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

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.)

Views since 22 July 2018


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.



Click on images to view more photos

Click on images to view more photos

Click on image for more information

Click on images to view more photos

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.




Heads of state, Business Forum, elite allies

  • 1.1 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)
  • 1.2 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)
  • 1.3 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)

    Academic Forum, trade unions, NGOs
  • 2.1 BRICS advocates (most of Academic Forum, Johannesburg & Pretoria “think tanks” and others who suffer persistent “failure of analytical nerve”)
  • 2.2 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)
  • 2.3 critics (those associated with brics-from-below network who consider BRICS to be “sub-impis” and sometimes also “inter-impis”)

    Grassroots activists whose visions run local to global
  • 3.1 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)
  • 3.2 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)
  • 3.3 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)

    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.

    Patrick Bond

    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.

    Three narratives have emerged about Brics. The first is promotional and mainly comes from government and allied intellectuals; the second perspective is wait-and-see patience; and the third is highly critical, from forces who meet as ‘brics-from-below.’ All can be found in the following pages.

    The first narrative is represented through the most intellectually-engaged speech about Brics we have found by any local politician: Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South Africa’s foreign minister. At a gathering of the 5th Brics Academic Forum on March 10, she requested robust, critical engagement, and by reading the ‘Recommendations’ of that group’s meeting at the Durban University of Technology, you can assess whether she can be satisfied. We think not. Historians will judge whether, indeed, Brics ‘have given African nations the ability to start to escape the clutches of neocolonial 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.

    (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.’) 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.’

    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.’

    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 counterargument. 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. After all, as Tomaso Ferrando argues in great detail, the land grabbing underway by Brazil, India, China and South Africa is a shocking update, reminiscent of Berlin’s ‘Scramble for Africa’ conference in 1885, of colonial landgrabs. These are now replaying through Bilateral Investment Treaties and other legalistic attacks by Brics members and corporations. Victims are peasants and others reliant on land, water and related resources, as well as food consumers, as Obang Metho from Ethiopia testifies.

    Moreover, if the strength of commitment to Africa’s basic survival is measured in part by the way the Brics have helped to cook the climate – given an anticipated 200 million unnecessary African deaths this century due to floods, storms, droughts, famines and vastly increased disease burdens (carried especially by women) – then the gateway metaphor transforms into a rather hellish entryway, as I argue in another article. Friends of the Earth International illustrates the corporate connections with a case study of Vale, followed by Bobby Peek considering winners and losers from Brics’ Mozambique investments. The Brics Bank is another site of contestation, and Carlos Tautz provides a warning of dangerous financing from above, while Susanne Soederburg reviews crises caused by predatory lending against those below.

    It doesn’t have to be this way, according to University of California sociologist Chris Chase- Dunn, who believes Brics are not necessarily ‘sub-imperialist’; nor Sam Moyo and Paris Yeros who call for a revivial of Non-Aligned strategies; nor University of Delhi political scientist Achin Vanaik. They see trajectories from the Brics semiperiphery that can move in counterhegemonic directions, though Vanaik leans across the fenceline into Brics-sceptic territory. Another more mainstream voice who is doubtful that the Brics can overcome their ‘useful idiot’ role is the prolific Sao Paulo geopolitical commentator Oliver Stuenkel.

    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. Durban’s International Convention Centre and Hilton

    But if you are thinking about these matters from ‘below’ (or like me, within ‘brics-from-themiddle’), you will intrinsically understand that the debate is only beginning. 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. Civil society critics point to four groups of problems in all the Brics:

  • 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 statesanctioned 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).

  • Confusingly to some, Brics regimes carry out this agenda at the same time they offered radical, even occasionally ‘anti-imperialist’ rhetoric, accompanied by mainly trivial diplomatic actions. Yet the Brics alliance is incoherent, as shown in the elites’ debilitating disagreement over who would lead the IMF and World Bank in 2011-12. In the UN Security Council, Brics countries seek greater power for themselves, not the collective: repeated bids for permanent membership by India, Brazil and South Africa are opposed by Russia and China.

    And recall the humiliation when Beijing told Pretoria’s Home Affairs Minister (now African Union chairperson) Nkozasana Dlamini-Zuma not to grant a visa to the Dalai Lama to attend Archbishop Tutu’s 80th birthday party in 2011, or attend a 2009 Tibet solidarity gathering. We seem to have lost foreign policy autonomy to Chinese whims.

    Meanwhile, the African continent has been overwhelmed by Brics corporations. The rate of trade between Africa and the major emerging economies – especially China – rose from 5 to 20 percent of all commerce since 1994, when apartheid ended. Destructive though it often is, one of Pretoria’s leading objectives, according to deputy foreign minister Marius Fransman, is that ‘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.’

    ‘Resource Curse’ maldevelopment often follows such infrastructure. This is also true, geopolitically, when it comes to facilitating Brics investments. In January 2013, for example, Pretoria deployed 400 troops to the Central African Republic during a coup attempt because ‘We have assets there that need protection,’ according to deputy foreign minister Ebrahim Ebrahim. Allegations by a former South African official are that these mineral interests include uranium arranged via corrupt heads-of-state collaboration, and has Ebrahim confirmed that Pretoria sent sophisticated arms to the brutal regime of François Bozizé.

    Other extreme cases are the Democratic Republic of the Congo where Johannesburgbased mining capital (AngloGold Ashanti) paid off warlords in a region where five million people were killed mainly to get access to minerals such as the coltan we use in our cellphones, and Zimbabwe where Chinese firms and a military junta – along with SA businesses, Indian and Israeli traders, Dubai middlemen and other vultures – prop up President Robert Mugabe’s rule, together looting the country of billions of dollars worth of diamonds. In 2010, 17 out of Africa’s top 20 companies were South African, even after extreme capital flight from Johannesburg a decade earlier, which saw Anglo American, De Beers, SA Breweries and Old Mutual relocate to London. Just as in Cecil John Rhodes’ day, the greed of South African business is backed by government officials, through the (failed) New Partnership for Africa’s Development – praised as ‘philosophically spot on’ by the Bush Administration – and useless African Peer Review Mechanism. More recently, SA’s National Development Plan sheepishly conceded a ‘perception [sic] of the country as a regional bully.’

    In bullying Africa, the traditional SA, US, European, Australian and Canadian corporations have been joined by major firms from China, India and Brazil. Their looting has mainly built upon colonial infrastructural foundations – road, rail, pipeline and port expansion – connected to mines, plantations, petroleum and gas. Durban simply updates the investment strategy. There is similar collusion with Washington when it comes to global finance: in July 2012, the Brics treasuries sent $75 billion in fresh capital to the IMF, which was seeking new funds for bailing out for banks exposed in Southern Europe. Like Africa’s experience since the early 1980s, the resulting austerity in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus, Ireland and other failing European states does far more harm than good to both local and global economies. As for voting power within the IMF, the result of this Brics intervention was that China gained many more

    votes (for dollars rule at the IMF), while Africa actually lost a substantial fraction of its share. For these reasons, will Durban 2013 be known as the logical successor to Africa’s initial carve-up: Berlin 1885?

    Building a bottom-up civil society network to analyse, watchdog and represent silenced voices of dissent has never been more important. One part of this process involves an analysis of the pros and cons of Brics.

    We hope you the reader can join the conversation because from Africa, too little has been said about Brics, given what is at stake.
    Original Source: BRICS in Africa a reader for the Durban Summit



    BRICS Leaders Are Reinforcing, Not Replacing, the Global System of Power
    Patrick Bond (The Wire) 8 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.

    Gama is also a member of Survé’s five-person BRICS Business Council, and he and his Transnet predecessor Brian Molefe (who was also Survé’s predecessor as council chair) allowed the huge state transport parastatal to became the main milk cow of the notorious Gupta brothers’ ‘state capture’ corruption network. Billions of dollars’ worth of Transnet kickbacks were arranged for the Guptas over the last few years, especially from two Chinese parastatal firms – which may see Gama losing his job in the coming days.

    In contrast, South Africa’s pro-BRICS corporates are few and far between but nevertheless vocal, with Survé sometimes (for very good – albeit contested – reasons) calling ‘racism!’ on the white-owned periodicals. Thanks to Chinese co-ownership and South Africa’s main public pension fund support, Survé runs the largest chain of national daily English-language newspapers, the Independent group. Hence the BRICS summit received pure sunshine-journalism coverage from his Business Report.

    Global Geopolitical Economy and BRICS Sub-Imperialism
    Dominic Brown

    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.

    The BRICS, Climate Catastrophe, Resource Plunder and Resistance
    Farai Maguwu

    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.

    BRICS States and Capital Surveil Their Societies: Anti-Imperialist or Subimperialist?
    Jane Duncan

    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?

    State of BRICS Youth Struggle: About Us, But Without Us
    Njabulo Maphumulo and Lynford Dor

    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.

    State of the BRICS class struggle: Part 1 - repression, austerity and worker militancy
    Patrick Bond

    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.

    State of the BRICS class struggle: Part 2 – ‘social dialogue’ reform frustrations
    Patrick Bond

    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.

    BRICS and Civil Society 2018: Social Justice versus the Diplomacy Game
    Bandile Mdlalose and Lisa Thompson

    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.

    BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
    Patrick Bond

    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

    BRICS Bank should have consulted before lending corrupt Transnet
    Desmond D’Sa and Patrick Bond

    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.

    Scholars get drunk on their own rhetoric in South Africa
    Patrick Bond

    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.”

    After Jacob Zuma’s Firing, South Africa Risks Budget Austerity and Even Renewed BRICS ‘Poisoning’
    Patrick Bond

    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.

    BRICS Xiamen summit doomed by centrifugal economics
    Patrick Bond

    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.

    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.”

    Falling BRICS Endanger Their Citizens’ Health, Starting With South Africa’s Jacob Zuma
    Patrick Bond

    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.”