|Mobster Frank Nitti's boys took |
Saul Alinsky "everywhere."
Sure enough, Alinsky himself credited the mob with teaching him quite a bit: "I learned a hell of a lot about the uses and abuses of power from the mob, lessons that stood me in good stead later on, when I was organizing," he said. Also, "I was a nonparticipating observer in their professional activities, although I joined their social life of food, drink and women: Boy, I sure participated in that side of things -- it was heaven."
Alinsky's lessons from the mob didn't stop there. According to his fellow Chicago radical, student, employee, best man, biographer, and all-around close friend, Nicholas von Hoffman:
Saul knew the mob very, very well, and he had studied them when he was a post graduate student at the University of Chicago, and he later got to know them again when he was the criminologist at Stateville, the Illinois penitentiary, and then, of course, in the course of much of what we were doing, we ran into the mob and had dealings with the mob one way or another, but he was never "mobbed up"; he never took a bad dime.In a 1972 interview by Playboy Magazine, Alinsky had this to say:
ALINSKY: . . . I was awarded the graduate Social Science Fellowship in criminology, the top one in that field, which took care of my tuition and room and board -- I still don't know why they gave it to me -- maybe because I hadn't taken a criminology course in my life and didn't know one goddamn thing about the subject -- But this was the Depression and I felt like someone had tossed me a life preserver -- Hell, if it had been in shirt cleaning, I would have taken it. Anyway, I found out that criminology was just as removed from actual crime and criminals as sociology was from society, so I decided to make my doctoral dissertation a study of the Al Capone mob -- an inside study.Alinsky indirectly transmitted his life lessons to government, where every schoolchild gets to live with them:
PLAYBOY: What did Capone have to say about that?
ALINSKY: Well, my reception was pretty chilly at first -- I went over to the old Lexington Hotel, which was the gang's headquarters, and I hung around the lobby and the restaurant. I'd spot one of the mobsters whose picture I'd seen in the papers and go up to him and say, "I'm Saul Alinsky, I'm studying criminology, do you mind if I hang around with you?" And he'd look me over and say, "Get lost, punk." This happened again and again, and I began to feel I'd never get anywhere. Then one night I was sitting in the restaurant and at the next table was Big Ed Stash, a professional assassin who was the Capone mob's top executioner. He was drinking with a bunch of his pals and he was saying, "Hey, you guys, did I ever tell you about the time I picked up that redhead in Detroit?" and he was cut off by a chorus of moans. "My God," one guy said, "do we have to hear that one again?" I saw Big Ed's face fall; mobsters are very sensitive, you know, very thin-skinned. And I reached over and plucked his sleeve. "Mr. Stash," I said, "I'd love to hear that story." His face lit up. "You would, kid?" He slapped me on the shoulder. "Here, pull up a chair. Now, this broad, see . . ." And that's how it started.
Big Ed had an attentive audience and we became buddies. He introduced me to Frank Nitti, known as the Enforcer, Capone's number-two man, and actually in de facto control of the mob because of Al's income-tax rap. Nitti took me under his wing. I called him the Professor and I became his student. Nitti's boys took me everywhere, showed me all the mob's operations, from gin mills and whorehouses and bookie joints to the legitimate businesses they were beginning to take over. Within a few months, I got to know the workings of the Capone mob inside out.
PLAYBOY: Why would professional criminals confide their secrets to an outsider?
ALINSKY: Why not? What harm could I do them? Even if I told what I'd learned, nobody would listen. They had Chicago tied up tight as a drum; they owned the city, from the cop on the beat right up to the mayor. Forget all that Eliot Ness shit; the only real opposition to the mob came from other gangsters, like Bugs Moran or Roger Touhy. The Federal Government could try to nail 'em on an occasional income tax rap, but inside Chicago they couldn't touch their power. Capone was the establishment. When one of his boys got knocked off, there wasn't any city court in session, because most of the judges were at the funeral and some of them were pallbearers. So they sure as hell weren't afraid of some college kid they'd adopted as a mascot causing them any trouble. They never bothered to hide anything from me; I was their one-man student body and they were anxious to teach me. It probably appealed to their egos.
Once, when I was looking over their records, I noticed an item listing a $7500 payment for an out-of-town killer. I called Nitti over and I said, "Look, Mr. Nitti, I don't understand this. You've got at least 20 killers on your payroll. Why waste that much money to bring somebody in from St. Louis?" Frank was really shocked at my ignorance. "Look, kid," he said patiently, "sometimes our guys might know the guy they're hitting, they may have been to his house for dinner, taken his kids to the ball game, been the best man at his wedding, gotten drunk together. But you call in a guy from out of town, all you've got to do is tell him, 'Look, there's this guy in a dark coat on State and Randolph; our boy in the car will point him out; just go up and give him three in the belly and fade into the crowd.' So that's a job and he's a professional, he does it. But one of our boys goes up, the guy turns to face him and it's a friend, right away he knows that when he pulls that trigger there's gonna be a widow, kids without a father, funerals, weeping -- Christ, it'd be murder." I think Frank was a little disappointed by my even questioning the practice; he must have thought I was a bit callous.
PLAYBOY: Didn't you have any compunction about consorting with -- if not actually assisting -- murderers?
ALINSKY: None at all, since there was nothing I could do to stop them from murdering, practically all of which was done inside the family. I was a nonparticipating observer in their professional activities, although I joined their social life of food, drink and women: Boy, I sure participated in that side of things -- it was heaven. And let me tell you something, I learned a hell of a lot about the uses and abuses of power from the mob, lessons that stood me in good stead later on, when I was organizing.
Another thing you've got to remember about Capone is that he didn't spring out of a vacuum. The Capone gang was actually a public utility; it supplied what the people wanted and demanded. The man in the street wanted girls: Capone gave him girls. He wanted booze during Prohibition: Capone gave him booze. He wanted to bet on a horse: Capone let him bet. It all operated according to the old laws of supply and demand, and if there weren't people who wanted the services provided by the gangsters, the gangsters wouldn't be in business. Everybody owned stock in the Capone mob; in a way, he was a public benefactor. I remember one time when he arrived at his box seat in Dyche Stadium for a Northwestern football game on Boy Scout Day and 8000 scouts got up in the stands and screamed in cadence, "Yea, yea, Big Al. Yea, yea, Big Al." Capone didn't create the corruption, he just grew fat on it, as did the political parties, the police and the overall municipal economy.
Alinsky also transmitted his life lessons to government directly, through his students and his students' students. Alinsky thought enough of Hilary Clinton to offer her a job, and Alinsky's son David thought enough of Barack Obama to write (in the Boston Globe in 2008) that "Obama learned his (Alinsky's) lesson well.His most enduring influence may have been to inspire the National Education Association to become a political powerhouse. Sam Lambert, the executive secretary of the NEA in 1967, when it hired Alinsky as a political trainer, boasted that it would “become a political power second to no other special interest.” The NEA delivered on that promise. Between 1963 and 1993, the number of teachers belonging to unions grew to 3.1 million, up from only 963,720.
A study of the Alinsky/Chicago Politics legacy led John Fund, author of Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens our Democracy, to issue a warning to American conservatives as the 2012 election approaches:
__________You can expect that the Obama 2012 campaign and allied groups will be filled with people deeply steeped in Rules for Radicals. That is good reason for conservatives to spend time studying Saul Alinsky. It also explains why liberals are so anxious to sugarcoat Alinsky and soft-pedal his influence on Team Obama.