MIA: History: ETOL: Documents: International Communist League/Spartacists—PRS 3

Richard S. Fraser, 1913-1988

Written: 1994 (1990)
Source: Prometheus Research Library, New York.
Transcription/Markup/Proofing: John Heckman, Prometheus Research Library
Public Domain: Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line 2006/Prometheus Research Library. You can freely copy, display and otherwise distribute this work. Please credit the Marxists Internet Archive & Prometheus Research Library as your source, include the url to this work, and note the transcribers & editors above.

Richard S. Fraser, a veteran Trotskyist and tenacious fighter for black freedom, died in his sleep on November 27 [1988] at the age of 75. For the last several years Dick fought to overcome many painful and debilitating illnesses, mustering the courage to face endless operations, so that he could continue his research and literary work on the question of the revolutionary struggle for black liberation in America. Comrade Fraser was not only a cherished friend but a theoretical mentor of the Spartacist League. SL National Chairman Jim Robertson has acknowledged his considerable personal political debt to comrade Fraser.

Dick Fraser was a co-reporter on the black question at our founding conference in 1966. His work was published as part of our Marxist Bulletin No. 5, “What Strategy for Black Liberation? Trotskyism vs. Black Nationalism,” and he was a close collaborator in our work to establish organizations of labor/black defense. As the Labor Black League for Social Defense in the Bay Area wrote in memoriam: “Richard Fraser was our teacher, the author of ‘For the Materialist Conception of the Negro Question’ that lights the road to black freedom through the program of revolutionary integration, the assimilation of black people into an egalitarian socialist society.”

Fraser joined the Trotskyist movement in 1934, recruited on a cross-country Greyhound bus trip by a member of the newly formed Workers Party—the product of a fusion between the Trotskyist Communist League of America and A.J. Muste’s American Workers Party. For close to 30 years he was an organizer of the Socialist Workers Party on the West Coast in Los Angeles and Seattle; for at least 20 years he was a member of the SWP’s National Committee. In the Pacific Northwest Fraser won several members of the Communist Party in Seattle to Trotskyism following the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the Khrushchev revelations. That Seattle was the place where the SWP had its most significant success in cracking the Stalinists is a testament to the persistence and political capabilities of Richard Fraser.

Through his involvement in black freedom struggles and experience in the recruitment and subsequent loss of hundreds of black workers from the SWP following World War II, Dick came to believe that the American communist movement had failed to come to grips with the question of black liberation in this country. Although lacking much formal education, he dedicated himself to the study of the black question. Criticizing the SWP for underestimating the revolutionary challenge to American capitalism posed by the integrationist struggles for black equality, in 1955 he submitted his document “For the Materialist Conception of the Negro Question.” Here Fraser counterposed revolutionary integration to the SWP’s turn toward a separatist “self-determination” ideology (associated particularly with George Breitman), which would become a theoretical cover for its abstention from the mass civil rights movement in the early 1960s and subsequent full-blown capitulation to black nationalism.

Dick came into disfavor with the SWP leadership when he opposed the party’s adoption of the call for federal troops to protect Southern blacks. In his “Resolution on the Little Rock Crisis” Fraser tore apart the SWP’s support to Eisenhower’s introduction of federal troops in Little Rock in 1957, powerfully pointing out that the end result had been the crushing of local black self-defense efforts. In the 1960s Fraser along with other SWP spokesmen was propelled out of the party as it plunged from centrism to reformism. As he wrote in a letter to his son: “It was I who initiated the split from the SWP by publicly attacking its Personal Representative, my old friend Asher Harer, whom I had recruited in 1935, for the SWP stand on the Vietnam War, and proclaiming that the way to ‘BRING THE TROOPS HOME’ was for the Viet Cong to drive them into the South China Sea.”

Fraser went on to found the Seattle-based Freedom Socialist Party. Cut off by a split in the FSP, Dick went into the New American Movement hoping that he could influence and educate some of these young New Leftists in the old Leninist school. With the fusion of NAM and the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee Fraser was subsequently carried into the Democratic Socialists of America.

Over the years we had our disagreements with Dick. Neither of us tried to hide these, but we were always happy to bend the stick in favor of the areas of profound political agreement between us. In his later years Fraser was handicapped by the loss of his Marxist library, which the SL sought to replenish, and of his personal working papers. In turn Dick’s collaboration was invaluable in elaborating a perspective for rooting the SL among militant black workers and youth. Fraser’s formal membership in other organizations obviously stood in contradiction to his fervent political beliefs, a contradiction which was resolved in his last years. Sharing our outrage over the U.S. bombing of Libya, he distanced himself from the DSA.

Addressing the SL/U.S. Seventh National Conference (1983) on the question of the organization of labor/black leagues, Dick spoke movingly:

“I’ve had some discussions with many comrades, which have been very gratifying, and I am humbled by the knowledge that things that I wrote 30 years ago, which were so scorned by the old party, have had some important impact, finally.”

Dick’s last political act before his death was his endorsement of the November 5 Mobilization that stopped the Klan in Philadelphia. That satisfying mobilization of the power of integrated labor was a testament to our comrade Richard Fraser who in endorsing identified himself as a “historic American Trotskyist.” That he was, and his loss will be keenly felt.

Adapted from Workers Vanguard
No. 466, 2 December 1988