The 1983 Strategy Behind Today’s Social Security Attacks

Dave Johnson

Suppose you’re in a bar and you overhear a couple of guys in the next booth talking about a plan to steal from people’s houses. As you eavesdrop the plan unfolds: one will come to the front door pretending to be from the gas company warning the homeowner about a gas leak down the street. While he distracts the homeowner at the front door, the other one will sneak in the back door and take stuff.

So the next day the doorbell rings, and there’s a guy saying he is from the gas company. He says he wants to talk a while to warn you about a gas leak down the street…

This is what is happening with this constant drumbeat of attacks on Social Security. The attack on Social Security never goes away, it only escalates. As we go into this next round of attacks — this time it is even coming from the President* — it is more than useful to understand the background of this campaign against the program.

Make your voice heard. Tell your elected representatives that you oppose these cuts.

The 1983 “Leninist Strategy” Plan To Privatize Social Security

In 1983 a couple of conservative “think tanks” developed a step-by-step plan to privatize Social Security, for the benefit of “the banking industry and other business groups.” The plan describes a strategy to convince people that Social Security is going broke and that it is a “Ponzi scheme,” to undermine confidence in the program and lead people to accept that it needs “reform.” The plan outlines methods to “neutralize” opposition. The plan involves a smokescreen strategy of saying things to distract people from seeing what they are doing.

This strategy for attacking Social Security was spelled out in a 1983 document from the Cato Institute (previously named the Koch Foundation), with Heritage Foundation input. You can read the original document for yourself, it is titled Achieving A Leninist Strategy. Please, if you have time, read the entire document (in particular the section “Weakening the Opposition”) to understand the strategy that has been unfolding in the years since, but the following quotes give you an idea:

“Lenin recognized that fundamental change is contingent upon … its success in isolating and weakening its opponents. … we would do well to draw a few lessons from the Leninist strategy.”

“…construct … a coalition that will … reap benefits from the IRA-based private system … but also the banks, insurance companies, and other institutions that will gain from providing such plans to the public.”

“The first element consists of a campaign to achieve small legislative changes that embellish the present IRA system, making it in practice a small-scale private Social Security system.

“The second main element … involves what one might crudely call guerrilla warfare against both the current Social Security system and the coalition that supports it.”

“The banking industry and other business groups that can benefit from expanded IRAs …” “… the strategy must be to propose moving to a private Social Security system in such a way as to … neutralize … the coalition that supports the existing system.”

“The next Social Security crisis may be further away than many people believe. … it could be many years before the conditions are such that a radical reform of Social Security is possible. But then, as Lenin well knew, to be a successful revolutionary, one must also be patient and consistently plan for real reform.”

Michael Hiltzik wrote about this strategy last year in the LA Times,Attacks on Social Security, Medicare borrow a strategy from Lenin,

Let’s go back to the original strategy brief by Stuart Butler and Peter Germanis. Their piece, “Achieving a ‘Leninist’ Strategy,” appeared in the Cato Institute’s Cato Journal for fall 1983. Anguished over President Reagan’s failure to exploit Social Security’s 1982 fiscal crisis to privatize the program, they concluded that the reason was the program’s strong support among the powerful voting bloc of seniors.

The answer, they concluded, was to “neutralize” elderly voters while continuing to undermine confidence in Social Security among the young. Their model was the Leninist movement’s “success in isolating and weakening its opponents.”

Any plan to change Social Security, they wrote, “must therefore be neutral or (better still) clearly advantageous to senior citizens … the most powerful element of the coalition that opposes structural reform.”

The young, by contrast, were not organized to support privatization, and uninformed about its virtues. The task of filling the knowledge gap, they argued, could best be performed by “the business community and financial institutions in particular … both through their commercial advertising and through public relations.”

So Now You Know

If you know there is a plan do something that harms you, and you know the plan describes a smokescreen strategy where things are said to distract people from seeing what is happening to them, and then you see the plan unfold step by step … you can stop reacting to the cover story outlined in the plan meant to distract you. You can start fighting back.

Read the plan, and then the next time they say “Social Security is going broke” or “Social Security is making the debt worse” you’ll see what is going on in a whole different way. Social Security is not “going broke” and Social Security does not add to the debt.

After reading this, these constant attacks take on a whole new light. You see it unfolding and say to yourself, “Oh, they’re doing that,” and “wow, it’s right out of the original strategy document!”

Sort of like “Wow, those guys in the bar were talking about MY house!”

So now, when they come to the door, you know what they are up to.

Past Posts

Understand The Rights Attack On Social Security,

Here is what to take away from this: Every time you hear that “Social Security is going broke” you are hearing a manufactured propaganda point that is part of a decades-old strategy. Every time you hear that “Social Security is a Ponzi scheme” you are hearing that strategy in operation. Every time you hear that “Social Security won’t be there for me anyway” ” you are witnessing that strategy unfold.

Washington Post Joins Wall Street Sneak Attack On Social Security,

Don’t fall for it. If they can gut Social Security they stand to make a lot of money but you stand to lose your retirement.

Fairy-Tale Social Security Policy,

A popular Boogeyman is “Social Security is going broke.” This fable originated from a 1983 Cato Institute Journal document, “Achieving a Leninist Strategy” by Stuart Butler of Cato and Peter Germanis of the Heritage Foundation. The document laid out a long-term strategic plan to dismantle Social Security. Part of the idea was to manufacture public beliefs like those we hear repeated (and repeated and repeated) today, “Social Security is going broke” and “Social Security is a Ponzi scheme.”


Make your voice heard. Tell your elected representatives that you oppose these cuts.


*Note – I am not saying the President is part of the plan, I am saying that his offer of benefit cuts falls for the plan’s lie that “Social Security is going broke.”

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