Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

 Who is Frances Fox Piven?

July 11, 2011

In all likelihood, you never heard of Frances Fox Piven. But she and her late husband Richard A. Cloward have been very successful in their long academic career to promote the hard Left   notion of class struggle as a tool for the transformation of American society.

Piven was born in Calgary, Alberta, in 1932. Her Russian immigrant parents moved to the U.S. when she was one year old, where she obtained American citizenship in 1953. In 1962 she graduated in social science from the University of Chicago. She has taught at the University of Columbia and various other universities. In 1982 she became a professor of political science and sociology at the City University of New York where she still serves as Distinguished Professor.  

Piven and Cloward developed what became known as the “Cloward-Piven Strategy,” which amounts to mobilizing the poor for militant, direct action aimed at overturning the existing political structure in America.

They had the advantage of being able to influence multiple generations of students. The other advantage they enjoyed was the revolution of the 1960s that tried very hard and mostly succeeded in overthrowing all traditional notions of right and wrong.

The secret of their success was that they did not advocate the class struggle directly, but they packaged their ideology in a concern for the plight of the poor, the Blacks, and other powerless minorities.        

A Call to Revolution

Instead of viewing America as a land of opportunity and freedom, they see it as a land of systemic injustice where power is concentrated in the rich and the successful. The end they have in mind is the total transformation of America by wresting the power away from the traditional elite by  militant action, including strikes, riots, looting the granaries, or burning the machines. (See Frances Fox Piven and Richard A Cloward, Poor People’s Movements, Why They Succeed, How they Fail,1979 p. 20)          

In May 1966 they published a famous article in The Nation, “The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty.”   The scenario they lay out in this article is not really about ending poverty, nor is it to encourage the poor to get an education and/or a job if at all possible. Instead, their advice is to get the maximal number of people on the welfare rolls so that the system becomes overloaded and is destroyed from within. This happened in various cities, especially in New York City, which was nearly bankrupted.

Piven and Cloward launched a “Welfare Rights Movement’ headed by George Wiley, which managed to put into effect many of their ideas. David Horowitz and Richard Poe write that Wiley “was able to inflict more damage on America`s body politic than any of the better-known icons of radical politics.`` (The Shadow Party, p.108)

The two radical Columbia professors applied the same strategy of militant and disruptive action when they began the Voting Rights Movement. Again, they were not really interested in improving  people`s opportunities to take part in elections. The result, including the Motor Voter legislation in 1993  and followed by left-wing militant action, was large-scale unchecked electoral corruption. Indiana state officials   found that in the 2000 election 20 per cent of the registered voters were fraudulent.

Piven is a committed revolutionary who has a prominent place in the American and international socialist movements. She was a sponsor of New Politics, an independent socialist forum.

Bitter Ironies

In her talk at the 1983 Socialist Scholars Conference, where the 100-year anniversary of Karl Marx`s death was commemorated, she said that Marx`s ideas had enabled “common people” 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  active people.” (DiscovertheNetworks.org)

Historian Will Durant has said that a great civilization cannot be destroyed from the outside until it falls first from the inside. Frances Piven`s career is a prime example of one who abets in the fall of America from within. There is another bitter irony in her story.

She is a person whose family must have escaped from Communist Russia where the application of Marx`s ideas led to the death of tens of millions of people and the misery and serfdom of hundreds of millions more across the world.

Now Distinguished Professor Piven has benefited a lifetime from the freedom and the prestige attached to a position of trust and privilege in one of the great institutions of America. Yet she uses this position to denigrate America and to praise an ideology that is responsible for one of the most gruesome and largest scale crimes ever committed against humanity and humanity`s Creator.

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