By Dermot Smyth
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Issue 408

Anyone involved with development NGOs or movements will find this collection of papers useful as a background reader because much of the content applies to countries far beyond the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

It demolishes the idea that is sometimes expressed by leaders of BRICS governments, NGOs, labour, movements, academia and others; that BRICS represent a challenge to the global order of imperialist states and corporations. It embodies the best, yet also the limitations, of “academic Marxism” in furthering the socialist project. The range of its 25 contributions (from Marxist left to reformist middle) encompasses useful debate of the anti-capitalist movement.

Innumerable cases are presented of “sub-imperialist” BRICS mimicking imperialism proper. In “Sub-imperialism, the Highest Stage of Dependent Capitalism” Mathias Luce refers to “antagonistic cooperation” between imperialist and sub-imperialist nations.

However, from Brazil’s capitalist expansion in South America to South Africa’s military operations in Africa, we can see there is little evidence of antagonism. It is clear that BRICS and premier league imperialists work well together.

In “The Sub-imperial Location”, lead editor Patrick Bond decries the “struggle over semantics between impotent leftist intellectuals”. In which case, he might have asked Mathias Luce to compress his 16 (turgid) pages into one. And Luce’s “problematicisation” was two suffixes too far for my dictionary.

Actually, the book contains very little academicism of this sort. About a third of the papers are largely case studies of particular BRICS and other countries. Nevertheless, theory predominates and only two contributions have graphs.

Concepts central to the anti-capitalist movement are explored. Some are simply taken as read: for example, that BRICS are “sub-imperialist”. Indeed, the word “imperialism” appears hundreds of times throughout. Other concepts need careful qualification before being co-opted by socialists: super-exploitation, extractivism, antagonistic cooperation and accumulation by dispossession. Financialisation (used uncritically by a couple of authors) is best avoided altogether.

Slogans like “Think global, act local” have become commonplace on demos and, more recently, “System change, not climate change”. These clearly proclaim common ground between socialists and anti-capitalists.

In her “Building BRICS From Below” (also the title of a 2013 conference hosted by Bond’s Durban University) co-editor Ana Garcia admits there has been little on the ground to turn this slogan into reality. But Marxist authors are widely quoted. Patrick Bond draws heavily on Rosa Luxemburg’s The Accumulation of Capital and on David Harvey.

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