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The Bilderberg Group

At the beginning of June the Bilderberg Group met for its 2002 conference in Chantilly, Virginia, USA. They met in secret, as always - but are they really 'the secret rulers of the world', as many contend?

The activities and meetings of the Bilderberg Group, or Bilderbergers as they have been called, are shrouded in mystery, not unlike the rituals of Masonic lodges. The lengths to which the organisers have gone to keep the press and public away, and their deliberations secret, are even by capitalist standards astounding. Very little has been reported even in the so-called quality newspapers. The political left has shown little real interest; indeed, about the only people interested in the Bilderbergers have been the “conspiracy theorists” of the far right, including the magazine The Spotlight in the United States and the journal of the Freedom Association Freedom Today in this country.

Who, then, are the Bilderberg Group, and do they really rule the world as the conspiracists assert?

Hôtel de Bilderberg
The Bilderberg Group takes its name from the Hôtel de Bilderberg in the small Dutch town of Oosterbeekat near Arnhem, owned by Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, where in May 1954, the first formal meeting or conference was held. while the name has persisted, its meetings are held in different locations and countries.

The initiative for the first meeting came from Jozef Ritinger, a Polish émigré said to be “a compulsive intriguer and behind-the-scenes political wheeler-dealer", Prince Bernhard and Paul Rijkens, President of the giant Anglo-Dutch corporation, Unilever, following a visit by Prince Bernhard to his friend, Bedell Smith, in America in 1952. Smith put the organisation in the US into the hands of Charles D Jackson, who was President of the Committee for a Free Europe. The first meeting was, however, a European initiative. Young Labour MP Denis Healy was invited to that meeting as convenor of the British delegation, which also included Hugh Gaitskell, Robert Boothy and Sir Colin Gubbins, whose expenses were covered by the British Foreign Office. Prince Bernhard was appointed chairman, a position he held until 1976, when he was forced to resign because of his involvement in the Lockheed bribery scandal. Representing France were Guy Mollet, the “socialist” leader, and Antoine Pinay the right-wing Prime Minister. The Americans included George Ball of Lehman Brothers, David Rockefeller and Dean Rusk, President of the Rockefeller Foundation and, later, US Secretary of State.

The participants at Bilderberg meetings are not elected by governments, corporations or, in fact, anyone. They are selected by a small core of administrators, constituted as a Steering Committee consisting of a permanent chair, European and North American secretaries and a treasurer. Invitations are only sent to “important and generally respected” businessmen, politicians and others, “through their special knowledge or experience”, and their personal contacts and influence in national and international circles.

Essentially, discussion and the names of participants are kept out of the public sphere. In 1967, for example, Cecil King, the then chair of the International Publishing Corporation, and also chair of the Newspaper Proprietors Association, formally requested fellow newspaper proprietors to see that “on no account should any report or even speculation about the content of the (Bilderberg) conferences be printed”. And on both sides of the Atlantic, for many years, they weren't.

One journalists, Gordon Tether, the “Lombard” columnist of the Financial Times, wrote on 6 May 1975, “If the Bilderberg Group is not a conspiracy of some sort, it is conducted in such a way as to give a remarkably good imitation of one.” In an article he wrote for the paper on 3 March 1976 he returned to the subject of Bilderberg secrecy. It never appeared, and Tether was dismissed from the “Lombard” column August of that year.

In the last year or two, following stories about the Bilderbergers on the internet, the Group has been just a shade less secretive. In late 1999, for the first time in its existence, the minutes of that year's meeting were leaked (presumably by someone within the Group), and extracts were published in the Big Issue and the whole document was posted on the Internet.

Participants
One of the participants at Bilderberg meetings who has attempted to conceal his attendances is the former Prime Minister, Edward Heath. Asked if he had attended any he replied vaguely that he may have “about 20 years ago”. In fact, US Congressional records reveal that he had attended meetings in 1963, 1964 and 1967 at least.

Asked in 1998 by the Conservative MP, Christopher Gill which members of the Labour government had attended meetings of the Bilderberg Group, Tony Blair replied in a written answer on 16 March 1998, “none”. In fact, Blair, Gordon Brown, George Robertson, Peter Mandelson and the late John Smith had all attended meetings at some time. Indeed, John Smith was said to have been on the Bilderberg Steering Group from 1989 to 1992. Another well-known figure to have attended a Bilderberg meeting, this time in Canada in 1996, and reported in the Toronto Star, was the General Secretary of the British TUC, John Monks.

Most participants, however, for instance at the 45th meeting held near Atlanta, Georgia, in the US in June 1997, appear to have been directors of large companies, corporations and international banks. They included: Conrad Black, the media tycoon, John Brown, chief executive of BP, Maarten A van der Bergh, managing director of Royal Dutch/Shell Group of Companies, Her Majesty the Queen of the Netherlands, William J McDonough, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Henry Kissinger, David Rockefeller and Colin Powell. Will Hutton, editor of the Observer was also in attendance.

Rulers of the world?
Are the Bilderbergers the rulers of the world? No, not at least in the way the conspiracy theorists of the far right claim. The Bilderberg Group is not an all-embracing totalitarian organisation, imposing a World Order on all of its citizens. But many of its participants are, or may become, powerful nationally and/or internationally and they represent powerful interests even if some, like Peter Mandelson, may have fallen by the wayside.

The Bilderberg Group emerged, in the view of author Stephen Dorrill:

“In an effort to cement western co-operation in the midst of the Cold War . . . It was seen as an opportunity for shapers of opinion among elite groups in Europe to speak with one voice to their counterparts in the United States, who feared that differences over European integration and eastern Europe would create misunderstandings” (MI6: Fifty Years of Special Operations, p508).

The objective was to prevent divergences among the participants of the meetings “by working through consensus rather than any formal procedure”. Yet during the first conference “sparks flew” between the two main groups over the possible threat of “communist infiltration”. Again, during the Suez crisis, in 1956, “sparks flew” between the Europeans and the Americans, when the British and the French almost “came to blows” with the US participants.

Of the Bilderbergers, Mike Peters comments:

“. . . the membership comprises those individuals who would, on most definitions, be regarded as members of the 'ruling class' in Western Europe and North America. In particular, the conferences brought together important figures in most of the largest international corporations with leading politicians and prominent intellectuals” (“The Bilderberg Group and the project of European unifications”, Lobster, December 1996).

He adds that virtually all the European institutions we take for granted today were conceived, designed and brought into existence through the agency of people involved in Bilderberg.

Nevertheless, because of the anarchic, competitive and contradictory nature of capitalism in Europe, the United States and worldwide, and the fact that many capitalists and opinion-shapers in such countries as Japan and Russia have not participated in Bilderberg activities, a conflict-free “New World Order”, ruled by the Bilderbergers is practically impossible.