Migrants and Italy: The Show Must Go On

The document which follows was translated from the Italian pages of our website written by our comrades of Battaglia Comunista. The story is the same the world over. The global capitalist system is in crisis in every sphere you care to mention and, for many, either climate change or war compels them to flee the intolerable conditions in which they find themselves in order to survive. The same powers who are most responsible for their misery (either by growing wealthy as they pollute the planet or by fomenting wars to grab more of its resources) are the very ones who are throwing up the barriers to migration. The working class has always been a class of migrants and this article makes the connection and contrast between the past migrations from Europe and the present ones to Europe and the USA. We will deal with the hypocrisy and brutality of the British government as they attempt to make the UK “less eligible” as a destination for those fleeing capitalism’s crimes in a future article, but in the meantime this article speaks for more than just events in Italy.

In all good stories, there's usually a good cop and a bad cop. However the Brancaleone army(1) currently in power offers us the bad policeman and then one still worse, in a competition between the two Matteos: Salvini and Pianto-dosi.(2) Whilst one plays at being a sheriff with a pistol, the other waves an even more deadly weapon, the image of the Madonna, or the rosary, depending on the circumstances, appealing to those religious feelings of Christian charity which notoriously preach hatred.

The deafening cry of the new custodians of power, who are always the same even if with different faces, echoes all over the Mediterranean: "the free ride is over!". It is the same scream that explodes (in honour of the warmongering butchers in Ukraine), all over the peninsula. “The party’s over!”. This liberating slogan is shouted in the faces of those "crafty ones", about the supposedly great time they are enjoying after a blissful crossing in an inflatable dinghy, from Africa to Italy: “o Paese d’o sole”.(3) Unfortunately for them, it will instead turn out to be the land of Dante's Inferno, where they will descend further and further downward, into the depths, as happens to those who have been tarred, or will be tarred (the newborn or young children), with the most heinous crimes, because, like animals, they are indelibly marked since they were born to another race, beyond the civilised world. They are not like Western citizens, as the sirens of established power tell us every day, only willing to let them in as long as they can be placed within the system and moulded to its needs.

It is an open secret. The only unavoidable, iron-clad condition for the masses pressing at the doors of Europe is that they can be programmed to meet the needs of European capitalism. Obviously this holds good for all time, as the historical and current migrations to the USA and all those countries "in need" of wage slaves, shows.

"Mamma mia, give me a hundred lire, I want to go to America...".(4) Deaf ears no longer hear the echo of this song of the peasant migrants from Northern Italy who began the emigrations towards the end of the 19th century (followed immediately by those from the South who became the majority of migrants), to South America (what a shame, South America!) and only later to the United States, to seek their fortune, (a fortune that would never come, because so-called fortune in a world of exploiter and exploited, of oppressor and oppressed, only benefits one side).

No one now remembers the tragedies of the Italian migrants in the ocean crossings to the New World. Perhaps it would take some severe event to bring back the names of the steamers, of the bastimente (5) of our collective memory: the Sirio was shipwrecked in 1907, about 500 people perished; the Utopia, sank in the Bay of Gibraltar with 562 dead and missing; the Princess Mafalda, named after the daughter of King Victor Emanuel III, the pride of the Italian merchant navy, was shipwrecked on 27 October 1927 a short distance from the Brazilian coast. The number of dead provided by the Fascist authorities was 360, but in South America there was talk of 657 victims. It should be noted that it was on the eve of the Great National Day commemorating the March on Rome (1922) and therefore fascism, with the press in tow, did everything to minimise the incident. It was to have been her last voyage, but she should never have sailed as the ship was so decrepit it wasn’t seaworthy enough to cross a swimming pool.

The crossing was marred by a whole series of accidents, and despite the constant requests from the ship's captain to turn back, the shipping company would not listen to any argument. Profit, the God of money comes first, human lives count for nothing. And when we say this, we are nowhere near those organisations, whatever their political line, who "humanely" mourn the victims of such wickedness. We want to slap them in the face with the fact that this is capitalism, nothing more, nothing less. The only way to put an end to this ongoing barbarism is to put an end to the bourgeois nation state. The bourgeoisie, sniffed out the migrant business, and even set up a fleet to carry it out. Often these ships were in a disastrous state, but that didn't matter, for the transport of "human tonnage", as the migrants were called, they were more than good enough. The shipwrecks reported above are only the most striking in an era that saw thousands of other accidents and deaths, not only from sinkings, but also from disease, hunger, suffocation, cholera, etc.

But the via crucis didn't end with their landing in that heaven on earth: America! The checks that took place at the immigration office (especially in the USA), were the kind only reserved for potential murderers and criminals. "An inferior race", offenders, murderers, mobsters, disease carriers and so on. These are the "stories" that were told about the Italians. Even in 1973 President R. Nixon was taped on telephone talking of Italians: “The Italians…They’re not, ah, they’re not like us. Difference is, the…they smell different, they look different, act different…The trouble is, you can’t find one that’s honest.”(6) Coming from a man who went down in history as a champion of honesty, let's just say, to keep our spirits up, that you have got to laugh.

We don’t want to dwell further on the history of the emigration of Italians who not only went to America, but also to Europe as well. No one now remembers the 1956 Marcinelle disaster(7) apart from the rhetorical and repulsive references by the established authorities who don't give a damn about those deaths in Belgium, in which 262 miners died, 136 of them Italians. They are just more deaths to pile on the altar of holy capitalist profit. Truth to tell, there is one voice that stands out above all the others, which is keen to emphasise that "those Italians, who emigrated to improve their condition and that of the nations that hosted them...cannot be compared to those who today arrive illegally".(8) Right ma'am, well said! Maybe you should take a course in contemporary history, just maybe to get into your tiny mind the things that even a child would understand, namely that in 1956 post-war reconstruction was in full swing and a new cycle of accumulation had started, and that, therefore, there was a strong demand for manpower so it didn’t matter where you came from. Perhaps Meloni has not realised that today we are in the midst of a recession which, with various ups and downs, has been dragging on for years. And maybe they haven’t told her that thousands of those illegal immigrants have given their lives to come and be exploited in beautiful Europe where they are subject to very precarious working conditions. They don't have fun like her (€20,000 a month) and her cronies, who feed and drink every day on the sweat (surplus labour/surplus value) of those who work for a thousand euros a month. One last fact. In the space of just over a century (1861/1985) 30 million Italians emigrated.

As you can easily see, the narrative never alters, “storytelling” (they use the English word now), is timeless. Bourgeois society, the dominant system, cannot limit itself just to the socio-economic crushing of individuals, this suppression affects all spheres of an individual’s daily life. “The ideas of the ruling class are the ruling ideas in every age” (Marx). Italian migrants in the past "smelled, were murderers, criminals, dishonest, white but also a little dark, similar to black people". Today the same fate awaits Africans, especially from sub-Saharan Africa, Syrians, Afghans, Tunisians, etc. If anything has changed it is only for the worse. Salvini, Meloni, governments of the right and left (as evidenced in the decrees of Marco Minniti, Minister of Interior in the Democratic Party government of Renzi (2016-18))(9) think they are original, but all they do is repeat what their bourgeois predecessors did well before they appeared.

After more than a century, the situation has certainly changed. Capitalism is now gasping for breath, profit rates are less and less remunerative, and therefore the workforce to be employed in production, can only follow the course of the crisis, and is thus subject to the law of supply and demand. The Minister of the Interior unguardedly expressed his thinking "before we import – he talks as if they were just parcels (ed) – migrants we will have to exhaust the "employable" Italians". Today, supply exceeds demand, hence the outrageous accusations between various EU governments as they pass the buck of responsibility for rejecting this excess human material. So let's all build walls 5 metres high and 150km long with barbed wire and infrared sensors (like the one on the Poland/Belarus border) to add to the naval blockades. Only moats with crocodiles and sharks, and a beautiful MOSE(10) around all Italian territorial waters, are missing, The nemesis of history, punctual as clockwork, is coming back to haunt those who sang of the victory of Liberty with a capital L (sic!) on 9 November 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell. In contrast, they are now building many more walls than the one that disappeared in Berlin.

The crisis on the border between Poland and Belarus was just over a year ago. About 10,000 migrants, including women and children, whether or not they were used as pawns by Minsk, were confronted by an army of 17,000 men in full combat gear. At the time there were even those who wrote (La Repubblica of 9 November 2021) that this was an: "Attempt to destabilise the EU". Wow! Ten thousand desperate people armed only with hunger and misery were capable of destabilising armies, fully armed and equipped with nuclear weapons? These are the fantasies of the arselickers of power. Who can forget the fire hoses used on the crowd? The Polish wall was built in record time, to keep out the Muslim brutes, while within a few months the doors would open wide to the beautifully blond Ukrainian Christians, who, as bourgeois propagandists saw it, were exposed to the bombs of the enemy in the hell of a criminal war. But proletarians are always forced to fight, as we communists say, by imperialist criminals, and always against other proletarians who have been sent to the slaughter in defence of sacred bourgeois interests, whether in attack or defence.

The figures reveal just how far the bourgeoisie's mouthpieces will go to paint a distorted picture of the world. More than 7 million Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Europe since the beginning of the war on 24 February this year. The EU has demonstrated an unparalleled "humanitarian" (?) drive, which only saints and the like could compete with. The palm goes to Poland (yes, the very state that built the wall). Italy has welcomed over 150,000 in this period. Fine. The migrants arriving via the Mediterranean in 2021 and 2022 (until November) numbered around 160,000, spread around many European countries. Migrant landings from 2008 to date (2022) have been 1,023,504! (11) Yes, you read that right. About 4 per thousand of the population of the European Union going back for over almost 15 years! These are the ones who are supposed to be destabilising the happy life of Europe. Having said this, our politicians’ exploitation of the entire panoply of power, and those who serve in it is so obvious, that calling them beasts would be an insult to animals.

From 2014 to 25 September 2022, 25,000 migrants lost their lives in the Mediterranean; this year alone on all Mediterranean routes 1,473 have died. There's a movie, Petrol, now unobtainable, which testifies to the desperation of parents and relatives who are waiting for news from their children and husbands (in this case Tunisians), who often can no longer send any because they have been swallowed up by the sea. In 2015 alone, 1,500 Tunisians disappeared in the Mediterranean. The comfortable "sea taxi" as "Giggino 'o Poltronaro"(12) called them, unfortunately turned out to be an unreliable rubber dinghy, to put it mildly. How can we forget what is called "the massacre of children". It was 11 October 2013, 268 people died, almost all Syrians, 60 of them were children. They were running away from the war, the usual cursed endless war caused by the usual cursed imperialists on all sides. Those responsible for these real murders were put on trial but got away with it. The statute of limitations had just come in at the time. Then in Melilla, a Spanish enclave in Morocco, 37 died whilst 77 went missing, therefore also dead, almost all sub-Saharan. In practice it was mass murder by the Moroccan and Spanish authorities, under the “socialist” Sanchez. No different from fascists who would just have ended the matter with a burst of machine guns.

These are only a tiny fragment of the facts that happen in the real world of migrants. Meanwhile, the champions and defenders of democracy and universal freedoms, with Frontex, the agency guarding the sea and land borders of the EU (an army of 10,000 men whose budgets has gone from 6.3 million euros in 2005 to 2 billion euros in 2025)(13), provides the Libyans with the coordinates(14) of the boats to go and pick up the poor wretches and throw them in torture centres comparable to concentration camps. The European institutions that are so scandalised by the filth of the bribes in the Qatargate scandal, and swear that democracy is not for sale, that they will not brush the scandal under the carpet (because it would take a carpet the size of Europe itself), should explain the billionaire deals of almost all the countries of the European Union with Qatar which, among other things, holds 6.1% of the shares of Deutsche Bank. Of the €200 billion invested in the football World Cup, half (47%) came from European banks, pension funds and insurance companies. We don't think we heard them weeping over the deaths of the 6,500 workers (the official figure, which is certainly an underestimate) all of them, coincidentally, migrants. Pecunia non olet.(15)

Let us leave out, for now, (we’ll come to it later) capitalism’s responsibility for the devastation of the world both from an environmental point of view, and from the consequence of its wars of plunder in every corner of the world, which have forced and are forcing entire populations to migrate from lands devastated both by the local and the world bourgeoisie.

In conclusion, we cannot fail to denounce all the vast garbage of the more or less radical so-called left that continues to appeal to the holy Constitution, and to human rights. An example? Here it is: "Saving human lives when they are in danger is not only a rule envisaged by international law and sanctioned by the Italian Constitution, but it is an absolute value that connotes the degree of civilization of a State, assuming if it is still to be counted amongst the civilised and where the rule of law is in force.”(16) How very touching. They still haven't "understood" (or perhaps they have) that in a society dominated by capital, a) all constitutions and universal human rights are always subordinated to the interests of the bourgeoisie, and that therefore, even in the best of cases, they are not worth the paper they are written on; b) on the violation of human rights by capital: since its birth capitalism has systematically violated these rights, it is part of its nature, i.e. inhuman. Hoping and/or making people believe that the cobra, the capitalist state, will become a lizard is foolish and/or lines you up alongside the bourgeoisie.

In witnessing so much barbarism, we can only go back to Marx, "history always repeats itself twice, the first as a tragedy and the second as a farce". He certainly could not have known that alongside the farcical dwarfs and clowns of our contemporary rulers, the best examples would be found in the Italian peninsula, headed by a werewolf Smurfette who, as she likes to remind us, thinks of herself as an "underdog", but has deleted the “under” to remain just a dog, ever ready to bite anyone who dares to touch her bone, and would sit alongside an infinite repetition of the migrant story thus uniting tragedy and farce at the same time. The working class are left with a single choice, a single way out, to turn around and bite back.

16 December 2022

Notes to the Translation:

Image: Mstyslav Chernov/Unframe, commons.wikimedia.org

(1) The term Armata Brancaleone comes from the 1966 comedy film (often known in English as “The Incredible Brancaleone Army”). Set in the Middle Ages we follow the knight Brancaleone and his motley crew as they stumble from one disaster to another. Today the term has become a byword to define any group of badly assembled and poorly equipped people. In this case the new Italian government.

(2) Matteo Salvini is leader of the League (Lega) and a former Minister of the Interior whilst Matteo Piantedosi is the Minister of the Interior in the current Meloni government. “Less than 48 hours after his appointment as Minister of the Interior, Piantedosi enacted directives that prohibited the Ocean Viking and Humanity One NGO ships, which were carrying immigrants, from entering Italian ports. He also considered restoring Salvini's previous security decrees that included measures against illegal immigration, which had risen between 2021 and 2022.” (Wikipedia). His name is misspelled deliberately in the original Italian to make it a play on words as “whinger”.

(3) This ironic line from the famous Neapolitan song, O sole mio, is dialect for “To the land of sun”.

(4) The title of an anonymously composed popular song of the later nineteenth century about emigration.

(5) “Bastimente” (steamers), is from Neapolitan dialect (derived from Castilian or Catalan) and refers to the cargo ships which were used to transport migrants to America, The “collective memory” referred to here is carried on in Neapolitan songs like “Santa Lucia Luntana” (1919). The village of Santa Lucia was the last sight of Italy that migrants departing from the port of Naples were able to catch a glimpse of from the ships en route to the Americas.

(6) It appears the Nixon had the same opinion of most people, including most Americans, as the 3,000 hours of his taped calls demonstrate. irishcentral.com

(7) This occurred at the Cazier Wood coal mine near Marcinelle in Belgium, on 8 August 1956 due to an underground electrical fire which trapped a large number of mineworkers, many of them “guest workers” from Italy, who died from smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning before they could be rescued.

(8) Giorgia Meloni, current President of the Council of Ministers (aka Prime Minister) in secoloditalia.it. Meloni was playing on an old trope of Italian bourgeois nationalism which likes to present starving Italian migrants, who left poverty and degradation in their millions, as pioneering types just curious to see the world! Such myths are the stuff of bourgeois nationalist ideology in all countries.

(9) In July 2017 the Minniti Code decreed that NGO rescue ships had to sign up to various demands which included not entering Libyan waters to rescue migrants. Both Médecins Sans Frontières and Sea Watch denounced it, but had to abandon their efforts at rescue as a result.

(10) The reference is to the MOSE (acronym of Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico) system of mobile sluice gates currently under construction to protect Venice and its lagoon from floods at high tide. The project began in 2003 but only started to be partially operational in 2020 after a series of corruption scandals and the usual overrun on the budget. The reference though is to the idea of wall against migrants as well. John Lanchester’s futuristic novel The Wall points to the same idea for the UK.

(11) Until 2020, for the next two years consult the Ministry of the Interior, openpolis.it

(12) “Armchair Gigi” was the satirical name given to Luigi Di Maio, a leader of the Five Star Movement by a famous Italian journalist. The armchair is a symbol of power and Di Maio was said to be so attached to power that they could not get him out of the armchair. In the end he took Five Star out of the last government paving the way for the Right to win in the 2022 election. See: leftcom.org

(13) altreconomia.it

(14) altreconomia.it

(15) “Money doesn’t smell”. Allegedly the Emperor Vespasian’s reply to his son, Titus, when the latter objected to a new tax on urine from public lavatories (used in laundries and the wool textile trade as an ammoniac).

(16) Signatories Nicola Candido, Regional Secretary of Sicily and Mimmo Cosentino, Provincial Secretary of Catania, both of the Communist Refoundation (Rifondazione Comunista) Party – European Left), pane-rose.it

Thursday, December 29, 2022