Author Tags: Doukhobors, Politics

Born in Belgrade on August 22, 1926, Ivan Avakumovic was a UBC-based political science and history professor from 1963 to 1992, having gained his Ph.D at Oxford. He co-authored the definitive 1977 history, The Doukhobors, with George Woodcock. The two men first collaborated in England on a 1950 biography of anarchist Peter Kropotkin, having formed a friendship as like-minded radicals within the English anarchist movement. Avakumovic also wrote a history of the Communist Party in Canada and a 1978 study of the CCF-NDP called Socialism in Canada. He died on July 16, 2013.

According to an obituary notice, he was a lover of French pasties and a passionate advocate of education and democracy. "Son of Jelena and Aleksander Avakumovic, Ivan grew up in a prominent diplomatic family. After fleeing Nazi terror in 1941 through the Middle East to South Africa, meeting his future wife Solange enroute, his family found refuge in England. Ivan attended attended Rugby, Cambridge (Kings), London and Oxford (Nuffield). With a doctorate from Oxford, we wed Solange in 1957 and began teaching at the University of Aberdeen in 1957 before immigrating to Canada in 1958 to teach at the University of Manitoba."

He was named one of UBC's ten most popular professors by Maclean's magazine in 2001 as a guest lecturer, having reached mandatory retirement age in 1991. He donated more than 130,000 items to UBC Library. Memorial services were held at St. Helen's Anglican Church on West 8th Avenue in Vancouver on December 6, 2013.


The Anarchist Prince: A Biographical Study of Peter Kropotkin (London: Boardman, 1950) with George Woodcock.
History of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University, 1964)
The Doukhobors. Toronto and New York: Oxford University, 1968; also Ottawa: Carleton University, 1977; with George Woodcock.
Mihailovic prema namackim documentima (1969)
The Communist Party of Canada: A History. (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1975)
Socialism in Canada: A Study of the CCF-NDP in Federal and Provincial Politics (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1978)
Detruire le PCF (1988) with Roger Bouderon

[BCBW 2013] "Politics" "Doukhobors"

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
The Doukhobors
Socialism in Canada: A Study of the CCF-NDP in Federal and Provincial Politics

Remembering Ivan Avakumovic
Essay 2013

from Roderick Barman

I met Ivan Avakumovic when I joined the University of British Columbia in 1971, and I was first a fellow member in the Department of History and after his retirement in 1992 a colleague, linked mainly by our both being Kingsmen. His character and outlook is perhaps best conveyed by his remark that “the only good pastry cooks are to be found in Vienna.” Although a fiercely loyal Serb, he personified for me the cosmopolitan gentleman of Middle Europe, always dressed in a blue suit, white shirt and dark tie. His father, when Yugoslavian envoy in Bucharest in the late 1930s, had gone, he proudly told me, shooting with King Carol. In 1941, he and his family were forced to flee, making a long hegira, via Cape Town, to England. There, like so many other refugees from the continent, he moved into English upper class life, attending Rugby before he went up to King’s (1945). It was possibly his wartime experiences that explain his one foray into radicalism – his involvement in the Anarchist movement at the time it attracted government ire at the end of the war. Through the movement he became friends with George Woodcock with whom he co-authored a biography of Kropotkin.

Following his time at King’s Ivan went on to gain his D. Phil at Oxford and began his career in academia with a post at Aberdeen. From there he migrated to University of Manitoba and finally to the University of British Columbia in 1963. Originally in the Political Science Department, he moved to History. By the time I arrived he had established a reputation as an excellent teacher of first year courses, a fully justified reputation as I discovered when I hid behind a pillar in his classroom and listened to him both lecturing and interacting with students, who were not abashed by his style. Some of his colleagues were not so taken by his manner, pronouncements and preferences. He certainly had a penchant for the visible manifestations of success and for the externals of power. He could be quick to take lasting offense if he believed himself to be slighted. However these traits were more than balanced by his devotion to the department’s interests, his commitment to scholarship and his willingness to give support to the less stellar department members, for example securing for one of them a long withheld merit increase. After his retirement in 1992, he continued to visit the department, to give lectures for those of his colleagues who needed them and, as his mailbox attested, to carry on large correspondence with fellow academics.

The closing years of Ivan Avakumovic’s life cannot be termed the happiest. He underwent a triple bypass heart operation but before long his doctor told him that it must to be repeated. “I don’t want to do that,” he told me. His condition meant that he could no longer visit his beloved Europe. His wife Solange became senile and had to move into a home. He was left alone in a large house, taking his meals in one of the restaurants in the university village. It became increasingly difficult for him to keep up his regular visits to the department where he was always interested in and willing to talk to the recently hired faculty. By the spring of this year it was clear that his end could not be long delayed.

He died on July 16, 2013.

by Roderick Barman