Recipe for disaster: Ayers, Alinsky, Cloward & Piven

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When last we left the revolutionary Bill Ayers, he was furiously scribbling the "Weatherman" manifesto in 1969 and learning how to build nail bombs while actively encouraging not just one, but "two, three, many Vietnams," in an effort to bring down the United States government.

It was obvious, after examining the words of "You Don't Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows," that Ayers and his allies in the Orwellian-named Students for a Democratic Society (You know the routine: "war is peace," "freedom is slavery," "communism is democracy"!) were waging a two-front war of violence against America which they hoped would topple the government by over-extending its resources.

But the war of violence proved to be far too controversial for it to achieve its goals. Turned out the public was not as keen on nail bombs as Ayers and his fellow radicals were, and when it was revealed that the Weatherman splinter group of SDS had intended to blow up a dance hall on a military base, violence lost some of its allure. Nor was a public that was already tired of the Vietnam War likely to be enamored of the notion of the U.S. fighting multiple wars around the world. This strategy only worked if - like Ayers and SDS - you wanted to collapse the United States to begin with. Since most Americans during the Vietnam War era - including most of the protesters - actually loved their country, they weren't likely to fall for the SDS strategy of bringing about "world communism" by luring the U.S. into unwinnable, unpopular wars across the globe.

But fortunately for Ayers and Co., they actually had another element to their plot to bankrupt the U.S. government and bring about a social revolution - and this element proved to have much more staying power than the Vietnam War.

In their own words from the "Weatherman" manifesto, they explained that drawing the U.S. into multiple costly overseas wars would go "hand in hand" with a domestic strategy also intended to bankrupt the U.S. Treasury.

That strategy saw an opportunity to take advantage of what it called "the urban crisis around welfare, the hospitals, the schools, housing, air and water pollution."

These social services and social protections were a much easier sell to the American public than either bombs at home or wars abroad, but they had just as dangerous an impact on the viability of the American government. Thus, promoting more and more "entitlements" and insisting on more and more "social justice" was part of the same revolution that led inexorably to nail bombs and multiple Vietnams.

As envisioned by Ayers and his co-authors in 1969, once the public gets acclimated to being guaranteed a growing panoply of social services such as welfare, medical care and housing, "The state cannot provide the services it has been forced to assume responsibility for, and needs to increase taxes and to pay its growing debts while it cuts services..."

That - as Ayers was smart enough to see - would lead inevitably to social turmoil and financial disaster, and thus might precipitate the communist revolution that SDS hoped would topple the United States government.

We may still get to see if they were right - because that is exactly where we are today. One step ahead of us is Greece, but the growing number of entitlements in our federal budget has already made us an economic basket case, with no cure available except the unthinkable: massive cutbacks in spending that would lead to huge social unrest.

While it seems fantastic that this ragtag group of revolutionaries could have been so far-sighted as to have actually planned the tremendous growth in the welfare culture of the United States, and thus put us in this position, it is certainly not out of the question.

Indeed, by the time that the "Weatherman" manifesto was published in New Left Notes in June 1969, the basic strategy for bankrupting the U.S. as a means of forcing social revolution was already 3 years old. Nor was it the product of long-haired hippies, but rather the work of two serious academics whose call to action was published not in some obscure communist journal, but in a highly visible publication called The Nation, which has been in continuous publication since 1865.

In the May 2, 1966, issue of The Nation appeared an article entitled "The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty." Written by the husband and wife team of Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward, the article proposed a means to force income redistribution in the United States by means of creating a political crisis that would leave the government with no alternative other than surrendering to economic blackmail.

It seems that Cloward and Piven (as they are now generally referred to) recognized that American society's urge to take care of our poorest members could be used by an "organized" welfare class to leverage a "guaranteed annual income and thus an end to poverty."

That would happen by enrolling not fewer people in welfare programs, but more! It seems that the more people who are getting financial assistance from the government, the more power those people would have as a group. Cloward and Piven foresaw that a "massive drive to recruit the poor ONTO the welfare rolls" would challenge the resources of even a wealthy nation like the United States, leading to "a profound financial and political crisis."

This could only happen, Cloward and Piven declared, if "cadres of aggressive organizers would... come from the civil rights movement and the churches, from militant low-income organizations like those formed by the Industrial Areas Foundation (that is, by Saul Alinsky) and from other groups on the left."

It's certainly interesting that Cloward and Piven acknowledge the role of Saul Alinsky in their blueprint for revolution. Alinsky, after all, is the godfather of community organizing, Chicago style, and it was community organizing, not guns, that eventually won the revolution of the 1960s for the left. But the two strains of radicalism existed side-by-side for at least five years.

Cloward and Piven wrote their "Strategy to End Poverty" in 1966, and Cloward co-founded the National Welfare Rights Organization that same year to begin the work of turning welfare into a government obligation or a social "entitlement." Meanwhile, the "Weatherman" manifesto was published in June 1969 declaring that over-extending social services and military commitments was the key to overturning the U.S. government. That same year in August, Time magazine wrote that "Activists ... have focused on community organization projects, propagandizing and planning" how to "revolutionize society and plan future assaults on the established order."

In 1970, the SDS splinter group called Weatherman went underground and began a futile campaign of bombings, bank robberies and guerrilla tactics that became increasingly irrelevant. This turned out to be a near disastrous detour for the radicals, and would have been the end of communism in America were it not for cooler heads that prevailed. In 1971, Alinsky wrote his seminal book "Rules for Radicals" in which he tutored radicals that in order to achieve their revolutionary goals they needed to "work inside the system" and act more like neighbors than activists. This was the turning point.

It took Bill Ayers and his wife Bernardine Dohrn another decade to recognize that Alinsky was right and they were wrong, but eventually, in 1980, they emerged from the underground, put on suits and skirts, attended graduate school and law school, and promptly went to work "inside the system" to gnaw away like termites at the system they had declared war against years before. With their new tactics - and new allies - they would eventually prevail, or come close to it, as America tilted precipitously toward democratic socialism and the welfare state.

Frank Miele is managing editor of the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell, Mont. He can be reached at


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