Blok, A. . The Mafia of a Sicilian Village, 1860-1960 – A study of violent peasant entrepreneurs . . 1974 . Waveland Press, Inc. . Prospect Heights Illinois . 1988 . ISBN 0-88133-325-5
The idea is that memes are the ideas that replicate: they are the basis for selective pressures. And so once a meme is interesting enough it gets replicated by its host. In this way it is successful and fit. It can’t be said to be useful for the person replicating it or for society in general or for some group in particular. It just happens to be accepted or believed, communicated and replicated and it survives. However the case may be: the memes we encounter today are the products of many years of ‘experience’ and in that sense they already have been selected by the evolutionary forces. Their ancestors have been around in some shape or form, initially basic but ever more sophisticated and competing for human attention, they have been around ever since human beings communicate. In theory those would be the ones providing some evolutionay advantage to their hosts, but there is no need for that. The prevailing memes can be about anything: if they are damaging to their host, they should not be too quick about it. Some examples were given of memes concerning the economic lives of people at this point. They can all be said to be useful for the host up to some point and so to identify their workings, an inventory was made of the memes that must be in play in a traditional sicilian village in the period 1860-1960.
A pivotal characteristic of mafia is the private use of unlicenced violence as a means of control in the public sphere. Many people are involved in it or with it and it is still widespread, but it is not a centralized or single organisation. However the case may be: mafiosi exist and the sum of their actions associated with the use of violence is known as the mafia: mafia exists but The Mafia doesn’t. Mafioso or ‘ntisu (he who is listened to).
‘The reason why Sicily is ungovernable is that the unhabitants have long ago learned to distrust and neutralize all written laws (alien laws in particular) and to govern themselves in their own rough homemade fashion, as if official institutions did not exist. This arrangement is highly unsatisfactory (the inhabitants themselves endlessly lament their fate) because it cures no ills, in fact makes them worse, promotes injustice and tyranny, leaves crimes unpunished, does not make use of Sicilians’ best qualities, and has kept the country stagnant and backwards in almost every way. It consists of a technique, or art, which is second nature to all Sicilians, both the decent hard-working, honorable Sicilians, and the criminal minority, which includes the Mafia, that of building up one’s personal power, and of acquiring enough power to intimidate or frighten one’s competitors, rivals, or enemies, in order to defend one’s honor and welfare at all times‘ [Barzini 1972: 75-6 in Blok 1988 foreword p xiv].
M1: Distrust the law and any alien forces. Govern thyself.
M2: Defend your honor and welfare. Expand your power to intimidate your competitors and rivals.
The existence of the mafia hinges on a set of economic and political arrangements and so to discover the drivers of its mechanisms is about the locating of the connections between those two elements and the prevalence of private violence.
Fundamental framework of social life: landless / landpoor laborers, rentiers (owners of land) and managers (running the estates and oversee strongarm men hired to protect the property). The managers maintained the rentiers’ incomes from their property and their local power. In return they received liberty to exploit the local workers for their own ends. The landlords used their own private forces to ward off outside interference from rivals and the state and to protect their managers. The produce is to a large extent exported and some level of large-scale organisation is in place and so to label the sicilian society as backwards doesn’t explain the state of afffairs. Blok calls this system rent-capitalism. An important piece of the puzzle is that the laborer spends a lot of time traveling between his job(s) and between his own scattered plots of land (itinerant lifestyle). As a result of this and the insecurity caused by a lack of state control, protection could be offered to the laborer in exchange for a tribute, added to the burdens of direct exploitation (low wages and high leases and taxes). But the population pressure was high enough to keep the wages low and underemployment prevalent, the communication between villages was limited and so the laborers were not in a position to organize themselves, emigration was difficult and protection by the state was limited.
M3: (peasant). Me and my family must survive. Get work at any price wherever and whenever.
The origins of the emergence of the mafia lies in the liberalisation of the lands as a consequence of the dispossessions of the church, breaking up of common lands, abolition of feudal landownings and so on. This lead to the acquiring of large estates and stretches of land by a few bourgeois joining old aristocrat families, preventing farmers joining in and state intervention regarding genuine land reform. ‘The mafiosi were creatures of the landlords; they began as armed retainers, and ended up as exploiters with considerable autonomy‘ [Blok 1988 p. xviii]. ‘While on one hand, mafiosi heightened class tensions though their control over land, they checked open rebellions and sustained revolts in several ways: by force; by keeping a hold on outside influence; by opening avenues for upwardly mobile peasants; and by turning outlaws and bandits into allies‘ [Blok 1988 p. xviii].
M4: (peasant). The security and welfare (and honor) of a mafioso is safeguearded. Get a job as a mafioso.
M5 (peasant) A mafioso is selected because of his outstanding cruelty. Show exceptional cruelty.
The mafiosi are protected by the landlords mightier then them; they in turn have fabricated some agreement of non-intervention with the regional authorities. This system rests on patronage without complete control: in case the national state collapsed then the non-intervention agreement is rendered useless and space opens for other power structures. If the protectors are replaced by the government than the autonomy of the mafiosi decreases and the effect of that for the populace depends on the concrete relative characteristics of the mafia and the state. The amount of force depends on the amount of autonomy that the parties have managed to ssecure for themselves.
‘The system producing mafia is both cruel and curious. Like governments, the beneficiaries of the system, directly or indirectly, tax the producers of the wealth – the agricultural workers. Like many governments, the system permits each of the operators to scoop some of the proceeds from the flow towards the top. It depends on government to stand far enough away not to interfere with the flow of proceeds, but close enough to assure that neither rivals nor the people at the bottom will block the flow. Unlike most governments, however, the system has no accountability, no visibility, no means of representation for those under its control. So the mafia system is more curious and more cruel than the government itself.’ ‘The murders, thefts and mutilations its operators use to maintain their control- to ‘make themselves respected’-are only the most lurid manifestations of its evil’ [Blok 1988 p xix-xx].
M6 (mafia): the more invisible the less accountable. Remain as little visible and representing as possible.
‘In that regard, one might imagine a continuum running from anarchy to banditry to mafia to routine government. The defining feature of that continuum is the extent to which control over the use of force is concentrated in a single organization. That implicit continuum connects Blok’s analysis to phenomena far more general than mafia or Sicilian villages. What he calls state-formation, other people have often tried to deal with as ‘political development‘ [Blok 1988 p. xx-xxi].
State-formation is not immanent, unidirectional or a displacement of the traditional by the modern nor universal (namely not historically specific) but it is international (namely occurring in a network of neighbouring or otherwie dependent states). The processes that Blok identified in Sicily are fairly standard State-formation processes: consolidation of the controol of over the use of force, elimination of rivals, formation of coalitions, extension of protection, routinized extraction of resources. Had one mafia network managed to extend its control over Sicily, then it would have been closer to a public rather than a private authority, a State rather than a movement.
‘Poised between landowning elite and peasants, between city and countryside, and between central government and the village, they sought to control and monopolize the links between these various groups and segments of society‘ [Blok 1988 p. xxviii].
M7 (mafia): There is a profit to be made by exploiting violence in the vacuum between the peasants and the landowners. ??
Land is the basis for social and political life in Genuardo: the majority of the population did not own or have power over suffficient land to live on. The only way to survive is to come to terms to those who do own it or have access to it. This was increased because in the new structure of landownership, the feudo (classical estate) was replaced with the latifondo: the mechanism of the common grounds were now no longer in place and all land was on lease. These lands were part of the rivalry of the existing landownners and the new incumbants. This further impoverished the peasants, because they were now forced to pay a lease for the formerly free of charge commons. The latifondo were large, but their lands were leased out in smaller strips of land to peasant on short term leases. The estate was itself leased out to a gabelloto (leaseholder) who paid a fixed fee per annum or a amministratori (steward) who represents the owner and has an annual income. They are referred to as peasant entrepreneurs because they were of peasant stock and manipulating people and resources for profit.
Who are the entities engaged in this game and what are their tools for thought?
General (a.p. Barzini quote) held belief:
The reason why Sicily is ungovernable is that the unhabitants have long ago learned to distrust and neutralize all written laws (alien laws in particular) and to goven themselves in their own rough homemade fashion, as if official institutions did not exist… It consists of a technique, or art, which is second nature to all Sicilians, both the decent hard-working, honorable Sicilians, and the criminal minority, which includes the Mafia, that of building up one’s personal power, and of acquiring enough power to intimidate or frighten one’s competitors, rivals, or enemies, in order to defend one’s honor and welfare at all times‘ [Barzini 1972: 75-6 in Blok 1988 foreword p xiv]
‘This orientation of peasants having a relatively high degree of independent control over their land is completely at variance with the attitudes of the dependent peasantry discussed in this book. For them, manual work was and still is looked dow upon, and those engaged in it – the contadini or vidani – are socially degraded‘ [Blok 1988 p48-9].
M8: manual labor is degraded for contadini or vidani. Advancing in the world (civiltà) means absence of manual work. To get a job that is free from manual work is better than a job involving manual work.
To bridge seasonal shortfalls, the peasants received loans from the gabellotti: they left the feudal system to enter a system of indebtedness.
The sharecropper (bringing own equipment ot the estate) was permanently indebted to the gebellotti because of these fees and tributes: 1) ¾ of the crops, 2) verbal contract 3) net / gross measurements when the gebelloto calculated payables and receivables 4) gifts to the gebelloto as tributes for protection to share out to whomever it may concern 5) high interest rates on loans 6) risks on production were with the sharecropper.
1) Peasants and shepherds as seasonal workers during summer and fall. They travel between estates and their own holdings. They need money to sustain their families and they can emigrate with considerable difficulty only. Some of them are retained by the managers as a mafioso or by other mafiosi as a collegue; thus a way up is offered to peasants skilled in violence and in so doing keeping restive peasants in submission. They have a tendency to dislike the land and the work on the land. Also they are looked down upon and seen as degraded: they are seen to have a lack of civiltà (as uncivilized). They are inclined to patriotism, xenophobia and rejection of any central rule.
M9 (peasant): To become a mafiosi means to have honor, no manual labor, more wellfare. Become a mafioso.
2) Land owners: bourgeois and aristocrats as employers and lessors. They live elsewhere, not on the estate. They want an income and no trouble. They retain a manager to manege the estate for them. They broker some agreement between the mafia and the regional governments. Aristocracy and bourgeois had no interest in farming and a didain for manual work. They were interested, apart from the landed status, in power and presige: noble titles via marriage and purchase and local government.
M10 (landowner): A life away from the state in a city is further removed from the business, concrete work, it has more civiltà and so that is to be preferred over a life on the estate. Life in the city, have a manager manage the estate.
3) Managers of the estates as retainers of strong-arm people. They gain an income from the management of the estate as well as from the coercion of low-level workers to work for them at some wage.
M11 (managers, lessees) get a lease of a part of the land on an estate: make a profit while the peasants will do the physical work. Make profit. Squeeze out the sharecroppers for more profit.
4) Mafia consists of peasants retained to enforce the will of the managers on the laborers regarding the interests of the estate and keep others out of the community as retained for strong-arm work. It is born from the tension between the central government and the land owners and the latter and the peasants. Mafia helped manage these related tensions. They move up in the world from low-wage worker (at the wrong end of the stick) to someone with a higher status and a somewhat higher income and more security (the right end of the stick). In exchange for their services protecting the intrests of the state, they are at liberty to raise tributes from the laborers. They are protected by the land owners from outside influences because of their agreements with regional authorities. They developed as entrepreneurs monopolizing the information channels with the outside world so as to keep the population isolated and uninformed. In case of a conflict the enforcement by campieri (private police) is in favour of the party wielding power and influence and incentivizing the executor and so the mafia follows the vested interests [p61]. They earn respect by their application of violent force that inspires awe and their capability to gain access to resources mainly land to their followers; there is competitive pressure on these powerful (and in an awe inspiring way respectful) jobs. Mafia at a higher level of society lends support ot government that is interested to abstain from too much interference in local communities’ businesses. ‘.. the Mafia demanded cmplete subordination, absolute obedience and ‘rispetto’ (respect). This last was even required in exterior forms and was understood particularly as a concretee recognition of the prerogative of ‘immunity’ belonging to the mafioso, not only in his person, but also in everything he had to do with or that he was pleased to take under his protection. In fine, evildoers had to leave the mafioso severely alone, and all the persons or things to which , explicitly or impicitly, he had given a guarantee of security. That is the meaning of the word ‘rispetto’ in this connection‘ [Mori 1933: 69-70 in Blok 1988 p. 146-7]. Damage to the ‘rispetto’ was seen by the mafia as an act of insubordination, an insult, not of material damage.
The means used by mafiosi is violent force. The violence and homicide in mafia circles however wasn’t a sign of social disorder. ‘The use of violence was encouraged and justified, though people were never aimlessly harmed or killed: violence was prescribed in those situations where people sought to get their claims to honor and power ultimately recognized‘ [Blok 1988 p 174].
M12 (mafiosi) When coercing people to do what they want, they make use of their ‘rispetto’. Act rigourously and violently at any inkling of a damage to the rispetto.
5) Regional and national government kept in the loop by the land owners. Some representatives receive a retainer to stay away from the area.
M13 (government representatives) the mafia enforces the law in some locality too insignificant for us. If we allow them that then they do our work for us. They may also help us to collect votes for our political careers. Get aligned witht hem.
6) The group of the bandits includes people that are not a part of the sysem that encompasses the mafia. They are social and so they are tied to other people. Bandits had to rely on protection from above to survive at all. The protection can be from kinsmen up to politicians and if they were not protected then they were hunted down by landlord’s retainers, the police or the peasants. And the more successful as a bandit, the better his protection is. They are important in this context if they assume a retainership for a landlord. That suppresses the peasants resistance in two ways: the bandit opposes it directly and it shows an avenue upward to power and respectability.
M14 (bandits) If you are not protected then will not get old. Get protected: the higher up the more protection.
The peasant movement arose because of: 1) socialist influence in intellectual circles in cities, 2) the draft brought people back to their village with new experiences and perspectives, 3) suffrage for those who cold read and write increased as more people had those skills 4) high emigration rates reduced the chances of revolution and helped traditional resignation.
The approach of the mafia: once a cosco (mafia clique) gets a foothold on an estate as a campieri, a leaseholder or supervisor of herds, they start making attempts to increase their wealth with additional activities: apart from revenues and levies they tried to rustle cattle and sheep.
M15 (mafioso) Any foothold is a start of a larger entrepreneurship. Get a foothold somewhere. Then extend the business.
The mafiosi can then ‘protect’ the cattle from being stolen for a payment. This protection is forced on people through force and violence. At some point the mafiosi felt so strong that they imposed a tribute, not only to peasants but also to landowners.
Once they are in as a campieri, they keep out the petty theft and the cattle rustling but too they are a burden to the manager and to the owner of the estate. Over time, the balance of power between the landowners and the mafiosi tipped to the latter.
Friendship in Italy, as in other mediterranean societies is intrumental rather than emotional. Each member of a dyad (combination of two things) is a sponsor for the other and acts as a potenital connecting link to others outside of the dyad. When they exchange favors they call each other ‘friend’ and they rely on the connotations of intimacy, trust and affection to cover the practical usefulness and sometimes exploitative nature of their interactions. However, if the instrumental element takes the upper hand then the relation is in danger of disruption.The term ‘friendship’ can refer to a relation of patronage in a client supplier relationship and this way can cross class lines.
M16 (all) friendship is instrumental. Get friendly, be useful. Use.
The personal armies in feudal times were different from the mafiosi after that. Similar is the reputation of toughness and very personal connections. The main difference is the social context in which the mafiosi operated versus the institutional context of the feudal henchmen.
Their violence wasn’t formal and therefore illegal from the perspective of the formal authorities; they accepted it for practical reasons. The state failed to monopolize the use of violence.
The mafiosi operated as middle men: they assumed positions of management of the estates and in this way controlled the efforts of the peasants, dependent on the land for the livelihood. They bought estates if they came up for sale, sold the land to peasants at a profit, coerced tributes from them after that and forced them to vote for their candidates in elections, thus brokering political influence. The politicians themselves were often owners of the estates that were managed by the mafiosi striving for a regional or national political position; and in this position they could protect the mafiosi from the law. This is a patron-broker-client network. Now they controlled the environment of the village because they had a control of the people in authority. They were poised between the peasants (were they came from, the so called little tradition) and the State (the big tradition). The relations within and in between the cosci were based on kinship, and in its absence, other similar relations developed.
M17 (mafiosi) work the mafia at all sides to expand the business. Have the peasants pay tributes, have the landowners pay tributes, have the politicians pay for votes.
Within the system of the mafia the younger mafiosi strived to achieve a better position in the hierarchy at the expense of higher ranking and older members. The killing of rival was an important ingredient for that, because of the career opportunities as well as the establishment and reinforcement of the reputation of ‘rispetto’.
M18 (mafiosi) gain ‘rispetto’ by eliminating rivals and have access to more work in the process. Eliminate rivals.
At a village level a small number of families monopolized control over the means of violence, the means of production, and the means of orientation, namely religion, knowledge and ideology.
M19 (mafiosi) Have more control to leave less room for deviations. Control all aspects of village life: the means of religion, violence and production.
Important elements of the rise of the mafia are: the gradual and violent rise of a rural middle stratum, the growing proletarianisation of the peasantry, the obsolescence of certain sectors of the landowning aristocracy.
Omertà: recourse to the legal authorities with regards to private matters is seen as a sign of weakness. It is a strong version of the sentiment that personal insult should be settled by duel to recover lost honor. Maffii psychology indicates many offenses in this category and that should be avenged by personal action or that of relatives or friends.
M20 (mafiosi) guard omertà. Deze is al eerder geweest.
The reign ended or lost momentum when empoyment rose via infrastructure projects, the number of laborers decreased because of emigration overseas and migration to the industrial north of Italy, decrease in competition for local resources (land is less important as a source of power, because people are less attached to land as a source of income) requiring cotrol by violence, and so the bargaining power of the peasants strengthened. Also within the mafia the power shifted away from the local strongmen to influence in the political sphere. As a result violence pays less.
‘The mafia in Sicily is a ‘mental condition’ pervading everything and all sorts of people on every level. The mafia ended up in the blood, in the most hidden structures of society. Above all, it is to be found in the atavistic distrust of the law and, for that reason, in the disregard of the law, which among Sicilians assumesthe characteristics of an epidemic voluptuousness. It is a mentality harboring in proprietors, peasants, magistrates, local authorities, the police, everywehere. It is impossible to identify, to dissect, to separate the collusion with the mafia. Because, as I have said, it enters in all the houses, though the door as well as through the window. Hence, the omertà, which is fortunately suffering its first flaws, the first cracks…. Do you know that the apparatus of the public forces to maintain law and order in Sicily is the most complete and the most extensive in Italy? But for the mafia it is of no use. As I have said before, it is a mental condition that bewitches, enchants, contaminates – you may choose the appropriate term for yourself – it instills everywhere also in those strongholds, like the Magistracy, that should be unassailable and vaccinated against the mafia‘ [Senator Donato Pafundi President of the Anti-Mafia Commission 1966 in Blok 1988 p. 227-8]. One of the major conclusions of the report of the commission issued in 1972 was that: ‘mafia by its very nature defies any remedy‘. All public bodies are rendered ineffective because all of them to some degree are intertwined with the mafia and their protectors.
Corruption and mafia are inherent elements of societies in a relatively early stage of formation of a nation-state.
What changes should take place that enable people to encourage a positive approach in all public servants or to carry though sharp measures against deviations.’ Attitudes towards the government and involvement in tasks in society on the part of the people who form it will only change with the changes in the society at large. .. ‘It (to see corruption as something which is morally bad DPB) suggests that there are evildoers who can be punished.
We must expect, however, that people who act in particularistic and corrupt ways in not making clear a distinction between public and private affairs have few other options. They are part of societies in which the distribution of power is far more uneven than in certain nation-State societies where people can, quite apart from personal merits, afford to be ‘honest‘‘ [Blok 1988 p. 229].
Involution means the overdriving of an established form in such a way that it becomes rigid through an overelaboration of detail [Geertz 1963:82 in Blok 1988 p. 83]
‘alle Begriffe, in denen sich ein ganzer Prozeß semiotisch zusammenfaßt, entziehn sich der Definition; definieerbar ist nur das, was keine Geschichte hat‘ [Friedrich Nietzsche. Zut Genealogie der Moral – Werke, Vol. II. Ed. Karl Schlechta. München: Carl Hanser Verlag, 1966 p. 820]