Alaa Salah leads a crowd of protesters in Sudan with chants of "Thawra!" - Revolution!

A Mass People’s Revolution in Sudan

04 May 2019

By Dave Stockton

Sudan is in the midst of a truly amazing people’s revolution, in which women are playing a major role, alongside youth, trade unionists, and oppressed national minorities. Among the slogans were “Freedom, Peace and Justice” and “Just Fall”. When the security services targeted Dafuris in the crowd, the chant was raised “You arrogant racist, we are all Darfur!” Sections of rank and file soldiers have protected and even joined the demonstrators too.

At first the regime thought they could just tough it out, responding to the developing movement with repression, including live fire from the special security forces and Islamist party militias. A number of protesters were killed. The army’s chief of staff, Kamal Abdelmarouf, warned in January: “We will not allow the Sudanese state to collapse or fall into chaos.” To his dismay junior officers and rank and file soldiers defended the crowds and drove away their attackers.

Repeatedly since then the masses have rejected compromises from the military and the security services that form the basis of the regime. The central demand is that the entire regime that kept Omar al-Bashir in power for 30 years should be dismantled and that the military high command must relinquish power and hand over to civilians. Though its future and outcome are not assured, the Sudanese revolution will be an inspiration throughout the region.

After four months of mass Friday demonstrations, culminating in the permanent occupation of the area around the military and presidential headquarters in Khartoum, hundreds of thousands celebrated the arrest of the brutal dictator, who had ruled Sudan with an iron fist since seizing power in a coup in 1989, and who carried on a genocidal war in Darfur, in which as many as 400,000 perished, and the long war in southern Sudan in which 2 million died, including from famine and disease.

No doubt some of those on the streets and in the democratic opposition remember that, when he came to power, al-Bashir ended four years of relatively democratic freedom, won by a revolution in 1985. He suppressed political parties and independent trade unions, and introduced a repressive “Islamic” constitution. Between them, the secret services, the police and prison guards killed thousands of his opponents and many more were humiliated, tortured and terrorised by his regime.

When the dictator’s defence minister, Ahmad Awad Ibn Auf, announced the end of his rule on national TV, there was massive rejoicing. But he also announced the military council would retain executive power for the next two years before any new elections. So it was no wonder that people on the streets made it perfectly clear that no way would they accept this.

A supposedly more conciliatory figure, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan was then announced as the head of a Transitional Military Council (TMC). Al-Burhan insisted the TMC would be “complementary to the uprising and the revolution” and “committed to handing over power to the people”.

This announcement, however, was clearly not the result of any “democratic” conversion by the high command that had served al-Bashir for decades, so protest leaders rapidly broke off talks with the military authorities, stating that the military junta was not serious about transferring power to civilians and was in fact comprised of remnants of al-Bashir’s Islamist regime. They vowed to intensify demonstrations. This is the situation as we go to press.

Revolutionary situation

For four months, Sudan has been in the midst of a profound revolutionary situation. The immediate trigger was the announcement of increases in the price of bread and petrol. The background is rampant unemployment, soaring inflation, and crippling food and fuel shortages. Some 80 per cent of the population lives on less than US$1 per day and nearly 2.5 million children are suffering from severe malnutrition.

The secession of South Sudan in 2011 deprived the country of three-quarters of its oil revenues and triggered a prolonged economic crisis. Yet the regime continued to spend an estimated 70-80 per cent of remaining revenues on internal security forces and the military. The regime is totally corrupt and everyone knows it.

Though food and fuel shortages spurred the movement, the demonstrators were soon raising political slogans: “Freedom, Peace, and Justice!” and “Revolution is the People’s Choice!”

Young people and women have been at the heart of the movement, with a campaign called “No To Women’s Oppression” playing a leading role. The centrality of women in the protests has come to be symbolised by the figure of Alaa Salah, a woman who recited a poem in praise of the movement from the top of a car during a sit-in at the military HQ, interjecting between its lines the cry “thowra!” – revolution!

The protesters are demanding a complete break with the culturally and educationally stifling Islamist regime that is particularly harsh on women.

The uprising started in cities to the north of the capital, Khartoum, in places like Atbara, a railway manufacturing centre and the cradle of Sudanese trade unionism. The street protests on Fridays were swelled by occupations of universities and schools, and strikes by public and private sector workers, including those at Port Sudan on the Red Sea. The Sudanese labour movement’s strong tradition of workers’ organisation was demonstrated in nationwide strikes on 5 and 13 March.

Liberals and the Communist Party

The rallies are organised by the Alliance for Freedom and Change, which includes professional associations, trade unions, and opposition parties. Meetings of the coordinating body are held at the headquarters of the Sudanese Communist Party, SCP, which seeks to, “build the broadest possible alliance of political parties, armed groups, mass democratic organisations, professional unions, workers’ and peasants’ movements, as well as students’ and women’s unions”.

The SCP, founded in 1946, was a powerful force in the country and the army up until its participation in the failed 1971 coup, which ended with the victory of general Jafaar am-Nimeiry and the execution of the SCP’s principal leaders. Underground for many years, with the trade unions it influenced disbanded, the party has more recently re-emerged, though a number of its leaders, including 16 members of its Central Committee, are still in jail.

It must be expected that the SCP, which stands in an unwavering Stalinist tradition, will adopt the strategy of the People’s Front, that is, pushing for a government which combines representatives of both the possessing and the exploited classes. This would be, as it always has been, a recipe for disaster, with the working class and the poor being robbed of the fruits of their revolutionary struggle.

The critical question, as in any profoundly revolutionary upheaval, is whether the working class plays an independent role within it. Only if the workers take the leading role that their place in production enables them to, can the goals of democracy be assured, let alone the social needs of the workers, peasants and the poor be met.

The Association of Sudanese Professionals has played a prominent role as spokesperson for the movement. It repeatedly called for the army high command to intervene to remove al-Bashir, a wish that has now been granted. So far its aspirations are admirably clear as to the need for a radical demolition of the old regime. They have called for a “government of patriotic experts”, and a “wholly civilian government”.

However, whatever its members’ democratic aspirations, such a government will undoubtedly find itself obliged to guard the interests of big capital and foreign imperialism for as long as the machinery of repression, standing above the popular masses and not answerable to them, exists and monopolises real power.

Sudanese revolutionaries will doubtless be thinking of the fate of the Arab Spring of 2011 in Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Libya where, despite the courage of the young revolutionaries, their movements were crushed by a brutal return of the old regime. As long as the army high command, the Islamist parties and the state bureaucracy remain intact, even if their present leaders step down or step aside, the danger of counterrevolution will remain. The only answer is a revolution that goes all the way, breaks up the repressive power of the state, takes control of the economy from the corrupt capitalist class and puts power in the hands of working people.

What Now?

The future advance of the movement depends on two things. First the workers must answer any return to a crackdown by the TMC with an all-out and indefinite general strike. Second the soldiers, naval ratings and air force personnel must be won to actually joining the masses on the streets, bringing their arms with them. They need to from soldiers’ committees in the barracks and remove officers who are agents of the old regime. Indeed soldiers and sailors should elect their officers.

It is quite obvious that the TMC intends to learn from its Egyptian counterpart in order to get the revolution under its control and then crush it. The response of the revolutionary movement must be to work all out to win the rank and file soldiers, police, etc. to the side of the revolution. Real security for the people will only be assured if the rank and file of the armed forces join the workers, the students, the youth in electing revolutionary councils of delegates and forming a popular militia.

Any provisional government must be based on, and answerable to these councils. Only such forces can be relied upon to organise elections to and ensure the democratic accountability of a sovereign constituent assembly.

But once created and with power in their hands such councils should go on to create a republic based on them – one that can address the urgent needs of the poor in city and countryside at the expense of the rich and corrupt élite, the big employers, etc. In short, the democratic revolution must be transformed by the action of the working class, the women, the youth, and all the exploited and oppressed in city and countryside into a social revolution.

International Response

Al-Bashir had the support of Egypt’s dictator, President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and Mohammad Bin Salman, the murderous Saudi Crown Prince. He had been quietly backed by Donald Trump and Benyamin Netanyahu too. We can also add Vladimir Putin to the imperialist thieves’ kitchen backing the Sudanese dictator and the European Union’s “Khartoum Process” to stem refugees from crossing the Mediterranean. Now all these forces have transferred their support to the TMC and will support any attempt to restore order.

For all these reasons, socialists, trade unionists and the women’s and youth movements around the world should raise their voices loudly in support of revolution in Sudan and demand their governments stop supporting any military regime against the people. With Algeria still in revolutionary turmoil and mass demonstrations breaking out in Morocco, it will be necessary and possible to spread the revolution into one against all the dictatorial regimes of the Arab world and sub-Saharan Africa too.

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