Now, don’t misunderstand me. The development of BRICS, and the potential expansion of BRICS is a good thing, or CAN be a good thing. No question about it. But we have to understand that this is not something that the global business and investment community is alarmed by or that took them by surprise. They have been anticipating the shift to the east and to the south for a long time, and they have facilitated it, and ARE facilitating it. I mean, people like Joseph Sullivan, a former economic advisor to the White House, has also advised the New Development Bank, the BRICS bank; and has promoted the idea of BRICS creating its own currency. BlackRock has created not one, but two, ETFs dedicated to BRICS economies. And, like I said, a great deal of the repercussions of the Russian sanctions have actually benefited BRICS nations, and potential BRICS nations, and provided a strong incentive for de-dollarization. The Ukraine war has really been a vehicle for accelerating this process; this global economic shift away from Europe and the West. So, they are facilitating it, they are not opposing it. They are welcoming it. But, of course, they want to control the outcome.
The ideal situation for them would be to more or less replicate the Bretton Woods system, but in reverse. In other words, the beneficiaries and victims of Bretton Woods basically switch places. Western-aligned corporate power, the OCGFC of the Western world, do not particularly care about the welfare of their nations, but they care about themselves, and the don’t want to be sidelined by the inevitable transition to the global south. They want to steer the transition.
But the problem, or the challenge for them, is that the parallel power structure of the private sector that has eclipsed state power in the West, has not yet eclipsed state power in the East. The power of the private sector in many countries of the Global South is still subordinate to governmental control. I mean, as much as people like to talk about Russian oligarchs, they are not in a position to defy Vladimir Putin; whereas American politicians are not in a position to defy American oligarchs. To say nothing about China. Business and government are interwoven everywhere in the world, but the relationship between politicians and business leaders outside of the West tends to be more dictated by the state than by the private sector. In the West, particularly in the US, government has become little more than an instrument of business. So, this poses a real challenge for western-oriented owners and controllers of global financialized capital.
The fact that most of these countries still deeply believe in nation-states, and the fact that the way a lot of their governments function is drawn from old, traditional hierarchical structures, and concepts of status and authority; like say, in the GCC countries, there are entrenched cultural factors that make them resistant to subordination. Not to mention political factors. Many of them do not have the same vulnerability as Western politicians in terms of continuously campaigning for re-election, so they are not as easily bribed through political donations. The corruption they engage in tends to be for the purpose of increasing their power, not being bought off to abdicate their power. And to one extent or another, they do care about what their populations think about them. Whenever you have a deeply unpopular leader in the Global South, it is a fairly reliable indicator that they are Western puppets.
The companies of the Global South, the OCGFC of the Global South, are also not quite as anationalistic as their counterparts in the Global North, and in the West. There is still a sense of national pride among them. They have some residual traditional values from their societies, and their cultures, that make them care about their nations. And, of course, they are capitalists and ambitious, and would like to be shot-callers in their own countries and their own regions.
So, this is not going to be easy for Western-oriented OCGFC to manage, but they believe they can, and they are certainly going to try. But this is why I think it is important to understand that BRICS does not constitute an uprising against the West; if you don’t know what kind of fight you are in, you won’t know how to fight to win. And this is a fight, for sure. But it is not THAT kind of fight. If you think it is that kind of fight; like a rebellion against the West, you are going to be anticipating assassinations and wars and invasions. But, I don’t think this is what you have to be worried about. What you have to be worried about is “help”. You don’t have to be worried about armies, you have to be worried about consultancy firms, you have to worry about Western companies suddenly flashing huge injections of FDI at you, and the promise of them creating jobs in your country. And, obviously, you have to be worried about loans.
The independence and sovereignty that the BRICS project promises is not going to be derailed by assassinations or military invasions; it will be by contracts and agreements. It won’t be by war, but by treaties. It won’t be by opposition, but by assistance.
To me, I am not particularly keen on the creation of a BRICS currency, to be honest. I don’t see why countries can’t trade in their own national currencies. Or, if you want to start thinking about alternative currencies specifically for cross-border trade, why not think about regional currencies? Like a currency for ASEAN, or for the OAU, or OAS? Or for that matter, why couldn’t the OIC start studying the creation of a trade currency for their member states? I mean, if Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Indonesia, and like ten other Muslim countries join BRICS, it will almost be a de facto Islamic bloc anyway, accounting for almost half of the world’s oil supply, and controlling practically every major port and maritime route of global trade. It would make sense at that point to initiate greater integration between members, coordinated monetary policies, and potentially their own trade currency.
Personally, I don’t like talk about creating a gold-backed currency at this time. I’m afraid the lead up to launching something like that would just see absolutely devastating conflict across Africa. It sounds great in the abstract, but if everyone knew that there was going to be a gold-backed trade currency, I think violence and destruction would descend on Africa from all sides, in a desperate bid to pillage their gold. It wouldn’t be a gold rush, but a gold genocide. So for now, yes, I completely support de-dollarization, but I would like to see every country trading in their own currencies for the time being, and to focus on developing regional cohesion, and monetary coordination with other Global South trading partners.
Look, you are in a position now to set terms. Goldman Sachs didn’t come up with the idea for BRICS for no reason; it was because of necessity. The West is declining, the Ukraine war is accelerating that decline. Pivoting to the South and to the East is the only thing they CAN do. If you decide to shut them out, if you decide to impose capital controls, tariffs, restrictions and so on; there isn’t much they can do about it. They can’t afford to destroy two hemispheres, and they can’t salvage the one they’re in. The last thing they want is for BRICS, or any other collection of Global South economies, to take control of this transition; they are not going to fight the transition itself, they are just going to fight over who gets to manage it. They want it to conform with the neoliberal program, but they don’t really have the muscle to force you to do it that way. They are counting on you having no ideas, and on you not understanding what the fight is about; and they are counting on the Global South still looking at them with awe and reverence, and not actually realizing that the tables are irreversibly turning in your favour.
When slavery was abolished in the United States, the slave masters approached their former slaves and invited them to continue on the plantation for a meagre wage, because he realized that he had no future without them, and he expected them to have no idea what else to do with their freedom. That is what is happening when multinationals and investors come to your country from the West today. The master’s house is burning, and the crops you have been harvesting for him, are yours now. He just doesn’t want you to know it.