Pasolini’s horrific murder on an Ostia beach at the beginning of November 1975 was a political crime camouflaged (and widely accepted) as a homophobic hate crime. It was part of a chain of murders that stretched back to the assassination of Enrico Mattei, head of the Italian oil giant ENI, in October 1962 and to the subsequent kidnapping and killing of investigative reporter Mauro de Mauro, whom the Mafia killed in a Palermo suburb in September 1970. At the 2006 trial of the journalist’s murder, ex-Mafia witnesses (the type called pentito) testified that De Mauro was killed because he was about to go public about Mattei’s 1962 murder as a result of research he had done for Francesco Rosi’s movie The Mattei Affair. He told colleagues he had a scoop that was going to “shake the whole of Italy”. Of course, he never lived to publish that.
And Pasolini’s involvement? The last three years of his life had been spent writing a novel called Petrolio (Oil). It was published in 1992, years after his death, and only 500 pages of the 2000 that he himself had planned to write. But a glimpse of what the novel was about came in an article Pasolini published in November 1974. The extraordinary thing about this novel was that Pasolini came to the very conclusions that would be reached twenty-five years later by a hard-working judicial magistrate of Pavia called Vincenzo Calia, who first started investigating the Mattei murder in September 1994.
At the heart of Pasolini’s novel lies the real-life figure of Eugenio Cefis, the man who succeeded as the chief executive of ENI when the plane Mattei was travelling back in exploded on 27 October 1962. In a chapter of the book that later went missing (no one could find it after Pasolini was killed), Cefis (called Aldo Troya in the novel) was described as a man “with a guilty smile”, “capable of anything”, and the head of a “private empire”. “Not only that. That ‘empire’ is described in minute detail, for at least ten pages. In his recent book on Mattei, Giorgio Galli reports that Mattei’s colleagues always maintained that ‘Cefis created ad hoc companies owned by him to secure orders from ENI’. In fact, in Pasolini’s novel those companies are described with a wealth of detail. But there’s more”, and here the article I’m quoting from states that on page 117 of Petrolio Pasolini stated in so many words that Cefis’s ambitions to become the head of ENI meant getting rid of Mattei. Pasolini’s notes read, “He (Cefis) and his clique required anti-Communism (1968); bombings that were attributed to the fascists”. No wonder Judge Calia became so interested in the case years later. Indeed, Calia cited Fanfani as saying (in 1986) that while it was certain that Mattei’s plane had been brought down, it was “possible” that “behind that act of sabotage stood the same circles that would later use terrorism as a political instrument”.
Cefis was a profoundly secretive person who made sure that no information about him ever stayed public for long. When one Giorgio Steimetz (pseudonym for the journalist Corrado Ragozzino) published a book about him in 1972, it disappeared from circulation almost as soon as it was published. (Cf. the fate of Hamish MacDonald’s Polyester Prince (1998) at the hands of Reliance.) Pasolini managed to get a photocopy of the Steimetz book sent to him, and going by the abundant annotations and underlinings in that copy (preserved among his papers in the Gabinetto Viesseux library in Florence), he read it carefully. His archive also contains speeches by Cefis, including one famously given to the Military Academy of Modena in February 1972. He planned to insert Cefis’s speeches in the section of the novel called “History of Oil and its Backstage”. These, he wrote, “serve to divide the novel into two parts in a perfectly symmetrical and explicit way”.
In March 2009, the former editor of the Corriere della Sera, Piero Ottone wrote: “I don’t think the development of the Italian chemical industry was Cefis’s chief ambition. After all, what was P2, that secret association which attracted individuals from the armed forces, diplomats, state officials, politicians, journalists (including my successor at the Corriere), and which Cefis himself was a part of? In a state that functions badly and that is governed by an inefficient political class, the people of power act in secret. To improve its functioning? Were they simply interested in a reform of the executive on Gaullist lines? Or did they want to install a dictatorship and were even willing to kill to get their way? Cefis’s sudden departure from Italy, when he left the country permanently, was also a mystery... Thirty years have passed but the white coup d’etat is now almost complete”.
P2 stood for Propaganda Due. Its founder was Cefis and its chief aim was to “stop the rise of the left” (Schwartz, Pasolini Requiem, p.650). Pasolini’s best English-language biographer claims, “Many quietly believed what Pasolini proclaimed at high risk to himself: that the P2 had masterminded bomb massacres at Milan, Bologna, and Brescia”.
The Roman criminal lawyer Stefano Maccioni who started investigating the murder of Pasolini in 1998, believed that the missing “Note 21” of Petrolio, entitled “Flashes of Light on ENI”, would have shown Cefis to be the culprit behind Mattei’s murder, and that “persons working for the secret services of the Italian state took the sole manuscript copy of “Note 21” from Pasolini’s study during a reported break-in on 5 November 1975. An unfounded speculation would scarcely have terrified Cefis and the clique around him. It is certain that Pasolini had been given good-quality information by insiders hostile to Cefis. One of them was the Christian-Democrat senator Graziano Verzotto, a former right-hand man of Mattei who was interviewed by Mauro two days before the latter’s disappearance. Verzotto had financed the exposé of Cefis written by ‘Steimetz’. The magistrate Calia was convinced that Pasolini’s novel had laid out a plausible scenario from the assassination of Mattei to the spate of massacres linked to far-right groups.
In the last years of his life two themes preoccupied Pasolini. One was what he called the cultural genocide bound up with the birth of consumerism and the subordination of the countryside and of non-capitalist classes to the new industrial capitalism. The other was the concerted subversion of democracy that Pasolini identified with figures like Cefis and networks like P2, the profound degeneration of democracies that would happen worldwide after the 1970s. That’s not all. In one of his last columns for Corriere della Sera, he famously wrote, “I would give the whole of Montedison for one firefly”. (After taking over as the head of ENI in 1967, Cefis went on to become the president of Montedison in 1971.) Like so much else in his work, this was a prophecy about the catastrophe capitalism was unleashing in cities and countrysides throughout the world.
(Photos: Enrico Mattei; Eugenio Cefis (in car))
By Jairus Banaji