The Second Time is Farce: Frances Fox Piven Calls for a new Cloward-Piven Strategy for Today
Thus Piven asks a question: “So where are the angry crowds, the demonstrations, sit-ins and unruly mobs?” In other words, the kind of action her protégé George Wiley fomented in the 70s with the NWRO. She admonishes the Left not to wait for “the end of the American empire and even the end of neoliberal capitalism,” but to up the ante at present to pressure for “big new [government] initiatives in infrastructure and green energy” that could “ward off the darkness.” Her fear is that the new Congress, instead of moving in the direction she and the Left favors, will concentrate on “deficit reduction by means of tax cuts and spending cuts.” As for President Obama, she sees him as a new version of Herbert Hoover, who foolishly meets with corporate executives and seeks to placate them.
What is needed, she suggests, are “mass protests” that might influence Obama and press “him hard from his base.” To do that, however, she notes that they have to get past the many obstructions to mobilize the unemployed. This is especially the case that the unions today “do little for their unemployed,” who don’t pay dues and “are likely to be malcontents.”
Piven argues that their task is harder than it was in the past, because the unemployed are diverse, are not in one area of the country and have no common institutional setting. It is hard to bring people together, even in welfare and unemployment centers, she complains, since often administrators try to avoid long lines and crowded waiting areas, where organizers could proselytize and inflame the dissatisfied applicants.
But most important, she writes, “they have to develop a proud and angry identity and a set of claims that go with that identity. They have to go from being hurt and ashamed to being angry and indignant (my emphasis) …Losing a job is bruising; even when many other people are out of work, most people are still working. So, a kind of psychological transformation has to take place; the 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.”
They also need targets, which she sees as “the most difficult of the strategy problems.” Since she knows well that “local and state governments are strapped for funds,” the poor and the unemployed must demand “federal action.” It is, in other words, another “fiscal crisis of the state” that, as in the past, can be used to advance the radical goal. There first have to be local protests that have to “accumulate and spread,” then “become more disruptive” (my emphasis) in order to pressure our national political leaders. What does Piven mean when she calls for disruption? She is clear and up front about her intent:
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. (my emphasis.)
What she is calling for is nothing less than the chaos and violence engulfing Europe. 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.
So Piven hopes that in our own country, “a loose and spontaneous movement of this sort could emerge,” spurred on, no doubt, by ideologues like Piven and the encouragement of the New York City leftists who run The Nation magazine. Perhaps on their next Carribbean cruise they can talk about it some more. Hence Piven hopes that young workers and students, “who face a future of joblessness, just might become large enough and disruptive enough to have an impact in Washington.”
Will it happen here? There is no exact science of protest movements, she notes. But who, she asks, “expected the angry street mobs in Athens or the protests by British students?” Living in the past, she looks hopefully at the strikes in 1934, and the civil rights movement of the1960s. Clearly no student of history, Piven fails to comprehend the very different circumstances that made these social movements have legs. All she can do is issue her hope that another “American social movement from the bottom” will emerge, and then the organized Nation left can “join it.”
This time, however, ACORN is collapsing, and no George Wiley and NWRO even exists to implement her strategy. Somehow, I doubt whether the current Nation readers will even pause to leave their cruise ship to try and organize the social base she thinks is the movement’s hope. It’s far easier to issue flaming declarations in the magazine’s pages and hope that someone will take her up on it. Doesn’t she remember her Karl Marx?
Note to my readers:
I am going on vacation Jan.2 through the 15th, and will have limited internet access. So look for my blog resuming after the 15th. Thanks. Ron