Date: 8/20/2009 8:28:56 PM
a. Strategy for forcing political change through orchestrated crisis
First proposed in 1966 and named after Columbia University sociologists
Richard Andrew Cloward and Frances Fox Piven, the "Cloward-Piven Strategy"
seeks to hasten the fall of capitalism by overloading the government
bureaucracy with a flood of impossible demands, thus pushing society into
crisis and economic collapse.
Inspired by the August 1965 riots in the black district of Watts in Los
Angeles (which erupted after police had used batons to subdue a black man
suspected of drunk driving), Cloward and Piven published an article titled
"The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty" in the May 2, 1966 issue
of The Nation. Following its publication, The Nation sold an unprecedented
30,000 reprints. Activists were abuzz over the so-called "crisis strategy"
or "Cloward-Piven Strategy," as it came to be called. Many were eager to put
it into effect.
In their 1966 article, Cloward and Piven charged that the ruling classes
used welfare to weaken the poor; that by providing a social safety net, the
rich doused the fires of rebellion. Poor people can advance only when "the
rest of society is afraid of them," Cloward told The New York Times on
September 27, 1970. Rather than placating the poor with government
hand-outs, wrote Cloward and Piven, activists should work to sabotage and
destroy the welfare system; the collapse of the welfare state would ignite a
political and financial crisis that would rock the nation; poor people would
rise in revolt; only then would "the rest of society" accept their demands.
The key to sparking this rebellion would be to expose the inadequacy of
the welfare state. Cloward-Piven's early promoters cited radical organizer
Saul Alinsky as their inspiration. "Make the enemy live up to their (sic)
own book of rules," Alinsky wrote in his 1972 book Rules for Radicals. When
pressed to honor every word of every law and statute, every Judaeo-Christian
moral tenet, and every implicit promise of the liberal social contract,
human agencies inevitably fall short. The system's failure to "live up" to
its rule book can then be used to discredit it altogether, and to replace
the capitalist "rule book" with a socialist one.
The authors noted that the number of Americans subsisting on welfare --
about 8 million, at the time -- probably represented less than half the
number who were technically eligible for full benefits. They proposed a
"massive drive to recruit the poor onto the welfare rolls." Cloward and
Piven calculated that persuading even a fraction of potential welfare
recipients to demand their entitlements would bankrupt the system. The
result, they predicted, would be "a profound financial and political crisis"
that would unleash "powerful forces ? for major economic reform at the
Their article called for "cadres of aggressive organizers" to use
"demonstrations to create a climate of militancy." Intimidated by threats of
black violence, politicians would appeal to the federal government for help.
Carefully orchestrated media campaigns, carried out by friendly, leftwing
journalists, would float the idea of "a federal program of income
redistribution," in the form of a guaranteed living income for all --
working and non-working people alike. Local officials would clutch at this
idea like drowning men to a lifeline. They would apply pressure on
Washington to implement it. With every major city erupting into chaos,
Washington would have to act.
This was an example of what are commonly called Trojan Horse movements --
mass movements whose outward purpose seems to be providing material help to
the downtrodden, but whose real objective is to draft poor people into
service as revolutionary foot soldiers; to mobilize poor people en masse to
overwhelm government agencies with a flood of demands beyond the capacity of
those agencies to meet. The flood of demands was calculated to break the
budget, jam the bureaucratic gears into gridlock, and bring the system
crashing down. Fear, turmoil, violence and economic collapse would accompany
such a breakdown -- providing perfect conditions for fostering radical
change. That was the theory.
Cloward and Piven recruited a militant black organizer named George Wiley
to lead their new movement. In the summer of 1967, Wiley founded the
National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO). His tactics closely followed
the recommendations set out in Cloward and Piven's article. His followers
invaded welfare offices across the United States -- often violently --
bullying social workers and loudly demanding every penny to which the law
"entitled" them. By 1969, NWRO claimed a dues-paying membership of 22,500
families, with 523 chapters across the nation.
Regarding Wiley's tactics, The New York Times commented on September 27,
1970, "There have been sit-ins in legislative chambers, including a United
States Senate committee hearing, mass demonstrations of several thousand
welfare recipients, school boycotts, picket lines, mounted police, tear gas,
arrests - and, on occasion, rock-throwing, smashed glass doors, overturned
desks, scattered papers and ripped-out phones."These methods proved
effective. "The flooding succeeded beyond Wiley's wildest dreams," writes
Sol Stern in the City Journal. "From 1965 to 1974, the number of
single-parent households on welfare soared from 4.3 million to 10.8 million,
despite mostly flush economic times. By the early 1970s, one person was on
the welfare rolls in New York City for every two working in the city's
private economy."As a direct result of its massive welfare spending, New
York City was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1975. The entire state of New
York nearly went down with it. The Cloward-Piven strategy had proved its
The Cloward-Piven strategy depended on surprise. Once society recovered
from the initial shock, the backlash began. New York's welfare crisis
horrified America, giving rise to a reform movement which culminated in "the
end of welfare as we know it" -- the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work
Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which imposed time limits on federal
welfare, along with strict eligibility and work requirements. Both Cloward
and Piven attended the White House signing of the bill as guests of
Most Americans to this day have never heard of Cloward and Piven. But New
York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani attempted to expose them in the late 1990s.
As his drive for welfare reform gained momentum, Giuliani accused the
militant scholars by name, citing their 1966 manifesto as evidence that they
had engaged in deliberate economic sabotage. "This wasn't an accident,"
Giuliani charged in a 1997 speech. "It wasn't an atmospheric thing, it
wasn't supernatural. This is the result of policies and programs designed to
have the maximum number of people get on welfare."
Cloward and Piven never again revealed their intentions as candidly as
they had in their 1966 article. Even so, their activism in subsequent years
continued to rely on the tactic of overloading the system. When the public
caught on to their welfare scheme, Cloward and Piven simply moved on,
applying pressure to other sectors of the bureaucracy, wherever they
In 1982, partisans of the Cloward-Piven strategy founded a new "voting
rights movement," which purported to take up the unfinished work of the
Voting Rights Act of 1965. Like ACORN, the organization that spear-headed
this campaign, the new "voting rights" movement was led by veterans of
George Wiley's welfare rights crusade. Its flagship organizations were
Project Vote and Human SERVE, both founded in 1982. Project Vote is an ACORN
front group, launched by former NWRO organizer and ACORN co-founder Zach
Polett. Human SERVE was founded by Richard A. Cloward and Frances Fox Piven,
along with a former NWRO organizer named Hulbert James.
All three of these organizations -- ACORN, Project Vote and Human SERVE --
set to work lobbying energetically for the so-called Motor-Voter law, which
Bill Clinton ultimately signed in 1993. The Motor-Voter bill is largely
responsible for swamping the voter rolls with "dead wood" -- invalid
registrations signed in the name of deceased, ineligible or non-existent
people -- thus opening the door to the unprecedented levels of voter fraud
and "voter disenfranchisement" claims that followed in subsequent elections.
The new "voting rights" coalition combines mass voter registration
drives -- typically featuring high levels of fraud -- with systematic
intimidation of election officials in the form of frivolous lawsuits,
unfounded charges of "racism" and "disenfranchisement," and "direct action"
(street protests, violent or otherwise). Just as they swamped America's
welfare offices in the 1960s, Cloward-Piven devotees now seek to overwhelm
the nation's understaffed and poorly policed electoral system. Their tactics
set the stage for the Florida recount crisis of 2000, and have introduced a
level of fear, tension and foreboding to U.S. elections heretofore
encountered mainly in Third World countries.
Both the Living Wage and Voting Rights movements depend heavily on
financial support from George Soros's Open Society Institute and his "Shadow
Party," through whose support the Cloward-Piven strategy continues to
provide a blueprint for some of the Left's most ambitious campaigns.