Many commentators on the U.S. left have tried to minimize the significance and importance of the Cloward-Piven Strategy, made famous by writer James Simpson and TV personality Glenn Beck.
According to Simpson and Beck, Columbia University sociologists, husband and wife team Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Piven, devised a strategy in the early 1960s, to crash the U.S. economy and bring on socialist revolution by deliberately overloading state welfare rolls to the point of bankruptcy.
Many on the left regard this hypotheses as gross exaggeration at best, deliberate misrepresentation at worst.
Cloward and Piven outlined their strategy at the Second Annual Socialist Scholars Conference , held September 9-11, 1966 at the Hotel Commodore, New York, in a panel entitled;
“Poverty and Powerlessness Organizing the Poor: Can it Be Done?”
Below is an eye witness report on this historic panel written by conservative journalist Alice Widener – a highly regarded authority on the U.S. left of the day. The report appeared in Widener’s USA Magazine, September 16, 1966 page 28 and 29.
Read it and judge for yourself Cloward and Piven’s intentions. Emphasis added.
Dr. Cloward’s paper for the Socialist Scholars opened with a call for a systematic strategy of “irregular and disruptive tactics” among the poor, urging them to overburden city and state governments with their “demand,,” as a means of forcing these governments to turn to the federal government for more and more funds.
Prof. Cloward said, “We need, to devote more attention to disrupting corporate power.” He described the poor as mere “supplicants” in the welfare state, and said they have most to gain “from a major upheaval in our society.” He said our welfare system is “lawless” and violates human and civil rights. He called for welfare recipients’ forcing city welfare departments to impose the labor union “check-off system” for welfare clients, by withholding 50 cents to a dollar for each client as dues to a fund for unionization of welfare clients to impose their demands for special benefits.
Prof. Cloward explained that each welfare client in New York City is entitled under existing law to special benefits for clothing, blankets, etc. He said that in 1965 city special benefits welfare payments amounted to “about $40 per client” and he called for each welfare client to demand $100 to $1,000 in such benefits.
He said there are now 55,000 welfare clients in the city, but that by 1967 there probably will be 60,000. The poor, said Dr. Cloward, could become a stake and powerful organization “in small portions of power” within the context “of a broader point.”
Dr. Cloward said he had consulted with legal experts and “we estimate that $200 million in special grants” could be obtained in New York City alone: Dr. Cloward said that ‘in Cleveland, on June 20, 1966, 30 to 35 welfare recipients were joined by others in a demonstration that included the Hough area.
In early August, he said, he himself had taken part in “a national conference to organize the welfare recipients movement,: Dr. Cloward said he personally had taken part in Wednesday night meetings with welfare clients “week after week, month after month,” and that as a result, “Next Monday there will be a demonstration of welfare recipients at City Hall”
Dr. Cloward read his paper to the Socialist Scholars Conference in the East Ballroom of the Hotel Commodore on Saturday afternoon, September 10. On Monday night, September 12, CBS and NBC TV newscasts showed the demonstration of screaming welfare recipients that took place right on Cloward schedule. They shouted demands for more “special benefits,” though the present city general welfare budget (including hospital services, etc.) is almost a billion dollars annually, the Mayor says the city is “broke,” and New Yorkers were hit this year with a city income tax in addition to state and federal taxes to pay for it all.
Prof. Cloward was right about the success of his Wednesday night meetings. Evidently his strategy of “disruptive tactics” will require costly police reinforcements at city welfare departments throughout our nation.
The prospects delighted Prof. William Ryan, formerly of Harvard now of Yale, who described himself to the audience as “a radical without portfolio.” He said, “I have been enchanted with the Cloward strategy of blowing a fuse in the welfare agencies, housing developments, and among unmarried mothers. I wonder what would happen if there was a really systematic overload.”
When a member of the audience went to the floor microphone during the question period to ask whether Dr. Cloward’s strategy is a substitute for “Socialist organization of the proletariat, the industrial factory workers “ Dr. Frances Piven of Columbia replied from the dais: “I really only want to make one point-the disruption of the system. 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.”
The 1966 Socialist Scholars conference was organized by many of the leading radicals of the day including former and current Communist Party supporters Louis Menashe, James Becker, Philip Foner, Eugene Genovese, Paul Sweezy and James Weinstein – later a founder of the Marxist based Democratic Socialists of America, in which today Frances Fox Piven serves as an honorary chair.
No doubt all were impressed by Cloward and Piven’s cunning plan.