You can’t fight the Mafia and corruption with “more democracy” (on the appeals put out by Saviano in Italy)

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This is a translation of an article written by Rivoluzione Internazionale, the ICC's section in Italy, published in December 2009.

With the publication of Gomorra[1] and its distribution internationally, Roberto Saviano has become the symbol of the struggle against the Comorra and, more generally, against the Mafia, receiving warm support not only from the Italian and international media, but also from many people who, disgusted with a more and more fraudulent and hypocritical political class, have welcomed Saviano's denunciation of organised crime and, above all, its multiple links with the political and business world. Today, Saviano is much more than a "writer"; he's become above all a reference for many of the young who feel the need to react against all this rottenness, in particular the youth that are suffering from the constant economic and social degradation in the southern regions of Italy.

More recently, Saviano has also moved on to more general questions: denouncing the Iranian regime for killing demonstrators, the Castro regime for getting rid of an embarrassing homosexual writer, or the Stalinist regime and its Gulag, and othersl[2]. He has become the promoter of an Appeal[3] to the President of the Italian Council (Berlusconi) for the withdrawal of the "short procedures" law[4], an appeal which has amassed a hundred thousand signatures.

The facts exposed by Saviano in his writings and interventions are certainly true, as is the picture he paints of corruption, criminality and oppression. It's also true, from a personal point of view, that he is paying very dearly for his denunciations, above all those in the book Gomorra, which has obliged him to lead a life worse than a prisoner. It's for that reason that we respect Saviano because we consider him an honest person, even if we think that he's mistaken about the remedy he suggests for fighting against the ambient rottenness.

Saviano's view

For Saviano, the Mafia is fundamentally a virulent parasite which, from the south of Italy, has invaded and gripped the democratic state through the corruption of politicians and businessmen, thus succeeding in infiltrating and influencing the fate of entire regions and even national politics. For him this is possible because, on the one hand, the political class and the state underestimates the danger of this pathogenic agent: "Whereas politics is not interested in the Mafia, the latter is interested in politics and systematically co-opts itself to it"[5]. This is in part down to the principle of "Omerta" in which the southern population is complicit, playing a role of passive spectators through "fear" or "self-preservation", "without thinking, nor demanding a change in their own territory (...) Omerta is not so much keeping your mouth shut, but above all not wanting to know, not wanting to understand, take a position or take part. Here's the new Omerta"[6] .

With such a vision, it follows that the way to vanquish this evil and return dignity to the nation and the southern populations is denunciation and the mobilisation of the population so that it collaborates with the forces of order to point out and denounce the Mafiosi and their dirty work: "The denunciation of murderers could be the sole means to redeem the humanity of people still at ease in the dehumanisation by which they are constrained and with which they seem comfortable"[7]. In fact, according to Saviano, "we must all take account of the fact that neither the media, nor the magistrates alone, will be up to provoking the least change until it is demanded and supported by the majority of citizens"[8].

Is the Mafia really a foreign body to the democratic state?

Many people, without doubt, have discovered frightening and unimaginable facts in the book Gomorra  .However, the great majority don't know (because it doesn't figure in the history books) that states, including the Italian state, have very often utilised the Mafia for all sorts of dirty work both domestically and at the international level. Things that these states couldn't do in their own names but which were decisive in setting up policies and strategies that were of the highest importance for the bourgeoisie. Here are a few examples:

  • When the United States entered the war in 1941, it recognised the strategic importance of the Mafia. On the home front, the American state had to avoid the creation of a pro-Mussolini front within immigrants from Italy. Moreover, the Mafia, which controlled among other things the dockers' and transport unions, key sectors for the provision of arms, became an irreplaceable interlocutor of the American state. The US Navy asked Washington for the authorisation to negotiate with the Mafia and with its capo Lucky Luciano, who was in prison - an authorisation that Roosevelt was quick to grant[9]. Further, the Mafia engaged its unions in the war effort by controlling the workers with a steely grip.
  • In 1943, the landing of troops in Italy was achieved thanks to an agreement with the local Mafia who prepared the ground following the guidance of the Italian-American Mafia capo Luciano. The latter, who was condemned to 50 years in a US prison, was set free in reward for this contribution and left for Naples where he organised the contraband in goods and drugs. Two others also profited from this "help":  the local Sicilian boss Don Calogero Vizzini - later to be "elected" mayor of Villalba - and Vito Genovese, right-hand man of Lucky Luciano, who went on to become the reliable ally of C. Poletti (American military governor of all of occupied Italy) and then, once returning to the United States, became the main Mafia boss after the war.
  • On May 1st 1947, the gang run by Salvatore Giuliano fired on a crowd of unarmed workers, peasants, women and children at Portella near Ginestra, close to Palermo, to end their struggles against the big landowners and halt the advance of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) in the region, which was unappreciated by the United States. Giuliano was killed in 1950 by his lieutenant Pisciotta who, in his turn, was poisoned in prison after making statements on the links between Giuliano, the Mafia and Scelba, the Minister of the Interior in the new Italian Democratic Republic.
  • In 1948, the United States wanted its faithful ally, the Christian Democrats (DC), who won the elections, to control the fundamentally strategic bastion of Italy against the Russian bloc. While the United States financed the Italian government, the Mafia, above all the Cosa Nostra, actively engaged in the financing and campaigning of the DC, giving it its voting "orders".
  • In the years following this, Gladio and the P2 Lodge, parallel structures controlled by Nato and the CIA with the complicity of the Italian secret services, maintained the links with the Mafia at different levels. This system was at the origins of numerous attacks which, from the 1960s to the 90s,  played a key role in Italian politics, relating both to social conflicts[10] and to the choices within the Italian bourgeoisie on imperialist rivalries.

None of these elements[11] can lead us to think that the Mafia is typically Italian or southern, nor a foreign body on the democratic system, but, on the contrary, it is an integral and functional  part of it, in Italy but also in the United States, China, Japan, Russia and more generally in all the countries of eastern Europe. One can understand that the power gained and developed by the Mafia in Italy for example, is not only the result of an economic power based on illicit business and the considerable numbers of easily bribed politicians and bosses in Italy, but is above all the result of quite precise imperialist policies and the immunity of those that benefit from them (with the exception of some arrests in order to save the face of democracy and legality) in return for precious services given, services  which will continue to be rendered to the dominant class.

Why is the Saviano's view wrong?

To return to Saviano, his view can be summed up thus: there are the good and the wicked, honest and dishonest and there is a state, which even if its functions badly, assures, despite everything, civilisation and democracy. In his eyes, there is thus a rotten part of society which can only be eliminated by getting behind and supporting this democratic state and, on the other hand, an amorphous and brutalised mass whose sole objective is not to have any more problems than it has already.

We find this same way of thinking in Saviano's intervention in the programme Che tempo che fa of November 11 2009, where, regarding oppression suffered in Iran, Chile or in the old USSR, etc., he implicitly brings out radical differences between totalitarian oppressor states and democracy, where one isn't killed or put away for one's ideas.

Saviano relates, with just indignation, the story of two young women killed by the Iranian state simply for protesting in the street and expressing their will to live in a freer society. But where's the difference in these murders and the ones ordered by Carlo Giuliani at the G8 in Genoa in 2001, or numerous massacres of workers committed by the democratic Italian state during demonstrations and strikes - this state born out of the Resistance and whose constitution pretends that Italy is a Republic based on the workers[12]? What's the difference between the atrocities of the Stalinist Soviet state and the non-communist ones that Saviano alludes to? The extermination of a quarter million human lives at Dresden in February 1945, and the 200,000 plus people dying in agony in the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima the 6th and 9th of August 1945?

And why does "our" democratic state send troops into combat in Afghanistan and Iraq to serve the interests of the major powers, even if that means death and misery for thousands of people, as was the case in Serbia and Kosovo, where the Italian air force was in the first wave of bombings?

The basic error of Saviano's arguments is considering things from an individual, or sum of individuals, point of view, outside of the social, economic and political circumstances in which they live, in a historically determined epoch. The context we live in is one of a capitalist society which is based upon exploitation and the domination of one class over the great majority of humanity. The economic motor of this society is profit and pitiless competition in each capitalist country and, above all, between the nation states. The state, its laws and its forces of order are the instruments that each national bourgeoisie provides itself with in order to maintain its domination over society and to defend its economic, political and military interests in the face of international competition. In such a society the lives of human beings are not at the centre of concern; there's no space in this system for the needs of humanity and when we talk of needs we are talking just as much about economic needs as those of which Saviano talks: "liberty... justice, the dignity of man and I also add the right to good health"[13].

Abuse, oppression, physical and moral violence, corruption, the absence of ethics and morality and criminal fraud are not the prerogative of such and such individual, clique or power, but are an integral part of the very nature of the capitalist system.

If, today, the countryside finds itself poisoned by tons of toxic waste coming from the industries of the north and buried by the Camorra, it's not because of a particular dose of immorality in those responsible for these enterprises, but because they are constrained to obey the law of capitalist profit and thus use the cheapest method in order to get rid of toxic waste. If, for decades, the Italian political apparatus has used the Mafia, its killings and lies, it's not because these politicians are a "bad lot", but because it corresponds to the interests of the state, a state which openly reverts to these practices when they are necessary.

Whether totalitarian or democratic, the fundamentals and the substance are the same. Democracy is only the instrument better adapted to make this state of things accepted, thanks to the illusion that if the citizens ask the government for a better society it will listen.

Thus, appeals to denounce the killers, to ask the state to enforce the elimination of the Mafia and corruption, appeals to the high-ups in the state to "defend the law" will never work, but on the contrary, have become a means to spread the illusion that it will be possible to live better inside this system.

The sole means to rid ourselves of all this rottenness is to get rid of capitalism. That cannot be realised through the mass indifference of the citizens but, on the contrary, through the social class whose interests are diametrically opposed to those of the dominant class and which really has nothing to lose: the proletariat.

Eva (10.12.2009).

[1] Gommora; In the empire of the Camorra by Roberto Saviano (2007). This book, which has been translated into numerous languages, tells of the grip of this criminal organisation on the economy of the Naples region and its catastrophic consequences on the environment.  A film has been made based on it. The Camorra is the name of the Neapolitan Mafia. Gomorrah, as Sodom, was a town in the Bible known for its extreme corruption. Saviano makes the parallel between these two names.

[2] The TV programme RA13 Che tempo che fa, 11th November 2009.

[3] http//www.repubblica.itspeciale/2009/firma-lappello-di-saviano/index.html

[4]  one the judicial procedures cooked-up with a Berlusconi sauce.

[5] "La camorra alla conquitsta dei partiti in Campania", la Repubblica, October 24.

[6] "Il filmato-shock sconvolge il mondo, i vicoli restano indifferent", La Repubblica, November 1st, in reference to a film on the assassination of a Mafiosi in Naples which circulated on the internet.

[7] "In cinqe minuti la banalita dell'inferno, ora sogno la rebellion del quartiere". La Rebubblica , October 30.

[8] "Siamo tutti casalesi" L'Expresso, October 7, written after the murder of immigrants by the Camorra at Castel Volturno, a province of Naples.

[9] For more elements on this, see our article "How the bourgeoisie organises: the lies of the democratic state" in International Review no. 77, III-1994.

[10] The bloody attack (16 dead and a hundred wounded) which took place in Milan on the Piazza Fontana is a product of this collusion.

[11] Documents on this subject are on the internet, for example: la storia dell'eroina (, In Sicilia si gioca la Storia d'Italia (Mafia CIA Vaticano).

[12] Outside of the massacre already cited at Portella delle Ginstre, see "The Hot Autumn in Italy 1969, an episode of historic resurgence of the class struggle" in the International Review no. 140, January 2010.

[13] "Ecco perche non possiamo tacere", response to Minister Bondi, la Repubblica, 23rd November 2009.



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