BRICS Expansion: Remember the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact?

On August 23, 2024 it was announced that Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been invited to join as full members from January 1 next year.

The news of the expansion of BRICS coming out of the BRICS summit in South Africa reminds progressives of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. Under this pact, signed on August 22, 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union agreed to conclude a pact of non-aggression. Nine days later, the Nazis attacked Poland. World War II escalated. World War II was one of the bloodiest wars in human history culminating in the mass killings and dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This pact was basically a placeholder for the fascists to bide time in order to strengthen itself to make a major onslaught against the USSR .The terms of the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact were briefly as follows: the two countries agreed not to attack each other, either independently or in conjunction with other powers; not to support any third power that might attack the other party to the pact; to remain in consultation with each other upon questions touching their common interests; not to join any group of powers directly or indirectly threatening one of the two parties; to solve all differences between the two by negotiation or arbitration.

The Non-Aggression Pact became a dead letter on June 22, 1941, when Nazi Germany, attacked the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa. The peoples of the Soviet Union paid a high price for this German invasion with over 20 million citizens of the USSR paying with their lives for this fascist aggression. The lessons of this non-aggression pact have not been learnt by the leaders of BRICS.

Expansion of BRICS

At the end of the BRICS summit in Johannesburg on August 23, 2023 it was announced that six new members would become full BRICS members in January 2024. This is part of the first phase expansion of BRICS. The six new members are Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates, who will join Saudi Arabia and Iran. Of these six new members three are states whose track record and anti-people policies would lead progressives to consider comparing this expansion to the Hitler Stalin non-aggression pact.

At the time of the Hitler-Stain pact in 1939, it was the progressive Pan Africanists such as C.L.R James and George Padmore who opposed this pact and exposed the realities of the fascist nature of the German state. Now, it is the task of progressives internationally to penetrate the content of this expansion to grasp its anti-people reality. China cannot avoid US encirclement and military planning by aligning with oppressive regimes such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

When Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa (BRICS) grouping was formed at the start of this century, progressives welcomed this loose formation as one possible alliance to break the imperial hegemony of the dollar. After the 2008 financial crisis and the printing of trillions of dollars under quantitative easing, the anti-imperialist bloc cheered the establishment of the New Development Bank (NDB) as one of the key platforms for new international cooperation. As a multilateral development bank, the announcement of the facility that was called the Contingency Reserve Arrangement (CRA) to combat currency crises was watched with glee by poor countries suffering from IMF and World Bank conditionalities. However, in the ten years of the CRA, the conditionalities of the BRICS bank have been no different from those of the Bretton Woods Institutions. BRICS is grounded in neo liberal capitalist policies when neoliberalism has been overtaken by weaponization.

There are four principal institutions of BRICS (a) the New Development Bank (b) the Contingency Reserve Arrangement (c) The BRICS exchange alliance and (d) the BRICS Energy Alliance. Over the past ten years the New Development Bank has been operating with the same neo liberal conditionalities as the World Bank. Apart from the expedient of seeking to move to lend in local currencies such as the remiimbi (China) Ruble (Russia), Rupees (India), Real (Brazil) and the Rand (South Africa) the BRICS bank has assisted in strengthening the hold of the dollar over the poor and exploited countries of the world.

The military management of the international system by the financial behemoths of the USA had been grounded in the weaponization of currencies and trade. The indexing of the sale of oil in the dollar has been one key element of this military management. Sanctions against Iran and the crippling of its economy by Washington-Tel Aviv – Riyadh has been one of the most dramatic lessons of the weaponization of the dollar. The Chinese effort to bring a thaw between Saudi Arabia and Iran was a worthy diplomatic venture to strengthen the anti-weaponization bloc in international politics. This thaw opened the door for strengthening the BRICS Energy alliance. As a holding arrangement, this was a diplomatic victory for the anti-hegemony forces. However, this should not blind one to the repressive nature of both regimes in Iran and Saudi Arabia. The recent news of the Saudis killing Ethiopians at the border is only the tip of the iceberg of the criminal acts of the Wahhabists.

Then there is the regime of the United Arab Emirates. This is possibly one of the most conservative governments on the planet earth. As an outpost for French and US mischief internationally, this small state stands out in its energetic efforts to destroy Libya and empower the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The UAE is the base for the most conservative elements of the US military faction and neo fascists such as Erik Prince of Academi (formerly Blackwater). The UAE supports both sides of the military in Sudan that are fighting to crush the peoples who are standing up against militarism. There is also the murderous war that UAE and Saudi Arabia have been fighting in Yemen.

Together Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are formidable allies of global capital and western imperialism, notwithstanding their temporary difficulties with factions of US capital. A change in the political leadership inside the United States with a party more favorable to Saudi Arabia will unleash the true ideological, political, and economic goals of Saudi Arabia.

These three countries may have tactical differences with the United States, but the thrust of their policies have been to oppress their peoples and support the NATO project of imperial military domination.

From the reports, both China and Russia pressed for the expansion of BRICS. The short-term needs of both countries in their anti-hegemony campaign should not blind oppressed peoples all around the world to the urgent questions of ending global capitalist exploitation and the destruction of the planet earth. At the time of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact the progressive left called on the oppressed globally to oppose fascism and militarism.

This writer is calling for the opposition of militarism and fascism. The mobilization of the Chinese workers and peasants against global capital, along with an alliance of oppressed peoples internationally is the clearest path to world peace. This expansion of BRICS offers yet another clear example of the limitations of the political nature of the BRICs project at this moment in history. BRICS may be a vibrant anti-west effort, but it is also clearly not reflecting a more progressive dynamic alternative to the current post-colonial neoliberal finance capital led system.

The expansion of BRICS to include Saudi Arabia and the UAE has diminished this organization. Progressive forces internationally must hold the current BRICS leadership accountable while pushing to oppose the Exorbitant Privilege of the Dollar and the militarization of the planet. We do not yet have full blown fascists in power as in Nazi Germany but one does not have to wait for the political decay to raise the warning of what an opening to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates can mean for humans everywhere.

Horace Campbell is Professor of African American Studies and Political Science, Syracuse University. He is the author of Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya, Monthly Review Press, 2013.  Notes.