Friday, February 4, 2011

FRANCES FOX PIVEN And The "Orchestrated Crisis" Strategy

Born in Alberta, Canada in 1932, Frances Fox Piven earned a Ph.D. in social science from the University of Chicago in l962. Today she is a professor of political science and sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, where she has taught since 1982. She was formerly a professor at Columbia University.

Piven and her late husband, Columbia social-work professor Richard Cloward, are best known for having outlined, in 1966, the so-called Cloward-Piven Strategy – a tactic which seeks to hasten the fall of capitalism by overloading government bureaucracies with a flood of impossible demands, thus pushing society into "a profound financial and political crisis" that would unleash "powerful forces … for major economic reform at the national level."

In 1966 Piven was a panel member at a Socialist Scholars Conference in New York. There, she and her husband presented a paper proposing that the poor should engage in "irregular and disruptive tactics" designed to overburden city and state governments with demands for welfare money – the ultimate objective being to force those governments to turn to the federal government for assistance. Such “disruption of the system,” said Piven, would result in a situation where:

“Welfare rolls will begin to go up; welfare payments will begin to go up – the impact will be very, very sharp. The mounting welfare budget will increase taxes, force cities to turn to the federal government. We have to help people to make claims; for this they will organize and act."

Beginning in 1967, Piven served as an advisor to the newly formed National Welfare Rights Organization.

In their 1977 book, Poor People’s Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail, Piven and Cloward reemphasized that because the poor and unemployed were politically powerless in America, they would be well advised to withhold “quiescence in civil life: they can riot.” The authors stated, approvingly, that in the 1930s, violent disruptions such as “mob looting” and “rent riots” – fomented by leftist and Communist-party organizers – had enabled the first great expansion of the welfare state to take place. Likewise, Cloward and Piven credited the urban riots of the 1960s for helping to further grow the welfare state by forcing changes in traditional procedures for investigating and verifying applicants’ eligibility for welfare benefits.

In 1979-80, Piven served as a “lecturer on U. S. political activities” with the Institute for Policy Studies.

In October 1983 Piven was a New York delegate to a conference of the newly formed Democratic Socialists of America. In subsequent years, she served on DSA's Feminist Commission. To this day, she remains an honorary DSA chair.

In 1983 Piven and Cloward co-founded Human SERVE, an organization that sought to register voters at social-service agencies and Departments of Motor Vehicles. Piven's hope was that federal and state governments would eventually try to rein in the efforts of politicized welfare workers who were registering new voters, and that this, in turn, would cause welfare recipients to rise up in a massive protest movement -- rendering society “disrupted and transformed.”

That same year, Piven delivered the opening remarks at the Socialist Scholars Conference (SSC) in New York City, an event that was likely attended by a young Barack Obama. The conference commemorated the 100-year anniversary of Karl Marx’s death. Piven described Marx as the man whose ideas had enabled “common people” around the globe to become “historical actors.” She urged her listeners to “stand within the intellectual and political tradition Marx bequeathed,” treating it not as a “dead inheritance” but rather as a “living tradition—the creation of thinking, active people.” In subsequent years, Piven would appear at numerous additional SSCs.

In the fall of 1994, a publication of the pro-socialist New Party (NP) listed Piven among the more than 100 activists “who are building the NP.” Other notable names on the list were John Cavanagh, Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich, Randall Forsberg, Maude Hurd, Manning Marable, Zach Polett, Wade Rathke, Mark Ritchie, Gloria Steinem, Cornel West, Quentin Young, and Howard Zinn.

In 1996, Piven was one of the 130 individuals who played key roles in founding the Campaign for America's Future. Among the other notables were Mary Frances Berry, Julian Bond, Heather Booth, Robert Borosage, John Cavanagh, Richard Cloward, Peter Dreier, Barbara Ehrenreich, Betty Friedan, Todd Gitlin, Tom Hayden, Denis Hayes, Roger Hickey, Patricia Ireland, Jesse Jackson, Joseph Lowery, Robert Reich, Mark Ritchie, Arlie Schardt, Susan Shaer, Andrew Stern, John Sweeney, and Richard Trumka.

On September 20, 2001, Piven was a guest speaker at a New York City gathering to honor the work of her husband, Richard Cloward, who had died a month earlier. Other speakers included Barbara Ehrenreich, Howard Zinn, June Jordan, Gus Newport, Tim Sampson, Joel Rogers, Miles Rappaport, and Cornel West.

In January 2002, Piven endorsed the founding of War Times, a national anti-Iraq War newspaper established by a group of San Francisco leftists affiliated with such organizations as STORM, the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. Among the more prominent founders of the publication was Van Jones. Along with Piven, key individual and organizational endorsers of War Times included Phyllis Bennis, Paul Buhle, Noam Chomsky, Kathleen Cleaver, Winona LaDuke, Tim Wise, Howard Zinn, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and Students for Justice in Palestine.

In August 2004, Piven endorsed a New York City demonstration at the site of the Republican National Convention in New York, protesting President George W. Bush's “endless war and repression.” The rally was organized by Not In Our Name, a project of the Revolutionary Communist Party. Fellow endorsers of the event included Ed Asner, Medea Benjamin, Eve Ensler, Danny Glover, Tom Hayden, C. Clark Kissinger, Barbara Lubin, Michael Parenti, Rev. George Regas, Leonard Weinglass, Howard Zinn, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Code Pink, the Freedom Socialist Party, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and the
 Women's International League for Peace & Freedom.

During 2006-07, Piven served as president of the American Sociological Association.

On December 22, 2010, Piven published an article in The Nation titled "Mobilizing the Jobless," where, after noting that some 15 million Americans were unemployed, she asked: “So where are the angry crowds, the demonstrations, sit-ins and unruly mobs?” Admonishing the Left not to wait patiently for “the end of the American empire and even the end of neoliberal capitalism,” she called for active measures to bring about “big new [government] initiatives in infrastructure and green energy.” Such measures, she explained, should take the form of “mass protests” that could pressure President Obama “hard from his base.” Piven urged that the disruptions begin on the local and state levels, where governments that were “strapped for funds” would look, by necessity, for “federal action” to help them. Wrote Piven:

“An effective movement of the unemployed will have to look something like the strikes and riots that have spread across Greece in response to the austerity measures forced on the Greek government by the European Union, or like the student protests that recently spread with lightning speed across England in response to the prospect of greatly increased school fees.”

Before the unemployed or any other disadvantaged group “can mobilize for collective action,” added Piven, “they have to develop a proud and angry identity and a set of claims that go with that identity. They have to go from being hurt and ashamed to being angry and indignant …. [A] kind of psychological transformation has to take place; the out-of-work have to stop blaming themselves for their hard times and turn their anger on the bosses, the bureaucrats or the politicians who are in fact responsible.”

As of January 2011, Piven was a sponsor of New Politics, a self-described “independent socialist forum.” Other sponsors included Stanley Aronowitz, Derrick Bell, Paul Buhle, Noam Chomsky, Michael Eric Dyson, Barbara Ehrenreich, Jesse Lemisch, and Cornel West. The late Howard Zinn had previously been a sponsor.

In addition to Poor People's Movements, Piven has authored such books as: Regulating the Poor (1972, co-authored with Richard Cloward); Why Americans Don't Vote (1988); The War at Home (2004); Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America (2008), and Keeping Down the Black Vote (2009). (source)

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