Los Angeles: From Ike to Mao:
Beginning a New Conversation

Revolution #005, June 12, 2005, posted at revcom.us

Bob Avakian travels a journey from a certain yesterday to a possible tomorrow in From Ike to Mao and Beyond. This diary of hopes and journal of lessons narrates how some youth went from troubling days to challenging actions to sharing dreams. Bob Avakian imagines and knows he is not the only one and he is ready to share dreams, his and ours. His memories are sharp and clear, and hence the lessons he has learned are that much more compelling as maps for those who demand a better world. His shared experiences, with unflinching candor and generous warmth, are his respects for those of strong heart and clear mind, those ready to do the work of getting to the other side of history.

- From a letter written by Dr. Juan Gomez-Quiñones, historian and writer, UCLA

On the evening of Wednesday, May 25, people crowded into the Taper Auditorium at the Los Angeles Central Library for a book release celebration of From Ike to Mao and Beyond—My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communism, a Memoir by Bob Avakian.

Doo-wop music drifted through the trees as people mingled in the Spanish tiled courtyard, checking out an exhibition of photographs, passages from the Memoir, newspaper reprints from the '60s, and letters of remembrance.

A hint of communism was in the air.

Through this memoir, Bob Avakian has connected with people on many levels, as an innovative revolutionary communist leader, a leading critical thinker, a storyteller, and a fascinating, and oftentimes humorous, human being.

Lucia Marano, a TV, stage and film actor, and one of the special guest readers, told Revolution, "I appreciate any individual who wants to make humanity a better place. That's someone we need to talk about and we need to listen to. I want to be a part of that discussion, and I want to be part of raising consciousness."

The celebration, co-sponsored by librarians from the Social Science Department and Friends of Insight Press, brought you into the life of Bob Avakian.

Mark Gonzales pounded out the story, in slam style, of one of Bob Avakian's earliest experiences with the nature of this system. He read how Bob Avakian had gone to the library to read and re-read and re-read the United Nations charter looking for what President John F. Kennedy had so passionately insisted was a violation of that charter by the Soviet Union when it installed missiles in Cuba. This lie was the justification for taking the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation. "...there was so much at stake that I felt like, 'I have to know the truth, and just because it's the leader of my country, I can't accept what he says when something this big is at stake.'"

As you heard Reg E. Gaines, renowned playwright, poet and writer, read from the memoir and reminisce about his afternoon lunch with Bob Avakian, you were transported there with them—the talk of art, culture, communism—and you could almost taste the avocados and tomatoes they ate, too.

"We spoke about influences, some good, some bad. One thing we both agreed on is that you learn from these influences, be they good or bad. And you have to have the wherewithal to take the bad or the good and make it work for you. One of our major influences and how we really connected was Malcolm X.

"1965 became a very pivotal year in our conversation because Malcolm X was assassinated, but it was also the year that my mother died.

"It was also the year that John Coltrane's 'A Love Supreme' was released. My mother was playing it in the house the day we heard Malcolm X was assassinated. My mother said, had the men who shot him listened to 'Love Supreme' that morning they wouldn't have shot him."

He went on to read Bob Avakian's recollection of the assassination:

"This hit me as a devastating loss for Black people, and also for people generally fighting against injustice, not just in the U.S., but throughout the world.. First, I saw Kennedy blatantly lying, before the whole world with the fate of the world literally hanging in the balance around the Cuban Missile Crisis, then you see something like this, the assassination of Malcolm X, and you know that somehow the U.S. government was involved in this. I hadn't studied the issue, and a lot of the exposure of how they were involved hadn't come out yet, obviously. But I just sensed this—I knew they hated Malcolm X and saw him as very dangerous to them—and it made me really sad but very angry too." (From Ike to Mao and Beyond, p. 136)

Then Reg E. Gaines was off again, onto a riff about a grandfather with a shop around the corner from the Audubon Ballroom where Malcolm X was killed, and his recollection of Malcolm and jazz and that day.

After the readings, Raymond Lotta, Maoist political economist and author of America in Decline , and Dr. Juan Gomez-Quiñones, author of numerous works on Chicano history joined Martha Quetzal Ceja, managing editor of Insight Press, on stage to share their impressions and insights about the memoir.

Dr. Gomez-Quiñones: I thought of storytelling [when I read the memoir], and the way that Native Americans talk about the importance and the positive power of storytelling. Storytelling involves both a voice and a certain tenor to the voice. It involves a speaker and a listener. The storytelling comes together as a synthesis that goes beyond the facts that are being detailed or the artfulness of the argument in that it conjures a new vista, a new way of looking at things, not in an otherness kind of way, but of making what is imagined yours, by the fact that you shared in its imaginative creating. What I see in [From Ike to Mao] is a very powerful updating of storytelling of our times. The point of storytelling in the tradition is not the past, even though the past is what is being recalled and is that vehicle into a new vista. Storytelling is geared to the future. The effectiveness has to do with giving us understanding about our times and the understanding then being actual tools to shape the times of tomorrow by dealing with today.

Raymond Lotta: What you learn about him through this book, the kind of searching and questing of that generation, when you get your way through this book and let it wash over you, what comes out about Bob is his passion, his rage, and his scientific approach to the world—his passion for the truth, his passion for revolution, his deep and abiding love for the masses, his intolerance for and his impatience with the present order and all of the hateful crimes that it perpetrates—and science, the science that comes through in everything that he's doing..

Dr. Gomez-Quiñones: If you were to lay out the literature—and much of it has value- -that has been done on the '60s and the '70s, you can pick out some patterns. What is really valuable is when somebody gives you a summing up and not nostalgia or some true-ism about what might have been. What Bob Avakian gives you is a positive step forward. One of the things that happens is that the people have come to a compromise in the sense of standing still at best, rather than ready for the next step forward. This is a very different autobiography of someone who has lived the times up to the present, and not of someone who has folded the cards, an autobiography of someone who is still in the game.

After the program, a teacher told Revolution,

"I keep on buying the book and I only hold on to it for so long, it's so good. I give it away but people give me the money for it, so I buy another copy and I can't hold on to it for too long. He is who he is, as a leader. He's someone who belongs to the masses and that's shaped him to become who he is. You have to deal with him in one manner or another, whether you have a disagreement. If you have a problem with it, you still have to deal with what he is saying. He's someone who's got something to do with getting us forward to the future."

Lucia Marano ended the evening by reading from the concluding chapter:

"... If you have had a chance to see the world as it really is, there are profoundly different roads you can take with your life. You can just get into the dog-eat-dog... You can put your snout into the trough and try to scarf up as much as you can, while scrambling desperately to get more than others. Or you can try to do something that would change the whole direction of society and the whole way the world is. When you put those things alongside each other, which has any meaning, which one really contributes to anything worthwhile? Your life is going to be about something—or it's going to be about nothing. 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... 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."