Robert “Bob” Avakian was born in Washington, D.C. on March 7, 1943 and was raised in Berkeley, California. His father, Spurgeon Avakian, was an Eisenhower Republican who served as an Alameda County Superior Court judge from 1964-80.
In the 1960s Robert Avakian attended UC Berkeley, where he was deeply influenced by the radical, countercultural politics of the time. He became an activist in the Free Speech Movement, a supporter of the Black Panther Party, and a spokesman for the California-based Peace and Freedom Party, a socialist entity. Avakian also joined the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which eventually spawned the revolutionary group Weatherman.
Avakian first drew significant public attention when he was arrested and sentenced to thirty days in jail for flag desecration, on charges that he had climbed a flagpole during an antiwar protest outside the Oakland County Courthouse and pulled down the American flag. In an autobiography which he wrote many years later, Avakian claimed that someone else that actually removed that flag from the pole, and that Avakian merely was the person caught holding it.
In the 1970s Avakian went on to become a prominent figure in the Revolutionary Youth Movement II, a Marxist-Leninist faction of SDS. Over time, this faction splintered into still smaller units, of which one of the most influential was the Revolutionary Union (RU) that arose in the San Francisco Bay Area under the leadership of Avakian, Jane Franklin, and H. Bruce Franklin. In 1975, RU became officially known as the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). Avakian was instrumental in the formation of this Maoist organization, along with Carl Dix and C. Clark Kissinger.
From his earliest days as a radical, Avakian advocated a revolutionary struggle to replace the capitalist economic system with a socialist alternative. “[N]o basic change for the better can come about until this system is overthrown,” he once stated.
One of the major themes that Avakian embraced was the essential unity of radical movements and regimes at home and abroad: “If it is true that the greatest contribution to the world revolution that can be made in the U.S. in this period is the overthrow of U.S. imperialism and the establishment of the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat in its place, it is certainly no less true that the course of the revolutionary movement in the U.S. and even its prospects for victory will be decisively influenced by the overall course of the revolutionary struggles in the world as a whole.”
In the tradition of Mao Zedong, Avakian instructed his own followers to refer to him as “Chairman Bob.” In 1979 he was arrested for leading a violent demonstration against Mao’s successor, Deng Xiaoping, during the latter’s visit with President Jimmy Carter at the White House. Avakian regarded Deng as a political sell-out, and his fellow protesters chanted “Mao Zedong did not fail, revolution will prevail!” Avakian, for his part, was charged with assaulting a police officer at the scene.
In 1981, criminal indictments were issued against Avakian and several other RCP leaders for their illegal entry onto White House grounds during the aforementioned protest. But rather than face trial, Avakian fled the United States and settled in France, where he continues to reside as RCP’s central committee “chairman-in-exile.” RCP members reverently refer to Avakian as their “Precious Leader.”
Despite being situated thousands of miles from the American mainland, Avakian continues to agitate for the violent overthrow of the U.S. government, embracing the concept of an intellectual vanguard leading the proletariat in glorious revolution. “It is easy,” he says, “to look at the difficulties that such a world-historic revolution involves—up against thousands of years of tradition’s chains as well as the military might of the guardians of the old order, above all the rulers of imperial America itself—and decide to settle for something less … But, as Mao himself put it, speaking of the ascent to communism worldwide, ‘the road is tortuous, but the future is bright.’”
In an interview that appeared in the Revolutionary Worker in 2002, Avakian predicted that the United States would invade Iraq not because of any legitimate national-security concerns, but because of pride and arrogance: “You can’t leave somebody standing who stood up to you, even to the degree that Saddam Hussein did at the time of the Gulf War when he refused to take their orders at that time—not that Saddam Hussein is somebody that we would support or someone who represents the interests of the people, but he’s someone who, compared to the monsters that they [the U.S. imperialists] are, is a pittance, is a small-time oppressor, compared to the worldwide oppressors that they are.”
In 2010 Avakian authored the Constitution of the New Socialist Republic in North America, published by the RCP in the form of a 91-page book. This volume laid out detailed guidelines for the proper governance of a new, transformed United States in fulfillment of the Avakian/RCP vision. Specifically, it exhorted radicals to “defeat, dismantle, and abolish” America’s “system of capitalism-imperialism,” whose pernicious “exploitation and oppression” was responsible for a vast array of “outrages and injustices.”
On August 1, 2020, Avakian released a lengthy statement exhorting his followers and party members to vote for Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the upcoming presidential election. Some excerpts:
- “This [Trump administration] is a regime headed by ‘a demented bully’ with his finger on the nuclear button. It is a regime that, without exaggeration, threatens not just greatly heightened suffering for the masses of humanity but the very existence of humanity itself, through its intensified moves to further the plunder of the environment and its boasts of unequaled weapons of mass destruction and its blatant declaration of willingness to use those weapons, including its massive nuclear arsenal.”
- “I have also emphasized that it is this system of capitalism-imperialism which, through its ‘normal workings,’ has brought forth this fascism, and that no fundamental change for the better can be brought about under this system, and instead this system must be overthrown and replaced by a radically different and far better system, in order to abolish and uproot all relations of exploitation and oppression, and the violent conflicts they give rise to—all of which is built into the foundations of this system and its ongoing functioning and requirements.”
- “Right now, for everyone who is concerned with ending injustice and oppression, and with the question of whether humanity will have a future worth living—or will have a future at all—removing the Trump/Pence fascist regime from power is an immediate, urgent question and truly historic imperative.”
- “[T]he immediate struggle to oust the Trump/Pence regime from power must be approached not as a ‘diversion’ from (or ‘substitute for’) building the movement for the revolution that is needed, but precisely as part—a crucial part and urgent requirement—of the overall work of building for this revolution.”
- “Trump ran his campaign in 2016 on what amounted to a straight-up fascist program, including blatant white supremacy and male supremacy, and xenophobic racism toward immigrants, particularly those from Mexico and other countries which Trump regards as ‘shit-holes,’ as well as open advocacy of torture and thuggery by police and Trump’s ‘civilian’ supporters.”
- “Already we have seen Trump, in flagrant violation of Constitutional principles, send occupying storm troopers, from various federal government agencies, to criminalize dissent and suppress people protesting in Portland and other cities, and to add to the reign of terror against masses of people in the inner cities of Chicago and elsewhere.”
- “We have seen Trump’s crude displays of ‘America First’ jingoism, including his repeated calls for severely punishing those who, in his view, have failed to show the appropriate patriotic fervor, or who have dared to raise criticism and protest against some of the more glaring oppression carried out by enforcers of this system, in particular the ongoing brutality and murder of Black, Brown, and Native American people by police. We have witnessed his continual encouragement of white supremacist thuggery, by police and by ‘Second Amendment people’ and other ‘very fine people.’ All this calls to mind the rise to power and the rule of Hitler and the NAZIs in Germany during the 1930s and early 1940s. As Hitler built his fascist movement, thugs would be mobilized to brutalize and terrorize people who didn’t show support for Hitler and the NAZIs—assaulting them on the street and in other public places. Once the NAZI fascist state had consolidated its power, any opposition was severely punished and crushed. All those who did not openly endorse and proclaim the official NAZI ideology were targeted.”
- “At this critical hour, every appropriate means of non-violent action must be utilized to remove this regime from power. And if, in spite of mass protest demanding the removal of the Trump/Pence regime, this regime remains in power when it is time for voting, then—without placing fundamental reliance on this—using all appropriate means to work for the removal of this regime must include voting against Trump (assuming the election is actually held)…. This is not because Biden (and the Democratic Party in general) have suddenly become something other than what they are: representatives and instruments of this exploitative, oppressive, and literally murderous system of capitalism-imperialism. The electoral process continues to be what we revcoms have called it—BEB (Bourgeois Electoral Bullshit). It remains the case that no fundamental change for the better can come about through this electoral process, and that, in general and overall, voting under this system serves to reinforce this system, especially if voting is seen as a way—and more so if it is seen as the (only) way—to bring about meaningful change. But this election is different.”
- “The question is not whether Biden and the Democrats represent something ‘good,’ or whether, in fundamental terms, the Democrats are ‘better’ than the Republicans. Both of these parties are ruling class political parties, and none of their candidates represent anything ‘good’ in the most basic and essential sense. Biden is not ‘better’ than Trump, in any meaningful way—except that he is not Trump and is not part of the move to consolidate and enforce fascist rule, with everything that means.
- “[R]egardless of what happens with this election, it remains profoundly true—and it is vitally important to recognize, and to act on the understanding—that no fundamental change for the better can come under this system…. [A]ll those who have come to see that institutionalized white supremacy, male supremacy and the many other outrages and crimes against humanity perpetrated under this system are in fact built into this system of capitalism-imperialism must work together, in an ongoing way, to build a continually growing movement and to strengthen the organized forces for an actual revolution to overthrow this system.”
- “In this extraordinary and very complex situation—and from the point of view of advancing the struggle toward the goal of finally eliminating all exploitation and oppression, everywhere—there is an urgent need to [take an] … overall approach: putting the main emphasis and reliance on mass mobilization, with voting in this extraordinary situation necessary and important but not the main thing to be relied upon; and, in fundamental terms, making all this contribute to creating more favorable conditions for, and building up the organized forces for, not only resisting the crimes of this system but finally carrying out the revolution that is needed in order to put an end to this monstrously criminal system and its domination in the world, in any form.”
For additional information on Robert Avakian, click here.