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Introducing Brics From Above, And Brics-From-Below


In Durban, South Africa, five heads of state meet on March 26-27 2013 at the International Convention Centre, 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 also makes space for 16 heads of state from Africa, including notorious tyrants. A new $50 billion ‘Brics Bank’ will probably be launched. There will be more talk about monetary alternatives to the US dollar.

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>Brics ‘have given African nations the ability to start to escape the clutches of neo-colonial dependence on foreign aid, and the policies and “advice” of Western-controlled finance institutions’ – as claimed by Pretoria’s minister of higher education Blade Nzimande at the same meeting.

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>(Historians may judge this line of argument to be ‘Pretorian’ in thinking, with the term defined on one internet site this way: ‘characteristic of or similar to the corruptible soldiers in the Praetorian Guard with respect to corruption or political venality; “a large Praetorian bureaucracy filled with ambitious and often sycophantic people makes work and makes trouble” – Arthur M.Schlesinger Jr.)

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>Also from Pretoria, the Human Sciences Research Council will host the temporary Brics ‘think tank,’ drawn from researchers at sites like the SA Institute for International Affairs at Jan Smuts House (long considered an Anglo American Corporation braintrust), and we worry that if the Academic Forum’s Recommendations are the basis for judgment so far, then Naomi Klein’s definition of this sort of institution may apply here: ‘people who are paid to think, by people who make tanks.’

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EN-CA;mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>So as you can already tell, the debate over Brics is getting quite sharp, as witnessed both by Nkoana-Mashabane’s use of Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth to attack those of us who question Brics, and by the personal invective unveiled in a story by Peter Fabricius of the Star newspaper. He was reporting on a February 28 debate in Johannesburg involving the SA deputy foreign minister, ActionAid-South Africa’s director Fatima Shabodien (whose speech replete with pointed questions is reproduced below), and myself – followed by my reply to Fabricius documenting the local ruling party’s ‘sell-out to international capital.’

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>Again from the critical end of the spectrum, Anna Ochkina of Moscow’s Institute for Globalisation and Social Movement Studies (not a think-tank by the Klein criterion) argues that there is merely a ‘spectre of alliance.’ However, Vladimir Shubin provides a vigorous counter-argument.

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>The critics note how badly divided the Brics bloc is at several crucial junctures, and indeed the one major unifying initiative in Durban aside from a Brics Bank announcement, is the highly dubious ‘Africa gateway’ grab by South Africa. As I report (in ‘From Nepad to Brics, SA’s toll at the “gateway to Africa”‘), this is not likely to end well, if the last decade’s experience is any guide.

useful idiot’ role is the prolific Sao Paulo geopolitical commentator Oliver Stuenkel. 

color:black;mso-themecolor:text1″>These searching essays require a final argument to help specify, well what exactly is this idea ‘sub-imperialism,’ and can it travel across space and time from its early use in Brazil nearly a half-century ago? Or is Nkoana-Mashabane correct that this is simply outmoded, lazy intellectualism? You decide.

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socio-economic rights violations, including severe inequality, poverty, unemployment, disease, inadequate education and healthcare, costly basic services and housing, constraints on labour organising, and extreme levels of violence, especially against women (such as the high-profile rapes/murders of Delhi student Jyoti Singh Pandey last December 16, and in South Africa, of Anene Booysen on February 2 in Bredasdorp, Reeva Steenkamp on February 14 in Pretoria, and countless others);

  • political and civil rights violations, such as widespread police brutality, increased securitisation of our societies, militarisation and arms trading, prohibitions on protest, rising media repression and official secrecy, activist jailings and torture, debilitating patriarchy and homophobia, and even state-sanctioned massacres (including in Durban where the notorious Cato Manor police hit squad executed more than 50 suspects in recent years);
  • regional domination by Brics economies, including extraction of hinterland raw materials, and promotion of ‘Washington Consensus’ ideology which reduces poor countries’ policy space (for example, in the Brics 2012 donation of $75 billion to the International Monetary Fund with the mandate that the IMF be more ‘nasty,’ according to South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, or in the desire of China, Brazil and India to revitalise the World Trade Organisation to maximise their trading power against weaker neighbours); and
  • ‘maldevelopment’ based on elite-centric, consumerist, financialised, eco-destructive, climate-insensitive, nuclear-powered strategies which advance corporate and parastatal profits, but which create multiple crises within all the Brics (as witnessed during the Marikana Massacre carried out by police on behalf of Lonmin platinum corporation last August, and in South Durban where R225 billion ($25 bn) in white-elephant state infrastructure subsidies for chaotic port, freight and petrochemical industry expansion – and more labour-broking exploitation – are being vigorously resisted by victim communities).