Editors note: On June 3, the military government in the Sudan attacked and massacred unarmed protesters, killing at least 128 people, and suspended the internet. Yet less than a month later, a momentous week of protests calling for civilian rule culminated in a million people or more in the streets on June. 30. That so many came out so soon after such severe repression shows that a profound revolutionary upheaval is taking place in the Sudan. This article is based on a recent talk by Joel Northam at a PSL forum in New York City.
As a Pan-African communist, I am being very intentional in calling what’s happening in Sudan a revolution rather than a “crisis,” as much of the mainstream, liberal, and even many left media outlets refer to the situation there. The latter indicates a sense of helplessness and hopelessness; a way for people in the west to voyeuristically look upon “defenseless Africans” and say “oh well, it’s Africa,” instead of understanding the situation in that country as an integral part of the global class struggle against capitalism and imperialism and for the right of nations to self-determination.
When the working class, that is, the most progressive class that drives society and makes it function, determines that it wants to reform or remove its government, and this manifests in a mass political upheaval, we, the socialists in the core capitalist nations, have a duty to support their ambitions, not just rhetorically but materially as well.
Class and political character of uprising
With every revolutionary upheaval we must take care to analyze the class and political character of the movement in question.
There are some uprisings that are rightwing in character, that socialists do not support. When Klansman decided to overthrow the local government in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898 because it was encouraging Black people to vote, that’s a reactionary uprising we don’t support.
When rightwing groups in Syria conspire with imperialist-aligned regional governments and terrorist groups to overthrow the Syrian government to establish a 12th century model Islamic state that caters to U.S. interests, that’s a reactionary “uprising” we don’t support.
When neo-Nazi, confederate sympathizers in the Ukraine ousted their government in 2014 with the support of the CIA, and then went on to commit hate crimes against Jewish people, that’s a reactionary uprising we don’t support.
We support uprisings, rebellions and revolutions that are led by progressive sections of the working class, and are determined to weaken, and not strengthen, the imperialist bloc of nations led and maintained by the U.S. and its junior partners.
So after analyzing the situation, we support the revolution in Sudan.
Since 1956, the year of its formal independence from Britain, the people of the Sudan have twice overthrown military dictatorships, in 1964 and in 1985. In both cases, mass protests established civilian governments. However, the process of democratizing the country has been hindered by internal pressures exerted by right wing forces seeking to either establish an Islamic theocracy and/or a system that excludes Sudan’s non-Arab African population. Many of these forces are in the military. This has resulted in successive coup d’etats and the re-establishment of military rule.
These events set the stage for the government of Omar al-Bashir who came to power in 1989, and who was just recently ousted due to the overwhelming pressure on the establishment by the organized and heroic masses of Sudanese people.
Historically, Bashir and his National Congress Party, had been an antagonist of western powers, and thus was a target for sanctions, subversion and bombing raids from the U.S. and Israel, primarily during the 1990s. But in the late 90s and early 2000’s, the Sudanese government started taking steps to reconcile with the west, and has been on that path to this day.
Examples of these overtures to the U.S. included collaborating with the CIA in its extraordinary rendition program after 9/11; severing relations with Iran in 2014; providing ground troops for the U.S.- backed Saudi war on Yemen; expressing a desire to normalize relations with Israel while simultaneously denouncing the Palestinian resistance as one that “sold out”; and implementing IMF dictates to restructure the Sudanese economy on behalf of western corporations.
As a result of these economic measures, the cost of bread tripled, fuel and other food prices skyrocketed, and other economic woes increased. Corruption in the government went on unabated. There was heightened repression against opposition political organizations like the Sudanese Communist Party. This was compounded by the slew of atrocities that government-aligned militias like the Janjaweed were committing in the Darfur region in western Sudan against non-Arab Africans for the better part of 15 years.
It is against this backdrop, that of opportunistic and reactionary Arab supremacists in the government and in the military that are seeking to push Sudan into the camp of U.S. imperialism, that this revolutionary struggle is taking place.
The forces at play
After mass civil disobedience rocked Sudan in the spring, the military took Omar al-Bashir into custody on April 11, as it was clear that the people were not going to calm down until he was gone. After his ouster, however, the protests didn’t die down, as power was then handed to the Transitional Military Council, which is comprised of Omar al-Bashir’s top military generals. The removal of al-Bashir from power, although an important stage in the struggle, was a cosmetic concession designed to fizzle out the movement.
When the movement didn’t fizzle out, the military leaders then resorted to open violence against protesters, culminating in the June 3 massacre in Khartoum, in which an estimated 128 people involved in a nonviolent demonstration in front of a military headquarters were killed, and more injured.
The massacre and subsequent killings, rapes, tortures and disappearances of activists, was carried out by the Rapid Support Forces, which was formerly the Janjaweed militia that carried out the atrocities in Darfur, but has since been re-branded and integrated into the military infrastructure. The RSF is led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti.
Hemedti is vying for power and currently is on a public relations offensive. He recently signed a $6 million dollar contract with a Canadian lobbying firm to shore up favor with the United States and other powers. Worthy of note is that the firm is led by a former Israeli intelligence operative. The stipulation of the contract guarantees that the firm will work to make sure that the Transitional Military Council, led by Hemedti, “attains international recognition as the legitimate transitionary leadership of the Republic of Sudan.”
The attempt by Hemedti to shore up international support has not fallen on deaf ears. He has the direct support of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two countries waging war in Yemen, and two countries that depend on military support from Sudan in their campaign.
Jim Moran, a former U.S. Congressperson from Virginia, actually went to the Sudan and met with Hemedti, praising his time with the general and claiming he was “impressed.” It should also be noted that as of November, the U.S. State Department was praising the Sudanese government for its cooperation, and appeared on its way to establishing renewed formal bilateral relations. So we can conclude that the U.S. is seeking to maintain an equally cooperative government there once the smoke clears.
Hemedti and his Rapid Support Forces have also positioned themselves in a relationship with the European Union. Sudan is one of the routes through which refugees fleeing the war in Yemen and other conflict zones head toward Europe. Hemedti deploys forces at the behest of the European Union to stem the flow of refugees in exchange for financial support.
So there are even more international actors that have a stake in seeing Hemedti in power as he has posited himself as a stabilizing force in the country, although calls for his ouster and arrest for crimes not just committed against protesters but against Sudanese in Darfur, are increasing by the other side.
The Sudanese masses
The other side at play is the Sudanese masses. The large coalition representing the opposition is called the Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change, which include the Sudanese Professionals’ Association (a group of doctors, lawyers, and other professionals), trade unions, women and youth organizations (the participation of women in this revolution has been unprecedented in Sudan’s history), and the Sudanese Communist Party.
The SCP has a long and rich history in Sudan, and even held power briefly in 1971 after ousting another military leader. They have significant influence and sway in the movement. It was the SCP that made the handing of power from the Transitional Military Council to the FDFC a central demand. “Wrench the Power from the Hands of the Military,” is the call of the revolutionary wing of the coalition.
Within the coalition itself, there is a point of contention that exists as it does in many political upheavals. One wing of the coalition is willing to share power with remnants of the old government in a transitional arrangement. The other wing is demanding an immediate handover of power to a civilian transitional authority that will liquidate the remnants of the old government entirely
The SCP has warned against what they call a “soft landing project,” an effort aimed at slightly widening the margins of democracy by inviting the participation of some sections of old regime loyalists, but in doing so potentially keeping the country tied to the old policies of dependence that hold Sudan prey to international capital.
Power sharing arrangement
These differing views notwithstanding, the SCP has still fought for principled unity of the opposition coalition under the umbrella of the FDFC. As of July 5, there was an agreement proposed by the Ethiopian government whereby the authority will be led by a military leader for the first 21 months, and then a civilian leader would take over for 18 months. After that, the country would hold democratic elections. The sovereign council will consist of five military officials and five civilian leaders, along with one additional civilian, selected and agreed to by both groups. A modified version of this deal was eventually agreed to.
After reviewing the draft agreement for the transitional government agreement, the Central Committee of the SCP decided July 13 that it will not participate in that government. According to their statement, if formed in accordance with the proposals made by the TMC, this government will “neither meet the aspirations of nor achieve the goals of the revolution and democratic transformation. It will not “improve the living and economic conditions of the public” or “stop war and [achieve] peace.” The SCP also objects that the agreement keeps in place “all laws restricting freedoms, on the state of empowerment, and on all repressive institutions” such as the security apparatus and rapid support militias. The Party has instead called for “a continuation of the mass actions” until the military junta is forced to make way for a genuine civilian rule.
Strikes, civil disobedience and other mass action are continuing, and the central demand for civilian rule is not only still active, but the willpower of the Sudanese people to attain it is ever increasing. So the revolution in Sudan has not stagnated nor fizzled out, but is right now in a phase in which each side is seeking to gain the upper hand and alter the balance of forces.
The SCP has been doing work in this regard. Recognized by the masses as playing a significant role in the revolutionary struggle, there is an influx of young people demanding to join the party. Some suggest that the SCP “sold out” by being a part of a coalition that agreed to negotiate power sharing with the TMC, but this is hardly the case. Lenin stressed the importance of compromise when it is necessary, and in this particular case, unity of the opposition forces is extremely important.
The Sudanese masses have and will continue to deepen their own political experience. According to the SCP’s orientation, it is not enough to share power with the forces that created this crisis in the first place. Power must be wrenched from them. All power to the Sudanese people!