How the bourgeoisie uses the drug trade
This contribution is based largely on the book The Politics of Heroin (CIA Complicity in the Global Drugs Trade) by Alfred W. McCoy. It deals with the period around World War II, the US state’s use of the Mafia domestically, its use in the invasion of Italy and the subsequent explosion of heroin production up to the late 1950s. McCoy’s is a brave book whose detailed research put him in danger both in the 'field' and back home in the USA. If anything, the analysis in the book is somewhat understated and this makes it all the more effective.
In 1980, US President George Bush Senior, ex-head of the secret services, declared his 'War on Drugs' when the CIA were up to their necks in the drugs business through a whole mosaic of alliances and the protection that they afforded it. Nixon had already declared a 'war on drugs' in 1972 and Reagan after him. Clinton followed with his own expanded version in 1996 and then Bush Junior in 2002. Through all these wars on drugs, opium, hashish, coca and their derivatives, as well as synthetic stimulants (amphetamines, MDMA) increasingly traded like major global commodities according to the laws of the market. This in itself is nothing new. Early European merchants and colonial adventurers, including the British, Dutch, Spanish and French, discovered opium’s potential in the seventeenth century.
More recently, in the 40 years of the Cold War (up to 1989), the USA’s prohibition on drugs went hand in hand with using and protecting major drug dealers in the 'fight against communism'. Through the 50s to the 80s, the Central Intelligence Agency (created by Truman in 1947) used tribal armies that under its protection became major drug lords in Burma, Laos, Afghanistan and Nicaragua. The financing of these armies through the drugs trade relieved the CIA of paying for their costly upkeep (this was in contrast to French imperialism’s role in the drug trade after the war which was much more 'hands on' in the trade itself – see below).
The drugs trade expanded across Asia, Central and Latin America involving Corsican, Italian, nationalist Chinese, Honduran, Haitian, Panamanian and Pakistani gangsters in the CIA 'enforced' non-enforcement areas; generally speaking this went hand in hand with the expansion of the arms trade. After the CIA’s intervention in Burma opium production in this country increased 40-fold; in Afghanistan it was up 460-fold a year or so ago. In 2000, the CIA’s main covert battlegrounds – and thus of the greatest interest to US imperialism – were Afghanistan, Burma and Laos; in that order the three leading opium producers in the world.
In the late 1940s, heroin addiction looked like falling to insignificant levels in the USA which wasn’t surprising given years of world war. Today its prisons are full of drug-related offenders. Five to 10% of all HIV cases are reported to be down to intravenous drug use. The prohibition of drugs, like that of alcohol, facilitated the expansion of the industry and the expansion of corruption where even 'war on drugs' money was channelled into production in some cases. Local suppression turned into global stimulus. The consequences of increased prices and no reduction in demand could only encourage increased production which is pushed back and forth across the globe but always expanding to meet demand. Prohibition has been a major factor in turning the drugs industry into one of the world’s biggest, larger than textiles, steel and automobiles. According to a 1997 UN report “highly centralised” transnational crime groups, with nearly 4 million members (or “associates”) world-wide control most of the drug trade within which police and state corruption and protection are extensive. Despite all these 'wars' on drugs, US diplomats and the CIA have been involved in the drugs trade in what McCoy calls “coincidental” complicity, condoning, concealment and active involvement in transportation.
The USA and the Mafia
World War Two had seen the Mafia in Sicily smashed by Mussolini. Surviving only in outposts in the mountainous areas and in Marseilles, the Corsican Mafia was weakened by their collaboration with the Gestapo. Both these structures, and their drugs businesses, were revived and given new life by the US from the beginning of the Cold War as imperialism reacted to the new realities of American and Russian rivalry. In the 1930s, the 'new guard' of Salvatore C. Luciana, aka, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, turned the American Mafia into a centralised, relatively peaceful national cartel ready to take over the prostitution and narcotics rackets, including the Don’s once-forbidden drug, heroin. Luciano was arrested and convicted in the late 1930s Mafia clampdown. In 1942, in order to exert control over the New York waterfront, the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) approached Mafia boss Joseph “Joe Socks” Lanza, also a union agent, for his help. Lanza arranged a meeting with an ONI go-between and Luciano who was residing in Albany prison. Apart from helping with the imposition of domestic repression on the docks and on dockworkers, Luciano also helped in the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943, providing maps, charts and Mafia contacts in the region. ONI operatives reported that the Mafia were “extremely cooperative”.
In the invasion of Sicily local mafiosi were responsible for the rapid speed of General Patton’s advance through the mined roads into Palermo. Further, there is no doubt about the relationship between the US military occupation of Italy and the Mafia, whose representatives were selected as mayors by the Allied Military Government (AMGOT). The commander of this force, Colonel Charles Poletti, appointed Luciano’s lieutenant and New York gangster Vito Genovese (now living in Naples and doing very well after working with the fascists) to assist the US war effort. Genovese was soon using military transports to move all sorts of contraband goods around, reminiscent of Milo Minderbinder in Catch 22. In the meantime Luciano and his cohorts were beginning to integrate all the aspects of the global heroin trade.