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CCS-Brazilian collaboration at the 2014 BRICS Summit, 14-16 July in Fortaleza

Ana Garcia and Patrick Bond

The relative economic decline of the United States, Europe and Japan is often linked to the rise of an ‘emerging’ bloc comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. In 2013, meetings of BRICS leaders in Durban, South Africa, and St. Petersburg, Russia announced dissatisfaction with the Bretton Woods Institutions and the intention to create a BRICS New Development Bank, with capital of $50 billion, and launch a Contingent Reserve Arrangement with $100 billion. A Brazilian directs the World Trade Organization and tries to break persistent blockages between the US and EU that hinder the growth of global trade, and Chinese and Indian economists occupy a second tier of the bureaucracies in the World Bank and IMF. Meanwhile, several members of the BRICS have resisted demands by Western countries to impose stricter intellectual property controls and, in 2013, some leaders of the BRICS boldly challenged Washington on issues like the revelations of espionage, the asylum of the whistleblower Edward Snowden and Washington’s proposed bombing of Syria. Recently, in March 2014, the BRICS implicitly supported Russia in the conflict over Crimea, which had led the G7 to impose sanctions and expel Moscow (Putin had originally been scheduled to host the G8 meeting in Sochi). The foreign ministers of the BRICS threatened to withdraw from the G20 summit in Australia if it were to become a G19 without Russia. These incidents suggest the possibility that at least two of the BRICS - China and Russia - can confidently take a stand against the Western powers. In May 2014, they signed a historic agreement to supply Russian gas to China using local currencies not the US$, seeking to partially reduce Russia’s dependence on sales to the European market.

At the same time, the underlying BRICS project has much in common with the Western status quo regarding the stabilization of the financial world, generating additional capacities of ‘lender of last resort’ (e.g. providing a liquidity injection to the IMF worth $75 billion in 2012). BRICS still provides a sustained demand for the US dollar, despite monetary turbulence due to Federal Reserve policies. And BRICS countries promote an extractive, high-carbon economic model which threatens to amplify the catastrophic environmental and social destruction of advanced capitalism. The role of the BRICS in the de facto derailing of the Kyoto Protocol to limit climate change is revealing: Russia endorsed the Treaty in 2005 but withdrew in 2012, while in 2009 the other BRICS leaders joined Barack Obama to promote the Copenhagen Accord in behind-the-scenes negotiations, rejecting a mandatory limit on emissions. The surveillance of citizens seems as severe in the BRICS countries as in the Anglophone West, in a style reminiscent of George Orwell’s ‘1984’. The criminalization of social movements and the oppression of dissidents are even worse. The economic and political domination by their less-developed neighbours is a growing concern, leading critics to postulate the incorporation of sub-imperialist BRICS into world capitalism, as Ruy Mauro Marini wrote regarding the position of Brazil 40 years ago.

However, the extreme contradictions that characterize all the BRICS have created incisive forms of social resistance, including some of the largest protests in the world. Mega-projects are manifestations of the pro-corporate economic growth model, resulting in serious environmental destruction in these countries. Fortaleza hosts the BRICS Summit in July 2014, two days after the World Cup. This city was one target of protests against excessive government spending, against FIFA’s non-payment of taxes and overturning of Brazilian legislation, and against social inequalities and the lack of quality public services. Police crackdowns across Brazil entailed grave violations of human rights.

Other profound challenges come from Russia, not only as a result of the expansion to Ukraine, but also the repression of protests. Civil society has responded to this authoritarianism with a democracy movement in late 2011, a freedom of expression struggle involving a rock band in 2012, the movement for gay rights in 2013, and anti-war protests in March and May 2014. In India, activists have shaken the power structure by mobiising against corruption in 2011/12 and against a rape and murder in late 2012, and then surprised society in the Delhi municipal elections of 2013 by voting in an anti-establishment political party of the left. In China, activists have increased the number of protests over pollution, for example in April 2014, when protests arose against a paraxylene factory in Guandong. Just as important are the struggles of workers, such as recent strikes against Nike and Adidas. In South Africa, the so-called ‘resource curse’ (the abundance of minerals whose exploitation could have serious social and environmental impacts) helps explain what may be one of the highest rates of protest worldwide. Certainly, the labour movement deserves the rating given by the World Economic Forum as the most militant working class the world over the past two years. But many protests in South Africa, including those on approximately 1880 occasions last year which turned violent (according to the Minister of Police), still fail to connect with each other and to establish a democratic movement (although the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa are trying to change this through their ‘United Front’ initiative).

In all these cases, activists and protesters depart from the rhetoric of the BRICS governments, who promise a ‘great future’ for their countries by following the current trajectory, especially in alliance with one another. There is not a consistent approach between activists; the progressive forces in each country operate still unaware of possible concrete links with other movements in the other BRICS countries, and in the hinterlands. The central question that arises now is to what extent the social struggles in each of the BRICS countries might turn into links of solidarity between peoples on the basis of reversing the path of the elites and creating paths for another kind of development.

This connection between the struggles and collective experiences of resistance and construction of alternatives is what we call ‘brics from below’. If we look at the various stances taken towards BRICS using a class analysis, we can discern some rough ideological positions towards this bloc of countries. The positions can be distingued as ‘Brics from above’ (the position of government and corporate bodies), ‘Brics from the middle’ (the position of some academics, thinktanks and some NGOs), ‘brics from below’ (grassroots social movements that can create common bonds of struggle and transnational solidarity), and, finally, those looking at BRICS from a pro-Western corporate perspective. The latter are adherents to the old capitalist order based on US hegemony, and fear the rise of the BRICS. We describe these positions, with three nuanced perspectives in the main categories, in the box below, based on the experiences in South Africa:


1. BRICS FROM ABOVE – heads of state, corporates and elite allies

  • 1.1 BRICS as anti-imperialist: foreign ministry rhetoric – ‘Talk Left, Walk Right’ – based upon national-liberation traditions, with some concrete actions, such as opposition to Intellectual Property applied to medicines, especially anti-retrovirals,

  • 1.2 BRICS as sub-imperialist: relegitimisation of ‘globalisation,’ lubricating neoliberalism in – and exploiting – BRICS hinterlands, intensifying structural exploitation of poor/workers/women/nature on behalf of global/local capital, ensuring maximum greenhouse gas emissions alongside BASIC/US no matter the local/continental/global consequences, and even sometimes playing a ‘deputy sheriff’ role to world hegemons

  • 1.3 BRICS as inter-imperialist: potential new internet delinked from the US; promotion of Putin v Obama in September 2013 at G20; and backing Russia in Crimea/Ukraine conflict

  • 2. Brics-from-the-Middle – Academic Forum, intellectuals, trade unions, NGOs

  • 2.1 pro-BRICS advocates:
  • most of Academic Forum, most establishment ‘think tanks’, and others (including leftists) with hopes BRICS can more effectively challenge global injustices

  • 2.2 wait-and-see about BRICS:
  • most NGOs and their funders – as well as most ‘Third Worldist’ intellectuals – who wish for BRICS to become ‘anti-impi’ at UN, Bretton Woods Institutions and with New Development Bank and Contingent Reserve Arrangement, etc

  • 2.3 critics of BRICS:
  • those associated with brics-from-below networks who consider BRICS to be ‘sub-impis’ and sometimes also ‘inter-impis’

  • 3. brics-from-below
  • – grassroots activists whose visions run local to global

  • 3.1 localist:
  • stuck within local or sectoral silos, including myriad momentary ‘popcorn protests’ – even some against BRICS corporations or projects – that are insurgent, unstrategic, at constant risk of becoming xenophobic, and prone to populist demagoguery

  • 3.2 nationally-bound:
  • most civil society activists who are vaguely aware of BRICS and are hostile to it, yet they are so bound up in national and sectoral battles – most of which counteract BRICS’ agenda – that they fail to link up even in areas that would serve their interests

  • 3.3 solidaristic-internationalist:
  • ‘global justice movement’ allies aspiring for joint campaigning for human and ecological rights against common BRICS enemies such as Vale, China Development Bank, DBSA, Transnet/mega-shipping, fossil fuel corporations and other polluters, coming BRICS Development Bank – or providing solidarity to allies across the BRICS when they are repressed

    4. pro-West business – most organic intellectuals of business connected to Old Money, multinational-corporate branch plants, northern-centric institutions and political parties, and their ilk, all increasingly worried that BRICS may act as a coherent anti-Western bloc some day

    From this attempt to organise ideological positioning, it is possible to identify a variety of analyses of this group of countries. Recall that the first appearance of the acronym BRIC was in 2001, offered by Jim O’Neil of Goldman Sachs to identify promising markets for its financial investors. There were those who discredited the bloc as something incoherent that would not last, arguing that these countries have nothing in common with each other. Others have considered these countries as a possible threat to US hegemony, aspiring to have more power and participation in the international order, with demands to the traditional powers to adjust rules and standards accordingly. Others have celebrated the rise of the BRICS as the democratization of the world order, without which it will be impossible to find solutions to the global financial crisis which began in the US.

    Because of the BRICS’ importance, funding agencies, especially in core countries, began to allocate resources to projects and academic papers on the topic, and the BRICS also supported alliances of generally pro-government academics and thinktanks. The collection of texts gathered in this special issue of World Tensions aims to fill a gap in studies, events and documents dealing with BRICS: critical analysis of the rise of these economies within the framework of a global capitalism that is increasingly predatory, exclusionary and unequal, no more so than in the BRICS themselves. We take up the challenge of bringing together a set of articles from different approaches, helping to reflect upon the rise of a ‘Global South (and East),’ which is sometimes cooperative and sometimes antagonistic to the traditional powers (US, Europe and Japan). Most importantly, BRICS’ rise occurs in the context of the expansion and deepening of capitalism in the 21st century, and also in the midst of world capitalism’s worst crisis since the 1930s. The point of critical analysis is to thereby strengthen networks of resistance and help build a transnational solidarity towards a ‘brics from below’.

    Thus, two goals were established for this special edition. The first is to bring together analyses that prompt debate between social movements, organised labour and other activists in the struggle for social justice and for alternatives to the current international capitalist order. BRICS is a new area of concern for many of the anti-neoliberal social movements. The second goal is to generate critical academic debate involving contemporary themes and theoretical discussions, such as whether BRICS represent cases of sub-imperialism, neo-developmentalism and extraction. We seek contributions from all five BRICS countries, as well as the hinterland neighbouring countries, and we will initially present our findings through this journal at the summit of the BRICS in Fortaleza, Brazil.

    These objectives have been largely achieved. A first set of articles discusses the categories of imperialism, sub-imperialism and capital-imperialism. Mathias Luce revisits the Ruy Mauro Marini formulations within the Marxist theory of dependence. The author develops a comprehensive theory of sub-imperialism as the ‘highest stage of dependent capitalism.’ This results in a new hierarchy in the world system, with intermediate links in the imperialist chain, a position held especially by Brazil, South Africa and India. According Luce, China, and Russia cannot be characterised similarly. Virgínia Fontes is already working with a new category, the imperialism of capital, in order to understand the transformations of contemporary capitalism and its new economic, political and social contradictions. For Fontes, the dominance exercised by the core countries must be understood not as something external, but internalized in other countries, with BRICS countries revealing a subordinate membership within capital-imperialist expansion. Leo Panitch, in turn, supports the thesis of an informal US empire when analysing the position of BRICS countries, particularly China.

    According to Panitch, Washington’s informal empire was responsible for the extension and reproduction of capitalism on a global scale, with strong support from foreign capitalist classes. Thus, the integration of large states of the South in global capitalism both intensified and complicated the imperial responsibilities of the United States. The most important conflicts in the world today occur not between rival imperial states, he argues, but between fractions of the capitalist class, within states. Finally, Pedro Henrique Campos considers the evolution of the internationalization of the Brazilian construction conglomerate. For him, the thesis of the Brazilian sub-imperialism is not sufficient to explain this sector’s internationalization, since it is not the narrowness of the market that explains the performance of companies abroad, but the experience and high capacity of capital developed in Brazil, before and especially during the civil-military dictatorship. This is due to the state’s broad support and encouragement, and it occurs mainly in priority regions for Brazilian foreign policy, such as South America and Africa.

    This leads us to a second set of articles on corporate and political expansion of BRICS in Africa. Two papers are by Brazilian researchers. Maurice Gurjão and Monica Martins discuss Brazilian foreign policy towards Africa during the Lula government in its duality: on the one hand, the cooperative face materialized in initiatives such as the African-Brazilian Lusophone University of International Integration (Unilab) and transfer programs knowledge; another is the dominant face, revealed by Brazil’s interest in expanding political leadership and the predation of Brazilian companies in African countries. Ana Garcia and Karina Kato explore Brazilian insertions in Angola and Mozambique through BNDES financing, direct investment from private and public companies, and the policies of ‘development cooperation’. The authors emphasize three themes: the identification of priority sectors and their institutional arrangements; the unique role of the state in each of these countries and the ambiguous relationship and conflict with Brazilian actors and projects; and new forms of ‘South-South debt’ generated from these transactions, with consequences for the economies of African countries. From a Southern African perspective, Baruti Amisi, Bobby Peek and Farai Maguwu expound on the role of the BRICS in Africa, especially Mozambique and Zimbabwe, mainly through investment opportunities in the extractive sector and large infrastructure projects, with adverse impacts on societies and the environment. According to the authors, the BRICS New Development Bank will aim to give coherence to such investment imperatives. The ‘resource curse’ is evident in that the BRICS elites, both political leaders and corporations, are allies in the local ruling classes.

    A third group of articles deals with the conflicting operations of companies in the extractive sector - oil, gas and mining - originating in the BRICS. Judith Marshall offers a comprehensive analysis of the overall performance of the Brazilian mining company Vale and its impacts on workers and communities in Canada, Mozambique and Brazil itself. According to the author, the behaviour of Vale exemplifies the worst tendencies of large mining companies all over the world, and contributes to global tensions by increasing the gap between rich and poor, along with environmental degradation. Igor Fuser assesses the prevailing interpretations in Brazil regarding the dispute between Petrobras and the Bolivian government, triggered by the nationalization of gas by the government of Evo Morales, newly elected in 2006. There is a mythical interpretation of the Brazilian state, as having an attitude of ‘generosity’ in external relations at the regional level. Finally, Omar Bonilla provides Ecuadorian perspective on the geopolitics of oil in relation to Chinese oil companies, which have adapted quickly to policy changes in the Andean region. However, little has been done to comply with national and international human rights standards. In Ecuador, Chinese companies have contributed significantly to the expansion of extractive frontier, mainly in Yasuní National Park, showing little interest in improving the working conditions and responsibility to workers and former workers. Reliance on fossil energy resources and the extractive industry economy was also the focus of analysis by two important international Marxist scholars. Elmar Altvater points to the limits of nature and eco-systems in the gradual liberalization of the market. According to the author, the world is now divided into strong nation-states that are using geo-engineering schemes, information policies and climate policy. Trade blocs are increasingly transformed into markets to suit the needs of the largest corporations, and these blocs function as protectorates, including more or less informal alliances such as the BRICS. But the neo-extractivist development strategy has serious limitations, especially in relation to the many small countries whose influence in the contemporary world is small. Next, James Petras offers a strong criticism of successive Brazilian governments, from the civil-military dictatorship, to the neoliberal period of Cardoso, and even to the supposedly progressive Workers Party governments of Lula and Rousseff. Petras shows how Brazil has become a major exporter of extractive industry products, prompted by the massive penetration of imperial multinational companies and the financial flows of foreign banks. Thus, there was a ‘great reversal’: a dynamic country with a nationalist industrialization project has become a nation vulnerable to imperialism, dependent upon agro-mineral extraction momentum, thus generating new political and class struggles.

    Two important themes point to possible links between social movements of the BRICS. The first is related to the tendency of the BRICS countries to host mega-events such as the Olympic Games and soccer World Cup. Einar Braathen, Celina Sørbøe and Gilmar Mascarenhas discuss the allocation of resources for high mega-events in countries whose institutional capacity to protect human rights and the environment is still fragile. In the context of neoliberal global competition among countries, the authors show how what they term ‘cities of exception’ are sold as ‘global cities’. Exemplified in Rio de Janeiro, these cities seek to build coalitions between government and companies seeking ‘opportunities for urban entrepreneurialism’. The FIFA 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics are creating a social backlash and the social sensibility that even the poorest people have a ‘right to the city’.
    Another current issue that can link dissident voices across borders is the creation of the BRICS New Development Bank. In a brief but assertive analysis, Carlos Tautz criticises undemocratic aspects of the construction of this new financial institution of the ‘South’. The new bank has been the subject of debate and intervention by only a small number of civil society organizations and academics. According to the author, this condition increases the gap between society and substantive decisions that shape the pattern of accumulation in Brazil and other countries where the bank comes to acting. At the same time, the bank (along with the Contingent Reserve Arrangement) institutionally consolidates the BRICS grouping itself, increasing the complexity of the relationships between the five countries. The creation of the BRICS Bank, and its priority to build ‘infrastructure for sustainable development’ in Africa (following a decision made in Durban), is part of the project also found in the large multilateral funding agencies. Financiers are opening another international round of credit for large projects in economic infrastructure. In 2013, the World Bank created the Global Infrastructure Facility (GIF). It is on this terrain that the BRICS Bank will want to move, i.e., in complete harmony with the current international architecture of development finance and without any room for anti-systemic movement. Tautz points to the need for international civil society to ensure that funding criteria include consideration of a wide range of rights. This is a unique opportunity, as important as what emerged at the time of the creation of the IMF or World Bank, or even the BNDES in Brazil.

    Beyond economic issues, this special edition of World Tensions also considers a controversial topic, namely the prospects of military cooperation between the BRICS. Luiz Goldoni and Domingos Neto provide important data about how military ordnance and development projects are designed together. These are subjects that are vital, yet still little known and rarely discussed in social movements and by critical academics. The authors contend that, in conjunction with long-standing rivalries, such initiatives may well lead to the redrawing of the geopolitical map, especially in Eurasia. The BRICS’ military success, even if partial, would help end the military hegemony exercised by the industrialized Western powers, but potentially at the expense of new interimperial rivalry.

    This special edition of World Tensions on the BRICS has the greatest weight of contributions from Brazil and South Africa, partly as a result of the recent summits in these countries. Still, we are fortunate to have an excellent article by the novelist Arundhati Roy, who sees Indian capitalism as a ‘ghost story’. The privatization of everything means that corruption is the new ‘conventional wisdom’ for the accumulation of capital. This requires a war waged by the ruling class against the forces of resistance, including a Maoist army which controls much of central India. Across India, mega-projects such as large dams and industrial parks, highways and urban sprawl are creating a ‘good investment climate’, but the forced removal of millions of people will not be easily achieved. Corporations benefit, but even their most sophisticated philanthropy, or their alliances with NGOs, cannot eradicate popular opposition. With capitalism in deep crisis and the very survival of the planet at stake, the old strategies of co-optation and war will not work.
    Finally, a group of short papers reveal different positions on the BRICS. These contributions include analyses of Immanuel Wallerstein, William Robinson, Susanne Soederberg, Sam Moyo and Paris Yeros, and Achin Vanaik. Here, a Russian contribution comes from a researcher of the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements in Moscow, Anna Ochkina. She points to the contradictory situation in the BRICS, in which the growth of counter-hegemonic economic and cultural potential (at least in the case of Russia and China) is not accompanied by the development of democratic political traditions or mass involvement of people in political life through self-organization. As a result, in these countries, neoliberalism - even destroying the accumulated economic and cultural potential - produces high levels of social tension, but does not generate a conscious social resistance. The elites of the BRICS co-exist comfortably within the system and are not interested in risking this situation, even when they have global political ambitions. According to Ochkina, this loyalty to global economic institutions is seen as a guarantee of a country’s international status, which is why BRICS remain a ‘ghost’ instead of a true partnership. Thus, we hope to contribute to the debate between social movements and critical scholars, both in and outside Brazil.

    We thank greatly to all authors who have contributed to this special issue of World Tensions, considerably raising the quality of the discussions about the BRICS. We are also grateful to Camilla Costa, from the Centre for Nationalities, research network headquartered at the State University of Ceará, and Boaventura Monjane, from the Centre for Civil Society, University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, whose work enabled the Portuguese translation of this publication. Our final thanks to the Ford Foundation which, through the ‘Brics from below’ project at the Centre for Civil Society, supported much of this work.

    A. G.
    P. B.
    Rio de Janeiro, Durban
    June 2014

    BRICS: Progressive Rhetoric, Neoliberal Practice

    More at The Real News

    All the governments behind the New Development Bank practice intense neoliberalism
    Patrick Bond interviewed on the Real News Network 21 July 2014

    PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay. And welcome to another edition of The Bond Report with Patrick Bond, who now joins us from South Africa.

    Patrick is the director of the Center for Civil Society and professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. He's the author of the recently released book, written with John Saul, South Africa: The Present as History.

    Thanks for joining us, Patrick.

    PATRICK BOND, DIRECTOR, CENTRE FOR CIVIL SOCIETY: Great to be back with you. Thanks, Paul.

    JAY: So you just get back to South Africa. You were in Brazil, where the BRICS countries were meeting. And what is it? Brazil, India--[incompr.] go in order, I guess--Brazil, Russia, India, South Africa. What am I--who am I missing? China, of course. And the headline coming out of those meetings was they're founding this new international development bank that's going to be funded with $50 billion for development money and something like $100 billion for reserves in case there's financial crisis, to help bail certain countries out.

    And there's been a debate--we've had one on The Real News, and it's lots of differing opinions around the world--on the significance of all of this. And there seems to be two schools of thought, which is, one, that these BRICS countries that are now very big--the South-to-South trade is now larger than the North-to-South trade, I think by $2.2 trillion I saw in The Washington Post. They're very big economies. They're all of the top ten economies in the world. And that this is a move by them to break away from U.S. financial hegemony, break away from the global finance system dominated by the IMF, World Bank, which, of course, are controlled by the Americans. The other school of thought is this is, within the context of the U.S. managed/dominated global finance system, carving out just a little bit of independent space. So talk--you were at these brick meetings. What's your take on this?

    BOND: Yes, indeed, you've nailed it. The question simply is: are the BRICS and anti-imperialist force potentially, especially on the world financial scene, and maybe with geopolitics, many aspects, from the United Nations to territorial contestations, expansionism. Is this is this an anti-imperialist, maybe inter-imperialist rivalry? Or is it, as the great Brazilian Ruy Mauro Marini put it 40 years ago a sub-imperialist project? In other words, is it not against world capitalism but within? And, as the Chinese news agency announced when the BRICS Bank came about this week, this is to stabilize the world economic order. And that's my impression. I know we've seen on The Real News a wonderful debate with Michael Hudson and Leo Panitch.

    My sense is that because so much of what the Chinese do (the biggest economy in the BRICS, second in the world) is to use their incredible [incompr.] over $3 trillion of reserves to continue to bail out the U.S. dollar and United States government by buying Treasury bills--and there's never intent to end that. There's a little bit of an easing of dollar buying and deals with Russia recently that entail non-dollar energy-based purchases.

    However, the New Development Bank, the $50 billion bank that could go a hundred plus the $100 billion contingent reserve arrangement, they are being reported by some to be the alternative to Bretton Woods institutions the World Bank and IMF that--everyone we talked to from the official delegations who came to the Civil Society summit to brief many of the NGOs and social movements did confirm that these would be complementary institutions. They would operate under what are called sound banking principles. And every president we've seen in these countries, the five BRICS countries with their own development banks, show that they are indeed very much part of a neoliberal, extractivist, export-oriented, and overconsumptionist to model. They aren't really going to break and do anything new the way the Bank of the South was purported by Hugo Chavez before he died as a much richer reform that would have really set up an alternative [crosstalk]

    JAY: Yeah, I don't quite understand how one would think they're going to be anti-neoliberal, when all of these countries are as neoliberal as any other neoliberal country domestically, internally--I mean, you could say maybe slightly different in Brazil and maybe not as extreme in Brazil, although a lot of Brazilians think it is, but how could they be anti-liberal when they won't make any--they don't try to--for example, they're privatizing like crazy domestically, wages are low, I mean, on and on.

    BOND: That's right. I mean, the only big difference with the pure neoliberal agenda is that at least in a couple of the cases [incompr.] quite substantial state involvement in promoting a quite predatory extractive capitalism. We've certainly seen on this continent, Africa, the worst of many of these countries, the Brazilians with Vale, the big mining house in Mozambique next-door here, the South Africans all over the continent and the Chinese quite notorious for doing deals with dictators simply to extract raw materials and to put infrastructure in place, the same that the old colonial powers did [incompr.] roads and dams and railroads, the bridges, the ports, basically to get the minerals and the petroleum and the cash crops out of the country. Russia's also coming in in a big way [crosstalk]

    JAY: Just let me add to the Vale story in terms of this, the way the sub-imperialism works. Vale also owns the biggest nickel mine in Canada, Inco, and essentially forced the workers after a strike that lasted almost a year into a very concessionary contract, which starts to push the Inco workers, Sudbury Canadian workers closer to conditions that are in developing countries. I mean, Vale is a mining powerhouse all over the world and mostly owned by Brazilians.

    BOND: Yes. And the encouraging thing, especially coming from some of the Canadian activists and connecting in through the United Steelworkers, is a North-supported South-South campaign against Vale that links up African and Latin American parts of Asia where this big company's very active. And I feel that would be the future of BRICS--BRICS from below, let's call it--of solidaristic work, where increasingly not just Western corporate targets and the IMF and World Bank, but now also some of the major Southern targets are those that in common are displacing peasants and wrecking the environment and basically dislodging any national autonomy for an autonomous development, because they are really replacing, in many cases, the West. They're becoming the same neocolonial kinds of forces that so many people have struggled against. And just because it's from the South and because there's a lot of leftist rhetoric, especially anti-imperialist chatter about the IMF being controlled by the United States, that doesn't mean that we're going to see a gentler and kinder kind of economic development, but indeed all the evidence so far here in Africa is that this is more extreme, uneven, and combined development visited upon people and environment by BRICS-country corporations.

    JAY: So let's assume that this is not--this BRICS development, the new bank, it's not anti-capitalist, it's not anti-neoliberal, it goes along with the current form of global finance capitalism. But that doesn't mean they don't want to make some room between themselves and U.S. domination. It doesn't mean that Russia and China, you know, which are very big economies, especially--as you said, China is number two now, and I guess it's not going to be that long before it's the largest economy in the world--don't want to get pushed around anymore within that system. And this was a bit of what Michael Hudson's point was. I think it was--we may go back with those two guys again so we can get a chance to develop it further. But, I mean, World War II, the countries that fought World War II were all part of global capitalism. It didn't stop them from going to war with each other.

    BOND: Well, that's the question: will there be inter-imperial rivalries from what is currently a fairly coordinated set of contributions from these five countries to stabilizing world capitalism? One example is the $75 billion that just two years ago the BRICS together, mostly China, contributed to recapitalizing the International Monetary Fund. Now, what they expected, just as you say, is a bigger piece of the pie, a seat at the table. They got that seat, for example, in the Copenhagen Accord, where four of the five BRICS (not Russia, but they were soon to join), they basically endorsed Barack Obama's plan, which left the UN powerless and had voluntary emissions cuts, which aren't really happening and ensure that a kind of [war on?] four degrees--in other words, it was an awful deal, and Obama needed those four of the five BRICS to facilitate and to re-legitimize this most destructive type of capitalism, fossil-fuel addicted. I think what the BRICS want is a little more respect. And in January this year, the International Monetary Fund could not reform, because in the U.S. Senate, the Republicans wouldn't allow them to basically get more voting share.

    The problem is that when you see the voting share rise from China, you know, you have to say, well, who's losing? And it's indeed Africa. And then you see the kinds of technocrats that all of the BRICS countries contribute to multilateral governance, and they're basically neoliberals themselves. Certainly the South Africans--Trevor Manuel, the finance minister for many years, has often been mooted as an IMF managing director or a World Bank president candidate, and he's about as neoliberal as you come.

    JAY: Okay. So let's say that they are as neoliberal as they come. But at the geopolitical level--like, for example, let's take the leadup to the war in Iraq. Now, France is not part of BRICS, but France, for its own reasons, its own interests, stood up to the United States at the UN Security Council in quite an interesting way. So did some of the other countries. I mean, China, I think, actually could've been, certainly, bolder than they were, but they couldn't get--the Americans couldn't get the votes they wanted to give a clear-cut authorization of the Iraq War. It didn't stop them from doing it illegally anyway, but it was an important moment. And with an institution like this new bank, and perhaps even building on that--for example, right now there's the sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine. There's a story in The New York Times today that it's not going to have that much effect. One of the major Russian oil companies was targeted for sanctions, and one of the sanctions was going to make it more difficult for it to get capital in the Western capital markets. And now, apparently, they're just going to borrow the money from the Chinese, and so the sanction's not going to affect it as much. So I guess my question is is that within this context of global and neoliberal capitalism, getting to a more multipolar world, getting to a point where some of these other bigger powers can push back against the United States, which clearly is the biggest military operation on the planet and is the one that keeps starting major war after major war, is this--whatever room they can create for themselves, isn't this a good thing?

    BOND: Well, it could be if the modus operandi operates in a way that reduces U.S. power systematically. But as we've seen, when there are inter-imperial rivalries, that can often lead to a much more dangerous outcome. For example, the way to handle the kinds of pressures that the U.S. puts on other countries--the coalition of the willing, certainly, in the UN Security Council in 2003, the U.S. was unable to get authorization, because the Chinese and Russians and French wouldn't support--they would veto the approval. But, you know, in May they then approved that the U.S. could run Iraq, having invaded it.

    What was interesting this week on that front was that the UN Security Council reforms that are being proposed for many years to widen up the permanent members with a veto to move from five to ten by adding three BRICS--South Africa, Brazil, and India, as well as Germany and Japan--those ideas, which you'd have thought perhaps China and Russia would have supported to get more of their allies on board in the Security Council, they didn't. It was quite a revealing memorandum that was released at the end of the BRICS summit in which the BRICS only said that it would be an increased role for the these other three smaller countries, as opposed to China and Russia.

    JAY: So this inter-imperialist rivalry is even amongst the BRICS countries. And we even saw this with a big fight between China and India about where the bank was going to be--this new bank was going to be based.

    BOND: Well, indeed. There was a lot of face-saving. And I can just imagine these finance ministers, reserve bank governors, and all of their bureaucrats fighting over the fine details. They eloquently and geometrically resolved that by setting up all kinds of mechanisms to appear that each of the five countries got a little piece. For example, in South Africa, Johannesburg will have a branch plant of the BRICS bank, and that will allow South Africa to help control the funding flows in and out of Africa, which is South Africa's so-called gateway role that they've desired, and that would be very much an example of South imperialism insofar as the hinterlands of the BRICS countries are under the thumb of the regional hegemons, South Africa in Africa probably wanting now to have a more regularized extraction system of the valuable member minerals and petroleum from this continent.

    However, I think you're right that we will probably see the kind of tensions in a logic of expansionism, territorial ambitions of a Russia and China. Well, Russia now, of course, moving to the West to try to capture some of the ground lost when the USSR fell apart, China moving aggressively even into Vietnamese territorial waters to grab islands, of course the conflict with Taiwan and Japan, these are moments where I think there's a fair bit of danger, and not just in the symbolic sense of territorial expansionism, but actually in potential alliances, that the BRICS will become an inter-imperial force with a more aggressive approach to capital accumulation. And that's where these two logics come together.

    That's why I think the Leo Panitch and Michael Hudson lines of argument have to be resolved, because we have to understand what it is if we are facing, from countries in the BRICS, a need for populations to try to discipline very aggressive leaders and those leaders are very much in tune with the capital accumulation desires of their major corporates. They're all very, very different, and our corporates here in South Africa have all run away to London and to New York. They've basically delisted from the main stock market here, and the capital flows out of this country. But in the other cases, big corporates--and state corporates, in the case of China--do have an incredible influence on these geopolitical arrangements. And those are going to be increasingly dangerous, because the room for growth, and especially the ecological constraints to growth, are really facing us quite squarely.

    JAY: And when push comes to shove, it seems these nationalist--the state agendas trump the sort of global financial integration. I mean, we haven't had a breakout of war like we've had World War I and World War II, and that probably has a lot to do with nuclear deterrent and things. We've had endless smaller proxy wars. The two certainly aren't incompatible, that you have a shared global finance system and contention and fights that break out into all-out war.

    BOND: Well, that's right. You see, the old theory of imperialism of a Lenin and a Bukharin was about these inter-imperial rivalries of states being pushed and pulled by their big corporate elites into their own hinterlands, into colonial orders, that would be then the basis for the kind of tensions that lead to world wars, as we've seen. Things have been different with a superpower in the United States and a kind of imperialism, the type that Rosa Luxemburg described, in which capital meets the non-capitalists, and that becomes the primary focus of the super-exploitative systems. I think that's actually what BRICS represents in a more profound way. The difference is a Rosa Luxemburg kind of approach to studying imperialism, in which capital and the non-capitalists are the key site of super-exploitative tensions, not the inter-imperial rivalry of different powers in the North, but rather the power of the Global North against the Global South--shall we say, in other words, the capitalists and the non-capitalists. And that's where, actually, the BRICS exacerbated and amplified the tensions, and I think that's where a great deal of the social resistance has occurred across the world, the new data from the African Development Bank, of all places, studying protests in Africa of this month, and they've increased even on the 2011 and 2012 rates. And this is because of kind of an intensified metabolism.

    JAY: So let's talk about ordinary people, not the elites running all these countries. You know, for people living in the United States, it's pretty straightforward, in the sense that, you know, if you want to take a progressive the position on U.S. foreign policy, you're opposed to its seeking and achieving hegemony and militarization and so on and so on. But if you're in one of the BRICS countries, do you consider this a positive development for your own people? And, obviously, let's start with South Africa, 'cause that's where you are. I mean, is this--you know, it's not going to transform the conditions of South Africa, but is this something positive or not? I'm talking about BRICS and the new bank and all of this.

    BOND: The BRICS Development Bank could be a very dangerous phenomenon, because to the extent that the anti-imperialist movements and solidarity movements have actually begun to discipline, say, the World Bank, which is under pressure not to make any new coal-fired power plant loans, the last one being here in South Africa in 2010, $3.75 billion, the biggest such loan ever by the World Bank, that then, that refusal to make these kinds of dreadful loans, pushes the borrowers like the South African government to a BRICS bank. And I think in many ways what we're seeing with BRICS is a recommitment to an extractive and predatory kind of capitalism, desperation capitalism, that will be more dangerous for ordinary movements struggling to retain their own integrity of community, their livelihoods, the nature around them. The proof of that will be in 2016 and when we start seeing what kind of loans the BRICS bank gives.

    Now, the rhetoric sounds good. They've--BRICS has actually ask Joe Stiglitz to be one of the main advisers and put a position paper together in 2011. And so what you'll hear this week in Fortaleza, for example, lots of rhetoric about sustainable development and inclusivity. When you hear those words, look at the details, because when they're using them, it often means they're planning to do the opposite, and instead of infrastructure in local currency for water systems, sanitation, housing, clinics, schools, and so forth, we're much more likely to see megaprojects that help multinational capital from BRICS and from the West.

    JAY: Okay. So, then, the proof is going to be in the pudding, then. We still have to really see what they're going to do with it.

    BOND: And I think the proof is also whether the geopolitical relations tighten up, because if the West gets more aggressive towards Russia, for example, having just thrown Russia out of the G8--it was a G7 meeting a couple of months ago--and then the G20 is meant to meet in Australia and November. Will it be the G19, throwing Russia out for the reasons you've already mentioned? And then the BRICS have already said, well, if you throw Russia out, then make it the G15, because we're also leaving. There's some very interesting maneuvering going on at the level of these multilateral arrangements. So far, all evidence is that the BRICS are stabilizing world capitalism, but there may be some surprises ahead as these geopolitical tensions might compete with the overall project of accumulation.

    JAY: Okay. Thanks for joining us, Patrick.

    BOND: Thank you very much.

    Patrick Bond is the director of the Center for Civil Society and a professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. Bond is the author of the recently released books, South Africa - The Present as History (with John Saul) and the 3rd edition of Elite Transition.

    In Fortaleza, BRICS Became Co-Dependent Upon Eco-Financial Imperialism
    Patrick Bond 29 July 2014

    Contrary to rumour, the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa alliance confirmed it would avoid challenging the unfair, chaotic world financial system at the Fortaleza summit on July 15. The BRICS “are actually meeting Western demands,” as China Daily bragged, “to finance development of developing nations and stabilize the global financial market.”

    If BRICS subservience continues, remarked financier Ousmène Jacques Mandeng of Pramerica Investment Management in a Financial Times blog, “it would help overcome the main constraints of the global financial architecture. It may well be the piece missing to promote actual financial globalisation.”

    Fawning to finance reminds us of the term Brazilian political economist Ruy Mauro Marini coined a half-century ago, ‘sub-imperialism’: i.e., “collaborating actively with imperialist expansion, assuming in this expansion the position of a key nation.”

    Marini described Brazil’s ‘deputy sheriff’ role in Latin America, but the concept also applies to the global-scale imperialist project. Last week as part of the civil society counter-summitry, we launched a collection on this theme in the Fortaleza journal Tensoes Mundiais-World Tensions, co-edited with Rio de Janeiro political economist Ana Garcia. Two dozen writers including Elmar Altvater, Omar Bonilla, Virginia Fontes, Sam Moyo, Leo Panitch, James Petras, William Robinson, Arundhati Roy and Immanuel Wallerstein grappled with the BRICS’ contradictory geopolitical location.

    By all accounts, the two overarching problems of our time – as even the most recent Pew global public opinion survey confirms – are climate change and systemic financial instability. In these, the BRICS suffer what in psychology is termed ‘co-dependency.’ The word, according to Lennard Davis in his 2008 book Obsession, “comes directly out of Alcoholics Anonymous, part of a dawning realization that the problem was not solely the addict, but also the family and friends who constitute a network for the alcoholic.”

    BRICS are friendly-family enablers of Western capitalists fatally addicted to speculative-centric, carbon-intensive accumulation. Suffering what increasingly appears to be the neurological impairment of a junkie, officials in Washington, London, Brussels, Frankfurt and Tokyo continue helter-skelter pumping of zero-interest dollars, euros and yen into the world economy. This is a hopeless drug-addict’s fix: maintaining policies of economic liberalization that lower national economic barriers and generate new asset bubbles.

    Another fatal Western obsession facilitated by the BRICS is emission of greenhouse gases at whatever level maximizes corporate profits – future generations be damned to burn. (The last time the world’s 1 percent seriously tried to kick the habit – and momentarily succeeded – was in 1987 when the Montreal Protocol was signed and CFCs banned so as to halt ozone hole expansion. But since that successful Cold Turkey experiment, neoliberal and neoconservative fetishes took hold and so half-hearted efforts at the UN and other multilaterals to address global-scale environmental, economic and geopolitical disasters have conspicuously failed.)

    In short, BRICS elites are no enemies of Western economic hedonists, as witnessed in exceedingly gentle advice they offered in the July 15 Fortaleza declaration: “Monetary policy settings in some advanced economies may bring renewed stress and volatility to financial markets and changes in monetary stance need to be carefully calibrated and clearly communicated in order to minimize negative spillovers.” (This refers to currency crashes suffered by most BRICS when the West began reducing ‘Quantitative Easing’ money-printing in May 2013 – in yet another example of self-destructive co-dependency.)

    In reality, the BRICS enable the West’s most self-destructive, hedonistic habits occurs repeatedly in times of acute eco-financial crisis:

    •the April 2009 G20 bailout of Western banks via consensus on a $750 bn IMF global liquidity infusion;
    •the December 2009 Copenhagen Accord in which four of the five BRICS did a deal to continue emitting unabated (they “broke the UN,” according to Bill Mckibben of;
    •the 2011-12 acquiescence to the (s)election of new European and US chief executives for the Bretton Woods Institutions, for despite a little whinging, the BRICS couldn’t even decide on joint candidates;
    •the 2012 agreement to pay over another $75 bn to the IMF even though it was apparent Washington wasn’t going to change its undemocratic ways (the US Congress has refused to allocate the BRICS a higher IMF voting share); and
    •the refusal (even in Fortaleza last week) of Moscow and Beijing to support the other three BRICS’ ascension to the UN Security Council in spite of their repeated requests for UN democratisation (because that would lead to dilution of Russian and Chinese power).
    Washington’s co-dependents in Delhi and Pretoria are the most blindly loyal. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) reactionaries and African National Congress (ANC) neoliberals have regular economic, political and even military dalliances with Washington, and the BJP is so irretrievably backward that it won’t countenance even a parliamentary debate about Israel’s Gaza terrorism.

    Meanwhile, playing the role of the distant relative, BRICS elites in Moscow, Brasilia and Beijing occasionally fulminate against Washington-London-Ottawa-Canberra-Wellington “Five Eyes” internet snoopery or the Pentagon’s propensity to bomb random Middle Eastern targets. To their credit last September at the G20 summit, they pulled Barack Obama’s itchy trigger finger away after the Syrian regime apparently used chemical warfare against civilians. Vladimir Putin instead cajoled Assad’s chemical-weapon disarmament. And thank goodness the US whistleblower spy Edward Snowden is at least safe in Russia. But it’s likely that BRICS promises to establish new internet connectivity safe from US National Security Agency data theft will be broken.

    The greatest heartbreak, however, will be the passing of subimperialism’s financial costs to the BRICS citizenries and hinterlands. Before the Fortaleza summit, economic-justice activists hoped that the BRICS would decisively weaken and then break dollar hegemony, especially given the inevitability of rising Chinese yuan convertibility and the Moscow-Beijing (non-$) energy deal a few weeks ago.

    But revealingly, both the New Development Bank (NDB) and ‘Contingent Reserve Arrangement‘ (CRA) announced in Fortaleza on 15 July have this feature: “The Requesting Party’s [borrower’s] central bank shall sell the Requesting Party Currency to the Providing Parties’ central banks and purchase US$ from them by means of a spot transaction, with a simultaneous agreement by the Requesting Party’s central bank to sell US$ and to repurchase the Requesting Party Currency from the Providing Parties’ central banks on the maturity date.” That’s techie talk for ongoing $-addiction: a retox not detox.

    The dollar is an inappropriate crutch in so many ways, but aside from an excellent article by University of London radical economist John Weeks, few analysts acknowledge that genuinely “inclusive sustainable development” finance would not require much US$ (or any foreign-currency denominated) credits. Hard currency isn’t needed if BRICS countries – or even future hinterland borrowers – want to address most of their infrastructure deficits in basic-needs housing, school construction and teacher pay, water and sanitation piping, road building, agriculture support, and the like. The US$ financing hints at huge import bills for future mega-project White Elephant infrastructure involving multinational corporate technology. (Like most of our 2010 World Cup stadiums.)

    Weeks continues, “The suspicion uppermost in my mind is that the purpose of the BRICS bank, as a project funding bank, is to link the finance offered, to the construction firms and materials suppliers located in the BRICS themselves. Certainly, the Chinese Government is notorious for doing this.” (For example, a $5 bn loan from the China Development Bank to the South African transport parastatal Transnet announced at Durban’s 2013 BRICS Summit resulted in $4.8 bn worth of locomotive orders from Chinese joint ventures a year later.)

    As Weeks also observes, “the voting proposal for the BRICS bank follows the IMF/World Bank model: money votes with shares, reflecting each government’s financial contribution. The largest voting share goes to China, whose record on investments in Africa is nothing short of appalling… The warm endorsement of the NDB by the president of the World Bank suggests enthusiasm rather than tension between it and the Bretton Woods ‘Twins.’”

    But isn’t the CRA a $100 bn ‘replacement’ for the IMF, as was widely advertised? No, it actually amplifies IMF power. If a BRICS borrower wants access to the final 70 percent of its credit quota, according to the founding documents, that loan can only come contingent on “evidence of the existence of an on-track arrangement between the IMF and the Requesting Party that involves a commitment of the IMF to provide financing to the Requesting Party based on conditionality, and the compliance of the Requesting Party with the terms and conditions of the arrangement.”

    The neoliberal bureaucrats who laboured over that stilted language – and even the (self-obfuscating) name of the CRA – may or may not have a sense of how close global finance is to another meltdown, in part because of relentless IMF austerity conditionality. But it does reveal their intrinsic commitment to a “sound banking” mentality, by trying to limit their own liabilities to each other. Current quotas are in the range of $18-20 bn for the four larger BRICS and $10 bn for South Africa (though the latter will only contribute $5 bn, and China $41 bn).

    Will it matter? According to Sao Paolo-based geopolitical analyst Oliver Stuenkel, “arrangements similar to the BRICS CRA already exist and have not undermined the IMF. The BRICS’ CRA is closely modeled on the Chiang Mai Initiative signed between the Association of Southeastern Asian Nations countries as well as China, Japan and South Korea in May 2000.” The initiative is useless, Stuenkel observes, for no one has borrowed from it since. Likewise, he tells me, “The CRA is fully embedded in the IMF system!”

    What might that mean in future? The last BRICS-country default managed by Washington was when Boris Yeltsin’s Russia – with $150 bn in foreign debt – required a $23 bn emergency loan in 1998. Fifteen years later, four of the five BRICS suffered currency crashes when the US Federal Reserve announced monetary policy changes so as to begin attracting hot money back.

    An emergency bailout may be necessary at any time. Here in South Africa, foreign indebtedness is extremely high now: $140 bn, up from $25 bn in 1994 when Nelson Mandela’s ANC inherited apartheid debt and, tragically, agreed to repay. Measured in terms of GDP, foreign debt has risen to 39 percent; even the neoliberal SA Reserve Bank warns that we are fast approaching “the high of 41 percent registered at the time of the debt standstill in 1985.” That crisis and an accompanying $13 bn default split the white ruling class, compelling English-speaking big business representatives to visit Zambia to meet the exiled liberation movement. Less than nine years later, capital had ditched the racist Afrikaner regime, in favour of bedding down with the ANC in what Mandela’s key military strategist Ronnie Kasrils termed the ANC’s ‘Faustian Pact’.

    SA Finance Minister Nonhlanhla Nene last week predicted that the first NDB borrowers would be African, so as to “complement the efforts of existing international financial institutions.” But since Nene’s own Development Bank of Southern Africa is rife with self-confessed corruption and incompetence, and the two largest NDB precedents – the China Development Bank and Brazil’sNational Bank for Economic and Social Development – epitomize destructive extractivism, is this really to be welcomed?

    After all, the largest single World Bank project loan ever ($3.75 bn) was just four years ago, to abet Pretoria’s madcap emergency financing of the biggest coal-fired power plant anywhere in the world now under construction, Medupi, which will emit more greenhouse gases (35 million tonnes/year) than do 115 individual countries. A year ago, as Medupi came under intense pressure from community, labour and environmental activists (thus setting back the completion two years behind schedule), World Bank president Jim Yong Kim could no longer justify such climate-frying loans. He pledged withdrawal from the Bank’s dirtiest fossil fuel projects.

    That’s potentially the gap for an NDB: to carry on filthy-finance once BRICS countries issue securities for dirty mega-projects and can’t find Western lenders. For in even the most backward site of struggle, the United States, a growing activist movement is rapidly compelling disinvestment from oil and coal firms and projects. Here in South Durban, Transnet’s eight-fold expansion of the port-petrochemical complex is one such target of ‘BRICS-from-below’ activists, especially the 2014 Goldman Environmental Prize winner for Africa, Desmond D’Sa.

    Of course there is a need for a genuinely inclusive and sustainable financial alternative, such as the early version (prior to Brazilian sabotage) of the Banco del Sur that was catalysed by the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Launched a year ago in Caracas with $7 bn in capital, it has an entirely different mandate and can still be maneuvered not to ‘stabilize’ world finance but instead to offer a just alternative.

    To help BRICS elites stop jonesing for the Western model of exclusionary, unsustainable capitalism, a revamped 12-step program will be necessary. Even the first two steps of the classic Alcoholic Anonymous program are obvious: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable [and] came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

    The cleansing power of political-economic sanity absent in the BRICS elites comes from only one place: below, i.e., social activism. For example, just like any rational South African who loved the World Cup and hated its Swiss Mafiosi organizers, Fifa, Brazilian society remains furious about Sepp Blatter’s politically-destructive relationship with Workers Party president Dilma Rousseff. That and other neoliberal tendencies – such as raising public transport prices beyond affordability – mobilised millions of critics which in turn was met by vicious police repression.

    In Russia, recent activist challenges come as a result not only of Putin’s expansion into Ukraine, but attacks on protesters. Civil society has been courageous in that authoritarian context: a democracy movement in late 2011, a freedom of expression battle involving a risque rock band in 2012, gay rights in 2013 and at the Winter Olympics, and anti-war protests in March and May 2014.

    In India, activists shook the power structure over corruption in 2011-12, a high-profile rape-murder in late 2012, and a municipal electoral surprise by a left-populist anti-establishment political party in late 2013.

    In China, protesters hit the streets an estimated 150 000 times annually, at roughly equivalent rates in urban and rural settings, especially because of pollution, such as the early April 2014 protest throughout Guandong against a Paraxylene factory. But just as important are labour struggles, such as the recent strike against Nike and Adidas.

    In South Africa, multiple resource curses help explain what may be the world’s highest protest rate; certainly the labour movement deserves its World Economic Forum rating as the world’s most militant working class the last two years. But South Africa’s diverse activists, including those who on 1882 occasions last year turned violent (according to the police), still fail to link up and establish a democratic movement (though the metalworkers union seeks to change this through its United Front initiative).

    In this context, critics are forcing open two crucial debates: first, is BRICS anti-imperialist as advertised, potentially inter-imperialist as the Ukraine battleground portends, or merely sub-imperialist where it counts most: in the ongoing global financial and climate meltdowns? Second, can BRICS-from-below struggles make any difference? The detox of our corrupted politics, a sober reassessment of our economies and a cleansing of our ecologies – all catalysed by re-energized societies – rely upon clear, confident answers to both.

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