Mafia and capitalism in Sicily and the USA

This Italian music video is called Fabrizio Moro: Pensa (anti mafia song).

From British weekly Socialist Worker:

How capitalism created the Mafia

The Mafia have been glamorised in film and TV, but their dominance in Sicily, Italy, has been opposed by grassroots movements, says author Tom Behan

The Sicilian Mafia and its US cousin are no Robin Hoods robbing the rich to feed the poor. They are all about personal enrichment. The Mafia were and remain a bunch of selfish, violent murderers.

The Mafia in Sicily emerged with capitalism. The Italian national state only became united in 1861. The various states that had existed prior to that across the Italian peninsula were very weak and they had little interest in remote places such as Sicily.

Feudalism in Sicily was only ended in 1812. Under the feudal system the landowners had their own private armies to manage their estates and were a law unto themselves. Peasants had a very harsh existence.

The landlords were not interested in their estates, apart from as a source of rent. They did not live there or even visit them, but instead resided in the city of Naples or Palermo, Sicily’s capital.

The landowners’ enforcers imposed the collection of rents. The Mafia started to emerge from these people. They began to get money, buy land and to become capitalists on a small scale, inserting themselves into the local state.

Even after unification the new Italian state was weak and reliant on regional powerbrokers. The Mafia benefited from this weakness.

The ruling class tolerated lawlessness and there was as yet no organised working class. This period is brilliantly captured in the 1963 film The Leopard, directed by Luchino Visconti, which is based on Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s novel.

The Mafia acted as a cushion for the ruling class, allowing it to rule in a situation of intense poverty where people were desperate for any tiny improvement in their lives.

Instead of making demands on the political system they went to the local Mafia boss to ask for help in getting a job, a pay increase or even furniture.

The Mafia were seen as the most immediate, powerful force that could help people. For the Mafia’s powerful backers it was very convenient that ordinary people did not fight against the system.

When working class people did fight, the Mafia faced a huge crisis – the best example being the Fasci Siciliani movement of 1892-95. This was a popular movement that threw up democratic organisations. These were finally broken by the state.

But they were so powerful that the Mafia didn’t dare attack them head-on. Indeed many low-level Mafiosi joined the movement, abandoning their gangs.

At the beginning of the 20th century hundreds of thousands of poor people emigrated from the Italian south to the US, where capitalism was expanding rapidly without much regulation.

To some extent the system they left behind in Sicily was reproduced. There was still deference to people “on high” and fear of people who were quick with a gun. Italian migrants were subject to racism and exclusion.


US authorities were relatively happy to allow organised crime to operate on its behalf and to act as an enforcer within the emigrant community.

On the other hand there was also the mass involvement of Italian workers in the great labour struggles and the Industrial Workers of the World militant union in the years before the First World War.

During the Second World War the US military used the Mafia when it invaded Sicily in 1943. The US and Britain wanted to replace the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini in Italy. There was democratic resistance to fascism, but it was left wing and so was opposed by Britain and the US.

They saw there was another structure that was not democratic or left wing and with which they had contacts – the Mafia. US agents admitted meeting Mafia boss Don Calogero Vizzini – who was made mayor of his hometown by the US army.

Charles Poletti, the head of the Allied administration of the island, was very aware of who he was dealing with. His interpreter, Vito Genovese, was a Mafioso who had been deported from New York before the war.

He had made large donations to Mussolini’s fascists and entertained Nazi leaders in his castle in Italy. But he was quick to change sides when the invasion began.

Mafia in Naples: here.

20 thoughts on “Mafia and capitalism in Sicily and the USA

  1. 2008-10-16 17:56

    Saviano ‘in worse danger’, Rushdie

    Mafia reach longer says fatwah victim

    (ANSA) – Paris, October 16 – The Camorra death sentence on Gomorra author Roberto Saviano is a greater threat than an Iranian fatwah, Salman Rushdie said Friday.

    ”The Mafia poses a much more serious problem than the one I had to face,” said Rushdie, who was condemned to death by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989.

    ”Saviano is in terrible danger, worse than me,” he said.

    The Anglo-Indian novelist, in Paris to promote his latest book The Enchantress of Florence, said he met Saviano in New York in April.

    He said the FBI believed Saviano’s life to be in danger in America too, given the transatlantic reach of the Italian Mafia.

    Rushdie supported Saviano’s desire to leave Italy but said he would have to choose a foreign haven carefully.

    ”Without doubt, he’ll have to leave Italy but he must choose his future destination very prudently,” Rushdie said. Saviano said this week he wanted to leave Italy after two years in witness protection, to ”get his life back” and start writing again.

    The Italian government has urged the writer to stay in the country as a symbol of the anti-Mafia fight and sources close to the writer say he has not fully made up his mind.

    Earlier this week the media reported a Camorra bomb plot to slay the writer by the end of the year but the informant who reportedly gave the tip-off subsequently retracted.

    Saviano’s 2006 expose’ Gomorra, which has been turned into a film bidding for the Oscars, has enraged the Camorra.

    Rushdie spent a decade underground because of his 1989 novel The Satanic Verses, deemed sacrilegious by the Iranian theocracy.

    Ten years ago Iran said it would not support bids on Rushdie’s life but the fatwah has not been officially lifted because only Khomeini, who died four months after issuing it, had that power.


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