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Dwight Macdonald

“Sparks in the News”

In Italy Only Fascists May Commit Crimes

(30 March 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 13, 30 March 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

This column has often dealt with that significant problem of our times: the increasing intervention of the state power into social and economic life. Recently I received a letter from a reader, Egidio Mattina, which interestingly documents this process as it has been going on in Italy under Il Duce. It takes as its text this sentence from a news report: “The Director General of Police in Rome recently presented to Mussolini statistics tending to prove the progressive diminishment year by year of crime in Italy.”

Il Duce Socializes Crime

“The cause of this diminishment of crime under Fascism,” writes Mr. Mattina, “is to be found in the peculiarities of that system of state management, whereby the Government tends to absorb all criminal tendencies to itself, making anti-social crime not only hazardous but unprofitable – as compared to the rich rewards in ‘socialized’ crime. Fascism dares not tolerate independent criminal activity any more than it can tolerate a ‘free’ press. Hence all criminal activity must conform strictly to the party line or suffer outlawry.

“This development is especially interesting because of the fact that in Italy (except for the most advanced sections of the North) criminal activity has always traditionally been carried on not by criminals but rather by outlaws. In enumerating the achievements of Mussolini, his admirers triumphantly list ‘the wiping out of the horrible Maffia’ – to which we might add the Camorra, brigandage, and all the other ragged tatters of feudalism surviving in the South. Mussolini, the bitter enemy of feudalism, like the great Napoleon, has stamped them all out.

“It was not so heroic an achievement. The Maffia and the Camorra were no match for the capitalistic police forces of Rome and Lombardy and Piedmont. To do the banditti justice, they were shrewd enough to realize this, and so, where they could, they donned the black shirt and became ardent Fascisti, rightly surmising it the next best thing to being a Maffista or Camorrista. Thus the Maffia ‘disappeared’ by the process of assimilation. The same is true of crime in general. For them both, it was merely a case of reinstatement in a more modern form: the police force of Sicily is now a regular Society of Old Maffistas. This is what they call Progress.”

Italianization with a Small “i”

Socialized crime, my correspondent continues,

“is only one sample of the process of italianization to which all activity, great or small, must submit itself under Mussolini. The complete list is staggering. Fascism has made everything in Italy italian (with a small i). The countersignature of Mussolini must be on everything, including crime.

“He has italianized Art and artists ... While the professors and the critics quietly wait for the New Italian Renaissance, which like Prosperity in America is always just around the corner in Italy, to make its appearance, they gratefully acknowledge the one mighty contribution to ‘art’ in modern Italy – Mussolini’s National Academy.

“He has italianized the banditti of the South, and it would surprise romantic tourist ladies to know how easily these desperate orphans suffered themselves to be regimented.

“He has italianized Catholicism which, especially in the South, has always been the bitter enemy of the State.

“He has italianized the Catholics. He did not have to italianize the Jews, who are still the best (most chauvinist) Italians in Italy and who owe whatever unpopularity they have enjoyed in modern Italy to precisely that reason. (Now, of course, even the anti-italianism of the people has become ‘italian,’ i.e., anti-semitic.)

“He has italianized the clericals. He has italianized the anti-clericals. He has italianized paganism (the patriotic paganism of the disciples of D’Annunzio), cynicism (the patriotic Peglers of Italy) and papism – if not the Pope himself. He has italianized the unhappy shades of Machiavelli, Dante and Caesar and all the other ghosts unwary enough to roam the Italian earth. He has italianized Italy’s share of Heaven and Italy’s share of Hell.”

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