The BRICS summit took place in Johannesburg, South Africa, in August. It was another confirmation of the relative decline of US power and the increasingly turbulent state of world imperialism.
The summit culminated with a decision to expand the grouping. Chinese President Xi Jinping hailed the move as “historic”, hoping it can rival the US-led G7.
The “BRICS” get their name from the first letter of the five countries involved—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
US bank Goldman Sachs originally coined the term in 2001, pointing to the economic potential of Brazil, Russia, India and China. The “BRIC” countries held their first summit in 2009 and invited South Africa to join a year later.
Its expansion will see Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates invited to join the group. The inclusion of Saudi Arabia, Iran and the UAE would mean six of the world’s nine biggest oil producers are in BRICS.
According to The Economist, the summit shows the BRICS group “has been rejuvenated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and rising tensions between the West and China”.
This underlines the fact capitalism is a system of both economic and military competition. Powerful states dominate the weaker ones, as well as competing with each other for markets, raw materials and trade routes. Marxists call this imperialism, drawing on the theory of early 20th century Russian revolutionaries Lenin and Bukharin.
Conflicts within the imperialist system become sharpest and most violent when the balance of economic and military power begins to shift.
This is exactly what we are seeing now with the relative decline of the US and the rise of China. This lies behind the events at the BRICS summit, the war in Ukraine and the growing militarisation of the Asia-Pacific.
In 1960 US made up 40 per cent of global production. By 2014 its relative weight in the world economy had been halved.
The G7 is currently the world’s dominant economic grouping and is led by the US. It includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US. Since 2001 its member states’ share of world GDP has dropped from 65 to 43 per cent.
In contrast, since 2001 the BRICS share of world GDP has increased from 8 to 26 per cent. This is largely due to the rise of China.
Challenging US domination
The BRICS are trying to challenge US and European Union domination of the world economic order. While BRICS bodies for interstate lending and other similar initiatives have been relatively modest, the BRICS states have pointedly refused to back the West’s proxy war in Ukraine and the associated sanctions on Russia.
The expansion of the BRICS is a win for China. It is also a win for Putin who sees an expanded BRICS as a way to compensate for Western sanctions.
The BRICS may not be as cohesive a grouping as the G7. India for instance also participates in the Quad grouping alongside the US, Australia and Japan aimed at countering Chinese influence.
But the fact United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attended part of the summit shows their increasing clout. He supported their calls to reform the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and UN Security Council.
Instead of making the world more balanced, the rise of BRICS is likely to lead to more intense conflicts.
The US will not take the decline of its influence lying down. This is why it is so committed to the proxy war in Ukraine—hoping to weaken Russia and send a message to China. A few days after the BRICS announced their expansion plans, Biden announced another $390 million in weapons and ammunition for Ukraine’s stalled counter-offensive.
The 2023 Global Wealth report by Credit Suisse and UBS found 1.1 per cent of the world’s population owned almost half the world’s wealth. The rulers of BRICS states are well and truly part of this global club of super-rich exploiters.
The BRICS summit saw protests outside by working class South Africans. One of the protesters, Trevor Ngwane, said, “We were there to remind the world that these BRICS leaders who talk about the crimes of the US and its allies, are themselves oppressing and exploiting their own populations.
“The Western imperialists are brutal robbers. But the BRICS leaders are not the solution. South African leader Cyril Ramaphosa was central to the slaughter of miners at Marikana in 2012. Such people cannot be the future.
“Their anti-imperialism is not anti-capitalist. Down with Ramaphosa and India’s Modi and Putin and the rest. Our allies are the workers of the whole world—in the poorer countries but also in the US and Europe and Britain.”
By Adam Adelpour