Ron Radosh

The Strange Life of the Late Fred Newman

Yesterday, an obituary appeared in the pages of The New York Times, announcing the passing of a man who, by any standard, was a lunatic crazed leftist — a would-be psychotherapist who started what most people would call a cult. Albeit, it was  a cult that blended the founder’s own therapy system with Marxism-Leninism. His name was Fred Newman, and he received a respectable obit.  Judging by the length of the story, the Times indicated to its readers that he was important.

But if you read between the lines, the obituary shows that something is truly rotten in New York City’s politics, and in particular, the political party structure that exists in that state. As the obit reports, Newman:

[F]ounded a Marxist-Leninist party, fostered a sexually charged brand of psychotherapy, wrote controversial plays about race and managed the presidential campaign of Lenora Fulani, who was both the first woman and the first black candidate to get on the ballot in all 50 states. He helped the Rev. Al Sharpton get on his feet as a public figure and gave Michael R. Bloomberg the support of his Independence Party in three mayoral elections, arguably providing Mr. Bloomberg’s margin of victory in 2001 and 2009.

Let’s put it another way. A crazed self-proclaimed communist revolutionary, who adhered to both Marxism-Leninism and the doctrine of smashing monogamy, was responsible for making billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg the mayor of New York! His personal ethic was so crazed that it might serve to replace the epithet “San Francisco Democrat” to that of “New York Democrat.” Newman, as the article noted, urged his collective to sleep with one another, a concept he termed “friendosexuality.” As a therapist, he also advocated that the therapist should sleep with his patients.

First aligning himself with the more successful cult figure of the time Lyndon H. LaRouche, the contest of wills between two egotistical leaders forced them to split, and Newman created “The International Workers Party,” a form of LaRouchism without LaRouche. At the time, I lived on the Upper Left (West) Side of New York, the area Tom Hayden proclaimed one of America’s “liberated zones,” and from which Newman plied his wares.  A few blocks from my apartment, I often passed a large building with a plaque in front, stating that it was the possession of “the working-class room.” It was, in fact, a building bought by Newman for his school and his headquarters.

Newman’s success, if we can call it that, says a great deal about the willingness of mainstream political figures to seek the support and backing of far left cult figures, who want to use their influence to gain support for their own revolutionary agenda. In this case, Newman also supported and at times worked with Ross Perot, Ralph Nader, and the isolationist far-right Republican Pat Buchanan.

The Times’ obit only gives a glimpse of the craziness and yet the effectiveness of Fred Newman. A simple Google search turns up scores of articles that provide more data about how this megalomaniac built up his political machine and extended his influence. One of the most detailed is called “Lenin as Therapist,” and the authors start by exploring the incredible alliance of the Marxist black lesbian Lenora Fulani and Pat Buchanan, an alliance that existed despite Fulani’s leftism, her support of abortion, and her relationship with both Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton. What they had in common, however, was opposition to Israel and a not so veiled anti-Semitism.

The two authors make the following observation about how Newman built his cadre organization:

We believe Fred Newman concluded from his brief experience attempting to build the IWP that he had no need for an open vanguard formation. He recruited new members through therapy and gained political influence by working within other groups or creating broad front organizations. However, he did have need for a clandestine vanguard formation, based on the Leninist model and made up of core therapy patients. As we will see, there is considerable evidence that the IWP continues to exist up to the present time.

The 1977 period of activism on the Upper West Side was a learning experience for Newman and his followers. They became skilled at operating within politically ill-defined front organizations and raising funds from guilt-ridden middle-class liberals. Most of all Newman got a taste for electoral activity. This would shape the rest of his political life.

Newman became what the authors call a “New Age Leninist,” who decided it was more effective to use his small group of one hundred cadre to move into other groups, work to take them over, and then support any candidate — right, left or center — that would do their bidding.  Christopher Hitchens once called Newman’s organization a “fascistic zombie cult outfit,” a description which might be the most accurate one of all.

Yet, this individual was a major political player, turned to regularly by mainstream skilled politicians. In 2005, reports surfaced about a growing new tie between the mayor and Newman. On May 28th, The New York Times wrote a report that covered up much about the alliance of Bloomberg and Newman. Written by reporter Michael Slackman, it was appropriately titled “In New York, Fringe Politics Is Steadily Finding Its Way Into the Mainstream.” Referring to Newman and Fulani’s creation of the Independence Party of New York, the article noted that “many of the state’s top political leaders [are] eager to court their latest organization.” As it pointed out,

For politicians like Mr. Bloomberg, the Independence Party’s backing is an invaluable asset in a city where the vast majority of voters are registered Democrats. It will give voters the option of casting their ballot for the Mayor on the Independence line instead of the Republican line.

The problem for the mayor is that Fulani refused to denounce her stated view that Jews “had to sell their souls to acquire Israel and are required to do the dirtiest work of capitalism” and had to “function as mass murderers of people of color.” The story explained Bloomberg’s alliance with Newman and Fulani simply as an understandable “one of political convenience.” That supposedly settles the issue, although one has to question why so much was made before the 2008 campaign of Sarah Palin’s attendance at a rally which Pat Buchanan attended years earlier. That, and the fact that as governor she welcomed him to the state and, for the occasion, put on a Buchanan button. That sin was unforgivable — unlike Bloomberg’s turning to Newman and Fulani and simply saying his alliance could continue since he didn’t have to agree with everything they said.

The Times’ story, however, left out much that would have painted Newman in a far darker light. The President of The American Jewish Committee, E. Robert Goodkind, wrote the paper a letter that it never printed. In it, Goodkind wrote that the story “ severely understates the highly toxic level of their extremism and bigotry.” Goodkind pointed out that Newman’s group which Bloomberg aligned with supported Qadaffi and Libya, praised the terrorist group Abu Jihad, and produced a play about black-Jewish relations in Crown Heights that was highly anti-Semitic. They ran one Arab candidate on their party’s ticket who opposed Holocaust education in New York schools because he said that it was “an attempt by the Zionists to use the city educational system for their evil propaganda purposes.” Goodkind concluded by writing: “ The excuse that Lenora Fulani is only one member of a larger party is a fiction. If David Duke were a leading figure in a Louisiana third party, no one in New York would accept such an excuse from politicians eager to take that ballot line.”

By omitting such information in their current obituary, the paper again downplays how bizarre it is that a figure like Newman managed to become a political power broker in New York City politics, and how even a Jewish mayor like Michael Bloomberg could look the other way in order to gain his support at a critical moment.

In the old heyday of New Deal and Fair Deal politics in New York, the legitimate  labor leader Alex Rose, head of the now defunct Hat, Cap and Millinery Workers union, created the Liberal Party, a political formation that for decades was the choice of much of New York’s independent voters to cast their ballots for candidates. This, despite the fact that the endorsed candidate was probably a Democrat and at times a Republican. There was nothing cult like about its leaders or its organization; it was a legitimate step to create an alternative for liberal New Yorkers to cast their ballot for a candidate they supported and still maintain their independence from both major parties. As such, the Liberal Party often functioned as the make or break line that a candidate needed to win a place on its ballot to win a New York City election.

How sad that now, in the new era, a Marxist-Leninist cult party has become the replacement for the old traditional Liberal Party, and that the old grey lady, the would-be paper of record, cannot see to tell the full truth about the strange politics of Fred Newman.

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