The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Mafia, State and Capitalist Economy

Apr 28, 2010

The article below was translated from Lutte de Classe [Class Struggle], May 2010, the monthly journal of the comrades of Lutte Ouvrière [Workers Struggle], the French Trotskyist organization.

The fight against the Mafia—or against organized crime—has been a permanent activity of Italian governments for decades, but the Mafia has never been as influential as it is today. There have been wave upon wave of arrests and trials, including the so-called "maxi-trials"; repeated announcements of another "decisive blow," with the arrest of another top level Mafia boss—all to no avail. The power of the Mafia, or rather of several Mafias, is measured by the growing volume of business they control. They already own whole sectors of the economy. And they have countless accomplices at every level in the political system.

The Sicilian Cosa Nostra, the Calabrian "Ndrangheta, the Neapolitan Camorra and the Sacra Corona Unita of Puglia not only have deep historical roots, but they have been able to renew themselves, drawing nourishment from the economic mechanisms of today’s capitalist society.

The Mafia during the Risorgimento

The Mafia and its peculiar relationship with the state authorities—especially in Sicily—derive from the conditions under which Italy was unified in the second half of the 19th century, in the face of resistance from the Kingdom of Naples, which controlled Sicily and the whole southern part of the Italian peninsula. While this process, called the Risorgimento (resurrection), amounted to Italy’s bourgeois revolution, the revolution remained far from complete.

Sicily had a long tradition of secret armies and societies, which pretended to fight against foreign occupation or to defend widows and orphans against the powerful but which carried on an ambiguous relationship with those same powers.

Even before unification, the Sicilian aristocracy organized its own private militias, using them against the peasantry to collect taxes and ensure that recalcitrant peasants met their feudal obligations to the aristocracy. The abolition of feudalism in 1812, which did not put an end to private ownership of the large estates, made these armies more necessary than ever. As the old system of land tenure gradually broke up, the big landlords moved to the towns, leaving overseers, known as "gabellotti," to manage the estates and collect the payments owed by the peasants. The gabellotti relied on the help of the estate’s private guards, or "campieri," to collect the "gabella," a term used in Sicily to denote the rent owed to the landlords.

At the same time, the peasants increasingly aspired to own the land they tilled, so much so that the last period of Bourbon rule in Naples was marked by peasant agitation and even insurrections, against which the gabellotti organized their own armed gangs. These gabellotti, now able to acquire land for themselves, constituted 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 it was on their own account.

The bourgeoisie from Northern Italy wanted to set up a single State, which would include the whole of the Italian peninsula and Sicily, ensuring that it would have a large and protected market for itself. But the Kingdom of Naples relied on the support of the propertied classes of Southern Italy—that is, basically, on the old large land-owning aristocracy, allied to a weak city-dwelling bourgeoisie, which had only begun to develop in the South and only in 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 to free the island from the Bourbon yoke and win it over for the new State of the whole Italian people. But it was the king of Piedmont-Sardinia and his Prime Minister, Cavour, who had taken the initiative in the unification process, and they used Garibaldi only within strict, well-defined limits. Garibaldi lent the process a revolutionary appearance, thereby helping to secure the support of the nationalist petty-bourgeoisie. But this was no more than window-dressing. The last thing the Northern bourgeoisie wanted was a mobilization of the masses threatening a real revolution, which would have upset the fragile social equilibrium in the Southern regions.

The Piedmont State simply wanted a compromise with the South’s propertied classes. Its objective was to convince the Southern propertied classes that the new State would guarantee their social domination and offer them better protection than could a decaying Kingdom of Naples. For their part, Sicily’s propertied classes wanted proof that their new protectors would act as unflinchingly as had King Ferdinand II, who in 1848 had even ordered the bombardment of Messina to keep Sicily under his domination.

It fell upon Garibaldi to give them that proof soon after he landed in Sicily. Taking Garibaldi’s landing as the signal for their own liberation, the peasantry rebelled against the aristocratic landowners and started taking over the big estates for themselves. But the "revolutionary" sent by Cavour set his thousand "Red Shirts’ against the peasants. Garibaldi, who had proclaimed himself dictator of Sicily by the authority of King Victor Emmanuel II, carried out the repression of the peasant movement, much to the relief of the Sicilian aristocracy. Power thus passed from a Bourbon king to a Piedmont king, who established his rule in Sicily and the whole South. Big landowners now had a different protector, but their domination over the rest of society was maintained.

But, the new state was unable to gain 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 not a thoroughgoing revolution: it did not set the whole society afire, overthrowing the old class relations; not did it deprive the gabellottis" armed bands of their role. On the contrary, the old social structures remained, and a compromise was struck between the old propertied classes and the new State—thus opening up space for the development and consolidation of these armed bands. Mafiaoso organizations were able to impose themselves as a kind of secret power, a necessary intermediary between Sicilian society and the unified Italian State, which was far away.

Armed Bands at the Service the Sicilian Bourgeoisie

Even the origin of the word "Mafia" is unclear, but many historians believe it comes from the Arabic "muhafiz," meaning "protector or guard." The history of Sicily’s Mafia is not well known and for a good and obvious reason—it has always been an organization zealously trying to guard its secrets.

In his study of the Sicilian Mafia at the end of the 19th century, historian Salvatore Lupo showed that a layer of rich farmers and other notables, including the gabellotti, took 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, these Mafiosi could impose themselves as necessary mediators in situations of conflict. Problems like cattle theft or disagreements over debts were solved, not by the State and its judicial system, but within the framework of a"componenda," in which the local Mafiosi played the role of an arbitrator—for a fee, of course. The poor population accepted 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. The Mafiosi were 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 to manage without the Mafiosi’s compulsory 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 sensible to accept these tribunals’ arbitration than wait for the intervention of far-away state authorities.

Twice, after unity, the Italian State carried out a violent repression against the Sicilian population. 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 organized poor peasants, farmhands, sharecroppers, industrial workers, miners, and craftsmen, expressing their demands, especially the peasants’ aspiration to own their own piece of land. But the leagues were also stamped with an egalitarian and socialist spirit. When land occupations were organized inside the latifundias (large estates), the central 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. But at the end of 1893, a new government took over, headed by right-winger and former Garibaldi supporter, Francesco Crispi. Under pressure from the Sicilian landowners, Crispi organized a large-scale crackdown that sent the leaders of the movement to jail. As for the Mafia, even though locally some of its members had joined the fasci movement, it intervened above all to reinforce the repression.

"The State consists of special bodies of armed men," wrote Frederick Engels in a well-known formulation, indicating that, in a society divided into classes, a power based on armed force is needed to enforce this social division for the benefit of the possessing class. But in the highly unstable conditions of post-unification Sicily, the armed force of the Italian State turned out to be too weak to carry out this task. Thus, the Mafia was to become an indispensable complement to the State for the Sicilian propertied classes.

The unique conditions of the bourgeois revolution in Sicily and the southern part of Italy meant that the State’s "special bodies of armed men" required another armed force, somewhat hidden, but just as necessary for maintaining bourgeois order. Representative of part of the local bourgeoisie, rivalling, but at the same time acting as an auxiliary to the power of the official State, the Mafia’s "special body of armed men" became a force to be reckoned with in Sicily’s society. But the Mafiosi needed to establish an organization, and this is what they did under the name of the "Honorable Society" (l"Onorata società). This Honorable Society was led by Don Vito Cascio Ferro, who at the end of the 19th century seemed to be the first real chief of the Mafia. He gave the Mafia its centralized structure and territorial organization consisting of fiefdoms, each controlled by a "family," as well as systematic financing, based on the "pizzo," a tax whereby everyone was forced to pay a share of their own income to the Mafia. This organization later took the name "Cosa Nostra" ("Our Thing"), re-importing the name the Sicilian Mafiosi had given to their American organization.

This "Honorable Society" and its members, the "Honorable Men," inevitably found accomplices and even their own representatives inside the state machinery. Born in a pre-capitalist environment, the Mafia has been able to keep abreast of economic developments and position itself in the business world where it could specialize in those areas which were, of necessity, outside of bourgeois legality.

By the end of the 19th century, there was a real Mafia "bourgeoisie" in Sicily. In February 1893, the murder of Emanuelle Notarbartolo scandalized the country because the victim was a rich bourgeois, ex-mayor of Palermo, then manager of the Bank of Sicily up to 1890.

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 proteges and cronies. Disagreements had sprung up between the two men, such as when Notarbartolo accused Palizzolo of embezzlement. When one of Palizzolo’s thugs killed Notarbartolo, it was such a scandal that Palizzolo was actually imprisoned. 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 showed that the Mafia was no longer just an organization 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. The national press responded to the Notarbartolo murder to highlight the links between the Mafia and members of the Sicilian upper class. But Sicilian "polite society" declared that the Mafia doesn’t exist, that it was only an invention of ill-intentioned Northerners who wanted to denigrate the people of the South and their customs.

It wasn’t until fascism came to power, several decades later, that the Mafia ran into some difficulties—or, to be more exact, that certain Mafiosi had problems. Mussolini wanted to demonstrate that his dictatorship was unchallenged throughout Italy. He 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 hundreds of people involved with the Mafia. 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 it touched only the layer of hitmen and the families that controlled part of the territory. 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" eventually fell in disgrace. And in fact the habitual "understanding" between the Mafia and the central power remained intact, even if it was less visible.

After its semi-clandestine existence during the Fascist period, the Mafia came back with renewed strength after the landing of Anglo-American troops on the island in 1943 (which the Mafia had facilitated) and the end of Fascist rule. The Mafia quickly regained control over its territory, thanks to the benevolence of the occupation authorities, which welcomed an organization 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 U.S."s 50th state!

More significantly, the Mafia consolidated its grip over Sicily’s countryside when, at the end of the war, the peasant movement broke out again. Peasant unionists and members of the Communist Party started organizing new occupations of the "latifundias," whose owners had reinforced their positions during the Fascist era. The repressive forces of Italy’s so-called new "democratic State" and those of the Mafia joined together. As early as 1944, in Villalba, the local head of the Mafia, Calogero Vizzini, ordered his henchmen to use live ammunition against a meeting organized by Communist Party leader, Li Causi. But the most notorious episode was the massacre of Portella della Ginestra, on May 1st 1947, when thugs of the bandit, Salvatore Giuliano, opened fire on peasants who were meeting there, killing at least ten people. Peasant trade unionists risked their lives every day, threatened by Mafiosi who could rely on many accomplices in the State apparatus, at every level, all the way up to Rome.

Salvatore Giuliano, whose gang was used by the Mafia, was killed in 1950 by Pisciotta, his own lieutenant, who himself died in prison four years later, after drinking poisoned coffee. In all these cases the web of complicity reached all the way up to the Minister of the Interior, Mario Scelba, the strong man of Christian Democracy. These successive assassinations, by eliminating potentially embarrassing witnesses, prevented exposure of members of the state apparatus.

"Order" having thus been restored, the end of the postwar period opened up a favorable period. The construction boom of the 1950s and 1960s is still called the "Sack of Palermo," when fortunes were made by a handful of building contractors, like Mafia chief Francesco Vassallo, thanks to their friendly ties with Palermo’s Christian Democratic "decision makers."

Nonetheless, the whole period turned out to involve a degree of uncertainty for the Cosa Nostra. In the 1950s and "60s, the Mafia seemed to be losing its grip over Sicilian society. The period was marked by economic expansion and industrial development, by the growth of the service 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 labor. 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 Honor" no longer inspired respect. Even if Cosa Nostra carried on its usual activities, its role was reduced, at least relative to the development of the rest of society. Unfortunately, this state of affairs was merely an interlude.

In fact, the 1970s represented a turning point for the Mafia. With economic expansion coming to an end, capitalism’s parasitic activities came back to the fore. Given the Mafia’s collusion with Christian-Democrat city governments, the results of land auctions and bids on government contracts almost always favored Mafiosi contractors. The Mafia collected its own "tax," the "pizzo," on practically every kind of business, from agricultural markets to road construction. Thus the Mafia and the Mafiosi had made a decisive leap: the "Mafiosi bourgeoisie" had become a business-oriented bourgeoisie rooted in real estate, construction, public works and finance. At the same time, the Mafia moved into international trade, taking the leading role in the worldwide expansion of drug trafficking. Its clandestine organization, its "army," its use of coercion and its ties with Cosa Nostra "families’ in the U.S., were vital advantages for such activities.

Nonetheless, things were not always so simple inside Cosa Nostra. Not all conflicts could be resolved by the "cupola," a Supreme Court of sorts where representatives of the different families got together to sort out, theoretically in an amicable way, problems like territorial infringements and jurisdiction. Mafia wars between different families broke out periodically and took a heavy toll. And when, periodically, policemen or judges became too curious or seemed to take their role too much to heart, they were threatened and eventually eliminated. Forced to react to the open challenge to the State, government would declare that the "fight against the Mafia" was back on the agenda, limiting the Mafia’s freedom of action for a while, or at least 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. The origin of the word "Camorra" is disputed. But most historians think it comes from the Spanish word, GuarduZa, 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 a church in Naples, the so-called Bella SocietB Riformata ("Reformed Polite Society"), was formed, giving an organizational structure to these bands of armed men. At the time, the king’s official guards could not control the socially explosive city, nor prevent district gangs from fleecing the population. So the royal regime tolerated them and occasionally used them. Thus began a long chapter of collaboration with Naples’ 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—or, at least, neither encroached on the other’s domain. The Camorra experienced a number of setbacks, though. The Bella SocietB Riformata was 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.

In the 1970s, Raffaele Cutolo launched the Nuova Camorra Organizzata ("New Organized Camorra") in an attempt to revive the 19th century’s Bella SocietB Riformata. But his attempt met with the hostility of Cutolo’s rivals and sparked off a bloody war between criminal clans. In the end, the "families’ found a way of sharing out the territory among 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 (the 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. Facing 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 the Mafia-type organization that has experienced the most spectacular development in recent years. It is a discreet organization, 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 Calabria region. And while it used to be present in the South only, today it controls whole sectors of the North’s economy as well.

Finally, the Sacra Corona Unita operates in the region of Apulia (Puglia, the region covering the heel and stirrup of Italy’s "boot") and the La Stidda (the "Star") operates in southern Sicily. They are more recent organizations, emanating from the Camorra and Cosa Nostra, at the initiative of several families of these two organizations.

All these Mafia-type organizations have common features, coming from their history. Some of these features 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 their own death sentence as the penalty for betrayal or disclosure of any of the organization’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 Honor" 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 organization. These moral principles are often presented as being typically Sicilian, but have a lot to do with Catholic conformity. The "Man of Honor" 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 last "principles’ are brushed aside whenever they run counter to the Mafia’s interests, especially when challenged by other organizations that do not pretend to have the same principles. If the issue is winning or losing a "market," principles are thrown overboard in no time.

The "moral" principles of each Mafia organization necessarily reflect the history and the society out of which it evolved, giving each its own special mark. They bind the members of the gang together and allow the "Man of Honor" and his personal and family milieu to maintain a good conscience. Equipped with this sort of ideology, the Mafiosi can declare 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 criminal gang on earth. But this particular gang has, for over a century, managed to live in osmosis with a section of society and indeed with 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 organization, controlling the bids for contracts in 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 the world of finance to solve its money-laundering problems. According to some reports, Cosa Nostra’s global income is roughly 25 billion dollars—that is, one quarter of Sicily’s GDP—and growing.

In Campania, by dividing up the territory among themselves, the Camorra families have laid their hands on a sizeable part of economic activity. 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 activities of this criminal organization.

Starting from traditional operations like trafficking in cigarettes and drugs, loan-sharking, prostitution, real estate, public works, and collecting the "pizzo" on shipping activities, the Camorra has shifted to much wider areas. It controls sub-contractors for the textile industry, which employs a lot of illegal workers. It also controls recycling and waste disposal, a huge business. 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—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 offered. The Camorra’s annual income is said to be at least 25 billion dollars as well.

Finally, Calabria’s "Ndrangheta developed more discreetly than its counterparts in Sicily and Naples. It has always kept a lower profile, engaged in fewer settlings of scores and murders. However it is no less efficient. It January 2010, it showed that it still fulfills the role of an anti-worker militia serving the citrus plantation bosses when its thugs carried out a punitive raid in Rosarno against immigrant workers. In fact, a good deal of the agribusiness sector is today controlled by the "Ndrangheta itself, which is active in harvesting and transport, as well as in exporting. 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 organization’s income 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. Holding, as a result, huge amounts of liquid money, the "Ndrangheta has laundered it by investing in real estate, or setting up construction firms for which they secure contracts through threats and racketeering. One area in Italy’s rich North, around Milan, pays the "pizzo" directly to clans from Calabria. Thanks to these maneuvers, the "Ndrangheta has become the richest Mafia-type organization, with an income of 57 billion dollars in Italy alone. But the "Ndrangheta is also now active in other European countries, like Germany, Spain or France.

The yearly revenue of all Italian Mafias together, is estimated at nearly 125 billion dollars. According to the Confesercenti, a small bosses’ association, the global balance sheet of Italy’s Mafias showed a revenue of 170 billion even in 2009, with a 98 billion dollar net profit. The Mafias’ revenue represents more than 7% 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 illegal immigration.

Mafia and Political Power

From the beginning, the relationships between the Mafia and political power were based on complicity rather than on confrontation. For 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, one way or another, that the Mafia itself penetrates the 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, first of all, at the local level, where elected politicians need support. Thanks to their local implantation, the Mafia or the Camorra can provide a ready-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, this collusion is a permanent and inevitable phenomenon.

It was public knowledge, for instance, during the long reign of the Christian Democratic party, that the Christian Democrats in Sicily were the party of the Mafia, or in any case supported by the Mafia. The whole period since the end of World War II was one of open collaboration—most notably under the reign of Palermo’s Christian Democrat mayors, Salvo Lima and then Vito Ciancimino—even if the central State had to take measures against the most visible Mafia misdeeds. It is worth mentioning that anti-communism and anti-unionism were a cement that bonded the Mafiosi and bourgeois politicians, the Mafiosi doing the dirty work the bourgeois politicians often could not afford to do themselves.

Of course, national political leaders are not openly involved in the Mafia’s wheeling 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 organization. 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 quietly as a "senator-for-life" of the Republic. Because of his exceptionally long career, Andreotti came to be known as the "stainless steel" Prime Minister. But, according to the declaration of a "repentant" Mafiaoso, Andreotti had no qualms about meeting Mafia boss Toto Riina, as he did, for instance, in Palermo in September 1987, a meeting which ended with a kiss in the Mafia fashion, a mark of confidence between the two men. The accusations leveled against Andreotti due to his Mafia ties landed him in 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. Numerous facts prove their "active collaboration". 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 compromise than his predecessor and under his rule, the relations between the Mafia and Christian Democracy were more strained. Nonetheless, the State, pressured by the Mafia, made several gestures in favor of the Mafia, like cancelling prison sentences. It also turned a blind eye to the assassination of General Dalla Chiesa, who had been sent to Sicily as a special prefect. The kiss between Riina and Andreotti could have been a gesture of mutual recognition between two bosses, of whom it was hard to say which of the two was the most "Mafia."

Recently, information has come out about the 1992 Mafia "war," which was marked by spectacular bomb attacks, which killed Judges Falcone and Borsellino, who had been carrying out an investigation of the Cosa Nostra. The whole affair was sparked off by the assassination of Palermo ex-mayor, Salvo Lima. Despite being the official intermediary between the Mafia and the State, he failed to obtain the clemency he had promised the "godfathers." We know today that Cosa Nostra’s boss, Toto Riina, sent the government, through Vito Ciancimino, the document containing his twelve conditions for putting an end to the "war." Most of these conditions essentially demanded 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 wolves by his right-hand man, one Bernardo Provenzano. His arrest had been carefully prepared—as shown by the fact that Provenzano moved in to replace Riina and, suddenly, the relationship between Cosa Nostra and the State improved.

In the meantime, the Christian Democrats, plagued by scandals, began to disappear from the political scene. But, according to the testimonies of Cosa Nostra "turncoats," the Cosa Nostra received new guarantees: the new party, about to be launched by Silvio Berlusconi, "understood" the Mafia’s situation. And so the Mafia gave Berlusconi and his party its support. One of Berlusconi’s advisors, the Sicilian Marcello dell"Utri, later convicted of criminal conspiracy in connection with the Mafia, brought the Mafia its guarantee—in exchange for which, in 1994, the vote in Sicily switched to the newly-created Forza Italia party from the old 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 widely known. This continues until, for one reason or another, the tacit agreement is ended, and the boss in question is found, as was the case with Riina and later with 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 income from Mafia businesses and its stupendously increasing profits are indicative of a still more alarming reality: there is a veritable Mafia capital, whose rate of profit and speed of accumulation far outstrips those of other types of capital. In fact for Italy alone, profits are said to be 90 billion dollars per year, of which only a small part can be spent on luxury goods (mansions, yachts, luxury cars, etc.). For the Cosa Nostra, the Camorra or the "Ndrangheta, the problem of laundering and placing their gains is a severe problem.

To solve this problem, the Mafia has its own financial experts whose job is precisely to launder the money and place it or invest it in other activities, legal or not. This was banker Michele Sindona’s job in the 1960s and 1970s, whose meteoric rise was paralleled to that of the Cosa Nostra. Sindona was also closely tied to the Christian Democracy and Andreotti; the Vatican and its IOR Bank, headed by Bishop Marcinkus; and finally to the Ambrosiano Bank, and its director, Roberto Calvi.

Sindona was not just an opinionated anti-communist braggart. He was above all a pioneer in the laundering of the 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 collection of reactionary conspirators. None of this prevented him from engaging in an occasional speculative binge, like his 1973 speculation against the Italian lira.

In 1979, Sindona was behind the assassination of the lawyer Ambrosoli who was conducting an investigation into his business activities. Later on, 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 risky 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 the judges Falcone and Borsalino were trying to assess when they were murdered in 1992 by the Cosa Nostra. But since the 1980s, when the death of Sindona and Calvi shed light on the Mafia’s financial organization, revelations about its finances have been rare.

Sometimes a little bit comes to light. 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, with no questions asked as to the origin of the funds in question.

A total of 106 billion dollars were thus "regularized," of which 49 billion have no strings attached and could be reinvested in Italy—if the owners want to do it. Probably one part of the Mafia’s funds were in these funds, though the bulk of organized crime’s wealth is to be found elsewhere: in a whole series of tax havens, or in the accounts of the world’s biggest financial institutions.

For two decades now, the globalization of financial trades and the removal of any kind of control over the circulation of capital have de facto 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! In the name of banking secrecy, all financial institutions want to avoid enquiries into the funds entrusted to them. The sums coming from illegal activities are to be found in their accounts, thus protected, at least as much as the sums coming from activities presumed to be legal.

From Medieval Criminality to that of the 21st Century

The Italian Mafias are not the only organized criminal gangs in the world. Nevertheless, from their history, they have inherited a particular position in society, giving them permanence and longevity. In total, they undoubtedly represent no more than a few tens of thousands of individuals, but their social position has rendered them unremovable.

In Sicily, in Calabria and in Campania, the Mafias have developed a territorial organization which, combined with their violent methods, allows them to have a tight control on society, with the approval of the central State. This situation has obviously facilitated their development in some economic sectors. And it has allowed them to penetrate the organs of political power in ways that go far beyond simple collusion, or corruption of this or that politician. Rather than fight each other, the power of the Mafias and that of the State complement each other, providing additional means for social control.

Although these Mafia organizations have come in a straight line from a medieval and feudal past, they have survived only because the Italian bourgeois revolution, particularly in the South, was incomplete. Economic development could have rendered them marginal, had it been strong enough to bring about the social overthrow not accomplished by the 1860 revolution. But as it happened, southern Italy remained in a permanent state of relative underdevelopment, making it a fertile recruiting ground for the Mafias.

In the end, capitalist development was introduced in the South by the Mafias themselves. Sicily and Southern Italy provided a base from which they could become involved in world trade. Their role as criminal organizations, well-integrated into the rest of society, was an asset for exploring the niches that domestic and international commerce leave to those organizations existing on the margins of legality, managing weapons, intimidation and assassinations efficiently, professionally, and without scruples. From intimidation of the Sicilian peasants unwilling to pay their rent, the Mafia organizations passed over into generalized extortion and racketeering, to speculation in real estate, before taking the dominant position in drug trafficking, in illegal treatment of industrial waste, and in many other kinds of trafficking, not to mention financial speculation.

Just as the State and the economy are interlinked, there is also an interlinking between the parallel State represented by the Mafia, and the circuits 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 circuits of the financial system.

The Mafias’ parallel economy has of course enriched a handful of bosses, but globally, it represents a huge levy on society, which it contributes to holding back and maintaining in backwardness, underdevelopment, brutality and ignorance.

So it is understandable that generation after generation, there have been those who refused to accept that there was no other future other than to rely on the Mafia or to become one of its gangsters. Many of these militants paid with their lives for choosing to oppose the Mafia. One such figure was far-left militant Giuseppe Impastato, assassinated by Cosa Nostra in 1978 for denouncing them publicly in their own fiefdom. But we should also mention the judges, police or journalists, who, convinced that they should serve 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, want to live in osmosis with it, permitting it to exist. The bourgeoisie’s political personnel need to maintain the fiction of a democratic State in which the law applies to all and criminality is punished. The "fight against the Mafia" that they claim to be waging and the sacrifices of those who were 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.

It may be a survival of a medieval past, but the Mafia octopus flourishes today within modern capitalist society under the protection of the State and bourgeois politicians. In fact, 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, putting an end to the capitalist system itself.

In the past, we have seen the Mafia at the forefront of the enemies of the workers, even providing shock troops to massacre them. Conversely, it is the proletariat, through its struggle, and only the proletariat, that will be able to free society from this cancer.