Saturday, June 20, 2009

Guns and protection (2009)

Book Review from the June 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

David Lane: Into the Heart of the Mafia. Profile

I didn’t expect a book on the Mafia to be all that interesting or relevant, but in fact Lane’s investigation can be interpreted as shedding some light on the operations of capitalism.

Italy became a unified state fairly late on, in 1861, and the south of the country was for a long time isolated and barely under the control of the central government in Rome. As a result, a sort of private police force filled the vacuum and administered its own kind of ‘justice’. Basically, a set of thugs and gangsters, they evolved into the Mafia, a term which covers at least the Cosa Nostra in Sicily, the Camorra in Campania and the ’Ndrangheta in Calabria.

Their activities now include robbery and murder, loan sharking, extortion and protection money. Anything that involves money-making attracts them, such as the university in Messina on Sicily, which is the town’s biggest business. The construction industry, and public works in general, is another area where the Mafia can extract money. It’s estimated that about half of the £24 billion paid for reconstruction after an earthquake near Naples in 1980 ended up in the hands of the Camorra. Burying toxic waste with no regard for the environmental consequences also brings in big profits. All this goes on with the connivance of many in business, government and the Catholic church.

The south of Italy still represents a relatively unattractive place for companies to invest in, since a return on investment requires a level of security that is mostly lacking. Capitalism, then, needs its version of law and order, and the Mafia-controlled regions are a clear demonstration of what can happen when this does not exist.

For the working class, the consequence of Mafia rule are dire, with very high levels of unemployment and high drop-out rates from school. With legal jobs hard to come by, many are attracted to work for the Mafia. Someone who then wishes to break free may be killed as a warning to others. At the same time, though, members of agricultural cooperatives farming ex-Mafia land show a great deal of courage in resisting sabotage and intimidation.

As one of Woody Guthrie’s songs says, ‘Some will rob you with a six gun and some with a fountain pen’. There is more than one way for workers to be exploited and oppressed, and the Mafia are the way of the six gun.
Paul Bennett