The veteran radical leftist Frances Fox Piven serves on the board of the Democratic Socialists of America. With her husband, the late Richard Cloward, she tried to overload welfare roles while encouraging urban riots (Piven is still doing so) on the road to a socialist revolution during the 1960s.
The New York Times has a history of being kind to Communists and fellow travelers, so it's no surprise that Times reporter Alex Traub treated the NYC prof with borderline reverence for “The Unlikely Revival of a ‘60s Radical -- Not All Liberals Are Ready to March With Frances Fox Piven, The Progressive’s Guru.” That headline deck in Sunday’s news section was actually more skeptical of Piven’s appeal than Traub’s story was.
He opened on a scene ripe for ridicule of radical chic, but predictably pulled his punches.
On a recent afternoon, a crowd had gathered in the auditorium of the People’s Forum, a new event space in Midtown Manhattan. There was a picture of Lenin tacked on the wall, a shelf of books about Che Guevara and a cafe serving avocado toast. The young true believers and rickety old militants in attendance were learning history and strategy from Frances Fox Piven, a distinguished professor of political science at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
“Since the 1970s, everything has gotten worse and worse,” said Ms. Piven, who is now 86. There were very clear reasons for this. “Poor people,” she said, had been “humiliated” and “shut up.” Those in power now are “crazy.”
“But they’re also evil,” she continued. “And they will be evil because they are greedy.” Only one thing would stop them, she said. “We have to be noisy, and difficult and ungovernable.”
Ms. Piven has been making this argument for over half a century. While Democratic veterans like the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, seek to build consensus, Ms. Piven praises its opposite: “dissensus.”
These revolutionary ideals long made Ms. Piven infamous to some, heroic to a few and unknown to everyone else. But with the rise of a youthful radical left, her admirers are growing in influence for the first time since Ms. Piven entered politics in the 1960s.
Traub spun her ridiculous and dangerous demands to extort money directly from the government (and taxpayers) as “nice.”
During the welfare rights movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s, Ms. Piven repeatedly stormed welfare centers with other activists to demand benefits -- including on her birthday, which led to her arrest. “Know what he said?” asked Ms. Piven, recalling her talk with the policeman. “‘You must be a very nice person to do this on your birthday.’”....During academic conferences and at least one televised debate of the 1990s, Ms. Piven became a lonely advocate for welfare rights as much of the country turned against the welfare system.
Traub stood up for Piven against accurate claims from “right-wing commentators” (for some reason, Piven is never directly labeled with a label like leftist or left-wing, only “radical”). Traub treated the criticism as smears.
Her public profile came to rest, perversely, on attempts of right-wing commentators to tar moderate liberals with her brand of radicalism. The television personality Glenn Beck repeatedly identified Ms. Piven and her husband and collaborator, Richard Cloward, who died in 2001, as a secret, dark force dictating former President Barack Obama’s agenda. The duo, Mr. Beck said, was “fundamentally responsible for the unsustainability and possible collapse of our economic system.”
This style of condemnation continues. A recent article on the political news site RealClearPolitics claimed that “all social policy innovations since the 1960s have been incremental steps in the Cloward-Piven plan to bankrupt America.”
Without quite thinking she is a wicked witch of the left, liberals have still strongly objected to many of Ms. Piven’s views. John McWhorter, a writer and linguist, for example, argued that Ms. Piven and Mr. Cloward’s work on welfare rights led African-Americans to become dependent on welfare.
Traub skipped some more golden opportunities to expose radical chic.
Today, Ms. Piven lives in a spacious, simply furnished apartment near Columbia University, where she moved with Mr. Cloward in 1983....
Young people seem drawn to Ms. Piven, and she occasionally writes with younger colleagues, deploying the edgy imagination of what she once called “the strategist of dissensus.”
He mildly offered one of her dangerous, “edgily imaginative” solutions to the problem of capitalism.
In a recent interview with Jacobin, she wondered about the possibility of disrupting supply chains by closing truck depots along the New Jersey Turnpike. She frequently mentions her wish for a mass movement to renege on debt payments...
That’s no surprise. Piven has previously endorsed Greek-style riots in America to bring socialism to our shores.