Revolutionary Worker Online, IL
May 15 2006

Reading, Promoting, and Discussing Bob Avakian's Memoir


We received the following correspondences from readers in Los Angeles
who have been reading, promoting, and discussing Bob Avakian's
memoir, From Ike to Mao and Beyond.

Letter 1
I had a discussion of the Bob Avakian's memoir with two
Latin-American immigrant proletarians, Tony and Pablo, who consider
themselves supporters of the Party, one much longer than the other.
Both are much more comfortable reading and talking in Spanish, but
both read the book.

The younger of the two, Tony, had raised two years ago, before anyone
knew that a memoir was being prepared, when he first had read a few
issues of the newspaper, `He [Bob Avakian] seems like an important
leader, do you have any kind of book about him?'

Tony said that there were many things that `surprised' and interested
him in reading the Memoir. One was learning about Bob Avakian's
father's family as immigrants from Armenia. He said he had never
heard of Armenia before and said it was striking `how different the
experience of immigrants has been coming from different places' and
in this case how they fell out around the issue of racism in the
U.S., identifying more as white people, and how Bob Avakian dealt
with this contradiction. He also said he was surprised by Bob's
account of growing up in a segregated environment in the late 50's
and then `crossing over' and sharing his life with Black people.

Pablo said that he was at a disadvantage in this discussion because
he had lent his copy of the Memoir to a Latina immigrant friend (who
finally has a place of her own after being in and out of homeless
shelters and losing all of her possessions including her books) and
so he hadn't had the opportunity to actually review the Memoir prior
to our discussion. He said, `I read it like a novel. I find
autobiographies/memoirs interesting as a story more than something I
will take notes from' (like he does with other things he has read by
Avakian). He said that though it wasn't fresh in his mind, some
things still struck him a year later. He was surprised to learn that
the Chairman had come from what he described as an `upper middle
class' family and how that affected him. He said that it was
interesting how `he learned a lot about law and politics from his
father,' while at the same time rebelling and choosing his own path.
He said that it was interesting how at a certain point in his life,
Bob `led a double life,' one with his family and one at school, and
how `timing' was important to his development: `The turmoil in the
world affected his thinking.' Like Tony, Pablo said that there were
surprises in the book that made it interesting; he listed three: 1)
His nearly life-ending illness; 2) His relationship with the people
who would form the Black Panther Party and how that influenced him;
and 3) His first experience `going to the working class' in Richmond,
California - Pablo said `it seems that he went there with a lot of
illusions about people.'

He said it was interesting how Bob Avakian described his (and
others') way of seeing life in the late 60's, `they expected
revolution to happen then.' He said that there was a theme in the
book of repeatedly `learning from mistakes.' He found particularly
funny the episode in China of continually being offered snails, a
food that he and others had trouble with, but not wanting to offend
anyone by commenting negatively.

Tony said he was also struck by Bob Avakian's journey from the middle
class - `how people make that kind of change' was new to him. He said
it was interesting how Bob Avakian `mixed with people' and how that
affected him. Overall he said that the Memoir painted a picture of
Bob as `another human being and not some sort of super-hero.' He was
also struck by how the Chairman's mother's concern for basic people
(albeit from a religious standpoint) was something that he learned
from and was influenced by. He described the struggle in the book
involving his sister dating a Black person and said it reminded him
of a situation that he had had working in a Korean-owned store. The
Korean owners tried to keep a distance from the mainly Black and
Latino customers, but one of the sons (around 18-20) worked there and
befriended him, which the owner tolerated but didn't like, but that
then when the son started to date a Black young woman, the parents
went ballistic.

Tony said he liked the part `Getting Free of Religion.' He said that
this was very interesting. He said that the journey from religion to
atheism was explained as because `there is no truth to it.' Tony said
that in his own case he had lost connection with religion in much the
same way, but `I couldn't be a total atheist until becoming a
communist.'

Pablo said the memoir gave him a picture of Bob as a `regular guy...
someone who liked sports,' etc. He said he liked (and identified
with) Bob's description of how his `proudest achievement' in high
school was being listed as `Teachers' Trial.' and how Bob saw himself
as a rebel against `arbitrary authority.' This means a lot and
concentrates, as Pablo explained, his own contradictory feelings
about promoting leaders. Pablo had grown up in a home where his
father was the tyrannical minister of an evangelical church, and was
lauded as the `great leader' of that church. He said that this really
angered and alienated him and when he questioned this `arbitrary
authority' he was literally thrown out of the house when he 14 years
old and lived on the street selling candies etc. on street corners
before leaving his home town in the country he is from. So he says
sometimes he feels uncomfortable with the promotion of Bob Avakian as
a leader, even though he said, `I agree with more than 90% of what
Bob Avakian says and writes.' At the same time, he said he felt a
great kinship for his rebelliousness and his challenging `arbitrary
authority.'

We also talked with someone who had really liked some portions of the
DVD by Bob Avakian (Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's
Possible, What It's All About), but felt uncomfortable promoting any
one leader. We talked about how to get into these kinds of
issues - taking up the Leadership Resolutions [see `Resolution: On
Leaders and Leadership' and `Some Points on the Question of
Revolutionary Leadership and Individual Leaders,' both dated Oct. 1,
1995, available online at http://rwor.org/rcp-e.htm], and also the
part in Michael Slate's radio interview with the Chairman, that
discusses the question, `Isn't it dangerous to invest so much in an
individual leader?' (Bob Avakian's interview with Slate is available
online at bobavakian.net) I won't go into all of that here, but what
is most directly connected with the Memoir is how from reading the
Memoir even people with a general `distrust of leaders,' will `want
to make an exception' for Bob Avakian once `they get to know him.'

People agreed that reading the Memoir really gives you a sense of Bob
Avakian's integrity and his deep connection with the people. But
Pablo raised that is not enough. He said, Malcolm X had a lot of
integrity and a deep connection with the people and this comes out in
his autobiography, but `what if he had not been killed, I sometimes
wonder what would have happened with him. I worry that he could have
ended up becoming a Mayor or something.'

This got us into how the Memoir as a whole not only gives `a
humanizing portrait' of Bob Avakian's early years, but paints a vivid
picture of his development into how he is described on the back of
the Memoir, as `America's most radical revolutionary communist.' This
brought Tony back to the day he first asked if there was a book about
Bob Avakian. He said he had wanted to know `who is this leader, how
did he become that kind of leader.' He said that as a young person
himself, `I naturally identified a lot with the part on his early
years.' But he said this whole book is about `his life and our
lives.'

In the previously-mentioned discussion, the person had raised, `you
can't put so much in one leader - what would you do if he became a
fascist?' Tony said that the Memoir gave him great confidence that
this wouldn't happen with Bob Avakian. He turned to the last chapter
of the Memoir and read aloud the concluding passage: `So this is what
my life will continue to be devoted to, and this is what the ongoing
story of my life will be about.'

>From there we got into the significance of Cornel West's description
of Bob Avakian as `a long distance runner in the freedom struggle
against imperialism, racism and capitalism.' They felt that having
read the Memoir that they got a deeper sense of why that is in fact
true. Pablo hearkened back to a part of Carl Dix's interview with Bob
Avakian that had stuck with him - his answer to `What sustains you?'
[`Bob Avakian Speaks Out: On War and Revolution On Being a
Revolutionary and Changing the World, Interviewed by Carl Dix,' also
available as downloadable audio] He said his answer was very
important. One of them (I forget which) said, `People often say to
you, 'you are radical now as a youth, but then you will get more
conservative when you get older,' but Bob Avakian continues to get
more radical.' Tony raised that another reason he has confidence in
Bob Avakian (in response to our friend's challenge) is how he will
fight for what's right even if at times it is very unpopular or even
dangerous to do so, even within the existing movement of the time. He
mentioned in particular the section of Memoir where Bob describes
getting ready to go to the showdown RCP Central Committee meeting on
the coup in China and his wife asks him `Do you think we will win?'
and he answers, `I don't know if we will win, but we can't lose.'


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Letter 2
I spoke with a Black college student who grew up in the Valley. She
is not a communist or into socialism, or even revolutionary, but she
is very progressive-minded. She really enjoyed reading the Memoir.
When I went to speak with her, we talked about both her thoughts on
the book and also seeing if she could help and/or had any ideas about
popularizing it at her school. She told me that she was expecting it
to be really different, more like Bob Avakian's other writings (she's
read some of his pieces in Revolution newspaper, and also she read
part of his book, The Loss in China and the Revolutionary Legacy of
Mao Tsetung). She thought it was going to be more complex and at
first she didn't really like that. But she said, `It wasn't a hard
book at all! It was like having a conversation with someone!' She
really liked the stories he told.

There were two things in particular she spoke about that really
impacted her. The first was how he lived through the times of
segregation. She said that a lot of people she knows, especially
white people, were really affected in very negative ways from
segregation. She said that a lot of the people she has interacted
with `have this sense of `it's okay' or somehow acceptable if you
called people `nigger' back in those days. They try to excuse
themselves by saying `oh that's how it was in those days, everyone
was like that,' but he really lets us know that things weren't like
that and that not all white folks were racist like that and accepted
that as normal!' I should say that she is half white, and growing up
with her family that was the gringo side (that's what she calls it),
was very hard for her. She had to endure a lot of shit from them. So
for her the beginning of the book, and how Bob Avakian looked at
Black people as his brothers and sisters in those days is very
admirable. It gave her a bigger sense of who he really is and his
convictions, and how he became the leader of this Party.

Another part she really enjoyed was when he starts talking about his
involvement with the Black Panther Party. That whole section about
the sixties she really enjoyed. `It's like a history lesson.' She
says you really get a feeling of what he went through, and really a
feeling of what youth were going through at the time and the real
struggle. We were tripping out for a while because I have a copy of
the movie, `Berkeley in the 60s' and we would watch it all the time.
In the book Avakian talks about times he was at different events
which are also documented in the movie. For example the time when the
Mario Savio got arrested at a Free Speech Movement protest and people
surrounded the car, and they had a rally and the stage was on top of
the pig car. She remembered during our conversation that they mention
Bob Avakian in the video at one point (I believe it was during `Stop
the Draft Week') and she got so excited saying she was going to go
back to the book and read that whole section again.

Another really good conversation I had was when I spoke with a youth
who lives in the projects. He also told me that he really enjoyed the
part from the 60s. He said that in the part on the Civil Rights
Movement, Chairman Avakian really brings it to life for people. It's
really good for youth to read and they can learn from the history and
grow from that, like how he analyzes the socialist societies of the
past and is advancing our science (of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism) to a
whole other level. We can learn from the movement of those times, and
take it much further this time around. He was saying how this book is
crucial for youth to get their hands on, especially with the
immigrant struggle going on. When I talked to him it was in the
middle of the week of walk-outs, so he was tripping out for a while,
imagining, what if the students had this book in their hands and were
reading it, what difference it would make! He said that the book
really paints the picture of really how much struggle it took to keep
the Civil Rights Movement forward, and how in the wildness of
everything he became a communist.

He also said a really important thing in the book is how he analyzes
the other trends he came across in the past, like the PLP
(Progressive Labor Party) and others, like the Weathermen, and the
Trotskyites. It's like Marxism-Leninism-Maoism vs. other lines.
People should see that and question these other lines in a way
similar to how people were engaging in it during those days. We
should study what they are really about and where these other lines
will lead you. That is also really important for youth to get into
because sometimes, he said, youth out of spontaneity get sucked into
these other lines, and the wrong line leads people to nowhere good,
so a lot of youth get discouraged and think that all revolutionary
groups and communist groups are the same when its not the case. He
explained to me that he really got a living sense of what the
chairman is like, for example, how he would never run away from
getting into struggle with people, and debating politics even from
his early days as a revolutionary!

Another high school youth from the same housing projects said that it
would be really good to get this memoir into classrooms. It can be a
very good textbook. And also it can help people see what Bob Avakian
is really like and what he's really about and they'll get over these
wrong ideas they have of him and of communism. He had some really
good ideas of how to promote this at school and among youth. He
suggested having teachers sell the book in class to the students or
have the students demand that the teacher carry the book in class,
get the book into every library (public and school), get it to stores
so people can more easily buy it, and promote Libros Revolucion
because they carry all his works. But the idea he was most excited
about was making some pamphlets of excerpts of the book, that aren't
really expensive so youth can read it and they get hooked so they'll
want to get the whole thing!! I thought this was a really great idea.



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Letter 3
Taking the Chairman's Memoir to South Central
Note: People have downloaded the audio files of Bob Avakian reading
the Memoir (available at revcom.us and bobavakian.net) and put it on
CDs for distribution in places like the Nickerson Gardens where many
people do not have access to the Internet.

Ester and I have been getting together each week over the past few
weeks listening to the Memoir on CD and taking turns reading it out
loud to each other. One day we got together at Starbucks for a cup of
hot chocolate and some good reading of the Chairman's Memoir. Ester
loves hot chocolate, and she really liked reading the Memoir. We
laughed and talked about the stories about Bob Avakian's childhood
growing up. Ester said he was a real `prankster,' and he's funny. She
used to listen to a lot of singers he mentions in the book, the
Chantels, Jimmy Reed (one of her favorite blues singers), Chuck
Berry, the buster brown shoes, this was all during her time and she
was reminiscing about it. She loved the corn bread story, she
described how he must have been looking at that cornbread, and how
hungry he must have been. She could understand how he would go after
that cornbread, because the other kid had two pieces and he was
hungry. She just laughs about this story and describes it. Then she
says, he could have got his ass kicked, and then we laughed.

We got so involved in reading the book, even though Ester didn't have
any glasses and the strain was hurting her eyes she still wanted to
read on. As we read each page in anticipation of what the next
chapter would hold, what new adventure was young Bobby going to get
into. She said to me, his life was exciting all the little chances he
was taking. She went onto say that from reading the book so far `he
is someone who loves people no matter what color they are. He hung
out with kids of all colors no matter what people thought about him.'
She is referring to the part in the book where this one white kid he
knew was questioning why he was hanging out with Black kids. She
quotes Bob's response. She loves his response to this kid. When we
got to the part about him going to the student dance with a Black
girl during a time when there was segregation in the country and in
his school, Ester was on the edge of her chair anxious to find out
what happened. After reading it later she commented, that was a Big
Kiss, and we both laughed.

She liked how the Chairman hung out with all nationalities and how he
would fight for what he thought was right, even though it might get
his ass kicked or get him in trouble. She thought the prankster stuff
was like kids do and it was funny. She thought he was funny too. She
liked the arbitrary authority chapter too. She said he was right,
`his parents had taught him to stand up for his rights.'

Through the pages of the book and listening to the CD's Ester is
getting to know Bob Avakian, who he is as a person. She had seen the
DVD, Revolution: Why It's Necessary - Why It's Possible - What It's All
About before and we have had many debates and discussions
particularly over the question of him being white. After reading the
book she is questioning if he is really white. As we read through the
book each week, Ester has been referring back to things he said or
did in the chapters before. Through the pages of the book she is
getting to know who Bob Avakian is. This is just a beginning. Through
the pages of the book the Chairman is becoming more a part of her
life. She knows by heart many of the stories we have read and she
talks about the stories as though it was a story of and old friend or
neighbor. After reading the early years of his life some questions
have come up with her and others who are reading the Memoir or
listening to the CD's. People want to know more about Armenia (Bob
Avakian's family is Armenian). Where is Armenia? What happened there?
Why were people massacred by the Turks? How many got killed?


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Mable and I listened to parts of the Memoir on CD and watched part of
the DVD sampler.

She said, when you hear the Memoir on CD it's like having a
conversation with him. He's telling you his story and he's funny. She
said in watching him in the DVD, he's hard. She grew up in the South
and could identify with and remembers all the stuff he talked about
like about Emmet Till and all what Black people went through. She
liked the DVD and the parts of the Memoir we have listened to on the
CD. She wants to know how old is he? Where is Armenia? She thought it
was awful what happened to the Armenian people with the Turks
massacring a million people. She wants to know more about this and
where Armenia is? She was impressed with the review on the back of
the book from Cornel West and Howard Zinn. She has the book now and
the CDs. I can't wait to see what all she thinks of the book after
reading it. I have told her and others most of the stories in the
book and how good it is, and how he is such a great revolutionary
communist leader and a real human being - who loves the masses and has
a strategy and plan for how we can get out of this system and build a
whole new one. People are beginning to learn who the Chairman is as a
person.


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Letter 4
A youth in the LA Writers Collective wrote a review of the Memoir
last year while he was a college student. He said the Memoir was a
very important part of him getting to know the Party better. At first
it took struggle to get him to read the book - he asked why people
should be reading books about an individual instead of studying what
the U.S. government is up to in the world and organizing anti-war
demonstrations. Eventually he decided to pick it up because he had
been reading some of Bob Avakian's works and he wanted to get to get
to get to know the person more.

He said the thing he enjoyed the most about the Memoir is that it's
so personal and honest. He said that through reading more about how
Bob Avakian became the kind of person that he is - his interaction and
friendships with Black youth, his deep discussions with people on
basketball courts, and the way he dealt with his serious illness - he
gained a deeper appreciation for Bob Avakian. He also gained insight
on why Bob Avakian stayed on the revolutionary road, while many
others from his generation gave up or made peace with the system.

A book like this can move you to see what human beings are capable of
doing even though they are born into a fucked up society like this.
And through this book, he gained new insights into Bob Avakian and
the Party he leads.

He said the Memoir is a reflection of the society we should want to
live in and the kind of communist we should all strive to be like.


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Letter 5
The following are stories of two people who connected with the
Memoir. The first is about a revolutionary comrade. The second about
someone who died recently.

P's comments on the Memoir were very heartfelt. He said: `There's
something special about it. Humor, his life story, the history of the
60's in the Bay Area and the country - you can see his development and
why he came out to be who he is. There are a lot of political lessons
in the book - like the free speech movement. It shows a lot: the
person, the political, why he is who he is, why he's so important.
Like the Autobiography of Malcolm X, you get to know this side of Bob
Avakian. One thing I love about the Memoir - when I read it, it feels
like he's talking to me, telling me stories, I can hear his voice.
There's an element to personally getting to know this leader - it draws
people closer to him. I didn't think it would be so humorous and warm
and inviting as it actually is, I thought it would be hard core.'


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D died this past year. He was in his 70s. He was someone I knew from
work - he worked part-time in the copy room. He was really a
character - an artist who would bring his paintings into work to show
everyone - mainly abstract paintings with a lot of brilliant color. He
had a lot of energy and liked to go to raves and parties. Many, many
times he would come into work telling stories about the wild weekends
he'd had - sometimes he even brought pictures. He was bipolar and had
been hospitalized in mental institutions for long periods of time
when he was younger. He was born in France but spent most of his life
in the U.S. and had a lot of patriotism for the U.S. D constantly
checked out all kinds of politics and trends and read newspapers,
magazines, books - he read all the time.

D came to the premiere of the DVD (Revolution: Why It's Necessary,
Why It's Possible, What It's All About) in Santa Monica. He said that
Bob Avakian must be a good speaker because he kept his attention for
the whole two hours - that it was rare he could sit in a theater for
two hours without falling asleep. He bought the Silver Book of
quotations from Bob Avakian at the premiere and stayed up all night
reading it. He came in the next day with the book all underlined and
he wanted to talk about it - particularly what Bob Avakian had to say
about art. He said what struck him about Bob Avakian from the Silver
Book was how honest he is and how funny he is. For Christmas I gave D
a copy of the Memoir. He really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, I don't
know the specifics of what he liked about it. D and I used to have
roaring arguments about Communism - Stalin, the cultural revolution,
sending the intellectuals to the countryside. After reading the
Memoir, D said that he still doesn't know about Communism, but that
if he had to pick someone to be a leader of society it would be Bob
Avakian. And I know that it was mainly because of those qualities he
first saw in the Silver Book - the honesty and the humor - that made D
feel like this was someone he could trust. I don't know if D talked
to a lot of other people about the Memoir, but I have a feeling he
did talk to people about Bob Avakian, because he made comments to me
in passing all the time. And Bob Avakian would show up in his art. D
used to do a lot of little sketches about things he was thinking
about. Sometimes they were interesting, a lot of times they were kind
of weird and funny. (He was always trying to be funny - and he loved
puns.) He was really into the Star Wars movies and for a while he was
doing a lot of sketches related to Star Wars. One time he drew a
sketch of himself in a Darth Vader outfit with a caption that he'd
gone to the darth side. Later he drew a sketch of Bob Avakian with
the same caption - he had Bob Avakian in a Darth Vader outfit, holding
an Ayn Rand book. I thought it was pretty funny.


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