Patrick Bond is a political economist, author, editor and lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. In 2014, he published an article titled “BRICS and the tendency to sub-imperialism” claiming the project “suffers a worsening schizophrenia, in terms of positioning within global political economy.” Bond criticizes the five countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) as well as their ‘anti-imperialist’ stance as ideologically, institutionally, and materially incapable to establish counter historic and hegemonic blocs against the current imperialist/hegemonic neoliberalism of the western countries. Instead, they enhance and support the current global political economic structure.
On this critical analysis paper, a brief summary of the article will be presented. Bond’s stance and strategic moves will be demonstrated. The concept of hegemony in the Gramscian/Neo-Gramscian perspective along with an articulated definition from the historical materialism, World-Systems Analysis, and International Relations approaches based on a roundtable debate held in 1994 on ‘hegemony and social changes’ will be illustrated. After representing Bond’s claim and elucidating the overall image, his critical analysis will be evaluated. The counter-argument, then will be: although Bond’s argument is well established, he himself might not be aware of or avoid some paradoxical conditions deep rooted in human consciousness and subconsciousness which unenabled or restrained our capacity to both explain aspects of reality and come up with genuine ideas and techniques without relying or thriving on the currently existed ideas and accumulated experiences.
Bond’s main theme circulates around four core relations of sub-imperialism to the core, and three major roles of the sub-imperialist regimes in the continuity of the existing global political economy. The first core relation is the “systemic processes of imperialism within which it operates.” On this part, Bond reintroduces Rosa Luxemburg’s conceptualization of the ‘accumulation of capital’ through ‘extra-economic coercion associated with exploitation between capitalist and non-capitalist spheres under conditions of capitalist crisis.’ Consequently, the second relation is ‘capitalist crisis conditions’ which appear within sub-imperial economies similarly as they do in the core-imperial economies. One of the major and universal crises of capitalism is ‘overaccumulation of capital’, which as much like as the core, the sub-imperial countries externalize and financialize their capital to solve these problems. This mechanism is contextualized by David Harvey as ‘spatio-temporal fixes’ where overaccumulation will be resolved via investing in megaprojects, social/educational projects, long term plans, or simply by providing credits (loans) to the people within the borders, or externalizing the capital/credit outside the borders but within the countries’ geopolitical influence (Harvey 2003: 64 & 109).
Bond claims that BRICS promote the most extreme of such mechanisms in the world, saying “They entail intensified uneven development combined with super-exploitative (and often extra-economically coercive) systems of accumulation, as well as economic symptoms of imperialist desperation, especially financialization.” Therefore, the third relation is that these sub-regimes ever extend the neoliberal agendas and practices across their regional scope of hegemony. Consequently, allowing themselves to extract resources from the hinterlands and destroying their economies to become dependent on the sub-imperial countries, thus making themselves regional financial and economic centers. This ‘regional gendarme role’ turns into the motor for continuing the world division of labour and constant flow of materials to keep global capitalist processes run smoothly. The last relation of the sub-imperialist states with the core is ‘the super-exploitation of domestic labour.’ China’s super-exploitative techniques on its working force is a precise example of such a relation. Gradually, “such super-exploitative relations are then readily transferred to the international scale, where China’s role has been even more predatory than Western corporations.” Extra-economic coercive technique or accumulation by dispossession is the mechanism of capitalist system where capital can only be created on the ruins of the none-capitalist sectors of the society including social reproduction, as well as from one branch of the economy to another. Eventually it reaches “The periodical and cyclical swings of reproduction between overproduction and crisis… The current renewal of this process… crisis, extension of the market, and amplified capitalist-noncapitalist super-exploitative relations… serves as the basis for renewed imperialism.” Overall, these sub-regimes have three other major roles which are: ensuring geopolitical stability, enhancing the broader agenda of globalized neoliberalism, and deepening the market access into regional hinterlands; thus lubricating, legitimizing, and spreading the current global political economy led by the neoliberal/imperial strata.
In order to critically analyze Bond’s stance, first it is important to define hegemony and how can a class/state become hegemonic or counterhegemonic. According to Gramsci, the hegemon candidate is a class within a given society that is capable of performing supremacy in terms of ideology, material capabilities, and institutions. It represents moral and intellectual leadership and can incorporate and persuade subordinate classes. In doing so, the hegemonic candidate establishes a historic bloc that can challenge the existing hegemon. There are two possible ways to overthrow the former hegemon; war of movement (revolution), and war of position (gradual and passive movement). The former can be possible within non-capitalist societies, while the latter is the only possible form of countermovement (one can also corelate it with Polanyi’s Double Movement) within advanced capitalist societies. On the international scale on the other hand, the hegemon can also be in the form of state or class/state complex that preserves its hegemonic status through international apparatuses that operate to: embody the rules that assist in the expansion of the world order, these organizations are themselves the products of the hegemon, they legitimize the ideologies and norms of the exiting world order, and they co-opt the elites within the peripheral regions or states and absorb counter hegemonic ideas ‘transformismo’ (Cox 1983: 162-174).
Furthermore, the core-periphery analysis (which Bond advocates) brought about two other perspectives. The radical approach (world systems analysis) claims that the strong (dominant) sates are located in the core, and the weak (subordinated) ones are circumscribed within the periphery. The second one focuses on the structural-functional sociology (Cox 1981: 127-28). Both are perceiving the world in a merely hierarchical or vertical structure, regardless of the fact that there are weak (subordinated) states within the core, as well as, rising powers and emerging markets within the periphery in horizontal structures established through power relations amongst the classes/states domestically and globally (Cox 1981: 128). Unlike the former doctrines of supremacy which can be only preserved by force, Cox/Gramsci deliberately demonstrates the essence of material capabilities (content), ideas/ideologies (form), and institutions all together to establish hegemonic bloc. More importantly, hegemony is sustained by consent and then coercion if necessary (Cox 1981: 135-38).
Frank Andre Gander redefines the world system as the metropolis-satellites structure. Not in its simpler version of core-(semi-periphery) periphery structure, but rather as a multi-nodal, sequential, highly interdependent, and wired structure of: core-metropolis (imperialist), core-satellites, underdeveloped metropolis (sub-imperialist), underdeveloped satellites, and finally the ultra-underdeveloped regions (hinterlands). This highly sophisticated system does not allow the underdeveloped countries to break the chains to develop independently, and any development occurs in such regions, is to serve a particular goal of the main metropolis. The current underdevelopment, in Latin America for instance, is due to its long-term involvement in the world capitalist process (Frank 1966: 7-9). Nevertheless, He also stands against the perception of ‘dual societies’ where in underdeveloped countries there are relatively developed domestic regions due to their closeness to the outside capitalist world, while the other underdeveloped domestic regions are still feudalist and agrarian for their loose ties with the metropoles. For Frank, the inaccuracy and falsehood of such claim is evident for the fact that the expansion of capitalism has indeed reached the most isolated spheres of underdeveloped world as well (Frank 1966: 5&6). Such a statement in 1966 can reject one of the main themes of Bond believing that BRICS or sub-imperial regimes are spreading capitalism through non-capitalist sectors (social reproduction) and regions (hinterlands) because, in actuality, capitalism exists even at our backyards by now.
However, in 1966, his empirical observation and theoretical assumption were not very accurate by claiming the main metropoles are ‘set’ in the Global North (one can also argue against the positivist stance of Bond claiming there are ‘concrete sub-imperial locations’ as well). Later on, in 1994, Frank’s conceptualization of the dependency theory even departs from the historical materialist tradition which primarily focuses on the class/state dialectic and the role of capital, institutions, and values as the main pillars to establish hegemonic bloc. He confidently claims that hegemony “assuming there is such a thing” is very rare, temporary, and in constant transition from one region to another globally, and that the hegemonic power and super-accumulation tends to move eastwards (China and Japan) again (Frank 1994: 371&72). This leads to the exposure of another weakness in Frank’s as well as Bond’s arguments that, the underdeveloped countries are in a vicious circle made by the western metropoles, and ‘the only’ way out is through sociopolitical revolution (from the below) to depart from metropolis-satellites (Imperialist/sub-imperialist) world structure. It is obvious that the miracle growth of the Four Asian Tigers as well as China did not happen because of the revolutions and economic isolation, but rather the economic growth of China, for instance, has been accelerated after its opening up to international economic integration (Globalization) but through accommodating international standards with domestic needs, values, and stage of development.
Therefore, the definition of Hegemony can be synthesized as the class/state dialectic and interplay to achieve consensual ascendency within ideologically multi-polar and at the same time financially and commercially globalized networks of social, economic, political, cultural, and institutional interactions and interconnectedness. It is impossible for hegemony to be preserved within a geographically defined location, and the constant transitional nature of super-accumulation allows the emergence (reemergence) of other hegemonic candidates on the global stage. Cox famously said, “The task of changing world order begins with long, laborious effort to build historic blocs within national boundaries” (Cox 1983: 174). Therefore, the task for BRICS is not to defy neoliberal hegemony as their first move, but to grow strong enough within the existing reality until they will be capable of challenging the West.
Coming back to reality, as a counterargument, this paper provides some other more accurate and to some extend reverse-psychological methodologies to Bond’s explanations. First of all, Bond states that the opening up of the global market in terms of commodities and capital (obviously by the West) allowed other states to participate in the global economy. In their early stages as consumers, and then producers which consequently enabled them to become competitors on the global stage practicing “systematic spatio-temporal fixes for their own capital surplus by defining territorial spheres of influence…Nevertheless, … Since they cannot all succeed in the long run, either the weakest succumb and fall into serious crises of devaluation, or geopolitical confrontations erupt in the form of trade wars, currency wars and even military confrontations”.
Taking Sino-American competition for instance, the USA is still the most powerful state and seeks to preserve its hegemonic position in the capitalist world system, but there are two dynamics that have weakened and are dismantling its ascendancy. The first one is that the over-concentration of its military might on few spots such as Iraq and Afghanistan created geopolitical gaps and military weaknesses elsewhere allowing the other rising powers to flex their muscles and expand. The other dynamic is internationalization of capital, in contrary to Bond’s static statement, provided enough chances for new economies to emerge or resurface. Despite the fact that these new spheres of capital accumulation are still in accordant with neoliberal hegemony, in fact these economies perform independent capabilities in terms of producing commodities, exploiting labour, and exporting investment capital. “China, in particular, is developing a fusion of state and class powers to rival the United States and other top economies in the contemporary world market… It is clear, then, that the United States and China are locked in complex forms of rivalry and interdependence” (Klassen 2015: 81 & 83). Moreover, Bond unfairly criticizes BRICS and focuses on one side of the coin stating that the platform is another tool to legitimize and lubricate the globalized neoliberalism by showing an empirical example that during the global financial crises in 2009 and 2012, BRICS supported the IMF in recapitalization of the institution through proving $75 billion aids. However, he avoids mentioning that only between 2003-13, the World Bank had provided $80 billion to the BRICS as development packages (Prado & Salles 2014: 162).
Another important aspect that should be pointed out is Bond confidently claims that similar to the 1884-85 conference hosted by Bismarck to draw geopolitical spheres of influences amongst western powers in Africa which benefited extractive enterprises and construction firms and so did lubricate capital accumulation in England, France, Portugal, Belgium, and Germany (5 countries). It appears, he indicates, that BRICS (5 countries) going on the same colonial/neocolonial paths through “Identifying port, bridge, road, hydropower and other infrastructure projects in the same image, in exchange for extracting raw materials.” However, this acknowledgment is not quite right. The involvement of BRICS in Africa is South-South cooperation seeking the reduction of the South dependency on the Industrialized North. Furthermore, in contrast to the donor-recipient relations with the North, these regional hegemons were not colonial powers (except Russia) as those in the North plundering resources and exploiting labour power from the South through militaristic measures and using hard power. In fact, some of them were colonies of the mentioned colonial powers. For instance, anti-colonial trend is becoming prominent in daily politics in South Africa regardless of its hegemonic practices in Africa (Feltes 2016: 20).
Fundamentally, achieving global unity in diversity is the greatest challenge and obstacle in front of humanity (Kornegay 2019: 22). To conclude my stance, here, I want to put emphasis on two psycho-sociological theories because as Ludwig Erhard said that “fifty percent of economics is psychology” (Gregosz, Köster, Morwinsky and Schebesta 2020: 4), and I would say that it is all of politics. First, The gestalt theory conceptualizes that humans subconsciously tend to look for/or consciously observe similarities, pragnanz, proximity, continuity, and then closure of the phenomena, events, or visuals to produce the ultimate meaning of the whole and to complete the missing parts of the given reality from the bigger picture or the overall situation. A perception where facts fit into different narratives because they are complementary, and individual parts do not necessarily have any meaning or function by themselves separately (Çakir 2009: 322-24). Hannes Peltonen well demonstrated the gestalt psychology within social constructivism, cognition, and duality of international relations as, “We, with our socially constructed identities, study socially constructed things in worlds of our making, but we have trouble seeing them simultaneously, illustrated in the global law example” (Peltonen 2016: 86). Additionally, such International orders are at least affected by and established through: “(1) the content of policymaker beliefs, (2) the organization and structure of policymaker beliefs, (3) common patterns of perception (and misperception), (4) cognitive rigidity (and flexibility) for change and learning, and (5) impact on policymaking” (Çakir 2009: 24). Moreover, there is another related theory. ‘Relative advantage’ is a collective process occurs amongst a group of people to define their situation, values, character in comparison to another/other group(s) or to themselves in different spatiotemporal circumstances which gives them a sense of satisfaction. This collective process usually strengthens unity amongst the members of the group and rarely leads to isolation of some members, but almost exclusively leads to categorization and separation amongst different groups in which the perception of superiority, neutrality, and inferiority emerges through comparison to others of: (a) similar statuses, (b) lower statuses, (c) superior statuses (Wolf 1990: 41-42 & 52-54).
In other words, colonialism, imperialism, sub-imperialism, hegemony, and even neo-imperialism are not the mere products of the global capitalist system, but rather they are manifestations of deeply rooted core-beliefs, instincts, impulses, and reactions of the very human nature itself to the spatiotemporal stimulations and situations. It is not the North’s premediated master plan for the rise of the rest to keep global capitalism go smoothly, but it is the rise of the fittest in the demise of the strongest. Moreover, the general masses have never made and probably will never make any influential and foundational changes within the overall system because they lack organic intellectual unity. The nature of surplus-value is inherently capitalist for the fact that machines cannot be exploited (not denying technological change), and even assuming that raw materials are constantly available, then it is only through the exploitation of the labour power that profit is being made/increased which is eventually crucial for the prosperity of the economy. Without such economic multiplications, no matter how immoral they are, the rest of the world will live from hand to mouth as the bottom two billion. In this contextualized 400 years of capitalism, and way more before, the economic nature of capital has been different in forms, but universal in content. Colonialism existed and was practiced by the Assyrians, Greeks, and even during the Islamic Conquest. The very elitism and pro-wealthy class/capitalists orientation can be also traced back within Hammurabi’s codes in which the elites (both political and economic) could pay for their crimes with money, while the peasants with their lives. History does not repeat itself. It is us repeating ourselves due to the disruption and periods of void in our global collective consciousness resulting from the collapse of systems and civilizations. Globalization and neoliberal internationalization, in this regard, help the continuity of our collective consciousness to bypass these conditions. Although the current capitalism is very close to cannibalism, but through gradual evolution and modifications, this too will become civilized. In the end, the sky is the limit even for the top 1%. In these manners, BRICS can bring more harmony to the systemic changes (problem-solving theory) rather than system changes (critical theory), but they also represent the position of opposition which is fundamentally significant and more influential than radical revolutions and changes within boundaries and beyond.
Bachelor of Arts in International Studies and Law at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani
Studies Master’s Degree in Global Political Economy and Development at University of Kassel, Germany
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