The Cloward-Piven Strategy

I was browsing the articles available at Discover the Networks and found a very interesting piece by Richard Poe entitled “The Cloward-Piven Strategy” that I thought might be worthy of discussion.

Richard Andres Cloward and Frances Fox Piven - two Columbia University sociologists - first proposed this strategy in 1966 as a means to bring about the collapse of the capitalist state by bankrupting it. They reasoned that the number of Americans on the welfare rolls probably represented only a small fraction of those eligible for welfare. If enough people could be persuaded to demand what was "owed" them, the system would simply be overwhelmed, precipitating a "profound financial and political crisis."

Poe places the Cloward-Piven Strategy in the context of so-called "Trojan Horse movements":

- mass movements whose outward purpose seems to be providing material help to the downtrodden, but whose real objective is to draft people into service as revolutionary foot soldiers; to mobilize poor people en masse to overwhelm government agencies with a flood of demands beyond the capacity of those agencies to meet. The flood of demands was calculated to break the budget, jam the bureaucratic gears into gridlock, and bring the system crashing down. Fear, turmoil, violence and economic collapse would accompany such a breakdown -- providing perfect conditions for fostering radical change. That was the theory.

The "voting rights movement" is another Trojan Horse, according to Poe. Organizations like Project VOTE, ACORN, and Human SERVE lobbied for the Motor-Voter law signed into law by Clinton in 1993. According to Poe, the Motor-Voter bill has swamped the voter rolls with "dead wood" -

invalid registrations signed in the name of deceased, ineligible or non-existent people -- thus opening the door to the unprecedented levels of voter fraud and "voter disenfranchisement" claims that followed in subsequent elections.

Mass voter registration drives combined with the systematic intimidation of election officials (frivilous lawsuits, unfounded charges of racism and disenfranshisement, violent street protests) "have introduced a level of fear, tension and foreboding to U.S. elections heretofore encountered mainly in Third World countries."

Another Trojan Horse movement that Poe does not mention in his article is the Immigration Reform movement which resulted in massive protests throughout the United States just a few months ago. Protestors claimed that proponents of legislation that would make it a felony to be in the U.S. illegally, impose new penalties on employers who hire illegal aliens, and build a physical barrier to impede the flow of illegals across our southern border were hate-mongering racist xenophobes who sought to deprive them of their "right" to live and work in this country.

The Cloward-Piven Strategy may be old hat to the liberal intelligentsia, but I had never heard of it. It will be interesting to read what others know about this topic.

Posted by Chris Rowan at December 3, 2006 11:41 AM
Comment #197521

Chris: Are you insinuating that the Republican borrow and spend policies are a Cloward-Piven Strategy?

Posted by: jlw at December 3, 2006 11:57 AM
Comment #197522

Sorry, not that intersting. This is typical 60s radicalism. And typical Democrat strategy. It’s all old hat to me.

Posted by: JoeRWC at December 3, 2006 12:04 PM
Comment #197525
Chris: Are you insinuating that the Republican borrow and spend policies are a Cloward-Piven Strategy?

I just wanted to read what others knew about it. I thought it very interesting and offers (for me, anyway) a whole new perspective on recent “movements” of late.

That’s it. I wasn’t insinuating anything.

Posted by: Chris at December 3, 2006 12:19 PM
Comment #197527

This illustrates the difference between liberals and the far Left.

There are admittedly some people on the Left (the far, far Left) who want to destroy capitalism. Liberals, however, don’t want to destroy capitalism but save it.

Think about it. The capitalists usually say they don’t need government regulation, until there is a crisis. Then Uncle Sam and the liberals ride to the rescue.

Liberals and capitalists need each other. We’re like Martin and Lewis, peanut butter and jelly, Goerge Bush and Barney.

Posted by: Woody Mena at December 3, 2006 12:27 PM
Comment #197534

Liberals trying to save capitalism is like the doctor whose operation was a success but the patient died.

Posted by: traveller at December 3, 2006 1:08 PM
Comment #197539


The patient’s not dead.

But we do need to cut down on that high-carb diet…

Posted by: Woody Mena at December 3, 2006 1:34 PM
Comment #197542

I have to agree with jlw here, seems to me like the R’s are doing more for this stragity then the D’s have been or have done in the past. When the Gov is this far into debt it has to cut spending and yes people increase taxes. I am not saying across the board but we need to cut into some of these deductions and credits and let the top pay more. Hell I would really like to see a flat tax with a standard deduction.
I have 3 little kids and wouldn’t be upset with no child deductions. Let all pay the same rate on ALL income no special low rate for capitol gains. No cap on Social Security income tax but a cap on maximum benifits, this is a safty net not to completely live off of.
If the R’s had tried to do some of this no nonsence stuff the would not have lost power.
1984 here we come and the people we have to blame the most is the R’s. Get the picture us moderates got scared of the R’s saying one thing and then doing the opposite. We believed that at least the tax and spend liberals will try to pay for their programs unlike the borrow and spend liberals ( I mean R’s).

Posted by: timesend at December 3, 2006 2:04 PM
Comment #197543

If there were not so many poor and desperate people in the first place, issues like welfare & the Cloward-Piven Strategy would not be an concern. Poe seems to be that the poorest of the poor should not be politically aware; that they should accept their lot, and that they are “entitled” to nothing whatsoever. The mere fact of being poor means the poor must be undeserving. The Common Grounds of society and the Common Good must not include the commoners. They might dare to question or even rise against perceived injustices involving wealth distribution, civil rights, access to education; and worse, society as a whole might begin questioning the inherent tendencies of unadulterated capitalism, which slowly but surely concentrates wealth in fewer and fewer hands, resulting in oligopolies, monopolies, and the gathering of most wealth in then hands of a very very few.

Of course, that would never happen.

Interesting & creative attempt to apply the idea towards immigration.

Personally, I advocate puttting out the welcome mat, opening the doors wide, and letting anyone who wants to become an American access to opporunity. Provide legal entry, a day of citizenship training, a physical, a social security number, taking an oath, and that is it.

Conservatives might warm to the idea if they consider that approach requires agreement on a minimal amount of social services: we will not let people starve, die in medical emergencies, or die of exposure; other than that, provide a level playing field, and best of luck.

I wish conservatives would display a little more optimism about American ideals, and just how much we have to offer.

Posted by: phx8 at December 3, 2006 2:09 PM
Comment #197546

So, if I understand you correctly, the changes in your fortunes are the result of a devious liberal plot to shellshock the electorate into submission, not failures of policy and an unpopular war.

Let me be frank with you: this kind of paranoia doesn’t do your party any good. As long as you’re thinking that all these issues are just voters getting duped and scared by liberals, or bad press, or any other similar excuse, you’re not focused on following the political direction and policy wishes of the people.

America is not in need of saving, its in need of governing. Those who can’t do that don’t need to be in government.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at December 3, 2006 2:33 PM
Comment #197557


Sounds like you’re making a case for strategies like Cloward-Piven. You seem to believe that poor people have no opportunity to improve their lot in life. That is simply not true.

I think you would agree with the following:

- It is not fair that many people remain poor while others prosper.
- Something must be done to ensure social justice for all.
- Therefore, strategies like Cloward-Piven are justifiable.

Trouble is, you cannot have a system that values trial-and-error and free choice without risk. Individuals are free to make their own choices in this country, and sometimes bad things happen to good people. It is also a sad fact of life that sometimes the wicked prosper.

Sad, yes. Tragic, even. But unfair? I don’t think “fairness” has anything to do with it. We are not locked into a caste system in this country. The so-called “poor” (however they are defined or classified) have ample opportunity to live a better life. Education is free to all who want it in this country. If you want a job, go out and get one. If you don’t like the job you have, get educated and get another one.

According to Wikipedia:

The term “social justice” itself tends to be used by those ideologies who believe that present day society is highly unjust - and these are usually left-wing ideologies, advocating a more extensive use of democracy and income redistribution, a more egalitarian society and either a mixed economy or a non-market-based economic model.

I don’t think our society is “highly unjust,” and I certainly don’t advocate a greater share of my earned income be redistributed. I’m taxed quite enough, and even after 30+ years of taxation have never once received a simple “Thank you” from a single welfare recipient. I also believe that a market-based economy is much more effective at delivering affordable, quality goods and services to people than non-market-based economies.

Posted by: Chris at December 3, 2006 4:10 PM
Comment #197558

Stephen D -
Apparently you are not the careful reader I have thought you to be. If your response is to Chris…he was merely asking what people knew about this liberal strategy.

However, I see that you haven’t changed your tactics. With you it’s still all about what the Republican party has done wrong; nothing about the plans that the Democrat party has. In other words: there’s still no reason to support the Dems, even though they won.

That being said, what do you know about this Cloward-Piven Strategy that Chris has written about?

Posted by: Don at December 3, 2006 4:18 PM
Comment #197561

Cloward-Piven strikes me as the flip side of the conservative ideology which seeks to shrink the federal government until it can be drowned in a bathtub. However, I do not believe anyone ever consciously attempted to implement the Cloward-Pliven strategy. The conservative philosophy of cutting taxes and incurring deficits, in order to force federal government to cease providing “entitlements” such as medical care & social security, is a matter of record.

Most people have no interest in seeing ideologues in charge, whether from the left or right. Most people are pragmatic; they prefer doing what works; and what has demonstrably worked has been a blend of capitalism and socialism.

The greatest strength of capitalism is its adaptability & openness to innovation, along with its potential to keep government from being too intrusive and its potential to allow a free society.

But without controls, capitalism will result in the concentration of wealth, the denial of opportunity, corporatism, oligopolies & monopolies, and so on.

This is where using the federal government to govern becomes critical. That includes regulation, as well as ensuring opportunity for small businesses to thrive. Individuals cannot be truly free without some measure of “social justice.” Furthermore, government can consciously act to preserve the Commons. And pardon the rambling, but it can also make certain the people are “entitled” not to starve, die of exposure, or perish for lack of basic medical care.

There is “freedom to…” and there is “freedom from…” Both needs must be balanced to create the society we desire.

You write:
“- It is not fair that many people remain poor while others prosper.”

It is fair, as long as both started with an equal opportunity. Poe suggests that Cloward-Piven was intentionally implemented to create a sense of entitlement among impoverished blacks, in order to provoke revolution. However, the social injustice of racial discrimination had far more to do with discontent than any top-down implementation of a leftist philosophy.

“Something must be done to ensure social justice for all.”

Yes, but as I mentioned earlier, most people look for a minimal safety net. This is a matter of simple decency, if nothing else.

In a nutshell, we probably agree more than disagree. It is just a question of tipping the scales slightly one way, rather than the other.

By the way, opening the doors to immigrants would have several benefits. It would solve the demographic problem which is at the heart of problems with social security. Radically expanding the availability of Small Business Administration loans, making them easily available at low rates in generous amounts, would create a more dynamic, innovative economy. These are the people we need to encourage, small businesses and risk-taking individuals in order to stimulate economic development, loans, rather than giveaways to large multinational corporations.

Posted by: phx8 at December 3, 2006 5:00 PM
Comment #197567

He essentially wrote that the Motor-Voter act was intended to create chaos and uncertainty in the electorate as part of a strategy to destabilize things towards revolution.

A revolution, you could say, just took place. I’m a careful reader in more than one way. What do you think he is implying about the rise of Democratic power? That its the product of the cynical disruption of American society. It fits in with a notion that Democrats can’t earn their way to power, which he has expressed on several occasions.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at December 3, 2006 5:49 PM
Comment #197569


Thank you for taking the time to respond in so thoughtful a manner. I really enjoyed reading your comment.

And you are right - I agree with just about everything you stated above. There is indeed “freedom for…” and “freedom from…” Freedom from unnecessary and/or unwarranted governmental intrusion into our daily lives is a cornerstone of my political ideology.

No reasonable person would argue for unfettered capitalism. I certainly would not.

I have not read enough about Cloward or Piven to make a determination about their motives. That is one of the things I hoped to find out from informed people such as yourself. I also have not done any research to determine whether the Cloward-Piven strategy has been intentionally implemented or not. Poe seems to think so, and writes:

Cloward and Piven recruited a militant black organizer named George Wiley to lead their new movement. In the summer of 1967, Wiley founded the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO). His tactics closely followed the recommendations set out in Cloward and Piven’s article. (italics mine) His followers invaded welfare offices across the United States — often violently — bullying social workers and loudly demanding every penny to which the law “entitled” them. By 1969, NWRO claimed a dues-paying membership of 22,500 families, with 523 chapters across the nation.

Granted, I have no corroborating evidence to support Poe’s assertions. Did Cloward and Piven recruit Wiley? And did Wiley actually implement their strategy and “invade” welfare offices across the U.S.? I do not know. But it should be fairly easy to find out.

I agree that there should be a “safety net” for all citizens in need, and I am tempted to substitute “people” for “citizens,” but that is a subject for another discussion. I do not think it is necessary or right to extend social services to able-bodied individuals indefinitely. I do not think anyone does. And there will always be a certain amount of waste and fraud in any welfare system. Waste and fraud should be kept to a minimum and, again, I do not think anyone would disagree with that.

But what concerns me is how easily Cloward and Piven turned an otherwise benign government welfare policy into a very effective economic weapon that could be used against us. It was fairly easy for me to find out about this particular strategy, so it is likely that our enemies know about it, too. Is it the curse of all free societies that they inevitably tear themselves apart?

Posted by: Chris at December 3, 2006 6:04 PM
Comment #197577

Stephen Daughterty:

What do you think he is implying about the rise of Democratic power? That its the product of the cynical disruption of American society. It fits in with a notion that Democrats can’t earn their way to power, which he has expressed on several occasions.

Honestly, Stephen, I just stumbled upon the Cloward-Piven article and thought it was interesting. Poe seemed to think that the method was used in the 60’s as an economic weapon to advance a radical left-wing agenda. He also thinks the strategy was used fairly recently to advance the Motor-Voter act. Poe’s article is dated 2005, so he would not have been able to include the recent immigration protests as another example of Cloward-Piven strategy. I figured Poe would have done so, had he known.

I do not believe the Democrat Party was behind the recent immigration protests. I think it could be argued that Democrat candidates benefitted from the protests, though.

Ben Johnson wrote an interesting article on this topic entitled “Who’s Behind the Immigration Rallies?” that lists some of the organizations that were involved in the recent immigration rallies and protests. These organizations include:

* SEIU - Service Employees International Union
* SCHRN - Southern California Human Rights Network
* Pomona Day Labor Center
* Central American Resource Center
* CHIRLA - Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles
* ACORN - Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now
* AFSC - American Friends Service Committee
* LULAC - League of United Latin American Citizens
* Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition
* National Council of La Raza
* Gamaliel Foundation

Johnson states that most or all of the organization above are “leftist” in nature. I do not know whether or not Johnson is accurate in his depiction of these organizations, but it is not outside the realm of possibility. Just how “leftist” these organizations are would be an interesting topic for discussion. Do any of these organizations have ties to other nations (think: Syria, Iran, Venezuela, Russia, China…)?

Posted by: Chris at December 3, 2006 6:58 PM
Comment #197585


You’ve hit upon something here that is absolutely correct. What’s more mind bending than that is it’s connection to the cold war. The propaganda war didn’t end when the Soviet Union fell. By then it had it’s own inertia and lives on without support from it’s original host.

This is why I say that there is so much about liberal policies that echo the same themes.


There are admittedly some people on the Left (the far, far Left) who want to destroy capitalism. Liberals, however, don’t want to destroy capitalism but save it.

Save it from itself you mean. Which isn’t quite the same as saving it. Transforming it may be a better word. Especially considering that the original theory is that capitalism will naturally give way to utopian communism, the assurances that you give about wanting to save capitalism doesn’t wash.

For instance, does saving capitalism include price controls and selected management by the government of more and more portions of the economy?

The problem is that the liberal view of what the problems are and how to solve them are illusiory and based on faulty economic theory.

To start with, your understanding of capitalism seemed to be informed by a Marxist definition of capitalism as a system of exploitation. But Capitalism is not anarchy. It requires rule of law and a well functioning law enforcement that is fair and just.

Liberal prescriptions for regulation are not based on individual rights, they are based on group rights. A very different thing.

Posted by: eric simonson at December 3, 2006 7:24 PM
Comment #197603

I think he underestimates the influence of implicit loyalties on people. Some may be actively seeking to disrupt things, but I think the animation they work with has more to do with the culture of labor in the countries these people are from. My thought is that there’s also a component of simple old-country solidarity here, similar to what’s displayed by Bosnian or Irish immigrants for movements back home.

The problem is that you’re arguing down a list of pre-memorized talking poings about what our true beliefs really are, while ignoring the real points we make which would take more nuanced argument. It’s easier to fight communism than to argue regulation, taxes, and market interventions on on their merits with somebody who’s ideology isn’t pure enough to allow such strong and swift cariacture.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at December 3, 2006 11:15 PM
Comment #197671

Pardon me if I am wrong, but I thought that competition is a basic tenet of capitalism. If this is so, then it seems to me that anyone who values that tenet would want to see the corporations broken up into smaller entities. Isn’t one of the basic tenets of corporations the elimination of competition either by driving it out or buying it out of business? If we were to breakup the corporations would that be helping to destroy or save capitalism?

Posted by: jlw at December 4, 2006 4:28 PM
Comment #197820

It seems the extreme, far right Republicans want the opposite, a quasi-fascist state where an elite group of the mega-rich and big business have all the power.

In their “utopia” the government is powerless to help the poor or protect civil liberties, is purged of any regulation that infringes on profits (whether to protect the environment, ensure fairness, or safeguard competition), and very importantly where the majority of voters are a dumbed-down populace who are swayed by propaganda and can be manipulated to do whatever the elite wants.

Personally, I think far right corporate fascism is just as un-American as this supposed socialist plot. To be fair, I doubt very few of either the right or left support such radical measures (whether one side has more radicals is open to debate). Just because two unknown communists made up a plan for revolution that most people have never heard of, does not mean modern Democrats or liberals share beliefs remotely like this.

Posted by: thom at December 5, 2006 5:12 PM
Comment #197822


That’s true, but most people (such as right wing think tanks) spreading “free market” rhetoric don’t really want this. What they want is a slanted system that works only for the wealthy capitalists and big business. They oppose welfare, except corporate welfare. These pro-business people want rights for big business, but not for the consumers on which they depend. They want it both ways, a “free market” and no regulations when it benefits them, but then have laws working in their favor.

In general they don’t genuinely want competition or innovation, instead they want in the name of a free market the supposed “right” or “freedom” to pollute as much as they want, pay as little as they want, release low quality, faulty, or unsafe products (and simultaneously restrict consumers’ freedom to sue for anything more than a pittance when these products cause problems), and generally the right to have unrestricted oligopolies and make as much money as possible, regardless of ethics, common sense, or the public good.

Posted by: thom at December 5, 2006 5:26 PM
Comment #263408

it’s occurred to me that perhaps a Cloward-Piven strategy brought about the Long March from complaints about ‘redlining’, to the mortgage meltdown, to the brink of ruinous stagflation or worse

Posted by: neindoch at September 18, 2008 5:08 PM
Comment #263624

I think it’s time re-evaluate this string. In line with “Neindoch”, there seems to be a very strong coincidence between the Cloward - Piven strategy to create a revolution by stressing the financial markets through the failure of government insured mortgages. Are the congressmen who received donations from Fannie and Freddie lobbyists witting of a conspiracy or hopelessly naive?

Posted by: Mike at September 20, 2008 12:24 PM
Comment #266021

See the comrades of Soros, who helped to time this crisis (making millions in the process):

Web search: Herbert and Marion Sandler

They helped to set off this time bomb, back in 2006, for America’s man who would be Hugo Chavez.

Posted by: Arlen Williams at October 6, 2008 4:09 PM
Comment #293254

I’m amazed at the “sophisticated” banter—is anyone actually paying any attention to the national debt that is piling up? We are teetering on the edge of a precipace that we had better not fall over. Our president seems to be looking towards a leading role in world government that will dissolve our identity. Count the references to “global” economy, law, currency, etc. In short, a government. We are in a position that will force us to bow to foreign power rather than lead the world. What a sad place to be—I know (and knew) some of the people who gave their youth, fortunes and sometimes their lives to help not just their own country, but so many countries and peoples throughout the world. We do them a dis-service in ignoring their sacrifice and allowing our country to be labeled selfish and self-centered. Yes, our current leaders have become self-serving. Go back to our founders. You will find people who served selflessly to provide us with a country offering the freedom to live, work and worship as we wish. Almost to a man, they ended their lives penniless and broken in everything but will. We owe it to them and to our children to find our way through this mess and clean up our government again. Have any of those of you who are commenting attended a “tea party”? The media is having a great time demonizing the movement (and I should mention that the current administration is feeding the media the buzz words to do so). This is a movement that is neither Republican nor Democrat—it is made up of people who have had it with politicians who refuse to represent them. Find a local group and attend a meeting. You will be truly surprized at what you find. This may be the “second revolution”, but it is to be a non-violent force that will refuse to be ignored. Your thoughts?

Posted by: Lynn at January 1, 2010 7:20 PM
Comment #302847

I am convinced that Obama is implementing the Cloward-Piven Plan. Anyone with a $5.00 calculator can see that the US nor can any government continue to fund the geometrically increasing social and welfare programs. Why would Obama ram his medical care bill down our throats when he realized that the majority of Americans do not want it? Now financial reform, immigration reform etc. Not to be a doom and gloom-er but I do not see a way out of this. You may stop new entitlement programs but the ones in place are already killing us slowly. The Tea Party folks yell about fiscal conservatism, and I agree whole heartedly, but how many would scream if asked to give up Social Security and Medicare?

Heck, the Greeks are rioting over the reirement age being raised to 62. If everyone cannot get off the govt “tit” or will not, we are doomed.

It’s way to late to back this stuff down now. However, I think Obama will be surprised when the Cloward-Piven Plan does not work out as expected.

Posted by: isnrblog at June 29, 2010 3:55 PM
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