This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy in Focus.
The term “BRICS”—which refers to the bloc of emerging economies in Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—was coined years ago by Goldman Sachs analyst Jim O’Neill, who saw the countries as promising markets for finance capital in the twenty-first century. But even if O’Neill had not invented the name, the BRICS would have emerged as a conscious formation of big, rapidly developing countries with an ambivalent relationship to the traditional center economies of Europe and the United States.
The BRICS served notice that they are now an economic alliance that poses a challenge to the global status quo during their last summit in Brazil in mid-July, when they inaugurated two path-breaking institutions intended to rival the US- and European-dominated International Monetary Fund and World Bank: a Contingency Reserve Arrangement, with an initial capitalization of $100 billion, which can be accessed by BRICS members in need of funds; and the New Development Bank, with a total authorized capital of $100 billion, which is open to all members of the United Nations. Both institutions aim to break the global North’s chokehold on finance and development.
But while the BRICS countries have made plain their desire to loosen control of the global economy by the United States and Europe, they’ll have to confront some serious problems at home.
Benefiting from Globalization
The BRICS have been among the key beneficiaries of corporate-driven globalization, owing their rise to the marriage between global capital and cheap labor that has followed the fuller integration of formerly non-capitalist or dependent capitalist countries into the global capitalist system over the past thirty years. This union was among the factors that kept up the rate of profit and raised global capitalism out of its crisis of stagnation in the 1970s and ’80s.
Make no mistake: the BRICS are capitalist regimes—albeit with large central apparatuses capable of controlling workers.
In China, for instance, though the Communist Party leadership retains its socialist rhetoric, the reality is that thirty years after Deng Xiaoping’s pro-market reforms, the country now represents—in the words of the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek—”the ideal capitalist state: freedom for capital, with the state doing the ‘dirty job’ of controlling the workers.” Zizek says China “seems to embody a new kind of capitalism,” with “disregard for ecological consequences, disdain for workers’ rights, everything subordinated to the ruthless drive to develop and become the new world force.”