Tonight, my special guest is author Roman Martin who's here to give you some guidance on how to join La Cosa Nostra that's detailed in his book Underworld: How to Survive & Thrive in The American Mafia.
Have you ever fantasized about being able to do whatever you want, when you want, and to whom you want? Or perhaps you’ve dreamed about never having to take crap off anyone ever again? If so, then the Mafia could be the perfect new profession for you! For the first time in history, there is now an easy-to-follow self-help guide on how to join and rise in the most exclusive men’s club in the world—the Italian-American Mafia (aka La Cosa Nostra). Learn everything from loansharking to leg-breaking to corpse disposal, all without leaving the comfort of your mobile home or prison cell.
Based on interviews with dozens of former high-ranking Mafiosi and many other hardcore mobsters from across the globe, true-crime auteur Roman Martín has risked life and limb to bring you this spellbinding tour de force. Whether you’re a couch-surfing gangster-wannabe or simply someone who’s watched “The Godfather” too many times, this breathtaking exposé of “the Honored Society” offers something for everyone.
Pushing the bounds of the First Amendment to their breaking point, Don Martín also reveals the FBI’s most closely guarded secrets when it comes to “wiseguys” and “goodfellas”. Wanna know the one surefire way to find out who in your crew is an undercover cop or fed? Or the best way to deal with those annoying witnesses? Then look no further, friends, for all your questions about the outlaw lifestyle shall be answered in UNDERWORLD.
It’s about goddamn time someone realized that mobsters need love, too.
The genesis of Cosa Nostra is hard to trace because mafiosi are very secretive and do not keep historical records of their own. They have been known to spread deliberate lies about their past, and sometimes come to believe in their own myths.
The Mafia's genesis began in the 19th century, and was the product of Sicily's transition from feudalism to capitalism as well as its unification with mainland Italy. Under feudalism, the nobilityowned most of the land and enforced the law through their private armies and manorial courts. After 1812, the feudal barons steadily sold off or rented their lands to private citizens. Primogeniture was abolished, land could no longer be seized to settle debts, and one fifth of the land became private property of the peasants. After Italy annexed Sicily in 1860, it redistributed a large share of public and church land to private citizens. The result was a huge increase in the number of landowners – from 2,000 in 1812 to 20,000 by 1861.
With this increase in property owners and commerce came more disputes that needed settling, contracts that needed enforcing, transactions that needed oversight, and properties that needed protecting. The barons released their private armies to let the state take over the job of enforcing the law, but the new authorities were not up to the task, largely due to clashes between official law and local customs. Lack of manpower was also a problem; there were often fewer than 350 active policemen for the entire island. Some towns did not have any permanent police force, and were only visited every few months by some troops to collect malcontents, leaving criminals to operate with impunity in the interim. Compounding these problems was banditry. Rising food prices, the loss of public and church lands, and the loss of feudal commons pushed many desperate peasants to steal. In the face of rising crime, booming commerce, and inefficient law enforcement, property owners turned to extralegal arbitrators and protectors. These extralegal protectors eventually organized themselves into the first Mafia clans.
In countryside towns that lacked formal constabulary, local elites responded to banditry by recruiting young men into "companies-at-arms" to hunt down thieves and negotiate the return of stolen property, in exchange for a pardon for the thieves and a fee from the victims. These companies-at-arms were often made up of former bandits and criminals, usually the most skilled and violent of them. This saved communities the trouble of training their own policemen, but it may have made the companies-at-arms more inclined to collude with their former brethren rather than destroy them. Scholars such as Salvatore Lupo have identified these groups as "proto-Mafia".
1900 map of Mafia presence in Sicily. Towns with Mafia activity are marked as red dots. The Mafia operated mostly in the west, in areas of rich agricultural productivity.
The Mafia was (and still is) a largely western Sicilian phenomenon. There was little Mafia activity in the eastern half of Sicily. This did not mean that there was little violence; the most violent conflicts over land took place in the east, but they did not involve mafiosi. In the east, the ruling elites were more cohesive and active during the transition from feudalism to capitalism. They maintained their large stables of enforcers and were able to absorb or suppress any emerging violent groups. Furthermore, the land in the east was generally divided into a smaller number of large estates so that there were fewer landowners, and their large estates often required its guardians to patrol it full-time. The owners of such estates needed to hire full-time guardians.
By contrast, in the west, the estates tended to be smaller and thus did not require the total, round-the-clock attention of a guardian. It was cheaper for these estates to contract their protection to a mafioso rather than employing full-time guards. A mafioso in these regions could protect multiple small estates at once, which gave him great independence and leverage to charge high prices. The landowners in this region were also frequently absent and could not watch over their properties should the protector withdraw, further increasing his bargaining power.
The early Mafia was deeply involved with citrus growers and cattle ranchers, as these industries were particularly vulnerable to thieves and vandals and thus badly needed protection. Citrus plantations had a fragile production system that made them quite vulnerable to sabotage. Likewise, cattle are very easy to steal. The Mafia was often more effective than the police at recovering stolen cattle; in the 1920s, it was noted that the Mafia's success rate at recovering stolen cattle was 95%, whereas the police managed only 10%.
In 1864, Niccolò Turrisi Colonna, leader of the Palermo National Guard, wrote of a "sect of thieves" that operated throughout Sicily. This "sect" was mostly rural, composed of cattle thieves, smugglers, wealthy farmers, and their guards. The sect made "affiliates every day of the brightest young people coming from the rural class, of the guardians of the fields in the Palermitan countryside, and of the large number of smugglers; a sect which gives and receives protection to and from certain men who make a living on traffic and internal commerce. It is a sect with little or no fear of public bodies, because its members believe that they can easily elude this." It had special signals for members to recognize each other, offered protection services, scorned the law, and had a code of loyalty and non-interaction with the police known as umirtà ("code of silence"). Colonna warned in his report that the Italian government's brutal and clumsy attempts to crush crime only made the problem worse by alienating the populace. An 1865 dispatch from the prefect of Palermo to Rome first officially described the phenomenon as a "Mafia". An 1876 police report provides the earliest known description of the familiar initiation ritual.
Mafiosi meddled in politics early on, bullying voters into voting for candidates they favored. At this period in history, only a small fraction of the Sicilian population could vote, so a single mafia boss could control a sizable chunk of the electorate and thus wield considerable political leverage. Mafiosi used their allies in government to avoid prosecution as well as persecute less well-connected rivals. Given the highly fragmented and shaky Italian political system, cliques of Mafia-friendly politicians exerted a strong influence.
Sketch of the 1901 maxi trial of suspected mafiosi in Palermo. From the newspaper L'Ora, May 1901.
In a series of reports between 1898 and 1900, Ermanno Sangiorgi, the police chief of Palermo, identified 670 mafiosi belonging to eight Mafia clans, which went through alternating phases of cooperation and conflict. The report mentioned initiation rituals and codes of conduct, as well as criminal activities that included counterfeiting, kidnappings for ransom, murder, robbery, and witness intimidation. The Mafia also maintained funds to support the families of imprisoned members and pay defense lawyers. In an attempt to annihilate the Mafia, Italian troops arrested 64 people of Palermo in February 1898. The trial began in May 1901, but after one month, only 32 defendants were found guilty of starting a criminal association and, taking into account the time already spent in prison, many were released the next day.
A 2015 study in The Economic Journal attributed the emergence of the Sicilian Mafia to the resource curse. Early Mafia activity was strongly linked to Sicilian municipalities abundant in sulphur, Sicily's most valuable export commodity. The combination of a weak state and a lootable natural resource made the sulphur-rich parts of Sicily vulnerable to the emergence of mafia-type organisations. A valuable natural resource in areas where law enforcement is weak or absent creates a demand for private protection (which mafia-type organizations can supply) and opportunities for extortion (also by mafia-type organizations). A 2017 study in the Journal of Economic History links the emergence of the Sicilian Mafia also to the surging demand for oranges and lemons following the late 18th-century discovery that citrus fruits cured scurvy. A 2019 study in the Review of Economic Studies linked Mafia activity to "the rise of socialist Peasant Fasci organizations. In an environment with weak state presence, this socialist threat triggered landowners, estate managers and local politicians to turn to the Mafia to resist and combat peasant demands."
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