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19 June 2019

Sudan: The revolution under threat

Nearly two months after the overthrow of the former dictator Omar al-Bashir, who ruled Sudan for 30 years, the struggle between revolution and counterrevolution has entered a critical stage as Tony Saunois, CWI secretary, explains.

Mass protests against the former dictator began in December 2018. He was removed by the Transitional Military Council (TMC) to try to contain the developing revolutionary movement. While al-Bashir is gone, the regime he led has until now largely been left intact. This has driven the mass movement back onto the streets in opposition to the continued rule by the TMC.

In order to try and reassert its rule, the TMC, especially its most repressive component, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), unleashed a vicious crackdown. Now access to the internet has been cut.

Although the internet and social media can play an important role in organising social protests and struggle, it is not a replacement for the need for organisation, political parties, trade unions, action committees and other forms of organisation by the working class.

The shutting down of the internet by the TMC is an answer to those who have argued that organisation and parties are no longer needed in this 'digital age' to organise a struggle to transform society.


The bloodiest attack was the brutal repression on 10 June of a mass protest camp in the centre of the capital, Khartoum. At least 120 people were reportedly killed and others suffered beatings, rape, torture and violent assaults.

The bloody slaughter was carried out by the RSF whose leader, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemeti, is the deputy head of the TMC. The RSF, a brutal paramilitary force, was established in 2013 under the former dictator al-Bashir. Its origins can be traced to the tribal Janjaweed militia, which earned its reputation for mass killings, rape and torture during the war in Darfur, western Sudan, over a decade ago.

It was in response to the latest massacre that a general strike involving millions has taken place. It involved workers, sections of the middle class and the poor.

Despite having many features of what in India is known as a 'hartal', which involves support for a strike by sections of business and movements in the countryside, it revealed the potential strength of the working class.

The social weight of the general strike illustrated the potential for the working class, together with the middle class and others exploited by capitalism, not only to challenge and defeat the TMC but also capitalism and landlordism in Sudan.

Trade unions

The strike reflected one of the gains of the revolutionary movement in the beginning of forging a unified movement, and the building of unions or workers reclaiming some of the already established official trade unions which existed under the dictatorship.

This includes sections of the radicalised middle layers in society, like the Democratic Lawyers Alliance, the Sudanese Central Doctors Committee and others, who have come together in the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA). They have adopted some methods of struggle of the working class.

These layers have linked together with some public sector workers. In other sections of the working class we have seen workers move to wrest control of the

official trade unions which existed under the old regime. They seek to remove those official union leaders who had collaborated with the al-Bashir regime.

At the same time, there has been the formation of local neighbourhood committees. These seem to have now become the main vehicle for the organisation of opposition to the regime.

These committees could have the potential to develop further into becoming real organs of struggle. They could possibly develop and evolve to become an alternative potential power to the regime and existing state machine.

The Sudanese masses have a strong tradition of workers' struggle. In the past, a powerful Communist Party existed, which was founded in 1946. It lost much of its base following its entry into a coalition government in 1969.

A split took place during a failed attempted coup in 1971, when a wing of the Communist Party supported it. However, the relatively strong traditions of the working class are reflected in the current movement.

The recent developments have terrified the Sudanese ruling class and the regime. It has provoked alarm among the capitalist class throughout Africa and internationally. The capitalist class can see the potential danger which exists for them, with the emergence of a powerful independent workers' movement.

The recent deployment of representatives of the ruling class from the African Union and Ethiopia to Sudan reflects the fear they have of losing control of the situation.

US imperialism was prepared to leave it to the regional powers, like Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt, to intervene to defend their own vested interests. However, reflecting the fears of US imperialism, the White House belatedly sent an 'envoy' to Sudan.

They hope to act as a restraining influence on the TMC and possibly attempt to secure an agreement for a transition to a coalition. This would involve the current regime and those representatives of the opposition which pose no threat to the ruling class. However, such a prospect is not going to result in the establishment of a stable Sudanese capitalist government, whatever forces are involved.

The umbrella opposition leaders, organised in the Forces of Freedom and Change (FDFC), includes not only the SPA but also pro-capitalist opposition parties, like the National Umma Party and the Sudanese Congress Party. The role of such forces, as in any revolutionary movement, is to act as a brake on the movement, keep it within the confines of capitalism, and derail it.

If the revolution is to advance and defeat the threat of counter revolution, no trust can be placed in these pro-capitalist parties. The working class needs to urgently build its own mass workers' party, which unfortunately does not exist at this stage.

Pro-capitalist opposition

The real role of the pro-capitalist parties and groupings in the FDFC was reflected in April when they tried to reach a negotiated settlement with al-Bashir, as part of their opposition to the Sudanese masses expressing themselves through early elections. Now it has been repeated during the recent general strike and civil protests, which terrified them as much as it did the regime and international capitalism.

The strike was seen by the pro-capitalist parties and groupings as a form of protest to be called off as soon as possible. The stoppage was not followed by calls to extend the strike indefinitely, with the objective of overthrowing the regime.

Workers and supporters of the strike were wrongly urged to stay at home rather than come onto the streets in a mass demonstration of strength in preparation to confront and overthrow the regime. After only 72 hours the strike was called off and negotiations re-opened. Such steps can only serve to eventually demobilise the masses and prepare the way for a betrayal and victory of the counterrevolution.

To take the revolution forward and overthrow the regime, a plan of struggle needs to be prepared and urgently carried through. The neighbourhood committees need to be strengthened rapidly and built into really democratic organs of struggle.

Delegates need to be democratically elected to them from the workplaces and the local neighbourhoods and subject to recall. These then need to link up on a district, city-wide, regional and national basis.

It is urgent to take steps to organise armed defence committees and a militia under the democratic control of the neighbourhood committees.

As in all revolutions, the mass movement has already provoked divisions among the ruling class and within the TMC.

According to some reports, there are already splits between the RSF and the regular Sudanese Army. Should the revolution and the working class not take the necessary steps to advance, there is the real prospect of a collapse into conflict and clashes between the rival military and paramilitary forces.

The splits which have begun to open between the RSF and the army are not an accident. They reflect the social pressure felt on the rank and file of the army which is drawn from the working class and poor.

A bold appeal needs urgently to be made to the rank and file soldiers to break from the TMC and their commanding officers, and to support the workers and poor in a revolutionary movement to transform Sudan.

Rank-and-file committees of the soldiers need to be formed and carry through a purge of reactionary officers and to elect replacements.

A defence militia of the working class and poor could be armed, if the rank-and-file soldiers can be won to the side of the revolution.

General strike

But for this to happen, the soldiers must be convinced that the workers and revolutionary movement can go forward and overthrow the old regime. The mass movement must therefore demonstrate its strength, determination and confidence by calling an indefinite general strike and the formation of democratically elected committees of action.

These, if linked up on a city-wide, regional and national basis, can form the basis for a revolutionary government of the workers, the poor and all those exploited by capitalism.

Such a revolutionary government could then enact a programme that would include: