Social movements, if they are to succeed, face two problems. First, they must get started and sustain themselves; second, they must pursue a strategy that increases their leverage to win demands. These issues are related; how they get started and sustain themselves will affect their strategy. Scholarly as well as activist writing about these two interrelated issues has tended to fall into two camps--the "spontaneous" upheaval camp and the organizational camp. The upheaval theorists say that the gains of social movements are won by mass upheavals which tend not to be organized; rather these theorists, represented in the past by Robert Michels and more recently by Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward, see organizations as inhibiting these upheavals.
Piven and Cloward argued that organizations function to decrease the militancy of the social upheavals of which they are expressions. They contended that this is so because in order to succeed, the organizations must gain concessions from the elite that will aid them in gaining the allegiance of masses of people.( 1) The difficulty, however, is that it is not possible to gain concessions from these elites without conditions. The conditions are such as "to facilitate the efforts of elites to channel the insurgent masses into normal politics."( 2) It is because of these organizational imperatives, said Piven and Cloward, that organizers, regardless of their intentions,
fail to do what they can do [which is to] escalate the momentum of the peoples' protests. . . . They typically acted in ways that blunted or curbed the disruptive force which lower class people were sometimes able to mobilize.( 3)
So useless are organizers and organizations that, according to Piven and Cloward, "protesters win, if they win at all, what historical circumstances have already made ready to be conceded."( 4) They are specific and uncompromising on this point:
If industrial workers had demanded public ownership of factories, they would probably have still gotten unionism, if they got anything at all, and if impoverished southern blacks had demanded land reform, they would probably have still gotten the vote.( 5)
It is difficult to see how it is possible to argue that the organizations of the Civil Rights Movement did anything but advance that movement--even in Piven and Cloward's own terms. Thus, the Montgomery Improvement Association, a forerunner of the Southern Christian Leader-