Prof. Ivan Avakumovic, noted historian of 20th-century political movements, dies at 86

The Department of History records with sorrow the recent death of Professor Emeritus Ivan Avakumovic, a noted historian of twentieth-century political movements and a memorable teacher of modern international history.  Professor Avakumovic died in Vancouver on July 16, 2013 at the age of 86.

Ivan Avakumovic was born in what was then the Kingdom of Yugoslavia on August 26, 1926.  His father was a prominent Yugoslav diplomat and Ivan spent some of his early years in South Africa.  Unable to return home when Yugoslavia was invaded by Nazi Germany 1941, the family settled in Great Britain. Ivan Avakumovic studied at Cambridge and London before proceeding to Oxford University, where he received his doctorate in 1958.  His home then became Canada.  After teaching for a few years in Manitoba, he joined the UBC faculty in 1963 – initially as a member of the Department of Political Science and then from 1969 on as a member of the Department of History in which he served until his retirement in 1991.

Ivan Avakumovic was a prolific historian of political movements in Europe and North America from the late nineteenth century to the present.  The Anarchist PrinceThough his own political outlook was far from extreme, he was fascinated by the structure, philosophy and impact of left-wing movements on both sides of the Atlantic.  The remarkable range of European languages which he read with ease made it possible for him to investigate a vast range of publications and archival documents pertaining to the inner workings of such movements. While still a student, he co-authored with George Woodcock a still-influential study of one of the founders of anarchism: The Anarchist Prince: A Biographical Study of Peter Kropotkin (London, 1950) – a book frequently reprinted, updated and translated.  He and Woodcock also co-authored a highly-regarded study of a Russian sect many of whose members emigrated to Canada in the late nineteenth century: The Doukhobors (New York and Toronto, 1968).  Meanwhile Avakumovic had also published a pioneering study of communism in his native country: History of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (Aberdeen, 1964).  Avakumovic’s interest in the influence of European politics on working-class movements in Canada was reflected in his book The Communist Party in Canada: A History (Toronto, 1975).  He also published Socialism in Canada:  A Study of the CCF-NDP in Federal and Provincial Politics (Toronto, 1978).   His books were supplemented by dozens of scholarly articles, entries in reference works and document collections dealing with the history of communism, socialism and working-class politics in Europe and North America.

Ivan Avakumovic was a passionate believer in the idea that even the most prolific scholars should also be active teachers, and he was particularly committed to undergraduate instruction.  For decades he taught some of the History Department’s largest classes on twentieth-century world history and international relations.  A whole generation of UBC students will remember his compellingly informative, occasionally sardonic and often quite opinionated style of lecturing.  His service to the UBC Department of History did not end with his retirement in 1991.  For almost twenty years he continued to advise Honours students and volunteered unstintingly to give classroom lectures for colleagues who were away from campus to attend conferences.  Thus for almost two more decades UBC students continued to be exposed to his depth of learning and his fascination with the roots of political behavior.  Until a few months before his death Ivan Avakumovic continued to visit the Department of History two or three times a week, regaling younger colleagues with the fruits of his vast reading on history and politics.  His presence will be sadly missed. 

Chris Friedrichs