Perlman was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia. He emigrated with parents to Cochabamba, Bolivia in 1938 just ahead of the Nazi takeover. The Perlman family came to the United States in 1945 and finally settled in Lakeside Park, Kentucky.
In 1952 he attended Morehead State College in Kentucky and then UCLA from 1953-55. Perlman was on the staff of The Daily Bruin, the school newspaper, when the university administration changed the constitution of the newspaper to forbid it from nominating its own editors, as the custom had been. Perlman left the newspaper staff at that time and, with four others, proceeded to publish an independent paper, The Observer, which they handed out on a public sidewalk at the campus bus stop, since they were forbidden by the administration to distribute in on the campus.
In 1956-59 he attended Columbia University, where he met his life-long companion, Lorraine Nybakken. He enrolled as a student of English literature but soon concentrated his efforts in philosophy, political science and European literature. One particularly influential teacher for him at this time was C. Wright Mills.
In late 1959, Perlman and his wife took a cross-country motor scooter trip, mostly on two-lane highways traveling at 25 miles per hour. From 1959 to 1963, they lived on the lower east side of Manhattan while Perlman worked on a statistical analysis of the world's resources with John Ricklefs. They participated in anti-bomb and pacifist activities with the Living Theatre and others. Perlman was arrested after a sit-down in Times Square in the fall of 1961. He became the printer for the Living Theatre and during that time wrote The New Freedom, Corporate Capitalism and a play, Plunder, which he published himself.
In 1963, the husband and wife left the U.S. and moved to Belgrade, Yugoslavia after living some months in Copenhagen and Paris. Perlman received a master's degree in economics and a PhD at the University of Belgrade's Law School; his dissertation was titled "Conditions for the Development of a Backward Region," which created an outrage among some members of the faculty. During his last year in Yugoslavia, he was a member of the Planning Institute for Kosovo and Metohija.
During 1966-69 the couple lived in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Perlman taught social science courses at Western Michigan University and created outrage among some members of the faculty when he had students run their own classes and grade themselves. During his first year in Kalamazoo, he and Milos Samardzija, one of his professors from Belgrade, translated Isaac Illych Rubin's Essay on Marx's Theory of Value. Perlman wrote an introduction to the book: "An Essay on Commodity Fetishism."
In May 1968, after lecturing for two weeks in Turin, Italy, Perlman went to Paris on the last train before rail traffic was shut down by some of the strikes that were sweeping Western Europe that season. He participated in the May unrest in Paris and worked at the Censier center with the Citroen factory committee. After returning to Kalamazoo in August, he collaborated with Roger Gregoire in writing Worker-Student Action Committees, May 68.
During his last year in Kalamazoo, Perlman had left the university and together with several other people, mostly students, inaugurated the Black and Red magazine, of which six issues appeared. Typing and layout was done at the Perlman house and the printing at the Radical Education Project in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In January 1969 Perlman completed The Reproduction of Daily Life. While traveling in Europe in the spring of 1969, he spent several weeks in Yugoslavia and there wrote Revolt in Socialist Yugoslavia, which was suppressed by the authorities, who called it a CIA plot.
In August 1969 he and his wife moved to Detroit, where he wrote The Incoherence of the Intellectual and with others translated Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle. This edition was indicated by Debord himself as containing "obvious weaknesses."
In 1970 Perlman was one of a large group that set up the Detroit Printing Co-op with equipment from Chicago. For the next decade, Black & Red publications were printed there, along with countless other projects ranging from leaflets to newspapers to books.
Between 1971 and 1976 he worked on several books, originals as well as translations, including Manual for Revolutionary Leaders, Letters of Insurgents, Peter Arshinov's History of the Makhnovist Movement, Voline's The Unknown Revolution, and Jacques Camatte's The Wandering of Humanity. During the same years, Perlman began playing the cello, often in chamber music sessions twice a week. In 1971 he and his wife traveled to Alaska by car.
In 1976 Perlman underwent surgery to replace a damaged heart valve. After, he helped write and perform Who's Zerelli? a play critiquing the authoritarian aspects of the medical establishment.
During 1977-80 he studied (and charted) world history. During these years, he traveled to Turkey, Egypt, Europe and regions of the U.S. to visit historic sites with Lorraine. In 1980 he began a comprehensive history of The Strait (Detroit and surroundings). He did not finish this work, and the first and last chapters remain unwritten. In July 1985, he estimated that it would take him eight or ten months to complete and edit the manuscript.
Both Perlman and Lorraine helped on the anti-authoritarian magazine, Fifth Estate, doing typesetting and proofreading as well as contributing articles. His most recent contributions were Anti-Semitism and the Beirut Pogrom and The Continuing Appeal of Nationalism.
During 1982-83, he suspended work on The Strait to write Against His-story, Against Leviathan!.
In 1983, Perlman joined the cello section of the Dearborn Orchestra and in June 1985 performed quartets by Mozart and Schumann at a program for Physicians for Social Responsibility.
On July 26, 1985, Perlman underwent heart surgery at Henry Ford Hospital, where he died.
In 1989, his widow Lorraine Perlman published a biography of Fredy, Having Little, Being Much on the press they founded, Black & Red. Lorraine Perlman continues to run the press in Detroit, Michigan and still contributes to Fifth Estate.
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