International news after the middle of August were dominated by the 15th BRICS (the acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit in Johannesburg, South Africa. The summit represented a significant step forward for BRICS as it strengthened the ties between its members and agreed on expanding the group with six new entries (Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates).
Let’s see some key points regarding BRICS:
-BRIC was established in 2009 and in 2010 South Africa was added, forming the acronym BRICS. Before the recent expansion, these countries represented 41,5% of the global population, accounted for 26,5% of the world GDP and 32,5% of world GDP in Purchasing Power Parity terms (a different metric that calculates purchasing power of individuals in their country).
-According to the IMF, in 1982 BRICS economies accounted for just 10.66% of world GDP (PPP adjusted) and this grew to 31.59% in 2022. At the same time, the share of the G7 economies (the so-called “Great 7”- the most advanced capitalist economies being USA, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Canada) was reduced from 50.42% in 1982 to 30.39% in 2022.
-With the addition of the 6 new members, BRICS’ share of oil production will grow from 20.4% to 43.1% according to the Energy Institute. It would also have 72 percent of rare earths (according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies) and half of the global food production (according to TASS)
-According to Reuters, 40 countries have expressed interest in joining BRICS. Among them there are important economies such as Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey, Algeria, Venezuela and others.
As all figures clearly show, the BRICS bloc is on the rise, while the G7 bloc is in decline. This reflects the trajectory of the leading countries in each bloc, the US and China. As we have extensively analysed before, USA and European capitalism are in a period of historic decline, while Chinese capitalism is on the course to becoming the biggest economy in the world. This process, of course, is not without contradictions on both camps and all fronts and is not something that will take place neither overnight nor peacefully.
The speeches in the Johannesburg conference, while being diplomatic and careful, were all underlined by this geopolitical conflict. Russian president Vladimir Putin noted:
“We oppose hegemonies of any kind and the exceptional status that some countries aspire to, as well as the new policy it entails, a policy of continued neo-colonialism”.
On his part, Chinese president Xi Jinping said:
“Just as a line in a Chinese poem reads, ‘No mountains can stop the surging flow of a mighty river.’ … But some country, obsessed with maintaining its hegemony, has gone out of its way to cripple the EMDCs [Emerging Markets and Developing Countries]. Whoever is developing fast becomes its target of containment; whoever is catching up becomes its target of obstruction. But this is futile, as I have said more than once that blowing out others’ lamp will not bring light to oneself.”
South African president Cyril Ramaphosa emphasised, referring to western sanctions,
“We are concerned that global financial and payments systems are increasingly being used as instruments of geopolitical contestation.”
Venezuelan president Nicholas Maduro stated:
“The reality of recent years has made evident the need to advance in the process of de-dollarization of the world economy, in the face of the indiscriminate use and abuse of the US currency as a mechanism of economic warfare against the free peoples of the world… Recent studies have shown that at least 30 nations, 28% of the world’s population, about 2,178 million human beings, are affected by imperialist sanctions and other measures of extortion and economic warfare. The damage to our economies and development models is undeniable.”
Being more vocal, the Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki, declared:
“US exceptionalism (or PAX AMERICANA) has unleashed malaises that have gravely impaired global progress for almost a century now… And at this eleventh hour, the principal advocates and proponents of hegemony are pushing our global village to the brink of unprecedented disaster… Imagine bringing back all the uranium that has been going to Europe to electrify this marginalized continent.”
Even the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres (who was present at the summit)admitted that
“Today’s global governance structures reflect yesterday’s world.
They were largely created in the aftermath of World War II when many African countries were still ruled by colonial powers and were not even at the table.
This is particularly true of the Security Council of the United Nations and the Bretton Woods institutions.
For multilateral institutions to remain truly universal, they must reform to reflect today’s power and economic realities, and not the power and economic realities of the post Second World War.
In the absence of such reform –– fragmentation is inevitable.”
It is more than evident that the discussion about challenging the”‘world order” established after WWII under the US and Western domination has fully opened up.
What do BRICS want and can they achieve it?
Let’s be clear though that the BRICS’ talk about ‘anti-colonialism’ is not related to the aspirations of the oppressed people worldwide but only in words. BRICS is not a progressive alliance that stands up against the evils of capitalism, and its true aim is not to free the world from imperialism, but to assert imperial power for their member-states, which are on the rise against the ‘old’ imperialist powers. It should be evident that progressive, i.e., pro-working class and pro-poor policies, cannot stem from an alliance of the dictatorial regime of China’s state capitalists with Saudi’s fossil fuel crown princes, Iran’s islamist dictators, corrupt and autocratic rulers such as Putin and so on.
These, of course, do not mean that Western imperialists are any better than this lot. On the contrary, Western imperialism has been plundering and causing untold suffering on the peoples of the planet for the past centuries.
Some Western media analysts were quick to downplay the success of the BRICS summit. They put a lot of emphasis on the internal contradictions that the BRICS bloc has, pointing out that this impairs it from playing a leading role on a world scale. It is true that the BRICS are drawn together mainly to counter the US and Western influence in the world economy and politics, having a lot of disagreements between them. The India-China border dispute in the Himalayas is often mentioned in this respect, as well as Brazil’s position on the Ukraine war, which is more ‘neutral’ than Russia would want. In fact, even the ‘core’ BRICS countries have different approaches on international issues. The presence of Modi and Lula at the latest G7 summit in Hiroshima are a testament to the fact that while some in BRICS favour a more confrontational approach to the West, some do not want to close doors with the ‘old’ imperialist powers.
But the Western bloc, although more politically solid, is also riddled with contradictions. Not long ago, the German Chancellor O. Scholtz visited China and stated that “China remains an important business and trading partner for Germany and Europe — we don’t want to decouple from it”, sending a message to the hawkish US establishment. In 2021, France recalled its ambassadors from Australia and the USA, calling the AUKUS deal -which entailed the cancellation of a military contract of $90bn- “a stab in the back”. In 2017, the Financial Times vividly described the G7 meeting in Sicily with the following words:
“Donald Trump walked out of the G7 on Saturday at loggerheads with the rest of the big western economies over climate change, amid fears that the US will pull out of the Paris accord on tackling global warming. Angela Merkel, German chancellor, did nothing to hide her frustration with Mr. Trump, saying discussions had been ‘very unsatisfying’ and adding: ‘There was no indication that the US will stay in the Paris agreement.’ … Mr Trump was isolated on the issue at the summit and talks were at times ‘tense and antagonistic’, according to one French diplomat.”
The fact of the matter is that while the dominant trend is the formation of two main imperialist blocs struggling for power, the international situation is so volatile that different countries have different interests on a number of issues. BRICS’ differences are not a special characteristic of this bloc, but rather a feature of the general situation of capitalism. Having said that, there is still a long way until China and its allies will be in a position to openly challenge US hegemony. Before nuclear weapons were invented, such a challenge would lead to a new world war. But the fact that a world war in our epoch would mean the destruction of all life on the planet, makes this process more protracted. In any case, there is one certainty: no imperial force in human history has ever willingly conceded its power. The US and Europe are definitely in a historical decline, but they will bitterly fight with every possible means to keep their dominance for as long as they can. BRICS have still a long way to go in order to create the economic and political structures needed to dethrone the West.
The Western response
The ‘old’ imperialists are definitely fearful of this rising competitor. One feature that sends shivers down their spines is the fact that they are losing longstanding subordinates (or ‘allies’). One such case is Saudi Arabia -until recently the US watchdog in the Arab world- which normalised relations with Iran some months ago, under China’s mediation. For years, the US was turning a blind eye on human rights violations and the environmental impact of Saudi policies. It is certainly not an accident that after the Saudi establishment began to develop relations with BRICS, the West has started realising that they have to do something about human rights there! The UN raised concerns about the impact of state-owned petroleum giant Saudi Aramco activities on the environment. It failed to inform the public why Exxon, Shell, Total, BP and Chevron were not recipients of such letters though…
These are things to be expected. In any case, the clearest example of the changes the rise of BRICS brings to parts of the world is the recent developments with former colonial countries in Africa removing puppet western governments and opting for an alliance with Russia. Some years ago, such developments would be considered rare and abnormal. Every country that fell out with the US was marginalised, isolated, ridiculed, sanctioned and left to languish. Today, the coups in West Africa clearly mark a trend away from old colonial rulers and into the arms of the Wagner group, Russia and China. The fact that there is an ‘alternative’ pole in the international scene acts as a catalyst. As we wrote before (here and here), the ‘new’ powers have nothing progressive to offer to working people. But the fact that countries can choose to exit the western colonial straightjacket colors a new situation.
DW reported on August 27 that the EU is preparing a military operation in West Africa, mentioning that
“The EU also wants to counter Russian influence in the region which has been spread through Wagner mercenaries who have supported military regimes in the Sahel.”
Niger is threatened with an invasion by US allies in the African Union. It is not difficult to imagine an escalation of a ‘proxy’ confrontation in Africa between pro- and anti-Western forces. This could be a pattern for other parts of the world also.
In this titanomachy, there is a real danger that the grass-roots will suffer. The popular layers, the working class and the poor, the social movements, the combative unions etc, should not accept to be foot soldiers in any capitalist alliance. In this inter-imperialist battle, both camps are forced to use ‘people-friendly’ language to mobilise support. The West hypocritically speaks about ‘rights’ and ‘democracy’, while BRICS also hypocritically talk about ‘anti-colonialism’ and ‘equality’. The road we must travel is the road of building independent class organisations, to pave the way for real, socialist, system change.