1972 Playboy Saul Alinsky interview (Know Your Enemy!!)
1972 Playboy Saul Alinsky interview (Know Your Enemy!!)
Native Forest Council ^ | Friday, April 9, 2010 | Jim Britell
Posted on Friday, April 09, 2010 7:10:02 AM by canuck_conservative
ALINSKY: …. I moved over to the table next to the cashier, exchanged a few words with her and then finished my coffee and got up to pay. “Gee, I’m sorry,” I said, “I seem to have lost my check.” She’d seen that all I had was a cup of coffee, so she just said, “That’s OK, that’ll be a nickel.” So I paid and left with my original nickel check still in my pocket and walked a few blocks to the next cafeteria in the same chain and ordered a big meal for a buck forty-five — and, believe me, in those days, for a buck forty-five I could have practically bought the fuckin’ joint. I ate in a corner far away from the cashier, then switched checks and paid my nickel bill from the other place and left. So my eating troubles were taken care of.
But then I began to see other kids around the campus in the same fix, so I put up a big sign on the bulletin board and invited anybody who was hungry to a meeting. Some of them thought it was all a gag, but I stood on the lectern and explained my system in detail, with the help of a big map of Chicago with all the local branches of the cafeteria marked on it. Social ecology! I split my recruits up into squads according to territory; one team would work the South Side for lunch, another the North Side for dinner, and so on. We got the system down to a science, and for six months all of us were eating free. Then the bastards brought in those serial machines at the door where you pull out a ticket that’s only good for that particular cafeteria. That was a low blow. We were the first victims of automation….
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.
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: 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…..
We took a photograph, opening his eyes first, then rushed back to the studio to develop it. We carefully retouched it to eliminate all the bullet holes, and then had it hand-tinted. The next morning, I went back to the wake and presented the photograph to Mrs. Massina. “Dumas gave this to me just last week,” I said, “and I’d like you to have it.” She cried and thanked me, and pretty soon word of the incident spread throughout the gang. “That Alinsky, he’s an all-right motherfucker,” the kids would say, and from that moment on they began to trust me and I was able to work with them, all because of the photograph. It was an improvised tactic and it worked.
PLAYBOY: It was also pretty cynical and manipulative.
ALINSKY: It was a simple example of good organizing. And what’s wrong with it? ….
PLAYBOY: How does a self-styled outside agitator like yourself get accepted in the community he plans to organize?
ALINSKY: The first and most important thing you can do to win this acceptance is to bait the power structure into publicly attacking you. In Back of the Yards, when I was first establishing my credentials, I deliberately maneuvered to provoke criticism. I made outrageous statements to the press, I attacked every civic and business leader I could think of, and I goaded the establishment to strike back …..