Soul Food for Rabble-Rousers

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After being a political prisoner on death row for 15 years, Black freedom fighter Mumia Abu-Jamal said this: “To the extent that someone has a free consciousness and is able to exercise that consciousness, they’re free within the most restrictive prison on the planet.” Clara Fraser was unfettered. And when you read her book, you will get the tools to achieve a liberated spirit, too. That’s what Clara has done for me.

In Revolution, She Wrote, you will hear the warmest, funniest, wisest, most caring and optimistic voice to be found anywhere speaking up for the majority of people and our struggles.

And when you come to the parts about the mustachioed villains, you’ll get some of the sliciest and diciest criticism and sarcasm – rapier thrusts that will totally satisfy you and help you vent your anger in the right place.

“Revolution is intense compassion.” Clara loved all her fellow beings except the ruling class and its cowardly, greedy, sellout brownnosers. She loved the theory and practice of socialism as taught by Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky (and she makes it clear that these radical titans were feminists).

It becomes so evident in her book that one of the fundamental divisions between capitalists and socialists is how they see human nature. With threatening pessimism, the upper crust defines us all as innately violent and competitive.

But here is Clara’s rejoinder to “Confirmed Cynic” (invented as a sparring partner in the series of articles titled “Socialism for Skeptics”).

You can take your original sin fixation and shove it… Your specious claim that dog-eats-dog is our paramount inducement to accomplishment is a calumny against history, and a vicious assault on the overwhelming global majority who make their lives meaningful by uplifting others.

As a revolutionary, Clara agreed with Marx’s conclusion that humanity is ever evolving and that our main drive has been toward collaboration, not competition. This understanding of our basically collective nature makes the socialist ambition of “shared abundance” a realistic one. Writes Clara:

Socialism (and its final stage of communism) is a wonderful goal, a beautiful and necessary vision to live and die for, a promise of a lifestyle irresistible in its harmony, workability, naturalness, passion and compassion.

All of the book’s diverse forms of short prose – essays, speeches, letters to family, Freedom Socialist columns, reviews (and there’s poetry, too!) – sparkle with joie de vivre and provide a materialist rationale for hope.

Talking back. The spectacular range of topics covered in Revolution, She Wrote reflects Clara’s incredible breadth of activity and interest – in strikes, civil rights upsurges, antiwar mobilizations, feminist organizing, lesbian/gay movement debates, cultural productions, you name it. Throughout it all, you’ll find that Clara is no “respectable lady”; self-doubt, querulousness, tentativeness, and deference to white male tradition are not her gig.

Clara is one hundred percent against the grain: brassy, bold, and very smart. She says in an upfront, in-your-face way all that others have been wanting to say and never have. She’s the little kid pointing out that the emperor has no clothes.

Consider the following choice remarks on Betty Friedan’s tome The Second Stage.

Friedan is a great tactician. Don’t organize – mourn. Don’t resist – surrender. And love your enemy – love, love, love, love, love. Barf. …The Second Stage expresses Friedan’s Second Childhood. Or Second Coming, if you prefer. But her pages of gibberish are less sinister than her politics, which are crassly imperialist and implicitly proto-fascist… Bye, bye, Betty. Thanks for turning us on [in The Feminine Mystique], but now you can go to hell. See you on the barricades – or, rather, across them.

Among those who also receive scathing critiques are “Slick Willie Clinton”; “General Stormtroopin’ Norman [Schwarzkopf], in his haute couture camouflage pajamas”; and Lyndon LaRouche, the Marxist-turned-fascist of whom Clara writes:

LaRouche developed such an acute case of political sunburn that all his Marxist skin peeled off and his quivering Napoleonic nerves were painfully exposed to an incredulous world.

Many of Clara’s delectables can be happily consumed in one sitting. You may want to spend a little more time, though, with such nourishing food for thought as her remarkable, accessible explanations of Marxist dialectical materialism, political economy, and the relevance of Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution to feminism. About the latter, she says:

Permanent Revolution is linked closely to women’s liberation and women’s liberation is central, pivotal, to modern politics. And why shouldn’t it be? It’s the oldest, the deepest, the most passionate unresolved problem of the majority of the human race. It is the unfinished struggle against the prehistoric crime of male supremacy. Women will have to free the world. And they will have to free themselves.

An open door to the future. Revolution, She Wrote includes a number of photos of Clara and her family, comrades and colleagues. The pictures of Clara as a young girl remind me of how delighted I was when she told me that her mother had fondly nicknamed her Chaya, or “little wild animal.”

My own Korean mother was brought up in an orphanage run by white missionary women, because there were “too many girls” in her family. She grew up conditioned to physical brutality and deprivation, taught to hate her race, sex, sexuality, and orphan status. But she survived and defied: When she was 16, she climbed out a window and escaped.

But she stayed angry, depressed, and constantly ashamed of who she was. I believe she never knew a great passion. She fought back, but alone, and finally she just got worn out.

It’s been six years since her death, and I still feel continual pain because I remain so sad and mad that Ma, who lived for 82 years, died unfulfilled.

For me, the antidote to the influence of my mother’s unhappy, constricted existence is Clara’s ability to envision a different world, where “both sexes and people of all colors, cultures, nations, sexual orientations, ages and physical capabilities can learn from each other and share a life that is richer and more meaningful due to that interaction.”

Moreover, says Clara,

[T]he most dynamic forces within this entire process of creating the American revolution are the super-oppressed – women and minorities, whose high and varied consciousness simply reflects their deep and varied victimizations.

Because of Clara’s beliefs and example, I became confident, whole, and able to contribute toward realizing the transformed society she articulates so plainly.

Now, when I start feeling a little burned out or alienated or postmodernite, I can dip into Revolution, She Wrote: the ideas give me sanity and energy and restore my faith. Clara’s book tells me that she was free, and frees me.

In Praise of Revolution, She Wrote:

“Clara Fraser is serious about creating a better world for the disenfranchised. She is fearless, tireless, and was always there when the going was tough. When you look into her eyes, you can see the sincerity and commitment. She brings out the best in others just by her presence.” – Aaron Dixon, Seattle Black Panther Party cofounder, Defense Captain

“All I said was that Indian people have a right to a reasonable quality of life. Within six months, I was looking at 35 years in prison… Our struggle was eased through Clara’s efforts – and became a lot more fun. She generously shared contacts and resources, observations and humor. She now gives us insight into the experiences that make her wonderfully unique. If you didn’t get the license number of the truck that hit you on your way to equality and respect, read Clara’s book – she got the number.” – Ramona Bennett, Puyallup Tribal Chair, 1970-78, and leader of the tribe’s armed occupation of Cascadia Juvenile Center

“Clara is the most fearless, courageous woman I know – and the most radical. I admire anyone who’ll face the opposition with sleeves rolled up. With bare fists and stunning intellect, she fights for feminism.” – Don McGaffin, veteran TV newsman and commentator

“Clara Fraser is one of the smartest, cleverest, wittiest, most literary, but most of all, most courageous women I ever met. She comes through these pages as if she was standing there before you, beautiful, laughing, waving you in, and shaking her fist. Not to read Clara Fraser’s book is to miss a good piece of the American experience of the 20th century.” – Florence Hamlish Levinsohn, author of Harold Washington: A Political Biography and Belgrade: Among the Serbs

“Feminism is precious to me. That’s why I hate seeing it become a new lifestyle for middleclass, career-minded couples or an improvement in certain men’s public manners or an excuse for demanding that more women work a 90-hour week… Clara knew all this all along. So read this book carefully.” – Joanna Russ, award-winning science fiction author, from her Introduction to the book

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