Review of the Book
Trilateralism: The Trilateral Commission
and Elite Planning for World Management
edited by Holly Sklar
[Reprinted from Land & Liberty,
"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
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
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
By the 1970s, Bilderbergers were regularly discussing trilateralism,
a partnership triangle of elite groups in North America, Europe, and
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
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 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
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
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
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.