So, Are Brics Sub-Imperialists?

Published on ZNet, by Patrick Bond, March 30, 2013.

‘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.’[3]

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] … //

… Reading between the lines, the Durban Brics resolutions will:

  • support favoured corporations’ extraction and land-grab strategies;
  • worsen Africa’s retail-driven deindustrialization (South Africa’s Shoprite and Makro – soon to be run by Walmart – are already notorious in many capital cities for importing even simple products that could be supplied locally);
  • revive failed projects such as Nepad; and
  • confirm the financing of both African land-grabbing and the extension of neo-colonial infrastructure through a new ‘Brics Bank,’ in spite of the damaging role of the Development Bank of Southern Africa in its immediate hinterland, following Washington’s script.[17]

With this evidence, and more, can we determine whether the Brics are ‘anti-imperialist’ – or instead, ‘sub-imperialist,’ doing deputy-sheriff duty for global corporations and neoliberal ideologues, while controlling their own angry populaces as well as their hinterlands through a more formidable security apparatus? The eco-destructive, consumerist-centric, over-financialised, climate-frying maldevelopment model throughout the Brics works very well for corporate and parastatal profits, especially for Western capital, but is generating repeated crises for the majority of its people and for the planet.

Hence the label sub-imperialist is tempting. During the 1970s, Marini argued that Brazil was ‘the best current manifestation of sub-imperialism,’ for three central reasons:

  • ‘Doesn’t the Brazilian expansionist policy in Latin America and Africa correspond, beyond the quest for new markets, to an attempt to gain control over sources of raw materials – such as ores and gas in Bolivia, oil in Ecuador and in the former Portuguese colonies of Africa, the hydroelectric potential in Paraguay – and, more cogently still, to prevent potential competitors such as Argentina from having access to such resources?
  • ‘Doesn’t the export of Brazilian capital, mainly via the State as exemplified by Petrobras, stand out as a particular case of capital export in the context of what a dependent country like Brazil is able to do? Brazil also exports capital through the constant increase of foreign public loans and through capital associated to finance groups which operate in Paraguay, Bolivia and the former Portuguese colonies in Africa, to mention just a few instances.
  • ‘It would be good to keep in mind the accelerated process of monopolization (via concentration and centralization of capital) that has occurred in Brazil over these past years, as well as the extraordinary development of financial capital, mainly from 1968 onward.’[18]

Matters subsequently degenerated on all fronts. In addition to these criteria – regional economic extraction, ‘export of capital’ (always associated with subsequent imperialist politics) and internal corporate monopolization and financialisation – there are two additional roles for Brics regimes if they are genuinely sub-imperialist. One is ensuring regional geopolitical ‘stability’: for example, Brasilia’s hated army in Haiti and Pretoria’s deal-making in African hotspots like South Sudan, the Great Lakes and the Central African Republic for which $5 billion in corruption-riddled arms purchases serve as military back-up … //
(full long long text and notes).


Parents Rights Blog;

“Liberating” Iraqis, Limb by Limb, Life by Life, Home by Home, Gene by Gene, on Dissident Voice, by Felicity Arbuthnot, March 29, 2013;

Chavez’ Singular Legacy, on Dissident Voice, by Ron Ridenour, March 29th, 2013: One of the greatest contributions Hugo Chavez Frias made to contemporary history was to activate participatory democracy …;

Watch Out… We’re Surrounded, on Dissident Voice, by Frank Scott, March 30, 2013.

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