In Multipolarity
Flags of the nations that belong to the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) group in a typographic illustration.

Flags of the nations that belong to the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) group in a typographic illustration. (Image credit: Pixabay on Wikimedia Commons).

By Kieth Bennett. Originally Published on Friends Of Socialist China.

The 37th annual dinner of Third World Solidarity, an organisation that enjoys a close working relationship with Friends of Socialist China, was held on June 4, at the Royal Nawab Restaurant in the west London suburb of Perivale.

Among the guests were Councillor Tariq Dar MBE, Mayor of the London Borough of Brent, Councillor Shakeel Akram, Deputy Mayor of the London Borough of Hounslow, Nisar Malik, prospective parliamentary candidate for Brentford and Isleworth for the Workers’ Party of Britain (WPB), veteran journalist Shafi Naqi Jamie, and many others, from the embassy of Kazakhstan, local government, community activism, the arts, business and other walks of life, including members and friends of Friends of Socialist China from Britain, Luxembourg and Malaysia.

The 135 guests were greeted by Evie Hill of the Znaniye Foundation and its Russian School, who introduced the host, Honorary Alderman Mushtaq Lasharie CBE, the founder and Chairman of Third World Solidarity.

With the ongoing genocidal war of aggression against the Palestinian people in Gaza, and with June 14 marking the seventh anniversary of the Grenfell fire, which claimed the lives of 72 people, the first speakers were Palestinian activist for women’s rights, Ahlam Akram, the founder of Basira (British Arabs Supporting Universal Women’s Rights), and Emma O’Connor, a disabled resident on Grenfell’s 20th floor.

The main speaker was Keith Bennett, Co-editor of Friends of Socialist China, who spoke on the BRICS cooperation mechanism and its role in the evolution of a new global order.

A video message of greetings was received from Dave Anderson, former miner, care worker, Labour MP and shadow minister under Jeremy Corbyn, who is now the Chair of Marras – the Friends of the Durham Miners Gala, who was unable to be present.

Following the speeches, Hugh Goodacre sang a song marking the 40th anniversary of the miners’ great strike and this was followed by a virtuoso performance from singer and musician Mubarak Ali to round off the evening.

Keith began his speech by thanking all those who had made the evening possible, especially Mushtaq Lasharie, highlighting his decades of tireless activism and public service.

Referring to the two previous speakers, he expressed solidarity with the struggles of the Palestinian people and the Grenfell community. In the 1960s and 1970s, hundreds of thousands of people in India and Pakistan had taken to the streets raising the slogan, “My name, your name, Vietnam”. Today, for people around the world, their rallying cry has become, “In our thousands, in our millions, we are all Palestinians.”

Grenfell was one of those events where people will remember where they were and what they were doing when they first heard about it. It was an entirely avoidable tragedy, an act of social murder in the memorable words of Friedrich Engels. The council, the government and the companies concerned, knew that the building’s cladding, like that of other residential buildings still standing, was flammable and lethal. The building was known to be a death trap. The fire was one more manifestation, like the Hillsborough football stadium disaster, the Post Office Horizon scandal, the contaminated blood scandal, and the treatment of the Windrush generation, among others, of the ruling class’s contempt for working people. But the multinational working class community of Grenfell, like the others mentioned, is a community that has refused to be silenced and which has courageously persisted in the struggle for justice.

The following is the text of the main body of Keith’s speech.

 

I’ve been asked to speak this evening about the BRICS and their growing role in the reconfiguration of the world order.

But like a good novel, it takes a while, and there are a few plot twists before things start to fall into place. So please bear with me for a bit.

Let’s start with the origins of our host organization, Third World Solidarity. What world were we living in? What was happening?

The key event that led to the formation of Third World Solidarity was the US bombing, with the support of the Thatcher government here, of Libya on April 15, 1986 – an act of state terrorism in which the adopted baby daughter of head of state Colonel Gaddafi was among those killed.

This was the period when Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were turning the cold war hot throughout the Global South. (Or Third World as it was then generally called and from which we derive our name.) This was the case from Afghanistan to Nicaragua to Angola. And from Ethiopia to Cambodia.

It was also, although we did not realise it at the time, the period when the Soviet Union, and its allied socialist countries in central and Eastern Europe, were entering their final days.

Their demise also triggered the collapse, or the retreat, of many socialist experiments throughout the Third World.

Although five socialist countries survived, most notably China, elsewhere, attempts to build socialism, or just to pursue independent development, were often replaced by IMF/World Bank Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs), the downgrading of the role of the state, and the decimation of social programs and basic services, including in the vital areas of health and education. Neoliberalism acquired a practically religious aura. In the words of Margaret Thatcher, we were repeatedly told: “There is no alternative.” And for good measure, she added that there was, “no such thing as society, only individuals and their families.”

This neoliberal ideological hegemony was such that US political theorist Francis Fukuyama even proclaimed the end of history. And was catapulted from relative obscurity to intellectual rock star and guru status for his banal observation.

This apparently and now obviously ridiculous claim that history had come to an end meant that the evolution of human society was considered to have reached the destination of its journey with the hegemony of liberal democracy and the free market.

Although if democracy is to have any relationship to people having some measure of actual control over their own lives, and collectively over the evolution and running of their state and society, for hundreds of millions there was plenty of neoliberalism, plenty of economic impoverishment, but precious little democracy.

With the end of history there was also supposed to be a peace dividend. No more wars. And the Soviet Union was effectively persuaded to surrender with US promises that its NATO military alliance would not move one inch further east from a reunified Germany.

Of course, NATO marched inexorably eastwards. Slowly but surely laying the groundwork for today’s Ukraine tragedy.

As for no more wars, even to utter the phrase now can only draw a bitter laugh as we recall Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Palestine and so many other conflicts, together claiming the lives of millions of innocent children, women and men.

That bombing of Libya, which triggered the formation of Third World Solidarity, seemed shocking at the time. The world was, of course, far from tranquil. But it was more a case of shadow wars and proxy conflicts.

Now, looking back, the bombing of Libya was the harbinger of the new epoch of ‘forever wars’ that began a few years later with Gulf War One, just as the Soviet Union was breathing its last.

And now we hear the drumrolls from government ministers, politicians, serving and retired members of the armed forces and intelligence services, claiming that we are in a pre-war situation with Russia and China, along with Iran and North Korea, as well as unnamed others.

Let’s be clear. Such a war, if it were to materialise, would not simply (if one can use the word simple in such a horrendous context) cause the deaths of countless millions of people. The very survival of the human species, and much other life on earth, would be placed in jeopardy.

Were it not so serious, it would be laughable that Rishi Sunak’s war strategy would appear to be the conscription of unskilled and unwilling 18-year-olds.

As frightening as this situation might appear – and actually it is frightening – such dangerous and irresponsible talk of a third world war is actually an acknowledgment that history did not end.

Far from ending, in recent times, a far more accurate assessment has been given by Chinese President Xi Jinping – namely that we are presently witnessing changes unseen in a century.

I would argue that this is far from rhetoric, hyperbole or exaggeration. If anything, it is an understatement.

Much of the impetus for this change has come from developments in China itself.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union many expected that it was only a matter of time before China would follow. Either that or its economic transformation would lead to its gradual integration not only into the global economy but also politically into a subordinate position within the US-led New World Order. Especially as China had been pursuing a policy of ‘reform and opening up’ for long before Mikhail Gorbachev formulated his now long forgotten and naive policies of ‘glasnost’ and ‘perestroika’.

But when it came to China, it didn’t happen that way. China took, and still takes, full advantage of international cooperation and exchanges. It has made very extensive use of market mechanisms. But it has retained its political system, as well as the overall state direction and guidance of its economy, which itself flows from that political system.

Of course, no process is perfect and without hiccups, setbacks and complications. But overall, China’s path proved to be phenomenally successful. Some 850 million people were lifted out of poverty. China became the main trading partner of some three quarters of the world’s nations. It experienced the longest sustained period of rapid economic growth of any major country in human history. China has long since become the world’s second largest economy. Indeed, by one recognised method of calculation (that of Purchasing Power Parity [PPP]) it is already the largest.

This is really the bedrock on which the BRICS was established and has been built.

For a body, or a cooperation mechanism, that has become the leading such institution in the Global South, and a major force in world politics and economy, it had a somewhat odd beginning.

The term BRIC (referring to Brazil, Russia, India and China) was first coined in 2001 by Jim O’Neil, later Lord O’Neil, in a paper he wrote in his then capacity of Chief Economist of Goldman Sachs Asset Management. He was analysing trends in the global economy, essentially from the point of view of offering investment advice to his bank’s wealthy clients.

Perhaps to his surprise, his analysis assumed material form when the first BRIC Summit was held in Russia in 2009.

A year later, BRIC became BRICS with the admission of South Africa. Jim thought that this was inappropriate. South Africa’s economic size and prospects, he reasoned, did not match that of the four founders. But the BRICS had already been transformed. It was no longer an investment punt, but a vehicle for emerging economies and developing countries, the collective Global South or Third World, to coordinate their positions, assert their independence, and cooperate for mutual benefit on the basis of equality.

The key significance of the admission of South Africa, therefore, was that all the major regions of the Global South were now represented by at least one of their major economies. The importance of this was reinforced when it became the custom for the host country of each annual summit to invite the participation of other countries in their region.

Indeed, not only was Jim (who I must make clear is a person who I like and respect) sceptical about the admission of South Africa. He was later to opine that of his original four countries, only China, and perhaps India, had lived up to earlier expectations.

However, by the time the next wave of BRICS expansion seriously came on to the agenda, the GDP of its five members, in PPP terms, had surpassed that of the G7 group of leading developed economies.

Moreover, through the New Development Bank, the BRICS bank established in 2012, the BRICS Contingent Reserve Arrangement, the BRICS basket reserve currency, and so on, it is slowly but surely creating a new global financial architecture not beholden to a handful of major western countries.

It is against this backdrop that BRICS embarked on its next, and current, wave of expansion. The first since the 2010 addition of South Africa and one far more ambitious in its scope.

It was kicked off at last year’s BRICS Summit in South Africa, which resolved to admit Ethiopia, Egypt, Iran, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and Argentina.

Ethiopia, Egypt, Iran and the UAE became full members on January 1st this year. Argentina, sadly, withdrew its application following the election of a far right, almost fascist, President. As of now, Saudi Arabia has yet to make a final decision, which presumably reflects wider considerations and debates in that country as to its future trajectory, including how to balance its relations with the United States and China, whether or not to resume its quest to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, and so on.

But despite these teething problems, the process of BRICS expansion remains very much on track. Fifteen other countries have already formally applied for membership. One of the most recent is Pakistan. Let’s hope that India does not attempt to put too many obstacles in the way of Pakistan’s application. It was widely reported that India prevented the immediate ratification of Algeria’s application in South Africa at the behest of France.

India is clearly less keen on the expansion of BRICS than the other members, especially China and Russia. This relates not only to its rivalry and grievances with China, but more generally to the erosion of its non-aligned heritage under the right-wing BJP government. The electoral setback for Narendra Modi, forcing him to at least rely on coalition partners not wedded to his reactionary and communal Hindutva agenda, is one piece of good news today.

The BRICS as a whole will have to find a way to address such issues, arising in the process of its expansion, in terms of its procedures and operations.

Anyway, in addition to the four, soon to be possibly five, new members, and the 15 further applicants, at least 26 more countries have expressed an interest in joining, making more than 40 in all, and the number continues to grow.

Whatever the difficulties, fundamentally this is a process that cannot be held back. Already its membership accounts for some 30% of the world’s land surface and some 45% of the global population.

It is now being said that BRICS has the potential to become the world’s most important, most powerful and most influential international body. Key factors that are contributing to this include the growing paralysis and impotence of the United Nations in the face of Israel’s brutal and genocidal war against the Palestinian people in Gaza, and increasingly on the West Bank, too, due to the United States’ repeated abuse of its veto power; the shift of global economic growth, dynamism and opportunity from the West to the East and South; and the rejection by essentially the entire Global South of US and European demands to fall in line with their sanctions on Russia, not because they necessarily wholeheartedly support Russia’s actions in Ukraine – most do not – but because they refuse to be dictated to, have no wish to prolong and exacerbate conflict, do not consider their own vital interests to be at stake, and because they can see, and they reject, the odious and blatant hypocrisy of the powers responsible for the tragedies in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, and now, even more so, their blatant double standards when it comes to Ukraine and Palestine.

The BRICS therefore are in the vanguard of the creation of a new world order, with the Global South, the global majority, taking its rightful place.

This is not just a change unseen in a century. It is a change unseen since 1492, since more than 500 years ago, when the voyages of Christopher Columbus to the Americas inaugurated the era of western colonial domination of the rest of the world.

That historical period is now rapidly unravelling. And, therefore, history has not ended.

*****

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