Richard S. Fraser, a veteran Trotskyist and tenacious fighter for black freedom, died in his sleep on November 27  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.