The Second Time is Farce: Frances Fox Piven Calls for a new Cloward-Piven Strategy for Today
By Ron Radosh
December 30, 2010
Writing in The Nation magazine on May 2, 1966, sociologists Richard Cloward and his wife Frances Fox Piven published what was to become in later years one of the most famous and influential of leftist articles. Titled “The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty,” the two socialist intellectuals developed a new so-called “crisis strategy” — that of trying to use the existing welfare system to create chaos that would weaken the corporate capitalist state and eventually foment revolution. “Discover the Networks” has a good summary of their thesis.
The two became the ideologists of a group formed to implement their strategy, called “The National Welfare Rights Organization,” or NWRO. As Stanley Kurtz explains in Radical-in-Chief: “the idea was to flood state and local welfare systems with more applicants than they could possibly afford to carry. Cloward and Piven believed that this ‘break the bank’ strategy would force President [Lyndon B.] Johnson and a liberal Democratic Congress to bail out overburdened state welfare systems with a federally guaranteed annual income.” This experience of activism by the poor would create a new anti-capitalist sentiment, and would stoke the poors’ “sense of entitlement and rage.” Later, the group’s mission would be carried on by ACORN, whose leaders endorsed and built upon Cloward and Piven’s strategy.
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