Posted by: exiwp | August 7, 1990

The Women I Live With (1990)

By Fred Newman
Practice, Winter 1990

Fred Newman is a psychotherapist, writer, director and leading Marxist theorist.  He is the director of the Castillo Cultural Center, where he has written and directed many plays.  Dr. Newman is the founder of the radically humanistic psychology known as social therapy, and is a member of the National Committee of the New Alliance Party.  Dr. Newman is a member of the Practice Editorial Board.

I am an American Marxist Leninist revolutionary living at a time when orthodox communism throughout the world has died.  And if that weren’t enough I am a controversial revolutionary.  I’ve never been part of the official US left family.  I don’t like the institution of the family in any of its forms. People I’ve never met and who know nothing of me often say terribly nasty things about me.  Oh well, as my mother (as anti-Family a mom as ever was) used to say, “if you can’t stand the goddamn heat, get the hell out of the kitchen.”

Still, it’s interesting and revealing, the kinds of things people say about you when they’re being irrationally nasty.  For example, in response to a most successful demonstration led by the Rainbow Lobby (which my dear comrade Deborah Green and I helped to design and which she currently runs) against the vicious Zairian dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, a pseudo-intellectual and pseudo-progressive graduate student at Tufts University (many, many truly progressive students from Tufts participated in the demonstration at Harvard University) wrote a letter which concluded as follows:

“Newman has three wives, an apartment in Manhattan, and a mansion in Long Island.  Newman’s luxurious life style is financed by donations from NAP [New Alliance Party–Ed] members.  It seems that Newman has more in common with Mobutu than he does with most of the people who, with the best of intentions, attended the Harvard protest.”

WOW!  I don’t have an apartment in Manhattan, I rent one together with four other comrades, the necessary arrangement for people of modest means to live in most areas of Manhattan these days even in a semi-rent controlled building; I neither have nor rent “a mansion” on Long Island.  In years past some 20 of my comrades and I would rent summer houses (and on occasion an all year house) on the North Fork in order that we might spend a few days away in July and August and over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.  We can no longer afford to do so.  And anyone who believes any life style, no less a luxurious one, can be financed by a poor and working class pro-socialist, Black-led, pro-gay party without even a dues structure is either a fool or a provocateur.  In point of fact, I and many other NAP members who make decent livings (in my case working as a group psychotherapist) have proudly donated thousands and thousands of dollars over the years to sustain the NAP.  Finally, I do not “have” three wives.  In fact I have none.  Married twice in my twenties and early thirties, it became clear to me as I became more and more political that “having a wife” meant just that.  It was possessing women.  Unlike Mobutu, I do not choose to possess people!  Women have saved my life and made my life.  I have no wives.  But I am terribly, terribly in love and empowered by all the women I live with.

*        *        *

Gabrielle Kurlander gave me a gift, something I did not know I lacked. I was 50 when I first met her. She was 22. An actress from a Jewish working class family; beautiful and neurotic with an honesty that led many to view her as simple (if not dumb), “Rie” (as I call her) came to know me as a mature leader. The neurotic and confused 33-year-old whom Hazel saved by making plain how much she believed I was needed had finally grown up. I was, as far as I could tell, the Marxist-Leninist version of “the person who had everything.” Wonderful comrades who loved and respected me and whom I loved and respected; as much work (how I love work) as I could crowd into a day before my body and mind demanded some sleep; meaningful work; helping people, empowering people, teaching people; creative work done in a collectively made working class environment for the working class (not for profits); close old friends and new friends; a decent and wonderful relationship with my very nice daughter Elizabeth–in all the profound and magnificent sensation of being needed. Hazel had been right. Activism was my essence. And while the revolutionary, by definition, is not validated by the institutions of the society she or he seeks to overturn, the obvious success of our collective efforts in the face of the tragic (and criminal) capitulation of the orthodox US left made me feel as valid as a Marxist revolutionary can, I believe, in late capitalist America. I had everything . or so it seemed. Rie was organized by this marvelous environment we had built. She abandoned a promising bourgeois acting career to become a political activist, a revolutionary. She quite naturally gravitated towards our theatre activities, It was almost precisely the moment when my attentions were being increasingly directed towards cultural work; seeing in revolutionary culture, more clearly than ever, a vehicle for making the experience of revolution–not merely the cognitive, analytical programmatics–more sensuously felt.

Rie acted in Demonstration, a multi-media performance piece which I directed (originally put on in celebration of International Women’s Day) and, as well, asked if I would write in a part for her in my then-in-progress one act play Mr. Hirsch Died Yesterday. I did. And we came to know each other better as the play was rehearsed and staged. Yet Rie kept a certain distance from me. At the time it seemed to me there were thousands of good reasons why she might be doing so. The gap in our levels of political development; the gap in our ages, etc. But only now that we are madly in love do I fully understand the real reason why Rie kept a distance. She has in fact taught me why something was the case in the only way we ever really can . she has changed it. Rie, it turns out, kept her distance because she wanted me. And my life was fully organized around being needed. Loved deeply and immensely but overwhelmingly with a love directed to one who is needed, I did not feel a deprivation. There was none. And yet there was. Growing up in poverty one does not feel the poorness for it is simply one’s life. Yet it is also true that one feels nothing else. Growing and living one’s life very much needed but unwanted was the same. Rie saw with her beautifully intelligent eyes a leader–but as well she saw a poor working class Jew, a decent but lonely man who, unknown even to himself, yearned to be wanted and to give as one can only do in response to being wanted. Rie cut through the “being needed” red tape of my life and said simply and caringly “I want to go out and have lunch with you.” What does she need? I wondered–not paranoically; not negatively; concerned, though, in a way, reflexively so. Rie answered my unspoken question. “1 don’t need anything. I want to be with you.” And we had lunch; again and again and again. What a gift! This altogether decent woman has reshaped my life. Hazel Daren, still the dearest comrade a person could ever have, saved my life. Gabrielle Kurlander, my dearest love, made my life.

* * *

I met Hazel Daren in February of 1968.  The whole world about me and within me was unraveling.  I was 32 at the time; teaching one course in philosophy at the City College of New York (where I got my B.A.  only nine years earlier and where I had been an assistant professor “with a future” only two years earlier); a Ph.D. from prestigious Stanford University who in 1966 (only 24 months before) had gone through a traumatizing separation and divorce from a nine-year marriage (even more traumatizing!) which had produced two children, one of whom, Donald Eric, was very severely retarded at birth (and has been institutionalized for almost his entire life); a somewhat more than competent young academic philosopher with a gift for teaching who had eschewed “better” positions in 1962 to accept a job as an assistant professor at Knox College (at $6,800 a year!) in tiny Galesburg, Illinois (population 35,000) because in language that now seems as foreign as ancient Greek, “I wanted to teach.”

But the world about me was changing even faster than the world within me as the decade unfolded.  And by 1963-64 the emerging complex social movement now known as “the 60s” had even reached rural western Illinois and I, like so many others, somewhat unselfconsciously “became involved.”  In retrospect, I remember the precise moment.  One month into the fall term of l962–my first as a “professor”–a young woman with an unlikely name, Holiday Haggard, came to my third floor office crying.  Holiday was a senior my Intro to Philosophy course who, in just a few weeks, had made plain to me that she was very bright, with an aptitude for analytic philosophy.  Her demeanor (and, I discovered afterwards, her background) was distinctly more working class (as in white working class, Knox’s student body at that time being almost exclusively white) than most others on campus.  Why was she crying?  She had just been expelled from school for “staying out” all night.  Women’s dorm rules (unlike men’s dorm rules) required (1) that all single women live in dorms and (2) that the college-determined “dorm hours” be followed strictly.  Holiday hadn’t–apparently one time too many for the stereotypically stuffy Deans of Women and Students–and she was summarily told to get lost without even her tuition being refunded.

Born and raised in the South Bronx, lower working class, a graduate of the “dorm-less” CCNY and a Roosevelt Kennedy liberal (my politics have moved substantially left but my middle name was, and still is, Delano!) I couldn’t believe it.  I went down with Ms Haggard to see the modestly well known (modestly) liberal Dean of Faculty who listened patiently to me for 10 minutes or so and then asked Holiday to leave.  When we were alone the Dean cordially though pointedly informed me that this was a matter for the Dean of Students office and implied in his tone and choice words that a New York Jew like myself was in no position to comprehend white Christian Midwest morality even if I was one of college’s Ethics teachers!  So began, just a few weeks after my college teaching career formally started my “fall from grace.”  This “incident” wound up two years later in June of 1964 as a national media-covered boycott of the Knox College graduation, my dismissal and a permanent stigmatization within academia as a troublemaker.

When I was hired as an assistant professor by CCNY in 1965 (they were, for obvious reasons, the least negatively influenced by my new “rep”), I was already somewhat “radicalized.”  The 1965-66 academic year in New York City was one long “teach-in” about civil rights and the Viet Nam War.  I learned much more than I taught.  And by the spring term of 1966 I had made a decision to give all “A’s” in my classes as a personal protest against the war and the grading system which seemed to me to be very much related to it.  For the grading system (indeed the entire grade-oriented educational (“tracking”) system) played a role in determining which students were more likely to be drafted and, as cannon fodder in that outrageously racist and imperialist war.  The all A’s” decision was, of course, the end of my academic career.  It took two years before everyone believed me (between ’66 and ’68 I was hired by and fired by seven different colleges) but by February of ’68 I hanging on by my fingernails.  I picked up my final “gig” teaching formal philosophy back at CCNY as an adjunct (the department chair, a New England blue-blood, sternly made me promise I would give up the all A’s business.  I did and then broke the promise!  [A]nd there among the students who showed up for my Philosophy 1 class one cold February afternoon was Hazel Daren.  She was 19.  And even amongst the so-called “committed generation” of late 60s college students Hazel stood out as someone who wasn’t kidding around.  She had contempt for hypocrisy that was nearly physical.  And hypocrisy was not only to be found in the obvious two-faced posture of liberal Washington conducting an illegal and immoral war in Southeast Asia and a disingenuous “War on Poverty” (actually, it was a war against the poor) here in the US.  Hypocrisy was also plainly visible within the broad left movement that was fighting back against DC’s policies.  Daren was a “leftist” of whom the left wanted no part.  She was too serious; too committed to the cause and too “innocent” of the sectarian “realpolitik” of the American left.  In this we had something in common.

But while we shared skepticism about following the basically white middle class and sectarianized US left Hazel was far less conflicted about following me than I was about leading.  The shocking events of 1968–Dr. King’s assassination, the Dump Johnson Eugene McCarthy campaign, the Tet offensive, Paris Spring, the Columbia strike, the Robert Kennedy murder, Daley’s cops and the Democratic Party Convention in Chicago–left me, an attitudinal anarchist, politically unsophisticated and emotionally uncertain, personally and politically enraged, puzzled and depressed.  In California that July, spending time with my seven-year-old daughter and seriously considering another teaching position at San Jose State for the fall (they had offered and I had accepted a full time job), I received a letter from Hazel back in New York still struggling to carry out some of the naive plans she and I and a handful of others had developed the spring before.  It was a beautiful letter, made all the more profound and touching by Hazel’s child-like handwriting.  Most fundamental, however, was her child-like sincerity and reasoning.  “Don’t leave the struggle” was the essence of her message.  “You were made for activism and our people, working people, need you” was the implication.  We have been together now for over 20 years.  During that time many women and men have told me that I have saved their lives.  Hazel Daren saved mine.

*        *        *

Deborah Green looks nothing like a revolutionary (whatever that means!). She appears more like a breathtakingly beautiful nun! Deborah left King of Prussia, Pennsylvania at 18 to come to New York (“Sin City” from her father’s point of view) to study at Barnard College. On the face of it an odd mixture of piety and progressivism, her essence is more a combination of decency and genius. And her brilliance and integrity almost destroyed her. For as a child turning into a teenager she took Catholicism too seriously (as she does almost everything in life) and nearly drove herself mad in an attempt to live the righteous life prescribed by the morbid and guilt-evoking religion.

Deborah needed to be needed and the working class desperately needed her.

Shortly after I met her she completed her Master’s degree in Business and was simultaneously promoted to an assistant vice presidency at C.I.T, the mega-million dollar credit company. Not yet 30, Green, a devotee of opera, a lover of animals, and so neurotic as to be almost Jewish, was settling into the unhappily “adjusted” life of a liberal Manhattan Upper Westsider. Then she met Marxism. Attracted by its intellectual rigor and its humanistic soul, Green struggled once again with the profound ethical questions that have shaped her Life. In the final analysis it was the need of poor and working people which persuaded this devotedly decent woman to abandon her search for bourgeois normality. Together Deborah Green and I have built many things that working people need. Our love is grounded in that work and in our need for each other in doing it. Deborah Green, the grandchild of a machinist, and I, the brother of a machinist and tool and dye maker, have used our love for each other and for our class very, very well. Now the class wants more. So do we.

* * *

Cathy Sadell was a child of 16 in the early 70s when I met her.  A poor, working class runaway from New Jersey, she was living in the East Village on a strange (though at the time commonplace) mixture of drugs and politics.  In the waning days of “the 60s” Hazel and I had somehow created a successful left-wing radically humanistic therapy project called Centers Clinic and Sadell came for help.  She surely needed it!  Life in the East Village was not what it was cracked up to be for anyone in those times.  But many living there–“flower children” without California’s good weather–had the privilege of middle class home and family on Long Island (from which the y had “escaped”) which was ready at any moment to take them back.  But even the flower generation was class stratified.  And Cathy was real poor, not phony poor.  Brilliant and beautiful, she was a street person in the making.  Orphaned as an infant, a product then of her adopted mother’s suicide and her adopted father’s brutality, Sadell was at once fragile and terribly tough.  It seemed to me she trusted no one over 20.

Centers Clinic was more than a therapy office; it was a therapeutic community, and a political hangout.  And so I came to know Sadell not merely as a “patient” but as a young political woman in “our community.”  She taught much.  But more than anything she “added on” to Dawn’s anti-hypocrisy posture a screaming militancy which absolutely demanded that everything be called by its right name.  I remember so many walks and talks and therapy sessions (frequently, as Sadell observes in her wonderful article, they were one and the same)–but most of all I recall Sadell’s extraordinary presence in those days.  Her loud laugh and her infectious working class charm never quite hid the fact that she was always checking everyone out–and rightfully so!  Once in an “office session” she became outraged at something I said (or didn’t say) and she jumped up from her chair, charged to the window sill and angrily swept the 20 or so books that sat there between two Lincoln book ends to the floor.  Her statement was clear.  “Take your goddamned books and shove ’em!”  We fought.  Not often, but on some occasions.  And she taught me, as did Daren, that this was serious business!  These are real lives!  Mistakes are necessary; errors are fine.  But hypocrisy will not be tolerated.  Cathy Sadell, whom many still think of as a madwoman, has taught me that “sanity'” can be just another form of hypocrisy.

*        *        *

Freda Rosen and I came into each other’s lives in 1972.  Just having ended a six-year marriage, Freda, from a central Bronx, poor, working class Jewish family, was coming out as a lesbian . a militant feminist lesbian.  By this time Centers Clinic was rapidly transforming into an overtly Marxist-Leninist (Maoist) collective.  Women (like Hazel, Cathy and many others) were playing major roles in the embryonic leftist grouping.  Still Freda–quite correctly and properly–viewed my dominant leadership role with suspicion.  Rosen was a typist by trade (and, I might add a very good one) and soon she and I came to know each other working side by side on the organization’s earliest publications; in particular a weekly mimeographed paper called Centers For Change (also the name of the collective).  And we fell in love!  This radical lesbian feminist and I, working class sister and brother, came to love each other working together, building together, joking together, creating together.

Over time Rosen, a commercial diploma high school graduate, was trained as a social therapist and became a left-wing, grassroots counterpart to Dr. Joyce Brothers.  I am so proud of her accomplishment.  Women like Freda, Hazel, Cathy, Alvaader, Deborah, M. and Rie have shown what it means to go far beyond where they are supposed to be without sacrificing themselves to a development in accordance with a white, middle class, male-dominated paradigm of women’s liberation.  The middle class lesbian movement brutalized Freda.  “Who’s that straight white man who runs the show?”  they would ask her mockingly.  “He’s a poor working class guy from the South Bronx” Rosen would say, “and he’s got a lot more respect for me, a radical lesbian, than you fuckers!”  Freda Rosen is a class act.

*        *        *

M. Ortiz is angry.  M. Ortiz is passionate.  M. Ortiz is brilliant.  M. Ortiz is Puerto Rican.  M. Ortiz is working class.  M. Ortiz is beautiful.  M. Ortiz is a revolutionary.  For the first six months that I knew M. Ortiz I think I expected the first words out of her mouth to be, “Who the fuck are you?”  But she never said those words.  Instead she and I have worked hard to teach each other; to overcome a mutual intimidation.

M., a child of the South Bronx who became a teenage mother, brutalized by poverty and men, has moved off the mean streets but has never (and will never) forget those still there.  There is an honesty about this woman that is shockingly pure; an uncompromising honesty that sniffs out even a hint of disingenuousness.  I have seen her in therapy groups and in endless work situations function as a barometer, reacting viscerally to the very first signs of bullshit.  And I have seen her ruthlessly expose and reorganize her own anger as she became more and more aware of its self destructive potential and, therefore, of its capacity to stand in the way of her revolutionary work.  We have built our love within that particular struggle–the struggle to re-organize her anger on behalf of her people rather than against herself.  I love our love affair, M. Ortiz.

*        *        *

It was at Small’s Paradise–the very famous Harlem night club where Malcolm X once worked–just before it went out of business, that I first met Alvaader Frazier.  This African American, Savannah-born working class lesbian sister has the uncanny ability to challenge everything one stands for (the good and the not so good) in her opening remarks.  “She should be a lawyer!”  you say.  She is!  And a brilliant one.  But Alvaader Frazier is much, much more than a lawyer.  She is a revolutionary communist; a passionate and talented woman madly in love with struggling people of color the world over–madly in love with Africa; madly in love with working people everywhere; madly in love with the humanity of communism and furious with its compromises and (I cry as I write this) madly in love with me.  Alvaader is a poet.  Moreover, her life is a poem and, as with any great poet and poem, she creates, as she lives, the framework by which she is to be seen and understood and experienced.  This brilliant, talented and dynamic human being with a sense of humor, of tragedy, and of outrage that leaves her friends and enemies alike unsure as to what she may do next is breathtakingly attractive.  But Alvaader the revolutionary poet says, “No. You may not interpret me away as ATTRACTIVE.  For it is about liberation and struggle, not me and my attractiveness.”

Alvaader Frazier is among my dearest friends.  Oh, we have fought!  We have fought our way into a revolutionary love affair that comes out of many things.  Perhaps most of all, it comes from our shared sense of living on borrowed time.  [A]s Alvaader points out, with an eloquence born of struggle and pain, she is not supposed to be alive.  The full-steam ahead intensity with which she has lived from her earliest moments as a Black child in a society still far more committed to lynching than loving should have seen her dead years ago.  I share that sense of self.  Together Alvaader Frazier and I, along with Hazel and Cathy and Freda and Deborah and M. and Rie and so many others, women and men, are collectively outraging the hypocritical progressive movement; defying the powers that be right and left.  Sticking our collective tongues out; first to show our disdain for those who have sold out and then to kiss our comrades and the masses who still desperately need the love that is genuine communism; “mooning” the revisionist revolutionaries first to fart in their petty faces and then to wink playfully to our comrades and the masses who still need the sensuality and sexuality that is genuine communism.  Jesus, Alvaader Frazier, you are one sexy revolutionary!

*        *        *

I have spent more than two decades living as a revolutionary.  “Let me say,” Ché said, “at the risk of seeming ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.”  But love, in our culture, between women, between men, and perhaps most especially between men and women, is no easy matter.  As a Marxist I believe in the tactical necessity of dealing with class exploitation as critical to transforming the sickness that is capitalism.  As a Leninist I understand the fundamental role of people of color in this process and the necessity of ruthlessly engaging racism–the actual and planned genocide of the African American people and all people of color–in this national sector and throughout the world.

Yet for me, even more so than for Ché, the very method for carrying out this revolution is love.  And the reorganization of love demands the smashing of sexism; demands that we “ruthlessly tear asunder” the material and ideological domination of maleness that predates capitalism by millennia.

Many who call themselves socialists and communists pay lip service to these matters.  They are, in almost all cases, hypocrites.  The essays and poems that follow express the thoughts of my very dear sisters (and myself) at but one moment m our lives.  We have said more and we will say more.  But there is no hypocrisy in these comrades.

They have taught me well.  We dedicate this collective writing effort to a woman who more than anybody embodies the “new love” that guides the “new movement” for social progress here in America and internationally; the most distinguished African American leader, and this revolutionary collective’s preeminent love, Lenora B. Fulani.

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