A brics-from-below reader for the Johannesburg Teach-In July 23-24, 2018

What are the BRICS?
Together as a bloc, the five BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – control a quarter of the earth’s land mass but 42% of its population. The BRICS are relatively inwardlooking economies; although they host 46% of the global workforce, they are responsible for just 14% of world trade and 19% of world Gross Domestic Product (although this rises to 27% if measured in purchasing power parity terms – in which per capita GDP is also low, with only Russia enjoying an income higher than the world average of ($11,800).

The bloc was, however, initially named and celebrated – as BRIC, without South Africa until Beijing invited Pretoria to join in 2010 – by Goldman Sachs Assets Management chair Jim O’Neill in 2001. The first formal BRIC gathering was in 2006 when foreign ministers met at the United Nations, followed by heads-of-state summits at Yekaterinburg hosted by Vladimir Putin in 2009, by Lula da Silva at Brasilia in 2010, Wen Jia Bao at Sanya in 2011, Manmohan Singh at New Delhi in 2012, Jacob Zuma at Durban in 2013, Dilma Rousseff at Fortaleza in 2014, Putin at Ufa in 2015, Narendra Modi at Goa in 2016, Xi Jinping at Xiamen in 2017, and Cyril Ramaphosa in Johannesburg in 2018.

There is extensive ceremonial pageantry and back-slapping at these events, although they usually last just two days. Parallel conferences of business leaders typically have access to the state officials, unlike other official civil society BRICS events, which are kept on the sidelines and are usually held weeks before. (There is also usually an ‘uncivil society’ summit held by leftwing critics simultaneous with the BRICS leaders’ summit, e.g. in Durban in 2013, Fortaleza in 2014, Goa in 2016, Hong Kong in 2017 and Johannesburg in 2018 – under the ‘brics from below’ or People’s BRICS rubric, which in BRICS Johannesburg will be expressed as a “Break the BRICS” protest.)
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Trevor Ngwane interview on the Break the BRICS Coalition

On Thursday 26 July 2018 different formations calling themselves "Break the BRICS Coalition" marched to the Sandton Convention Centre the venue of the 10th BRICS Summit. The march was a protest against what the coalition calls the capitalist nature of the BRICS states, their anti-working class behaviour, and their environmentally destructive policies. Its intention was to put forward their demands for world to see.






A VIEW FROM SOUTH AFRICA

Introducing BRICS from above, BRICS from the middle and BRICS from below

BRICS FROM ABOVE
Heads of state, Business Forum, elite allies
  • *BRICS as anti-imperialist (ANC & Pretoria rhetoric – “Talk Left, Walk Right”, e.g. national-liberation tradition, foreign ministry on global geopolitics, finance minister on IMF reform, sports minister on FIFA)
  • *BRICS as sub-imperialist (Pretoria relegitimising world capitalism, lubricating neoliberalism in - and exploiting - Africa, intensifying class war against SA’s poor/workers/women/nature on behalf of global/local capital, ensuring maximum greenhouse gas emissions alongside BASIC/US no matter local/continental/global consequences, and playing “deputy sheriff” role to imperialism)
  • *BRICS as inter-imperialist (Pretoria's potential support for a new internet delinked from US, promotion of Putin v Obama in September 2013 at G20, and mainly backing Russia in Crimea/Ukraine conflict - as well as earlier episodes where SA lined up with China in UN e.g. in relation to Burma)

  • BRICS FROM THE MIDDLE
    Academic Forum, trade unions, NGOs
  • BRICS advocates (most of Academic Forum, Johannesburg & Pretoria “think tanks” and others who suffer persistent “failure of analytical nerve”)
  • *wait-and-see (most NGOs and trade unions - as well as “Third Worldist” intellectuals - who wish for BRICS to become “anti-impi” at UN, Bretton Woods Institutions, Development Bank, Contingent Reserve Arrangement, etc)
  • *critics (those associated with brics-from-below network who consider BRICS to be “sub-impis” and sometimes also “inter-impis”)

  • BRICS FROM BELOW
    Grassroots activists whose visions run local to global
  • *localist (stuck within local or sectoral silos, including myriad “popcorn protests” - even some against BRICS corporations or projects - that are insurgent, unstrategic, momentary, at constant risk of becoming xenophobic, and prone to populist demagoguery)
  • *nationally-bound (most activists who are vaguely aware of - and hostile to - BRICS yet so overwhelmed by local, national and sectoral battles, they fail to link across borders - even BRICS hinterlands)
  • *solidaristic-internationalist (“global justice movement” allies aspiring for joint campaigning against common BRICS enemies such as Vale, China Development Bank, DBSA, Transnet/mega-shipping, fossil fuel corporations and other polluters, coming BRICS Development Bank)

  • JEALOUS PRO-WEST CAPITALISTS
    Most white organic intellectuals of capital connected to Old Money, multinational-corporate branch plants, Business Day, northern-centric big biz, Democratic Alliance and their ilk.



    What are the BRICS?
    Patrick Bond

    Together as a bloc, the five BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – control a quarter of the earth’s land mass but 42% of its population. The BRICS are relatively inward-looking economies; although they host 46% of the global workforce, they are responsible for just 14% of world trade and 19% of world Gross Domestic Product (although this rises to 27% if measured in purchasing power parity terms – in which per capita GDP is also low, with only Russia enjoying an income higher than the world average of ($11,800).

    The bloc was, however, initially named and celebrated – as BRIC, without South Africa until Beijing invited Pretoria to join in 2010 – by Goldman Sachs Assets Management chair Jim O’Neill in 2001. The first formal BRIC gathering was in 2006 when foreign ministers met at the United Nations, followed by heads-of-state summits at Yekaterinburg hosted by Vladimir Putin in 2009, by Lula da Silva at Brasilia in 2010, Wen Jia Bao at Sanya in 2011, Manmohan Singh at New Delhi in 2012, Jacob Zuma at Durban in 2013, Dilma Rousseff at Fortaleza in 2014, Putin at Ufa in 2015, Narendra Modi at Goa in 2016, Xi Jinping at Xiamen in 2017, and Cyril Ramaphosa in Johannesburg in 2018.

    There is extensive ceremonial pageantry and back-slapping at these events, although they usually last just two days. Parallel conferences of business leaders typically have access to the state officials, unlike other official civil society BRICS events, which are kept on the sidelines and are usually held weeks before.

    (There is also usually an ‘uncivil society’ summit held by leftwing critics simultaneous with the BRICS leaders’ summit, e.g. in Durban in 2013, Fortaleza in 2014, Goa in 2016, Hong Kong in 2017 and Johannesburg in 2018 – under the ‘brics from below’ or People’s BRICS rubric, which in Johannesburg will be expressed as a “Break the BRICS” protest.)

    Beyond state and business summitry, there have also been regular meetings of BRICS trade unions, since Moscow in 2012, but in the form of a parallel summit starting with Durban in 2013. The ‘Civil BRICS’ of civil society groups began meeting in Moscow in 2015, sponsored by the Putin regime (along with Oxfam) and hence carrying so little credibility that the main Brazilian development network (Rebrip) formally boycotted the inaugural Civil BRICS.

    Dozens of other BRICS-related events occur in between on different schedules, including meetings of ministers responsible for economies, security, agriculture, health and municipal government, as well as think tanks and interested academics. These have had a degree of official support, in large part because they generally refrain from offering tough criticism. As a result, the ‘academic’ analysis is causing substantial controversy in South Africa, as shown below.

    BRICS Think Tank chairperson, Ari Sitas, adds to the world-shaping narrative a series of admirable scholarly and professional projects to improve BRICS societies. But how much of Sitas’ narrative is a pipe-dream?

    And in view of mounting evidence of intellectual weaknesses, how much can a think tank leader even as sharp as Sitas avoid the accusation that his institution is reduced to the classic scam: people paid to think by the people who control the tanks?

    When that assessment was put to Sitas by Radio Islam (31 May 2018), he rebutted that it was:

    a vacuous radicalism that is being articulated and is an argument by contamination. “You know ‘so and so smells bad, therefore this must stink’. So it is tough, it needs navigating skills. You have to be clear as a country and a country can only be a balance of the kind of forces that can speak in the country.”

    A critique of the 2018 BRICS Think Tank and Academic Forum conference is offered in the 2018 BRICS Politricks reader, as well as a more nuanced rejoinder by an activist (Bandile Mdlalose) and a scholar (Lisa Thompson) working on the inside to improve these two institutions.

    The proper model for this is to have a “tree shaker” and a “jam maker” division of labour. But in spite of tree-shaker efforts, this approach has not yet been arrived at by either the insiders or outsiders.

    Instead, there is a danger of the Civil BRICS repeating what Mandeep Tiwana and Cathal Gilbert describe as 2017’s fate:

    As a symbolic exercise in civil society engagement, a “Civil BRICS” meeting was held in June. It was tightly controlled by Chinese authorities, however, and the concluding declaration was pre-drafted before the meeting even took place.

    The Civil BRICS’ problem is also evident within BRICS Youth, as argued by Njabulo Maphumulo and Lynford Dor, as well as in the BRICS Trade Union Forum.

    One central test of whether the BRICS offer anything different, and whether civil society reformers can open up ‘engagement’ opportunities, is the BRICS New Development Bank.

    Regrettably though, at least one civil society watchdog project – by African Monitor and Oxfam – endorsed perhaps the most objectionable aspect of modern development finance: the privatisation of profits and the socialisation of losses. Not only did the ‘watchdog’ promote NDB co-financing with multilateral development banks (the neoliberal World Bank and African Development Bank to choose from in South Africa), this additional endorsement also suggests a network out of touch with on-the-ground realities:

    The use of Public – Private Partnerships as an important instrument for the bank to leverage resources of private sector and increase its participation in major infrastructure.

    Moreover, according to African Monitor and Oxfam, “civil society appreciates the work and progress that the NDB has made thus far.” This may have been true for civilised society but for the large group of civil society watchdogs of the BRICS bank, the institution was practically impossible to work with, repeatedly failing the most basic tests of communication, transparency and consultation.

    There are much less civil critics in relation to the BRICS Bank, including those in South Durban (such as community leader Desmond D’Sa) who are disgusted with the bankers’ lending criteria and unwillingness to engage local critics, even when widespread debtor corruption appears to run rampant.

    The South Durban case – in which the parastatal Transnet is attempting to raise funding for expansion of Durban’s controversial port-petrochemical complex – is illustrative, given long-standing eco-social protests against Transnet.

    Subimperial BRICS
    But there is an even greater concern about the BRICS positioning in global circuits. The cases of finance, trade and climate negotiations are discussed below in detail.

    Geopolitical processes are also revealing. Vijay Prashad observes “BRICS in the ruins of the present.” A major problem is the ongoing failure of the BRICS ‘centripetal’ strategy of capital accumulation.

    Add to this regional repression, e.g. the way Modi’s colonial-style control of Kashmir is unfolding, with crimes so severe that the UN Commission for Human Rights issued another report in June 2018 condemning India. Even South Africa’s moribund National Prosecuting Authority began investigating Modi’s role prior to his BRICS visit, as noted in reports below by the Voice of the Cape and Iqbal Jassat.

    As for BRICS in the Middle East, according to Ramona Wadi in an essay below, they are merely “paying mere lip-service to a legitimate demand is harming Palestine’s prospects, rather than enhancing opportunities for anti-colonial, legitimate resistance.”

    In reality, notwithstanding the occasional bursts of anti-imperialist rhetoric from some pro-BRICS politicians and analysts, these are sites where ‘subimperial’ politics are on display. The term comes from a Brazilian political economist, Ruy Mauro Marini (1932-97), and will be referred to periodically, below, where it is useful to indicate overlapping interests of Western and BRICS powers, or ways that BRICS firms penetrate their societies and hinterlands in a manner comparable to Western Multinational Corporations.

    The BRICS also play a role as ‘deputy sheriffs’ in their respective hinterlands. Regions surrounding each of the BRICS’ hosts are also important. Since 2013, leaders from neighbouring states and regional blocs have also been invited to spend time with the BRICS leaders (usually a half-day after the members’ meeting has closed):

    • In Johannesburg, in addition to select African heads of state, five major guests are regional leaders who are also heads of state of: Egypt (as Chair of the G77+China), Argentina (Chair of the G20 and a MERCOSUR member), Indonesia (Co-Chair with SA of the New Africa-Asia Strategic Partnership and an ASEAN member), Jamaica (incoming Chair of CARICOM), and Turkey (as Chair of the OIC).
    • In Xiamen, the BRICS-Plus group was initiated to include Egypt, Guinea, Mexico, Tajikistan and Thailand.
    • In Goa, notably, regional collaboration did not include Pakistan, but did include India’s Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation neighbours: Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal.
    • In Ufa, the BRICS overlapped with the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which includes Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan along with the observer states Afghanistan, India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan.
    • In Brasilia just after the Fortaleza meeting, the Brazilian hosts invited leaders from the Union of South American Nations, including Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela.

    The tradition of drawing in the host’s friendly neighbours was begun in Durban when more than a dozen African leaders (never formally named) joined the summit at the Zimbali Lodge. SA’s deputy foreign minister Marius Fransman (later disgraced and fired in a #MeToo incident) expressed these objectives just before the March 2013 summit: “South Africa presents a gateway for investment on the continent, and over the next 10 years the African continent will need $480 billion for infrastructure development.”

    In some cases, depending partly upon which political party is in power, such outreach is welcomed as genuine partnership; in other cases, this strategy appears to be akin to a co-optation process, in which weaker neighbours are seen mainly as the BRICS’ hinterlands. Geopolitical and material benefits accrue mostly to the strongest BRICS countries and firms. The case of IMF reform – which disempowered many BRICS neighbours by lowering their voting power (so four of the BRICS could rise, as discussed below) – makes clear this latter sub-imperial dynamic.

    As a bloc, BRICS issues periodic communiques and occasionally acts in concert. One example was the successful lobbying by BRICS foreign ministers against the proposed expulsion of Russia from the 2014 G20 Brisbane summit following sanctions imposed on Moscow by the West after the March 2014 transfer of power in Crimea.

    BRICS will ultimately be known not for its generally anti-Western rhetoric, but for what it does, concretely, to change the world. The most important innovations are institutional: the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB) for project loans and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA) for potential financial crises. The CRA stands ready to augment the IMF in the event bail-out credits are required by BRICS members.

    There was also a proposed internet cable rerouting to avoid US interference, and a credit ratings agency alternative to Moody’s, Fitch and Standard&Poors. Such a ratings agency may be moot, however, if BRICS countries continue to float their bonds in international markets where those “three brothers from Manhattan” (not Saxonwold) continue to exercise “state capture” of weaker BRICS’ treasuries and central banks. (SA remains a case in point.)

    The latter two strategies appear to be largely conceptual, with a less than certain chance of coming to fruition in the near future. BRICS countries’ invasive surveillance of their citizenries is nearly as obnoxious as the US National Security Agency, and a “market-oriented” approach to a new BRICS credit ratings agency (as discussed in most such meetings) would leave such an institution operating much as do the existing agencies.

    Reviewing BRICS Politricks in this way, we find far more in common with the worst of the Western imperial powers: aggressive geopolitics, self-interested economics, social repression and environmental irresponsibility.

    Which brings us to ask, why would BRICS-from-the-Middle scholars, NGOs and labour strategists within civilised society want to spend so much time and political capital legitimising these leaders and states?

    To that question, we have only the standard answer that critics of petit-bourgeois centrism have always offered: opportunism.

    There is another answer, too: the forces of uncivil society that meet annually to delegitimise the BRICS have not achieved powers of persuasion to change all the minds we will need to.

    Until then, political tricks will be apparent on the surface of society – tricks we would like to ignore but simply cannot…
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    Hello BRICS watchers,
    The BRICS Summit, with Temer-Putin-Modi-Xi-Ramaphosa, joined by Erdogan-Al-Sisi-Macri-etc - begins on Wednesday. Already, brics-from-below folk are gathering.

    First, we have a new book for free download here. It will be updated over the course of the week, as our partners from around the world chime in with new critical analysis and as various official resolutions are passed. (For example, the 2018 Civil BRICS resolution is available, as you see here - not elsewhere online yet.)

    If you're in Johannesburg, join us to discuss multiple crises - political, social, economic and ecological - and society's responses at the University of the Witwatersrand School of Governance on Monday-Tuesday, 9am-6pm (2 St David's Place, Parktown). (Please RSVP to bricsfrombelow2018@gmail.com for catering purposes.) Well-known scholars, commentators, journalists and NGO experts will be with us. I can send you the final programme later today if you're interested; let me know by email. And there will be more updates soon about follow-up activism.

    Cheers,
    Patrick

    TEACH-IN PROGRAMME

    PICTURES FROM THE TEACH-IN
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    PICTURES FROM THE MARCH
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    PICTURES FROM THE NDB PROTEST
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    Why should we break the BRICS?: 10 Reasons to march on Sandton, July 26, 11am

    Hello, to those of you interested in the 2018 debates on BRICS elites and their critics,
    They're back in the news here in Johannesburg, because in six weeks the BRICS heads of state and BRICS Business Council meet. Also, several Brics-from-the-middle forces have been active: the Academic Forum last week, the Civil BRICS in a couple of weeks, the BRICS Youth now in Moscow and the BRICS Trade Union Forum later in July. This too has generated some interesting debates as you see below; next time I write, I'll send out the two statements from the intellectuals and Civil BRICS that I have.

    But we are in a very uncertain situation geopolitically now. The terrain now of centrifugal economics and politics is now more uneven than when I last wrote you, last August. Even in past days, Donald Trump has opened up the possibility of a wedge involving Russia, which I'd be grateful if anyone has seen good information to help interpret.

    At the micro level, we've just seen the BRICS New Development Bank prove its unwillingness to consult with affected people, as a new $200 million loan to the corruption-riddled South African transport parastatal comes under opposition in South Durban for very good reasons. (The BRICS Business Council will, as a result, attract a protest when they meet in Durban on July 22.) Here's a little video about the last BRICS visit to South Africa - Durban in 2013 - and the resistance movement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taFtYFmFXEE

    In between there are a great many objections to the BRICS elites - see the draft call to action below - including very intense forms of rising social resistance. I will send more information on activist initiatives soon. But one begins soon here in Johannesburg: a community-labour-women's-youth-environmental coalition forming, called "Break the BRICS." Below the advertisement for the strategy session, are some links to articles I've written over the past six months. I'll send out more in coming days, as we construct educational and intellectual resource packages.

    Cheers,
    Patrick



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    Catagory

    AN INTRODUCTION TO BRICS POLITRICKS: RECOMMENDED READING

    BRICS Leaders Are Reinforcing, Not Replacing, the Global System of Power
    Patrick Bond (August 2018)

    Can the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) bloc rise to the occasion, as Donald Trump jerks Western imperialism out of traditional alignments? With war-talk against Iran blowing through Trump’s tweets, and with Washington’s trade wars raging against both China and traditional allies, there was talk here in Johannesburg about counter-hegemonic prospects during the last week of July. Chatter about reforming multilateral economic power structures, launching a new BRICS credit ratings agency and prospects for leapfrog technology within the ‘4th Industrial Revolution’ (4IR) also filled the air.

    The most vainglorious elements of South Africa’s ruling elite were thrilled that BRICS leaders descended for several days of pageantry. Visiting heads of state Michael Temer, Vladimir Putin, Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping – joined for a day by ‘BRICS-Outreach’ and ‘BRICS-Plus’ tyrants Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Faure Gnassingbe, Joseph Kabila, Paul Kagame, Emmerson Mnangagwa, Yoweri Museveni and Ali Bongo Ondimba among others – were welcomed at the Sandton Convention Centre, in the heart of the world’s most corrupt corporate district (according to regular PricewaterhouseCoopers ‘Economic Crime’ surveys).

    Revealingly, the business establishment is often split in such instances. The main Western-oriented corporate rags – Business Day and Financial Mail – regularly ridicule (for very good reasons) BRICS Business Council chairperson Iqbal Survé, whose allies include Siyabonga Gama, the oft-accused chief executive of Transnet.
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    Global Geopolitical Economy and BRICS Sub-Imperialism
    Dominic Brown (July 2018)

    Ten years after the 2008 global financial crisis, the global economy is still stagnant and there are few prospects for a recovery. As a result, we have seen a deepening of the social crisis with rising unemployment and inequality, which is what underpins the war against women, increased crime and violence, and the unravelling of the social fabric, especially here in South Africa. This process is not new, it has been unfolding over several decades and has given rise to the phenomena of neoliberalism, globalisation and financialisation. These are capital’s means to overcome the crises of capitalism globally. The crisis has subsequently developed into multi-dimensional, overlapping crises of the global economy, environment, energy, food. At its core, this represents a crisis of over-accumulation of capital, with too many products and too few consumers. We cannot understand the current political shifts (nationally and internationally) without putting them in the context of (a) historical changes in the capitalist economy (b) the current crisis of neoliberal capitalism.
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    The BRICS, Climate Catastrophe, Resource Plunder and Resistance
    Farai Maguwu (July 2018)

    The heads of state from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa are meeting in Johannesburg’s corruption-ridden financial district of Sandton for a two-day annual summit. Pretending to challenge Western imperial hegemony over poor nations of the South, this bloc has itself proved to be no different. If anything, two of the BRICS powers – China and India – are investing billions of dollars in coal-fired thermal-power generation in Africa while winning global applause for increasing their solar and wind power at home. This contradiction and policy inconsistency is one of many which makes the BRICS a farce. China is funding coal projects in Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, yet is a global powerhouse in renewable energy. It put on hold more than 100 coal plants in 2017 with a combined installed capacity of 100 gigawatts. In 2016 China’s energy regulator also halted coal fired projects amounting to over 300 gigawatts, mainly due to overcapacity but also health and local pollution concerns. Yet last month Zimbabwe concluded a $1.4 billion agreement with the Export-Import Bank of China (Exim Bank) for the construction of a 600 megawatt coal-fired power plant.
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    BRICS States and Capital Surveil Their Societies: Anti-Imperialist or Subimperialist?
    Jane Duncan (July 2018)

    When it comes to control of the populace, what are the imperialist, anti-imperialist or subimperialist characteristics of the BRICS network of countries: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa? Can the BRICS deliver progressive outcomes – as some of its proponents claim – or not?
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    State of BRICS Youth Struggle: About Us, But Without Us
    Njabulo Maphumulo and Lynford Dor (July 2018)

    The leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa will meet in Johannesburg from 25-27 July for the 10th BRICS Summit. Prior to the Summit a number of other BRICS dialogues are taking place, including the Business Council, Academic Forum, Civil BRICS and BRICS Youth. BRICS Youth was set up in 2013 to put youth voices on the BRICS agenda and to promote and popularise BRICS amongst young people ages 15-34 in each country.

    At the time, in March 2013, President Jacob Zuma promised that the Durban BRICS Summit would “contribute immensely to satisfying the employment and development needs of our young population” and that youth employment would be “central to our engagements and discussions with the grouping.” But the fight against South African youth unemployment has been lost. We reflect here on whether, five years later, SA’s hosting of the BRICS Youth participatory processes show any indication of improving prospects for youth in BRICS countries and South African youth in particular.
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    State of the BRICS class struggle: Part 1 - repression, austerity and worker militancy
    Patrick Bond (July 2018)

    Across the world, trade unions are under unprecedented threat, as just witnessed in the United States in the Janus vs. AFSCME Supreme Court decision which denudes an already weak labour movement of public sector power and funds. Where, then, does organisational hope for working people lie?

    The greatest potential for labour internationalism may one day exist within the largest combined proletariat: the Brazil-Russia-India-China- South Africa (BRICS) bloc. The BRICS state leaders meet in Johannesburg from July 25-27 and union officials gather in Durban the following weekend. Since 2012, the BRICS Trade Union Forum (BTUF) has brought labour leaders together, attempting to traverse extremely difficult terrain using an ever-changing roadmap.

    Unfortunately, it is becoming obvious that along this path, BTUF leaders suffer a well-known problem: signaling to the left while driving the vehicle towards the right, as the ground underneath the vehicle keeps shifting. For the BTUF to reach the desired location would require major adjustments in navigation, new passengers and very different maneuvers.
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    State of the BRICS class struggle: Part 2 – ‘social dialogue’ reform frustrations
    Patrick Bond (July 2018)

    Across the world, trade unions are under unprecedented threat, as just witnessed in the United States in the Janus vs. AFSCME Supreme Court decision which denudes an already weak labour movement of public sector power and funds. Where, then, does organisational hope for working people lie?

    The greatest potential for labour internationalism may one day exist within the largest combined proletariat: the Brazil-Russia-India-China- South Africa (BRICS) bloc. The BRICS state leaders meet in Johannesburg from July 25-27 and union officials gather in Durban the following weekend. Since 2012, the BRICS Trade Union Forum (BTUF) has brought labour leaders together, attempting to traverse extremely difficult terrain using an ever-changing roadmap.

    Unfortunately, it is becoming obvious that along this path, BTUF leaders suffer a well-known problem: signaling to the left while driving the vehicle towards the right, as the ground underneath the vehicle keeps shifting. For the BTUF to reach the desired location would require major adjustments in navigation, new passengers and very different maneuvers.
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    BRICS and Civil Society 2018: Social Justice versus the Diplomacy Game
    Bandile Mdlalose and Lisa Thompson (July 2018)

    The annual BRICS Summit at the Sandton Convention Centre attracted much hype and generally affirming media coverage. Part of the reason for relentless positivity towards the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) alliance is press coverage in the country’s leading newspaper chain arranged by Iqbal Survé. As head of the Independent newspapers as well as the BRICS Business Council, his own picture appears regularly on his front pages, pronouncing on the enormous value of BRICS to South Africa.

    Debate amongst academics and civil society has been intense, especially on whether engagement in official processes amounts to a legitimation of BRICS rulers. For critics, the governance credentials of China, India, Russia and Brazil are appalling, along with widespread corporate corruption, exploitative economic trade and investment strategies, and the world’s most severe pollution, including greenhouse gases.
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    BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
    Patrick Bond (July 2018)

    The Durban rapper Ewok captured the spirit of progressive social forces in South Africa with his condemnation of elite politics at a March 2013 protest outside the Durban International Convention Centre: “You dropping BRICS from above? We’re throwing bricks from below!”

    For the second time, the leaders of the Brazil-Russia-India-China-SA (BRICS) summit in South Africa, this time at Johannesburg’s Sandton Convention Centre from July 25-27. The bloc has great potential to change the world in positive ways. But under increasingly desperate capitalist rule in each country, this potential simply cannot be realised, and evidence has accumulated of much more harm than good

    The best example of intra-BRICS collaboration combining top-down and bottom-up politics was when fifteen years ago, Treatment Action Campaign activists wonfree AIDS medicines (once costing $10 000/year) for several million South Africans (hence raising life expectancy from 52 to 64) thanks partly to a Brazilian state precedent and Indian generic pharmaceutical support. Progressive BRICS crumbling
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    BRICS Bank should have consulted before lending corrupt Transnet
    Desmond D’Sa and Patrick Bond (June 2018)

    Last month’s approval of a New Development Bank loan of US $200 million to expand the Durban container port occurred without the Sandton-based bankers doing adequate consultation or analysis. This is not only unacceptable in a democratic society, especially for such an important and controversial project. It also makes mockery of claims the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) bloc acts differently than arrogant Washington bankers.

    For decades, the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), with members from all races and classes, has opposed the ultra-polluting port-petrochemical complex. Container trucks are especially damaging, with one careening off Field’s Hill in 2012, killing two dozen kombi passengers – just one of an annual average 7000 truck crashes in Durban. SDCEA is opposed to the massive truck logistics park proposed for the Clairwood Racecourse due to its threat to nearby schoolchildren’s safety.

    Although concessions were belatedly won from Engen, British Petroleum and Shell on long-overdue sulphur scrubbing at the continent’s largest refinery complex, it was not long ago that Merebank’s Settlers Primary School had a 52 percent rate of asthma, the highest ever recorded at any school. Leukaemia is still a South Durban pandemic, with rates 24 times the national average.
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    Scholars get drunk on their own rhetoric in South Africa
    Patrick Bond (May 2018)

    A ‘think tank’ is sometimes a group of people paid to think, by the people who control the tanks (as Naomi Klein once remarked). Here in Johannesburg, one of South Africa’s highest-profile intellectual vehicles appears to be a victim of drunken driving by scholars from whom we otherwise expect much stronger political navigation skills.

    In the luxurious central business district of Sandton, a large gathering of state-funded intellectuals (staying at the 5-star Intercontinental Hotel) is conferencing in heart-warmingly hedonistic style, replete with national Brazil–Russia–India–China–South Africa songs and dances.

    The May 28-31 BRICS Academic Forum and SA BRICS Think Tank meeting at the Sandton Convention Centre must be South African scholars’ most expensive event of the year, in spite of the theme, “Envisioning Inclusive Development through a Socially Responsive Economy.”
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    After Jacob Zuma’s Firing, South Africa Risks Budget Austerity and Even Renewed BRICS ‘Poisoning’
    Patrick Bond (February 2018)

    Cyril Ramaphosa’s soft-coup firing of Jacob Zuma from the South African presidency on February 14, after nearly nine years in power and a humiliating struggle to avoid resigning, has contradictory local and geopolitical implications. Society’s general applause at seeing Zuma’s rear end resonates loudly, but concerns immediately arise about the new president’s neo-liberal, pro-corporate tendencies, and indeed his legacy of financial corruption and class war against workers. There is still a lack of closure on the 2012 Marikana Massacre, in spite of his February 20 speech to parliament pledging atonement. New legislation Ramaphosa supports will limit the right to strike, while the new budget has cuts and tax increases that hurt the poorest.

    Internationally, the emergence of the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa alliance in 2010 (when Beijing invited Pretoria on board) was Zuma’s main legacy, he believed: BRICS offered enormous potential to challenge abusive Western hegemony. The reality, however, has been disappointing, especially in the most unequal and troubled of the five countries, South Africa, where Moscow-trained leadership expertly talked left… but walked right.

    After Zuma, more extreme fiscal austerity and a return to mining-centric accumulation under Ramaphosa will amplify the misery locally – while likely leaving South Africa’s commitment to the BRICS project in the doldrums. The first evidence of this came on February 21 when Ramaphosa’s inherited finance minister, the corruption-tainted Malusi Gigaba, imposed austerity and liberalized exchange controls.
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    BRICS Xiamen summit doomed by centrifugal economics
    Patrick Bond (September 2017)

    The Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa summit in Xiamen from September 3-5 is already inscribed with high tension thanks to Sino-Indian border conflicts. But regardless of a welcome new peace deal, centrifugal forces within the fast-whirling world economy threaten to divide the BRICS. South Africa, which plays host to the BRICS in 2018, is already a victim of these trends – even as President Jacob Zuma continues to use the bloc as a primary crutch in his so-called “anti-imperialist” (talk-left walk-right) political survival kit.

    Beijing’s logo designers for this summit, perhaps unconsciously subversive, illustrated how the formerly overlapping, interlocking BRICS are now thin and flimsy, wedging themselves apart. Such a prospect was predictable earlier this year as a result of Donald Trump’s ascendance. Both Washington’s neo-conservative ‘Deep State‘ and the (fast-disappearing) paleo-conservatives were intent on ramping up conflict with China – though early on, BRICS splintering towards the US included not only proto-fascist India, for elites in Russia and Brazil also sought friendly relations.

    A deeper reason for pessimism is that at the 2015 BRICS summit in Russia, just as world commodity markets began to collapse, Chinese premier Xi Jinping invoked the laws of physics. He asked fellow leaders “to boost the centripetal force of BRICS nations, tap their respective advantages and potentials and carry out cooperation in innovation and production capacity to boost competitiveness.” That’s the bloc’s theory – but practices are very different.
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    Falling BRICS Endanger Their Citizens’ Health, Starting With South Africa’s Jacob Zuma
    Patrick Bond (August 2017)

    As he launched the African Regional Centre of the New Development Bank (NDB) in Johannesburg on Thursday, nearly 18 months behind schedule, South African President Jacob Zuma must have had mixed feelings. Strife-riven Brazil, Russia, India and China are more risky allies than Zuma reckoned when in 2010 he accepted Beijing’s invitation to join the club.

    “I was poisoned and almost died just because South Africa joined BRICS under my leadership,” Zuma told rural supporters at a Phongolo African National Congress (ANC) Cadres’ Forum in his native KwaZulu-Natal on Sunday. He offered no proof for the startling claim, which dates to his illness during a mid-2014 US trip. But his wife Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma was initially blamed, then banished from his notorious Nkandla palace by Zuma’s security minister David Mahlobo in early 2015, and subsequently charged with attempted murder.

    Is this new narrative plausible, given the celebratory role BRICS have played in world capitalism? Recall the bloc’s initial 2001 rationale offered by Goldman Sachs chief economist Jim O’Neill: “It seems quite clear that the current G7 needs to be upgraded and room made for the BRICs in order to allow more effective global policymaking.” Last year, just after Goldman Sachs had closed its main BRIC investment fund due to poor performance, O’Neill asked, “How on earth can South Africa be economically in the same class?” However, he conceded, “Politically, it is very important that South Africa is part of BRICS.”
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