The fight against the Mafia may have been a stated priority for Italy's successive governments, but the fact is that the Mafia has never been as influential as it is today. They have led charge after charge against "organised crime", presenting each new wave of arrests and trials - including the indictment of several Mafia bosses and the so-called "maxi-trials" - as "the" decisive blow that would rid Italy of Mafia rule. To no avail. The power of Italy's many shades of Mafiosi can in fact be measured - they already own whole sectors of the economy and can rely on the connivance of countless people at every level of the political system to maintain and increase their influence.
If the tentacles of the Mafia tend to regrow like those of the Hydra of Lerna every time one is cut off, it is because the Sicilian Cosa Nostra the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta, the Neapolitan (Camorra and the Sacra Corona Unitaof Puglia, do not just have deep historical roots, but because they are able to draw plenty of nourishment from the economic mechanisms of today's capitalist society, allowing them constantly to renew themselves.
The mafia during the risorgimento
The structure of the Mafia and its peculiar relationship with the state authorities - especially in Sicily - derive from conditions in which, in the second half of the 19th century, the unification of Italy was imposed against the ingdom of Naples, (then known as the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies) which controlled Sicily and the whole of the southern peninsula, the "mezzogiorno". While this process, called the Risorgimento(resurrection) amounted to a bourgeois revolution for the whole of Italy, this revolution remained far from complete.
Sicily had a long tradition of secret armies and societies whose existence was justified by the need to fight against foreign occupation, if not the need to defend the poor against the powerful, while maintaining an ambiguous relationship with the same powers.
As for the Sicilian aristocrats, long before the unification, they were in the habit of hiring henchmen in the form of private militias to impose their feudal order on the peasantry, collecting taxes and ensuring they carried out their duties. The abolition of feudalism in 1812 reinforced this requirement, rather than ending it, because in Sicily and the South, the aristocrats retained ownership of their large estates. But 1812 did mark the beginning of a long process of decay, for the old system of land tenure. The big landlords moved to the towns, leaving overseers called "gabellotti", to manage their large estates, who collected the "gabella", feudal tax. To carry out their duties, the gabellotti elied on the help of the estate's guards or "campieri".
In the meantime, the pressure coming from peasants aspiring to own the land they tilled, developed to the point that the last period of Bourbon rule in Naples was marked by peasant agitation and insurrections, against which the gabellotti esorted to an old recipe for defending the interests of the big landowners: organising their own armed gangs. These gabelloti, however, could now acquire land for themselves, and thus came to constitute a new rural bourgeois class. They used the same repressive methods against the peasantry which they had previously used on behalf of the feudal lords, only now this was also on their own account.
In northern Italy, the bourgeoisie wanted to set up a single state, which would include the whole of the southern peninsula and Sicily, and which would ensure that it had a large and protected market for itself. The Kingdom of Naples relied on the support of the propertied classes of southern Italy - that is, basically, on the old land-owning aristocracy and on a weak city-dwelling bourgeoisie that carried practically no weight outside Naples.
There is a general tendency to reduce this period of Italian unification to the heroic exploits of Garibaldi and his army of a thousand "Red Shirts", which landed in Sicily in May 1860. They were to free the island from the Bourbons' oppressive power and win it over to the Italian state-to-be. But it was the king of Piedmont-Sardinia and his Prime Minister, Cavour, who had taken the initiative in the unification process and who had chosen to use Garibaldi within strict, well-defined limits. Garibaldi lent the process a revolutionary appearance, thereby helping to secure the support of the nationalist petit-bourgeoisie. But this was no more than a front. The last thing the northern state wanted was a mobilisation of the masses threatening a real revolution, which would have undermined the fragile social balance of the southern regions.
The Piedmontese merely wanted to strike a compromise with the South's propertied classes. Their objective was to convince them that the new state would guarantee their social domination and offer them better protection than a decaying Kingdom of Naples. They only needed to recall how in 1848, King Ferdinand II had ordered the bombardment of Messina to defend the Bourbon throne of the Two Sicilies - earning himself the nickname Re Bomba("Bomb King"). Times may have changed, but the island's propertied classes needed proof that, if necessary, their new protectors would act as unflinchingly as Re Bomba.
It fell upon none other than Garibaldi to give them that proof. His landing in Sicily was interpreted by the peasant masses as the signal for their own liberation. They rebelled against the aristocratic landowners and started taking over the land. But the self-styled "revolutionary" sent by Cavour to free Sicily set his thousand "Red Shirts" against the peasants. Indeed, one of Garibaldi's first moves was to proclaim himself dictator of Sicily, by the will of King Victor Emmanuel II. As such, he organised the repression of the peasant movement, much to the relief of the Sicilian aristocracy. As a consequence, the Bourbon king was replaced by a Piedmontese king who established his rule in Sicily and the whole South. In the words of Italian novelist Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, author of The Leopard "to stay as they are, things have to change" Big landowners now had a different protector, but maintained their domination over the rest of society, nevertheless.
This meant that the new state was unable to develop a broad social base within the population of the South. Garibaldi's landing and the inclusion of Sicily and the South in the unified state of Italy, was only a superficial revolution: it did not set alight the whole of society, and thus could not transform class relations nor deprive the armed bands of gabellottis of their role). On the contrary, the fact that the old social structures remained, and that a compromise was struck between the old propertied classes and the new state, opened up a space for he development and the consolidation of these armed bands. The Mafia organisations were able to impose their existence as a kind of secretive power, acting as a necessary intermediary between Sicilian society and a unified Italian state which was too remote.
Armed bands at the service the Sicilian bourgeoisie
The origin of the word "Mafia" emains doubtful, though many historians would now say that it comes from the Arabic "muhafiz", eaning "protector or guard". The history of Sicily's secret organisation, the Mafia, is not well known, and for a good and obvious reason - it is secret!
In his study of the Sicilian Mafia t the end of the 19th century, historian Salvatore Lupo showed that a layer of rich farmers and other notables, including gabellotti, ook advantage of the existing relationship of forces to impose themselves as indispensable middlemen between the declining aristocracy and a state power that had no roots in Sicilian society.
Because they did not hesitate to resort to armed violence, intimidation and murder, in the context of a weak state, the Mafiosi ould impose themselves as the only credible mediators in situations of conflict. Problems like cattle theft, or disagreements over debts were solved, not by the state nor the judicial system, but through a "componenda",a "deal" in which the local Mafioso layed the role of an arbitrator - for a fee he made sure to collect. In the end, Sicilians went along with the decisions of this "tribunal", because everyone knew that if they did not accept its verdict, their bullet-riddled bodies would one day be found in the woods. And the "code of silence", the omertà,would forever prevent the identification of the murderer because of the total absence of witnesses. Of course, the Mafiosi ere more respectful of the aristocrats and big landowners who, generally speaking, were not submitted to this kind of treatment. But those who dared to try and manage without the Mafiosi's ompulsory arbitration ran the risk of being robbed or having their wells poisoned in retaliation. After a while, they too, came to the conclusion that it was more reasonable to accept the Mafia's rbitration than wait for the intervention of state authorities which were too far away.
Moreover, there was a lingering mistrust of the Italian state's authority. In 1866, the army was sent to Palermo to quash an insurrection which had been partly led by supporters of the previous regime, but which was also based on genuine popular discontent. The government troops drowned the revolt in blood. Then, between 1891-1894, there was a much larger, more conscious movement of the fascii siciliani dei lavoratori Even though Mussolini was to steal their name a quarter of a century later, these "Sicilian workers' leagues" of the 19th century had nothing to do with a fascist movement. All over Sicily, these leagues organised poor peasants, farmhands, sharecroppers, industrial workers, miners, craftsmen, etc.. The leagues expressed the demands of their supporters, including the peasants' aspiration to own their own piece of land, as well as their egalitarian and socialist feelings. Land occupations were organised inside the latifundias (large estates), but the state's army responded with bloody repression including, in January 1893, the massacre at Caltavuturo.
Faced with a mass movement that was rapidly spreading to the rest of Sicily, Giovanni Giolitti's Liberal government made a few concessions, before being replaced at the end of 1893, by a new government, headed by right-winger and former Garibaldi supporter, Francesco Crispi. Under pressure from the Sicilian landowners, he organised a large-scale crackdown that sent the leaders of the movement to jail. As for the Mafia even though locally some of its members joined the fasci movement, its real involvement came later - when it helped carry out the repression.
"The state consists of special bodies of armed men, wrote Frederick Engels in a well-known formulation, which, in a nutshell, explains how, in a society divided into classes, it is necessary to have a power based on armed force in order to enforce this social division for the benefit of the possessing class. But in the highly unstable conditions of post-union Sicily, the armed force of the Italian state turned out to be too weak to carry out this task. Which meant that the Mafia became an indispensable force for the Sicilian ruling class.As the expression of the requirements of part of the local bourgeoisie, rivalling, but at the same time acting as auxiliary to the state, the Mafia became a force to be reckoned with in Sicilian society as a "special body of armed men". And this meant it also took on a real organisational form, under the name of the "Honourable Society" (l'Onorata società), led by Don Vito Cascio Ferro, who appeared as the first Mafia boss, towards the end of the 19th century. It was he who gave the Mafia its centralised structure and territorial organisation consisting of fiefdoms, each controlled by a "family", as well as its financial system based on the "pizzo", a tax whereby everyone is forced to pay their share of the mafiosi's income. This organisation later took the name "Cosa nostra" ("Our Thing"), re-importing the name the Sicilian mafiosi had given to their American organisation.
This "Honourable Society" and its members, the "Honourable Men", were able to find accomplices and even had their own quasi-official representatives inside the state machinery. Born in a pre-capitalist environment, the Mafiawas able to keep abreast with economic developments and position itself in the business world where it could specialise in those areas which were, of necessity, outside of bourgeois legality.
Mafia and mafiosi bourgeoisie
From the end of the 19th century, therefore, one could say that a real Mafia "bourgeoisie" had come into existence - as was shown by the notorious murder of Emanuele Notarbartolo in February 1893. It caused a national scandal since the person involved was a rich bourgeois, ex-mayor of Palermo and manager of the Bank of Sicily up to 1890. The affair heralded a new era for the Mafia
Raffaele Palizzolo, who had ordered the murder, was also a well-known and powerful figure, having been elected to the Italian Chamber of Deputies, thanks to his network of political protégésand cronies. Disagreements had sprung up between the two men. And when Notarbartolo accused Palizzolo of embezzlement, the latter organised for him to be killed. The ensuing scandal was such that Palizzolo was actually imprisoned, but after a series of trials held in northern Italy, he was eventually freed on grounds of insufficient evidence, making a triumphant return to Sicily and portraying himself as a martyr!
This whole affair exposed the fact that the Mafia was no longer just an organisation of the rural Sicilian bourgeoisie, but was linked to part of the urban bourgeoisie, where it enjoyed the support of influential members of the political class. Indeed, the national press had used the opportunity of the Notarbartolo murder to highlight the links between the mafia and members of the Sicilian upper class, who, while not denying the existence of a mafia, claimed that the press campaign was an invention of ill-intentioned Northerners who only wanted to denigrate the people of the South and their customs.
Two decades later, the period of fascism made things a little more difficult for the Mafia, at least initially. Mussolini wanted to demonstrate that his dictatorship was unchallenged throughout Italy. He therefore dispatched his prefect Cesare Mori to Sicily, instructing him to clamp down on the Mafia, with all the means at the disposal of the state. Mori did just that, staging real military operations which led to a huge number of arrests and deportations of people involved with the Mafia. Many others felt they had no option but to flee the country, emigrating, in particular to the United States. This repression, which won Mori the nickname of the "Iron Prefect", certainly got rid of some of the island's mafiosi gangsters, but Mori never targeted the layer above the hitmen and the smaller local "families". The Mafia upper crust of financiers and big landowners was not only left untouched, but some of them became prominent members of Mussolini's Fascist party and his government. The "Iron Prefect" himself eventually fell from grace. And in fact the "understanding" between the Mafia and the central power remained intact, even if it was less visible.
After this period of semi-clandestine existence, the Mafia was able to resume its activity with renewed strength thanks to the landing of Anglo-American troops on the island in 1943 (which it had facilitated) and the end of Fascist rule. The Mafia quickly restored control over its territory, thanks to the benevolence of the occupation authorities who welcomed an organisation that carried some weight and was able to keep a tight rein on the population. For a while, some mafiosi even supported a short-lived movement for the independence of Sicily, declaring that they wanted it to be the USA's 50th state!
More significantly, the Mafia consolidated its grip over Sicily's countryside, where the end of the war had given new life to the peasant movement. Peasant unionists and members of the Communist Party started organising new occupations of the "latifundias" whose owners had reinforced their positions during the Fascist era. In this respect, the repressive forces of Italy's so-called "democratic state" and those of the Mafia shared the same objective. As early as 1944, in Villalba, the local head of the Mafia, Calogero Vizzini, ordered his henchmen to use live ammunition against a meeting organised by Communist Party leader, Li Causi. But the most notorious episode was the massacre of Portella della Ginestra, on May 1st 1947, when the thugs of the right-wing separatist bandit, Salvatore Giuliano, opened fire on peasants who were meeting there, killing at least ten people. Every day, the lives of peasant trade unionists were threatened by mafiosi who could rely on many accomplices in the state apparatus, at every level, all the way to Rome.
Salvatore Giuliano and his gang subcontracted their services to the Mafia for a while. However, in 1950, Giuliano was killed by Pisciotta, his own lieutenant, who himself died in prison 4 years later, after drinking poisoned coffee. In all these cases the web of complicity reached the level of Minister of the Interior Mario Scelba, the strong man of Christian Democracy. These successive assassinations, eliminating potentially embarrassing witnesses, protected those involved in covering up Mafia activities.
"Order" having thus been restored, the end of the postwar era opened up a period of prosperity. The construction boom of the 1950s and 1960s is still called the "Sack of Palermo" ("scempio", in reference to the destruction of the city's old villas and parks to make way for characterless and shoddily constructed apartment blocks. Fortunes were made by a handful of contractors, like Mafia chief Francesco Vassallo, thanks to their friendly ties with Palermo's Christian Democratic "decision makers".
However, for Cosa Nostra, the whole period turned out to involve a degree of uncertainty. It seems that, little by little, the Mafia was losing its grip over Sicilian society. The period was marked by economic expansion and industrial development, by the growth of the services sector and the creation of public service jobs, but also by a massive emigration to the northern parts of Italy where there was a shortage of labour. As a result, fewer people depended on the Mafia to make a living. In a society that appeared to be going forward, the "Men of Honour" did not carry the same weight. Cosa Nostra carried on, but its role was less important, due to the self-sustaining development initiated by the population as a whole. Unfortunately, this state of affairs was merely an interlude.
Indeed the 1970s represented a turning point for the Mafia. When economic expansion came to a halt, capitalism's parasitic activities came back to the fore. The Mafia's collusion with Christian-Democrat municipalities meant that the results of the land auctions and invitations for public tender, organised by City Hall, almost always favoured mafiosi contractors. The Mafia collected its own "tax" the pizzo, n practically every kind of business whether it be from agrobusiness or road construction. But in fact the Mafia was preparing another decisive jump. The "mafiosi bourgeoisie" has now become a business-oriented bourgeoisie rooted in real estate, construction, public works and finance. At the same time, it has moved into international trade, taking the leading role in the worldwide expansion of drug trafficking. Its clandestine organisation, its "army", its use of coercion and its ties with Cosa Nostra "families" in the USA, are vital advantages for such activities.
But everything is not that simple inside Cosa Nostra. Not all conflicts can be solved by the "cupola", a Supreme Court of sorts where representatives of the different families get together to sort out, theoretically in an amicable way, problems like territory infringements and jurisdiction. Mafia wars between different families break out periodically and take a heavy toll. And when, periodically too, policemen or judges are deemed too curious or seem to take their role too much to heart, they are threatened and eventually eliminated. The state is then forced to react and the government declares that the "fight against the Mafia" is back on its agenda, limiting the Mafia's field of activity and forcing it to keep a lower profile.
Camorra, 'Ndrangheta and others
The Camorra, Naples' own Mafia, developed in parallel with its Sicilian counterpart, even if it was born in an urban environment which was quite different from the Sicilian Mafia's rural origins. There again, the origin of the word that designates Naples' criminal rule is disputed. But most historians think it comes from the Spanish word, Guarduña, which was apparently used since the 16th century, to describe the armed bandits who reigned over the districts of Naples and forced people to pay protection money to them. In 1820, during a meeting convened in the church of Santa Caterina a Formiello, near Porta Capuana in Naples, the so-called Bella Società Riformata("Reformed Polite Society"), was formed, giving an organisational structure to these bands of armed men, which in effect was the inception of the Comorra. At the time, the city was permanently on the verge of revolt and the king's official guards were in no position to prevent district gangs from fleecing the population. So, he decided to tolerate them and occasionally to use them. Thus began a long chapter of collaboration with Napoli's gangsters. Some were put on the police payroll, which helped to transform the Camorra into an instrument for controlling the population.
In 1860, the unified Italian state inherited the Bourbon kings' old state machinery - and its methods. With ups and downs, the relations between the state and the Camorra were maintained, based on a mixture of complicity, cooperation and mutual respect. The Camorra experienced a number of setbacks, though. The Bella Società Riformatawas officially dissolved in 1915. And up until today, the attempts at endowing it with a hierarchy similar to Sicily's Cosa Nostra have all failed. As for the Nuova Camorra Organizzata("New Organised Camorra") launched by Rafaele Cutolo in the 1970s in an attempt to revive the 19th century's Bella Sociétà Riformata,it met with the hostility of Cutolo's rivals and sparked off a bloody clan war. But in the end, the "families" found a way of sharing out the territory between themselves. The Camorra has survived thus far, thanks to the state's tolerance and to its own capacity to adapt to the economic situation, taking advantage of each and every opportunity offered by trafficking and the underground economy. So much so that, today, the Camorra may be more deeply entrenched in Campania (Naples' region) than Cosa Nostra is in Sicily.
The history of Calabria's 'Ndrangheta is similar in many ways to that of its Sicilian counterpart. The name 'Ndrangheta comes from the Greek andragathía "manly courage") and was used in the 19th century to designate the secret societies set up by peasants to resist the landlords. Against their extortion by the rich, the peasants developed their own extortion schemes and ended up degenerating into criminal gangs. However the members of these gangs still received a measure of respect from the population, which allowed the upper stratum of the rich to make use of them. So here too, the secretive power of the 'Ndrangheta was able to impose itself as a necessary substitute for a distant or absent state. The 'Ndrangheta experienced real difficulties under Fascism, but after World War II and the landing of the Allied troops it resurfaced. As in Sicily, the occupation authorities preferred the cities to be run by men of influence who could control a territory.
The 'Ndrangheta is also the Mafia-type organisation that has experienced the most spectacular development in recent years. It is a discreet organisation, based on family ties, initiation rites and a strict selection of membership - all of which make it difficult to infiltrate. It now controls the agricultural economy of the area. And while it used to be present in the South only, today it controls whole sectors of the North's economy as well.
As for the Sacra Corona Unita- the Mafia-type organisation operating in the region of Apulia (Puglia, the region covering the heel and stirrup of Italy's "boot") and the La Stidda(the "Star") operating in southern Sicily, they are more recent organisations, emanating from the Camorra and Cosa Nostra, at the initiative of Mafia amilies.
Sharing a common history, all these Mafia-type organisations have common features. Some may seem like mere folklore - like the procedures for admission to these secret societies, including initiation rites requiring new members to swear loyalty to the traditions, obedience to the bosses, and to accept in advance the death sentence as the penalty for betrayal or disclosure of any of the organisation's secrets. However, these conditions are less dictated by folklore and tradition than by necessity, in so far as they allow these secret societies to act efficiently, at the margin of the law and to be respected both by their own members and by all those with whom they do business.
The supposed mafia "culture" originates in such necessity. According to Mafia rules, in Sicily, a "Man of Honour" belonging to Cosa Nostra must obey the following principles: keep his word, reject treason, punish the traitor, be a fair arbiter, agree to sacrifice himself for his "friends" - that is, for the organisation. These moral principles are often presented as being typically Sicilian, but have a lot to do with Catholic conformism. The "Man of Honour" is expected to behave as a good Christian, have no other ambition than to sustain his family and be respectful of women. He would not, for instance, corrupt the youth or live off prostitution. Of course, these "principles" are brushed aside whenever they run counter to the Mafia's interests, especially when challenged by other organisations that do not pretend to have the same principles. If the issue is winning or losing a "market", principles will be thrown overboard in no time.
The "moral" principles of each Mafia organisation in a sense reflect the history and the society out of which it evolved, giving each its specificity. To a certain extent, they bind the members of the gang together and give the "Man of Honour" and his personal and family milieu a good conscience. Equipped with what thus passes for a kind of mafia ideology, Mafiosi can convince themselves that even though they act in a way which most people consider criminal, they are only defending their kith and kin, as their own tradition dictates. There are similar rules in every delinquent gang on earth. But the fact is that this particular gang has, for over a century, managed to live in amongst a section of society and indeed amongst a large fraction of its leading strata.
The Mafia and the economy
The recourse to coercion, murder and all the other methods at the disposal of those operating outside the bounds of legality - facilitated by the tolerance, if not the complicity of the authorities - has paved the mafias' way to success. Today, Italy's mafias play an ever-growing economic role.
In Sicily, the old rural Mafia has become a genuine business-oriented organisation, controlling the tender system for public works and housing construction. It has taken a controlling share in the international heroin trade. It collects the pizzo on most activities. It has ties with top financiers who help to solve its money-laundering problems. According to some reports, Cosa Nostra's global turnover is roughly £17bn - that is, one quarter of Sicily' GDP - and growing.
In Campania, thanks to the sharing out of the territory between them, the Camorra families have also laid their hands on a sizeable part of the economy. Author Roberto Saviano, who is still threatened with death by the Casal di Principe clan, whose names were mentioned in his book, "Gomorra", has given us an idea of the Mafias' criminal activities.
Starting from traditional operations like cigarette and drug trafficking, lending money at extortionate rates, prostitution, real estate, public works, collecting the pizzo on shipping activities, the Camorra has shifted to much wider areas. Such as taking over control of subcontracting companies in the textile industry - where they employ workers on the black - and now the huge business of recycling and disposal of waste. The "salesmen" of the Camorra travel throughout Europe offering their services to help with the dumping of industrial waste - to bury it in the Neapolitan countryside at rock-bottom prices - and at the risk of irreparably polluting the whole area. The Camorra's hegemony over Campania reinforces itself. Increasing unemployment with the cutting of industrial jobs has meant that a large number of local youths find the job of Camorra henchman the only one on offer. The Camorra's annual turnover is said to be at least £17bn as well.
As for Calabria's 'Ndrangheta, it developed less spectacularly than its counter-parts in Sicily and Naples. It has always kept a lower profile and has known less settlings of scores and murders. However it was no less efficient. It recently showed that it was still useful as an antiworker militia serving the interests of the citrus plantation bosses. In January 2010, in Rosarno, a punitive raid against immigrant workers was organised by 'Ndrangheta thugs. In fact, a good deal of the agrobusiness sector is today controlled by the 'Ndrangheta itself, which is active in harvesting and transport, as well as in exportation. It also controls real estate and public works, as was shown by reports on the contracts allocated to various 'Ndrangheta families for the construction of the Salerno-Reggio di Calabria highway. Still, the greater part of the organisation's turnover comes from the dominant position it secured for itself when it expanded into northern Italy's cocaine market - which is said to account for over 60 % of 'Ndrangheta's income. 'Ndrangheta bosses must launder huge amounts of money that come their way through investing in real estate, or setting up construction firms for which they secure contracts through threats and racketeering. In this way, one wealthy area in the outskirts of Milan will in future be paying taxes directly to clans from Calabria. Thanks to these manoeuvres, the 'Ndrangheta has become the richest mafia-type organisation, with a turnover of £38bn in Italy alone. As a matter of fact, it is now active in other European countries, like Germany, Spain or France.
The yearly turnover of all Italian mafias together, is said to be near the £80bn mark. According to the Confesercenti, a small bosses' association, the global balance sheet of Italy's mafias even showed a turnover of £112bn in 2009 and a £65bn net profit. The mafias' turnover represents more than 71 % of Italy's GDP! No trafficking escapes the Mafias' control, whether it be dealing in human organs, arms, radioactive waste, sanitation, casinos, night clubs or immigration.
Mafia and political power
From the outset, the relationships between the Mafia and political power were based on complicity rather than on confrontation. In the eyes of Sicily's bourgeoisie, the Mafia was and remains an instrument serving its class domination. The 'Ndrangheta and the Camorra play the same role in Calabria and Campania. This implies that one way or another, the Mafia itself penetrates the sphere of political power, and uses it to a certain extent as its own instrument - or at least that these two parallel power structures cooperate and sometime coincide.
Collaboration exists at local level, where elected politicians rely entirely on a grateful clientele to whom they render service. Thanks to their local implantation, the Mafia or the Camorra can provide a read-made electorate or, on the contrary, withdraw approval from candidates who are not "understanding enough", or just suppress them altogether. Scandals regularly break out when the involvement of the mafias becomes too visible. But in areas controlled by the Mafia, it is a permanent and inevitable phenomenon.
It was public knowledge, for instance, during the long reign of Christian Democracy, that the Christian Democrats in Sicily were the party of the Mafia. The whole period since the end of WW2 was one of open collaboration, most notably under the reign of Palermo's Christian Democrat mayors, Salvo Lima and then Vito Ciancimino.
The state, however, had to take measures against the most visible Mafia misdeeds. It is worth mentioning in passing, that anti-communist and anti-unionist repression were always equally shared by mafiosi and bourgeois politicians, the former mostly doing the dirty work the latter could not afford to do themselves.
Of course, national political leaders are not openly involved in the Mafia's wheelings and dealings. However, it is obvious that relationships are established between party leaders and Mafia bosses, through the intermediary of local politicians who are in closer contact with the organisation. The most famous example in this respect is Italy's seven times Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, who was a prominent member of practically every government between 1954 and 1992 and presently lives the quiet life of a senator of the Republic. Because of his exceptionally long career, Andreotti came to be known as the "stainless steel" Prime Minister. Now, according to declarations of a "repentant" Mafioso, Andreotti had no qualms about meeting Mafia boss Toto Riina, as he did, for instance, in Palermo in September 1987. That now notorious meeting between the two men went so well that upon leaving his host, Andreotti bid Riina farewell with a kiss, in pure Mafia fashion. The accusations levelled against Andreotti on account of his ties with the Mafia brought him to court on several occasions, but he avoided conviction because delays in proceedings always managed to exceed judicial time limits. According to one court ruling, however, "the active collaboration between Andreotti and Cosa Nostra was a fact.
In the 1970s, the biggest Cosa Nostra boss, Stefano Bontate, had close ties with Palermo mayors Salvo Lima and Vito Ciancimino, the two most involved with the Mafia, but also prominent members of Christian Democracy and staunch supporters of Andreotti. The extent of their "active collaboration" also came out later in court. But nothing changed until a new clan, the Corleonesi (named after Corleone, their home town) started challenging Bontate's power. After Bontate's murder in 1981, Cosa Nostra's new capo di tutti i capi the bosses' boss) was Toto Riina. He was less inclined to compromises than his predecessor and under his rule, the relations between the Mafia and Christian Democracy were more problematic. However, pressured by the Mafia, the state made several gestures in favour of the Mafia, like cancelling several court verdicts. It also turned a blind eye to the assassination of super-prefect Dalla Chiesa, who had been sent to Sicily on a special mission. In this context, Andreotti's kiss to Riina was interpreted by some as a gesture of mutual respect between two bosses of whom it was hard to say which was more "mafia" than the other.
More recently, the circumstances surrounding the 1992 "war" against the Mafia, which was marked by the killing of judges Falcone and Borsellino in spectacular bomb attacks, once more made the headlines. The whole affair was sparked off by the assassination of Palermo ex-mayor, Salvo Lima. Despite being the official Mafia-state go-between, he failed to obtain the mercy he had always guaranteed to the "godfathers". We know today that Cosa Nostra boss, Toto Riina asked Vito Ciancimino, Lima's successor, to deliver the document containing his twelve conditions for putting an end to the "war". Most of these conditions demanded more flexibility in the proceedings against Cosa Nostra. People were murdered simply to prove that the Mafia meant business.
Of course the details of the ensuing negotiations are not known. But we do know that a few months later, in early 1993, Riina himself was arrested. He had obviously been thrown to the dogs by his right-hand man, one Bernardo Provenzano. His arrest had been carefully prepared. Provenzano then replaced Riina and the relationship between Cosa Nostra and the state suddenly improved. In the meantime, Christian Democracy was plagued with scandals. It was constantly losing ground, but according to the testimonies of Cosa Nostra "turncoats", it still gave a series of new guarantees to the Mafia.
But the Mafia bosses were aware that the new party, about to be launched by Silvio Berlusconi, "understood" their situation - and so they gave him and his party their support.
The deal had been sold to Cosa Nostra by one of Berlusconi's advisors, Marcello dell'Utri, from Sicily, later convicted of criminal conspiracy in connection with the Mafia. But this is why, in 1994, a majority of Sicilians voted for the newly-created Forza Italia party which easily beat Christian Democracy, allowing Berlusconi to become Italy's Prime Minister.
Thus the Mafia evidently has numerous channels through which it can influence the state, just as the state is able to find the means to control the Mafia, at least to a certain extent. The state can, for example, choose to support one clan boss against another; or to ignore for years on end the hiding place of a Mafia boss, even if it is quite easily found. Until, of course, the day when the state decides to put an end to its tacit agreement, in order to arrest the boss in question, as was the case with Riina and Provenzano. This ambiguous relationship, in which the state and the Mafia fight it out in public, but in fact tolerate each other behind the scenes, sustained itself under all the Christian Democrat governments and has remained in place up until today - maybe it is even reinforced - under Berlusconi.
Managing mafia capital
The huge turnover which is the result of mafia businesses and its stupendously increasing profits are indicative of an alarming reality: the capital owned by the mafias has a rate of profit and rate of accumulation which is has outstripped those of other types of capital. In fact for Italy alone, profits are said to be £67bn euros per year, of which only a small part can be spent on luxury goods (mansions, yachts, luxury cars, etc.,). And Cosa Nostra, the Camorra or the 'Ndrangheta are left with the delicate problem of laundering the rest and finding appropriate investments.
To solve this problem the Mafia has its own financial experts whose job is precisely to clean the money and buy stock, or invest in legal and illegal activities. This was banker Michele Sindona's job in the 1960s and 1970s, at a time when Cosa Nostra was developing at a very fast rate. Sindona's meteoric rise was made possible by his close ties with Christian Democracy and Andreotti, the Vatican and the Church's IOR Bank headed by Bishop Marcinkus and Roberto Calvi's Ambrosiano Bank.
Sindona was not just an opinionated anti-communist braggart. He pioneered the laundering of Mafia's dirty money in tax havens and became famous for doing the same thing for his friends and clients, including not only Cosa Nostra bosses, but bishops and well known society figures he had met as a member of the Masonic Lodge known as P2, a conglomerate of reactionary conspirators. Neither did he refrain from an occasional speculative binge, like the 1973 speculation on the Italian lira.
In 1979, Sindona was behind the assassination of lawyer Ambrosoli who was conducting an investigation into his business activities. But Sindona himself and Roberto Calvi, Cosa Nostra's other banker at the time, both ended up assassinated. Sindona died in the prison where he was serving a life sentence for the murder of Ambrosoli, after drinking a cup of coffee poisoned with cyanide; Calvi was found hanging from scaffolding under Blackfriar's bridge in London. It seems that both murders were decided in retaliation against their apparently dodgy management of Mafia funds.
But that did not put an end to what can be called the "special accumulation of Mafia capital". This is precisely what judges Falcone and Borsalino were trying to assess when they were murdered in 1992 by Cosa Nostra. The fact is that since the 1980s and the death of Sindona and Calvi, little has filtered through on the Mafia's financial organisation. Sometimes though, light is unexpectedly shed on this. In 2009 for instance, Berlusconi's government issued a call to capital owners, inviting them to repatriate the money they had entrusted to foreign financial institutions in exchange for a modest 5 % tax and no questions asked as to the origin of the funds in question.
A total of £71bn were thus "regularised", of which £29bn have no strings attached and could be reinvested in Italy - if capital owners find it profitable. Part of these funds probably belongs to the Mafia, though the bulk of organised crime's wealth is elsewhere to be found. Based in a whole series of tax havens, it circulates in the official international financial system and ends up in the accounts of the biggest global financial institutions.
For two decades now, the globalisation of finance and the removal of any kind of control over the circulation of capital have helped "Mafia capital" to melt away into the mass of circulating capital which goes in and out of financial institutions every day, so that it is impossible to distinguish between "clean" and "dirty" money - assuming there is such a thing as "clean" money! And in the name of banking secrecy, all financial institutions can avoid enquiries into the funds entrusted to them.
Medieval or 21st century delinquency?
The Italian Mafias are not the only organised criminal gangs in the world. Nevertheless, they have come to acquire a particular historical position in Italian society which explains their durability. In total, although they represent no more than a few tens of thousands of individuals, this social position makes them unassailable.
In Sicily, in Calabria and in Campania, the Mafias have developed a territorial organisation which, combined with the occasional cracking of the whip, gives them the means of keeping the population under control, with the approval of the central state. This situation has obviously facilitated their development in some economic sectors. They have also been able to penetrate the organs of political power in a way that today amounts almost to official collaboration, compared to yesterday's simple collusion, or corruption of this or that politician. Rather than contradict each other, the power of the Mafias and that of the state are complementary, providing additional means for social control.
As has been shown, although these Mafias' line of descent can be traced back to medieval and feudal organisations, they only survived the Italian bourgeois revolution, particularly in the south, because it was incomplete. Economic development could have rendered them obsolete, had it been strong enough to bring about those changes not accomplished by the 1860 revolution. But as it happened, southern Italy remained in a permanent state of relative under-development, making it a fertile recruiting ground for the Mafias.
In the end, capitalist development was introduced in the South by none other than the Mafias themselves. Sicily and southern Italy provided a base from which they could become involved in world trade. Their role as criminal organisations which were well-integrated into the rest of society, was an asset for exploring the niches that domestic and international commerce leave to those organisations which exist on the margins of legality, and which are able to handle weapons, intimidation and assassinations efficiently and professionally, and without scruple.
Just as the state and the economy are interlinked, there is also an interlinking between the parallel state represented by the Mafia, and the channels of the parallel economy, both national and international up to and including the level where this parallel economy and the legal economy, the illegal profits and the legal ones, all mix together in the financial system.
The Mafias' parallel economy has of course enriched a handful of bosses, but globally, it represents a huge levy on a society that seems forever held back by under-development, backwardness, brutality and ignorance. So it is understandable that from generation to generation, there have been those who refused to accept that there was no other future on offer except that of reliance on the Mafia and to become one of its gangsters. Many of these dissidents paid with their lives for choosing to oppose the Mafia. One such figure was far-left militant Giuseppe Impastato, who was assassinated by Cosa Nostra in 1978 for denouncing them in public in their own fiefdom. Others who should be mentioned are the judges, journalists, writers, even police, who, convinced they were serving the cause of democracy, waged a fight against the Mafia only to lose their lives, like Falcone, Borsellino, and many others. Unfortunately, their deaths only served as an alibi for the Italian state and a bourgeoisie, which, far from wanting to exterminate the Mafia, are benefiting from its existence. The bourgeoisie's political personnel need to maintain the fiction of a democratic state in which the law applies to all and unlawfulness is punished. The "fight against the Mafia" that they claim to be waging and the sacrifices of those who are sincerely committed to this fight, allow the state to sustain the idea that it is really taking on the Mafia, whether it is effective or not.
Today the Mafia is flourishing within modern capitalist society under the protection of the state and bourgeois politicians. It is even stronger today, at a time when the parasitic character of capitalism is being reinforced by its decadence. To annihilate this "octopus" what will be needed is no less than a social revolution, bringing to an end the capitalist system itself.
In the past, we have seen on several occasions, the Mafia at the forefront of the enemies of the proletariat even providing shock troops against it. Conversely, it is the proletariat through its struggle, and only the proletariat, which will be able to free society from this cancer.