The Mafia: an Unexpected Solution to Poverty

Today, the term ‘mafia’ has dark and negative connotations; however, it wasn’t always the case. It was created to defend the weak and the ones in need. However, the Mafia’s goals shifted over time, and it entered another world.

The Beginning

The Mafia was originally created in Sicily. It is a small island south of Italy and it was historically invaded by many enemy powers such as the French, Spanish, Arabs, etc. Sicily saw the rise of capitalism in the 1860s when feudalism was abolished. Feudalism was an economic system based on land ownership. A lord was the owner of a portion of land, which he basically rented to serfs (low-class peasants) in exchange for them cultivating the land. The peasants had few rights and lived in terrible conditions, while the rich lavished on expenses [3]. The atmosphere was unstable, and the Mafia profited from this by buying land and enriching themselves to redistribute to the needy. They could stand up to the ruling class because of their increasing power. It was to some extent a labour union against the elite. The poor relied on the Mafia to help improve their living conditions [1].

The Rise

Feudalism was abolished in 1812 in Sicily, and for almost 50 years, the Italian island was without a country. It was disordered and unsteady. Finally, in 1861, Sicily officially joined Italy. There were still high levels of criminality on the island because it had been unstable for a long time. The government thus asked help from the Mafia to clean it up, and in exchange, the government would ignore the blackmail they did to landowners. It was only a temporary agreement from the government’s perspective until Rome could gain control of Sicily. Instead, the Mafia became embedded in the economy and politics of Sicily and had more authority than the government. The criminal organization started to specialize in intimidation and corruption to keep power. The Mafia became more official because secret oaths and initiation ceremonies were installed [2].

         Benito Mussolini came into power in the 1920s and wanted to halt the increasing power of the force, whom he viewed as a menace to the Fascist administration. He began by attacking the Mafia in all sorts of ways, and the Mafia was now neither democratic nor left-wing; it was simply neutral. However, after WW2, Mussolini was out of the picture, and Sicily began to reconstruct itself after the damages of the war. The Allies occupied Sicily, and the Mafia, trying to resurrect itself, proved to be an ally because it opposed left-wing occupants. The Mafia profited from this occasion and rose to power, becoming an international participant in the drug business in the 1970s [2].                                                                   

The American Mafia

The American Mafia was different from the Sicilian Mafia as it rose to power by expanding the alcohol business during Prohibition. It was a time when people had no right to buy alcohol. The American Mafia used this opportunity to establish roots and increase its power. It quickly rose to power, and by the 1950s, it was involved in all criminal selling, such as loan sharking, prostitution and infiltrating labour unions. An example of this activity is the real-life based character Jimmy Hoffa in the movie The Irishman. He was the president of many union labours and was associated with the Mafia. The American Mafia was secret and unknown to the general public [2].

 However, in the 1980s and 1990s, many Italian and American prosecutors began tracking mobsters through anti-racketeering laws. Even some Mafia members broke their secret code to testify against other members. There were hundreds of arrests by the beginning of the 21st century. Nevertheless, the Mafia still remains present as of today [2].


[1]  Admin. “How Capitalism Created the Mafia.” Socialist Worker, 28 Oct. 2021,

[2] History. “Origins of the Mafia.” HISTORY, 17 Feb. 2023,[3] Cartwright, Mark.

[3] Cartwright, Mark. “Feudalism.” World History Encyclopedia, 22 Mar. 2023,

By Alicia Harvey

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