Revolution #80, March 4, 2007


Statement by the Revolutionary Communist Party, Bay Area Branch:

On the Death of Comrade Billy “Jazz” Ellis

Bill "Jazz" Ellis

Billy speaking at the 25th Anniversary of the Revolutionary Communist Party celebration, Revolution Books, Berkeley, late 1990s. Photo: Special to Revolution

Celebrating the
Revolutionary Communist Life
of Billy “Jazz” Ellis

“Your life is going to be about something--or it’s going to be about nothing,” Bob Avakian writes in his memoir. “And there is nothing greater your life can be about than contributing whatever you can to the revolutionary transformation of society and the world, to put an end to all systems and relations of oppression and exploitation and all the unnecessary suffering and destruction that goes along with them.”

That was the “something” that Billy “Jazz” Ellis’ life was about. So tonight we mourn his death, and we remember, honor, celebrate, and learn from his life.

Billions around the world are bitterly oppressed, and many resist their oppression. But what’s most precious--and most needed--is for people to find and take up the science and ideology of revolution; to leap from resisting their own oppression to fighting to eliminate all oppression. To become emancipators of humanity.

Billy Ellis began life as one of those oppressed, a Black man growing up in Jim Crow America. And he became such a precious fighter for humanity’s emancipation--a revolutionary internationalist and communist.

His journey, like all who take this path, was the product of many circumstances and influences, some of which you heard of tonight: Working in factories and fields to survive. Being energized by the Civil Rights movement and the Black liberation movement. Then meeting revolutionary intellectuals at the Muni, and through them the Revolutionary Communist Party and its Chairman, Bob Avakian.

Mao Tsetung’s revolutionary China was an inspiration and beacon for Billy. There, millions of bitterly oppressed peasants and workers--people like Billy--together with intellectuals and middle class people--had shaken off imperialism and radically changed their society. And they weren’t stopping--unleashing a Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in the 1960s to prevent a return to the old society and strike even more deeply at oppression’s roots. Going where no revolution had gone before.

Billy became an ardent supporter, defender, and promoter of Bob Avakian, who led in taking up and defending Mao’s legacy, and then going further--re-invigorating and re-envisioning the whole communist project. After spending some time with Chairman Avakian, Billy said, “I cannot forget, nor will I forget, how truly and deeply revolutionary this man is.... revolution was in everything with him.”

Billy was enthusiastic about taking communism to the masses. He knew--and his life showed--that the oppressed--of all nationalities--were capable of raising their heads, changing their outlook, and taking up the revolutionary science. Billy was unapologetic about the need for a communist vanguard and revolutionary leadership. And he understood how rare and precious it is when a leader like Bob Avakian comes along.

Wherever Jazz lived, he had two posters on his wall--“Great Day in Harlem,” [a gathering of jazz musicians] and Bob Avakian.

No matter their background, all communist revolutionaries face daunting challenges. After all, we’ve taken up humanity’s most daunting--and liberating--challenge: transforming history and society. So Billy, like all of us, had to struggle to keep up with an ever-changing world, and the demands and complexities of revolutionary communist work. He had to fight the powerful pull of day-to-day life and survival, agonizing lulls in revolutionary struggle, and the rulers’ constant barrage of lies and propaganda. And at every major juncture, Billy rallied to take up and fight for the most advanced understanding of how to move the revolutionary struggle forward.

On top of this Billy faced very serious, life-threatening health issues for over a decade. Yet with collective help from the Party and friends, Billy persevered. A few years ago, he told a gathering at Revolution Books, “I’m 66 years old. I’ve had two heart attacks, two strokes, I’m at risk for seizure all the time and I don’t have any intention of retiring.” And Billy never did.

Tonight we’re saddened by Billy’s death. We miss our comrade and friend. We’ll treasure what he brought to each of us and to humanity’s struggle for emancipation.

And most of all, we’ll re-dedicate ourselves to the cause he lived for, and to bringing forward many, many more to take it up. Because what the world needs right now, more than anything else, are revolutionary communists. Revolutionary communists like Billy “Jazz” Ellis.

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