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 Fraser and American Scholarship on the Black Question), 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.