Between the Transnational Capitalist Class and Global Civil Society: The Structures of Imperial Protocol

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In several past posts, I’ve looked at different ways in which Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s hypothesis of Empire, the current transnational order, is composed and operates through its various methodologies and influences. In one of these, Life in the Shadow of Protocol, Hardt and Negri’s claim that Empire, as a network structure, ala Manuel Castells, operates along two intersecting lines, is examined. In their schema, Empire is composed of both a democratic line and an oligopolistic line: the democratic line, one that exists on a horizontal plane, boasts “an indeterminate and potentially unlimited number of interconnected nodes with no central point of control; all nodes regardless of territorial location connect to all others through a myriad of potential paths and relays.”1 The oligopolistic line, by contrast, is vertical – unlike the unfixed ether of connecting nodes, relays, and paths, the territories here are fixed in place and hierarchical, typified by “centralized production, mass distribution, and one-way communication.”2

This dual horizontal/hierarchical-democratic/oligopolistic Imperial model is exemplified by Alexander Galloway’s analysis of the democratic and anti-democratic tendencies in the internet’s structure, which he dubs “protocol.” In his work, Galloway depicts an internet that is made democratic through the TCP/IP system, which “work[s] together to establish connections and move data packets effectively through those connections… any computer on the network can talk to any other computer, resulting in a nonhierarchical, peer-to-peer relationship.”3 The horizontalism implied by the TCP/IP, however, works in tandem with the DNS’s requirements that “maps network addresses to network names,” fixing the nodes and paths of digital space to fixed territories, “specific space on the physical networks.”4 That the two forms, the internet itself and the supra-structure of Empire, exhibit largely identical tendencies is no mistake; as a manifestation of post-Fordist capitalism, Empire’s existence, for Hardt and Negri is intimately bound to the shifts generated by the rise of information technologies and the world wide web.

In another post, Notes on Empire as an Environment, I looked at Hardt and Negri’s assessment of the Empire’s formal structure itself and at how contemporary developments in the neoliberal economic system may have altered their initial vision, which saw Empire as a pyramid. Here, the US would sit at the top of the pyramid and exert power down through various rungs – each inhabited by states, corporations, transnational institutions, before settling at the base, where the interconnected and global people, the multitude, exist. The problem arises when takes into account the withering effects of globalized capitalism, which perpetually works against national sovereignty. It might be better that instead of visualizing Empire as a linear structure that we instead view it as a series of uneven plateaus through which power and economic flows move through – a flexible process, not a rigid and singular machine. That said, if not the US, who forms the hegemonic bloc that composes Empire?

The answer here comes from the sociological analysis provided by William I. Robison, with his theory of the Transnational Capitalist Class (TCC). Just as the transition neoliberal opened the doors to a globe where goods and capital flow across borders with ease, there too has been a sudden shift in that national elite, the dominant interests or “leading strata” from the business, economic, and policy worlds “have experienced ongoing integration across borders…”5 For Robinson, the development of the TCC becomes indistinguishable from what is commonly understood as globalization, and what Hardt and Negri dubbed Empire:

Transnational class formation in the developing countries is a major dimension of capitalist globalization. As global capitalism penetrates new spheres and subjects them to the logic of transnational accumulation, pre-globalization classes such as peasantries and artisans tend to disappear, replaced by new dominant and subordinate class groups linked to the global economy. We have generally seen in developing countries: the rise of new dominant groups and capitalist fractions tied to the global economy; the downward mobility – or proletarianization – of older middle classes and professional strata and the rise of new middle and professional strata; proletarianization of peasants and artisans and the rise of new urban and rural working classes linked to transnational production processes; the working class itself become flexibilized and informalized; the appearance of an expanding mass of supernumeraries or marginalized. A global working class has emerged that runs the factories, offices, and farms of the global economy, a stratified and heterogeneous class, to be sure, with numerous hierarchies and cleavages internal to it – gender, ethnicity, nationality, and so on.6

In an alternative order of Empire provided by Graeme Chesters and Ian Walsh in their Complexity and Social Movements: Multitudes at the Edge of Chaos,7 the supra-structure is seen not with the US inhabiting the top spectrum of the system, instead having been replaced by Robinson’s TCC. Robinson maintains his own correlation to Empire when he speaks of the emergence of the “transnational state apparatus,” (TNS) a “loose network comprised of inter- and supranational political and economic institutions together with national state apparatuses that have been penetrated and transformed by transnational forces, and has not yet (and may never) acquired any centralized form.”8 In this theory, the TNS is the states, corporations, and institutional platforms that allow the TCC to operate as a hegemonic bloc; it also becomes, for Robinson, the prime motor of globalization by urging the rapid spreading of free-market ideology across the world and by reworking the traditional methods of labor relations and modes of production. Institutions imbedded in the TNS matrix would include the World Bank, the International Monetary, the World Trade Organization, and others that promote economic integration and act as ‘staging-grounds’ for the TCC to plan and cooperate. As an aside, we could also consider organizations like ICANN, which owns and manages the DNS registry of Galloway’s protocol, as existing within the TNS system.

In a contemporary state, power operates on multiple levels. The dominant classes and their political counterparts maintain the mass majority of domestic power; like Hardt and Negri’s theory of Empire, it inhabits a narrow submit with wider and wider rungs below it have less power than the preceding rung above it. Yet power cannot squarely be situated in the governing body itself, nor in corporations or blocks of corporations; it operates in dispersed lines, through institutions and modes of thought and being, and most importantly, on the citizenry for the proper reproduction of power through a sense of trust and confidence in the given system. On a rhetorical level at least, it seems that despite existing as a loose network, a TNS structure would operate in the same fundamental way, albeit one far more complex and in a more processual manner.

What I would like to do in this essay, then, is recount a brief history of the some of the institutions that make up the TNS/Empire system, and look at the way in which neoliberal power seeks to reproduce itself by gaining a sense of legitimacy from the multitude, primarily through the establishment of a global civil society. The first institution to examine is a fairly high-profile US-based think-tank, the Council on Foreign Relations, and see how its influence has been fundamental in crafting the world as we know it today.

Building World Order

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Council on Foreign Relations

While the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) itself does not fall into the category of transnational organizations, limiting its membership to US citizens, the work that the mega-think tank has done has without a doubt played a major role in the global shift towards transnationalization, even if these developments largely started during the exportation of the Fordist-Keynesian social contract that marked the years following World War 2. The importance of the CFR to the neoliberal process, however, becomes fully measurable when one takes into consideration that it was exactly this international sphere of interest that laid the groundwork and opened the door for globalization. From its very inception in 1921, the rationale behind the CFR’s creation was to promote a sort of progressive internationalism: the organization largely grew from “The Inquiry,” a post-World War I study group brought together by President Woodrow Wilson. The goal of The Inquiry, writes the CFR’s historian, was to “assemble the data they thought necessary to make the world safe for democracy.”9 This particular phrasing, in turn, would foreshadow the rhetoric deployed today by the transnational institutions today operating across global borders and by the memberships themselves of the TCC.

Major funding from the organization has flowed from the coffers of many of the large, capitalist-led philanthropic foundations, with the Rockefeller Foundation and the Ford Foundation topping the list. While philanthropies such as these have played a role in promoting activism, humanitarian awareness, poverty alleviation, and furthering educational, medicinal, and soft and hard scientific research, their explicit relationship to the fostering powerful hegemonies goes, for the most part, overlooked and under examined. For example, the Rockefeller Foundation helped subsidize the University of Chicago’s School of Economics, where professors like Milton Friedman were crafting the free-market ideology that is currently known as neoliberalism; other Rockefeller grants went directly to the economic theorists themselves, to help further their research. As writers like Naomi Klein have pointed out, the proto-neoliberal experiment that took place in Chile under Augusto Pinochet was made possible by a strategy that imported economy students trained at the University of Chicago to the country – an exchange program that was, in fact, funded by a partnership between USAID and the Ford Foundation.10 This is not particularly surprising – at this time there was an extensive interlocking relationship between the two foundations and the top foreign-policy making circles in Washington. President John F. Kennedy’s close adviser John McCloy, for example, served at as chairman of the Ford Foundation from 1958 to 1965, having previously served as a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation between 1946 to 1958. President Kennedy’s National Security Adivsor, McGeorge Bundy, had become the Ford Foundation’s president in 1966 (a position he would hold until 1979), while the Kennedy’s Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, had begun serving as president of the Rockefeller Foundation in 1952. Importantly, all these men were also members of the CFR, with McCloy acting as chairman of the organization from 1954 to 1970; when he stepped down, he was succeeded by David Rockefeller.

The CFR’s major entry point into the mainstream of the foreign-policy circles had begun earlier than this point, having been integrated in President Roosevelt’s wartime State Department through its War and Peace Studies Group. This unit of the CFR, financed primarily by the Rockefeller Foundation,11 tasked itself with devising and planning the state of the global power ad economics during and after the end of World War 2. Among the CFR’s concerns was the establishment of the “Grand Area,” a massive international trading bloc that included the Western nations and the bulk of the British Empire. Seeing Japan as problematic by the threat it posed to China, the Council recommended and drew up plans for a trade embargo to placed on the nation. The results of this policy were disastrous, as Laurence Shoup and William Minter point out: “These policies, which the Council proposed and the government adopted, had extremely important ramifications, leading to American entry into World War II.”12 It also marked the expansion of American economic power bolstered by a state-led war machine on a mass-mobilized scale.

In the immediate post-war years, CFR planners from the War and Peace Studies cranked out policy recommendations that would have widespread global impact. In 1946, a subgroup led in part by David Rockefeller crafted plans for reconstruction in Western Europe, filtering into policy as the Marshall Plan. Through this plan, the Fordist-Keynesian modes of production became less an American phenomena and more of an international one – “Atlantic Fordism,” for a moment, seemed to be the primary hegemon encapsulating the globe. These developments were in turn aided and accelerated by the new international economic cooperation promoted by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), both of which also had grown from the CFR’s regime of experts. Five years prior to reconstruction subgroup, the War and Peace Studies group had begun planning the integration of the Grand Area into a stable and global economic system. Recommendation P-B23 had insisted on the need for “stabilizing currencies and facilitating programs of capital investment for constructive undertakings in backwards and underdeveloped regions.”13 In follow-up recommendations, the CFR advised that efforts to curb tendencies towards recession and depression be taken, as well as the establishment of a joint America and British board to work on the logistics of implementing such a system. To quote Shoup and Minter at length,

While it was the Council which initially proposed during 1941 and 1942 the idea of international economic institutions to integrate the new world order, it was Harry Dexter White of the Treasury Department who worked out the actual technical details which led to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Although not a Council member, White probably had contact with its ideas, perhaps through Viner, who was a Treasury adviser, or through Hansen, who was active in many federal agencies. In any event, White produced a memorandum on the subject of both a monetary fund and bank by March 1942. This was the plan which Secretary of the Treasury Morgenthau gave to

Roosevelt in mid-May. Following discussions with Secretary Hull, a special interdepartmental committee was established to refine the plan. This was the Cabinet Committee which began meeting on May 25, 1942. The Cabinet Committee, organized a group of experts, called the American Technical Committee, which did the actual planning work. These two committees, largely responsible for. the final form of the Monetary Fund and the World Bank, were centered in the Treasury Department and had only informal ties with the State Department’s Advisory Committee on Postwar Foreign Policy. There was considerable overlapping of personnel, however, between the two groups. White served as the Treasury Department’s man on the economic subcommittee of the Advisory Committee. Acheson, Berle, Feis, Pasvolsky of the State Department, and Cohen of the White House staff were on either the Cabinet Committee or the American Technical Committee, which White chaired. The Council was well represented on these latter two committees by the last three men and by Hansen, who attended many of the Technical Committee meetings. A full-blown international conference to establish a monetary fund and world bank convened at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, in 1944, creating institutions whose aim was integration of the expanded Grand Area to create one world economy dominated by the United States.14


The Council on Foreign Relations and the Neoliberal Turn

The early economic perspectives of the World Bank and IMF were essentially quasi-Keynesian in nature, adopting a position built atop a series of compromises worked out between the American-led interests who resisted a large multinational structuralization, and the British led by Keynes himself, who advocated for far-reaching reforms, such as a universal lending currency called the Bancor. The developments that were underway in Chile in the early 1970s, instigated in part by American interests bound and affiliated with the interlocking nexuses between capital, the state, the CFR, and the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, would soon come to dominate the economic policy of the World Bank and IMF, albeit one eventually cast in a more ‘democratic’ light. The transition of the developing world beyond the Fordist-Keynesian framework came on the heels of what is now known as the “Nixon Shock.” Faced with a monetary inflation triggered by the Federal Reserve bank and a public debt resulting from the conflict in Vietnam and the Great Society programs initiated by the Kennedy administration, the American dollar found itself in a crisis. Compounded by the collapse of the London Gold Pool, a grouping of gold reserves held by leading central banks, the dollar faced a steady trajectory of devaluation.

In 1971, President Nixon issued a mixed-bag of economic policies to combat this trend. Wage and price ceilings were implemented with a 10% tariff atop the already-existing tax on import goods, and an end was put to the utilization of gold as the material backing of the dollar. The Bretton Woods system, of which the World Bank and the IMF were a part, had been built with the goal of gold acting as a measure for a stable exchange rate; without gold, the global financial system moved towards a free-floating exchange rate and the Bretton Woods system was formally dissolved. This marked the important moment in which control of capital itself by a given nation declined sharply. One a short-term level, the shock allowed for a stabilization to occur in the US financial system and a rise of the dollar itself against other currencies; in the long-run, the new and ‘free-floating’ economic system came with a new-found flexibility in economic policy that helped to completely undo the Keynesian supremacy. While globalization and neoliberalism cannot be pinpointed to the Nixon Shock – there are other innumerable historical shifts, events, and transformations to give any one instance the spotlight – it was a major leap forward into the era of transnationalization, and required a retooling of the world system.

In 1970, Zbigniew Brzezinski, a member of the CFR since 1961, wrote a book titled Between-two-ages-smallBetween Two Ages: American’s Role in the Technotronic Era. His argument was an urge towards a “Community of Developed Nations,” a multinational interdependent economic and political system based around what he considered the “most vital regions of the globe” – the United States, Western Europe, and Japan.15 In Brzeznski’s vision, such a system would require a “high-level consultative council for global cooperating,” networking together heads of states for a conversation, debate, and mutual planning. Also critical to his assessment was the decline of national sovereignty through the increasing forces of globalized trade and rise of the multinational corporate as a dominant fixture in the world economy. The developments of the Nixon Shock, which had pushed transnationalization while simultaneously engaging in an act of protectionism that had significant follow-out around the world (most particularly Japan), led Brzezinski to organize a series of “Triparite Studies” at the Brookings Institute; the procedures impressed CFR chairman David Rockefeller, who called together an international council to draft the groundwork for what would come to be known as the Trilateral Commission. With $500,000 in seed money provided by the Ford Foundation (whose president, McGeorge Bundy, had been a participant in the initial planning council),along with other philanthropy funds,16 the Trilateral Commission was formally launched in 1973.

Among the majority of the Trilateral Commission’s early goals were directly in line with promoting a global free trade order: recommendations included a “progressive, across-the-board, and autonomic reduction and elimination of tariffs on industrial products.”17 This move towards a fluid space where goods could flow across borders uninhibited by the state was accompanied by the decision to retain the floating exchange rate, the replacement of the IMF’s gold reserves with ‘standard drawing rights’ (SDRs), and a reorientation of the World Bank’s lending programs to help ease turbulence in Third World nations. These lending programs, of course, come with the stipulation of structural adjustment programs, inciting a mass privatization of a developing nation’s public sector and the rejection of protectionism for local markets in order to foster a opening into the uneven plateaus of global trade.

As Shoup and Minter illustrate, the majority of US members of the Trilateral Commission, including Brzezinski and Rockefeller, were members of the CFR, leading to a close uniformity between the policy recommendations of the two organizations. In 1974 the CFR launched its “1980s Project,” a multileveled task force dedicated to study and planning for the global transition from the international system of independent nation states towards the interdependent world of transnational capital. “The time is ripe,” wrote CFR president Bayless Manning (a founding member of the Trilateral Commission), “for an attempt to analyze the characteristics of the kind of international system that would be suited to deal with the conditions and problems of the upcoming decade. Systematic intellectual effort is required to identify the coming changes in policies, institutions, and attitudes that such an international system would imply and suggest ways to bring about those changes.”18 Modeled directly on the earlier War and Peace Studies that had helped produce the Bretton Woods system, this approach to analyze the post-Bretton Woods world drew heavily on Trilateral Commission members and brought them into the channels of the think-tank.

The 1980s Project’s first published work, The Management of Interdependence: A Preliminary View, promotes a global economic system moored to the direction of the dominant nations (the trilateral complex of the US, Western Europe, and Japan). Dubbed “collective management,” regimes of experts, planners, and leaders from each country would come together in an array of institutions to enable the ‘proper function’ of the system. William Robinson has written about “polyarchy,” or “rule of many”, in which power flows upwards to the domain of “state managers and organic intellectuals.”19 While his conception is to deal primarily with the state-function under modern forms of capitalism, the system urged by the CFR in the 1980s Project conforms closely to his assessment. In Robinson’s view, polyarchic systems in government run contrary to variations of ‘popular democracy’ – “’political inclusiveness’ is limited to the right to vote, and mass constituencies have no institutional mechanisms for holding elected officials accountable to them and the platforms upon which they are elected.”20 It essentially forms a hegemonic bloc of the “dominant minorities,” a limited or restricted democracy that insulates power from threats from below, thus promoting an order of preservation that effectively depoliticizes the public sphere.

Importantly, much of the 1980s Project dealt with limiting the reach of democracies, particularly in regards to zones that would impact the inner-workings of the transnational order. The CFR’s planners called for “various methods of defusing or depoliticizing issues such as inflation or unemployment, and also of depoliticizing intergovernmental relations.”21 To achieve this goal would mean that primary economic policy would have to be removed largely from the sphere of political participation; to be unable to significantly alter the policies revolving around monetary fluctuations or job growth, the bulk of what constitutes the neoliberal system – the floating exchange rate, the flow of capital and production across borders, the generalized easing up on regulatory regimes – becomes a polyarchal complex par excellance. These attitudes were matched in the Trilateral downloadCommission with the publishing of a book by Samuel Huntington (a member of the CFR’s 1980s Project) titled The Crisis of Democracy. Huntington takes aim at the youth revolts of the 1960s and the Keynesian welfare programs like Kennedy’s Great Society, characterizing the decade as inhibiting an “excess of democracy.” This excess, in turn, led to a crisis of governability and its adjacent institutions. For Huntington, the solution was a rollback of this democratic excess and a reorientation of the population towards the government as the dominant mechanism for power. A wide-sweeping proposition, some of the areas of interest in Huntington’s conclusion involve “a lessening of class conflict and assimilation of substantial portions of the population to middle class values, attitudes, and consumption patterns.”22

This rhetoric brings to mind the powerful and (neo)conservative passage towards the neoliberal state embodied by the “Peace through Strength” ideologues in the administration of President Reagan. Under Reagan, the perceptions of what constitutes “middle class values” became translated into the ‘universal’ American values of hard work and free enterprise; the expansion of freedom to pursue capital in a national context was matched here by a strengthened military-intelligence complex that wielded its power to both maintain its geopolitical supremacy in the face of the Soviet Union, and as a directly-related goal, foster neoliberal development paradigms abroad. Indeed, President Reagan, much like his predecessor Jimmy Carter, drew a great many Trilateralists into his administration. Yet as the rollback of Keynesian-era moderate democracy continued in the forms of deregulation and deconstruction of the Welfare state, the rhetoric of ‘democracy’ escalated, particularly in regards to affairs of economics and international relations.

Engaging Global Civil Society

In his analysis of polyarchal governing systems, Robinson draws on the Trilateral Commission report for evidence of a structural shift from the locus of control itself. With the emergence of systemic global ‘democratic’ crises, Huntington and his co-authors urged a “basic mutation in [the] mode of social control, [and to] experiment with more flexible models that could produce more social control with less coercive pressure.”23 This change in attitudes is reflective in the generalized shift from Fordist-Keynesianism, which can be understood as the culmination of Foucault’s Disciplinary Society, towards what Deleuze called the Control Society. Or as the Critical Art Ensemble describes it, focusing on the reliance of the neoliberal order on post-Fordist computational technology and its tendency towards flexibility: “One essential characteristic that sets late capitalism apart from the other political and economic forms is the mode of representing power: What was once a sedentary concrete mass has now become a nomadic electronic flow.24

Robinson sees the shift towards ‘flexible control’ as one that moved into civil society proper – “trade unions, political parties, the mass media, peasant associations, women’s, youth, and other mass organizations25 – as its motor and process of reproduction. Here, civil society, the so-called “third sector” apart from the public and the private, acts as a buffer zone of sorts between the mass constituency and the political and economic elites; if power flows accelerate upwards in a polyarchal system, then civil society becomes a ‘base’ for generating a “social control ‘from below’ (and within), for the purpose of managing change and reform to as to preempt any elemental challenge to social order.”26 Thus, power’s control operates not only through the rollback of democratic power from above, but also through an imposed self-regulation of the subjective experience of democratic participation itself. Through the process of globalization, the traditional notion of civil society as a sector based squarely in a national context has altered, growing to encompass the complex tapestry of transnational interdependence. Escalating Robinson’s examination of polyarchy and this governing system into the global context, where national class systems exist alongside and integrate with a TCC, the self-regulatory control generated from within civil society takes on new widespread and geographically dispersed implications.

Hardt and Negri take a somewhat different position on the global civil society, focusing instead on the sector’s institutional interfaces in the form of NGOs. For them, global civil society forms the base level of Empire’s pyramidal structure – the domain of the multitude, who exist at the margins or beyond the system and whose primary venue of interaction with comes in the form of representation, albeit frequently in a subdued or rather exclusive form. The NGOs that they cite, such as Oxfam, Medecis sans frontieres, and Americas Watch (a division of Human Rights Watch), by contrast, conduct “political action” that “rests on a universal moral call: what is at stake is life itself.”27 Furthermore, what these NGOs “really represent is the vital forces that underlies the People… the activities of these NGOs coincide with the workings of Empire “beyond politics,” on the terrain of biopower, meeting the needs of life itself.”28 In other words, these institutions of global civil society form the reverse or ‘other side’ of Empire, or the political, cultural, and social conditions of globalized neoliberalism; they embody the agency inherent in the static state of the multitude.

Hardt and Negri are correct in taking away that NGOs operate as a democratic mechanism within the transnational system; however, they fail to consider, beyond a few cursory musings, the ways in which this mechanism can be moored to the systems of neoliberal control. Human Rights Watch, for example, emerged from the political climate of the Cold War. In 1978, Arthur Goldberg, a lawyer affiliated with the AFL-CIO labor union, and the Ford Foundation and CFR’s McGeorge Bundy, devised a US-based platform to monitor the human rights situation in the Soviet bloc. With $400,000 from the Ford Foundation, Helinski Watch was formed29 In 1988, Helsinki Watch merged with a series of other “Watch Committees” – Americas Watch, Asia Watch, Africa Watch, and Middle East Watch – to form Human Rights Watch, now one of the NGOs, operating across the globe. While there is much to praise about the actions of Human Rights Watch, the organization’s relationship to the TCC and transnational policy will be examined more in depth in the second half of this article.

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A more important NGO to take into consideration at this juncture is the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a US-based and government-subsidized ‘democracy promotion’ organization that interacts with the public and private sectors and civil societies of developing or transitional nations in order to cultivate ‘good governance,’ representative democracy and liberal market systems. The NED’s own history marks the convergence of two trends: on one hand, the evolution of the Social Democrats USA from Trotskyite socialists to proto-neoconservatives (see my posts “From Socialism to Neoliberalism, parts 1 and 2, and the “Democracy from Above” timeline in the downloads section), and the drive for a quasi-privatized funding body, following the revelations in the 1960s that the CIA had been operating through a slew of front-organizations, including the AFL-CIO labor union and the Ford Foundation. The institutional groundwork for the establishment of the NED occurred in 1979 with the launch of the American Political Foundation to study the logistics of building an organizational body dedicated to promoting democracy abroad. With funding from the United States Information Agency, the “public diplomacy” outfit that manages propaganda platforms like Voice of America, the American Political Foundation brought together “representatives of all the dominant sectors of US society, including both parties and leaders from labor and business,” as well as “many of the leading figures… associated with the transnationalized faction of the US elite.”30 These included many from the CFR-Trilateral Commission axis, including the AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland, National Security Advisers Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, among others.

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Solidarity in Poland: fighting for democracy

Based on the recommendations of the American Political Foundation, the NED was formalized by an act of Congress in 1983. The institutional structure made the NED itself a coordinating body and a clearinghouse for funds; while many of these funds would flow directly to local domestic NGOs in the targeted countries, the majority would be slated for four subsidiary units that would do the bulk of the work around the globe. Two of these organizations were aligned with the two primary American parties, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and a third was a program of the US Chamber of Commerce, the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE). The fourth was a web of internationally-oriented AFL-CIO organizations, later to conglomerated into a single body, the Solidarity Center, in the mid-90s. The NED went to work almost immediately, with funding and training spreading to various spaces of transnational interest: the Solidarity trade union in Poland, anti-Pinochet struggles in Chile, and the pro-democratic unrest in the Philippines. While many of these took on the aura of progressive political change, promoting centrist models of government that utilized a molded civil society to spur economic systems based on a combination of polyarchal governance, international trade and moderate labor unionism, NED money also found its way to organizations that ran to the far-right of center. These included France’s Force Ouvriere and the National Inter-University Union,31 both linked to the neo-fascist Service d’Action Civique militia; as well as Nicaraguan political forces aligned with the hard-right Contra rebels.32


Contras in Nicaragua: fighting against democracy

These advances during the Reagan administration were matched by a generalized proliferation of NGOs across the globe in the 1980s, largely emanating by a shift in attitudes in the World Bank, which had relied largely on quasi-authoritarian regimes to prop up pro-capital economic reforms. As Nicholas Guilhot points out, by the mid-to-late 80s the Bank’s structural adjustment programs had become “hindered” due to the frictional nature of domestic private and public sectors and civil societies.33 Like the earlier Trilateral Commission report, this came to be seen a crisis of governability; what needed to be promoted then was something much akin to the democracy promotion agenda of the NED – a tendency towards “good governance” in the countries undergoing the economic transformations. Guilhot writes that “good governance” in this context “did not substantially modify the goals of the Washington consensus. Rather, it was meant to improve the performance of the structural adjustment programs by reshaping the state in accordance with the main tenets of economic globalization and free trade.”34 The World Bank’s then-president, Barber Conable, saw NGOs as a exemplay mechanism for such a policy-shift; he appointed James Clark, a high-ranking official at the British NGO Oxfam, as the lead coordinator with these civil society organizations. Under Clark’s guidance, NGOs became “subcontractors” for the World Bank’s activities, and by 1991 constituted 37% of all World Bank projects – a number that would jump to 47% in 1997.35

monitoring and evaluation for ngos in health aids programmes_fig 3a

The relationship between the World Bank – and the NED, for that matter – and NGOs worked in several directions. Bodies promoting democracy and economic liberalization operate far removed from the actual spaces in which these transformations take place; this engenders a fundamental disconnection between the two, with the NGO stepping in to act as a conduit of information running from one to the other. Furthermore, NGOs (aside from the larger, transnational organizations) are frequently small and localized and have to operate on a situation-by-situation basis. To quote Monsiapile Kajimbwa, “most NGOs do not have any grand vision of society, nor are they guided by large issues; rather, they concentrate on small, day-to-day matters. In NGOs, we seldom spend time defining our vision in relation to the overall social and economic context of our societies.”36 Money, resources, and training by foreign entities helps alleviate these problematic, and these dominants interests work to retool the functions of the NGO towards programs like election monitoring and promoting, from a bottom-up grassroots level, the entrepreneurial ideology of market building. In doing so, the polyarchal conception of democracy, with its insistence on neoliberal markets and the “rule of minorities” via the electoral process, becomes conflated with what appears to be a robust (yet generally temporary) participatory democracy. As Sibille Merz writes in an ethnography of NGO activities in the Palestinian territories,

In development policy, the idea of civil society, mostly reduced to NGOs and aimed at the exclusion of other forms of collective action for the benefit of society as a whole, is closely tied up with the notion good governance and often equated with political as well as economic liberalization.

The NGO approach to development is thereby exemplary of this (neo)liberal logic. On one hand, the needs of marginalized groups are addressed in terms of encouraging self-help or empowerment which reflects the neoliberal dogma of individualizing risk and responsibility and fosters the privatization of social services and institutions. On the other hand, neoliberal thought and policies perfectly exemplify forms of biopolitical governmentality since they aim at governing subjects and the population as a whole through the transformation of general conduct, rationalities, and self-conceptions… Essentially, neoliberal development discourses and practices attempt to “govern from a distance,” from an almost invisible position through localized institutions and practices and the transformation of individual subjectivities into “enterprise men and women.”37

Networking Global Civil Society

The expansion of this NGO model continued to increase through the Clinton administration, with adoption of Democratic Peace Theory (DPT). DPT postulates that nations considered “democratic” are less likely to engage in wars with other democratic nations; a combination of complex webs of international relations and the need for relative stability in the neoliberal trade order makes the notion of armed conflict a less and less likely scenario. DPT had entered into Clinton’s policy-making circles through the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), a centrist advising body aligned with the Democratic Party that had been founded in 1989 by Will Marshall, an affiliate of the Social Democrats USA, who had been so crucial to the creation of the NED. In fact, the PPI’s interest in DPT had started by a report written by Larry Diamond titled An American Foreign Policy for Democracy;38; Diamond, in turn, had been a co-founding editor of the NED’s Journal of Democracy and has served as an adviser to the World Bank. During his time at the PPI, Diamond had adopted DPT from the earlier work of academic Michael Doyle, who had written a series of articles on the concept between 1983 and 1986. The funding for Doyle’s research had come in the form of a $90,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, a part of a larger and costlier three-year study project titled “Support for Research on the Future of the International Economic Order.”39


President Clinton’s utilization of DPT included a “securitization” of the concept, “dividing the world into democratic and autocratic zones, the latter being a new threat to the former.”40 National Security Adviser, Anthony Lake, a former staffer for Zbigniew Brzezinski in the Carter administration, articulated the US’s foreign policy strategy as enlarging and strengthening the ‘democratic zones,’ which he equated with regions that were following a path to market liberalization. This conformed largely with Diamond’s prescription’s for implementing the system, which he saw as not only requiring the full force and back of US, but also as needing a formal “association of democratic nations” that would expedite the process of global democratic integration. In 2000, this association came to the fruition in the form of the Community of Democracies (CD), established largely by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright a meeting of transnational government representatives in Warsaw.

The inauguration of the CD took place alongside a parallel meeting, the World Forum on Democracy, which had brought together representatives from NGOs operating in every corner of the globe; the Forum was a joint program of Freedom House, an American NGO aligned with the NED, and the Stefan Batory Foundation, the Polish division of George Soros’ Open Society foundations. Like the World Bank and the NED, the Batory Foundation had worked hand-in-hand with Poland’s civil society in the wake of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, largely to prepare the country for its transition to a market economy. But by 2000, it was helping to broaden the scope of these aspirations; one could view the World Forum on Democracy as the first major overture towards the network formation of the global civil society. Albright herself gave a speech at the World Forum, affirming the role of the NGOs as the “non-governmental process of the Community of Democracies.”

A year prior to the establishment of the CD and the World Forum, the NED launched its own transnational civil society organizing body. Called the World Movement for Democracy (WMD), the agency networks together activists, leaders from countries that have undergone democratic transition, and representatives from NGOs to “develop new forms of cooperation to promote the development of democracy.”41 To assist these efforts the WMD maintains a strong Eminent Person Group to bolster legitimacy for the organization; members have included Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, former revolutionary and president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, and Egyptian dissident Sadd Eddin Ibrahim.42 The organization also maintains a Network of Democracy Research Institutes – an examination of these, something far too length to recount here, reveals a commonality in that most of these organizations are geared towards promoting neoliberal development programs and have received funding from the NED, the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, and the Open Society Institute. Likewise, the WMD’s founding statement reiterates the umbrella organization’s commitment to the transnational neoliberal order and the polyarchal paradigm it sets for civil society cultivation:

It has also become necessary–urgently so–as a means of responding to the unprecedented global interchange of people, ideas, and goods that has transformed the world. Only by successfully adapting to these new conditions can democrats remain an effective and influential worldwide force. The continued durability and dynamism of democracy globally requires a worldwide community of democrats–leading figures from politics, associational life, business, trade unions, the mass media, academia, and policy analysis organizations from all regions who are united by shared democratic values and a commitment to mutual support and solidarity.43


In 2001 the Open Society Institute launched its own organization aimed at democracy promotion coordination with the global NGO sector, the Democracy Coalition Project. Significantly, the Project’s staff includes many members firmly locked into this developing strand of the neoliberal ideology; the organization’s co-founder, Robert Herman, is a former director of programs at Freedom House, and is joined by Morton Halperin, a CFR member, as well as Larry Diamond. Madeleine Albright sits on the advisory committee, which helped lead the Democracy Coalition Project to work hand-in-hand with Freedom House and the CD in urging the United Nations to develop a “Democracy Caucus,” an institutional body that would allow for a far greater cooperation between nations and NGOs in ease the transition into transnationalization. Other considerations for a UN Democracy Caucus came from a CFR report titled “Enhancing U.S. Leadership at the United Nations”, drafted by an independent task force partially coordinated by Freedom House. The directors of the task force included Adrian Karatnycky, the chairman of Freedom House and a member of the Social Democrats USA; Lee Feinstein, a former Clinton security adviser and authority on the Responsibility to Protect (which will be discussed in the second half of this essay); and Lee Hamilton, a former US representative and director at the NED.44

Returning to Protocol


Let us now return to the theme of Imperial protocol, which Hardt and Negri had identified as being an axis between a hierarchical line (indicating centralization) and a horizontal “democratic” line (indicating distribution). For the, Empire is a biopolitical machine that simultaneously allows inclusion and participation through the democratic line, while also excluding participation through centralized hierarchy. Entry into Empire, to use the understanding of protocol offered by Galloway, proceeds on a very certain understanding of a code that is managed from above. Presumably Hardt and Negri’s articulation of democratic entry into Empire operates through the representative processes at the national-level, which exists towards the base of supra-structure, and the direct voice of the multitude at the base itself, the array of NGOs operating around the world. While Hardt and Negri display a rather optimistic attitude about the functionality of the transnational civil society, we can take from this that the direction integration of the NGO sector into the neoliberal development paradigm and its subsequent production of subjectivity constitutes a blurring at the axis of the hierarchical and horizontal lines; what this means, effectively, is that grassroots power has become a central operator in the reproduction of the neoliberal order, utilizing the language of ‘democracy,’ ‘decentralization,’ and ‘participation’ itself as its own spectacled rhetoric.

Galloway quotes Deleuze and Guattari’s famous line “We’re tired of trees,” where they call for a model built on the rhizome to confront vertical power, but adds “the success of protocol today as a management style proves that the ruling elite is tired of trees too.”45 And as mentioned earlier, the Critical Art Ensemble drew on a visualization where the Fordist-Keynesian Disciplinary Society, the “sedentary concrete mass,” had given way to the post-Fordism Control Society, the “nomadic electronic flow.” Thus the importance emerges that Galloway examines protocol from an almost exclusively digital perspective, while Hardt and Negri argue that the horizontal and democratic line of Empire, which I here have associated with the NGO/civil society sector, is symbolized by the internet. Hardt, Negri, and Galloway all build their analyses and critiques based on the proliferation of digital countercultures, best exemplified by net art and hacker subculture. Access to spaces beyond the exclusion that power dictates leads the hackers looked for “exploits,” “pre-existing bugs that are leveraged to gain access to a computer.”46 For Galloway, this transforms protocol of force of possibility, a medium for openness, exploration, and experimentation. But perhaps the evolution of Empire, this could cut both ways.


By the late 2000s, democracy promoting bodies had latched onto digital activism as a means for furthering grassroots globalization. Even more so than the preliminary NGO models, this continued to conflate the notions of democratic access with neoliberal expansion. In 2008, Republican adviser James K. Glassman and Jared Cohen, a young new media expert and former State Department strategist Jared Cohen assembled the Alliance for Youth Movements, which aimed at linking together participants in struggles worldwide with tech-savy digital activist – as well as pro-democratic individuals in the various hacker communities. A formal summit was launched in 2008, sponsored by various media and technology firms such as Facebook, Google, AT&T, and Howcast, and with additional support from the State Department proper and organizations like the Open Society Institute and Freedom House.47 Importantly, Freedom House paid for Ahmed Saleh, the leader of Egypt’s April 6th Movement, to attend the Summit and meet with State Department officials before returning to his home country, presumably to bolster his movement with the knowledge and contacts he would have made.48

Two years after the summit, Cohen left the State Department and along with J. Scott Carpenter (from the NED’s International Republican Institute) and formed Google Ideas, a “think/do tank” to assist struggling states and civil societies with digital activism. In this position he became in close contact with Wael Ghonim, the head of Google’s marketing division for North Africa and the Middle East – another important leader in Egypt’s anti-Mubarak struggles, and a strong proponent of the power of the internet in pro-democratic uprisings. As large sums of NED funding and trainers converged in Egypt, large steps were taken to ensure that the struggle was linked globally through the electronic infosphere. In one case, Ahmed Saleh travelled to Silicon Valley at the behest of the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law to generate a space where hackers and activists could act in real-time with the individuals on the ground in Tahir Square, and cultivate technology that could aid the resistance in complex and unexpected ways.49 The Center on Democracy, incidentally, is a member of the WMD’s Network of Democracy Research Institutes, and boasts Larry Diamond (having participated earlier in the Alliance for Youth Movements summit), as a director.

Authoritarian regimes around the world have cracked down on the usage of the internet, fearing that the free exchange of information and communication could undo the grips these governments have on the population – and they do! Electronic flows are perpetually cutting at the root of the trees, creating autonomous spaces and war machines that can operate both visibly and, to a large degree, with a relative sense of invisibility, to allow for dissent to move forward in exciting and rapid ways. The US government has taken steps to promote this particular development continues: in February of 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech declaring that all forms of internet repression will be met with failure. Correlating internet freedom to economic prosperity, she announced that promotion of digital democracy “is a foreign policy priority, one that will only increase in importance in the coming years.”50 In July of that year, the State Department, along with support from Microsoft, Twitter, and the Community of Democracies, Clinton devised a series of “tech camps” to aid digital activism. At one training session, she reiterated the goal: “We have to be willing to keep coming up with new ways of getting over, under, around and through the walls and other techniques that are used to prevent people from freely communicating.”51

By 2013, we’ve seen a shift in attitudes. Bradley Manning has been sentenced to 35 years of jail-time, and Wikileaks has been vilified for many years. Edward Snowden, a whistleblower who revealed that the NSA has been conducting an Orwellian surveillance program in the name of ‘protecting democracy,’ has been forced to live as a fugitive and has currently been granted asylum in Russia. With a greenlight provided by the US, the British government had essentially declared war on the press, deploying anti-terrorism laws to disrupt the movements and communications of journalists. Computers in the possession of a media firm where destroyed at the behest of intelligence agents. Control might be an electronic flow, but the autonomy of these flows is not absolute – they must operate within the parameters set, within the proper dictates of the protocol’s code. This isn’t limited, either, to the digital sphere; it holds true for the developments within dynamic dissident struggles and within civil society at large. The neoliberal passageway is one that proclaims entry and participation, but with stipulations and demands. To transgress these norms, pre-determined subjectivities and expected characteristics is to allow elements of the concrete mass to resurface, to re-impose the discipline that we have already begun to move past.

We now find ourselves one what most likely is another transformation in the supra-structures of world order; there is very likely to be no rolling back of the transnationalization that the world has been moving towards for over a hundred years, nor will the composition of the TCC disperse its economic superiority and political power voluntarily. It is also unlikely that the rhetoric and promotion of neoliberal democracy will cease to be a consistent talking-point and matter of formal and informal policy agendas yet it is very likely that we will see a closing of the parameters in which neoliberal relative autonomy operates. Transformations and systemic crises always lead to new balances of power and new forms of class composition, both at the top of the hierarchy and in its middle and bottom rungs. They also provide openings, especially when coupled to technological shifts and advances, for new forms of solidarity and struggle. Faced with such a proposition, it will take an active engagement across the borders to understand the workings of the current world order and its class formations, to try and anticipate the possible avenues through which it will transform, and hopefully, the cultivate a counter-power that will reclaim the very notion of ‘democracy’ expunge it from the dangerous baggage to which its been so unfortunately attached.

[The second half of this essay will be an elongated appendix that will look at several different institutional interfaces of the TCC, ones that represent business, political, and civil society interests, and look at the way these organizations intertwine and work with one another.]

1Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri Empire Harvard University Press, 2000, pg. 299


3Alexander Galloway Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization MIT Press, 2009, pg. 8

4Ibid, pg. 9

5William I. Robinson “Global Capitalism Theory and the Emergence of Transnational Elites” Critical Sociology December 19th, 2011


7Graeme Chesters and Ian Walsh Complexity and Social Movements: Multitudes at the Edge of Chaos

8Robinson “Global Capitalism Theory”

9Peter Grose Continuing the Inquiry: The Council on Foreign Relations from 1921 to 1996 Council on Foreign Relations Press, 2006

10Naomi Klein The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism Picador, 2007, pgs. 73-75

11Laurence H. Shoup and William Minter Imperial Brain Trust: The Council on Foreign Relations and United States Foreign Policy Authors Choice Press, 2004, pg. 119

12Ibid, pg. 135

13Ibid, pg. 166

14Ibid, pgs. 168-169

15Holly Sklar (ed.) Trilateralism: The Trilateral Commission and Elite Planning for World Management South End Press, 1980, pg. 76

16Ibid, pg. 86

17Ibid, pg. 71

18Shoup and Minter Imperial Brain Trust, pg. 255

19William I. Robinson Promoting Polyarchy: Globalization, US Intervention, and Hegemony Cambridge University Press, 1996, pg. 58

20Ibid, pg. 59

21Shoup and Minter Imperial Brain Trust pg. 269

22Samuel Huntington, Michel Crozier, and Joji Watanuki The Crisis of Democracy: Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission New York University Press, 1975, pg. 157

23Robinson Promoting Polyarchy, pg. 69; Huntington, Crozier, and Watanuki The Crisis of Democracy, pgs. 53, 55

24Critical Art Ensemble Electronic Civil Disobedience and Other Unpopular Ideas Autonomedia, pg. 7; quoted in Galloway Protocol, pg. 242

25Robinson Promoting Polyarchy, pg. 69


27Hardt and Negri Empire pg. 313

28Ibid, pgs. 313-314

29Daniel C. Thomas The Helsinki Effect: International Norms, Human Rights, and the Demise of Communism Princeton University Press, 2001, pg. 151

30Robinson Promoting Polyarchy, pgs. 89-90

31Ben A. Franklin “Democracy Project Facing New Criticisms” The New York Times December 4th 1985

32See William I. Robinson A Faustian Bargain: U.S. Intervention in the Nicaraguan Elections and American Foreign Policy in the Post-Cold War Era Westview Press, 1992

33Nicholas Guilhot The Democracy Makers: Human Rights and the Politics of Global Order Columbia University Press, 2005, pg. 213

34Ibid, pg. 214

35Ibid, pg. 217

36Monsiapile Kajimbwa “NGOs and their Role in the Global South” The International Journal of Not-for-Profit Law Volume 9, Issue 1, December 2006

37Sibille Merz “Reforming Resistance: Neoliberalism and the Co-Option of Civil Society Organizations in Palestine”; in Rebecca Fisher (ed.) Managing Democracy, Managing Dissent: Capitalism, Democracy, and the Organization of Consent Corporate Watch, 2013, pgs. 137-138

38Inderjeet Parmar Foundations of the American Century: The Ford, Carnegie, and Rockefeller Foundations in the Rise of American Power Columbia University Press, 2012, pg. 232

39Ibid, pgs. 231

40Ibid, pg. 233

41Founding statement of the World Movement for Democracy, February 14th-17, 1999

42“World Movement for Democracy” National Endowment for Democracy website

43Founding statement of the World Movement for Democracy

44“Enhancing U.S. Leadership at the United Nations” Council on Foreign Relations Report, November 14th, 2002

45Galloway Protocol pg. 242

46Ibid, pg. 168

47Edmund Berger “Egypt and International Capital: Is This What Democracy Looks Like?”; in Fisher Managing Democracy, Managing Dissent, pgs. 319-320

48Ibid, pg. 321

49Sarina Beges “Bridging Silicon Valley and Tahir Square” Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, June 13th, 2013

50“Hillary Clinton: Internet Repression ‘Will Fail’” BBC News, February 15th, 2011

51Nicole Gaouette “Clinton’s ‘Tech Camp’ Teaches Activists Web Savvy, Subversion” July 1st, 2011

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15 Responses to Between the Transnational Capitalist Class and Global Civil Society: The Structures of Imperial Protocol

  1. Brian Holmes says:


    This essay homes straight in on what I think is the most opaque area in popular awareness of the existing form of power. Namely, the transition between the postwar, Keynesian-Fordist “world order” – in which the US was positioned clearly at the center – and the following transnational neoliberal paradigm, Neoliberal Informationalism, which is conventionally represented as a network. In fact, the network representation operates for most people as a kind of exhilarating blur. What we need to see, and to follow in some detail, is the three-phase process that emerges from this text.

    –Phase one is the breakdown of the postwar order, which takes places across the 1960s and culminates in the utterly incoherent “Nixon Shock,” which was really designed as a quick-fix of the tanking US economy in time for the 1972 elections. The Nixon package was Keynesian and protectionist: tariffs, wage and price controls, abandonment of the gold guarantee for the Bretton-Woods dollar standard. Yet at the same time, it included an easy-money policy from the Federal Reserve (expansion of the money supply, low interest rates). What this did (after successfully getting Nixon reelected, at least) was to precipitate the end of the postwar system. It did so both by the abrogation of the Bretton Woods international order and by unleashing the stagflationary trend that is wrongly attributed to the 1973 oil embargo, since in fact it had begun before then. And what all that did, in its turn, was to open up the entire era of financialization, which was being pushed for in the ’60s by Milton Friedman (who had written a detailed letter to president-elect Nixon in January of 1969, urging the exit from Bretton-Woods). In my view, this whole crisis-phase is fundamentally incoherent, like the Nixon Shock itself: elements of the former order are collapsing under their own contradictions, and proposals such as Friedman’s run into sheer opportunism such as Nixon’s. However, the interesting stuff starts in 1971 when the system is clearly broken.

    –Phase two runs across the crisis of the 1970s, and includes a large number of as-yet uncoordinated efforts to respond. On the level of governance, the foundation of the Trilateral Commission is clearly the most significant operation, and the whole crucial point of the text above is that it is not an initiative of the state, as such, but rather a corporate class initiative aimed at broadening the scale and scope of governance to fit the new conditions. It could be said that the Trilateral Commission sought to constitute a global technocratic elite for the “technotronic era” that Brzezinski identifies in his infamous book. The sociological focus on interlocking memberships provides a good picture of how this elite (the future Transnational Capitalist Class) was being constructed. I think the really interesting thing, from that point forth, would be to extend the examination from the formal governance structures to the institutions of finance and the centers of intellectual production (universities and think tanks). In a city like Chicago it is possible to track a fairly clear interaction between the city’s financial core, basically around the derivatives markets, and the University of Chicago: not only Friedman, but also human-capital theorists around Gary Becker and neoliberal legal scholars around Richard Posner. The result there was a new institutionality of governance, whereby the societal effects of policy are measured and judged according to their ability to produce individual gains in markets (with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange ultimately emerging as a leading institution of today’s global governance). In this kind of analysis, epistemological and disciplinary work provides a foundation of legitimacy for concrete mechanisms of governance, whether these are located in the state sector properly speaking, or in the economic sector, or in others (cultural, military, etc, all of which show a tendency to be reconfigured according to economic logic). I have never done it, but it would be extremely interesting to examine the evolution of military thinking in this period, after the US defeat in Vietnam, and see if the seeds of the later “Revolution in Military Affairs” are not there. In any case, it’s clear that neoclassical economic logic, ultimately codified by Buchanan and Tullock’s “public choice theory,” provides the legitimate underpinning for the Trilateral Commission’s goal of reducing political conflict across the entire spectrum of governmental functions.

    –Phase three is the consolidation period of Neoliberal Informationalism, which takes place under Reagan and Thatcher. It is only at this point that the various trends and experiments and stop-gap measures of the ’70s begin to cohere into a new and recognizable system which could then be exported around the world in the course of the ’90s and the 2000s. The text above shows brilliantly how, during the Reagan Adminsitration in the US, the tissue of technocratic elites constituted by the Trilateral Commission (and by other, similar initiatives) gets welded into a polyarchical power structure with global reach. If you add the way that Paul Volcker engineered the sharp recession of the early 1980s in order to replace the US banking establishment at the center of a thoroughly financialized transnational economy, then the neoliberal cartography begins exactly here! You can see it extending in Europe just slightly later, with the “big bang” policy that effectively offshored and deregulated the City of London in 1986, and also the Single European Act of the same year, which set the stage for the Maastricht free market treaty of 1991. The 1980s is also the decade when Latin America emerged from the dictatorships and submitted to the new formulas imposed by democratic elites trained at Harvard, Stanford and Chicago, who accepted and imposed the so-called “Washington Consensus” of the ’90s. To all of this must be added the synergy between the development of computerized finance and Reagan’s hi-tech military programs (funded by the kind of debt financing that is uniquely possible in post-Bretton Woods USA). The “wired” (and fiber-optic cabled) world of the ’90s emerges from that background, with all the sophisticated social structures that went into building it, including quite revolutionary ones. I would like to go much further and see how this kind of technocratic mesh operates to simultaneously to integrate key elements of the unruly population, neutralizing their autonomy and functionalizing their efforts for the overall legitimacy of the system of governance. If we don’t know all this in detail, what can we do about its consequences?

    The crucial thing to realize – in my view at least, and I am curious what you think about it, Edmund – is that the current period, since 2008, marks the explicit crisis of this whole construction, which had begun seriously malfunctioning from the late ’90s onward. However, this does not appear to be the same kind of crisis as in the 1970s. Rather than the breakdown of an entire system, we seem to be looking at a “Neoliberalism 2.0” much like the “Civil Society 2.0” portrayed in a fascinating diagram above. There is an attempt to maintain the existing pattern of control by extending it and intensifying it. Now, that’s similar to what the Trilateral Commission was aiming at, and if you look closely, their efforts correspond more to an *inter*national “Keynesian Fordism 2.0” than to the *trans*national or imperial system that emerged from the consolidation phase of the 1980s. Similarly, what we see around us is an experimentation process whose aim, right now, is to extend and cement everything that worked in the 1990s. It’s not at all certain that results will match expectations. As in the interwar period of the ’20s and ’30s, the challenges to a global free-trade order – economic, military and ecological challenges – may be too great. And perhaps, too, resistance and alternative proposals will contribute toward steering the system into more viable directions than those suggested by a fully globalized, integrated and systematically policed technocratic market society.

    Basically, I don’t think we can even fully grasp the present crisis without clearing up the “opaque zone” under which the last one unfolded and was resolved. A cartography of neoliberalism is required in order to make visible what lies beyond it, including the new potentials of autonomy and of revolt. There’s a lot more to what we’ve been living through over the past thirty years than the exhilirating image of networks. This text makes a basic contribution toward dissolving the blur and revealing the socio-technical protocols that underlie it. Thanks! Great stuff! I look forward to what’s next.

    best, Brian

    • edmundberger says:

      Hi Brian, sorry for the delayed response, been a little and unexpectedly swamped this week. But I really like what you say here, and the ‘three phases’ is a great way to begin to break down this post (which may be a tad too long-winded) and provide necessary frameworks for continued study. I agreed that the first phase,the Nixon Shock and the subsequent end of the Bretton Woods/Fordist-Keynesian era is a confusing mess – the Shock is an utterly fascinating thing in itself, with its strange trajectory leading towards the neoliberal system while engaging in some of the most purely Keynesian measures that any president has enacted. If I remember correctly, did Friedman not urge Nixon to exit Bretton Woods, while simultaneously bemoaning the protectionist and regulatory measures? Truly a biopolar moment to kick off a dynamic transition!

      Speaking of bipolar, I think this is reflected in a good portion of early phase 2. As you say,

      “On the level of governance, the foundation of the Trilateral Commission is clearly the most significant operation, and the whole crucial point of the text above is that it is not an initiative of the state, as such, but rather a corporate class initiative aimed at broadening the scale and scope of governance to fit the new conditions. It could be said that the Trilateral Commission sought to constitute a global technocratic elite for the “technotronic era” that Brzezinski identifies in his infamous book.”

      I agree completely, and Brzezinski (next to David Rockefeller) is probably one of the most essential players at that stage, coming from the same grounds (CFR-Rockefeller-“Eastern Establishment” nexus) as Kissinger but looking towards the transnational instead of international world system. The Trilateral Commission, is without a doubt the first real evidence of the ‘transnational capitalism class’ as a technocratic power, and offers a good insight into how they interact with both political and business policy. At the same time, there are others that emerged alongside the Trilateral Commission, also worthy of scrutiny: the Club of Rome is a good example (though predating even the Nixon Shock), or more importantly, things like the Brandt Commission. Organizations like this drift to the left side of the spectrum, with the Club of Rome’s calls for curbing capitalist growth, or the Brandt Commission’s suggestions for a redistribution of money from the global north to the global south (after all, Willie Brandt at the time was head of the Socialist International, another group worth examining during these transitional years). The Trilateral Commission in many ways reflected this trend as well, particularly in its report “Continuity and Change in the Industrial Relations Systems in Western Europe,” which promoted a kind of capitalist-led social democracy – free trade and opened borders existing alongside progressive unionism, price controls,and heavy tax regimes. Calls for a social democracy based on cooperation found themselves sitting very easily aside the profoundly anti-democratic attitudes espoused by other parts of Trilateral Commission, as reflected in Huntington’s “Crisis of Democracies.” All of this seems to also be found in the way the NED carried out its operations in the 1980s: pushing (except in certain cases) for centrist or even center-left governance systems. It makes sense though, given the NED’s extended network – the AFL-CIO and its close relationship to the Trilateral Commission, or the SD/USA, which maintained membership within the Socialist International, even as it transformed into a consortium of right-wing proto-neoonservatives.

      But I agreed, it would be extremely enlightening to move beyond the governing institutions and look at early transnational networks operated in the realm of finance and think-tanks (which themselves interlock with governing structures, frequently in advising positions or middle-level policy circles). Holly Sklar’s edited volume on the Trilateral Commission starts this work an extensive “who’s who” of the organization that shows each members various affiliations. More work would be needed, of course, to extend this into examining how intellectual change itself was created. The way the Mont Pelerein Society’s think-tank network helped foster the neoliberal revolution is well documented, but its only part of the story. The early TCC, it seems to me, is another vital part which is just now starting to be documented. What you describe with the Chicago system is a perfect framework for studying these trajectories.

      This, in turn, sets off the developments in the third wave: institutional networking becoming an intellectual and political hegemony, the “Washington Consensus.” Different approaches and angles have been utilized in examining this area – Reagan’s hardline anti-communism and its relationship to far-right domestic networks, “Star Wars,” the assault on unionism, deregulation, the return of protectionism, the democracy promoting agencies, the Ether coalescing into the “Wired” world of the “New Economy,” etc. Yet I don’t think any of these things can be properly isolated from one another, for they all interchange and feed into one to the next.

      “The crucial thing to realize – in my view at least, and I am curious what you think about it, Edmund – is that the current period, since 2008, marks the explicit crisis of this whole construction, which had begun seriously malfunctioning from the late ’90s onward. However, this does not appear to be the same kind of crisis as in the 1970s. Rather than the breakdown of an entire system, we seem to be looking at a “Neoliberalism 2.0″ much like the “Civil Society 2.0″ portrayed in a fascinating diagram above. There is an attempt to maintain the existing pattern of control by extending it and intensifying it.”

      Its a great question, and one difficult to answer! We are certainly seeing a “reemergence” of control (as if it ever went away!), as the systems move away from the libertarian rhetoric of neoliberal capitalism and into a state where compounding precarities threaten the fabric of the system. The mass divisions in the political systems – I’m thinking of American here – complicates this even more, as there is no unified coalition to drive the next transformation. The center-left, the ‘new progressives’ that drive the Democrat Party, are shifting perpetually, but ultimately I think they could be understood as an approach that does not forsake the neoliberal system in a transnational sense, but blends it with a muted securitized neo-Keynesianism to manage affairs on the domestic front. This brings to mind the Keynesianism-Fordism 2.0 that you mention above, and it seems to one that will attempt to regulate world order not through new transnational economic institutions (those this has been put on the table, with whole “Bretton Woods 2” thing, which didn’t really take off), but through the pre-existing organizations and militarized humanitarianism.

      The New-New Right, on the other hand, is an equal potpourri that wavers between a commitment to the transnational system and a cultural-social-military isolationism. Fragments on the right want protectionism and an escape from the transnational system, but I don’t see that happening; all this is bundled up under knee-jerk reactions to Obama policies and the schizophrenic nature of the subsequent Tea Party movement. Religious fundamentalism in America still plays a critical role in right-wing governance, but there has been a shift towards the “libertarian” side of the alliance, thanks in no small part to the networks of think-tanks, forums, and astro-turfing organizations out there, many of which receive Koch Brothers funding.

      Furthermore, we could mixtures of each approach, or oscillations from one to the next with the passing of the office of the presidency between the different parties. But of course, neither system is desirable or even sustainable, as crisis accelerate in numbers and their effects amplify – like cascades washing the face of the world. This is why posing alternatives to the two-party gridlock is essential in America, but even more so is generating knowledge and critical mass on the bankruptcy of the entire order. And this, I agree, can only be done with a critical appraisal of the entirety of what we perhaps mistakenly (due to its size, variants, and multitude of scales) call “neoliberalism.”

  2. noir-realism says:

    Hey Buddy… as I read this I almost felt deja vu, the reemergence of those strange monstrosities we used to term the grand narratives of history, this post among others is becoming a part of some deep investigation into The Secret History of Capitalism as we have come to know it under the hood. With each post you seem to bring to light bits and pieces of the pie that is this strange beast. The questions I ask: What methodology would be needed to weave this strange history without sliding into the abyss of crank conspiracy theoretic? How to pull those threads into an architectonic plot narrative that is guided by that rhizomian method D & G favor? How not to be bogged down by too much factual knowledge getting in the way of the actual philosophical message? Crafting a set of metaphors and tools for your own project that no longer feed on so many other philosophers eclectically? Honing down what your project is about to a narrow but manageable focus for a book length portrayal.

    You are great at commentary and making connections that go unnoticed yet there seems to be a sense of almost decadent too muchness, as if the weight of the facts is almost too much for the structure of the work in progress. Maybe a search for the structure and theme that would focus in on the core aspects of the investigation of this group. Not sure, but feel that you should focus into a narrower core of problems before it expands into chaos dragging you with it. Social commentary is a difficult art and you are doing it just right. Keep it up!

    • edmundberger says:

      Hello Noir, good to hear from you, and thank you for your kind words about what could honestly be deemed an experiment in excess.

      I think you raise a lot of good points in what you say here, and as I’m sure you’ve notice I’ve taken a bit of a sabbatical from the blogosphere. Partly, I haven’t had much time to comment in the digital realm, but also, I needed to time recharge, read, reflect, and crank out writings that go nowhere. Essentially, to think about my project(s) and the direction they will go in. The thing is that plotting a course is only a halfway endeavor, and shifts as easily as the wind.

      It seems to me that we’re moving in the midst of a period of significant transformation in the fabric of capitalism and world order, one kicked off by the financial crisis and the subsequent cycles of response, compounded by technical acceleration, and shifted by the long-term loss of legitimacy of the American government on the world state. Metaphors like Empire and deterritorialization, molar, molecular, Biopower, Spectacle, all still seem equitable to me; hell, they seem to make more sense now than in the eras when they were first drafted. But the ultimate question, to me at least, is where we are going, and how can we chart out this virtual terrain, both in terms on what is likely to come in the stark structural terms of economics and governance, but also look those non-structural elements: affective experience, the ebb and flow of resistance, lines of flight, the haunting possibility of a New Earth or even a temporary autonomous zone. Deleuze said that this was the role of philosophy, to try and stake out those far-off territories through creative action. I think historical analysis is also a requirement here, and a dialogue must be opened up between history and philosophy.

      How does one strike a balance between the verticalism of genealogy and the rhizomatics that experimental philosophy and art demand? Without drifting into a monstrosity of thought, can we properly walk with one foot in a fixed territory of the past and the other in abstraction? Perhaps it is best to render it a geology, but a geology of Control is a magnificent task; one could fill the Library of Babel with reflections. And crafting that task moves in a time of its own.

      Luckily, I think I’m close to that honed down focus, the essential narrative thread. Updated metaphors are largely yet to come, but it seems to me that building spaces, in the physical world as much as the virtual, where information and knowledge can unfold without spiraling into a chaotic overload, is essential: somewhere that one can bring realizations up from murky depths.

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