BRICS "from below" denounce BRICS "from above"

Activists denounce the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) summit in Durban, South Africa

To: Detroit Workers' Voice mailing list
March 18, 2013
RE: the anti-BRICS counter-summit in Durban, South Africa

The leaders of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) will be holding their fifth annual summit on March 26-27 in Durban, South Africa. But this time a counter-summit is being organized by several groups of activists involved in environmental and social issues.

The counter-summit will be a significant event. It may help spread knowledge of the real nature of the bourgeoisie of the BRICS countries; it will highlight the policies of market fundamentalism, environmental devastation, and support for dictatorial regimes carried out by the BRICS' governments and BRICS' bourgeoisies.

There are reformist parties and even militant activists who regard the governments of the BRICS countries as bulwarks against US and Western imperialism, but in fact the BRICS countries are major capitalist regional powers. They are imperialists and would-be imperialists in their own right. It is the  working people of the world, not the governments of the lesser imperialist powers, which is the only true basis for a struggle against world imperialism, including US imperialism.  Activists who haven't yet broken decisively with today's widespread market illusions think that the BRICS countries  have policies that are fundamentally different from Western and American neo-liberalism. But this is not so. The bourgeoisies and governments of BRICS countries work with the major world capitalist agencies likes the IMF and World Bank,  and both cooperate and haggle with US and Western imperialism. South Africa, for example, is today one of the most zealously neo-liberal countries in the world, and inequality has skyrocketed there under the rule of the African National Congress. And no matter which group of imperialists dominates the World Bank, the IMF, and the neo-liberal trade agreements, these institutions will remain tools of the bourgeoisie to exploit the masses and enforce the interests of the various imperialist powers.

So help spread news of the anti-BRICS summit and study the record of the bourgeoisie and governments of the BRICS countries! At the same time, we should assess realistically the nature of the different activist trends at the anti-BRICS events. The fact that the counter-summit is promoted as a meeting of "civil society" shows that in South Africa, as elsewhere around the world, there is still a long way to go before we see the development of an independent working class movement. The conference brings together activists who dream of a "bottoms-up" rather than "top down" approach to politics and who are engaged in struggles against some of the great outrages of the current capitalist system. But it mixes together activists oriented to the oppressed masses with NGOs and civil society, and there is still no general consciousness among the militant activists of the need to build a movement independent of all the exploiting bourgeoisies and with a policy distinct from that of the bourgeois reform movements of "civil society".

Below we reproduce three articles of interest concerning the BRICS countries.

(1) An excerpt from the announcement of the BRICS counter-summit.

(2) An article by Patrick Bond, an activist with the militant wing of the protest movements in South Africa and one of the main organizers of the anti-BRICS summit.  He describes some of the crimes of the BRICS governments, and he highlights their hostile class nature by calling the BRICS countries sub-imperialist, not anti-imperialist. We don't share all his views, and we wouldn't attribute the failure of various reformist schemes simply to the sabotage by the BRICS, as harmful as that sabotage was. But he provides an overview of BRICS activities, in order to help encourage a more realistic assessment of the BRICS alliance.

(3) Excerpts from an article in our journal Communist Voice on the rise of new imperialisms over the last century.

From the announcement of the BRICS from below counter-summit

Join a civil society summit during the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa heads-of-state summit in Durban, March 22-27 with groundWork, the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance and CCS [the Centre for Civil Society]. In Durban, South Africa, five heads of state meet in late March, to assure the rest of Africa that their countries' corporations are better investors in infrastructure, mining, oil and agriculture than the traditional European and US multinationals. The Brazil-Russia-India-China-SA (BRICS) summit has invited 25 heads of state from Africa, many of whom are notorious tyrants. Given how much is at stake, critical civil society must scrutinise the claims, the processes and the outcomes of the BRICS summit and its aftermath. In Durban, three local organisations with a strong track record of advocacy and research on social, economic and ecological justice propose several events between 22-27 March, with the aim of raising critical voices so that long-overdue social, ecological, political, economic and other rights-related concerns are no longer ignored by BRICS leaders.

For more on the counter-summit see

BRICS bloc's rising 'sub-imperialism': the latest threat to people and planet?

by Patrick Bond, professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and director of the Centre for Civil Society
(the article is reproduced here with his permission)

The heads of state of the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) network of governments are coming to Durban, South Africa, in four months, meeting on March 26-27 at the International Convention Centre (ICC), Africa's largest venue. Given their recent performance, it is reasonable to expect another "1%" summit, wreaking socioeconomic and ecological havoc. And that means it is time for the first BRICS countersummit, to critique top-down "sub-imperialist" bloc formation, and to offer bottom-up alternatives.

After all, we have had some bad experiences at the Durban ICC.

Eco-disasters made in Durban

"The Durban Platform  [at the 2011 UN Climate Change Summit] was promising because of what it did not say", bragged US State Department official Trevor Houser to the New York Times. "There is no mention of historic responsibility or per capita emissions. There is no mention of economic development as the priority for developing countries. There is no mention of a difference between developed and developing country action."

The Durban deal squashed poor countries' ability to defend against climate disaster. With South African foreign minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane in the chair, the COP17 confirmed this century's climate-related deaths of what will be more than 180 million Africans, according to Christian Aid. Already 400,000 people die each year from climate-related chaos due to catastrophes in agriculture, public health and "frankenstorms" like last month's Hurricane Sandy.

Degeneration of global governance is logical when Washington unites with the BRICS countries, as was first demonstrated three years ago with the Copenhagen Accord [at the 2009 UN Climate Change Summit]. At the COP climate talks, South Africa's Jacob Zuma, Brazil's Lula da Silva, China's Wen Jiabao and India's Manmohan Singh joined Barack Obama to foil the Kyoto Protocol's mandatory emissions cuts, thus confirming that at least 4 degrees Celsius global warming will occur by 2100. "They broke the UN", concluded Bill McKibben from the climate advocacy movement

The negotiators were explicitly acting on behalf of their fossil fuel and extractive industries. Similar cozy ties between Pretoria politicians, London-based mining houses, Johannesburg "black economic empowerment" tycoons and sweetheart trade unions have since been exposed by the police massacre of striking Marikana mineworkers, with another blast against the climate anticipated when fracking soon begins in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal's Drakensburg Mountains, driven by multinational corporate oil firms led by Shell.

The 2012 Yale and Columbia University Environmental Performance Index showed that aside from Brazil, the other BRICS states are decimating their -- and the Earth's -- ecology at the most rapid rate of any group of countries, with Russia and South Africa near the bottom of world stewardship rankings.

Looting Africa

Like Berlin in 1884-85 [the infamous Berlin West Africa Conference of 1884-85 which accelerated the carving up of Africa among European colonial powers], the BRICS Durban summit is expected to carve up Africa more efficiently, unburdened -- now as then -- by what will be derided as "Western" concerns about democracy and human rights. Reading between the lines, its resolutions will:

The question is whether in exchange for the Durban summit amplifying such destructive tendencies, which appears certain, can those few of Africa's elites who may be invited leverage any greater influence in world economic management via the BRICS? With South Africa's finance minister Pravin Gordhan's regular critiques of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), there is certainly potential for BRICS to "talk left" about the global-governance democracy deficit.

But watch the "walk right" carefully. In the vote for World Bank president earlier this year, for example, Pretoria's choice was hard-core Washington ideologue Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Nigerian finance minister who with IMF managing director Christine Lagarde catalysed the Occupy movement's near revolution in January, with a removal of petrol subsidies. Brasilia chose the moderate economist Jose Antonio Ocampo and Moscow backed Washington's choice: Jim Yong Kim.

This was a repeat of the prior year's fiasco in the race for IMF managing director, won by Lagarde in spite of ongoing corruption investigations against her by French courts, because the Third World was divided and conquered. BRICS appeared in both cases as incompetent, unable to even agree on a sole candidate, much less win their case in Washington.

Yet in July, BRICS treasuries sent US$100 billion in new capital to the IMF, which was seeking new systems of bail-out for banks exposed in Europe. South Africa's contribution was only $2 billion, a huge sum for Gordhan to muster against local trade union opposition. Explaining the South African contribution -- initially he said it would be only one tenth as large -- Gordhan told Moneyweb last year that it was on condition that the IMF became more "nasty" (sic) to desperate European borrowers, as if the Greek, Spanish, Portuguese and Irish poor and working people were not suffering enough.

And the result of this BRICS intervention is that China gains IMF voting power, but Africa actually loses a substantial fraction of its share. Even Gordhan admitted at last month's Tokyo meeting of the IMF and world Bank that it is likely "the vast majority of emerging and developing countries will lose quota shares -- an outcome that will perpetuate the democratic deficit." And given "the crisis of legitimacy, credibility and effectiveness of the IMF", it "is simply untenable" that Africa only has two seats for its 45 member countries.

Likewise, South Africa's role in Africa has been "nasty", as confirmed when Nepad was deemed "philosophically spot on" by lead US State Department Africa official Walter Kansteiner in 2003, and foisted privatisation of even basic services on the continent. In a telling incident this year, the Johannesburg parastatal firm Rand Water was forced to leave Ghana after failing -- with a Dutch for-profit partner (Aqua Vitens) -- to improve Accra's water supply, as also happened in Maputo, Mozambique, (Saur from Paris) and Dar es Salaam (Biwater from London) in Tanzania.

As a matter of principle, BRICS appears hell bent on promoting the further commodification of life, at a time when the greatest victory won by ordinary Africans in the last decade is under attack: the winning of the Treatment Action Campaign's demand for affordable access to AIDS medicines, via India's cheap generic versions of drugs. A decade ago, they cost $10,000 per person per year and only a tiny fraction of desperate people received the medicines. Now, more than 1.5 million South Africans -- and millions more in the rest of Africa -- get treatment, thus raising the South Africa's average life expectancy from 52 in 2004 to 60 today, according to reliable statistics released this month.

However, in recent months, Obama has put an intense squeeze on India to cut back on generic medicine R&D and production, as well as making deep cuts in his own government's aid commitment to fund African healthcare. In Durban, the city that is home to the most HIV+ people in the world, Obama's move resulted in this year's closure of AIDS public treatment centres at three crucial sites. One was the city's McCord Hospital, which ironically was a long-standing ally of the NGO Partners in Health, whose cofounder was Obama's pick for World Bank president, Jim Kim.


So we must ask, are the BRICS "anti-imperialist" -- or instead, "sub-imperialist", doing deputy-sheriff duty for global corporations, while controlling their own angry populaces as well as their hinterlands? The eco-destructive, consumerist-centric, over-financialised, climate-frying maldevelopment model throughout the BRICS works very well for corporate profits, but the model is generating crises for 99% of the people and for the planet.

Hence the label sub-imperialist is tempting. As originally formulated during the 1970s, Ruy Mauro Marini argued that his native Brazil is "the best current manifestation of sub-imperialism", for the following reasons:

Matters subsequently degenerated on all fronts. In addition to these three criteria -- regional economic extraction, "export of capital" (always associated with subsequent imperialist politics) and internal corporate monopolisation and financialisation -- there are two additional roles of BRICS if its components are genuinely sub-imperialist. One is to ensure regional geopolitical "stability": for example, Brasilia's hated army in Haiti and Pretoria's deal-making in African hotspots like South Sudan and the Great Lakes countries, for which a $5 billion arms deal serves as military back-up.

The second is to advance the broader agenda of neoliberalism, so as to legitimate continuing market access -- typical of South Africa's Nepad, China, Brazil and India's attempt to revive the WTO and Brazil's sabotage of the left project within the "Bank of the South" initiative. As Belgian political economist Eric Toussaint remarked at a World Social Forum panel in Porto Alegre in 2009, "The definition of Brazil as a peripheral imperialist power is not dependent on which political party is in power. The word imperialism may seem excessive because it is associated with an aggressive military policy. But this is a narrow perception of imperialism."

A richer framing for contemporary imperialism is, according to agrarian scholars Paris Yeros and Sam Moyo, a system "based on the super-exploitation of domestic labour. It was natural, therefore, that, as it grew, it would require external markets for the resolution of its profit realisation crisis." This notion, derived from Rosa Luxemburg's thinking a century ago, focuses on how capitalism's extra-economic coercive capacities loot mutual aid systems and commons facilities, families (women especially), the land, all forms of nature, and the shrinking state -- and has also been named "accumulation by dispossession"' by David Harvey, and in special cases evoking militarist intervention, Naomi Klein's "shock doctrine".

Along with renewed looting are various symptoms of internal crisis and socioeconomic oppressions one can find in many BRICS, including severe inequality, poverty, unemployment, disease, violence (again, especially against women), inadequate education, prohibitions on labour organising and other suffering.

The rising inequality within BRICS -- except for Brazil, whose minimum wage increase lowered the extreme Gini coefficient to at least a bit below South Africa's -- is accompanied by worsening social tensions, which in turn is met with worsening political and civil rights violations, such as increased securitisation of societies, militarisation and arms trading, prohibitions on protest, rising media repression and official secrecy, debilitating patriarchy and homophobia, activist jailings and torture, and even massacres (including in Durban, where a notorious police hit squad has killed more than 50 people in recent years, and even after exposure by local media and attempted prosecutions, continues unpunished today).

The forms of sub-imperialism within BRICS are diverse, for as Yeros and Moyo remark, "Some are driven by private blocs of capital with strong state support (Brazil, India); others, like China, include the direct participation of state-owned enterprises; while in the case of South Africa, it is increasingly difficult to speak of an autonomous domestic bourgeoisie, given the extreme degree of de-nationalisation of its economy in the post-apartheid period. The degree of participation in the Western military project is also different from one case to the next although, one might say, there is a 'schizophrenia' to all this, typical of 'sub-imperialism'."

As a result, all these tendencies warrant opposition from everyone concerned. The damage is going to be ever easier to observe, the more that BRICS leaders prop up the IMF's pro-austerity financing and catalyse a renewed round of World Trade Organization attacks; the more a new BRICS Development Bank exacerbates the World Bank's human, ecological and economic messes; the more Africa becomes a battleground for internecine conflicts between sub-imperialists intent on rapid minerals and oil extraction (as is common in central Africa); and the more specific companies targeted by victims require unified campaigning and boycotts to generate solidaristic counter-pressure, whether its Brazil's Vale and Petrobras, or South Africa's Anglo or BHP Billiton (albeit with London and Melbourne HQs), or India's Tata or Arcelor-Mittal, or Chinese state-owned firms and Russian energy corporations.

One opportunity to link issues and connect the dots between campaigns so as to find a unifying anti-subimperialism that aligns with our critique of global capitalism, is within a Durban uncivil-society counter-summit on March 23-27, 2013. Like the rest of South Africa, Durban has witnessed an upsurge of socioeconomic conflict in recent months, and it is incumbent upon visitors to understand where tensions are emerging so that similar processes in the other BRICS are not left isolated.

An overall objective is to "rebuild BRICS from below", so the usual "globalisation-from-the-middle" talk shops -- featuring speeches by petit-bourgeois NGO strategists and radical intellectuals (like myself) -- must be balanced through community-based teach-ins where reality tours and sharing between oppressed peoples take precedence.

One of the most critical sites is South Durban, where a $30 billion project to destroy two black neighbourhoods (Clairwood and Merebank) through 10-fold expansion of shipping, freight and petrochemical activity is being vigorously contested. The narratives of the communities resisting go well beyond "not in my back yard" reasoning, and instead much more widely question the extractivist, export-oriented model of maldevelopment that has seduced the current South African government, as well as other BRICS. <>

Excerpts from "The Leninist theory of imperialism and the 21st century world"

(Communist Voice #38, July 2006)

A century ago, in the years leading up to World War I, the struggle by the Great Powers to enlarge their vast colonial holdings led to wide talk about a period of imperialism. This was a period of renewed international tensions, as each Great Power sought to encroach on the empires of its rivals. The ensuing disaster of World War I led to the development and spread of the Leninist theory of imperialism. It emphasized that the cause of colonial wars and other rivalries of the major powers was the development of monopoly capitalism; that monopoly capitalism was paving the way economically towards a new system that would supplant capitalism; and that working class revolution would be the midwife of this new system.

There have been great changes in the world situation since then. The major world colonial empires have collapsed. International governmental organizations such as the UN, the WTO, and the IMF, regulating, to some extent, some aspects of international economics and politics, have taken on an unprecedented prominence.

Some say that this makes the Leninist theory outdated, or even means that imperialism no longer exists, although there's much less of that talk since the Afghan and Iraqi wars. But a closer look shows that, on the contrary, the present world tensions verify precisely the Leninist theory of imperialism, which pointed to monopoly capitalism as the economic base for the massive bloodshed and militarism and other features of imperialism. The old empires are gone, but monopoly capitalism remains, and sure enough, so are wars, relations of domination and subordination among countries, and bitter exploitation of weak countries by strong. The old empires are gone, but empire-building of a new sort remains; today even many bourgeois ideologues talk about the present imperial system.

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The collapse of the colonial empires

Today, as regard to colonies, the picture of the world is quite different from what it was on the eve of World War I. The vast world wave of anti-colonial revolt in the twentieth century led to the dissolution of the old colonial empires. Among the former colonies and semi-colonies there has been an explosion of capitalist development. Some of these countries have become major capitalist countries and perhaps regional powers, and may deserve to be called imperialist countries. As a result, today the majority of the world's population doesn't live in colonies or semi-colonies but in imperialist countries and regional powers, including lesser and would-be imperialist countries.

Thus China, a former semi-colony, has become not only an imperialist power, but a Great Power. Its economy is taking on a greater and greater world significance; it is competing with the other world powers for influence in Africa, Latin America, and Asia; and it is a nuclear power which is continually strengthening and modernizing its military. The former colony of India, too, has developed rapidly. It has its own monopoly capital; its big bourgeoisie makes major investments in other countries including the most developed ones; it is a nuclear power; and it is continually striving to modernize and strengthen its armed forces.

If China and India were the only former members of the colonial and semicolonial world that had become imperialist, this would still represent a major change in the world. They may be only two among about two hundred presently-independent countries, but they have over a third of the world's population between them, and three-fifths of Asia's population.

But in fact capitalism has developed rapidly in most of the former colonies and semi-colonies. In any of these countries which have a certain weight or power or geopolitical advantage, the bourgeoisie generally strives to become a regional power in its own right (Turkey, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq in the 1980s, etc. ), or to have its own place in the imperialist world. How this striving is manifested depends on the history of these countries, how far they are within the spheres of influence of more powerful countries, and how powerful they themselves are. On a world scale, these countries are subordinate to the main imperialist powers, but they seek to climb the scale of influence and power.

Today there are relatively few outright colonies left. The overwhelming majority of the world's people live in imperialist powers or subordinate capitalist countries. Moreover, among the subordinate capitalist countries, a disproportionate role is occupied by the more powerful ones, such as the would-be imperialist countries and the regional powers. No doubt, there are also a large number of people in small and very weak countries, but the overall picture of the world situation has changed. The great anti-colonial movements of the past have radically revised it. And this new picture has changed the prospects for how revolution will take place, for it has brought the class struggle more to the fore.

It is often objected that the existence of poverty and growing inequality in the former colonies and semicolonies, including the very largest and most powerful of them such as China and India, shows that their status hasn't really changed. Since they have not achieved decent living standards for all their people, it is held that their development must not be real, but sham. The significance of the growth of an ambitious local bourgeoisie with its own predatory interests is overlooked.

But capitalist development has always been accompanied by the growth of insecurity and inequality. It has gone hand-in-hand with the development of mass devastation in many of these countries; and the growth of the capitalist world economy has been accompany by increasing inequality between different countries and regions, as well as inside each country. Thus the growing gap between the countryside and the city in both China and India does not disprove the existence of economic development, but is a typical result of capitalist development. Meanwhile, some countries and regions push forward, and some fall back. The East Asian tigers have grown rapidly. But the last two decades of neo-liberal reforms have seen the the economic ravaging of much of Africa, and the stagnation of much of Latin America.

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The continuation of imperialism

The old colonial empires are mainly gone, but this does not mean imperialism is gone. The colonial empires were only one feature of imperialism. Other characteristic features of imperialism remain. The domination of great powers over weaker countries remains. One country, the US, is the world's sole remaining superpower, with the ability to apply pressure throughout the entire world. Meanwhile the US and other imperialist powers carve out particular spheres of influence in various regions of the world. Thus the world is still caught in a net of domination and subordination between countries.

Among the features of this continuing imperialism are the following:

Thus capitalism hasn't become civilized. As it has gone into the twenty-first century, it has retained the basic features of the old imperialism, albeit with certain modifications.

For the rest of the article, see <>

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Last modified on June 5, 2013.