By MICHAEL BLACKBURN.
THE THOUGHT THAT rose in my mind as I was watching the Netflix series, Marseille, featuring a large, besuited Gerard Depardieu, was that the French are basically thugs and gangsters and their political system merely legalised gangsterism. I’d already entertained this idea after watching all of the crime series, Spiral (Engrenages), which, by the way, is the best thing to come out of France since Proust. The cops are as bent and screwed-up as the villains they pursue and all the high-ups are self-serving scum, also as bent as the street crims but blessed with better suits, prestige and repellent Gallic hauteur, apart from Juge Roban, my favourite character, but he isn’t all that high up.
If you haven’t watched either of these series this may mean little, so you should go and watch them. Spiral follows a fairly straightforward cops-and-villains format whereas Marseille concentrates on the conflict between the Depardieu character, Taro, long-time mayor of Marseille, and his former ally, Lucas, who challenges and displaces him. The two of them then form an alliance against the shadowy mob types wanting to buy up the city’s football stadium – because football, apparently, unites all the disparate groups in the city into one multiculti collective, which represents the true spirit of the city and is therefore a Good Thing. The whole show is marinaded in progressive liberal slop like this, despite the fact that the party to which both our protagonists belong is supposedly “centre right.” The higher ranking party officials are, obviously, also mobsters of the political sort.
As an aside, all the male characters in Marseille are swine and all the women are sluts. A terrible slur on the French people, no doubt, which probably explains why it has been more popular outside France than at home. One thing the series does, however, is show how beautiful the city is.
But as to thugs and gangsters, what about Italy? They have the real Mafia, don’t they? Yes, they do, but I always had the impression that the Italian establishment made serious efforts to do something about them, often at great personal cost. With the French I felt that the establishment had everything so completely wrapped up there was no point in going against them. Just join ’em or do your own thing anyway because they’re not going to try very hard to stop you.
While I was pondering on these matters, synchronicity made an appearance. I came across this, from Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal:
The Union Corse, brotherhood of the Corsicans, descendants of the Brother of Ajaccio, sons of the vendetta, was and still is the biggest crime syndicate in France. They also ran Marseilles and most of the south coast. Some experts believed them to be older and more dangerous than the Mafia…The Union had helped the Allies to invade the south of France in August 1944, and had owned Marseilles and Toulon ever since…its tentacles spread far north and into Paris.
THAT WAS WRITTEN in 1971.. I should think those original gangs have been largely replaced by immigrants from North Africa, who are now busy shooting their Kalashnikovs at the TGV in Marseille when not taunting les flics. The Allies did a similar thing in Italy towards the end of the war, essentially reviving and rehabilitating the Mafia which had previously been well and truly stamped on by Mussolini, no mean political thug himself
As for the politicians everywhere, well, of course they’re gangsters — but they’re gangsters by proxy. Too weak and cowardly to use their own muscle, and with the advantage of having the respectability of the law behind them, they rely on others further down the food chain to do their dirty work for them.
I suppose the main difference between them and your usual thugs is that the latter are mainly in the business of protecting their territory in order to keep on making money for themselves. Political gangsterism on the other hand is about securing territory for ideological purposes and for the naked exercise of power for its own sake. Money is definitely essential but not the primary purpose.
It’s interesting to see how smaller political gangs, eg, Black Lives Matter, use violence to get attention and power (because, contrary to the soggy liberal cliche that violence doesn’t work, it clearly does) while some of their leaders miraculously acquire large amounts of filthy lucre, with which they purchase million dollar mansions for themselves. Power and the grift go easily hand in hand.
Not all political gangsters are bad — Horatio Nelson, for instance — though most of them are. Hitler and Stalin spring to mind, Stalin having once upon a time been a bona fide bank-robber. And Napoleon, of course, who rampaged all across Europe and ransacked Venice of its art treasures. Adored by the French to this day. Which brings me back to my original thought…
Currente Calamo columnist, poet and writer Michael Blackburn lives in Lincolnshire. A Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Lincoln University (2005 – 2008), his poetry has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies over the years, including Being Alive (Bloodaxe) and Something Happens, Sometimes Here (Five Leaves Press). His most recent book is Albion Days (perennisperegrinator press). Sucks to Your Revolution is a collection of his Fortnightly columns.