[Marxism] US Mafia

Mark Lause MLause at cinci.rr.com
Fri Mar 10 17:41:21 MST 2006

I remember when I was moving to Chicago, I got into an interesting
conversation with a black bus driver, who talked about Al Capone with
all the affection of a Robin Hood.  Everyone worked in the black
community when Capone was around.  I don't know how much of that was
ever true, but no inherent reason why it wouldn't have been.

There was no real national "Mafia" before the 1930s.  The GODFATHER
movies aren't that bad as a primer on this, if you can avoid the
tangents and conspiracy implications.   As a very crude reflection of my
own understanding of how this happened....  

Businesses in immigrant neighborhoods couldn't count on the protection
of the new official police forces at the the turn of the century.  So,
they "contributed" for protection to gangs of young men who hung about
the neighborhoods.  (Sometime, of course, some of these young men
reminded them with a brick through the window what could happen if they
didn't pay protection.)  The gangs often engaged in a wide variety of
other small scale criminal activities, of course...prostitution,
gambling, debt collection, short-term thuggery in labor disputes, etc.

The prohibition of alcohol after World War I imposed a new level of
organization.  Various ethnic gangs jostled for the prime spot in
supplying liquor.  In different cities, Irish, German, Jewish gangs
would come out on top, as readily as Italian or Sicilian.  Remember that
in Chicago in the 1920s, the lack of a city-wide structure led to the
war between Capone's South Side organization and the Irish who ran the
Northside...leading to the St. Valentine's Day massacre.

The end of prohibition pushed them towards a more concerted national
organization, in which the Sicilians came out on top, largely with the
help of a Jewish manager, Meyer Lansky.  I don't particularly know of
any other reasons why the Sicilians would have emerged as the dominant
national force, but it seemed to turn out that way.  I guess some group
or other had to do so.

They redeployed capital towards concerted projects like the operations
in Cuba and Los Vegas.  With the growing tensions between Italy and the
US, Lansky cut a deal with the Roosevelt administration to keep
saboteurs out of the shipyards of the east coast.  (Back in the old
country, the Mafia came to see the fascists as a rival gang.)  The
alternative would have been a much larger and more invasive FBI, so the
short term benefits of a Mafia alliance was more persuasive.  This also
benefited the government and employers vis-à-vis the labor movement, but
the long term wisdom of giving organized crime such influence in the
ports of the east coast had long term implications.  

The alliance continued into the Cold War.  The CIA used the Mafia for
various things, like breaking the strikes against the Marshall Plan in
Europe.  The 1959 Cuban Revolution strengthened the alliance,
particularly with the intelligence agencies and covert operations.  It
as also in the 1950s that they began to traffic in drugs on a large

Throughout, the official position J. Edgar Hoover, lifetime head of the
FBI was that the Mafia did not exist.  He had annual meetings of some
sort with leading Mafia figures, though.

Their subsequent involvement with the CIA attempts to kill Castro and
the role of Jack Ruby, Lee Harvey Oswald and others associated with the
Mafia in the tangled mess associated with the JFK murder are pretty well
known here.  

Some of this clearly changed after the 1980s.  Perhaps the current Sun
Belt cowboys viewed the Mafia as too amateurish in their criminality....

Mark L.

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