Strategy for forcing political change
through orchestrated crisis.
First proposed in 1966
and named after Columbia University sociologists Richard Andrew Cloward
and his JEWISH wife Frances Fox Piven — both longtime members of the Democratic Socialists of America,
where Piven today is an honorary chair — 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
Inspired by the August 1965 riots in the
black district of Watts in Los Angeles —
which erupted after police 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
reprints. Activists were abuzz over the so-called “crisis strategy” or
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
the poor; that by providing a social safety net, the rich doused the fires of rebellion.
people can advance only when “the rest of society is afraid of them,” Cloward told
owned The New York Times on September 27, 1970. Rather than placating
the poor with governmenthand-outs, wrote
Cloward and Piven, activists should work
to sabotage and destroy thewelfare system. The authors
also asserted that:
(a) the collapse of the welfare state would ignite a political and
financial crisis that
would rock the country; (b) poor people would rise in
revolt; and (c) only then
would “the rest of society” accept their
The key to sparking this rebellion would
be to expose the inherent inadequacy of the
welfare state. In this regard, Cloward-Piven’s
early promoters cited radical organizer Saul Alinsky,
a JEW, as their inspiration. “Make the enemy live up to their (sic) own book of rules,”
Alinsky wrote in his 1971 book Rules for Radicals. When pressed to honor
of every law and statute, every Judaeo-Christian moral tenet, and every implicit
of the liberal social contract, human agencies inevitably fall short. The system’s
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.
Cloward and Piven noted that the number of Americans subsisting on welfare — about
at that time — probably represented less than half the number who were technically
full benefits. Thus the authors proposed a “massive drive to recruit the
poor onto the welfare
rolls,” calculating that the system would be
bankrupted if even a fraction of potential welfare
recipients were to demand their entitlements.
The result, predicted Cloward and Piven,
would be “a profound financial and political
crisis” that would unleash
“powerful forces … for major economic reform at
the national level.”
The Cloward-Piven article called
for “cadres of aggressive organizers” to use “demonstrations
a climate of militancy.” Then, the authors predicted, the following would happen:
- Politicians, intimidated by threats of black violence,
- 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.
would apply pressure on Washington to implement it.
- With every major city erupting into chaos, Washington would have to act.
The Cloward-Piven Strategy was an example of what are
Trojan Horse initiatives — 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
in an effort to overwhelm
government agencies with a flood of demands beyond
the capacity of those agencies
to meet. Cloward and Piven calculated that the flood
of demands which they
were recommending would break the budget, jam the
bureaucratic gears into gridlock,
and bring the system crashing down.
turmoil, violence and economic collapse would accompany such a breakdown
providing perfect conditions for fostering radical change. That was the theory.