printable version

Printable version


August 1990

Prometheus Research Series 3

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.