One hundred years after her birth, and 25 after her death, Clara Fraser’s life and political lessons are more relevant than ever. She would sit across from you following a protest or meeting — calm, thoughtful — and ask, “Why do you think this happened?” She wanted to learn, to understand. And she wanted you to learn and understand as well.
Fraser was born in Los Angeles on March 12, 1923. Her radical politics came from immigrant parents — her father an anarchist from Latvia, her mother a socialist union organizer from Russia — and from the Socialist Party’s youth league. She graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in literature and education, but devoted her life to revolutionary politics. In 1945 she joined the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party and in 1946 moved to Seattle to help organize the local branch.
To pay the rent, she got a job as an assembly line electrician at Boeing and took part in the strike of 1948. She put together a mothers’ brigade to walk the line with baby strollers to counter an anti-picketing injunction and was promptly fired and blacklisted.
A staunchly anti-Zionist Jew, she stood with Palestinians and criticized U.S. backing of Israel. As early as the 1950s, Fraser saw the necessity of organizing collaboratively across ethnic, race, gender, and sexuality divisions. Fraser was always prompting, “what’s best for the working class?” She and co-thinkers developed the groundbreaking theory of Revolutionary Integration to explain the interdependence of Black freedom struggles and socialism. She was the first to develop the theory of socialist feminism, which promotes the leadership of women as decisive in the fight against world capitalism.
No armchair radical, Fraser worked with Black women to win abortion rights in Washington State in 1970, three years before Roe v. Wade. She developed a powerful training program to bring women into the trades at Seattle City Light, and won protections for leftists in the Freeway Hall Case and extension of local anti-discrimination laws to political and sexual minorities. Her most vital legacy was the founding of the Freedom Socialist Party in 1966 and Radical Women in 1967, two tough revolutionary organizations.
Fraser’s logical, clever, and humorously acerbic writings, first put forward in the Freedom Socialist, have been collected in her book Revolution, She Wrote. Consummate teacher, connoisseur of fine food and art, Clara had the true heart and mind of a beautiful American revolutionary.
The author worked closely with Clara Fraser throughout the 1990s. To read more about Fraser’s life and politics, check out the entry about her on Wikipedia.