The Mafia and the state
We may define the Mafia as a power competing with the State for the control (in delinquent terms) over the territory. This definition leaves aside the different names and connotations by which we have known the Mafia phenomenon in the various Italian regions where it has developed and taken roots.
Such a criminal phenomenon has more chances to penetrate society:
- when the strength of the covenant between institutions and citizens loosens, as the latter don’t feel enough represented and defended by the institutions (above all the local branches of the State);
- when there is a cultural penetration of the vision of the State as something alien, as a counterpart to exploit (with demands for hand-outs) and/or from which you need to defend yourself (intolerance of an alleged invasion of the private sphere, or of taxation), and a lack of any basic level of social cohesion whatsoever as a basis for civil coexistence.
The Mafia occupies the vacuum left by the State and contends for it with the State itself (also by carrying out killings, which has happened rather blatantly in the past few decades), when the State tries to fill it and to reopen dialogue with the citizens for a new covenant by offering more protection, more security, more efficient a presence, in change for more legality, more cooperation, and less delinquent connivance.
Politics and civil society
A typical feature of the Mafia system is the interlacement with the political level, which enables it to condition the economic and social apparatus through favours for votes, patronage, bribery, and unavowable agreements to divvy up the respective interests.
The social fabric crumbles due to the permeability of the “state system” by the “Mafia system” in the field of the management of territory – including infrastructures, big public works (bids), administrative organs –, in the punishment, investigation and judging apparatuses and the secret service.
The weak point is politics.
Citizens, isolated and deprived of social cohesion, cannot withstand the attack on their own.
The backward and corrupted politics interlaces with the crumbling of civil society in a vicious circle. As they both are weak, they cannot help eachother develop; their weakness makes them fall prey to the decision-making and action capability, the deterrence power, of the Mafia, which enjoys a powerful inner cohesion and organization and is able to intervene forcefully on the territory, namely doing such things as:
- appealing to broad social sectors by offering an alternative to the State’s incapacity to provide services (protection, jobs, money, settlement of controversies, social visibility, prestige, power over the community, which at least makes for a degree of peace and quiet):
- making the concept of legality useless and therefore unattractive, until it is perceived as something cumbersome, annoying and hypocritical facing a reality that systematically lets down its effectiveness and meaning also through the deeds of those who should ensure its minimum exercise (The State’s structures and politics in particular). Legality is replaced by the pursuit of personal favours, privileges, right “contacts” to obtain what needed, to the point of taking the shortest cuts to achieve it. This way the feeling of belonging to a free and sympathetic community vanishes, at least as far as the most significant issues for one’s own human condition are concerned;
- snaring those who are uncertain about what to do or refractory to engage, leading them to submit to the general climate of indifference which draws its strength from the absence of ways out and subsequent reduction of interpersonal exchanges, sharing of experiences, opinions, broad visions of the world and the novelties existing outside their horizon, which becomes narrower and narrower;
- using fear as a means to keep a transversal grip on society, by blackmailing and threatening those who did let themselves be involved in the general climate of acquiescence and connivance until they surrender to its iron authority.
A vicious circle that we need to break up
In what terms can we demolish this vicious circle to set up a virtuous one?
If you answer that what needed is:
“a greater presence of the State”,
you remain within the circle. In facts to achieve a greater presence of the State you need to break the connivance system and the prevailing political mores that feed on the absence of a dynamic civil society.
Also if you answer that what needed is:
“more dynamic, aware and sensitive a civil society”, you remain within the circle, because social fabric can live and develop only if it finds rooms for an “uncontrolled” expression, if it can “breath” and broaden – which is absolutely impossible without the State’s ability to ensure the creation and protection of these rooms, thus enforcing legality.
Genocide theory and the Mafia system: an innovative approach
Actually, we must rethink these mechanisms with an innovative approach which combines the analysis of the experience which has been historically determined - by both the rootage of the Mafia and the struggle against it – and the application of the general principles lying at the basis of genocide theory and the possible forms of opposition against mass murder, particularly when the key actor of the genocidal plan is a totalitarian State.
Why apply the category of genocide within the conceptual area of totalitarianism, and how to define the both of them in a context which is so different from the very origin of those category, i.e. the contexts which have undergone historical analysis?
We believe the answer to this question also paves the way to effectively confront the eternal dilemma: how to exit the vicious circle between state and civil society without indulging either in “wishful thinking” and naiveté, superficiality and unrealistic ambition, misplaced idealism, or in “hyperealism” and therefore cynicalism, for example when declaring that the goal can be achieved by just every means, including entering negotiations with the Mafia to halt the killings that have ravaged Italy in the past decades - a news which upset judge Borsellino little before the assault in via D’Amelio where he was killed.
The elements of genocidal situations
Let’s start to explore the limits of the G-word, or better of the wording “genocidal situations”, and especially how it can apply to the Mafia massacres, and how the definition of totalitarianism can apply to the Mafia’s control over the territory, where it explodes its maximum potential.
The historical phenomenon which goes under the name “genocide”, according to the definition approved by the United Nation’s General Assembly in 1948, refers to persecution of human beings, with some peculiar and unavoidable features:
1) a key actor, the state, which exerts control over the territory
2) a main goal: extermination – almost always an undeclared goal or a goal which is disguised in the form of a “declarable” aim
3) a detailled plan: in particular
a) the construction of the social or political category of an “enemy”, identified in an already existing (ethnic or religious) group or a group which is created on purpose (and which can be political, intellectual, or gender-based) pointed to as dangerous following a typically ideological process (good against evil, the targeted scapegoat)
b) popular mobilization (with the involvement of broad strata of the populations in an active, connivent way or in a passive, indifferent one)
c) bureaucratic mobilization (involving broad strata of the local administration and the central bureaucracy)
d) the creation of specific ways to crack down on these categories (such as through camps, special squadrons, forced labour, death marches and deportations)
Common ground with the Mafia phenomenon
In the Mafia system we can find these features which can be compared to the ones that characterize genocide perpetrators:
1) the control over the territory exerted by replacing the state, as a power competing with it and trying to draw ideological legitimation disguising itself as an oppoinent against a presence of the state which is seen as oppressive. Here the Mafia can also play the role of a demiurge standing up against the state’s absence; standing up in any case against a state which is unpopular because it produces pockets of privilege, deprives citizens of necessary services and sharpens inequality
2) the aim of liquidating any form whatsoever to its absolute rule, inside as well as outside its organizational structures. (in society), by eliminating the elements considerated as dangerous for its criminal survival or contrary to its own expansion plan (for instance internal strifes or feuds or the killing of civilians)
3) 3) the planning of sabotages, assaults, murders, with an escalation of warnings aimed at frightening the enemies, the opponents or the unruly subjects, weakening their resistance to impose its supremacy (see point d);
moreover, the creation and systematic exploitation of relationships based on connivance, the involvement of the bureaucratic and political apparatuses of the state both at the local and central level through bribery and favours for votes (see point c);
and then the control of the population, either through recruitment and coercion into flanking roles (active mobilization), or by favouring indifference (passive acquiescence) (see point b).
The ideological side appears to be particularly incisive also in this case and concerns:
the culture of anti-state, above all in the secessionist tradition, which sees the state apparatus as an “enemy”;
the culture of hands-out, which stems from the lack of a feeling of citizenshhip, and perceives institutions as alien, something imposed from above which have to be exploited and not as own expressions based on a common project of civil coexistence.
The Mafia as an anti-state that protects the people and grants jobs, survival, services on the territory and security, tries to obtain not only the power to exert repressive control but also a broad consensus.
This provides the ideological leverages of the construction of the enemy to be fought against until it is annihilated (see point a):“traitors”, or loyal public servants, rebels, the honest people who do not accept to submit, the defenders of legality become the targets.
4) the use of its own traditional set of repressive instruments: from the most violent (weapons, bombs, abductions, torture, kidnappings, deaths without leaving trace), to the most pervasive crackdown tools (favours and privileges).
The state and the Mafia as an anti-State entity
As resulting in the proper form of a grip on society – which experiences its absolute rule in both cases – the Mafia system as an anti-state has much in common with the totalitarian state, particularly
- at spreading terror,
- at creating criminal elites which are similar to the nomenklatura that controls the crucial points in the leading structure as far as its behaviours and image,
- at hitting the “dissenters” particularly hard, so that they lose every willingness to think on their own and to express their thought, which fosters conformity and apathy,
- at isolating the people by getting them to withdraw into their closest circle,
- at breaking up bonds of blood and family ties up to the point of leading people to repudiate their loved ones (with conviction or out of fear, but always resolutely, as shown by the fact that people whose family members are mafiosos turning state’s evidence usually distance themselves from their kins)
- at passing on resignation and submissiveness in the vision of reality, with a feeling that nothing will ever change, from one generation to the next ones.
- at denying the very existence of a genocidal plan, i.e. an eliminationist plot, and attributing it to other causes. If the state justifies its behaviour by accusing the victims to be the culprits of interethnic clashes, civil strife, international intrigues from which it had to defend itself, the mafia killings are often explained in terms of “side effects” of clashes between criminal gangs or a result of internecine strife among different and conflicting sectors of society. The denialist phenomenon in this case takes up a very violent form, up to the point of excluding the very existence of the Mafia as a criminal organization, or at least its rootage in the affected territory: that is to say to deny the evidence, as well as to mask the tie between the Mafia and politics.
Breaking the encirclement: the “resistance” of the Righteous
Once we have set out the common ground and drawn the appropriate comparisons, what can break up the vicious circle?
As stopping genocide or curbing the strength of a totalitarian regime require a strong intervention both from the state level (within the apparatuses or from other states, diplomatically or by the use of force