McMafia: Russian mob versus U.S. Cosa Nostra

russiantattooMisha Glenny, a  BBC reporter and author of  McMafia: A Journey throught he Global Criminal Underworld, says that the Russian protection rackets of the 1990s differed in three ways from the classic mob families of southern Italy or New York and Chicago.

1. The Russian mob was indispensable in the transition from socialism to capitalism.

By the mid-1990s the Russian government estimated that between 40 and 50 percent of its economy was in the gray or black market…the phenomenon of organized crime emerged from chaos and was very brutal. But was a rational response to a highly unusual economic and social environment.

2. Unlike the traditional American and Italian mafias, members of the gangs were not strictly bound by family loyalties.

The codes of the thieves’ world (which conferred honor and recognition on the vory [leader]) only survived a matter of months in Russia’s primitive capitalism….”The Chechen mafia…became a brand name, a franchise – McMafia if you like…”

3. In contrast to the five families of America’s Cosa Nostra, there were thousands of these organizations in Russia.

By 1999, there were more than 11,500 registered “private security firms” employing more than 80,000 people. Of these almost 200,000 had licenses to carry arms

…this brotherhood evolved at an early stage fro the first phase of organized crime, the protection racket, into the second phase, monopoly controller of goods and services. This was the shift from privatized law enforcement agency to a full-fledged organized crime syndicate.


Traditional organized crime activity is analyzed using its two activities (key success factors):

  1. offering products within a monopoly (cigarettes, narcotics, women) and
  2. involuntary protection services (safety from competitors, from bankruptcy).

If viewed in this light, it enables us to understand the structural similarities and differences between franchising and “the mafia”.

  • How we perceive something or our judgments tend to be very sticky.

How we frame or define the actors and activity has a tremendous influence on the limits of our enquiry. There is also a tremendous tendancy to attribute success or failure to the individual rather than to the group or social situation (fundamental attribution error).

This near Cult of the Individual has been used by many totalitarian regimes and is useful in covering systemic opportunism in franchising. It holds out the promise of personal freedom if you submit and mark yourself with the sign of the mob.

  • Both of You (1) fictitious person (corp) and (2) your personality are branded by franchising.

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