Los Angeles Spartacist League
We’re here today to honor the life of Richard Fraser. Dick joined the Trotskyist movement at the age of 21 in 1934 and was an active participant in the socialist movement until his death on November 27, 1988. The attendance here today I think is a testimony to his deep and lasting friendships as well as the political impact he had on his own and on younger generations. We’ll have seven speakers as well as twelve messages from comrades and friends who couldn’t attend today. After that we will conclude with the singing of the Internationale. Now you’re all welcome to stay following that. The bar will be open and you can look at all the displays that have been done. We’ll also be playing music that Dick particularly liked. Included in this is some music that was written, orchestrated and played by Dick’s son Jonny who is here today. Dick’s love for his son was very great. Even after eleven hours of surgery the mention of Jonny’s name would light up his eyes, and he was very proud of his music.
reading statement of the Bay Area Labor Black League for Social Defense
We in the Labor Black League for Social Defense salute Richard S. Fraser, historic American Trotskyist, who died today, 27 November 1988. 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.
Richard Fraser, the theoretician, was above all an organizer and a tireless fighter for freedom for black Americans and all the working people. His courageous struggle in his later years to overcome his many painful illnesses in order to complete his historic work on the black question is only one recent example of his exemplary tenacity.
Comrade Fraser rejoiced in and endorsed our victorious labor/black mobilizations that stopped cold the Ku Klux Klan’s intended provocations in Washington, D.C. on November 27, 1982 and our recent satisfying victory against these fascists on November 5, 1988 in Philadelphia. The labor/black mobilizations are in life the verification of Richard Fraser’s historic contribution to history: for revolutionary integrationism as the road to the emancipation of the American proletariat—white and black—as opposed to the dead end of black nationalism. From its inception the Spartacist League’s adaption of Richard Fraser’s program of revolutionary integrationism has been the cornerstone of Spartacist’s program of black liberation through socialist revolution. Our organization, the Labor Black League for Social Defense, grew out of the SL’s successful November 27, 1982 mobilization that stopped the KKK.
We honor our friend and teacher Richard Fraser most of all by continuing his fight. Forward to the Third American Revolution to Finish the Civil War! Hail Richard S. Fraser, fighter for black freedom!
who knew Dick Fraser for 55 years and was Los Angeles organizer of the Communist League of America when Dick joined
I am here in two capacities. From the Los Angeles Socialist Party I bring condolences to the family, friends and comrades of Dick Fraser. But I’m also here in a personal capacity, for the ties that link Dick Fraser and me go back more than a half century. On counting back it was about 55 years ago that I first met Dick in San Diego. We were obviously considerably younger then. Together we studied the fundamentals of internationalist socialism, the class struggle and its final outcome in socialism. We pondered over the sources of surplus value, class exploitation and its termination in a socialist society of abundance for all with production for use not profit.
We analyzed the cruelty and the absurdity of unemployment, of want and suffering in the midst of plenty. This was in the very depths of the Depression. We probed the economic and political roots of war and imperialism, and how to eradicate them and establish an economic order internationally where the antagonism between classes vanishes, the hostility of one nation to another will come to an end.
We learned and we were also active. We fought against fascism in demonstrations. We battled in discussion with individual members of the Communist Party and its supporters against Stalinism and for the internationalist essential of socialism as against the monstrosity of the theory of “socialism in one country.” And he, we, responded “present” with enthusiasm on picket lines, as volunteers in supporting union efforts, in backing the movements of the unemployed and the oppressed segments of our society for human rights.
Dick had a constant and loved companion—his fiddle. He was a sensitive musician, a talented and devoted violinist. For it is well to remember that we, young people, many of us in our teens, brought into the socialist movement music and literature. We had choral groups and we heard recitals at our socials. We formed drama groups and Dick among others gave much here.
There was a kindliness and generosity in Dick that surmounted even the bitterness of the factionalism that marked the socialist movement and that asserted itself, despite the torturous pain he was suffering. And this kindliness and generosity, as so often happens, called forth kindliness and generosity in turn in those he touched, whether briefly or for long periods of time. There is guidance in this thought. Dick in his integrity, his giving of himself without stint in the daily work for socialism, his respect for clarity and knowledge in the realm of thought, his artistry, his magnanimity, was a forerunner of the person of the human future of associated labor in which the free development of each is a condition for the free development of all.
As I visited him in the last months of his life, and these visits were harrowing for he was very sick, I bear witness that he remained true to the ideals and goals and values he consciously adopted 55 and more years ago. The thoughts of youth were for him long, long thoughts. With all the setbacks of the intervening years and with all the pain of his illnesses, Dick stood fast as an internationalist socialist to the very last day of his life. This memory he left us and it is precious.
Myra Tanner Weiss
former longtime member of the Socialist Workers Party sent the following greetings
Dick Fraser lived his whole life as a socialist. However important the differences we had between us, we shared the desire for a socialist society and Dick struggled always to organize the working class and to raise its political consciousness. My special sympathy for our loss goes to those of you who not only lost a comrade but a close political collaborator and friend as well. He can never be replaced in your hearts. Dick was always certain of the socialist victory for which he devoted his life. And so are we. In revolutionary solidarity.
member of Socialist Action who first met Dick Fraser in the SWP in Minneapolis in 1938
I was listening to a tape recording this morning of the history of the IWW. Now Dick was never a member of the IWW. But if you knew Dick Fraser you knew that his roots were in the IWW. What do I mean by that? I mean, Dick may not have had a penny in his pocket, but he might have heard that there was a contact a hundred miles away. And Dick knew how to go the cheapest way—thumb or railroad.
One of the comrades I talked to, Asher Harer, who was recruited by Dick, said they had a peace demonstration where Asher went to school, and who showed up but Dick Fraser. And when he showed up, Asher said, “Do you have any money?” “Hmm, yes,” he said, “I have five dollars.” Now he had to go about 150 miles, but he heard that there was a peace demonstration and there might be a possibility of a recruit. So wherever there was a possibility of recruiting, wherever there was a possibility of participating in a strike, wherever there was a problem in the working class you could expect Dick to be there.
Now I lived in Minneapolis. I went to the university during the great strikes. And we were sitting around with Max Geldman—unfortunately this has been a period where we’ve lost a number of the comrades that have had 50 years in the movement or more. A good part of that generation—I’m glad I’m a lot younger—but a good part of that generation has left us. But we were sitting around the table, Max Geldman had just come from the convention in ’38, which was the founding of the Socialist Workers Party. He was much wealthier—he took a bus or a train, I don’t remember. And about three or four days later, in came Dick. A knock at the door and this man with a gentle face, as he’s been described by Charlie, 5' 10" or 5' 11", I guess, came in. And I said, “Well, how did you get here?” He said, “a very cheap form of transportation.” I asked him what it was and he said, “Well, I found that the boxcar and the thumb were one way you can get almost anywhere in the country.” That was Dick Fraser.
I didn’t meet Dick again—although I heard that he had become a seaman, he was a seaman for about four years—until I came to Los Angeles. I had heard from Asher the story that Charlie told you, about the fact that Dick had been a violinist, that he was with the San Diego symphony orchestra for a period of time. People wanted him to go on to study with leading musicians. But once he had seen the vision, the socialist vision, once he had seen the idea of internationalism, of an independent working class, of a type of party that was necessary to make a revolution in this country, Dick put away his violin and joined the socialist movement.
And in Los Angeles, the thing that I remember about Dick is that there was no task that Dick wouldn’t do. I was telling Karen when I talked to her that if the office had to be cleaned up, Dick would clean it up. If there was a strike to go to, Dick would go and provide whatever leadership. If there was a struggle, any type of struggle of the working class, you could depend on Dick to be there.
And that was one of the reasons that I wanted to speak. Because in this tradition of a number of comrades that have left us—I must tell you that I talked this morning to a woman who was one of the leading comrades on the East Coast and she said, “What have we achieved? We’ve had Dick and Max [Shachtman] and [James] Cannon and all these people. Where are we now?” And I smiled to myself as I said to her on the phone: Where was the working class in 1917? Where is the working class of the world today? Where is the capitalist class today? It’s in a blind alley. These comrades left us with a great and a historic tradition and we will link up with the revolutionaries of England, France, of Africa, Latin America.
Yes, great were the contributions that these comrades made and we will live to see younger comrades coming in, taking up the cudgels and becoming part of that fight. And you young comrades who are not part of the movement yet, you must take up where Dick and many of the others left off and carry this struggle on. Because there is no question, there is a socialist vision and there is a socialist movement. And if you believe in the socialist vision, you must become a part of that socialist movement. Thank you.
Dorothy Ray Healey
of the Democratic Socialists of America sent the following statement dated 28 December 1988
I don’t remember what year it was when I met Dick Fraser. I do remember, however, how it came about and what we discussed. He phoned, said he listened to my radio program on KPFK, was a former member of the S.W.P. and suggested we get together for a visit. Both of us were amazed at how much the S.W.P. and the C.P. resembled one another in their organizational methodology even as each was proclaiming the other as a chief opponent. When I told him how Les Evans, then a member of the S.W.P. had told me of his being present at Jim Cannon’s home watching the TV news report of the 1962 California elections and how Cannon exulted in Pat Brown’s defeat of Richard Nixon for governor, Dick commented that way down deep many Trotskyists did recognize that there was a difference between Republicans and Democrats. He said that in 1939 when Cannon and other leading Trotskyists visited Trotsky in Mexico, they discussed electoral policy with him and asked what the position should be if an Afro-American was running as a Democrat. According to Dick, Trotsky replied: “We support the men not the party.”
Dick’s pamphlet, “An Open Letter to American Trotskyists” is one of the few examples I know of where a critical and self-critical analysis of past policies was made public. It was no surprise to anyone who knew of Dick’s focus on a proper policy for Marxists toward the “national question” for his pamphlet to attack the racism involved in the S.W.P.’s policy in the 1930’s toward Harry Lundberg, head of the Sailors Union of the Pacific.
He joined the New American Movement and was active within it until his illness curtailed his mobility. But each time I visited him at the hospital or his home I was impressed by his willpower and his determination to overcome his physical ailments and the mental clarity with which he surveyed the world.
I am grateful to all of you for the solicitude and care you gave him until the day he died.
a longtime union activist in the Tidewater area of Virginia and a friend of Dick’s sent the following message dated 28 December 1988
Today I went to the public library and looked in the Books in Print titled “Authors,” and searched for Richard S. Fraser. Dick’s name wasn’t there and I felt a little bad about this; but then I had a very good feeling that in the near future his name will be listed with the “Authors” with the completion of his book titled, “The Struggle Against Slavery in the United States.”
Some time ago, around the end of November I received a call from a friend that said Fraser passed away in his sleep 27 November 1988, the same day the Spartacist League and friends stopped the Klan in 1982.
I met Dick in 1985 and had a couple of talks with him concerning a book that he was in the process of writing. At the time, the title of the book was “The Rise and Fall of the Slave Power,” but was changed in June 1986, because a Senator Wilson used the same name about a century ago.
In our conversation, Dick told me that I would be surprised how many black people do not know the complete truth about slavery in the United States. Dick said, “My book will be written for scholars, teachers, students and for anybody who wants to read the book.”
Fraser sent me to my history book when he said, “After the election of Thomas Jefferson as president and he (Jefferson) made the Louisiana Purchase, everything went along smooth for the slave holders.” Jefferson’s presidency (1801-1809) was the beginning of the now Democratic Party.
Thomas Jefferson being president of the United States (his occupation listed as a planter) and a big slaveholder was a founder of the now “friend of labor” Democratic Party. This is why the workforce, black and white, should break away from the Democrats, for a party started by wrong people cannot be changed. You destroy this wrong party and build a new party free of slaveholding policies.
Dick Fraser sent me a copy of his writings entitled, “Two Lectures on Black Liberation,” which was delivered in 1953 at the Militant Labor Forum at Los Angeles. One of the subtitles is, “The Negro Struggle, Capitalist Politics and the Labor Movement.” Enclosed are five sentences from the above:
- 1.“But it must be remembered that if it was the Democratic Party which created the semi-fascist southern system, it was the Republican Party which voluntarily turned the South over to the Klan.”
Dick was talking about the Compromise of 1877, when arrangements were made between Southern Democrats and Republicans to give the 1876 presidential election to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes (loser in the popular vote), in exchange for withdrawal of federal troops from the South.
- 2.“The Democrats, it is true, are the main upholders of white supremacy.”
With this coming from Dick over 30 years ago, why are labor and black leaders still today trying to tie the workforce with the Democratic Party? To preserve white supremacy and maintain segregation among the workforce.
- 3.“Votes don’t determine or control anything of great importance in the South.”
This is true because the working people have never obtained anything at the voting polls except another politician to mess up things some more.
- 4.“Without the overthrow of prejudice unionism itself is always in danger.”
This reminds me of November 27, 1982 when the Spartacist League along with unionists from the East Coast stopped the Klan from marching in Washington, D.C. The very first workday on the job, fake local union heads tried to bring the stoppers of the KKK up on charges of inciting a riot. A Klan sympathizer is the same as a Klansman.
- 5.“The low wages of the South are a constant pressure upon all unions throughout the country.”
The capitalist uses the South to set the standards as far as prices are concerned. Cheap labor can always be found in the South for the Northern factories.
While looking through my files, I came across a note-type letter that was never mailed to Dick Fraser: To Dick Fraser: You said, “Discrimination and prejudice in the rest of the United States derives directly from the southern system, feeds upon it, and like racial discrimination throughout the world is completely dependent upon it.” In another paragraph you said, “But since discrimination in the North and West derives from the southern system, it will never be eliminated until the southern system is uprooted and destroyed.”
My comment to Dick: I like this, Dick. This is important to remember for everybody who is against discrimination and prejudice. If you want to destroy the two (discrimination and prejudice), you start at the source, the beginning. Go to the South Land, the origin of the hell fire.
Dick told me he joined the Socialist Workers Party in 1934. With the decay of the SWP, and the actions of Dick’s last performances prove that he is the same Trotskyist in 1988 as 1934.
The worthwhile people die too quick.
reading statement from the Freedom Socialist Party National Committee
The Freedom Socialist Party extends its sympathy to Jon Fraser and to the comrades and friends of Dick Fraser gathered here today.
Dick made a lasting contribution to our movement and to the Black liberation struggle through his collaboration with Dave Dreiser, Clara Fraser and others in originating and developing the Revolutionary Integration position. Dick spoke brilliantly on Revolutionary Integration, many times from the pulpits of Black churches. And his grasp of history, economics, and politics was widely admired. He is remembered for his scholarly talks on a host of issues, his energetic organizing, and his stinging barbs at the bourgeoisie.
Fraser’s profound Marxist analysis in Revolutionary Integration is destined to become one of the most powerful weapons in the arsenal of U.S. radicals. It has already left an indelible mark on our organization, helping to shape it into a multi-racial party with deep respect for the materialist roots of the vanguard role of Blacks in the fight for socialism.
The FSP parted ways with Dick in a serious, bitter and well-known struggle over women’s rights. Still, we pay respect to him today for his positive contributions to the movement as writer, speaker, teacher, historian and leader who never relinquished his socialist goal. His long life encompassed a host of jobs and talents. In the ’30s he supported himself in Seattle by selling The Militant on Skid Road; he later became a merchant seaman, a carpenter, and a plastics technician. He was a violinist and a gourmet chef. And he devoted his life to Trotskyist politics. As the son of a railroad worker, he was always a highly class conscious worker and unionist. He never finished high school but became a consummate worker-intellectual; his agile mind soaked up ideology like a sponge.
He left us two chief legacies: theoretical work which guides our daily practice, and his jazz musician son Jon who is creating the music of a new and better society in the belly of the old one. And we salute this unique legacy, this incendiary mixture of jazz, Black history and revolutionary socialist theory!
Charles Du Bois
a friend and comrade of Dick’s since 1974
This is very beautiful here. I find these things out about Dick that I never suspected. He was not a braggart, obviously. I first heard about Dick Fraser through reading “The Materialist Conception of the Negro Question.” I was about 18 years old, this is back in ’71. I was impressed with the document, and it had a profound impact on my development and understanding of American politics and especially the black question, since I had come from being a black nationalist, Maoist, kind of.
So I was in awe of his name, you know, Richard Kirk [Fraser]—well, who is this guy, he’s pretty good. Of course, I didn’t know that about a year and a half later we’d be sharing the same couch. I was on the couch first, I was staying at Ted and Gayle Fagin’s house, and I was sleeping on the couch, and he needed a place. He had seniority, so he got the couch and I got the floor. So I finally said, this is Dick Fraser and, legends don’t quite fit the mental image or expectations—I came from this Maoist background and they have these bigger-than-life leaders, you know, Lenin’s got bulging arms and stuff—this is Dick Fraser, wow. But he was “bad.” Size don’t count.
When I met him, he was on some kind of rebound. He was not one to talk about a lot of his problems, and I wasn’t the kind of person to get nosy with something somebody didn’t want to talk about. But since I had met him, I guess sometime around ’72 or ’73, he was on some kind of rebound. I guess it was some years later where he actually ended up soliciting me for a place to stay, but it was a privilege that I was able to help him out. Myself and the Spartacist League and all people in the socialist movement are indebted to this man for his contribution.
What we were doing, while I was a member of the Spartacist League, was collaborating with him on doing archival research into the SWP work in the ’40s. See, he never mentioned a lot of this stuff that he had written before—we were going into the ’40s, so he pointed us in the right direction, but he didn’t tell us. Of course, he had a hard time speaking, too, so I guess he had to save his words. But I was very surprised to see a lot of this stuff and hear all these stories. I mean, I never knew all this stuff about Dick.
But one thing I could not understand at the time was that he was giving us all this information and helping us out, pointing us in the right direction, and telling us stories, like how the SWP looked and what it was doing, or how it lost its members, how it gained them, what the organization in Detroit looked like as far as he could recall. But he was in NAM [New American Movement], and you know, this was a political opponent, an organizational opponent. See, I didn’t have it then, you know—political opponents, organizational opponents, I didn’t quite get the differentiation, you see. And it was painful for him to talk, but he was giving us all this stuff, and I couldn’t figure it out. Well, I got it figured out now.
He really cared for revolutionists, and people that wanted clarity and respected history and wanted to study. And that above all was what the man was about. He wanted to teach. And your organizational affiliation wasn’t necessarily the thing that was going to color what he did and how he did it. The man was very, very generous. I knew that, and hearing these people that knew the man, really knew the man, yes.
So we have a great loss here, a great loss with Dick Fraser. But when I reread the “Materialist Conception” after I met him, I had read it before and I always read it again, but it’s kind of funny reading it now, because you read his polemical barbs and I know how he looks, or how he looked, and could sort of see the twinkle in his eye like he’s kind of saying this stuff. It’s kind of fun to read, yeah, Dick.
I don’t know what emotional cost he had to pay in terms of the constant rebounds he was having to make, politically, personally and then in terms of his health. But the man, he never quit. And I’m just very glad to say that he was able to witness the impact of what his contribution actually has meant, in terms of the mobilizations that have stopped the Klan. That he was able to witness that and see that what he stood for was not just a good idea and he’s pretty sure he’s right, but he knew he was right, and that the last act that he did do, the last political act [endorsing the November 5 Mobilization that stopped the KKK in Philadelphia], this is very gratifying that he was able to see that carried out.
And what I can say is that Dick Fraser did not surrender to the bourgeoisie or bourgeois ideology. People have said it, he died a communist. And we owe a lot to Dick Fraser, we’re gonna miss him.
a Spartacist comrade who sent the following message, dated 30 November 1988
Dear Comrades and friends,
I am sending this letter to share a few thoughts on my impression of Richard Fraser. I was privileged to help take care of him while I was still living in Los Angeles. Looking back at this I can see that I was carrying out an important duty as a young communist in assisting Richard. For me being with Dick was my chance to have a real link with a socialist from the old revolutionary SWP. A generation of militants that I would only know through the program and the written word they left behind. Although most of the time I spent with Dick was involved with basic survival tasks for him, a few telling facets of this man stood out.
First and foremost Dick was a tenacious man. The medical battle he waged not only against his condition but also against the wretched world of doctors and hospitals would daunt anyone. Dick kept on fighting and at the same time kept an ironic slant on all this. Dick could tell you the most horrible things that happened to him and have you laughing and crying at the same time. It was a bittersweet task to take care of Dick.
That Dick was able to continue contributing politically was a real testament to his history as an organizer and leader in the SWP. Where I mainly saw this was how he would continually overcome the latest adversity to strike him so as to be able to keep on following world events and most importantly write down his thoughts. The most important possessions he had were his books, his television and his typewriter.
The other thing that sticks in my mind is how Richard’s eyes would light up when he mentioned two other things important to him. These were his son and music. Richard’s voice would get that tone of pride when he mentioned his son. And one nice memory that will stay with me was when we were able to take Dick to a concert of the L.A. Philharmonic.
Dick was a charming man who had wards of nurses of numerous hospitals in the greater Los Angeles area caring for him as their favorite patient. The only patient I had ever seen who had a typewriter in his room.
I end this by saying that I will always be proud for having been a part of helping Dick in his later years and always a little sad that I didn’t know and learn more from him.
a Spartacist comrade, sent the following contribution
Dick, in spite of being in bad health during the last years, and when I helped care for him in Los Angeles, was always willing to draw on his own array of political experience to help us with our work. (In hindsight, he laughed at some of them.)
I remember in particular the good advice he gave me at the first national SL conference after he found out that I was doing work among black workers in the South. He told me that in addition to having a revolutionary program, because of the history of segregation, it would be necessary to find ways of achieving social interaction with my black coworkers. He suggested that if necessary, join clubs or associations where one could establish these kind of relationships, but that I would have to find out how to do it in my own way. It was good advice on his part, as we have learned from doing communist work among the black working class in the Deep South.
This example is probably a small thing by itself, but the total of Dick’s work, in particular his work on the black question, is a valuable contribution to Trotskyism.
Message from the Chicago Spartacist League, Spartacus Youth Club and Chicago Labor Black Struggle League
Long service and tenacity as a partisan of the working class and oppressed demand the greatest admiration and respect from we who come after. His contribution to be realized in the struggle for black liberation and proletarian power that will be the American socialist revolution.
a longtime comrade of Dick’s who collaborated with him for over 20 years in the Seattle branch of the Socialist Workers Party and the Freedom Socialist Party, and as editor of Revolutionary Age
We’ve got all these young people up here today. I’d like to thank you for the invitation to speak here, and particularly I want to thank those of you who took care of Dick in these last years, and made his last years so productive and as pleasant as possible.
When I was asked to speak, I was kind of pleased with the idea that I would finally get a chance to get even with all those people who ignored Dick over all the years, you know. And I worked out a wonderful talk that I was going to give down here. I was going to go through the whole history of his ideas and present them to you here. And talk a little about the way he worked with others and confronted with others, to talk a little bit about the way I and Clara Fraser and the Seattle branch worked together with him in developing his ideas. Then after all that I was told that I should try to keep it to ten minutes. So you don’t know how lucky you all are here today.
No, I’m not really going to talk too much about the contents of his writings, because those are all available. We’ve printed them out, particularly in two publications which I edited, in the Revolutionary Age, in the work “Revolutionary Integration,” and “Crisis and Leadership,” which were the major works we published.