Review of the Book

Trilateralism: The Trilateral Commission
and Elite Planning for World Management

edited by Holly Sklar

Mary Rawson

[Reprinted from Land & Liberty, November-December 1984]

"Trilateralism" is the title of an illuminating collection of essays edited by Holly Sklar.

The editorial overview describes the process of how foreign and domestic policy has been influenced -- at least in the West -- by what can best be described as "elite" groups. (Many of us are already persuaded that "elites" run things in the East.) The process is not so complicated; it is the web that is fascinating.

In my dictionary, the definition of trilateral is straightforward: "Geom. Having three sides". The word 'commission' however is given eight definitions. "A formal written warrant or authority, granting certain powers and authorizing the performance of certain duties ... Authority given to act for, or on behalf and in place of; another." And so on.

In most of these definitions, authority is the operative idea. From whence this authority comes is left open.

An informal international group formed a decade ago, the Trilateral Commission has slowly surfaced in the media. In spite of the official-sounding title, it does not draw "authority" from elected governments. And the three "sides" of the triangle are not at once obvious.

Do they encompass the humanist spheres of social, economic and political values? Are they the internationalist's First, Second, and Third Worlds? Are they the economist's land, labour, and capital? Are they the three main powers of Orwell's globe, interchangeably at war?

After reading Sklar's book, one might say "all of the above", and yet, as Sklar has shown, trilateralism is capable of precise analysis.

Stripped to its essentials, and whatever its "sides", the purpose of this trilateralism is elite planning for world management. Its authority consists of whatever opinion a small, powerful, and self-appointed group is able to project, promulgate, and persuade among the general public. If you and I believe this authority to be inconsequential, it is because we do not appreciate how small, how powerful the elite in any society usually is.

There is nothing new in elite planning, as Sklar points out, even in democratic North America.

The Council on Foreign Relations, another official sounding body, was founded in 1918. The Council described itself as:

a board of initiation -- a Board of Invention. It plans to cooperate with the government and all existing international agencies and to bring them all into constructive accord.

This would seem high-minded and laudable. But, cooperating for exactly what? And by what means? If cooperation is to be in aid of; let us say, "efficiency of agricultural production" and the method proposed is to concentrate land ownership into even fewer hands, we would be the first to hoot. There's the rub. The plans of elites, it goes without saying, are not the plans of the mass of people.

The function of this private planning group in the U.S., the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), was to serve the American hegemony, and did so very successfully, especially during the war years when the IMF, the World Bank, the U.N. and other international political and financial structures were being sketched out. The Rockefellers personally and various Rockefeller funds and foundations provided key support to the CFR from the beginning.

From 1954, the CFR had a companion group in Europe in the Bilderberg Group. Prince Bernhard was the Chairman and key figure in Bilderberg for 20 years, until the Lockheed scandal. Bilderberg and the CFR have not dissimilar membership sources, operating styles and objectives, except that the CFR defines and promotes the U.S. "national interest" before all.

After World War II, this interest was seen to include a militarily-strong and anti-communist Europe. CFR members Rockefeller, Dean Rusk and others helped Bilderberg to get going. And "whenever we needed any assistance for the European Movement, (John Foster) Dulles was among those in America who helped us the most."

While both organizations have closed meetings, Bilderberg is extremely secretive. Unlike some muckrakers (e.g. Gary Allen) the authors contributing to the Sklar volume do not see the Bilderberg Group, in spite of its secrecy, to be some sort of Jewish/Communist conspiracy to subvert free enterprise and Anglo-American civilization. Neither do they see it as "a giggle and a yawn".

Bilderberg is neither a world super-government; nor is it merely a club where incidental shoptalk takes place, as some portray it. Top executives from the world's leading multinational corporations meet with top national political figures at Bilderberg meetings to consider jointly the immediate and long-term problems facing the West. Bilderberg itself is not an executive agency. However, when Bilderberg participants reach a form of consensus about what is to be done. they have at their disposal powerful transnational and national instruments for bringing about what it is they want to come to pass.

Where there is no such consensus, the real interests at stake, and the constantly repeated injunction not to act divisively can produce a similarly cohesive effect.

It is clear that Bilderbergers played key roles in the development of the European Movement, as well as its supranational, quasi-technical bodies which have real powers of executive action. The OECD, ECSC, EEC, Euratom and ACUSE are some of the "powerful transnational instruments" in which long-time Bilderbergers had a part. One need only mention Max Kohnstamm, Jean Monnet, Denis Healey and E. H. van der Beugel. (The latter, a close associate of Bernhard, became permanent secretary of the Bilderberg Group in 1960, subsequently head of the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London.)

The horizons of our protagonists were broadened when Japan joined the OECD in 1964 and the OECD developed into:

an official forum in which the West worked out global economic issues before taking their common positions to negotiations and forums where Third World and socialist-bloc countries would be represented.

By the 1970s, Bilderbergers were regularly discussing trilateralism, a partnership triangle of elite groups in North America, Europe, and Japan.

In April 1973, David Rockefeller, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Hedley Donovan (of Time magazine) and a few others decided to form the Trilateral Commission. But where military/strategic discussions were commonplace at Bilderberg, the Trilateral Commission emphasized economic matters.

According to Sklar, writing in 1980 about the Commission:

Some 300 members (up from about 200 members in 1973) are drawn from international business and banking, government. academia, media, and conservative labor.

The membership is, again, to some extent overlapping with CFR and Bilderberg.

Bilderberg continues assiduously to avoid attention, in order to maintain the highest effectiveness at the top levels of policy making.

Not quite so retiring, the Trilateral Commission, responding to the outright nationalist "shocks" that Nixon had delivered to the cooperating elites, is explicitly organized as a pressure group. It takes direct as well as indirect action to influence public opinion.

Trilateral policy studies are carried out by task forces which include some non-members. "Impact meetings" are hosted by the Commission to generate press coverage of the task force findings. The Commission has begun to publish a quarterly journal Triologue which reports on task force findings, major speeches, and the progress of the Commission's policy recommendation. Sklar points to the Winter 1980 issue of Triologue as an indication the Commission is "entering its maturity".

Sklar's book is illuminating, relevant, and exhaustively documented. Since it is about the power structure of one third of the world only, it could give us cause not for despair but for hope. It is, after all, a constant struggle for these cooperating elites the keep economic and nationalist rivalry under control, in spite of the fact that a stable world economy far outweighs their competing interests. There are the unruly guys like Nixon, and the Cold Warriors. More important, there is the larger number of people who take democracy seriously.

The sections of Sklar's book which deal with how elite policies translate on the domestic front are most chilling. We already know that multinational firms learned long ago how to use government interventions to their advantage (access to foreign markets, intricate export subsidies, finance for research, etc.). They have learned how to pursue low-cost policies (multiple sourcing, bureaucratized work rules) and let unions do much of their work for them in disciplining labour.

But in the report of the Trilateral Task Force on "Governability of Democracies", first made public in May 1975, the trilateralists appear to be saying: democratic societies cannot work where the citizenry is not passive!

In both Europe and the United States. all the traditional agencies of what political scientists call political socialization are seen as falling apart. People are no longer deferential ... The value structure of society has changed. and new expectations have revolutionized political life ... people begin to make political demands on She state. The result is an overload of inputs which cannot be met by governments.

The American Section of the Task Force report, by Samuel P. Huntington, speaks of a "democratic distemper". The "excess of democracy" must he reduced. A functioning system requires "some measure of apathy and non-involvement".

In general, the trilateralist authors call for "balance", and to restore this balance, they make a number of controversial proposals to restrict the freedom of the press, cut back education, endorse government aid to parties, lower expectations, and so on. This is clearly a part of the strategy called "the politics of less" which is being practised right now in my own country, Canada.

It seems to me as much a mistake for us to ignore this (Marxist!) analysis of power groups in the West as it was in Marx an error to ignore the primacy of the Land Question. I unreservedly recommend Sklar's book for reference and careful study.