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From The Socialist newspaper, 15 May 2019

Revolution and counter-revolution in Sudan

Workers fraternised with soldiers when hardliners in Sudan were preparing a crackdown in April, photo by M Saleh/CC

Workers fraternised with soldiers when hardliners in Sudan were preparing a crackdown in April, photo by M Saleh/CC   (Click to enlarge)

Weizmann Hamilton, Workers' and Socialist Party (CWI South Africa)

The overthrow of Omar al-Bashir by the Sudanese masses on 11 April is one of the most momentous events in the modern history of the country, the continent and the Middle East. It has simultaneously inspired the masses throughout Africa and instilled fear in despotic regimes in the region.

A Financial Times journalist wrote: "One cannot know for sure what Russia felt like in 1917 as the tsar was being toppled, or France in 1871 in the heady, idealistic days of the short-lived Paris Commune. But it must have felt something like Khartoum in April 2019."

Purse strings

Regional despotic regimes, like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), rushed to prop up Sudan's transitional military council, fearing the contagion of regime change.

The Guardian reported that "within days of the removal of Bashir, Saudi's purse strings loosened. Along with the UAE, it pledged a $3 billion aid package to prop up Sudan's economy and thus the transitional military government... Gulf News ran a profile of the current head of the transitional military council saying that "during the war in southern Sudan and the Darfur region, he served on [sic] important positions, largely due to his civic manners and professional demeanour".

The fact that Bashir had been able to overcome several crises before had led to delusions of invulnerability. This uprising was different. Whereas brutality had preserved his regime before, this time, despite the widespread repression (including the arrest of activists and 60 dead), the masses would not be deterred.

Showing courage and determination, the masses took the revolution directly to the seat of his dictatorship, the military complex that housed his residence, where the masses have set up camp ever since. Within five days, Bashir's 30-year reign had ended.

The movement was precipitated by the Bashir regime's decision to follow the advice of the International Monetary Fund by cancelling fuel and wheat subsidies.

Only 3% of the national budget is allocated to education and even less to health. Expenditure consumed by the cost of dealing with insurgencies in the South Kordofan, Darfur and the Blue Nile regions, meant the burden of these measures fell directly onto the working class and poor in the cities and countryside.

The economic situation had deteriorated significantly since the independence of oil-rich South Sudan in 2011. It meant the loss of oil revenue. Accelerated by the devaluation of the Sudanese pound on IMF advice, inflation soared to 72%, the second highest in the world after Venezuela.

The economic crisis was aggravated by rampant looting by state officials. Suitcases loaded with more than 5.2 million (Sterling) and five billion Sudanese pounds (85.5 million) were found at Bashir's home.

The IMF-dictated measures served as the straw that broke the camel's back. But in these circumstances, the movement was not going to end, as in so many other countries, as just another 'IMF food riot'.

This is the longest, most widespread and sustained movement of the Sudanese masses in the post-colonial period. Starting in mid-December in Atbara, about 180 miles from Khartoum, it spread across the country.

Panic

The intensity of the protests caused panic within the coalition of generals, security chiefs and Islamist politicians within the ruling National Congress Party. The hardliners pressed for a brutal crackdown, but army commanders argued for restraint.

These internal conflicts were reflected in the intervention by rank-and-file soldiers in the army to protect the crowds when militia forces and units of the feared National Intelligence and Security Services fired tear gas and bullets at protesters.

Fearing revolution the military took action to head off the movement and carried out a coup, forcing Omar al Bashir from office.

Under the hot breath of revolution, the military was compelled within 24-hours to replace al-Bashir's replacement, lieutenant general Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf, rejected by the masses as too close to al-Bashir's regime, with general Abdel-Fattah Burhan.

At the time of writing, the stalemate between the masses and the military that resulted from the revolutionary uprising continues.

The military has set up an interim transitional council, headed by lieutenant-general Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan, who has promised to "uproot the regime," vowed to restructure state institutions, and end the night curfew.

The army suspended the constitution, dissolved the government, declared a three-month state of emergency, imposed a one-month curfew, and closed the country's borders and airspace. Burhan also announced the release of all political prisoners.

The standoff between the organisation which called the masses into action, the Sudanese Professional Association, and the military is over the composition of the transitional council. The SPA is demanding a 15-member council with eight civilians and seven from the military. The military's counter-proposal is a ten member council with seven for the military.

Arab Spring

The experience of the 2011 'Arab Spring', especially in Egypt where a repressive regime has now taken power after the military was able to posture as the 'people's army', has left its imprint on the consciousness of the Sudanese masses.

The Arab Spring has taught the masses to be completely distrustful of the military. The military's immediate aim is to ride the revolutionary wave, portray itself as a neutral, independent arbiter sympathetic to the democratic aspirations of the masses, wait for exhaustion to set in, and then to move decisively to re-establish 'law and order'.

The Sudanese incarnation of the Arab Spring is determined to avoid the fate of that magnificent uprising. Protests have continued with the masses demanding that the military hand control back to the people.

In a country in which more than 60% of the population is under 25 and around 20% is between 15 and 24 years old, it is youth that have been to the fore in the movement. Significantly, an estimated 70% of demonstrators are women.

Reflecting the deep suspicions of the masses the SPA, thrust into the leadership of the movement, has stepped up the pressure on the army. Responding to threats by the army to put an end to the 'chaos' the SPA called for a "million strong march" on 2 May to break the deadlock over the composition of the transitional council.

A trial of strength between revolution and counter-revolution is being played out. But his stalemate cannot endure indefinitely.

The Sudanese uprising is a resounding confirmation of one of the foundations of Trotsky's Theory of Permanent Revolution (see article on socialistparty.org.uk) - the complete incapacity of the colonial capitalist class to carry through even the most basic tasks of the capitalist-democratic revolution, much less fulfil even the most modest aspirations of the masses.

The post-independence elite has not only presided over economic dislocation, the failure to keep Sudan together as a single state, but also allowed the country to become the playground of competing regional powers in the Gulf and their imperialist masters.

History

In determining the way forward, the Sudanese masses will not only use the experiences of the Arab Spring, they will also reopen the pages of their own rich history of struggle.

This is the sixth military coup since independence. Importantly, from the standpoint of the way forward for the revolution, three of those coups were in fact carried out to cut across and suppress the mass uprisings.

But the lessons of the 1964 'October revolution' and April 1985 'intifada' were that both succeeded against the military. The former ousted the Sudan's first military regime, the latter the second.

The Sudanese Professionals Association is an umbrella association of 15 different trade unions first formed in October 2016. Under its umbrella are the Forces of National Consensus, the Sudan Call and other political parties including the Sudanese Communist Party.

The communist party campaigned for the introduction of a minimum wage and participated in protests against the rising cost of living in Sudan. Prominent in the SPA are lawyers, doctors and university lecturers.

The SPA proposals for a transitional council that will include the military suggests that it has not drawn the lessons of either the Arab Spring, or the earlier uprisings in Sudan.

They reflect the middle-class character of the SPA leadership and the inclination to find an imaginary middle way between the Bashir dictatorship and a genuinely democratic regime based on the working class and the poor.

The military includes general Auf who is a graduate of the Cairo Military Academy and maintains close links with Egyptian strong man president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

The military is led by Durhan, responsible for Sudan's operations alongside the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. The deputy leader - Mohammad Hamdan aka Himeidti - is the commander of the Rapid Support Forces, a private military force which was partially integrated into the military and security services. The unit is regarded by many as a re-branded version of the Janjaweed militias of which Himeidti was himself a part, which carried out massacres in Darfur in 2003.

He has 7,000 troops stationed in Yemen on the Saudi Arabian payroll. It also includes the ruthless and ambitious chief of the intelligence services, Salah Abdallah Gosh, who controls powerful forces in the capital, and has close links to intelligence services, including the US CIA, and has recently been particularly associated with the United Arab Emirates.

It is enough to set out these facts to recognise the grievously mistaken approach of the SPA. Nor does the Sudanese Communist Party offer a way forward. It calls for "freedom, peace, justice" and goes on: "The Sudanese Communist Party and all the opposition forces are adamant in their resolve to continue the fight until the establishment of a civilian government that represents the masses and implements the democratic alternative programme accepted by all the forces, the Professionals Alliance, and the armed groups."

This position is drawn directly from the class collaborationist policies of Stalinism that have aided counter-revolution in many countries. It is the direct opposite of the policy of Lenin and Trotsky in the 1917 revolution who opposed joining any government committed to working with capitalism and campaigned to win majority support for a workers' and peasants' government that would break with capitalism.

Capitalist government

Reflecting the close cultural ties between the SPA leadership and the Sudanese elite, it issued a call for a cleaning campaign in which women should be in the forefront: "because you care more about it". It was met with outrage and an apology from the SPA.

Among the repressive measures against women are compulsory dress codes for the violation of which they are flogged. There is no gender equality in the mainly Muslim country, where female genital mutilation is still widely practised.

The SPA, while opposing military rule, is attempting to form a civilian led capitalist government.

But such a government, even if called "transitional", would by its very nature not break the grip of the ruling class and imperialism.

Sooner or later it would pose the threat of counter-revolution, something seen before in Sudan and in other revolutions.

The masses need to establish their own power, counterposed to that of the same regime that continues without Bashir and even to the SPA upon which pressure must be exerted to break completely with the military.

The fraternisation between the rank-and-file soldiers and masses that occurred when the hardliners were preparing to crackdown in April shows the potential power of the masses themselves.

The action committees in areas such as in Atbera, where the uprising began, must be replicated throughout the country as a step towards laying the groundwork for the independent power of the masses.

The basic steps of organisation that have been taken at the mass occupation outside the military headquarters - including the establishment of committees to feed people, for security, to control traffic, even a clinic - must be taken into the rest of the country, to take control of workplaces and economic production.

Workers and poor

Linked together these committees, including local unions, workers, and other forces of the revolution, can provide the basis for an alternative state structure that can seize power from the military and form a government led by representatives of the workers and poor.

Sudanese society can overcome the impasse of capitalism only through a socialist revolution. This requires a mass party of the working class on a socialist programme.

Such a programme must include the idea of a planned economy, democratically controlled by the working class and the poor.

To win affordable prices for food and fuel, wage rises and a shorter working week, it is necessary to fight for nationalisation of the major industries and the land of big landowners, under working-class democratic control and management.

On the basis of a socialist plan it would be possible to invest in job creation, decent housing, health care and education.

It must call for:

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