Revolution #156, February 15, 2009

Revolution Books Reading Collective on From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist, a memoir by Bob Avakian

I was among a group of people meeting at Revolution Books to discuss From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist, the memoir by Bob Avakian. We’d meet once a week for two hours, covering 6 chapters a week. Participating in these discussions has increased my grasp of the myriad upon myriad of lessons there are to draw from this book. You draw the political lessons as you follow the story of his journey, but just as important you come to understand what a deeply passionate, romantic, principled person he is.

We would each read a passage from the chapters assigned and then discuss them. By doing this, we had many a diverse and unscripted discussion. It is simply amazing how many deep lessons there are in each section. I mean, come on, it’s a story about his life but it opens up many horizons. For example he tells the story of when he was elementary school traffic monitor, and how the police and the principal play a trick on the lead person—testing him to see if he will stay at his post or leave it when he is given a message his mother is sick. He chooses to leave the group to inquire about his mother and is criticized by the authorities. They lied to him just to see what he would do. The Chairman’s summation of this is how wrong it was for those adults to put a young child through such a wrenching thing.

There’s the time when he finds himself alone in the same room with Marlon Brando. He had just spoken at a Free Huey rally in Oakland. He comments on how he was darned if he was going to be with Marlon Brando and not say something to him. So what does he say—”I’m a communist.” It may sound simple, but it shows development and a willingness to be first string. Brando is appreciative of the statement telling the Chairman a story about collectivity among Native Americans.

Whether it’s him as a young child arguing with the police over his “right” to do whatever he wants on a public sidewalk, standing on principle that his father had taught him—to his refusal to factionalize and break democratic centralism while fighting the Mensheviks in a life and death struggle to save the party from their revisionist clutches—no, he adheres to principle at a time when many wouldn’t.

There is his special affinity and relationship with Black people. His admiration and insight into how they lived their lives, the oppression they face, their cultural aspects and more—he wasn’t born with it—but from his experience as a young white guy attending the YMCA summer camps and the help he received from young Black kids who really didn’t yet even like him—to his close relationships formed in high school and beyond.

Simple things like his good friend Billy making Avakian feel normal even though his face was disfigured by a serious illness. Billy just acts like there is nothing wrong at all. Little things like this stay with the Chairman over the years. That’s just how he is.

The Chairman is quite the character! Chapter after chapter he is always doing something outside the boring established norms—such as doing the “mac” in class taking forever to get to his seat or talking about Plato on the basketball court or eating with young Japanese-American women students during his lunch period talking about “big questions.”

He loved sports so much but by the time he played football in college he didn’t like the way the game had been ruined. Tremendous pressure is being put on these young men on the collegiate level and he drops out of the team. And still he thinks about coaching high school basketball as a gig.

Two people commented on how fortunate people in the States are to have a Chairman of such integrity, vision, and heart—one from Mexico, the other from Iran.

Reading the book in a collective setting with each person putting their take on it is an exciting way to re-read the book, or if you haven’t read it yet, read it for the first time.

There is so much richness detailed in his life’s journey—it would be wrong to gloss over what a powerful memoir it is. I urge everyone to start up book reading circles of the memoir.


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What Humanity Needs
From Ike to Mao and Beyond