspective.
He [Van] became frankly angry when he brought up the audiences that James Cannon, the leader of the American party, had accorded him on the theoretical and practical problems of the 4th International, on the national question in Europe, on the problem of democratic demands and on the necessity for aid to European militants surviving under the heel of Nazism. Aware of the enormous responsibilities which had fallen on him after Trotsky’s death, Van had considered returning clandestinely to France. He often asserted to me that, after hours of passionate pleading about the International he got nothing [from Cannon] but inarticulate mutterings and the assurance that “we’ll see”.
The International Secretariat, put together during Trotsky’s lifetime and taken on by Van, was thus paralysed. It was to be the European Secretariat, put together during the War by Marcel Hic and then taken on by Michel Pablo, that would take over the baton after the war.
* * *
Van, a victim of Cannon and Cochrane’s “Zinovievism” thus set Pierre Broué on a trail that he was to follow and dig into deeply. The Goldman-Morrow tendency, to which Van was linked, was kicked out of the SWP in 1946, its texts were not published in the Internal Bulletin etc. Pierre Broué (CLT, no. 67, October 1999) was then to talk of “the legend of James P. Cannon, close disciple of Trotsky and invincible class battler” which “has remained very much alive in the milieu and the disrepute occasioned by his critiques is solidly rooted among the ‘elders’”. He acknowledged however an ambivalence in Cannon. When the de facto expulsion process of the Goldman-Morrow tendency began, Cannon was in prison. He wrote to the leadership of the SWP using phrases such as “Any appointed leadership is a bureaucracy” almost expressing the view that “we are a bureaucracy, but we must be aware of it and deal with it”. And Cannon stressed that “concessions” should be made to the opposition “ which they only pretended to do (wrote Pierre Broué) which thus allowed [Cannon] to maintain his own reservations”. In fact Cannon also talked about the opposition as “intellectual boils” …
And Pierre Broué wondered why the old militants, in their introspection after the death of the SWP as a Trotskyist party, had “never considered re-opening this dossier even when the events that they were going through might have suggested this to them”.
As far as Cannon was concerned Pierre Broué was finally to resolve the question, though he only published his point of view after the death of George Breitman: no, Cannon was not a “democrat”.
Nevertheless he never saw the parallel, admittedly a caricature, but also real between the two situations: that of 1944 with Cannon in prison and thus advising from the sidelines, a leadership going beyond his “democratic” advice, but doing so based on his own conceptions and that in 1940 of Trotsky “moderating” Cannon against Shachtman while supplying the ammunition for the split. For a full 40 years this was to be the same story repeating itself in a more and more grotesque way right up to the death by asphyxiation of the SWP.
Van hadn’t developed his memories of the Goldman-Morrow tendency in a detailed way in discussion with Pierre Broué. So Pierre Broué’s investigation of this subject continued in the years that followed Van’s death and he found himself in profound agreement with the deep-rooted questions around which the tendency had been built, which were about the European revolution during and after the 2nd World War: putting forward demands around democracy and national independence; rejecting the view that the advance of the Red Army constituted a step forward for the revolution; then an evaluation of the situation (in Europe) as likely, in the absence of revolutionary parties, to lead to stabilisation, this last justifying a policy of lasting entrism, particularly in the social-democratic parties.
* * * * *
Simultaneously, the publication of Trotsky’s 1939–1940 exile papers gave him a firm conviction, entirely confirmed by the papers from which this came, that Leon Trotsky had begun to conceive revolutionary politics during the Second World War in new terms which he had summarised in the formula of the Proletarian Military Policy: rejection of any form of pacifism as it would lead to collaboration or equivocation with the bourgeoisie (as with Pétain in France), adapting to the “militarisation of society” and preparing armed struggle against the Fascist occupiers without surrendering in the least to chauvinism and retaining the internationalist United Socialist States of Europe perspective which Van, under the pseudonym of Marc Loris, had linked with the struggle for national independence of all the occupied nations. We should add that, in Pierre Broué’s view, the crisis in the SWP and refuting Shachtman’s theses on the USSR had lost Trotsky time that he thought precious for formulating conceptions that were relatively new but fully in accord with the spirit of Marxism as the theory of revolutionary action. Many of Trotsky’s texts which show these (in the first series of the Works) remain unfinished, interrupted by the blow of the ice-pick.
These reflections on the past and these discoveries nurtured the significant number of the CLT on The Trotskyists in the Second World War which came out in 1985, followed by two others on the same subject in 1989 and 1990. In this he underlined the gap between Trotsky’s nascent conceptions on the eve of his murder and those of most Trotskyists. For the latter, either the “PMP” was a formal adaptation to certain aspects of militarisation which justified demands such as combat training under union control, which was put forward by the American SWP at the end of 1940 – this was purely a formal tribute to Trotsky and didn’t grasp the new essence of this policy, or, at worst, it was social chauvinism. It is nevertheless clear that Trotsky’s PMP was the implementation of the conception of transforming the imperialist war into a civil war and in no sense involved going over to the camp of the “democracies”. But Pierre Broué had few illusions on this point – if the Trotskyists had known Trotsky’s point of view they would either have sabotaged it in Cannon’s “Zinovievist” way or have rejected it as social-chauvinist.
The result was, historically, of fundamental importance. The foundation of the 4th International in 1938 was justified, for Trotsky, not by the sterile preservation of cadres and ideas but by the need to have an organisational instrument which could open the road to victory “in the next ten years” i.e. through and during the war that was looming. The “really existing” 4th International paid no attention to these perspectives and had considered that the fact of “having held on” during the war was quite sufficient.
We must pursue this point to its logical conclusion: the fact that these groups and sections “held on” and had, heroically, carried out exemplary internationalist activities such as the clandestine cells in the Wehrmacht certainly confirms the “right to exist” of the 4th International, but which 4th International? That of the struggle for the victory of the world revolution in the real world here and now or that of [an organisation] set up [in a condition of] sectarian waiting and self-proclamation? The 4th International reconstituted in 1946 by the SWP and the European Secretariat was not Trotsky’s 4th International – it was not, in reality, a 4th International at all!
Here is the immense “skeleton in the cupboard” evoked but not clarified by Pierre Broué which was on the one hand the source of a type of party – the party-fraction-sect – which was not Bolshevik even if it thought it was and which cultivated bureaucratic deformations behind closed doors and on the other hand the source of the splits to come, starting with the Pabloite crisis.
Nonetheless, not all the movement had fallen into this sterilisation. We could remake history: “if” the Trotskyists across Europe had advocated, from 1940 (and therefore before the Stalinists who, let us remember, had at that time signed the pact with Hitler), armed struggle (or at least preparation for it) against the Fascist invader … We can’t remake history with an “if”, but on the other hand we do know that it was their control of armed formations born of the social and the national liberation struggles that allowed the Stalinists to crush the revolutions …
Pierre Broué tracked down the exceptions, those who had “carried out” the “PMP”, for the most part without knowing that they did. These are significant: the great figure of Chen Duxiu, founder of Occidentalism, then of Communism, then of Trotskyism, in China, isolated in his Szechuan mountains is one of them, and he is not the least! There is Arpen Tavtian “the” Trotskyist of the Manouchian group and of the Affiche Rouge. There are those British militants from the RCP who, with Ted Grant, had intervened in the ranks of the British Army through organising “soldiers’ parliaments” in North Africa to explain the objectives of the war as being the liberation of the peoples – the Trotskyists intervened there so that there would be true liberation of the peoples and the liquidation of Fascism.  The Stalinists denounced them to the Admiralty and the “soldiers’ parliament” experiments in Libya and Cyrenaica came to an end. Then, finally, research in depth showed that there were exceptions everywhere, which, everywhere, sought to assert the revolutionary line.
Finally, at the end of it all, Pierre Broué, in these exceptions, went back to his own youth and reminded himself that, while remaining wholly internationalist like old Reynier, he had wanted to engage in armed struggle against the Nazis and the Milice  and to follow this through to civil war. This rediscovery was to surface quite brusquely in an article in the second CLT on the Trotskyists in the Second World War (September 1989) – at a time when he had just been expelled from the PCI and his wife Andreé was dying. Replying, which he could well have refrained from doing, to the sectarian, intellectually dishonest and rather stupid critique of the first Cahier on this topic by the “International Spartacist Tendency” (this was precisely all he had to get his teeth into; the silence of all the various Trotskyists on that little “bomb” of the “PMP” is eloquent, is it not?) he wrote:
“Broué takes up the gun” wrote the Spartacist CEI, thinking himself witty and obviously unaware that I had really “taken up the gun” and that this had led me to Trotskyism, something he will have some trouble understanding from the American Sirius’ point of view that he holds.
Whatever may have been the real significance of “the gun” in Pierre Broué’s youth – I’ve discussed this in the first part of this study – it was not the fact of picking up a possible and very fleeting gun that had, in his case, led to Trotskyism but that he had picked up books in Élie Reynier’s library. However it may be, Pierre Broué’s thinking on the history of the 4th International is of fundamental importance. But it was not to go further, neither looking back (to the 1940 split and the nature of the USSR) nor looking forward (Pierre Broué was never to write the history of that in which he had himself been implicated – often as a leader).
His Majesty’s Oppositionist.
From 1980 the split in Pierre Broué, between on the one hand an historian who went over the Atlantic and reflected on the discoveries about the history of Trotskyism, at the epicentre of the history of the 20th Century, that he had made and, on the other hand, the OCI militant “without responsibilities”, becomes more and more striking. The truth is revolutionary and does not tolerate legends. The story of the “oppositionist” Broué finally expelled bureaucratically in 1989 is both pitiful and calamitous. With the benefit of hindsight, I had at first a tendency to see this as the story of a man who was unfortunate and racked by contradictions, but that the worst thing for him was that he did not wish to share these and that he wanted to appear as having always had clean hands, which, let us be clear, was not the case. With even more hindsight, it appears to me that he energetically denied these contradictions and that he worked hard to build up a sort of heroic self-portrait and was encouraged, like many other “great leaders”, by the fact that a small circle believed in it or made a show of believing in it.
At the beginning of the 1980’s the OCI, which renamed itself the PCI in 1982, achieved its highest membership and widest coverage (much more than it has had since, under the name of the PT). But any quantitative progression requires qualitative change at a given moment if it is to be pursued.
Building a revolutionary party in France by way of “Trotskyist unity”, whether or not one takes this hypothesis seriously, had been compromised by the 1979–1981 events described above.
The building of the “10,000 member party” required a change of methods. The analysis that was made of the situation created by 10 May 1981 was that it was one basically analogous to that of 1936, with a Popular Front type government, supposedly the last barrier to a revolution – or to a counter-revolution, to fascism. But why, if we use this analogy, didn’t we have the equivalent of the 1936 strikes, supposed to open the way to splits in the traditional parties nor the emergence in these parties of left currents (there was only Lionel Jospin who, though we didn’t know this, was supposedly in the ideal position to cultivate this and make it bear fruit!)? The contradictory characteristics of this period – which was distinguished by the existence of bureaucratic apparatuses in the PS and the PCF which were much larger than in 1936 with a French working-class that was rather blasé, very different from the young working-class of 1936, and that had begun, particularly since 1978–9 (with the industrial “restructuring”, the crisis in the Lorraine steel industry etc.), to suffer defeats which were reshaping its very fabric – were not analysed.
We situated ourselves at the opposite extreme from the PCF’s phrases about “society’s shift to the right” or the LCR’s about “the end of the radicalisation of the 1960s”. We always minimised or straightforwardly denied the defeats. Thus the putsch in Poland simply showed the sharpening of the struggle, the collapse of the great British miners’ strike simply showed the proletariat’s willingness to fight. In short: the fact that there were deaths proved there had been struggle, which is a little thin as an analysis or a perception of reality.
In these conditions the launch by Lambert and Hébert of the idea of forming “sections for a workers’ party” aiming to regroup other currents and many rank-and-file workers’ with the PCI in a relatively broad and organically developing framework did correspond with a real need, constituted an attempt at a response to the situation and could have permitted some move forward had it been done on the political basis of the United Front continuing that which had already been set in train at the beginning of the decade with the campaign for the PS-PCF majority to “respect the mandate”. But, in reality, this policy corresponded with the attempt to develop, or not develop, the party as a left cover for a trades union current, which was soon, in the person of Marc Blondel, to take over the leadership of Force Ouvrière. Furthermore, by implication, it buried all perspectives looking to build the “Trotskyist party of 10,000 militants”.
This turn was to force Stéphane Just into opposition. As the author of many and various theoretical and polemical articles, as well as being the chief prosecutor ever since the Varga affair, Stéphane Just was the de facto number two in the organisation. This had not been the case in the 1960s where Pierre Broué’s role had been undoubtedly more significant.
His relationship with Pierre Broué was curiously mixed – at least from the point of view of the latter (I am not in a position to pronounce on what it was for Stéphane Just) – much acrimony and a sort of affection. Stéphane Just embodied pure sectarianism with such candour that it made one laugh: when Pierre Broué began his research on the Second World War Stéphane Just claimed that “my own war” had consisted of “screwing” the German farmer’s wife for whom he was working in the STO  on the grounds that there was nothing else that revolutionaries could do during the War. Pierre Broué repeated this and several other anecdotes in his obituary of Stéphane Just. This greatly shocked his friends and provoked a truncated polemic with Carré Rouge. He could only ever talk about Stéphane Just in this fashion. Indeed the anecdote of the farmer’s wife is in fact very revealing, not just about Stéphane Just but about “orthodox Trotskyist” conceptions that see revolutionaries as being on earth to keep programme and organisation in the fridge so that they keep fresh and are well preserved. Pierre Frank’s presentation of his 4th International was much the same … But let’s return to our story.
Stéphane Just, far more than Lambert, came across as the one who bawled people out, who shouted, who made adopting a threatening air a matter of principle and who expelled people. But Pierre Broué was well aware, because they had discussed it, that Stéphane Just had many disagreements with Lambert and that the “Lambert and Stéphane” façade which some simplistic or naïve comrades took to be Lenin and Trotsky was completely cracked. Pierre Broué knew that Stéphane Just thought that it was necessary to engage in a political struggle with Lambert. He claimed that he had asked Just if he intended to take up a battle over the question of the methods and functioning of the organisation and to have been told to go and take a running jump as far as this subject was concerned.
When this battle began – very alarming for rank and file activists (our Lenin and our Trotsky no longer agree with each other: good heavens, what will come of this? Is it the beginning of the end of the world?) – Pierre Broué said to me, and I agreed, that it would be good for the organisation to have different tendencies in it. Liquidating oppositionists seemed to be impossible this time because the opposing tendencies reflected a debate among the leadership. A few weeks before the congress he seemed worried and said “Lambert is cracking up, there’s one of Just’s guys who has been clumsy in texts for the Internal Bulletin on the activities of our councillor representing Minguettes on Lyons council and he wants to make an example of him by expelling him.” Then Pierre Broué came to speak at the congress for the first time since 1975. Undoubtedly, this was to make sure that the debate should take place with no concessions on basics but in a respectful way and that the party would come out of it greater than before …
Even Jean-Jaques Marie found a way of recalling this in the non-obituary published in his name: Pierre Broué was in fact to be the prosecutor for the expulsion of this militant targeted by Lambert. To achieve this he built up a grandiloquent structure of denunciations on the foundations of microscopic or non existent facts about the minutes of a Lyons municipal council, which he seemed to place on the same level as the Moscow Trials. He didn’t try the “CIA KGB double agent” line as Just had to Varga: he had the intellectual ability to present the same message – those who employ the methods of falsification are the pupils of Stalinism who … etc. – but the moral accusation was the same. And following that (as he told me when he came back), what a surprise: Lambert, without warning him in advance declared that anyone who didn’t vote for Broué’s report against the Lyons militant would be putting themselves outside the party, thus forcing a split of all those who supported Stéphane Just, in practice expelling them while halting the debate in depth which was being sought. Then, as if to both excuse and heighten his role, he nevertheless claimed that when Mélusine left the hall after his expulsion and senior steward Malapa got up to accompany him, he Pierre Broué had got up too and gone with the two of them. Malapa asked him why and he had responded with virile self-confidence: “If Mélusine were to have fallen down the stairs no one would have believed, unless there was a witness, that you hadn’t pushed him.” Things had been done cleanly, with no bloodletting!
Because I was in close relationship with Pierre Broué, I therefore lived through these events myself. It is nevertheless worth asking whether it hadn’t been his intention from the first to be Lambert’s prosecutor or if he had shifted his position during the congress.
In relation to the little central core of the organisation (at that time this consisted of Lambert and the stewarding group) Pierre Broué assumed the attitude of being one “who knew things”, who covered-up and then deplored things in private. I was appalled by this attitude which, for me personally, smashed the image of dignity and political courage that I’d had of Pierre Broué. He knew this but in trying to get himself off the hook actually dug himself in even further by telling me stories to make one’s hair stand on end: such as about the couple of comrades that he knew, suspected of having “factional” documents at their home, had their home searched, were pushed up against the wall, half-stripped and assaulted …
This oral account has been published by Pierre Broué himself in a sort of self-interview in his journal Le Marxisme d’Aujourd’hui – it is only for this reason that I have allowed myself to repeat it, though we must be clear that we can’t take it at face value as he had so great a general tendency to fantasise.
But whatever be the case we were fighting for a free and frank humanity so what was this odious world, a miniature reflection of the order against which we fought? And what, moreover, was this great historian, incapable of speaking publicly or raising a scandal about these sorts of things – in his organisation, which he had designed and built, with Lambert and with Stéphane? Was he really incapable? In the last resort, no and this made it worse: he had chosen to cover up and it was this choice that had rendered him incapable. I remain absolutely convinced that Trotskyism and Stalinism are antithetical. But facts are facts and these facts place us on a planet which is that of L’Aveu.
* * * * *
At the end of 1984 I began to fear that the launch of the sections for a workers’ party, which were to become the “Movement for a Workers’ Party”, would in the end take us nowhere and considered, rightly or wrongly, that the question of its method of functioning should be raised openly in the party. So I took the initiative of writing an internal text which demanded the election of full-timers at all levels by the militants and made clear that this would involve a small revolution as it should not simply consist of a plebiscite to endorse the full-timers who were already in place. The basic point was to have a party that controlled the full-timers rather than full-timers controlling the party by opening and closing the cells. I was putting into practice one of Pierre Broué’s ideas, and, though I never sought his endorsement or support I had kept him informed. But when, at the regional congress my dangerous proposal was refuted, characterised as “outside time and space” by a full-timer famously close to him, he never lifted a finger. Pierre Broué and the militants at that time closest to him defended the firm and their place in the firm, full stop.
Two years later the MPTT was formed around the orientation of Lambert and of Hébert who implied that the working class no longer had any political representation at all and had broken with the PS and the PCF. This was an obvious absurdity whose logic was, later, to be the proclamation in France of the “Parti des Travailleurs” [PT]. After the 1986 legislative elections which, at the same time, saw the victory of the right due to Mitterand’s policies and the PS coming to seem like the main pole of resistance, Cambadélis, the student Féderale and the leadership of the UNEF-ID, who had been in regular contact with Mitterand since 1981, split away, taking with them the student union. Pierre Broué considered the student team, Cambadélis, Plantagenêt, Rosenblatt … to be “remarkable blokes” who he placed above the former youth leadership of the 1970’s notably Charles Berg. While he almost regarded the latter as a police agent he saw the former as brilliant intellectuals. The respective histories of these people have shown that one might say the opposite of some of these personalities. He obviously didn’t support this split but for him it had great importance as a warning. “This is that last time that something like this should happen” he wrote in the Internal Bulletin.
Incidentally the story of the “election of full-timers” was to have an epilogue at the same time. Lambert and Camus, of the Control Commission (Olivier Jospin, brother of Lionel), produced a declaration that bolshevism assumed the election of full-timers! All the existing full-timers who had denounced this dangerous innovation two years earlier were to applaud the circular and they were all proclaimed elected! But it remains true that the need felt by the leadership to take this fake initiative proves that a real battle about the type of party and the type of apparatus that should be built, linked to the policy of defence of the workers’ united front, was possible in the 1980s. A democratic debate would have seen a sectarian left and a “democratic” right both confronting the centre. What I had learned at the time from Pierre Broué, or had grasped thanks to him, led me to hope for the formation of an authentic “right wing” – and the sooner the better. The longer the wait, the more one would be compromised. He had specifically forbidden any initiative in this direction, by his general waiting-game, his submission to the laws of the party, rather than to the theoretical statutes of it and his chosen role as prosecutor in the bureaucratic expulsion of Just’s sectarian current.
In the end Pierre Broué was to be the originator of a tendency in the PCI, in 1988; the tendency “pour la Fidelité au Front Unique” (FFU). But this was not a current fighting for full democracy in the party, for a struggle for an authentic workers’ party in France, denouncing the Mitterand-Chirac “cohabitation” and fighting for parties originating in the workers’ movement to break with the 5th Republic.
On the one hand the texts of the FFU concerning the methods, democracy and functioning of the party were not explicit. They were just as ambiguous on this level as had been those of Stéphane Just four years earlier – but these contortions did not protect them from the wrath of the apparatus, for the latter knew what Pierre Broué really thought about this.
On the other hand the FFU had made the choice of putting forward a defence of a traditional policy – that of campaigns addressed to the leaders of the PS and PCF but of refusing, in the style of Just and a certain “orthodoxy”, to propose, as a concrete form of a break with the bourgeoisie and as a democratic demand, a break with the 5th Republic, which was, at the time, one of the strong points of Lambert’s and Hébert’s speeches. Pierre Broué took the trouble to write to the Internal Bulletin to explain that a slogan such as that for a Constituent Assembly was indeed valid, in conformity with the sacred texts, but in China in the 1930s not in France today. At the same time the FFU comrades came to formulate their proposed slogan as “a PS-PCF government responsible to the National Assembly” (where there was a PS-PCF majority). The tendency was shot through with contradictions, advanced only to the point of retreat and only brought together the comrades already close to Pierre Broué along with a few “Justites”.
But he only took this step because he thought that he couldn’t be expelled. It is even probable that he thought Lambert was genuinely indebted to him for his nasty role in the 1984 expulsions. The FFU comrades told us that repression would fall on all of them, one after another but “not on Pierre” and on the other hand that the appearance of a new tendency, the DLV (after Drut-Langevin-Vania the respective pseudonyms of Michel Panthou, André Lacire known as Langevin, at the time editor-in chief of Informations Ouvrières, and Roland Michel) was a leadership manoeuvre to block the expansion of the FFU, returning fire, which was a crude error (the tumbrel behind, in 1991, was to be that of the “DLV”).
* * * * *
The last act: in June 1989, in a series of deft manoeuvres, Pierre Broué was put “outside the party by his own actions”, not for factional activities, nor for this or that political position (“we don’t expel people for political divergences”, Lambert had always declared, with that involuntary humour that characterised him!) but for … having gone to do a promotional meeting for his recently published biography of Trotsky organised by Mr. Renouvin’s NAR, Nouvelle Action Royaliste; now there’s an idea! ...
* * * * *
It was a trap – the political bureau had seen the promotion plan for the book and had chosen to ambush Pierre Broué at the crossroads. He was summoned to explain himself but he counter-attacked in a prose that was incomprehensible to the non-initiated, above all the young militants, where he tried to accuse Lambert of keeping bad company with Roger Sandri, alias Angelo Geddo, an FO leader previously involved with an agency famously linked to the CIA. This was a way of alluding to previous “trials” (Varga), but all of it was covered over by a cartload of things left unsaid. Thus Pierre Broué found himself “outside” without wishing it, nor being able to predict it; what possible interest could he have had in going to see Nouvelle Action Royaliste? It is worth noting, in a point of detail that tells us a lot, that this respectable agency had a journal, Le Royaliste, which, for financial reasons, was printed by Abexpress … the printers founded by the OCI.
A brief parenthesis
Broué himself was rather a “rightist”, in particular a supporter of the “democratic line” laid down by Lambert to sabotage any revolutionary programme. By participating in the bureaucratic elimination of Just he obviously intended to push forward his own line more easily without having to burden himself with the long detour of a genuine political struggle based on rational discussion
The group that wrote this commentary (the CRI, “Communiste Revolutionaire Internationaliste”) offers me a legitimate opportunity to make some political comments of more general relevance on this period, as it commits an error which is symptomatic [of other similar ones].
Pierre Broué’s involved himself in the bureaucratic elimination of Just not to promote his own “rightist” line but, on the contrary, because this latter was not sufficiently clearly developed or stated and because he didn’t fight for his positions (perhaps using the excuse of the “secret tendency” with Raoul!?)
If his positions had been put into action in 1984 this would have been a genuine action for the workers’ united front, for PS-PCF unity and a break with the 5th Republic as against what Lambert was pretending to do under the title of “Movement for a Workers’ Party”. It was not because he was a “rightist” that Pierre Broué took an active part in the bureaucratic elimination of Just but because he wasn’t a sufficiently consistent one.
The Achilles heel, the key aspect of this inconsistency was his refusal to fight for democracy in the party. But there was a second one, undoubtedly linked to the first: the maintenance of an “orthodox” position according to which revolutionaries don’t fight for democratic institutions based on universal suffrage (in short don’t fight for a democratic, secular and social Republic) but for “soviets”. On this point, I’ve quoted Pierre Broué above (“and us too”, I said) lining himself up with Rosa Luxemburg for taking up Bolshevism, taking up October. But it is in the same text – The Russian Revolution, published after Rosa’s death by Paul Lévi – and as part of the same movement in thought and struggle that she criticised the rejection in Bolshevik Russia of “representative bodies based on universal popular election”. It is thus as part of the same movement, the same way of thinking, the same struggle, that Rosa Luxemburg has, since 1919, invited us to both support and criticise Bolshevism and to support democracy to the very last through and during the revolution.
* * * * *
In the revolutionary movement it is obviously good form to be “on the left” and when one opposes to do so from the left. It was nevertheless Lenin who was the first Marxist to fight certain left wings (to be accurate he wasn’t the first, Marx had preceded him in 1848). The “rightist” Bolshevik tradition that Pierre Broué helps us to rediscover, above all in his book on Germany, is that of the workers’ united front and also – though these are points that Pierre Broué didn’t develop – of the integration, at the heart of the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat, of democracy, as much direct as indirect, representative as councilist and of national questions. This is, for us “rightists” the road to revolutionary victory …
* * * * *
Obviously it is so easy to mix up the defence of democracy with Lambert’s building of apparatuses that “leftist” militants would be wrong to deprive themselves of the chance. But when it comes to bureaucratism the “leftist” tradition, including Stéphane Just who shouted for the expulsions of Varga, of Berg, of Lora, of Altamira … has no need to envy Lambert. Let us move to another level: the leftist Zinovievism, which had howled at Paul Lévi, guilty of speaking against a stupid bloodbath in 1921 (while Zinoviev was never disciplined for publicly speaking against the preparation of October 1917!), was, for all its courage, its devotion, its sacrifice, no less the antechamber to the Stalinist apparatus. Read Pierre Broué the historian…
But a consistent democratic rightist – a Bolshevik for the 21st. Century!! – can but wish for a free confrontation with leftist tendencies in a single party.
The party that we have not had would have had its leftists and its rightists and through their confrontations, through free debate, through dialogue with the workers, through successive approximations it would have gone forward.
Will militants who seriously reflect manage not to forget this for the future …
The End of an Epoch
The end of the 1980s thus marks a turning-point both in the international class-struggle and in the life of Pierre Broué. “From 1989 Pierre Broué pursued political activities whose examination falls outside the scope of this article” was the miserable comment in the non-obituary signed by Jean-Jacques Marie in Informations Ouvrières. The PT militants must be kept in the dark both about their own history and about the later struggles of Pierre Broué, as much a Trotskyist after 1989 as before.
1989 was also the year that Andreé, his wife and the mother of 4 of his children was to die of cancer. This took place only a few weeks after his expulsion from the PCI. We have reached Autumn 1989: a time when mass demonstrations in the city squares – Pierre Broué was soon to claim they were the biggest in history – shook Central Europe. The Wall, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, around which Wim Wenders had, a year earlier, filmed Wings of Desire, the Berlin wall collapsed after it had been preventatively opened a few hours before the demonstrators would have taken it by storm.
* * * * *
Pierre Broué’s new tome, appeared at the end of 1988, this time published by Fayard. It was the first for a long time. Not that he had not been working in the meantime but the great series of books on revolutions was finished and his activity as an historian had been to dive into Léon Trotsky’s archives. It was from this work that a new big book emerged, it was called quite simply Trotsky. A whole programme in this title.
Is this Pierre Broué’s best book as Wilebando Solano wrote in his obituary paper in the name of the Andreu Nin Foundation? Personally I don’t think so. But I can understand how one can become profoundly attached to this book which, in the classic form of biography, explores Trotsky’s development, rise and years of power and then goes on to explore at length his exile and the political life of the 4th International that was being formed and above all to explore Trotsky as a person, not as a romantic hero, not as a fascinating biographical subject, not as a personality to be dissected or psychoanalysed but as a living individual in Marx’s sense. Here are to be found the new elements that Pierre Broué adds to Isaac Deutscher’s biography – which itself still remains worth reading. Pierre Broué, the historian par excellence of events and “facts”, much to the displeasure of the mode of dominant academic (including “Marxist”) ideas, was bound to one day be landed with that most “factual” par excellence of genres which is biography. He had begun to do this in his own promotional reviews of the books published by Minuit and it was logical, not to say inevitable, that he should do it with Trotsky. The link between personal and political life is thus the nub of this work and it is here that it becomes poignant, as for example where he recounts the mutual incomprehension between Trotsky and his daughter Zina who committed suicide in 1933, the year of Hitler’s seizure of power.
The book didn’t please a lot of Trotskyists, any more than did the fact that the view, which was becoming clearer and clearer to Pierre Broué, that Trotskyists, in general, were not worthy of Trotsky was often, by implication at least, present in the book. In the incredibly funny style of the non-obituary signed by Jean-Jacques Marie we thus read:
In 1988 he published an enormous (this is a defect?) biography of Trotsky, of which some passages are questionable and which the PCI organised systematically to sell to its militants.
The second assertion in this sentence is untrue. This is but the third reference in this astonishing paper to the money or the sales that the PCI is supposed to have procured for the work of Pierre Broué, whereas it rather the opposite that is true (to say nothing of the indebtedness of the average militant for financing the loan repayments on the former Grenoble headquarters, which was of the size needed for a “party of 10,000”!). As for the beginning it is equally astonishing and merely reflects the reaction of the PCI leadership when the book came out: “there are questionable passages”. What the militants were in effect told was “we advise you to buy it but watch out; there are questionable passages”. No-one was ever to know which ones.
In fact there is, in passing, one aspect of the book which is questionable. This is Pierre Broué’s view that, in proclaiming the 4th International as such in 1938, the delegates went further than Trotsky had wanted, for him it would have been sufficient to take note of its existence as acting in reality like a 4th International. Behind this nuance are historical stakes: the worth of the act of formation or proclamation. Here, Pierre Broué leaps to the other side of the fence from many currents, apparatuses and sects who claim that, in the great order of things, their birth as groups of the Elect dates from this point and who number (differently the one from the other) their “world congresses” starting with 1938. Be this as it may, he went too far in attributing to Trotsky a rather voluntarist position of the “as long as it exists” type. This can be shown by a careful study of the texts that he himself had published. Without mentioning Pierre Broué, Roger Prager’s foreword to the second edition of Volume 1 of Congresses of the 4th International (editions La Brèche) is devoted to refuting this over-stated position.
* * * * *
Now outside the confines, which had long been shackles, of the PCI, but still a Trotskyist, one might think that Pierre Broué’s historical and militant activities would flourish in these new conditions.
This is only true on one level, though, it is true, on a significant one. The possibility of travelling to Russia, to meet the old guard, the survivors, the descendants of militants, to visit archives, to reaffirm the memory of Trotsky or of Rakovsky certainly gave great pleasure to Pierre Broué but did not add any shattering new historical insights, tending rather to confirm the thrust of his earlier work – which is something in itself. The opening up of the soviet archives was partial, dispersed and often financially motivated. Thus it took place in conditions that were far from satisfactory and an assessment of this has yet to be made.
The story Pierre Broué’s trip to the Soviet Union in October 1988 was related at his funeral by Louis Astre who organised it. Here are some extracts which will suffice in themselves:
* * * * *
The previous year, 1987, the year of the great launch of Perestroika, I had been part of a strong French delegation of some 200 leading figures from all parts of the political, trades union, community and religious spectrum who were invited by Gorbatchov to meet with him in Moscow to find out about the potentially revolutionary advances of Perestroika, and to discuss it freely with its instigators, in front of the media. This was a major first in the USSR of that time.
The following year I was preparing to return with a big delegation from the Paris region when I bumped into Pierre at the Pompidou Centre where he had come to present his monumental biography of Trotsky.
This seemed to me to be too good an opportunity for Pierre to miss. He must seize it, make the leap and come with us to the Soviet Union. At first he was a little perturbed and he hesitated, but not for long.
The times were changing, the Soviet embassy couldn’t refuse me an emergency visa for him.
A few days later there was Pierre, sitting next to me on the plane and carrying under his arm, clearly visible, his voluminous red book with the title in giant letters TROTSKY.
[…] Bernard Guetta, the Le Monde correspondent (…) hurried us by telling us that that same evening there was to take place the second public meeting of the MEMORIAL association that sought to bring to light, to expose the truth about the October Revolution and its instigators.
[…] Guetta told the organisers about Pierre; we were reserved seats at the end of the front row. The hall was packed.
There were a thousand, young and old, some with their children.
The tightly-packed and fervent atmosphere reminded me a bit of May 1968.
There was even a group of opponents who systematically obstructed the meeting.
But the spirit of democracy asserted itself.
The meeting was chaired by the daughter of Joffé, that very close collaborator and friend of Trotsky who was to commit suicide in 1927.
But some questions went unanswered. Buried beneath Stalinist obscurantism, history, on these points, stopped emerging.
Then Pierre rose, his red Trotsky in his hand. He presented himself, in a loud voice, as the historian of Trotskyism, offered his book to the Chair and then attempted to bring to the assembled company, now suddenly silent, the answers they sought on the life and the political struggles of David Ivanovitch (Joffé).
There was silence, then applause.
And, all the time, that sense of fervour.
Pierre turned back to us and sat down, upright, his face running with tears.
None of us could keep back our own.
In the rest of this account, which can’t claim to be exhaustive, I shall examine Pierre Broué’s political activities, in the strict sense of that term, and dwell at some length on his last great book, his monumental history of the Comintern.
In pursuit of some political activity
Now he was outside the OCI Pierre Broué wanted to create something with the people from the FFU and with others. He created a magazine with a smart cover, into which he was to put his time and money, increasingly writing most of the articles himself under different names. This was Le Marxisme Aujourd’hui (LMA). The Circles of the same name (or the “Federation of Circles”) hardly existed outside their founding conference in January 1990.
For how could one make an assessment of the past while at the same time drawing out concrete lines of intervention in the present-day world? In any case the first condition for doing this was an open discussion with no taboos. This was absolutely not to be the case. Any proposal about a political orientation that was in the least precise or led to carrying out some action was in practice regarded as an attempt to impose a return to a militant activist past that was held in contempt. The analysis of various political orientations, in France and in the wider world, took the form of giving out good and bad points accompanied by mysterious aphorisms and obscure allusions and was reserved for Pierre Broué. In reality there was nothing but his magazine, lacking in any political orientation but containing interesting and sometimes rare international news.
The inability to create an organisational structure worthy of the name does not, we need to understand, mean that Pierre Broué didn’t want to fall back into the type of closed-off and authoritarian relationships that had dominated his old party, but firmly the contrary – it was this type of relationship that endured. In this regard the responsibility is far from being his alone. The majority of the “old guard”, once expelled or resigning, had continued to function as minelayers of thought in the sense criticised by Immanuel Kant in Reply to the Question – What is Enlightenment? They had no very clear orientation (which is their right) but they wanted nevertheless to exist in the form of some sort of group, taking as a reference point some former leader, preferably a former member of the Political Bureau (this was doubtless unconscious, but it is a factual observation!). When presented with a global analysis of the situation they would cry out in indignation “here’s someone else who wants to prevent me thinking, who wants to drag me back into my past!”, but operating in the “Pierre has said that …” mode didn’t bother them. The type of apparatus that he had built in the PCI had given its shape to the type of thinking and the type of personality of these groups even when they were expelled or had left. There was a continuity of methods.
Thus it was that when the magazine Democratie! was set up by the majority of the former DLV tendency (which appeared in 1989 and left the PCI in 1991) the militant that I was became one of the first signatories of their appeal for regroupment. At that particular point (for things varied in a cyclical manner) I didn’t possess the odour of sanctity for Pierre Broué, so he demanded of the initiators that my signature disappear, which it did, along with phones put down with no explanation and personal contacts cut off . Anyway, once these same people realised that I had trades union comrades and ones in elected positions who would not accept these procedures it was enough for them to change their behaviour with no further explanation. But does one create militants with these sorts of methods? Has one the right to lecture about methods as alleged victims (though in fact also co-authors!) of “Lambertist methods” when acting in just the same way oneself?
Moreover questions need to be asked about the attitudes of militants (and indeed of non-militants too) named on the Editorial Board list of Marxisme Aujourd’hui but who manifestly did not intervene to prevent its real and sole poly-editor from sliding increasingly often into writing notes that were aggressive, incomprehensible to the non-initiated and sometimes simply false and into continuing to publish these right to the end, even to beyond his death. Is this attitude really different from that of those who hit out at “Varga”, is it really different from those who, starting from a revolt against an oppressive society, ended up hiding under the skirts and kissing the boots of the “little father of the peoples”? This question must at least be posed. A “friend” of Pierre Broué who fails to pose it is starting on the wrong foot for taking up the task of passing on the best of his work.
There is no desire on my part to engage in a posthumous settling of accounts. On the one hand I had settled these accounts with the person concerned during his lifetime and he knew well, indeed I ask myself whether he did not count on it a little, that one day I would talk about how one could understand him without following him like a disciple. On the other hand if I put in all the details I could end up writing a novel and I have no desire to do that.
* * * * *
But this involves a serious question, the same indeed with which Pierre Broué’s conscious life began, if it is true, and it is, that his consciousness was awoken by the moral consciousness of an Élie Reynier: the question of responsibility, of being able to say “I myself think that”, of risking getting things wrong, of taking on one’s own responsibilities, of exposing oneself to act on others, of weighing up a situation, of trying to transform the world. The authoritarian structure of a party-faction-sect is a structure where militants renounce their own responsibility in favour of that of guides who can in different organisations and at different times be good and fatherly guides or an abominable but ridiculous bogeyman like Healy. Authoritarian relationships are not effective for fighting bourgeois society and it was such relationships that he had denounced in the OCI’s IB in 1979, but he himself had produced and reproduced them as much as they were being produced and reproduced around him.
I am not in any sense an anarchist (it is, moreover, obvious that relationships of authority, of substitutionism, of mesmerisation are omnipresent in anarchist currents) but I think that the moments of fusion between historic currents, of organisations with their own intellectual traditions, and the movements of much greater masses, those moments which characterise contemporary revolutions, are the moments when such [authoritarian] relationships break open and are called into question – these are the very situations studied in Pierre Broué’s books on revolutions, this is, at its highest point, the situation of October.
* * * * *
In Bolshevism at its highest level, Bolshevism involving that which was strongest and most noble in it, we don’t need to call on bourgeois authority relations but rather on discipline in action resulting from sincere confidence and freely given commitment. In his study published in English Leninism in the US and the Decline of the Socialist Workers’ Party, Paul Le Blanc, one of those American Trotskyists to whom we referred earlier as defenders of the Cannon tradition (which he saw as a democratic tradition) made a penetrating remark. He drew attention to the essential distinction between an authoritarian personality and a revolutionary personality and quoted the psycho-analyst Erich Fromm (in The Dogma of Christ and other essays first published in 1932):
“The most fundamental characteristic of the “revolutionary character” is that he (or she) is independent that he (or she) is free” in this sense that “the individual thinks, feels and decides for himself and through himself (or herself). More still, that he identifies himself with humanity [as a whole] and transcends the narrow limits of the social order in which he lives” thus establishing, Erich Fromm goes on to say, a relationship to the world, including one to those organisations which he freely chooses to join, based on a “critical mode”.
This revolutionary personality is not as rare as one might think, it is aroused by the class struggle, but it is, naturally, repressed and as often as possible, killed. The authoritarian personalities who, in Fromm, are not only the leaders but also those who need leaders and who follow them, or believe that they follow them, play a key role in the struggle – at the service of bourgeois society – by picking out, isolating, asphyxiating and killing revolutionary personalities.
In a well-run party-faction-sect revolutionary personalities are invariably accused of having “a petit-bourgeois temperament” and, by liquidating or absorbing them, the party-faction-sect plays its role as an institution of bourgeois society. As a general rule, authoritarian personalities cannot stand someone maintaining an opinion unless it comes from a “leader” (to be a “leader” is to be awarded [with this title] through some ritual, some visible sign, some perception of deference by others, or by belonging to some institution, present or past – to a group co-opted by leaders: in this case a former member of the Political Bureau).
If one tries to convince these personalities of something they have difficulty understanding that one is no longer trying to manipulate them and they spontaneously look for “where is this from” or “on whose behalf” are those who speak to them acting and thus they never reach the point of examining an opinion for itself. For the “exes” the over-caution which belongs to the authoritarian personality that of which they haven’t divested themselves expresses itself, moreover, quite easily in the way they make a fuss against those who, when they talk about their conscience or their thought seem, in their eyes, to be attempting to violate them by wanting to force them to obey “those methods we have known”.
A revolutionary personality, for his/her part, never regards him/herself as an “ex”.
Pierre Broué outside the PCI was not, in fact, Pierre Broué in the fresh air. He always had problems in this universe. He did not himself have the temperament of those weak authoritarian personalities, but rather that of the strong ones, deep down very weak, who have need of the weak ones, who can never find equals and seem not to want friends, though actually they really miss having them.
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Having said that I have, practically, made the main point. Those that get angry about it will be confirming by that very fact that they can feel targeted too. But I have done no more than describe a phenomenon that, in France, on a much larger scale, characterised the militants in the PCF, that big Stalinist party which became the model for its enemies on the Left.
To finish briefly with Pierre Broué’s political positions, we can distinguish three phases after 1990.
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The first was the hope of creating his own current which got precisely nowhere apart from carrying on – at arms length and with the help of devoted friends (rather than militants convinced that this was indispensable work) – of the magazine LMA.
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The second phase was that of seeking to insert himself in broader regroupments. Through the magazine Démocratie! this led Pierre Broué to interest himself in the beginnings of the Mouvement des Citoyens founded by Jean-Pierre Chevènement (who he had met, and liked, rather by chance during a trip to Mexico a long time earlier) and then to envisage helping to educate new generations of militants in the context of the left currents of the socialist party.
It was it this point that, through Gérard Filoche, LMA became associated with the magazine Démocratie et Révolution, which was later to call itself Démocratie et Socialisme which, for all that, was not “the magazine” of Pierre Broué but a platform that was always open, Pierre Broué was also put in contact with the minor “elephants” of the left of the PS at the time, Julien Dray and Jean-Luc Mélenchon. By a vote which, contrary to what Gérard Filoche stated, was not “unanimous” (there were some circumspect abstentions) LMA became considered as a magazine associated with D & S – which, concretely, had no tangible political implications.
Noting a new and rich epoch opening up since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the USSR and feeling that the failure of the little Internationals necessitated a period of the insertion of revolutionary militants into existing organisations led Pierre Broué to an extreme prudence towards any critique of these organisations. This got to the point where in LMA he did not present his own positions on them but specialised in articles denouncing those critics and opponents of them judged really or supposedly to be sectarians or ultra-lefts. He acted like this over the Brazilian Workers’ Party but also towards the French PS.
During the first years of the Jospin government, when all currents in the PS, including the left wing ones, lined up behind its reactionary policies which began, indeed, to stir up social struggles – notably at the time of the minister Allègre’s attacks on state education – Pierre Broué still had a relatively considerable stature which could have allowed him to make a critique that would be listened to – or at the least to deliver a warning shot – aimed at these currents. He refused to do so and only did so in an individual and far from systematic way a little later, when it was too late – and he sent packing, in an insulting way, anyone who suggested that he should do so.
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Further to this when he was questioned at this time by journalists in search of the scoop they were hoping for about Lionel Jospin, formerly of the OCI now in the PS, he either denied this or claimed not to know anything about it, thus seeming, on the one hand to be protecting the Prime Minister himself and, on the other, to be avoiding any responsibility to explain the policy and methods of the former OCI. Thus in Chapter 2 of Gérard Leclerc and Florence Muracciole’s Lionel Jospin, l’héritier rebelle Pierre Broué confirmed that there had been “moles” in the PS and emphasised a meeting with an Elysée advisor after 10 May 1981 – this was probably with Robert Chéramy and the meeting, if it took place, had no great significance at a political level – but it totally “exonerated” Lionel Jospin.
Yet many former OCI militants affirmed that Lionel Jospin had been one of them. Charles Berg and François Chesnais exposed Jospin as a former comrade in Libération in early June 1999. This finally speeded up the “outing” of Lionel Jospin. Following this “outing” it was to be Michel Broué who, starting with a first interview in January 2002 followed by a series of programmes produced by Jean Birnbaum on the Trotskyists, recounted on France Culture how Lionel Jospin had been recruited and educated (through his “GER”) by the OCI in 1970.
It is thus even more striking that Pierre Broué interviewing himself in one of the last numbers of the magazine LMA justified his silence as follows: “I am not a squealer”. The choice, though certainly unconscious, of a mafia expression with macho connotations, seems here to bear witness to a feeling that he belonged, on the one hand with Jospin and on the other with Lambert, to the same gang and to a view that those who had “talked” were squealers ….this is Francis Ford Coppola winning out over old Reynier.
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The third and final phase of Pierre Broué’s political involvements after 1989 can be dated from the Presidential elections of 2002 when he indignantly denounced the advice to vote Chirac in the second round, in a letter on the net, resonant with energy, and sent to various groups and magazines (including the Lettre des Liasons). In an obviously irrational way and contrary to the truth he later accused us in LMA of having campaigned for Chirac.
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With health worries adding to everything else, his contacts with the militants who found themselves in the French Socialist Party became less frequent. From 2003 he received visits from Greg Oxley and Alan Woods on behalf of the Committee for a Marxist International inspired by the old British Trotskyist, Ted Grant. In his obituary articles Alan Woods wrote that Pierre Broué had become one of them: he hadn’t formally joined but talked with them and spoke of “us”, carrying out political projects and publications of Trotsky together.
Pierre Broué easily tended to say “us”, even when he was, in reality, quite alone and always when he had the feeling that good work in common was possible or, at least, so as to be able to claim that he was not all alone and that he was “followed”. I am far from wanting to minimise that he could have recognised the theoretical seriousness of this current who combined long-haul work in mass organisations with Trotskyist education. Be this as it may, the psychological factors in this last rapprochement are unquestionable. Pierre Broué had created the conditions for considerable genuine isolation, though many people had thought about his well-being and had suffered for this. Ted Grant’s current had not been a sudden revelation for him in 2003, he had been studying it for a long time at an historical level, for, as I said earlier, Ted Grant had carried out work in the army that he considered exemplary and which was an example of what he would have wished to do as a young man. He had been thinking more and more about this since his researches of the 1980s and his expulsion in 1989. What’s more Ted Grant gave the impression of an old guy still in full form, older than Pierre Broué and the only Trotskyist still living who had tried to do what was needed during the second world war. All these reasons make up the starting point for this last attachment.
Pierre Broué thus conducted his last polemics – with astounding ferocity – in defence of this tendency in Bolivia against the critiques of it by the Argentinian PO (Partido Obrera) and therefore at the same time in defence of in-depth work in working-class organisations such as the Bolivian COB. But he also criticised the policy of this same current which was in favour of prioritising work in France in the PCF.
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Things had reached this point when Pierre Broué died, only a few days after Vlady Serge (an objective coincidence in André Breton’s sense of the term).
The giant conclusion for a giant of an historian: the Comintern
The production of Trotsky’s Works was not to be continued after 1989. In total this represented 27 volumes covering the years 1933–1940 and three covering the years 1928–1929, to which it is worth adding the correspondence of Leon and Natalia Trotsky (prefaced, translated and edited by Van) and the correspondence in the 1930s between Leon Trotsky and Alfred and Marguerite Rosmer (presented and annotated by Pierre Broué) both in the Temoins/Gallimard collection.
As far as I know, this failure to continue the publication of the Works, which left unfinished the intended publication of them at least up to 1933, was for financial reasons. The non-obituary signed by Jean-Jacques Marie in Informations Ouvrières heavily emphasises the help of the OCI in selling the Works. But it is important to equally heavily emphasise the sabotage of their distribution when their editor became an “enemy”. That being said I think that it is true that Pierre Broué thought, following Trotsky, that he had, in the volumes that had already come out, published the most significant work in the latter’s life and did not consider publishing the older writings to be a priority.
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Pierre Broué had published several small books in the period from1989 to the end of the 1990s: on the one hand, in 1993 on Trotsky’s son Leon Sedov, also in 1993 on the role of Stalin in Spain (complementing his earlier work in the light of Russian archives) and a book in 1996 (which was perhaps too hastily written) on Rakovsky, for whom he had a soft spot; on the other, two small works on contemporary events, enriched by observations through his travels. One was on the end of the USSR and is ignored in the majority of bibliographies that are circulating; Moscou, le putsch du 19 août 1991 was published as a supplement to LMA with a preface from the leadership team of the “Filoche current” in the LCR at the time. This is a little book which has the merit, unique in France, of strongly conveying the weight and strength of the Russian working-class. The other was on the mass demonstrations in Brazil in 1994, published by L’Harmattan as Quand le peuple renverse le president. One will search in vain through this book for a political analysis but one will find in it rousing descriptions of turbulent demonstrations.
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But the major work that was then in gestation was to be published by Fayard in 1997. This was his Histoire de l’Internationale Communiste, 1919–1943. This is genuinely speaking a monster of a book, a sort of sum total of stories put together into a coherent whole, which, one could say, pulls everything together. The contributions, that is the detailed points and necessary confirmations, emerging from the opening of the Russian archives are, of course, an integral part of it. Above all, at one and the same time, it can be situated in the centre of Pierre Broué’s overall work and as the conclusion to it. This is for two reasons:
There is thus a sort of compound rhythm that structures the work of Pierre Broué. The series of tomes published by Minuit remain the base without which any discussion of his works would go off the rails – before he was “the historian of Trotsky” he was the storyteller of the European revolutions of the 20th century. Then followed his intellectual and biographical focus on one individual – Trotsky. But in the third, and last, moment there is the synthesis of the collective story and of individual biographies in a tragic portrait which is this Histoire de l’Internationale Communiste, which seems almost to become a person in the feminine: la Comintern, as Pierre Broué liked to insist on as the correct usage – backing this up with convincing linguistic and historical arguments.
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This work, the fruit of work that cannot but have exhausted and crushed its own author includes, in its present state, some small defects, gaps here and there – little detail on China in the 1930s for example. But faced with a work like this these defects turn into the inevitable reverse side of the great tragedy. A militant in a hurry who is worried that he will not have the time to read all Pierre Broué’s historical works should read this one. Then, if they really wants to “educate himself politically” he should “do” the books on the German Revolution and the Spanish Revolution. This is why the necessary work of republication should first of all concern these two essential books. If our serious militant and honest man then has the luck of getting his hands on his pamphlets he would gain still more from reading those on what the Trotskyists called “political revolutions” against the bureaucracy: the pamphlet on Hungary 1956, that on Czechoslovakia 1968, without forgetting that which he will not find, for it is not published, but which must exist, on Poland 1980.
This intelligent route is not the easy one which emerges from the Pierre Broué bibliographies that appear here and there, favouring the books according to their lightness of weight and “forgetting” (as, obviously, in the non-obituary in the name of Jean-Jacques Marie in Informations Ouvrières!) Germany and the Comintern …
To this monument we should add two annexes of worth: Communistes contre Staline – le massacre d’une generation (2003) and Meutre au maquis written with Raymond Vacheron following Raymond’s discovery of survivors and precise details of the political murder by the Stalinists in the maquis of the Haut Velay of a group of Trotskyists who included the founder of Italian Communism, Pietro Tresso (known as Blasco) along with Pierre Salini, Abram Sadek, Jean Reboul and a young Communist, influenced by them but thinking for himself, Paul Maraval. In this book Pierre Broué’s regrets about the war period did not lead to a claim to a role in the “maquis” but to a brutal critique of an old militant of the period, Albert Demazière.
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This compound rhythm in the work of Pierre Broué – revolutionary pictures in the 1960 to 1975 books; then the focus on one personality, Trotsky; finishing with the attempt to capture in a new way the collective picture through adding-up individual destinies – has something in it of the tragic, for it corresponds too, even in its grandeur, with its author’s growing difficulties in making a global analysis of this welter of facts and ideas. We cannot conceal the fact that the books from the 1990s, including the “Comintern” include a growing number of mistakes, slips and repetitions and suffer from a growing difficulty in getting away from crude storytelling just as the articles and notes in Marxisme Aujourd’hui suffer from a certain “airport novel” feel to them. His attempt to capture a global sense of a whole generation, fighting and defeated, sometimes pushed to betrayal and then defeated once more, this attempt by Pierre Broué the historian at grasping the horrors of the century ran side by side with a tightening grip on him of obvious psychiatric problems. A more and more dry and hard view of the world, instrumentalising people, and women in particular, like a tide emerging from the unconscious, coincided with the sharpest and most subtle of his work as an historian and began to threaten it.
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The dimension of Stalinism as a killing machine and a machine of lies is at the centre of this great work and of its two appendices. Its sentimental (in the theatrical sense of the word) nature does not conceal, but rather reveals the ensemble of political tactics forged by Stalinism in the 1930s, and repeated since in divers modes by diverse political forces, as counter-revolutionary and stained with blood. In this respect Pierre Broué, quite rightly never made any concessions towards the mystique and the embellished memories of the “Popular Front” which is presented for what it was, covered with blood and resulting quite logically in the Hitler-Stalin Pact. This aspect of the book distressed that other great historian of the workers’ movement in France (along with Jean Maitron), Madeleine Rebérioux, who was in other respects impressed by the work. But facts are facts and, if one is to defend the truth, myths must not stand in their way.
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It is this view that had guided me in writing this text, which, against my intentions, has taken on the scale of a pamphlet, for what needs saying must be said. Real history is complex because it is concrete and there can be no truth which is not concrete. The easy and thoughtless way in which Pierre Broué could be turned into an angel among demons (the “Lambertists”) should be treated with the disdain that he himself had for trashy historians and lazy thinkers. For it is absolutely right to say, as Joelle Lesson wrote:
for Pierre there could be no real political activity without a common understanding of events and tasks. When a comrade falls we continue the struggle. For Socialism. Sans Dieu ni Maître [No God, No Master].
Sans Dieu ni Maître, that is what our fighters need.
Vincent Présumey, Moulins
1. The hypokhâgne (1st year) and khâgne (2nd year) are lycée classes preparing for the Ecole Normale Supérieure. The ENS trained university teachers and senior lycée teachers at a time when there were far fewer lycées than today it was so a far more elite course than British. “teacher training” [Note by RH editors]
2. Jean Moulin, a Resistance hero. See Jean Moulin, 1899–1943: the French Resistance and the Republic, Alan Clinton,. 2002
3. “To the balcony” – meaning “let’s have a speech”.
4. Professor Nimbus, a character in the “Tin-tin” comic books.
5. Grant never served in the army as he failed his medical but his organisation, the Revolutionary Communist Party, did good political work in the forces to mention only 3 members – Charlie van Gelderen, Duncan Hallas and Harry Ratner. [Note by RH editor]
6. Vichy paramilitary forces.
7. The STO was the organisation that supplied French “volunteers” and forced labourers to work in German factories and farms.
Updated by ETOL: 31.10.2011