She’s considered by many as the grandmother of using the American welfare state to implement revolution. Make people dependent on the government, overload the government rolls, and once government services become unsustainable, the people will rise up, overthrow the oppressive capitalist system, and finally create income equality. Collapse the system and create a new one. That’s the simplified version of Frances Fox Piven’s philosophy originally put forth in the pages of The Nation in the 60s.
Now, as the new year ball drops, Piven is at it again, ringing in 2011 with renewed calls for revolution.
In a chilling and almost unbelievable editorial again in The Nation (“Mobilizing the Jobless,” January 10/17, 2011 edition), she calls on the jobless to rise up in a violent show of solidarity and force. As before, those calls are dripping with language of class struggle. Language she and her late husband Richard Cloward made popular in the 60s.
“So where are the angry crowds, the demonstrations, sit-ins and unruly mobs?” she writes. “After all, the injustice is apparent. Working people are losing their homes and their pensions while robber-baron CEOs report renewed profits and windfall bonuses. Shouldn’t the unemployed be on the march? Why aren’t they demanding enhanced safety net protections and big initiatives to generate jobs?” [Emphasis added]
Those are the questions that frame what can best be called a roadmap for revolution. And it’s not long before those questions give way to directions. The first instruction: get angry.
“[B]efore people can mobilize for collective action, they have to develop a proud and angry identity and a set of claims that go with that identity,” she writes. “They have to go from being hurt and ashamed to being angry and indignant.”
And along with anger must come a denunciation of personal responsibility. Instead, workers must realize that others have put them in their current, uneasy situation: “[T]he 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.”
Only then, once their rage has been properly stoked, can the angry take action. And when they do, she says, the “protesters need targets.”
For Piven, the best “targets” are the people or organizations “capable of making some kind of response to angry demands.” Regular demands, notice, just won’t do. No, people must be fired up and not easily deterred. Angry and not quickly placated. It’s a concoction Piven has seen recently in other countries — countries such as England and Greece, which she uses as models for American unrest:
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. [Emphasis added]
What exactly do those strikes and riots look like? They’re violent and bloody, like this one in Greece, where rioters firebombed police and beat bloody a former government official:
In England they look like this, where a mob of angry students attacked the future British King and his wife and shouted “Off with their heads!” while jabbing the Duchess with a stick:
“What she is calling for is nothing less than the chaos and violence engulfing Europe,” writes Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Ron Radosh on his blog. “Disgruntled leftist unionists, students who expect an education without cost, and citizens of social-democratic states cannot accept that the old terms of the social contract they thought would last forever have worn out their welcome. The European welfare-state governments can no longer function with the kind of social programs that now far exceed their nation’s budgets and hence are moving their countries to the precipice of total collapse.”
But violence has always been Piven’s preferred method of collapse. In 2004, she admitted as much, saying that violence is condoned as long as it is part of a grand plan:
What may be new is the brazen way in which Piven is now making her intentions known. No longer do her and people like her have to hide in the shadows. Now, they feel comfortable enough with the political climate to espouse their views openly, freely, unabashedly. It’s a phenomenon Radosh believes has to do with the current administration: leftists see a renewed opportunity now that Obama is in power.
“Now, as President Barack Obama is beginning the mid-point of his first and possibly only term in office, the Left is again trying to advance a new form of the old strategy,” he writes. And “as our national economy and many state and city budgets again are at the breaking point,” he adds, “Frances Fox Piven has issued a new call to repeat and build upon the ruinous strategies that she and her late husband advanced decades ago.”
In 1966 when Cloward and Piven published their first manifesto in The Nation, Americans were spell bound — especially poorer Americans who sucked up the couple’s call like a dying desert cactus. The New Republic’s John McWhorter writes:
But when Piven and Cloward published a manifesto in The Nation, there were 30,000 reprint requests. One thousand neighborhood service centers nationwide encouraged people to go on welfare who would not have otherwise. In the ’60s, one-third of the people whose incomes made them eligible for AFDC were on the rolls. By 1971, 90 percent were.
An old strategy for a new year. Let’s hope it doesn’t have the same effect.
Editor’s note: Piven’s entire editorial can be viewed here. However, in order to read it, you must be a subscriber.