The Rise of the BRICS
For centuries, the nations of the Global South have struggled to assert themselves politically. This assertion originally took the form of myriad struggles against colonialism, and as the European empires collapsed, new nation states came into being across Africa and Asia.
In 1955, the leaders of these newly emerging, optimistic nations came together in Bandung, Indonesia, to advance their struggles in the international arena. The “Spirit of Bandung” would subsequently inform institutions such as the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the G77, its group within the UN. In economic matters, this perspective found expression in the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), while the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) advanced an alternative cultural agenda. These bodies were the institutional expression of the Third World Project, the collective dream of billions of people for another world, one characterized by peace, cooperation, and shared prosperity.
By the 1980s, this project, already imperiled by its inherent contradictions, collapsed under the weight of North Atlantic neoliberalism. The Third World Project had assumed a national unity across class lines that broke down as local elites more brazenly aligned themselves with the interests of international capital, and liquidity crises opened the door to the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) “structural adjustment” programs that deprived these nations of adequate capacity to shape their economic futures. For the next several decades, neoliberalism would continue its triumphal and destructive march across the planet—until the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression exposed the hollowness of this ideology.
Even before the outbreak of the financial crisis, Brazil, Russia, India, China, and—eventually—South Africa had started working together in what came to be known as the BRICS bloc. In contrast to the leading countries of the Global North, these “locomotives of the South” enjoy high growth rates, boast extensive natural resources, and have large, young, and educated populations. How do their economic ascendancy and mutual cooperation affect global power relations and geopolitics? Is the dominance of the North coming to an end?
In this report, Vijay Prashad, Professor of South Asian History at Trinity College Connecticut and author of The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South (Verso 2013), sets out to answer these questions. According to him, while there is a partial connection between the “Spirit of Bandung” and the BRICS, their project is by no means revolutionary. Economic growth in these countries has come at the expense of ordinary working people and the environment, and the BRICS elites are not seeking to overturn the existing system of global governance, but merely to join it. Still, the BRICS are gaining economic strength, finding their political voice, and effectively asserting themselves on the global stage, challenging the Global North’s arrogant dominance of world affairs. Prashad concludes that because of the rise of the BRICS, we in fact already live in a multi-polar world.
Tobita Chow, Jake Werner