Clara Fraser 1996

Valedictory for a Free Spirit


Published: January 1996
Written: 1995
First Published: January 1996
Source: Freedom Socialist, Vol. 16, No. 4 (January-March 1996)
Transcription/Markup: Philip Davis
Copyleft: Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2014. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

The following was an obituary written in 1995 by Clara Fraser for her longtime friend and fellow comrade Gloria Martin.


According to an old Russian proverb, friendship is friendship, but politics is politics. The point, of course, is that the two should not be confused or allowed to impinge on each other in an unethical way, as happens all too often.

So how wonderful it is when no "buts" separate the two experiences when a buddy is your close political ally, a comrade your boon companion. To be linked in this special kind of connection is a blessing of serendipity, a lovely stroke of fate that is rare and precious.

I am fascinated by long-term relationships-Marx and Engels, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman. My own life has been a shifting kaleidoscope of events, organizations, movements, and human tiers. People who have been steadfast amigos for decades are by now relatively few. And Gloria Martin was the shining star in that constellation of enduring pals.

Gloria was a historical figure in the pantheon of U.S. rebels. (I almost wrote Gloria "is" because her death is still unnerving and unreal to me.) Her accomplishments as organizer, historian, catalyst, invigorator, instructor, and popularizer of class struggle theory and practice were legion. But what was unique and particularly priceless was her extraordinary gift for friendship. I have rarely encountered anyone who surpassed her in this talent.

At every crossroads I faced, in every situation demanding a new untraveled path, in every endeavor that was hard or tiring or discouraging, Gloria was there for 40 years, unfailingly just there, to encourage, support, scold, push, persuade, pressure, and impel. I can still hear her refrain as she buoyed me up over the tumultuous years: "Clara, you can do it… You must do it… You can do it better than they can… Try it and you'll see it will work… Go for it, Clara… Just tell me what you want me to do!"

Wordsworth, the English poet, wrote of "A perfect woman, nobly planned/to warn, to comfort, and command." Yes, I know her. Gloria.

Damn, we had fun together. We loved the opera and theater and movies, and we journeyed to memorable writing retreats in the mountains and at the seashore, warbling pop classics for hours en route. And since we were usually the oldest folks around, we were the most dedicated socializers; we could drink everyone under the table and outsmoke and outdance the youngsters. We were always the last to leave a party.

I could tell Gloria anything. Yet we almost never spoke of intimate, personal matters-we just intuitively respected privacy rights. The kind of let-it-all-hang-out binges prevalent these days were never in vogue with us.

We talked politics. Currents events and ideologies and philosophy. Organizing. Art and books. Childraising and cooking, decorating homes and headquarters, writing and gardening. And we found so much to laugh about, people especially.

Did we ever discuss people! Political comrades, sisters in women's liberation, friends of all colors and sexualities in the civil rights movement and anti-poverty programs, and scores of associated from our jobs and neighborhoods.

We had personality-haunted imaginations-very female! We cared about our colleagues. We analyzed them, admired them, worried about them, gloried in them, deplored their crotchets, and plotted ways and means of helping them find and express and excel themselves.

We viewed people from different angles, each of us seeing a different side of a person first. But with our once-over completed, a synthesis was usually achieved, melding what was consistent and contradictory, apparent and covert, in that individual.

After all, we were in the business of training women to be leaders in their own right. And to lead others, you must be able to lead yourself, to set high standards for yourself. But it was not an easy job imparting these concepts to women emerging out of the 1950s and '60s to whom emancipation was a startling and often terrifying notion.

Gloria took on the task with relish, however, and never tired of praising the women and men who benefited from her guidance and gave back to the movement. And she always mourned a little for those who got away-the children, in effect, she had lost.

One other salient point stands out: She was the rare bird whose radicalism increased, intensified, and expanded as she aged.

She did not mellow, as in marshmallow. A detached armchair observer she never became. Indignation over injustice raged with an ever-searing flame in her soul, and her yearning for revolution became poignantly urgent and all-encompassing.

"I hate this system more than I ever have in my whole life," she told me a few months ago. "It makes me sick. I want total change!"

When some people die, they leave yawning gaps. Gloria's death has left a vast crevasse for hundreds of us who loved her, because she managed to make all of us something of what we are today. We can only fill that void by seeking to emulate her glowing, effervescent spirit of revolt.