Clara Fraser: Bread, Roses, and Heresy

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Dateline: Lincoln, Nebraska. A small airport, its contours softened by snowfall and moonlight. The car skids on the exit road. My older son, Marc Krasnowsky, drives blithely through the icy slush; his friend Moira Ferguson hands me a leaflet.

“We expect about 30 people,” she says excitedly, “but with this snow, it’s hard to tell.”

The leaflet is straightforward. “Socialist Feminism: The New Wave,” it announces. “A discussion by … Clara Fraser, a founder of Radical Women.” And in quotes: “We are feminists in the socialist movement and radicals in the women’s movement.” The sponsors are listed – the University of Nebraska Women Studies Program and the Women’s Resource Center.

We arrive on campus, and poor Marc has to shlep my suitcase of heavy literature up the stairs. The beautiful meeting hall slowly fills with about sixty young women and men. Marc is an energetic literature salesman. “The more I sell, the less I’ll have to carry out,” he explains.

Moira introduces me. An associate professor of English literature and head of the Women Studies department, she offers a warm welcome and succinct account of my labor and radical activities. I speak, and then the audience takes over. The questions are fantastic!

Here on the prairie, in the middle-American conservative farm belt, lies a rich pocket of feminism and commitment to the left. These students, faculty, staff and young workers are intellectually alive and hungry for a reasonable theory that will fuse the scattered skeins of their interests.

They want to be attached to all the anti-imperialist, pro-people mobilizations for freedom, but each contingent in the fray seems to exclude the others. The audience seeks a de-fragmenting, a synthesized programmatic focus for their energy that can validate a many-sided activism. They speak with intensity, discussing Trotsky, Stalin, Mao, Fidel, the New Left, capitalism, Carter, the neo-Nazis.

Afterward, many of us pursue the discussion at Lincoln’s most chic tavern. We meet a few nights later for more talk, and we luxuriate in the ever-novel thrill of encountering kindred spirits. We part with the understanding that they will study the Radical Women Manifesto and orient toward the constitution of an RW chapter.

I loved them in Lincoln. And to Moira and Marc and my new friends there, I say thank you from the bottom of my organizer’s heart. You were an inspiration.

Dateline: New York City. Would you believe another unexpectedly early blizzard and another exciting meeting of radicals seeking a cohesive ideology? More dynamic women suffused with urgency to get on with the building of a socialist feminist counterpole to the far right?

Believe it. This was a fine meeting called by a Manhattan group which includes CRSP members, a meeting which once again clearly demonstrated that the new wave of socialist feminism is a living, pulsing phenomenon. Its New York adherents are highly competent technical and professional workers well-seasoned by the political wars of the last decade, and avid for theory and practice that respect history, are firmly grounded in class struggle, and can inspire women to political leadership.

Enclaves of such talented women abound here. And many women are already studying the Radical Women program and history in the course of their search for a political home that will be a viable base of operations.

The day of feminism as pure-and-simple legal reform is over. It hasn’t worked, nor could it, in the very heart of Profitsland. In Nebraska, in New York, around this country, women are addressing economic issues and union problems side by side with the historic questions of family and human relations, and evaluating these subjects within the context of achieving fundamental societal change for the benefit of the exploited of every shape and hue.

Respectability and liberalism are out; heresy is in. A new army of women is a-borning. Give us bread, they cry, and give us roses-and give us revolution!

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