POOR PEOPLE'S MOVEMENTS: Why They Succeed, How They Fail by Frances Fox & Richard A. Cloward Piven
Kirkus Star

POOR PEOPLE'S MOVEMENTS: Why They Succeed, How They Fail

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A book with a truly radical hypothesis. Piven and Cloward (Regulating the Poor, 1971) argue that disruption and insurgency--the specter of strikes and riots in the street--represent the only means by which poor people can exert leverage on the political system. By their sights, working-class ""organizations""--including trade unions--are, or quickly turn into, part of the problem. Off the street, the leaders of civil rights or labor agitations inevitably become ensnared in building coalitions and creating grievance procedures: bureaucracy sets in at the cost of an internal ""transvaluation,"" and spontaneous confrontation tactics are discarded or downplayed in favor of more ""sophisticated"" negotiations. At that point the battle is lost. The theory, which owes not a little to Rosa Luxemburg, is developed via the social dislocations of the Thirties and the Sixties; the authors examine by turns the Unemployed Workers Movement, the birth of industrial unionism in the Roosevelt era, and the civil rights and welfare rights struggles of the past decade. That a reshuffling of the political and economic deck begins with a groundswell of popular turbulence seems self-evident; that any attempt to channel the spontaneity of popular defiance inevitably leads to the co-option of leaders, moribund organizations, and disaffected masses is much more dubious. Even Piven and Cloward must concede that in the case of industrial unions ""the victory was worth winning""--whether or not, as they assert, the unions subsequently acted to ""depoliticize worker discontent."" The inescapable conclusion of the authors' thesis is that ""strategies must be pursued that escalate the momentum and impact of disruptive protest at each stage of its emergence and evolution."" It is a conclusion which, to say the least, takes no account of the tendency of people to want participation in ""the system""and a speedy return to normalcy once the riots have ceased. Withal, the authors manage to convey an acute sense of the ebb and flow of activist movements in highly provocative fashion.

Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 1977
ISBN: 0394726979
Publisher: Pantheon