Sunday, August 18, 2013

Africa: Are BRICS 'sub-Imperialists'?

Africa: Are BRICS 'sub-Imperialists'?

By Patrick Bond, 21 March 2013

BRICS offer some of the most extreme sites of new sub-imperialism in the world today. They lubricate world neoliberalism, hasten world eco-destruction and serve as coordinators of hinterland looting. The BRICS hegemonic project should be resisted.

'We reaffirm the character of the ANC as a disciplined force of the left, a multi-class mass movement and an internationalist movement with an anti-imperialist outlook.' So said Jacob Zuma, orating to his masses at the year's largest African National Congress celebration, in Durban on January 12. [1]

Eleven days later, Zuma spoke to the World Economic Forum's imperialists in a small, luxurious conference room in Davos, Switzerland: 'We are presenting a South Africa that is open for business and which is open to provide entry into the African continent.'[2] (As a carrot, Zuma specifically mentioned the $440 billion in economic infrastructure investment planned in coming years, while back at home, above-inflation price increases were hitting those low-income consumers of electricity, water and sanitation lucky not to have been disconnected for non-payment.)

South African officials often talk anti-imperialist but walk sub-imperialist. In 1965, Ruy Mauro Marini first defined the term using his own Brazilian case: 'It is not a question of passively accepting North American power (although the actual correlation of forces often leads to that result), but rather of collaborating actively with imperialist expansion, assuming in this expansion the position of a key nation.'[2]

Nearly half a century later, such insights appear prescient, in the wake of the rise of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) as an active alliance. By 2013 these five key nations encircling the traditional Triad (the US, European Union and Japan) were decisive collaborators with imperialism.

They advanced the cause of neoliberalism by reaffirming its global institutional power structures and driving overproductive and overconsumptive maldevelopment, and they colluded in destruction of not just the world environment - through prolific contributions to climate change - but in the sabotage of any potentially workable global-scale ecological regulation (favouring instead deepened commodification through emissions trading).

The BRICS agenda of relegitimising neoliberalism not only reinforces North American power, of course. In each case, the BRICS countries' control of their hinterlands for the sake of regional capitalist hegemony was another impressive feature of sub-imperialism, especially in South Africa's case. As Brazilian scholar Oliver Stuenkel remarked in 2012, 'None of the BRICS members enjoys meaningful support from its neighbours, and none has a mandate to represent its respective region. Quite to the contrary, their neighbours' suspicion of BRICS projects of regional hegemony is remarkably similar for all members.'[4]

Much of the long-standing (apartheid-era) critique of South African sub-imperialism still applies, but what is new is that thanks to financial deregulation associated with the country's 'elite transition' from racial to class apartheid during the 1990s, what were formerly Johannesburg and Cape Town-based regional corporate powers - Anglo American Corporation, DeBeers, Gencor (later BHP Billiton), Old Mutual and Liberty Life insurance, SA Breweries (later merged with Miller), Investec bank, Didata IT, Mondi paper, etc - escaped.

These firms' financial headquarters are now in London, New York and Melbourne, and the outflows of profits, dividends and interest are the main reason South Africa was ranked the 'riskiest' amongst 17 emerging markets by The Economist in early 2009, requiring vast new foreign debt obligations to cover the hard currency required to facilitate the vast capital flight. South Africa cannot, thus, be described as 'imperialist' - it is simply retaining far little of the surplus.

Aside from lubricating world neoliberalism, hastening world eco-destruction, and serving as coordinator of hinterland looting, what are the other features of sub-imperialism that must be assessed, in a context of Washington's ongoing hegemony? If a 'new imperialism' entails - as the City University of New York's renowned Marxist scholar David Harvey [5] suggests - much greater recourse to 'accumulation by dispossession' and hence the appropriation of 'non-capitalist' aspects of life and environment by capitalism, then South Africa and the other BRICS offer some of the most extreme sites of new sub-imperialism in the world today.

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