Patrick Bond | 1 May 12:08 2013
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BRICS-watch: Immanuel Wallerstein's ambivalent

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**Commentary No. 352, May 1, 2013

"Whose Interests are Served by the BRICS?"

Immanuel Wallerstein

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 world-economy.

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 least.

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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