[Marxism] Whose Interests are Served by the BRICS?

steve sharra stevesharra at gmail.com
Wed May 1 16:04:06 MDT 2013


Whose Interests are Served by the BRICS?

Immanuel Wallerstein

Commentary No. 352, May 1, 2013

In 2001, Jim O’Neill, then chair of Goldman Sachs Assets Management,
wrote an article for their subscribers entitled “The World Needs
Better Economic BRICs.” O’Neill invented the acronym to describe the
so-called emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, and China, and
to recommend them to investors as the economic “future” of the

The term caught on, and the BRICs became an actual group that met
together regularly and later added South Africa to membership,
changing the small “s” to a capital “S.” Since 2001, the BRICS have
flourished economically, at least relative to other states in the
world-system. They have also become a very controversial subject.
There are those who think of the BRICS as the avant-garde of
anti-imperialist struggle. There are those who, quite to the contrary,
think of the BRICS as subimperialist agents of the true North (North
America, western Europe, and Japan). And there are those who argue
that they are both.

In the wake of the post-hegemonic decline of U.S. power, prestige, and
authority, the world seems to have settled into a multipolar
geopolitical structure. In this current situation of some 8-10-12 loci
of significant geopolitical power, the BRICS are definitely part of
the new picture. By their efforts to forge new structures on the world
scene, such as the interbank structure they are seeking to create, to
sit alongside and substitute for the International Monetary Fund
(IMF), they are certainly weakening still further the power of the
United States and other segments of the old North in favor of the
South, or at least of the BRICS themselves. If one’s definition of
anti-imperialism is reducing the power of the United States, then the
BRICS certainly represent an anti-imperialist force.

However, geopolitics is not the only thing that matters. We will also
want to know something about the internal class struggles within BRICS
countries, the relations of BRICS countries to each other, and the
relation of BRICS countries to the non-BRICS countries in the South.
On all three issues, the record of the BRICS is murky, to say the

How can we assess the internal class struggles within the BRICS
countries? One standard way is to look at the degree of polarization,
as indicated by GINI measures of inequality. Another way is to see how
much state money is being utilized to reduce the degree of poverty
among the poorest strata. Of the five BRICS countries, only Brazil has
significantly improved its scores on such measures. In some cases,
despite an increase in the GDP, the measures are worse than say twenty
years ago.

If we look at the economic relations of the BRICS countries to each
other, China outshines the others in rise in GDP and in accumulated
assets. India and Russia seem to feel the need to protect themselves
against Chinese strength. Brazil and South Africa seem to be suffering
from present and potential Chinese investing in key arenas.

If we look at the relations of BRICS countries to other countries in
the South, we hear increasing complaints that the way each of these
countries relates to its immediate (and not so immediate) neighbors
resembles too much the ways in which the United States and the old
North related to them. They are sometimes accused of not being
“subimperial” but of being simply “imperial.”

What makes the BRICS seem so important today has been their high rates
of growth since say 2000, rates of growth that have been significantly
higher than those of the old North. But will this continue? Their
rates of growth have already begun to slip. Some other countries in
the South – Mexico, Indonesia, (south) Korea, Turkey – seem to be
matching them.

However, given the world depression in which we continue to exist, and
the low likelihood of significant recovery in the next decade or so,
the possibility that, in a decade, a future Goldman Sachs analyst will
continue to project the BRICS as the (economic) future is rather
dubious. Indeed, the likelihood that the BRICS will continue to be a
regularly meeting group with presumably common policies seems remote.

The world-system’s structural crisis is moving too fast, and in too
many uncertain ways, to assume sufficient relative stability to allow
the BRICS as such to continue to play a special role, either
geopolitically or economically. Like globalization itself as a
concept, the BRICS may turn out to be a passing phenomenon.

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