RACKETEERING AS A PHASE OF CLASS CONFLICT
IN an early chapter, I have indicated how criminals were drawn into the struggle between the haves and the havenots; how they were organized on a large scale by detective, agencies and hired out, by the hundreds, as gunmen to powerful industrialists, to protect their property and scabs, and to attack strikers; and how, later, labor organizations, taking their cue from capital, began to hire professional strong-arm men to slug scabs, assassinate employers and foremen, and dynamite mills, mines, and uncompleted bridges and buildings.
There were gangs in the larger American cities before the capitalists began to use criminals in keeping down the proletariat, but those early gangs were comparatively small and loosely organized, operating largely as bandits, pickpockets and neighborhood toughs. At election time, they acted as terrorists in a small way for crooked political bosses. But in the eighteen- sixties, when criminals began to be used in the class struggle, crime received a tremendous impetus toward becoming the billion-dollar "industry," which it is today. Gangs then became more compact, better organized, headed by managers of "detective agencies," which included some of the brainiest and most ruthless crooks in the country.
Moreover, on becoming a factor in the class struggle, criminality learned the use of weapons employed in that struggle. The idealistic Chicago Anarchists had advocated the use of dynamite as a means of bringing about what they conceived to be a just social order. Then large labor unions, in desperation, resorted to dynamite, and used it, as we have seen, sometimes with gratifying results. Finally, professional criminals, some of them occasional dynamiters for the unions, perceived that it would be effective stuff in other fields of endeavor.
The Haymarket Bomb, as I have suggested, was the Adam of the "pineapples" that now go off in such quantities in Chicago, New York, Detroit, Philadelphia and Cleveland, in behalf, not only of organized labor, but of all sorts of rackets. By using dynamite, criminality became, in the nineteen-twenties, one of the most powerful elements in America's national life, defying practically all agencies of law, gaining control of municipal governments and the courts, and fairly threatening what so far has passed for legitimate business.
In the larger cities all sorts of racket wars are going on day and night; wars in which dynamite, gunfire, daggers, arson, blackjacks, and fists, or the fear of such violence, decide economic and other issues. There are now in the United States hundreds - perhaps thousands - of men whose sole or principal occupation is to dynamite and "touch off" buildings, and commit murder and slug people in the interest of others. They charge regular fees for "jobs" according to the importance thereof. They sell their services at any time, anywhere, for almost any purpose, to almost anybody who has the need of a good assassin, dynamiter, firebug, acid-thrower, machine-gunner, window-breaker, or slugger, plus the required fee.
There are tailor shops in New York and Chicago, and perhaps elsewhere, which specialize in making clothes for gunmen, with leather-lined holster-pockets to conceal weapons.
Since the days in 1920, when men connected with labor unions had to instruct gangsters in the use of dynamite, regular "schools" of violence have appeared in Chicago and New York. Edwin Balmer, editor of the Red Book magazine, wrote in a syndicated article in the summer of 1930, that there were eight specialists in various forms of violence instructing criminals in Chicago alone. I am reliably informed that two of the eight - both instructors in the use of dynamite - are former trade-union walking-delegates. Crime, says Balmer, has
developed its own technicians, and the demands and easy profits of the "rackets" have created in Chicago a sort of graduate school which teaches technical refinements. Window-breakers in Chicago, for instance, are not crude heavers of bricks through panes of glass. They are experts in a special sort of blow which, T understand, is delivered as a scooping stroke upward, and which, when properly executed, completely "takes out" a window of any size or thickness. Dynamiting is a trade which obviously calls for special training there is a definite art in stripping an entire front from a flat building or demolishing the side wall of a garage with one properly placed and carefully wired "shot." Arson also is complex. You must sprinkle your gasoline according to principles which have been found by practice to set the building all ablaze before the firemen arrive. And when you come to bombs - well, there are a dozen divisions of bombing, ranging from the technique of a "pineapple" planted only to terrorize, to the technique of detonating a "big cough" to do deliberate murder. The acid- throwers concern themselves chiefly with the destruction of expensive clothing in the shops which have not made terms with the racketeers.
In the summer and fall of 1930 several racketeers' "arsenals" were discovered by the police in New York. These contained dynamite bombs, machine-guns, revolvers, blackjacks, and other tools of terrorism.
Almost every week some one is found mysteriously dead, riddled with bullets, on an empty lot in some large city or other. Now and then assassinations occur in open daylight, adroit gunmen, who had gone to "school" for the purpose, picking their victims "on the spot" from speeding automobiles.
NEXT to booze-running, gambling, and dope-peddling, the most widespread are the so-called "protection" rackets. The origin of the last named is easily traced to the trade unions' connection with criminality. Unions in Chicago and New York were already "protected" by gangsters, in the manner described in the preceding chapter, in 1922 and 1923 , or years before "protection" racketeering became the $500,000 a week industry it now is in each of those two cities.
A modern "protection" racket usually starts with a small band of "wise guys," sometimes headed by a former city or hotel detective or by some ex-United States Department of justice agent. They determine to dominate a certain section of the city. They are slick fellows, having started out as petty criminals and served short terms in prisons, where they learned all they needed to know about crime. The leader is usually "in the know." In all probability, as a former "dick," he has some "dirt" on the big boys in city politics, and, holding a club over their heads, has no difficulty in keeping the police out of his way. Indeed, he often takes the cops, as well as judges and ward heelers, "in on the racket." He becomes boss of the section. To attain that position he employs dynamite and other forms of violence.
On "taking over" the section, they call, as a rule in pairs, on all the grocers, butchers, barbers, druggists, laundrymen, florists, restaurant and garage owners, tobacconists, candy stores, beauty shops, and other tradespeople in the neighborhood, and say to them: "Good morning, sir. As you know there's a lot of crime going on. Early this week two stores were burglarized within two blocks of you"; (their own job) "no doubt you've heard about it. Well, we've just formed a protective agency - here's our card - and you're invited to join us. The fee is nominal. Fifty [sometimes a hundred] dollars a month, in return for which we - the Night and Day Detective and Protective Association - will protect you from every evil in the world, including holdups and competition. You're invited to join right away" - emphatically.
If the butcher or grocer declines to sign up right away, one or two of the gangsters call again the next day. They "proposition" him once more and, as likely as not, stress their eagerness to have him join the Night and Day Detective and Protective Association by pulling out their guns; whereupon, as a rule, "the bozo comes across." If not, the next morning he may find his windows "taken out" or the whole front of his store neatly blown out by dynamite. If he is a laundryman, his delivery wagon may be dynamited or his driver slugged. Then, if he still continues obstinate, which is unlikely, one nice afternoon a husky customer walks into the place and, hauling off, suddenly smashes him in the face. The next day, if he is not a total wreck in hospital, he is quite ready to be "protected" and, with well concealed reluctance, forks over the first month's "protection" fee.
Thus the gang, without the slightest interference on the part of the police, gains economic control of the neighborhood, which may include anywhere from thirty to a hundred blocks. In return for the tribute that legitimate business people pay the gangsters, they actually are given a sort of protection. In the first place, the gang refrains from holding them up and keeps other crooks out of the neighborhood, which is more than the police can do. Then, they prevent new stores from opening in competition with their "proteges."
Of course, the gang takes control of the liquor business in the section. It opens speakeasies, night clubs, gambling joints, dance halls and brothels. It also "gets in on" the dope business. In all of these rackets they have practically a free hand; all they have to watch for is some other gang of "wise guys" who may have their eyes on the "territory."
There is a gang in charge of a section in the Bronx, whose "protection take" runs into nearly $10,000 a month. The business people must pay, or they may get "bumped off." The gangsters usually shoot or dynamite one or two at the start as a hint to others. The victims cannot call the law to their aid; if they attempt to, they are doomed.
These protection gangs usually expand into other fields. They form partnerships with wholesale pretzel, spinach, artichoke, meat, egg, milk, ice, butter, and bread dealers and then force all the retailers in their domain to buy from them. They force their "clients," as they call them, to install slot-machines and chance boards in their stores. They terrorize scab-employing contractors and builders in behalf of desperate labor unions. They hire out dynamiters, assassins, sluggers, window- breakers, acid-throwers, and other strong-arm talent to almost anyone who has some dirty work to be done.
They often force successful business establishments to take them into partnership. I know of a moving picture theater owner in Brooklyn who is paying a percentage of his weekly income to the neighborhood "mob," the members of which used to drop "stink bombs" in his theater during performances. Since he took them into his business, they have ruined - also with stink bombs - his competitor four blocks away, and now he and his racketeer partners have the only movie house within twenty blocks. To open another theater in that district without taking in the racketeers would be futile - if not fatal.
Since 1927 the neighborhood gangs have begun to amalgamate, and now cities like Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia are swiftly coming under the domination of such powerful groups as the Capone gang. I have it from a police official in New York that there are - in 1930 - at least 80,000 practicing, gun-toting racketeers in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. These men, but recently plain workingmen or sons of working people, started out a few years ago as petty bootleggers; now their individual "take" runs from $100 to $5000 a week. The "take" of the "big fellows" often amounts to $10,000 a week.
Despite the tendency to amalgamate, however, the interests of one gang occasionally come in conflict with the interests of another, and then there is war. Gangsters are killed by other gangsters; now and then one is killed - as though accidentally - by the police. But these killings have no effect upon gangsterism and racketeering as a whole. Indeed, all rackets are definitely "on the up and up."
Booze, gambling, prostitution, and dope, of course, are the big rackets. Of late - in 1930 - the racketeers have begun to go into food racketeering, that is, by means of violence and fear, forcing retailers to pay higher prices. For instance, they have muscled in on the milk business. In certain sections of Chicago and New York milk is seventy per cent "organized." To accomplish this, racketeers have slugged no end of milk dealers and milk-truck drivers, bombed large creameries and small dairies, punctured the tires of milk trucks, and overturned milk wagons. A gentler method, but also effective, is to drop chemicals into fresh milk, causing it instantly to curdle.
During an official investigation into food racketeering in New York in the summer of 1930, it was revealed that gangsters were becoming a power in all the food markets in the city. Their rule is: pay up and shut up, or take the consequences. Incredible as it may seem, the drowsy farmer whom the late motorist sees rumbling cityward with his produce often is confronted at the end of his route by emphatic individuals who insist upon controlling the sale of his goods. He sells to whom he is told and at the price set, else his tires are cut, his truck wrecked, or he himself is beaten.
Employing violence, the racketeers have gained control of the smoked fish business in the Jewish sections of Brooklyn. And so on, and so on. It would require the space of another book to describe all the rackets that have sprung up in the last half of the ninteen-twenties.
In the fall of 1929, the New York World estimated that about 250 industries in that city were completely or partly under the control of gangsters, whose total proceeds from the rackets exceeded $100,000,000 a year. Courtney Terret, author of Only Saps Work, a book on racketeering, estimates that the gangs' "take" in New York is from to $200,000,000 to $600,000,000 a year, or from $33 to $83 for every man, woman, and child in the city. In Chicago, according to a committee of the Employers' Association, there were on January 1, 1930, forty-nine different rackets with legitimate business as their prey, costing tradespeople and the public approximately $136,000,000.
A grand jury sitting in Brooklyn in 1930 expressed the opinion that the racketeers in that community were "a power for the time being greater than the government itself." To put it more exactly the racketeers are most of the government in such cities as Chicago and New York, for they have their own men in the police departments and on judicial benches. Men like Al Capone and Arnold Rothstein and Bugs Moran are figures of national prominence, "big men" in the same sense that Henry Ford and Charles Schwab are big men. They certainly are men of consequence. Capone's annual income from his various rackets is said to be about $30,000,000. He has a mansion on the coast of Florida and travels in an airplane of his own. When Jack ("Legs") Diamond was shot in October 1930, the hospital authorities in New York issued bulletins as to his condition twice a day.
Sometimes a big racketeer becomes a sort of hero in the community he dominates. Al Capone, for instance, is considered a modern Robin Hood by thousands of people in Cicero, near Chicago, where he used to make his headquarters. It is Al's policy to spend a few hundred thousand dollars every year in charity, supporting widows, paying poor people's doctor bills, enabling them to send their children to school, giving them baskets of groceries on holidays, and so on. They think Al a "great guy" for taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor. There is a littleknown gang in the Bronx, whose members also are extremely popular among the poor working people. When one of the gangsters is shot, they give him a funeral costing tens of thousands of dollars, burying him in a silver casket . . . . This hardly differs from the social technique of Tammany Hall district control and similar "legitimate" political processes . . . .
In his annual report issued in May 1930, the Police Commissioner of New York City virtually admitted that he and his force were unable to cope with the "sinister figures who stalk through the underworld and who reign through fear, violence, and murder." In June 1930, the appalling crime situation in Chicago caused the chief of police there to leave his office in defeat. He admitted that he was no match for such organizations as the Capone and Moran gangs, most of whose important members were, to quote the Chicago Crime Commission, "beyond the reach of the police power; for they do their dirty work through anonymous henchmen and, moreover, have powerful friends in the city politics."
The police commissioner of New York blamed the growth of gangsterism in the large cities on Prohibition, which gave rise to the bootlegging industry, "with its natural appeal to the criminal element." The police chief of Chicago said the same thing. Indeed, nearly everybody who ventures to speak on racketeering blames it on Prohibition.
But, of course, to put all the blame of it on Prohibition is to be superficial. Prohibition unquestionably is a tremendous factor in the egregious condition, but only one of several factors.
I have shown that the technique of racketeering, its development and its tools, are to be traced to the class struggle.
WHAT is most important in this connection is the fact that the class struggle, growing continually fiercer in the last half century, with long spells of unemployment and low wages, has driven or induced numerous workmen, or boys who under better conditions would have become workmen, into the criminal class.
Racketeering, as it exists today in the United States, is an essential manifestation of the dynamic drive for economic betterment so characteristic of the country. It is a phase of the efforts of the American underdog to raise himself. It is inextricably bound up with the chaotic and brutalizing conditions in industry and with the great inner urge of the American people, constantly stimulated by social and economic forces, to get on, to get on, quickly, at all costs.
Criminals, includirig America's high-powered racketeers, are recruited largely from those classes which suffer most from poverty, uncertain and unhealthy employment, and other evil conditions of life and labor. The French sociologist, J. R. Brissot de Warville, said many years ago:
A man is not born an enemy of society. It is the circumstances which give him that title, such as poverty or misfortune. He does not disturb the general tranquillity until he has lost his own. He ceases to be a good citizen only when the name becomes meaningless in his case.
Another Frenchman, Edouard Ducpetiaux, held that
criminality is the inseparable companion of poverty . . . . In the midst of destitution, a man gradually loses the notion of justice and injustice, of good and bad; beset by needs that he cannot satisfy, he disregards the laws, and ends by recoiling from no attempt that appears capable of bettering his condition.
The problem of crime is, of course, a colossal and many sided subject. Here I wish to stress the economic aspect of it, which, in America at least, is, I think, one of the most important.
Since the beginning of the great industrial era, life in the United States, as compared with life in other so-called civilized countries, has been marked by its restlessness, adventurousness, brutality, instability. The country is huge and rich, with thousands of real and fairly legitimate opportunities, open to all who wish to seek them, and millions of individuals eager for success, who are seeking them. The mathematical result is that a great majority of the people, among them some of the most daring and resourceful, are ordained from the start for a life that is far less agreeable and successful in the material sense than they feel it ought to be in a land where things are plentiful beyond imagining and "all men are equal." So, as failures, which they consider themselves, they are unhappy, desperate.
In Europe, the poor and lowly have been taught to accept their plight without much complaint, but Americans ;are motivated by a different and powerful spirit, the spirit of democracy, formulated in the Declaration of Independence. The American underdog has been taught to believe that, essentially, he is as good as the next man, if not a little better, and as such has the right to refuse to stay an underdog, and to do everything possible to climb upward. Indeed, his philosophy of values being the same as that of the upperdog, he has come to believe that his principal duty in life is to cease to be an underdog and get on- to make money.
Practically every one has in his make-up certain lawless or anti- social urges, which, stimulated by American individualism and the "get on" philosophy, become easily translated into actual lawbreaking. If one does not succeed in getting on within the law, one tries to find the avenue to success outside the law. This is especially true since the average man has begun to break away from religious inhibitions. Add to this the general knowledge of dishonesty and graft in high places. Some one has said that human society is like a fish: it begins to rot first at the head. The bad example of persons in high places is a subtly corrupting force that gradually but inevitably undermines the integrity of individuals in the lower strata of society.
Prohibition may be blamed for the growth of gangsterism in America in that it afforded a road to success outside the law to a multitude of people who otherwise would have remained poor. The causes underlying the development of racketeering and crime in recent years, however, go much deeper and much farther back.
The more intelligent worker in an industry where employment is periodic and uncertain, and wages and working conditions none too good, realizes before long that, if he continues to work as he does only six months out of the year, he will never get anywhere, that when he becomes prematurely old and his health broken down, industry will, as a matter of course, wash its hands of him. He may be intrinsically as honest and law- abiding as anyone, but when he finds himself out of work and without money, he is already predisposed to look up his bootlegger acquaintance and be initiated into the racket. He may perhaps be caught at it, but in jail he will learn much more about crime and racketeering. He will realize that, even with prison staring him in the face, crime or racketeering is better than being geared to the industrial machine, where, in times of depression, and certainly in his old age, he will be thrown out, a wreck, upon the mercies of the Salvation Army.
The less intelligent underdog is likely to arrive more intuitively at the conclusion that, with the economic game loaded against him, he cannot summon the necessary mental energy and initiative to climb the ladder of success, in the true American sense of the word. But he reads of stealing, in high places and low, for which no one seems ever to get punished. Instead he sees the malefactors welldressed, with cars, cash, and women - and he, too, feels discouraged. He knows that while he wears the overalls at productive labor he will get nowhere, and how to get rich on the labor of others he cannot see unless he moves outside the law. On the basis of the number of crimes committed as compared with the number of convictions, his chances of immunity in crime would be about fifty-fifty. Such odds he would consider comparatively fair. At any rate one day he too crosses the Rubicon. If he "gets away with it," then he is through with overalls forever. If he joins a "mob," becoming a professional gunman, a racketeer, a spoke in some great booze or "protection" ring, his chances of going to jail dwindle to very low proportions.
IN the summer of 1930, Stuart Chase published an article in Harper's in which he argued that integrity in America is becoming a luxury that but few can afford. And the poorer a man is, the less he can indulge in honesty - especially since the social structure is becoming more and more corrupt, inhuman, and brutalizing, from top to bottom.
In the middle of the last century Henry Thomas Buckle collected data showing that the number of criminals increased in direct proportion to the rise of food prices. In present-day America, aside from the ever-mounting cost of bare living necessities, one's appetites for material goods are being ceaselessly whetted by persuasive advertisements and high- pressure salesmanship. By these means the manufacturers of luxuries transform their products into necessities, without the possession of which one is made to feel poverty-stricken - a failure. The relatively little actual starvation in America, therefore, is not inconsistent with the fact that there is more poverty-that is, more people with ungratified desires - among Americans than in any other nation in the world.
Then there is the factor of the average American's democratic pride - or, if you will, conceit. To beg a man whom he considers no better than himself for a job is humiliating to him. He resents the insults of contemptuous employment managers. My own encounters, as a worker, with the latter make it easy for me to understand why a man would rather be a racketeer and a criminal than an honest industrial laborer. In a racket a man can at least be a piece of a man. As a gunman or bootlegger he has a man-to-man chance with an opponent; he may fight it out if he has the guts. In industry, on the other hand, he is not only subjected to insults and humiliation; he is at the mercy of the moods of a system which he does not understand and which no one seems able or willing to control for the benefit of all.
The millions of men out of work, as this book appears, are going through a dreadful experience. Unemployment causes more distress in America than anywhere else, for here a man may suffer not only from cold and hunger, but from the agonies of shame at not being able to keep up appearances against enormous odds. A good front is so necessary to the American that his poverty is a hidden, underground poverty, much worse than poverty expressing itself, as it does in Europe, in open social protest. Hence, poverty in America drives men, not into the radical movement, which might give them social vision and class-conscious hope of a better future, but into the underworld, into bootlegging, into "mobs" and rackets - or to suicide. In the early fall of 1930 the newspapers reported seven suicides of jobless workingmen in New York in one week; three of them, before killing themselves, murdered their wives and children.
Since the World War it has become increasingly harder for a man lawfully to achieve economic independence in the United States. Once upon a time one could bundle up and go West, settle in the wilderness, and thus escape the humiliations and uncertainties of being an industrial worker. Now the open spaces are gone; all the good land is under the control of big money. Small-scale farming is decidedly unremunerative. And all small businesses, such as neighborhood stores, are being frozen out by big business and chain stores.
Thus millions of men in America are left with but one lawful path to follow: they must sell their labor on the overcrowded market, which they know is not a starting-point to economic independence. And so it is quite natural, given an opportunity, for some workmen, if they are characteristically American in their desire to get on, and if, besides, they have the guts and are free from family ties, to become bootleggers, or racketeers. Racketeers are being recruited almost exclusively from among the working class.
SINCE 1929, when I began to work on this study, I have come into personal contact with a number of racketeers and gangsters, big and petty, in and around Chicago and New York. Nearly all whom I know come of immigrant-labor parentage or had themselves been workers in the years immediately after the war. One is the son of a Polish worker who was injured in the Haymarket bomb explosion in 1886. Several others have sprung also from the numerous class of precariously employed and ill-educated people, povertystricken and ill cared for. These spent their early lives in big industrial cities, with their contrasting slums and mansions, with their unwholesome conditions and weak communal conscience, and their opportunities for knowing many persons and, at the same time, being lost to the community as a whole. I believe that these men of my acquaintance are typical racketeers.
Among them I find several who unquestionably are "right guys," men with strict codes of honor and ethics. Their behavior in personal relations, so far as I have been able to determine, is the highest; they are men of their word, and would sooner die than betray a fellow racketeer, friend or enemy, to the police. Their contempt for established authority is boundless; they are self-confessed outlaws, but conscious of their superiority to law and police power.
A few racketeers with whom I have come in contact are high- spirited, intelligent men. One whom I know, perhaps, the best of the lot, is a Yugoslav, a countryman of mine. He is a "big fellow" in one of the Chicago gangs, a well-mannered, well- read man, a former radical capable of discussing Karl Marx and Nietzsche no less than of handling a great booze ring and a vast protection racket. Indeed, he is one of the best informed and, in his way, the most honest and realistic man I know anywhere. He told me in the summer of 1930 that he took to bootlegging, which later led to other rackets, to "save my goddam selfrespect!"As an "honest worker" earning four or six dollars a day he got nowhere. He had been a Socialist and a tradeunionist and had found petty graft and intrigue everywhere. He began to realize, he said, that most of the leaders of the Socialist movement, local and national, were either rogues or lopsided emotionalists, while outside the movement was a tremendous mass of stupid proletarians whom the message of Socialism could never reach and who, perhaps, deserved nothing better in life than what they were getting. After the war he lost faith in the radical movement altogether. It was, he decided, all so much claptrap and hogwash; Mencken was right. He continued to work at four or six dollars a day. Sometimes he didn't work at all. And he began to feel like a "damn fool." So he became a bootlegger - back in 1921 - and, getting in with the right "crowd," rose swiftly to power in the affairs of what since has developed into a big gang. "Now, by God, I feel like a man again." Now he counts for something. He is somebody. His name appears in news columns. He lives in style. Once he had been clubbed by the police in a strike in Joliet, Illinois; now he has it all over the cops. They can't touch him. In fact, not a few of them are under his orders.
With the understanding between us that I would disguise him if I quoted him in print, he spoke quite frankly about himself and his doings.
Yes, we run booze, mostly beer; [he said] that's our main line. What of it? We supply an insistent demand. Tens of thousands of our customers like our beer and liquor. It's good stuff. It finds its way into the homes of judges and other great men, some of whom, after being drunk tonight, will pass judgment upon others in the morning for drinking.
Our business is illegitimate, true, but the law that makes it so is considered a bad law by more than half of the people of the United States. See the Literary Digest. And you know what Thoreau said about bad laws. Break 'em! Well, we help to break the Prohibition law.
As to the other "rackets," as you call them - we call them "business" - they're a damn sight more moral than most of the rackets that usually go by the name of corporation. Let us admit that we, the so-called racketeers, do "extort" money from so-called legitimate business establishments - what of it? Doesn't every other gang of business men do the same thing, one way or another? Isn't practically everything that is sold in America sold for more than it is worth - first by the manufacturer, then by the wholesaler, finally by the retailer? Business is a hold-up game from top to bottom. Those on top exploit those beneath them economically. Capital exploits labor - oh, and how! Big business screws small business. Of course they have made it legal and moral. They talk of Service with a capital S and join the Rotary, both the exploiters and the exploited, who, in their turn, as I've said, exploit some one below them.
Yes, we use force - what of it? Are we any worse than legitimate business? Don't big capitalists use force in putting down strikes? They stop at nothing. Of course their force sometimes is legalized; sometimes their gunmen wear uniforms with shiny buttons on them. You told me of the "stink bomb" gang in Brooklyn that has muscled in on a theater. Well, I can tell you for a fact that [mentioning the name of a huge motion picture concern] last year, while acquiring a new string of theaters in Chicago didn't deem it beneath their dignity to employ so-called racketeers to stink-bomb privately owned show-houses all over the country, in order to buy them cheaper from desperate owners, whose customers were being driven away by stink-bombs. Or, for that matter, wouldn't you call Henry Ford a racketeer? Didn't he force his dealers all over the country, a couple of years ago, to take a certain number of cars, more than they could handle; if they didn't take them and send him the money, they lost their agencies. What do you call that? . . .
You mentioned that labor unions are hiring dynamiters and slug. gers to attain their ends. Well, I may be a lowdown criminal pervert, but I don't think there's anything the matter with that. How do the capitalists treat labor? Is it worse to dynamite a building than to turn out of work, in the middle of winter, thousands of men whose families live from hand to mouth? I marvel there isn't more dynamiting. If there were, I'd probably get a little respect again for the working class. Now, to hell with it! The goddamn stiffs, with their docile suffering, make me sick; and if some of the gangs exploit certain labor unions, I don't care.
But none of the big gangs, so far as I know, really exploit labor unions. Labor is too low; it's weak, and there's nothing in it. We don't go in for the weak, except - in our generous moments - to help them out. Unlike the big capitalists who exploit the weakest class, we reverse the process. We exploit for the most part those above-legitimate business men, the strongest element in our society. I'm not bragging, but in our own peculiar way - and, believe me, kid, I know the thing from the inside - in our peculiar way, we're honest and straightforward about it. We're direct-action business men, that's what we are. We're outlaws, true, but we have laws of our own. Some of the boys carry guns and other bad instruments. You've heard of bombings and killings. Now and then the boys just can't help knockin' some guy over. Too bad. But is that any worse than to starve workmen and their families, or shoot down defenseless worn-out proletarians when they strike trying to improve their lot? I don't think that what the so-called racketeers do is half so mean. We go for the strong. They have the law on their side. And if we sometimes get the best of them, which happens, that's all to our credit. We don't exploit the weak. Anybody can do that.
Talk about rackets! I've been reading in The Nation and New Republic about the new tariff bill - well, if that isn't a racket I'd like to know what it is. Behind it is the force of the state; but force just the same; and who is the state but the gangsters known as Big Business or the G. O. P.? The only difference between them and the "protection racket" in the Bronx that you mention is that the tariff is a billion-dollar proposition while the racket in the Bronx takes in only ten grand per month. As a matter of fact, the average "protection racket" is only a miniature tariff stunt - only it isn't signed by Herbert Hoover with a gold pen.
I saw him in New York after a championship boxing bout. He had won a large sum on the fight and hinted to me that the defeated prizefighter had had "a gun against his belly" and had not dared to win; that, indeed, racketeers had muscled themselves into the prize-ring and controlled it.
We were walking on Fifth Avenue and met a man by the name of Sam, a booze-gambling-labor racketeer from across the river in New Jersey, who had known my Yugoslav friend for years. I had met Sam once before. He is a hearty, generous fellow, an Americanized Russian Jew in his early thirties, a sport from head to foot, with a weekly income of from two to five thousand dollars. He is "in" with most of the big politicians, in and out of office, of several cities in New Jersey. He is, incontestably, a "big shot."
This afternoon he had with him a neat little blonde whom he introduced to us as "Dolly, just in from Hollywood." He said that they were going shopping and wouldn't we come along; he and Dolly were out on a spending jag. Dolly giggled cutely.
We went along and within the next hour and a half visited several of the most exclusive shops on the Avenue. Sam spent three or four thousand dollars on Dolly. In one place he bought her twenty pairs of shoes, each pair costing from twenty to twenty- five dollars, and twenty handbags to match the shoes, which cost anywhere from twenty-five to a hundred dollars each. And it was evident that Sam was in the habit of treating his girl friends in this style.
Later I remarked to my Yugoslav friend that I thought Sam was a damned fool to spend so much money on a girl.
"Maybe he is," he said - "what of it! But then is he any worse than your millionaire who's cleaned up in Wall Street or in some manufacturing racket? Your legitimate plutocrat does the same thing with his chorus girls-so why shouldn't Sam with his Hollywood cutie? Sure, there are millions of people out of work, thousands of them starving, but why should Sam worry about them any more than does John Pierpont Morgan, whose private yacht - so appropriately named the Corsair - cost him two and a half million to build and now costs him $3000 a day to operate. . . . Maybe some day Sam, or Sam's son, if he should have one, will build himself a private yacht as fine as Morgan's and call her the Racketeer. Why not?"
And he laughed.