- 1960s Berkeley radical
- “Chairman-in-exile” of the Revolutionary Communist Party
- Calls the U.S. a “worldwide oppressor”
Robert “Bob” Avakian was born in Washington, DC 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 on June 16, 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, abolish and dismantle” America’s “capitalism-imperialism,” whose pernicious “exploitation and oppression” was responsible for a vast array of “outrages and injustices.”
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