MIA: History: ETOL: Documents: International Communist League/Spartacists—Fraser
Introductory Note by the Prometheus Research Library
Program for Black Liberation
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.
When, as a young Trotskyist activist, Dick Fraser became convinced that American Marxism had not come to terms with the question of black liberation, he made a life-long commitment to study of the question. Although he was hampered by little formal scholarly training, his Marxist understanding and his broad experience in militant struggles with black workers sharpened his insight into the lessons of history. His dedicated study sprang from his conviction that in order to forge a program for black liberation, it is necessary to study the social forces that created the American institution of racial oppression. Fraser turned to the writings of the militant fighters for black equality during the Civil War and Reconstruction and to the pioneering studies by black academics such as E. Franklin Frazier and Oliver Cromwell Cox. To Fraser, understanding the roots of black oppression in the United States was no armchair activity; he carried his theory of Revolutionary Integration into struggle.
With the publication of this bulletin we are honoring Fraser’s fighting scholarship. In the past few years Trotskyism has lost three scholar-militants from the generation brought to revolutionary consciousness by the combative class struggles of the 1930s. George Breitman, who died in April 1986, was as a proponent of black “self-determination” Fraser’s main political opponent within the SWP on the black question. He was also the Pathfinder Press editor responsible for the publication of the works of Leon Trotsky and James P. Cannon. And in July 1990 the Trotsky scholar Louis Sinclair died. As the author of Leon Trotsky: A Bibliography (Hoover Institution Press, 1972), Sinclair performed an invaluable service to the revolutionary movement in documenting and collecting Trotsky’s writings in many languages. Now the tradition of revolutionary scholarship so honorably exemplified by Richard Fraser, George Breitman and Louis Sinclair must be carried on by a new generation of Marxists.
The U.S. capitalist class and its minions would like to forget this country’s modern origins in the Second American Revolution that was the Civil War. To understand the Civil War is to understand the character of U.S. society and its fatal flaw of racism. As Dave Dreiser, Fraser’s long-time collaborator and friend, writes in his 16 April 1990 letter to Jim Robertson (see below), for decades the academic racists of the William Dunning school of U.S. history legitimized the racist status quo. Their “interpretation” was popularized in the movies Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind.
The outbreak of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s and the struggle for black equality inspired a new generation of historians, who began to reexamine central issues of American history, in particular the Civil War and Reconstruction. The distinguished James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era and The Struggle for Equality: Abolitionists and the Negro in the Civil War and Reconstruction, is only one of the many scholars who have documented the heroic struggles of this revolutionary period. Eminent scholars who have studied southern slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction also include Eugene Genovese, Kenneth Stampp, C. Vann Woodward and Eric Foner.
Today the empiricist/racist brand of “scholarship” represented by Harvard historian Robert Fogel, author of Time on the Cross, is the academic reflection of the American ruling class’s renewed war on the black population. In 1965 Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then an assistant secretary at the Department of Labor, wrote The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, in which he outrageously argued that the “fundamental problem...of family structure” was responsible for the intensification of poverty, joblessness, segregation in housing and lack of education suffered by the masses in the big city ghettoes. Bourgeois-empirical sociology (accompanied by pages of charts and graphs) served to provide a pseudo-scientific cover for the old “blame the victim” lies. In 1970 Moynihan coined the term “benign neglect” to describe the federal policy signalling the rollback of the token gains of the civil rights movement. Federal funding for poverty programs dried up; the government under Nixon, Carter and Reagan dismantled civil rights legislation and destroyed even the minimal plans for busing to achieve school integration.
Dick Fraser’s Marxist scholarship utterly rejected the manipulation of history to justify the racist status quo. At the time of his death in 1988 Fraser, with Dave Dreiser, was actively working on notes and abstracts for a book, The Rise of the Slave Power, the result of over 40 years of study. The book was to be a Marxist analysis of the rise of the southern slavocracy, the class antagonisms which exploded in the 1861-1865 Civil War between the capitalist North and the slave South and the leading role of the militant abolitionists in the destruction of black chattel slavery.
While his primary area of study was the black question, Dick Fraser was active in many arenas of struggle. In selecting the documents for this bulletin we have sought to show the breadth of his work. Of documents omitted from this collection there are two worthy of special note: “For the Materialist Conception of the Negro Question” is not published here only because it is readily available in the Spartacist League’s Marxist Bulletin No. 5R, “What Strategy for Black Liberation? Trotskyism vs. Black Nationalism.”
The 1958 “Resolution on the Little Rock Crisis,” in which Fraser sharply exposes the SWP policy of calling for federal troops to intervene in the Little Rock, Arkansas school integration crisis, is also omitted. Fraser’s position is well represented in two other, shorter documents which we have included, “Contribution to the Discussion on the Slogan ‘Send Federal Troops to Mississippi’ ” and a letter, “On Federal Troops in Little Rock.”
Those who would like to read further are directed to the bibliography of Fraser’s writings included here as an appendix. All of these materials are available at the Prometheus Research Library.
Editorial Note: As a member of the Socialist Workers Party and the Freedom Socialist Party Dick Fraser often used the name Richard Kirk. The bibliography distinguishes all documents written under the name Kirk with an asterisk. Our introductions give the source and some background for the documents, which have been edited to correct minor errors and inconsistencies. Some purely personal material in the letters has been cut out. The PRL has added brief explanations to clarify references when necessary; these appear in brackets. All footnotes and parenthetical material are by Dick Fraser.
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