As the heat increases around the 2018 summit of the Brazil, India, Russia, China and South Africa (Brics) grouping, to be held in Johannesburg in July, debate from the Brics Think Tank and from the left is coming to the boil over the value of the bloc’s participatory processes.
Patrick Bond’s critique of the Brics Think Tank and Academic Forum meetings, held at the end of May in the run-up to the summit, is that limited critical commentary on Brics’s state of corruption “reflect[s] servility to local power” (Mail & Guardian Online, May 30).
If Brics summit rhetoric is to be taken at face value, the grouping poses an alternative, counter-hegemonic South-South bloc in the global political economy. The radical critique of Brics argues that this is simply rhetorical window-dressing that masks further socioeconomic exploitation.
As quoted by Radio Islam’s website on May 31, Brics think-tank leader Ari Sitas argues that Bond’s critique amounts to an argument by contamination: “You know so-and-so smells bad, therefore this must stink.”
The view held by Sitas and most academics and activists who took part in the forum and the Brics civil society participation process (known as Civil Brics) is that progressive critique and policy strategies will help to effect transformation at summit level.
This is the diplomatic line followed by South Africa’s Brics “sherpa”, Anil Sooklal, who said at a recent seminar at the University of the Western Cape (UWC): “We have no choice; we are part of Brics.”
The sticking point between radicals outside these spaces and progressive civil society forces inside them relates to knowledge control and the co-option of academics and activists. Or are we alibis for the “bad smells” emanating from Brics’s poor governance and exploitative socioeconomic practices, making resistance from outside (what we might term “tree-shaking”) …