The living ideas of Clara Fraser, the original socialist feminist

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The following selections, compiled by Adrienne Weller, pay tribute to the groundbreaking politics of Clara Fraser on the 15th anniversary of her death. The excerpts are from Fraser’s Revolution, She Wrote, which includes many of her witty and profound columns from the Freedom Socialist. The book also contains her earliest writings on socialist feminism and covers topics ranging from LGBT people in the military to the supposed backwardness of the much-maligned U.S. working class. Fraser’s clarity, compassion, and radical practicality reverberate from every page.

Readers can order the book at Red Letter Press.

Socialist Feminism: Where the Battle of the Sexes Resolves Itself

Feminism, the struggle for women’s equal rights, is always a powder keg of the class struggle.

As both an ideology and a living mass movement, feminism has always arisen from and flourished in concert with the general movement for radical social change. And the social philosophy of feminism was first formulated by radicals.

From its inception, feminism was a passionate cry for total, fundamental, revolutionary social change, and a demand for justice for all the underprivileged.

Real, consistent feminism is intrinsically related to basic economic change and to revolutionary politics. And vice versa.

Socialist feminists sharply differentiate themselves from the political opportunism and delusions of the reformist sector of the movement, and are recognized exponents of the radical alternative.

“Non-political” feminists [in the 1960s] moved swiftly to generalized radical politics, impelled by the inexorable logic of their own transitional demands for nothing less than a total upheaval and transformation of family, economic, cultural and political relations. Affected by and acutely concerned about Vietnam, the Black rebellion, and academic freedom, feminism was the bridge that carried them to socialism.

The woman question has historically been indissolubly linked to the class struggle. But at the same time, the founders of the feminist movement always highlighted the dual nature of women’s oppression.

All women, regardless of class, are subjected to political, legal, cultural and economic discrimination, and this subjugation as an entire sex confers an independent character to women’s struggle.

The patriarchal capitalist class relies on women for the extraction of unpaid domestic labor, and simultaneously exploits women in still another way — as a vast pool of cheap labor. The bosses reap their super-profits from the hides of females. That is why the bourgeoisie can no more eradicate sexism than it can eliminate racism, which provides similar economic super-benefits to capital: all wage exploitation would have to go in the bargain.

Authored with Susan Williams, M.D.

Class: The Power that Heals

My previous column ended by posing a dilemma: The downtrodden people who need change the most seem to spend their energy sniping at each other, figuratively or for real. A Die-Hard Skeptic (DHS) takes this for granted.

DHS: People this badly divided will never come together to overthrow the system, no matter how rotten it is.

Me: Surprise — Unity happens!

Oppression forges resistance in spite of and across the deep chasms separating the resisters.

All of a sudden, when the bosses or the government go one little step too far, an apparently spontaneous eruption occurs. All the workers previously feuding over race and sex/sexuality and religious or national or cultural differences, and the normal menu of ego wars that rage on any job and in any community, coalesce suddenly caught up in a euphoria of sister/brotherhood forged by a joint reaction to the guys with their heels on everybody’s necks.

DHS: But watch what happens after the excitement of the action wears off. Everything reverts to the status quo ante and nothing lasting is achieved.

Me: Aha! But this is precisely where the role of a party comes in. When a revolt takes place without a party … you’re right: the movement will not endure, huge errors of strategy and tactics will be made, key lessons will not be drawn.

Only the revolutionary party can ensure that activists and agitators become political professionals geared and educated for the long haul. Only the party can help the militant strike or sit-in or electoral upheaval take the next leaps forward and aim for state power. Only the party can extend isolated insurgencies into constant, concerted mobilizations for the total revamping of society.

Any putative leftist or progressive who sneers at parties and scoffs at vanguards is revealing deep-seated hostility toward revolution and socialism. A transformed reality will not be concocted out of documents and good intentions and dreams of paradise.

A true humanist and visionary needs to embrace the party as the midwife who brings to birth a brave new world.

Oppressions: The Capitalist Connection and the Socialist Solution

All the many brands of oppression — racism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, classism — are historical; they have not been always with us. It was not ever thus. And it’s not going to be this way, come the revolution!

Whenever I say that, somebody always objects: “Oh yeah? You can’t change human nature.” Wrong! My business as a socialist is changing human nature away from the distortion that capitalism has made of it.

Oppressions grew. They developed — not out of somebody’s evil mind, but out of material reality. Given certain economic conditions, levels of technology, and the particular development of the forces of production, assorted varieties of subjugation had to happen.

We live in an epoch in which there coexists class oppression, racism and sexism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism, anti-Semitism, et cetera, et cetera.

All these manifold types of oppression sprung up at different times in history. Slavery, for instance, was originally a system of forced labor that had nothing to do with racism. Racism only came later — when American cotton producers needed to rationalize the enslavement of laborers from Africa. It was the conditions of the large-scale plantation economy of the U.S. South that created racism.

So all these bad “isms” didn’t have a common historical origin. But they sure had a common destiny — capitalism.

Long Arabian Nights

I hate it, I hate it — I hate this war.

It’s worse because this one is something of a shocker. We didn’t really expect America’s imperial decision-makers to do something so inane and self-defeating.

Yet they had to.

They have to preserve their system. They have to carve out their new world order of permanent occupation of Persian Gulf oil producers and colonialist control of the region’s politics.

The carnage is precisely what the U.S. government is all about. Governments reflect and express economic relations, and our economic set-up is predatory. A private-profit and profiteering economy makes for Rambo-istic militarism and an accommodating government. The state, after all, is a body of armed men.

Given this social anatomy, prayers for peace and calls for sanity and restraint won’t cut it. They may be comforting but they are irrelevant. The millions of appalled Americans will not get far enough with protests until they realize that “peace” isn’t an answer because it isn’t possible. War can’t be reformed out of the system. Only revolution will count.

Written in reaction to the 1990 war against Iraq

Response to “Notes on Leadership”

Without leadership, there is no movement, no organization, no development of consistent theory, no division of labor, no refinement of practice, no stability, no training and demonstration, no growth. Without leadership, nothing guarantees that the program will be implemented, for everybody cannot do everything at the same time. We desperately need strong, rational, logical, persuasive, effective, energetic, rugged female individuals as leaders, just as we need ranks with the same qualities who love and admire and support and criticize their leaders as they themselves learn to develop and perfect leadership qualities. Nobody has to be dominated, or repressed, or intimidated, but everybody has to learn to take criticism and evaluation. Real leadership welcomes and organizes debate, criticism, hard looks at policy and practice; real leadership is nothing to fear, and something to tenderly nourish.

Approaching the Final Conflict

The human race is closer than it has ever been to driving the usurpers and exploiters off the face of the earth.

Humanity is also closer to annihilation — but that in itself is a powerfully compelling reason to vanquish the ruling class!

In the race against time, we have every historical and logical reason to put our confidence in humanity. The people have always struggled against odds for survival. And won! And, in the process, a limitless diversity of culture, art, beauty and knowledge has been created. To save all this from destruction, and to preserve the potential for far greater achievements, is worth fighting for. And people do. Everywhere. All the time.

The FSP can take great pride in being a part of this colossal struggle for survival and freedom. We have kept the faith, as the Black Panthers used to say; we have not caved in to the pessimists, doomsayers, defeatists and cynics, ever ready to give up on humankind because they have no will to fight. We have helped create in theory and practice the foundations for a truly egalitarian socialist society 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 the interaction. We have courageously taught others to fight and have stood fast with them. We have evinced the sheer audacity to think that revolution in the heartland of imperialism is not only necessary but possible and indicated!

Authored with Guerry Hoddersen

Also see: A small biography for a very large life

Also see: Of hermits, hedonists and related narcissists

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