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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.