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From Ferguson to Freedom, Part 2: Institutional Racism in America
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
16 December 2014
The primary issue of race in America, as elsewhere in the world, is less about the overt acceptance and propagation of racism on the individual level, and more about the realities of institutional racism. A racist society is established and sustained not simply by racist individuals, but by racist institutions and ideologies. If racism were simply an individual experience, education and interaction between racial groups would seemingly be enough to eradicate the scourge of racism in modern society. After all, most white Americans would likely not identify as racists, and in a society where a black man can become president, many may be tempted to proclaim that America is a “post-racial society.”
Viewing racism simply from an individual level is misleading, embracing the notion that because I am not a racist, we no longer live in a racist society; because the president is black, we have moved beyond racism; because there are black people who have succeeded in society and risen to top political and economic positions of power, there are no longer issues of racial segregation and oppression. These views present a mythology of ‘equal opportunity’ and ‘individual initiative.’ In other words, segregation and other overt forms of political and legal racism have been largely dismantled, and therefore, the rates of poverty, crime, imprisonment and death in black communities are no longer the result of a racist society, but rather, a lack of “individual responsibility” and failure to take advantage of the equal opportunities afforded.
Institutional racism, however, takes a view of society, of the relations between power and people, beyond the myopic and misleading focus of ‘the individual’ alone. Society is institutionally structured to support the rich and powerful at the expense of the vast majority of the population, which is evident through the structures, policies, and effects of institutions like the Treasury Department, Federal Reserve, Wall Street banks, the IMF, World Bank, World Trade Organization, etc. The ideologies and actions of these institutions effectively protect the powerful, bail them out, promote policies which benefit them, punish the poor, impoverish the rest, and support a top-down power structure of the national (and global) economy.
There may be individual policymakers, executives or economists who advocate more economic equality, who criticize bailouts and austerity, who oppose the parasitic nature of the modern economy. However, when sitting in positions of power and influence, these individuals must succumb to the institutional demands of those positions. An executive at a bank may individually oppose the actions of banks in creating financial crises and then needing bailouts and profiting from them as millions lose homes, go hungry and are pushed into poverty. However, that executive cannot change the operations of the bank or realities of the industry alone, he must be concerned with the institutional realities, which focus on short-term quarterly profits for shareholders, which in turn would require him to follow and mimic the actions and initiatives of all the other big banks. If such an executive did not follow the path as designed by the institutional structure of the bank and financial markets, such an executive would be fired. Institutional inequality and economic exploitation are realities of the economic system, regardless of whether or not there are individuals within the system who oppose many of the policies and effects of that system.
The same logic applies to racism. This has been true for as long as racism has been a reality. In the United States, racism was institutionalized from the beginning, as the U.S. was founded as a Slave State. Racism was a legal reality, and it was reflected in the institutional structure of the economy, labour system, education, health care, politics, geography, demography, the criminal justice system, city planning, foreign policy and empire. Over the course of decades and centuries, there have been many tangible improvements, with reform to various institutions, legal changes and social transformations: the end of formal slavery, Civil Rights Movement, voting registration, etc. Yet, despite these various improvements and changes over the course of centuries, the realities of institutional racism remain in many facets, old and new. Institutional racism is embedded in the original and evolving structure of society as a whole, and to effectively challenge and remove racism from society, most of society’s dominant institutions must also be challenged, changed or made obsolete.
The institutional structure of society largely serves the same purpose, to protect and support the rich and powerful as the expense of the vast majority of the population. This is true, regardless of race. However, those same institutions enforce segregation, exploitation, domination and exclusion not only in terms of class, but also race. This has the effect of dividing the population among themselves, pitting white against black, promoting and maintaining social divides and conflicts between the population to ensure that they do not unite (through experience or action) against the true ruling groups and structures of society. Racism thus allows for more effective control of society by the few who rule it.
Stokely Carmichael helped to popularize the term ‘Black Power’ in the late 1960s, having risen to acclaim as a young leader in the Civil Rights movement. In 1966, Carmichael published an essay in The Massachusetts Review entitled, ‘Toward Black Liberation,’ in which he wrote that, “The history of every institution of this society indicates that a major concern in the ordering and structuring of the society has been the maintaining of the Negro community in its condition of dependence and oppression… that racist assumptions of white superiority have been so deeply ingrained in the structure of the society that it infuses its entire functioning, and is so much a part of the national subconscious that it is taken for granted and is frequently not even recognized.”
Carmichael provides an example to differentiate between individual and institutional racism: “When unidentified white terrorists bomb a Negro Church and kill five children, that is an act of individual racism, widely deplored by most segments of the society. But when in that same city, Birmingham, Alabama, not five but 500 Negro babies die each year because of a lack of proper food, shelter and medical facilities, and thousands more are destroyed and maimed physically, emotionally and intellectually because of conditions of poverty and deprivation in the ghetto, that is a function of institutionalized racism. But the society either pretends it doesn’t know of this situation, or is incapable of doing anything meaningful about it.”
Carmichael described the ‘Negro community in America’ as being subjected to the realities of “white imperialism and colonial exploitation.” With more than 20 million black Americans accounting for roughly 10% of the national population (in 1966), they lived primarily in poor areas of the South, shanty-towns, and the urban slums and ghettos of northern and westerns industrial cities. Regardless of location in the country, if one were to go into any of these black communities, Carmichael wrote, “one will find that the same combination of political, economic, and social forces are at work. The people in the Negro community do not control the resources of that community, its political decisions, its law enforcement, its housing standards; and even the physical ownership of the land, houses, and stores lie outside that community.” Instead, white power “makes the laws, and it is violent white power in the form of armed white cops that enforces those laws with guns and nightsticks. The vast majority of Negroes in this country live in these captive communities and must endure these conditions of oppression because, and only because, they are black and powerless.”
The realities of institutional racism can be seen in the case of Ferguson. An analysis by Keith Boag of CBC News looked at the legal structure of St. Louis County, where two-thirds of the population, approximately 650,000 people, live within “incorporated municipalities.” There are roughly 90 of these municipalities, Ferguson being one such area, with a population of roughly 21,000 people. Fourteen of these areas have populations less than 500 people, and 58 of them have their own police forces. Boag describes the origins of this structure as dating back several decades to before the Civil Rights movement, when white people in the city of St. Louis fled to the suburbs as poor blacks moved to the inner city. As whites moved out of the city, they sought more autonomy and local power, establishing the system of ‘incorporated municipalities’, allowing the local populace to control their own development, writing legal ‘covenants’ which imposed restrictions on “who could buy or lease property within its boundaries.”
In 1970, Ferguson was 99% white, with their covenant enshrining in law that blacks could not sell, rent own property in any way. Over the decades, the covenants were eroded due to their overt racist forms, and they became “unenforceable.” Thus, black people from the city were able to move out to the suburbs, but had to inherit the plethora of jurisdictions left behind by the white population who continued to flee the movement of the black population. In many of these small jurisdictions, there are too few people to provide for a necessary tax base to afford the services and functions of the local administrative structure. The result was that many communities became increasingly dependent upon “aggressive policing” to raise revenue through ticketing and traffic fines.
Boag describes this as a “tax on the poor,” since they are the most susceptible to such practices: “It’s they who have trouble finding the money to pay fines. It’s they who may have to choose between driving illegally to work or not working. It’s they who may be struggling just to feed a family.” The main preoccupation of police becomes issuing traffic fines and tickets, and then arresting people for not paying those fines. As a result, people do not view the police as being there to ‘protect and serve’, but, rather, “to pinch and squeeze every nickel out of you in any way they can.” This system is rampant in the town of Ferguson, as confirmed in an investigation by the Washington Post.
In effect, the poor black population of Ferguson is thus made to pay for their own oppression, stuck in a cycle of poverty which forces them to pay fines (or go to prison) in order to pay the salaries of the police who fine them, arrest them, beat them and kill them.
Thus, racism in Ferguson, itself a product of the segregationist policies of the Jim Crow era, is institutionalized in the very legal structure, tax and revenue structures, city planning and law enforcement institutions. Such circumstances do not require an overt articulation of racism, nor for it to be enforced by individual white racists (though both of these realities also occur and are encouraged by such a system).
The same logic also applies to the official system of slavery that existed in the United States prior to the Civil War. The slave system was an inherently and obviously racist system. However, there were (on occasion) slave owners who would treat their “property” with kindness, even those who criticized and opposed the system of slavery, but would still participate within that system. The realities of the institutional system of slavery meant that despite an individual’s personal views and preferences, they operated within a system which was racially structured, and thus, were made active participants and supporters of a racist system of domination and exploitation.
If one white slave owner were to free his slaves and promote equality and justice, he would lose his entire economic, social and political base of power within the society, be ostracized and made irrelevant and ineffective. Further, the newly-freed slaves would likely be captured and sold to other slave owners, with ‘freedom’ a short-lived and largely symbolic experience. The actions of a moral individual within an immoral institutional structure cannot change anything alone.
What is required is the collective action of many thousands and hundreds of thousands of individuals, working together to make the costs of such a system greater than its perceived benefits, forcing institutional change. Collective and large-scale actions will, in time and struggle, force reform and gradual change from the top-down. Alternatively, collective action and radical struggle will add to this same pressure, but also propose, organize and initiate alternative methods and visions for social organization and objectives, promoting more revolutionary alternatives.
The events and reactions in Ferguson, New York and increasingly across much of the country and even internationally represent the emergence of a powerful new and resurgent force in society, the reactivation of people power. From urban rebellions and ‘riots’ in Ferguson and Berkeley, to mass arrests and protests in New York and Los Angeles, to the civil disobedience in Miami, Boston, Chicago, Seattle and beyond, America is witnessing the first few weeks and months of a powerful new social movement which promises not to go away quietly. Nor should it.
With chants of “shut it down!” the demonstrators recognize that their power comes in the form of being able to disrupt the normal functioning of society. Institutional racism has led to immense injustice, segregation, exploitation and domination over life in America. The realities of present-day America are the modern manifestations of an institutional system of racism which pre-dates the formation of the United States itself. The current unrest is a reflection of the fact that solutions must go to the core of the problem, within the founding and functions of the institutions themselves.
America may have a black president, but he still has to live in the White House. Black Americans may have more political freedoms and opportunities than in previous decades and centuries, but they still have to live in a society shaped and dominated by institutional racism.
The black population has been kept at the bottom of the social order in the United States since the U.S. was founded as a country (and in fact, long before then). This has been unchanged over the course of several centuries. If progress is defined as one black man being able to rise to a position over which he exerts immense power over a society that continues to subject the majority black population to institutional racism, then ‘progress’ needs to be redefined. An individual, alone, cannot alter the institutional structure of society. Obama is not a symbol of a “post-racial” America, he is a symbol of the continued existence of an “institutionally racist” America, where one can have a black president overseeing a white empire, at home and abroad.
Obama is the exception, not the rule. The rule is Ferguson; the rule is Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The rules need to change. The rules need to be broken and replaced. The rule of racist and imperialist institutions and ideologies must be smashed and made obsolete. The rule of the people must become the law of the land. The road to justice runs through Ferguson, driven by the collective action of thousands of individuals, taking the struggle into the streets with the very real threat that if true liberation is not achieved, the system has lost any sense of legitimacy. When the cost of subservience to the status quo is greater than the cost of changing it, the people will “Shut It Down.”
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a freelance researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada.
From Ferguson to Freedom, Part 1: Race, Repression and Resistance in America
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
11 December 2014
On 9 August 2014, a white cop murdered an unarmed black teen in a predominantly black neighborhood and black city dominated by white police with a history of violence toward poor, black communities, and in a city dominated by white power structures and with a long history of racism and segregation. More than three months later, that white cop was exonerated of any wrongdoing.
The cop, Darren Wilson, was not simply exonerated for the murder, but he was rewarded. The white cop who murdered 18-year-old Michael Brown was rewarded with a crowd-funded amount of more than $400,000 – as racists around the country sought to throw a few dollars in support of murdering unarmed black teens. On October 24, one month to the day before the verdict was announced, as Michael Brown’s family was still coming to terms with his murder, Darren Wilson got married to Barbara Spradling, also a member of the Ferguson Police Department. Since he murdered the unarmed 18-year-old Brown in August, Wilson had been rewarded with being on “paid administrative leave.” After the verdict was delivered, Wilson remained on paid leave. And as Wilson was rewarded for taking the life of an innocent boy, he announced that he and his wife were expecting a child of their own.
On August 10, a candlelight vigil for Michael Brown erupted into an urban rebellion (commonly called “riots”), as people expressed their anger and frustration of the systemic and institutionalized injustice, and were met with overwhelming police force. As the protests continued and further rebellions erupted, the police sent in the SWAT team, already having shot protesters with rubber bullets and engaged in chemical warfare shooting teargas at them. The police were even arresting reporters, from the Huffington Post and Washington Post, and journalists from Al-Jazeera were shot at with rubber bullets and then tear gassed. Protests continued, and police continued to shoot rubber bullets, use excessive amounts of tear gas, flash grenades and smoke bombs against demonstrators, which then had the effect of triggering the rebellions (or ‘riots’). Wearing military fatigues and riot gear, police deployed armored vehicles similar to those in Afghanistan and Iraq, aiming high-powered rifles at American citizens in a town of 20,000 people.
On August 16, a week after Michael Brown was murdered, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and implemented a curfew in Ferguson. The top cop in charge of Ferguson at the time, State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, stated that, “We won’t enforce [the curfew] with trucks, we won’t enforce it with tear gar.” The police then used trucks, smoke and tear gas against protesters to enforce the curfew, in what became the fiercest night of violence until that point. Another curfew was announced for the following night. Two hours before the curfew went into effect, police fired tear gas and flash grenades into assembled protesters in order “to disperse the crowd.”
The Governor then deployed the National Guard in Ferguson on August 18. Obama appealed for “calm.” More reporters were arrested. Three days later, the National Guard was removed from Ferguson. The following few days were relatively calm, though police continued to arrest people. The calm followed the convening of a grand jury to investigate Darren Wilson’s murder of Michael Brown. The US Attorney General Eric Holder even flew to Ferguson, and later commented than an FBI investigation into civil rights violations in Ferguson “will take some time.” Throughout this period, police in Ferguson and St. Louis continued to threaten protesters, aim weapons at them, and even murdered another man. The protests largely calmed down, and thousands attended the funeral of Michael Brown on August 25.
Smaller protests continued into September, and in late September the Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson decided to march in civilian clothes with a crowd of people demanding his resignation, hours after he released a “video apology” to the Brown family. In less than 30 seconds of Jackson joining the crowd, agitating many of those assembled, riot cops moved in to ‘protect’ him, prompting a confrontation with the protesters and declaring the protest an “unlawful assembly.” Protests continued for the following few days with police continuing to declare protests as unlawful, threatening to arrest people who stayed in one place for too long or who moved off the sidewalk and onto the street.
However, over a dozen protesters who were assembled on the sidewalk were arrested outside the Ferguson Police Department in early October, after which they were fitted in orange jumpsuits, locked behind bars for several hours with higher bail amounts than usual, some as high as $2700. Their charges included “failure to comply with police, noise ordinance violations and resisting arrest,” when assembled peacefully – and legally – on a sidewalk. Among those arrested was a journalist. Ferguson Police Chief Jackson then handed his responsibility for “managing protests” to the St. Louis County police department. In early October, a St. Louis Symphony Orchestra performance was interrupted by protesters who sang a civil rights song, ‘Which Side Are You On?’
On 11 October, hundreds of people took to the streets for a weekend of protests what they called ‘Ferguson October’. Roughly 43 people were arrested for assembling outside the Ferguson Police Department, including professor and author Cornel West. A Missouri State Senator was also arrested during a protest several days later.
On 17 November, one week before the grand jury decision was to be announced, Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and authorized the National Guard to again be deployed in Ferguson. At the same time, the St. Louis County police chief Jon Belmar declared that police in Ferguson had not used rubber bullets or force against “peaceful protesters,” but against “criminal activity.” Days prior to the verdict, buildings were being barricaded around Ferguson in anticipation of “unrest.”
The Department of Homeland Security showed up in St. Louis prior to the verdict. As Homeland Security vehicles began to mass near Ferguson, a local Navy veteran was fired from his job and called a ‘terrorist’ after posting pictures of the vehicles on Facebook. Federal officials began arriving in Ferguson and St. Louis a few days before Governor Nixon declared his state of emergency. Despite announcements to “review” the transfer of military equipment to domestic police forces following the earlier social unrest in August, the Pentagon had continued to supply police forces in Missouri with “surplus military gear.”
Police forces in America have been increasingly militarized, starting with the ‘War on Drugs’ (aka: War OF Drugs) and rapidly expanded under the ‘War [on/of] Terror’. Across the country, police forces “have purchased military equipment, adopted military training, and sought to inculcate a ‘soldier’s mentality’ among their ranks,” noted The Atlantic in 2011. Since the 1960s, SWAT teams emerged in cities across the United States, marking the rise of the “warrior cop,” initially prompted by the urban rebellions of the 1960s in predominantly poor black communities. Since 2002, the Department of Homeland Security has handed out over $35 billion in grants to purchase military gear. The Pentagon has distributed more than $4.2 billion of equipment to local law enforcement agencies across the US.
These were the highly militarized police forces originally deployed against protesters in Ferguson in August of 2014, with armored vehicles, sound weapons, shotguns, M4 rifles, rubber bullets and tear gas. At the time, former Army officer and international policing operations analyst, Jason Fritz, was quoted in the Washington Post as saying, “You see the police are standing in line with bulletproof vests and rifles pointed at people’s chests… That’s not controlling the crowd, that’s intimidating them.” The New York Times referred to Ferguson as “a virtual war zone,” warning that if nothing is done to stop the national militarization of police forces by the Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon, then “the future of law enforcement everywhere will look a lot like Ferguson.”
The verdict on November 24, giving Wilson the gift of freedom for depriving Michael Brown of his own freedom (and life) prompted quick reactions in the streets. Protests started in Ferguson, and quickly erupted into urban rebellion with cars and buildings torched and destroyed. Governor Nixon then deployed more National Guard troops in Ferguson, with more than 2,200 deployed in the town of 22,000 people. Protests spread the following day to 37 different states in over 130 demonstrations, with significant numbers and acts of social disobedience in New York, Boston, Washington D.C., Chicago, Minneapolis and Los Angeles. More than 170 U.S. cities experienced protests on the night of November 25, drawing thousands of people to the streets, “blocking bridges, tunnels and major highways.”
Obama declared that he did “not have any sympathy” with “those who think that what happened in Ferguson is an excuse for violence.” As protests spread, more than 400 people were arrested around the US. In Los Angeles, over 150 people were arrested. Reflecting on the lessons he drew from the rebellions on the night of November 24, St. Louis County police chief Jon Belmar said, “you can never have too many policemen.”
Protests not only spread across the United States, but internationally. Protests spread across cities in Canada, including Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, and Montreal. Protests also spread to London, where thousands assembled outside the U.S. Embassy, drawing parallels to the case of Mark Duggan, a young black man whose murder by police in August of 2011 prompted the largest riots in recent British history.
One week after the grand jury decision on Darren Wilson prompted nation-wide and international protests, another grand jury decision – this time for one based in Staten Island – was reached regarding the choking death of an unarmed black man (Eric Garner) killed by a white cop. The entire murder was caught on film for all to see, and the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, had no charges laid against him. The verdict was in, and the killer cop was exonerated of any wrongdoing. The announcement prompted protests all across New York, with demonstrators repeating Eric Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe.”
The protests continued in New York nightly, with several taking place elsewhere across the country, in a continuation from the spark that lit with Ferguson. The day after the New York verdict, an unarmed black man was shot dead by police in Phoenix, Arizona, sparking protests there. In Times Square, several thousand protesters confronted police chanting, ‘Who do you protect?’ Police responded by arresting 200 of those assembled.
The protests in New York were drawing upwards of 10,000 people, and in the first three days alone, the NYPD arrested over 300 demonstrators, with the Police Commissioner declaring that, “the city should be feeling quite proud of itself at this juncture,” because the police were “showing remarkable restraint.”
As with Ferguson, the results in New York sparked protests across the country, with people taking to the streets in Washington, D.C., Boston, Baltimore, San Francisco, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Atlanta and beyond, blocking bridges and traffic, engaging in ‘sit ins’ or ‘die ins’ in public places, transport hubs, universities and elsewhere. Protests that took place in Berkeley, California, quickly turned violent as police used excessive force, tear gas and batons. The police violence in turn sparked ‘riots’ (urban rebellion) in the streets. Clashes between police and protesters also took place in Seattle, with more peaceful demonstrations continuing in New York, Chicago and Miami.
The protests continued daily, with new groups, new cities and states participating, new sparks, new collective actions, civil disobedience, with every new day. Demonstrators took to the streets, department stores, highways and intersections, to Ivy League universities, basketball games, and train stations. In Chicago, protesters continued well into December, with roughly 200 demonstrators gathering outside of Obama’s family home.
President Obama was holding a series of meetings on the social unrest resulting from Ferguson. He was meeting with Cabinet and Congressional officials, law enforcement and civil rights leaders, and an “unusual” meeting was granted to a group of young black activists from around the country. They held a 45-minute meeting with the president in the Oval Office. They spoke honestly about the problems they see and solutions they advocate, with Obama offering encouragement, though he stressed that, “incremental changes were progress.”
One of the youth organizers present at the meeting, Phillip Agnew, wrote about his experience for an article in the Guardian. Agnew described the assembled group as “representatives from a community in active struggle against state sanctioned killing, violence and repression.” They were not “civil rights leaders,” “activists”, “spokespeople” or “respectable negroes,” they were from Missouri, Ohio, New York and Florida. Agnew wrote of the expectations of those assembled: “We all knew that the White House stood to benefit more from this meeting than we did. We knew that our movement families would fear the almighty co-opt and a political press photo-op. We have been underestimated at every juncture… But this was an invitation that you accept – period.”
The group of youth, as young as 20, with artists, activists, teachers, and organizers, told the president that they were not the “People’s Spokespeople,” and that they “had neither the power, positions, nor desires to stop the eruptions in the streets and that they would continue until a radical change happened in this country,” that they “had no faith in anything, church or state… that the country was on the brink and that nothing short of major capitulations at all levels of the government to the demands of the people could prevent it.” Obama listened, discussed and debated, promoted “gradualism” and “asked for our help.” Agnew commented that, “We did not budge,” walking out of the meeting “unbought and unbowed. We held no punches… no concessions, politicking or posturing. The movement got its meeting. Unrest earned this invite, and we can’t stop. If we don’t get what we came for, we will shut it down. President Obama knows that and we know it. No meeting can stop that.”
History will perhaps view present-day America through the lens of pre-Ferguson and post-Ferguson. The spark which lit the fire was the continuous murder of unarmed black men, women and children by mostly-white police. Police beating, oppressing, and murdering black people in the United States is far from a new phenomenon. It’s a practice which is, in many ways, as old as the country itself (or older, in fact). The fundamental change is this: pre-Ferguson, the murder of unarmed black men, women and children was considered ‘unworthy’ of national attention, it was not news, not an issue, largely continuing unknown and unacknowledged by white America. Post-Ferguson, when black Americans are murdered by police, it starts to make headlines, people start to pay attention, and people increasingly take to the streets in opposition.
Ferguson is not a wake-up call to black America, which has been well aware of the injustices and oppression their communities have faced daily, yearly, and over the course of decades and centuries. Ferguson is a wake-up call for white America, to look and learn from the lived experiences of black America, and to join with their brothers and sisters in active struggle against the system which has made Ferguson the status quo.
Pre-Ferguson, black lives did not matter. At least, they did not matter so far as the national consciousness was concerned. White America could proclaim itself a ‘post-racial society’, feeling good about themselves for voting for a black president, having black friends, and not saying ‘Nigger’. Ferguson has changed the frame through which America views itself, and is viewed by others. White America increasingly looks at the reality of black America and sees great injustice and inequality. The rest of the world looks into America and sees a deeply racist society, repressive and brutal, reflective of the perceptions of America’s actions around the world.
Pre-Ferguson, black America was kept out of sight, black communities were kept under control, and black lives did not matter. Post-Ferguson, black America has taken center stage, black communities are the front-lines of a national struggle for justice and equality, and now, Black Lives Matter.
Global Power Project: Bilderberg and the Global Financial Mafia
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
11 December 2014
Originally posted at Occupy.com
In the previous Bilderberg article, I wrote that financial markets were “a type of global parasite with unprecedented power capable of determining the fate of nations and peoples.” In truth, the “super-entity” known as financial market power functions like a cartel, or an organized criminal network: a Mafia. This installment examines some of the members of the global financial mafia who are present at Bilderberg meetings and thus are given unparalleled access to political leaders behind closed doors.
At Bilderberg meetings, participants frequently include leading officials and advisers to banks like JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, HSBC and AXA, among others. The participation of leaders and advisers to these and other large financial institutions provides world leaders with direct, “private” access to some of the leading voices at the core of global financial markets. The interests and actions of financial markets can thus be articulated to the leaders of powerful political, media, military, intelligence and technocratic institutions. The “invisible hand” may voice where and when it might smack.
Through Bilderberg, leaders in financial markets are given an inside look at, and access to, those who shape and wield foreign and economic policy in the world’s most powerful nations. Their interests become a part of that process, just as geopolitical interests are integrated into the actions of financial markets. While financial markets command no armies, they determine the flow and functions of money upon which all armies are dependent, and to which nations are obedient. Bilderberg brings these institutions and individuals together for an off-the-record, private chat about global affairs and policy.
Martin Feldstein, who serves on the International Council of JPMorgan Chase, attended all but one Bilderberg meeting between 2010 and 2014. Feldstein is one of the most influential American economists over the past several decades, serving as a professor at Harvard, a member of the Group of Thirty, the Trilateral Commission, the International Advisory Board of the National Bank of Kuwait, and the Council on Foreign Relations. He advised President George W. Bush as a member of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board between 2007 and 2009, a position in which he was given access to top-secret intelligence information. He had previously served as one of Ronald Reagan’s chief economic advisers, and President Obama appointed him in 2009 to serve on the Economic Recovery Advisory Board, advising on how to manage the “recovery” following the financial crisis.
Feldstein’s views are well known. Relating to Europe’s debt crisis, for which Bilderberg meetings hold a great deal of significance, Feldstein wrote in the Financial Times in July of 2013 that governments that bowed to “popular political pressure” to lessen the brutal austerity measures widely seen as the cause of mass unemployment, poverty and social unrest, were at risk of facing rising interest rates and “a new fiscal crisis.”
In other words, if governments bend to the will of the people, financial markets will seek to bend them back. A “fiscal crisis” only takes place when creditors (financial markets) decide to stop funding the government. In Europe, nations are largely dependent upon banks to provide them with credit to function. Thus, if the heads of financial markets don’t like the policies of nations, they can cut off their funding, creating a major crisis and even collapsing the government. This leverage forces nations to follow policies favored by financial markets, such as austerity and various other “structural reforms.” Meanwhile, the policies combine to impoverish the population, enrich the elite, allow for mass exploitation of resources and labor, and consolidate control of the economy into the hands of relatively few, large global banks and corporations.
Another key Bilderberg member and leading figure in financial markets is Josef Ackermann, whom I have written about previously. Ackermann has been one of Europe’s most powerful bankers over the past decade, as the CEO of Deutsche Bank and a major power player throughout the debt crisis holding key leadership positions in large industry associations such as the Institute for International Finance (IIF).
The current chairman of the Bilderberg Group, Henri de Castries, is chairman and CEO of the French insurance giant, AXA, one of the top companies on the Swiss study’s list of the “super-entity” of banks and insurance giants. De Castries is also a member of the European Financial Services Round Table (EFR), a lobby group made up of the chairmen and CEOs of Europe’s largest financial institutions.
In 2012, the Financial Times referred to Henri de Castries as one of France’s “best known captains of industry,” having served as an unofficial adviser to former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and been school classmates with the current President Francois Hollande. De Castries is considered “as establishment as you can get in France.”
In the wake of the European debt crisis, Henri de Castries supported the policies of austerity and structural reform, warning in 2012 that the crisis would continue for some time. He suggested that governments needed to learn how to “spend less” and the only way to “win back our competitiveness” was “through business investment and not by public spending,” adding: “What we need is a profound cultural change.”
Marcus Agius, a member of Bilderberg’s steering committee, is the chairman of PA Consulting, having previously served as the chairman of Barclays, the bank listed in the number one spot on the list compiled by the Swiss study. As chair of Barclays between 2007 and 2012, Agius also served as chairman of the British Bankers Association, was a director of the BBC from 2006 to 2013, and served as a Business Ambassador of the Trade and Investment Ministry of the British government. Agius also married the daughter of Edmund de Rothschild, bringing him into the family of one of the most prestigious and influential financial dynasties in the world.
Agius resigned from Barclays in 2012 as a result of the massive global financial fraud revealed by the Libor rate scandal, whereby some of the world’s largest banks – including Barclays – formed a cartel at the British Bankers Association to manipulate the interest rate at which banks lend to each other, influencing prices throughout the global economy. Despite the resulting scandal for Agius and others, which forced resignations in 2012, he stayed on the bank’s payroll as an adviser until March of 2014, a full 20 months following his official resignation.
Douglas J. Flint, who is chairman of HSBC, has attended every Bilderberg meeting since 2011. He is also chairman of the Institute of International Finance (IIF), and is a member of the European Financial Services Round Table (EFR), the Financial Services Forum, the International Monetary Conference (IMC), and serves on advisory boards to the Mayors of Shanghai and Beijing.
W. Edmund Clark, the chair of one of Canada’s largest banks, TD Bank, has attended every Bilderberg meeting since 2010.
Peter Sutherland has been a long-time Bilderberg participant, and serves as the chairman of Goldman Sachs International.
Robert Zoellick, former World Bank president and Bilderberg participant at every meeting between 2010 and 2014, now serves as the chairman of the Board of International Advisers of Goldman Sachs.
Peter R. Orszag, a Vice Chairman at Citigroup, attended Bilderberg meetings between 2010 and 2012.
The Vice Chairman of Goldman Sachs, J. Michael Evans, attended Bilderberg meetings in 2012 and 2013.
This is but a small sampling of some of the names of the leaders of financial institutions represented at Bilderberg meetings over the past few years. Apart from leading individual banks and financial institutions, many of the financiers who attend Bilderberg meetings simultaneously hold leadership positions within other large banking lobby groups, industry associations, and major international conferences.
For example, Bilderberg members and participants frequently hold simultaneous leadership positions at the Institute of International Finance (IIF), the International Monetary Conference (IMC), and the Group of Thirty (G30), all of which have been the focus of previous installments of the Global Power Project, as they have been profoundly influential organizations in their own right. The fact that so many leading figures in those organizations are leaders and participants in Bilderberg meetings lends extra weight to the importance of the meetings.
Roger Altman, a Bilderberg steering committee member and head of a large investment bank, wrote in a May 2013 article in the Financial Times that financial markets in the 21st century were “much more powerful than any government leader,” noting that the spread of austerity across Europe was not driven by Angela Merkel of Germany or other political leaders, but rather, by “private lenders… who declined to finance further borrowing by those countries,” and thus, “markets triggered the Eurozone crisis, not politicians.”
The views and the desires of bankers and financiers are important – and influential – precisely because if these individuals don’t get what they want, they wield the power in numbers on screens that can force the hands of even the most powerful governments and politicians. As such, the favored policies of bankers frequently become the implemented policies of states.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a freelance writer and researcher based in Montreal, Canada.
Global Power Project: Bilderberg Group and Its Link to World Financial Markets
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally posted at Occupy.com
10 December 2014
This article looks at the published lists of participants attending recent Bilderberg meetings, specifically ones that took place between 2008 and 2014. From these lists, we’re better able to understand the relevance of Bilderberg meetings to specific institutions, ideologies and powerful sectors of society connected with global economic governance. As such, the following articles in this series examine financial markets, banks, technocracy, finance ministries, central banks, the IMF and the European Union.
When discussing the Bilderberg group, its meetings and their impacts, there is one major problem: the meetings are held in secret. When 130 of the world’s most influential individuals and institutions get together behind closed doors for a “private chat,” the public is left unaware of what was said, debated, agreed or decided. The official website for Bilderberg publishes recent lists of attendees as well as a press release of the “topics” due to be discussed.
With no details added, the list for the 2014 meeting’s topics included, “Is the economic recovery sustainable?”, “What next for Europe?”, “China’s political and economic outlook,” and “Current Events.” This is essentially all we have to go on in our efforts to discern what was debated and discussed behind the scenes.
So, instead of engaging in speculation about what was or was not discussed at Bilderberg meetings, let’s instead look at the individuals and institutions that are frequently represented there. What role do those groups play in society? What is their history and evolution as institutions and individuals? What ideologies do they embrace and propagate? Seeking the answers to these questions raises further inquiries: what do these individuals, institutions and ideologies tell us about our society? What do they tell us about power and how it is organized, exercised and expanded?
Bilderberg and Financial Markets
Some people suggest we may judge others by the company they keep. After all, who we choose as friends says a great deal about ourselves. Applying this logic to the Bilderberg Group, we see a body whose activities and internal discussions remain largely secret, which we can get to know better by examining the membership and guests it invites.
Bilderberg’s official website provides a press release for each meeting held between 2010 and 2014. In all of these meetings, issues such as the financial crisis and regulation, the European debt crisis, economic recovery and growth, austerity and global economic governance are relevant throughout. With membership drawn primarily from North America and Western Europe, the financial and economic turmoil of the past several years has been a consistent topic of discussion and concern for Bilderberg meetings.
Within all of these issues, “financial markets” play an extremely important and influential role. Given that Bilderberg represents the interests of some of the largest and most powerful banks and financial institutions in the world, the meeting provides a forum where “financial markets” are duly given a powerful voice.
But before we address the relevance of these financial market leaders, let’s briefly define what “financial markets” are. The Financial Times Lexicon calls them a “generic term for an exchange that facilitates the trading of financial instruments, such as stocks, bonds, foreign exchange, or commodities.” In other words, “financial markets” create and collect vast sums of money (or debt) and move it around in order to collect more money and debt. Financial markets manage the investment and exchange of money and debt.
Many major institutions and actors shape financial markets. There are individual financiers, such as billionaires George Soros and Warren Buffett, who are able to move financial markets with words and actions. There are also major global banks (the “too big to fail” financial institutions), insurance companies, holding companies, asset management firms, sovereign wealth funds, exchange traded funds, wealth management firms, hedge funds, private equity companies, credit ratings agencies, consulting and accounting firms, and central banks, among others.
Despite – or because of – their many different areas of operations and institutions within financial markets, the power of these groups is heavily concentrated, largely globalized and highly destructive.
But don’t take my word for it. Instead, take the word of a Bilderberg Steering Committee member, Roger C. Altman, who has attended every meeting since 2010. Altman is the chairman of Evercore, which claims to be the “most active independent investment bank” in the United States. He was a former partner at Lehman Brothers in the 1970s, became a fund-raiser for then-Governor Jimmy Carter, and later served as an Assistant Treasury Secretary in the Carter administration from 1977 to 1981, during which time he oversaw the $1.5 billion government bailout of Chrysler Corporation.
Altman returned to Wall Street in 1981, working for Lehman Brothers. The New York Times noted that apart from his stint in the Carter administration, Altman “spent the 70s and 80s on Wall Street, growing very wealthy.” He became close with the chairman of Lehman Bros., Peter G. Peterson, who founded the major investment firm Blackstone in 1987, today one of the world’s largest independent asset management firms managing nearly $300 billion in assets.
Altman joined Blackstone at its founding as Vice Chairman, staying until 1993 when he was appointed as Bill Clinton’s Deputy Treasury Secretary. One of Clinton’s closest economic advisers at the time, Gene Sperling, commented that Altman was “one of the six or seven people who is always consulted on any significant economic position.”
Altman left the Clinton administration in 1995 and founded Evercore that same year, where he has remained until the present. He is currently also a director of Conservation International, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Steering Committee of Bilderberg, and regularly writes columns for the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Financial Times. In 2006, Altman served as an adviser to Hillary Clinton for her presidential campaign. Today, Evercore manages over $14 billion in assets and has handled over $1.4 trillion of transactions for major global corporations, investment agencies and the super rich.
What does all this mean? It means when Roger Altman writes articles that are widely distributed and read by the key decision-makers and those who shape the global financial markets, he speaks not simply as an observer but as an active participant and player. His words carry weight – like in December of 2011, a month after the democratically elected leaders of Greece and Italy were removed from office. The EU elite replaced those countries’ leaders, who had displeased the financial markets, with economic technocrats and bankers who swiftly imposed ruthless austerity measures that punished their populations into poverty in order to pay the interest on debts to banks.
Altman wrote in the Financial Times that financial markets were “acting like a global supra-government” with the power to “oust entrenched regimes where normal political processes could not do so. They force austerity, banking bail-outs and other major policy changes,” and their influence “dwarfs” that of major global institutions like the International monetary Fund (IMF), he wrote. Indeed, the markets “have become the most powerful force on earth,” and when those markets flex their muscles, “the immediate impact on society can be painful” with high unemployment and collapsing governments.
But, he added, “the longer-term effects can be often transformative and positive,” at least for the interests of banks. Ultimately, Altman concluded: “Whether this power is healthy or not is beside the point. It is permanent… there is no stopping the new policing role of the financial markets.”
Martin Wolf, another frequent Bilderberg participant, is considered to be perhaps the most influential financial journalist in the world, being the chief economics commentator and associate editor at the Financial Times. He is consistently rated among the 100 most influential “thinkers” in the world, with “a devoted following among top economists, politicians, and financiers.” Wolf himself once explained: “I’m writing for the people who are doing these things, who are running these things.”
Lawrence Summers, another top economist, former Treasury official and occasional Bilderberg participant, has referred to Wolf as “the world’s preeminent financial journalist,” and the economist Kenneth Rogoff called him “the premier financial and economics writer in the world.” Mohamed El-Erian, former CEO of the world’s largest bond trader, PIMCO, stated that Wolf was “by far, the most influential economic columnist out there,” and the current governor of the central bank of India, Raghuram Rajan, commented: “You cannot measure influence, but you can feel influence… And I think [Wolf] has it.”
Wolf himself acknowledged, “I don’t know if there’s any significant central banker I don’t know.” As the New Republic explained in a profile, Wolf’s audience and readership “are some of the top earners, spenders, and decision-makers in the world,” noting that he was “staggeringly well-connected within the elite circles he is writing for.”
No doubt, Wolf’s consistent presence at Bilderberg meetings, and at the World Economic Forum, has helped to secure that access and maintain those connections. Thus, when Wolf writes about issues related to financial markets, his commentary holds far more weight than when outside or more critical voices speak up. This is all the more notable when Wolf defines and criticizes what he perceives as the primary problems of financial markets, and the financial system as a whole – which he did in 2011, writing that “an out-of-control financial sector is eating out the modern market economy from inside, just as the larva of the spider wasp eats out the host in which it has been laid.” (Wincott Annual memorial lecture, Oct. 24, 2011).
Combining the analyses of these two prominent Bilderberg members who have strong connections to leading global financiers and regulators, we can thus understand financial markets as something of a global parasite – one with unprecedented power to determine the fate of nations and peoples through investments and exchanges of money and debt. Financial markets, in other words, represent a global parasitic social structure in which power is gained and exercised through the manipulation of numbers on screens.
At the core of financial markets are what Swiss scientists have called the “super-entity,” composed of 147 of the world’s top transnational corporations, primarily banks and insurance companies concentrated in the United States, Western Europe and Japan, which collectively own each other through shareholdings.
As a group, these 147 corporations own roughly 40% of the entire network of the world’s top 43,000 transnational corporations. One of the financial researchers commented, “In effect, less than 1 per cent of the companies were able to control 40 per cent of the entire network.”
Many of these institutions are frequently represented in Bilderberg meetings, including JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Barclays, Deutsche Bank and AXA. Collectively, these are the leaders in financial markets and the overlords of Roger Altman’s “global supra-government.” The leaders and advisers to these banks who have been represented at Bilderberg meetings, and the influence and views they hold, will be the focus of the next installment in this series.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a freelance writer and researcher based in Montreal, Canada.
Global Power Project: Is the Bilderberg Group Picking Our Politicians?
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
27 November 2014
Originally posted at Occupy.com
This is the second installment in a series examining the little known activities and individuals behind the Bilderberg Group. Read the first part here.
When it comes to the secretive meetings of the world’s financial, corporate, political and technocratic elites at the annual Bilderberg conferences, a common criticism from conspiracy theorists and others is that the group pre-selects major politicians – choosing presidents and prime ministers in private before populations have a chance to vote themselves.
Bilderberg participants contest this framing, suggesting that Bilderberg participants simply invite up-and-coming politicians who appear to have a bright future ahead of them.
The truth is that it’s a bit of both. Bilderberg invites politicians who appear to have an influential future in their respective nations, but their attendance at the meetings (depending on their ability to impress Bilderberg members and participants) can itself have a very significant influence on their political futures. This is because the industrialists, bankers and media moguls in attendance hold significant individual and collective power over the political processes across much of the Western world.
The main ideologies that pervade the group are an undeterred commitment to corporate and financial globalization, support of a Western-led world order, and the advancement and further institutionalization of global governance. Politicians who share similar views are more likely to be invited. As former Bilderberg chairman Etienne Davignon explained, “automatically around the table [at meetings] you have internationalists” who support European integration, the WTO and trans-Atlantic cooperation.
The result: invited politicians who impress the attended members and guests through speeches or contributions to debates are likely to gain the support of some of the world’s most powerful individuals and institutions. This is no absolute guarantee of political success for higher office, but there are numerous examples of politicians whose attendance may have provided supportive – or even pivotal – influence in their reaching higher office.
As Bilderberg’s former Steering Committee member Denis Healey explained in an interview with the Guardian, “Bilderberg is a way of bringing together politicians, industrialists, financiers and journalists. Politics should involve people who aren’t politicians. We make a point of getting along younger politicians who are obviously rising, to bring them together with financiers and industrialists who offer them wise words. It increases the chance of having a sensible global policy.”
Of course, the notion of what is “sensible” is clearly biased toward policies that benefit the interests and objectives of financiers and industrialists.
The Thatcher and Clinton Factors
One good example of this is the rise of Margaret Thatcher. In 1975, when Thatcher became the leader of the opposition in British Parliament, she was invited to that year’s Bilderberg conference. A Financial Times article that year by C. Gordon Tether noted that Thatcher and other British participants “were engaging – in company with a handful of British banking and industrial chiefs – in ‘completely private talks on world problems’ with the top-most brass of the international business community – the super-capitalists.”
The article noted that “if Bilderberg is not a conspiracy, it is conducted in such a way as to give a remarkably good imitation of one.”
Jon Ronson interviewed the member of Bilderberg (who remained anonymous) that had invited Thatcher to the meeting. The former Bilderberg member recalled that Thatcher had sat in silence for the first two days of the meeting, leading to some participants “grumbling” about this lady who “hasn’t said a word.” So the Bilderberg member spoke with Thatcher, and then, “the next day she suddenly stood up and launched into a three-minute Thatcher special… The room was stunned. Here’s something for your conspiracy theorists. As a result of that speech, David Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger and the other Americans fell in love with her. They brought her over to America, took her around in limousines, and introduced her to everyone.” Four years later, Thatcher was Prime Minister, and her reign left a legacy of privatizations, neoliberalism and profit for the powerful.
But Thatcher is not the only politician who reached great heights after attending a Bilderberg meeting. Bill Clinton was invited to a 1991 meeting in Germany when he was the Governor of Arkansas. Two years later he would be the U.S. president. Clinton was invited by his friend and Bilderberg Steering Committee member Vernon E. Jordan Jr., a major corporate figure in America who later became known as President Clinton’s “closest confidant.”
As the Washington Post reported in 1998: “Plenty of governors try to make that scene; only Clinton got taken seriously at that meeting, because Vernon Jordan said he was okay.”
Vernon Jordan later recalled that after Bill Clinton won the presidential election and became president, “the steering committee of Bilderberg came to Washington in January, and I called the president up and said ‘Mr. President, they’re here’ – and he came to the Four Seasons hotel, and the Europeans felt like they owned them because they met him when he was totally unknown.”
Shaping Canada, America, the U.K. and beyond
Among the Canadian politicians who attended Bilderberg meetings before they became prime ministers were Pierre Trudeau, Paul Martin, Jean Chrétien and Stephen Harper. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair had also attendedbefore becoming prime minister of the UK. Virtually all presidents of the European Commission attended Bilderberg meetings before being appointed to office.
In 2004, as John Kerry was running for president against George W. Bush, a potential running mate, John Edwards, was invited to speak at that year’s Bilderberg meeting. According to a report in the New York Times, John Edwards “spoke so well in a debate on American politics… that participants broke Bilderberg rules to clap before the end of the session.” A friend of John Kerry’s who had attended that meeting recalled that the speech by John Edwards “was important… I have no doubt the word got back to Mr. Kerry about how well he did.” Shortly after, Edwards was selected as Kerry’s running mate (though they clearly did not win the more important election that year).
Bilderberg’s Influence on Obama
In fact, it was a Bilderberg member, James A. Johnson, a prominent American corporate executive, who John Kerry tapped for choosing a running mate. And in 2008, that same Johnson “was tasked with spearheading Barack Obama’s 2008 search for a running mate.” As the Financial Times reported in May of 2008, James Johnson was appointed “to head a secret committee to produce a shortlist for [Obama’s] vice-presidential running mate,” though the Obama campaign refused to comment “on this process.”
From June 5 to 8 of 2008, Bilderberg was meeting in Chantilly, Virginia, just as the campaign to win the presidential nomination was heating up between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. As is typical during campaign season, the candidates traveled with a regular entourage of journalists. But on the night of June 5, following a campaign rally in Bristow, Virginia, Obama’s press entourage was “whisked away to Dulles Airport outside of Washington, D.C., to board a flight to Chicago,” as CBS reported.
The press waited on the plane for Obama, who was said to be doing interviews with local reporters. After an hour of waiting, the pilot informed the press that the plane was about to take off, without Obama on board, leading many journalists to feel that they “had all been duped.” Robert Gibbs, Obama’s communications director (and later press secretary) informed the reporters on the plane that Obama decided to stay behind in Washington for “meetings,” though he refused to say whom the meetings were with. Gibbs explained: “It wasn’t an attempt to deceive in any way, it’s just private meetings.” Shortly after the plane landed in Chicago, Gibbs informed the press that Obama had gone to meet with Hillary Clinton, though provided no details of the meeting or where it took place.
At the time, there was speculation that both Obama and Clinton had gone to attend the Bilderberg meeting taking place nearby. Though never confirmed, the question remains, and two days after the “private meetings,” Hillary withdrew from the race and Obama became the presidential nominee. Later, as president, Obama gave Clinton the role of Secretary of State.
In the summer of 2012, John Kerry attended the Bilderberg meeting, and he went on to replace Hillary Clinton as Obama’s Secretary of State for the second term. Forbes noted that Kerry’s attendance at the Bilderberg meeting may have helped his selection as secretary – also noting that Canadian Mark Carney had attended his first Bilderberg meeting in 2011 when he was Governor of the Bank of Canada, and was invited back in 2012 when he attended alongside British Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne. Within a couple months of the meeting, Osborne announced Carney’s appointment as the Governor of the Bank of England – the first time a non-British citizen was appointed to head the institution.
Just prior to being appointed as President of the European Council in 2009, Belgian politician Herman Van Rompuy attended a “secret dinner” of the Bilderberg group’s Steering Committee in order “to promote his candidacy.” He was invited by then-Bilderberg chairman Etienne Davignon, and attending members included other leading industrialists and financiers as well as influential figures like Henry Kissinger. Van Rompuy impressed the audience. He later served as President of the European Council from 2009 to 2014.
Attending Bilderberg is not a guarantee of higher office, but it can often support a rapid rise to state power for politicians who impress the members and guests at the annual meetings. As Etienne Davignon explained, Bilderberg’s Steering Committee “does its best assessment of who are the bright new boys or girls in the beginning phase of their career who would like to get known.”
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a freelance writer and researcher based in Montreal, Canada.
Global Power Project: Meet the Bilderberg Group, High Priests of Globalization
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
20 November 2014
Originally posted at Occupy.com
This is the first instalment in a series examining the activities and individuals behind the Bilderberg Group.
Meet the Bilderberg Group – an annual gathering of 130 of the Western world’s top financial, corporate, political, academic, media, military and policy elites, held every year since 1954.
They meet behind closed doors, at five-star hotels, where participants are encouraged to speak frankly – meaning “off the record” and away from the prying eyes and piercing ears of the public. Some journalists and media executives are invited, but they don’t actually cover the meetings: they simply attend them as guests.
The famous exclusivity and secrecy of the Bilderberg Group, we are told, is designed to encourage frank and open discussions among some of the most influential people in North America and Western Europe. But unlike its portrayal as a place where powerful people simply “talk shop,” critics for years have considered the meetings a form of secret world government, and a shadowy cabal.
The truth, as it often is, rests somewhere between these extremes.
Bilderberg is a meeting of the movers and shakers, the managers and policy-makers, the plutocrats, technocrats, financiers and imperialists of the North Atlantic powers. Its original purpose was to provide a forum where Western European elites could meet in private with American officials to encourage the strengthening of the “Atlantic Alliance.” The forum has provided the geopolitical and economic framework for behind-the-scenes collaboration and cooperation between the major NATO powers.
Founding members of the group in 1954 included Joseph Retinger, Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, and David Rockefeller of the United States. Named after the Hotel de Bilderberg in the Netherlands, where the first conference took place, attendees decided to hold a conference annually with locations rotating between Europe and North America. In its early years, much of the funding for the group came from the CIA and American philanthropic foundations such as the Rockefeller Foundation and the Ford Foundation.
These institutions, along with the CIA, other major foundations and the Bilderberg conference itself, were pivotal in the early process of post-WWII European integration, laying the groundwork for what decades later would become the European Union.
In the 1955 meeting of the Bilderberg Group, the topic of “European Unity” was a major discussion point, with attendees articulating the need to eventually create a “common currency” and “a central political authority” in Europe. One American participant reportedly encouraged the European attendees “to be practical and work fast.” Within two years, the Treaty of Rome was signed, establishing the European Economic Community (EEC).
A New York Times article from 1957 noted that the first Bilderberg meeting to take place on U.S. soil represented “an unpublicized backdoor approach to better relations among nations” of NATO, and noted that U.S. State Department officials were “meeting in secret for three days for an unofficial but frank exchange of views.” Among the American participants were former Ambassador to the Soviet Union (and architect of America’s “containment” policy) George F. Kennan; World Bank President Eugene R. Black, and Gabriel Hauge, an economic adviser to President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The issue of European integration remained important to attendees at Bilderberg, as a Reuters article noted in 1965, when a communiqué was issued confirming that the meeting’s participants “believed that only a united Europe could join the United States in effective direction of the Atlantic alliance.”
How It Works and Who Is Involved
Bilderberg is run by its Steering Committee of roughly 40 members whose responsibility is to organize the annual meetings and invite guests from their respective countries, bringing the average yearly attendance to roughly 130 people.
Participants and Steering Committee members come from the largest banks, corporations and think tanks; they run media empires, military and intelligence agencies. They include European royalty and representatives from some of the world’s most prominent financial and corporate dynasties, including the Rockefellers of the U.S., the Rothschilds of Europe, the Agnellis of Italy, the Wallenbergs of Sweden, the Desmarais of Canada, and the Koc family of Turkey, among others.
These elites meet together with top foreign and economic policy makers from North American and European nations, as well as up-and-coming politicians being groomed for high office and the heads of major international and regional organizations including NATO, the European Union, IMF, World Bank, WTO and some of the world’s most powerful central banks.
Still, its members and leadership contend that there is nothing the public needs to worry about when all these people get together in secret meetings to discuss the major geopolitical and economic issues of the day. Etienne Davignon, one of the chief architects of European integration in recent decades, has been a long-time Bilderberg member and was, until recently, the chairman of the steering committee. In 2005, Davignon was quoted by the Financial Times saying that the meeting is “not a capitalist plot to run the world… If we really believed we were running the world, we would immediately resign in complete despair.” In 2009, Davignon acknowledgedthat the formation of the euro was debated and promoted in annual Bilderberg meetings.
A decade ago, The New York Times wrote that the guest list of Bilderberg meetings “would more or less overlap with the ‘Wanted’ posters of anti-globalization protesters,” noting that a former participant, Will Hutton, once referred to the Bilderberg members and participants as the “high priests of globalization.”
More recently, a 2013 article from the Daily Telegraph asserted that while many members contend the group “is still merely a debating society,” interviews with past guests and steering committee members referred to the conference as among “the most important events they ever went to,” where “the discussions that took place decisively shaped modern Europe.”
Referring to the group as “a club for life’s winners,” the article noted that former steering committee member Denis Healey said he debated the Vietnam War with Henry Kissinger, and that the group brought “the architects of the European integration… together for open-ended discussions with bankers and economists about how the European monetary system might work.” Healey was quoted saying: “The great advantage of the Bilderberg thing was they did not have to reach agreement. You had time to discuss things with people who influence events who normally you would not meet at all… People could talk very freely, much more freely than they would at home.”
Other former participants noted that it was at Bilderberg meetings where they first heard of the intentions of the West Germans to unify Germany, and where British policymakers convinced other nations in attendance to apply sanctions on Argentina during the Falklands War. As Denis Healey explained: “I found it the most useful of all the meetings I attended regularly. The Bilderberg was the best because the level of the people attending regularly was so much higher… Bilderberg was the most useful of the lot.”
Indeed, in a June 1974 Argus-Press article, the then-Chairman of Bilderberg, and one of its founding members, Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, explained that “the purpose of the conference… is that eminent persons in every field get the opportunity to speak freely without being hindered by the knowledge that their words and ideas will be analyzed, commented upon and eventually criticized in the press.”
Gerald Ford, who attended two Bilderberg meetings long before becoming vice president and president of the United States, was quoted in 1965 saying: “You don’t really belong to the organization: one gets an invitation from the prince,” referring to Bernhard.
It should be noted, however, that there was one year in which the annual meeting was cancelled – 1976 – due to revelations of corruption involving bribes between the Lockheed military contractor and Prince Bernhard, leading to his resignation as chairman of the group.
In 2005, the BBC quoted then-chairman Etienne Davignon as saying: “I don’t think (we are) a global ruling class because I don’t think a global ruling class exists. I simply think it’s people who have influence interested to speak to other people who have influence… Bilderberg does not try to reach conclusions – it does not try to say ‘what we should do’… Business influences society and politics influence society – that’s purely common sense. It’s not that business contests the right of democratically-elected leaders to lead.”
Will Hutton, who attended a 1997 meeting, explained: “On every issue that might influence your business you will hear first-hand the people who are actually making those decisions and you will play a part in helping them to make those decisions and formulating the common sense.”
Former NATO Secretary-General and Bilderberg participant, Willy Claes, said in a 2010 interview with a Belgian radio program, “Well look, it’s not all that secret really. There is an agenda for the day with the most pressing problems the world is confronted with… that is discussed… there is never a vote, no resolutions are being put to paper.” However, he added, “naturally… the rapporteur always tries to draw up a synthesis, and everyone is assumed to make use of these conclusions in the circles where he has influence.”
An anonymous former participant in Bilderberg meetings was quoted by the Financial Times in 2013 saying: “The reason it’s perceived as sinister is because it brings together big international institutions – the IMF, the World Bank and the European Union – with heads of state, royalty and corporate leaders, and they don’t produce a statement at the end of it.”
In 2001, founding member Denis Healey told the Guardian in an interview, “We aren’t secret… We’re private.” Speaking of the meeting’s critics who contend that the member of the conference aim to achieve a type of “global government,” Healey told journalist Jon Ronson: “To say we were striving for a one-world government is exaggerated, but not wholly unfair. Those of us in Bilderberg felt we couldn’t go on forever fighting one another for nothing and killing people and rendering millions homeless. So we felt that a single community throughout the world would be a good thing.”
The key issue, however, is that the world which Bilderberg is helping to shape and support is one in which financiers and industrialists are the key beneficiaries – one in which democratically-elected politicians engage with their real constituents behind closed doors, in “private” conversations that have profound and real effects upon policy and thus upon entire populations who are given no such access to public officials.
Elected leaders and policy-makers don’t meet in secret with the world’s major financiers and industrialists so they can discuss the best ways to serve the interests of the public, or populations, of their respective nations. They meet to serve their own collective and individual interests. It is not a conspiracy: it is a forum in which leaders from the upper echelons of Western power structures aim to establish consensus on priorities and policies for major political and economic issues.
Bilderberg contributes to directly undermining democracy, while further institutionalizing technocracy – the “rule by experts” – at the national and international level. This series of the Global Power Project aims to examine and further bring to light the activities and individuals behind the Bilderberg Group. Stay tuned for the second installment next week.
It’s Time to Expose Global Banking Elites at the International Monetary Conference
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally posted at Occupy.com
Ever heard of the International Monetary Conference? No, I’m not referring to the annual meeting of the IMF and World Bank but rather to another, more secretive annual gathering – this one hosted by the American Bankers Association and bringing together chief executives from over 100 of the world’s largest banks.
Hailing primarily from Western Europe and North America, the banking chiefs meet for several days along with invited guests who hold prominent “public official” positions – major finance ministers and central bank governors among them. The meetings of the International Monetary Conference are notoriously private, with very little if any news coverage or public accountability regarding what goes on there.
However, significant global financial decisions get made at the IMC meetings, which have been ongoing since 1954. Now in its 60th year as an elite financial and monetary conference – and amid hot global discussions of wealth inequality and high finance colluding with governments – one might suspect the gathering to attract a little more attention. Someone, at least, should answer why the conference doesn’t even hold an official website – but merely a password-protected, members-only page for invited guests.
Nor does the American Bankers Association (ABA), which has long been the host of the IMC, make any mention of the conferenceon its website. A search of academic literature listed through Google Scholar brings up, almost exclusively, references to unrelated international monetary conferences held in the 19th century; if there is mention of the modern IMC, it’s simply as a citation from speeches delivered there by public officials. Most books that reference the conference were written by past participants, and merely reflect on speeches presented there while never exploring the IMC in depth.
We, at the Global Power Project, felt it was time to do just that.
I was first made aware of the International Monetary Conference through references listed on some of the CVs of the world’s major bankers, some of which I catalogued for Occupy.com’s 10-part Global Power Project series. Having compiled the resumes of over 300 bankers and counting, I managed to collect a partial list of bankers who are also members of the board of directors at the IMC. I have attempted to contact multiple sources for comment on the conference, but received zero answer.
Instead, I turned to the archives of The New York Times and other newspapers, as well as copies of speeches by public officials at the conference over the years. The research has enabled me to paint a rough portrait of this secretive, highly influential global conference, both historically and in its present form.
Background on the IMC
A. W. Clausen was a major figure in international banking and finance in the 20th century. He spent a long career at Bank of America, becoming President and CEO in 1970, a position he held until 1981 when he became President of the World Bank. After leaving the World Bank in 1986, Clausen returned to Bank of America as Chairman and CEO until the 1990s. Clausen had also been a long-time participant in the International Monetary Conference, and in the later years of his life Clausen wrote briefly about the origins and evolution of the IMC in his essay, The Changing Character of Financial Markets in the Postwar Period – A Personal Perspective:
Indeed, the interdependency of international finance had become apparent to American business and financial leaders in the early 1950s. To provide a forum for discussion of major economic, monetary, and fiscal issues affecting the international banking community, the American Bankers Association hosted the first International Monetary Conference in 1954. Initially, the conference brought together chief executive officers of the 50 largest United States banks and 12 to 15 bankers of equal rank from abroad as well as central bank and government officials. The number of foreign bankers in attendance increased each year, and in 1970, the by-laws were changed to make the International Monetary Conference (IMC) a truly international body. The membership has broadened considerably in the last decade. It currently comprises 116 banks from 23 countries [as of 2009].
The U.S. Secretary of the Treasury in 1962, Douglas Dillon, attended that year’s meeting of the IMC, which he said had “served a very useful purpose in developing a closer degree of understanding of our common problems between responsible private officials in the banking world on both sides of the Atlantic” (“Financial Abroad Urged by Dillon,” New York Times, 20 May 1962).
In 1971, a few months before the U.S. Treasury broke the U.S. dollar’s link with gold, letting the currency float freely in international markets, the Treasury Secretary John B. Connally, Jr. spoke at the IMC, where he demanded that Western Europe, Canada and Japan “share more fully in the cost of defending the free world” and suggested that the implement “more liberal trading arrangements” which would allow “American exports to expand.” As the New York Times noted, “the heads of most of the world’s major banks were present as well as leading monetary officials.” The Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, Arthur F. Burns, also addressed the conference (“Connally tells Bankers U.S. Will Defend Dollar,” New York Times, 29 May 1971).
During and following the 1973-74 oil price hikes, a major issue for bankers, financial and monetary authorities around the world was the challenge of managing the “recycling” of surplus “petrodollars” that had accumulated among OPEC nations. The oil price spikes generated enormous sums of money for the major oil-producing states, especially Saudi Arabia, and for those funds to be put to “productive use,” they had to be invested.
This is where Western European, American and Japanese banks came on the scene in a big way. Oil-producers invested their new wealth in the industrial world’s major banks, which lent that money (multiplied several times over) to poor, developing nations that were in need of loans to pay for their own increased costs of oil. The petrodollar-fueled loans thus allowed those countries to finance their industrialization and development in a process referred to as “petrodollar recycling.”
At the 1974 meeting of the IMC, David Rockefeller, the chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank, and Wilfired Guth, the managing director of Deutsche Bank, both “expressed deep reservations… about how long the international banking network could carry the burden of recycling the vast flows of money resulting from the huge jump in oil prices” (“Burden of Oil Money Worries Bankers,” New York Times, 7 June 1974).
In 1976, the IMC was held in San Francisco, where the world’s major bankers “expressed cautious optimism… [that] the development of a more stable monetary system was proceeding favorably,” noting the emergence of floating exchange rates for national currencies (which allow financial markets, and thus the big banks, to become major players in determining the value of a nation’s currency, and thus the health of its economy).
While the bankers noted their pleasure at the “strengthening of the International Monetary Fund,” the more than 200 bankers present from over 20 countries stressed their belief in “the need to control inflation” (“Bankers Optimistic on Monetary System,” New York Times, 18 June 1976) – a longtime obsession of bankers that didn’t become an equal obsession of public officials or central bankers for several more years.
In 1978, the U.S. Treasury Secretary, W. Michael Blumenthal, attended the IMC where he discussed the decline of the U.S. dollar in the international monetary system but stressed that “there was no need to abandon the dollar’s role as a reserve currency.” Instead, the so-called “root causes” of monetary instability should be addressed, he said, “through harmonization of international payment surpluses and deficits, inflation levels and growth rates,” meaning that nations should reduce their debts but not through inflation (the eternal boogeyman of global financial institutions) since inflation is bad for lenders and savers though good for borrowers and debtors.
Further, Blumenthal noted, the increased focus on national debts (or “balance of payments deficits”) and inflation could be supported through increased “surveillance” (read: authority) by the International Monetary Fund over sovereign nations (“Monetary System Reform Opposed by Blumenthal,” New York Times, 25 May 1978).
At the same meeting, Blumenthal endorsed plans to create a unified European currency, stating that the United States “had no objection” so long as it was “compatible with the broader financial system.” He added, however, that “the plans or sketches for a new European currency which I have seen so far do not yet show any real promise of operational possibility.”
The second major oil price shock of the decade took place in 1979 and became the key topic of discussion at that year’s meeting of the IMC, where Treasury Secretary Blumenthal warned that developing nations dependent on oil imports for their industrialization would experience major new strains due to the price increases, which “could threaten individual banks or the entire monetary system.” (“Rockefeller Warns on Petrodollars,” New York Times, 14 June 1979).
From this brief introduction we see that the International Monetary Conference – bringing together hundreds of the world’s top bankers with government officials and central bankers from the major industrial nations – has played a significant, if little talked about, role furthering the ideas, ideologies, objectives and policies of global financial elites and their partnering governments. In short: it’s not about “conspiracy” but rather consensus.
We can see, through analysis of the IMC and similar institutions and forums, an increasing interconnection and interdependence between the world’s major banks and the so-called “public” officials responsible for implementing the agreed-upon economic, financial and monetary policies worldwide. In three upcoming installments, the Global Power Project will examine the International Monetary Conference in depth, looking at its key role in the 1980s debt crisis as well as the current leadership that steers the organization.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year-old researcher and writer based in Montreal. He is project manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the geopolitics division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and the World of Resistance (WoR) Report, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.