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Avakian was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Berkeley, California. His father, Spurgeon Avakian, was an Armenian American lawyer, civil rights activist, and judge on the Alameda County, California superior court.
As a young man, Avakian became involved with the Students for a Democratic Society at Berkeley, the Free Speech Movement and the Black Panther Party. In 1968, he wrote articles for the Peace and Freedom Party's publications and in July 1969, he attended the Black Panther conference in Oakland, California. By the time that SDS split into three factions in summer 1969, Avakian was a leading member of the Revolutionary Youth Movement II faction, and was their candidate for National Secretary. Although defeated for the top position by Mark Rudd of the faction soon known as Weatherman, Avakian was elected to the National Interim Committee. During that period, Avakian was a leading member of the Bay Area Revolutionary Union.
In the early 1970s, Avakian served time in jail for desecrating the American flag during a demonstration. He was charged with assaulting a police officer in January 1979 at a demonstration in Washington, D.C. to protest Deng Xiaoping's meeting with Jimmy Carter. After receiving an arrest warrant, Avakian "jumped bail" and fled to France. In 1980, he gave a speech to 200 protestors in downtown Oakland and his police assault charges were dropped a few years later.
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- Avakian, Bob (2005). From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist. Insight Press. ISBN 9780976023623.
- "BOB AVAKIAN The vision, the Works, the Leadership for a New Stage of Communist Revolution". revcom.us. Retrieved 2017-12-27.
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- Baum, Richard (2010). China Watcher: Confessions of a Peking Tom (1st ed.). University of Washington Press. p. 241. ISBN 9780295800219.
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- Avakian, "Bob Avakian Speaks on the Mao Tsetung Defendants' Railroad and the Historic Battles Ahead", Introduction and pp. 18--21.
- Athan G. Theoharis, "FBI Surveillance: Past and Present", Cornell Law Review, Vol. 69 (April 1984); and Peter Erlinder with Doug Cassel, “Bazooka Justice: The Case of the Mao Tse Tung Defendants – Overreaction Or Foreshadowing?”, Public Eye, Vol. II, No. 3&4 (1980), pp. 40--43.
- "Scores arrested, Injured In May Day Violence". Logansport Pharos-Tribune. UPI. May 2, 1980.
- Jacobs, Ron (February 2005). "A Life of Revolution in a Country of Reaction". CounterPunch. Archived from the original on February 10, 2005.
- DelVecchio, Rick (April 29, 2005). "Berkeley: Memoir follows author's road to communism". San Francisco Chronicle.
- Unknown (December 6, 1979). "Communists get year sentence for disruption". The Daily Tar Heel. Chapel Hill, North Carolina. p. 2.
- Montgomery, Blake (September 7, 2017). "Here's Everything You Need To Know About The Antifa Network That's Trying To Solidify A Nazi-Punching Movement". BuzzFeed. Retrieved September 8, 2017.