Wed Jun 19, 2024
June 19, 2024

A Predictable and Therefore Avoidable Tragedy in Sudan

The bourgeois media never tires of writing about the probable complications of the conflict in Sudan. They just don’t write about who is–both directly and indirectly–responsible for it. According to them, it seems that everything happens by chance. We want to develop another line of reasoning.

By Ashura Nassor and Cesar Neto

First, we argue that the Sudanese process fits into the current world capitalist crisis, where imperialism and its companies have clear policies to plunder our wealth and increase their profits. And second, it is absolutely essential to discuss the resistance, its program and limits, and the mistakes that unfortunately were made in order to overcome them and fight back. For workers elsewhere in the world, the Sudanese case shows us the practical side of politics.

The Transitional Military Council took power after al-Bashir’s fall, but the struggle continues

The dictator al-Bashir ruled Sudan for 30 years. It was, without a doubt, one of the bloodiest governments in recent history. Its deeds include the massacre of black people in Darfur, where a process of ethnic cleansing took place to allow the exploitation, dealing, and smuggling of natural resources, especially gold. 300,000 to 400,000 people were killed. The competition for oil led al-Bashir to trigger a civil war against the people in southern Sudan, which lasted at least 12 years and caused thousands of deaths.

Things were going well for al-Bashir’s dictatorship until the economic crisis of 2008-2009 exploded. The consequences were disastrous for imperialist countries, but for semi-colonial countries like Sudan, it was a tragedy. The currency devaluation caused a massive impoverishment of the population, laws that favored trade led to the collapse of the few local industries, and unemployment soared. The annual rate of inflation hit 70% and the price of bread, for example, tripled. Everything the country produced was to pay the foreign debt. All the oil production was exported, causing a fuel shortage.

Major demonstrations against al-Bashir’s dictatorship took place in December 2018. They began with 24-hour protests in the working-class city of Omdurman, in Port Sudan, Al-Qadarif, Umm Ruwaba, Al Tartar, and also in the capital Khartoum. They were followed by a coordinated string of strikes. On the 24, doctors’ strikes affected the 40 largest hospitals. Journalists went on strike for three days on the 27, and lawyers declared a one-day strike on the 31. All these strikes culminated in a huge demonstration on the 31 when thousands of demonstrators marched towards the presidential palace.

The consequences of the world capitalist crisis in Sudan and the mobilizations that followed it divided the local bourgeoisie, and they began to advocate for al-Bashir’s departure. A well-known accomplice of the genocide in Darfur, Abdel Wahid, called on his followers to support the protests. The Umma and Democratic Union bourgeois parties joined the opposition, and even the Islamic Party followed suit.

Al-Bashir tried the infamous formula of repression (resulting in 37 dead and 200 wounded) combined with negotiation. It did not work. On April 11, four months after the mobilization began, al-Bashir fell. But the military embedded in the state apparatus, controlling about 200 companies, joined forces with Hemetti1 of the Rapid Support Forces (primarily composed of the Janjaweed paramilitary militias) and tried to impose a new military rule.

But it happens that the will of the active masses is not the same as the bourgeoisie’s. The situation had changed and workers, the youth, peasants, intellectuals, and even sections of the petty bourgeoisie said enough is enough. The troops, corporals, and some sergeants protected the population and fraternizes with them in demonstrations, thus exposing the division in the Sudanese Armed Forces.

We can describe the political situation by paraphrasing Lenin’s old formula: Those at the top are unable to rule as before, and those at the bottom can no longer accept being ruled as before.

But counter-revolution was imminent. Lieutenant General Awad Ibn Auf, the defense minister and vice president said, on April 11, 2019, that a military council would run the country for a two-year transition period, release all political prisoners, and make major economic changes. In the streets, protesters continued to fall victim to snipers from the Sudan Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Force. Al-Burhan, the prominent military leader, and Hemetti, the leader of the militias, cleverly did not participate directly in the Transitional Military Council because they knew the resistance would make the government short-lived.

The role of the Sudanese Professionals Association and of the Communist Party in the governance agreement

The masses said no to the Transitional Military Council. The mobilizations continued and the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) has turned the undisputed leader of this period.

The Association was created in 2012 and brings together 17 major unions in the country. In 2018, it was at the forefront of the struggle for a minimum wage, and was present in several struggles, especially in the Atbara region, where it gained much respect and leadership in the working class in its struggle against al-Bashir’s dictatorship and also against the Transitional Military Council.

The leading core of the SPA is made up of doctors, lawyers, and journalists. In a country where there is so much unemployment, wars, and poverty, these professionals represented an elite, and their program was fed by the old Sudanese Communist Party (CP).

Quantitatively, the Communist Party was nothing like the old CP from the times of the former USSR. It had lost almost all its members. The only thing that remained was the class collaboration program. Thus, the CP’s class conciliation policy and the SPA’s petty bourgeois character combined into building unity between them.

During revolutionary processes, the organizations of struggle and resistance often generate great expectations in the fighting vanguard at home and abroad. It is always necessary to analyze the organizations coldly, starting with a clear definition of their leadership, their program, and their base of support. In this sense, there is a contradiction between the SPA petty-bourgeois leadership and its extremely radicalized, working-class, and youth base. The program at the height of the struggle against al-Bashir and then against the Transitional Military Council was limited to fighting for a civilian government, without defining whether they were bourgeois and pro-imperialist civilians or from the working class. They stated:

“Our revolution continues toward its goals. Only the complete acceptance of the will of the people and the revolutionaries will end our camps and protests. This means the handing over of state power to a transitional, democratic civilian authority charged with the task of implementing a genuine democratic transformation. Today, our protests and demonstrations continue and our people will come out to protect the revolution and correct its course.” (www.dabangasudan.org/en)

In June 2019, over one hundred people were killed outside the army headquarters while demonstrating against the Transitional Military Council. In the midst of this situation, the SPA called for “total civil disobedience and open political strike,” and at the same time advocated non-violent resistance in all direct actions.

Civil disobedience advocates for nonviolent actions in response to the state or bourgeoisie violence. The main characteristic of this movement is to deny the class character of violence and the subordination of class violence to imperialist countries. Among the best-known advocates of nonviolence and the denial of its class character are Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and intellectuals like Hannah Arendt.

This conception of class conciliation, combined with civil disobedience and nonviolence, led the SPA, and the Communist Party, to prioritize unity with different bourgeois sectors to demobilize and halt the development of the struggle, as we will see later.

An unbelievable revolutionary energy

After thirty years of dictatorship, genocide in Darfur, and twelve years of war against southern Sudan’s people, among other instances of violence, the population said “enough”! The masses have unleashed their forces in a way rarely seen at the beginning of this century. It has been exciting to read the sequence of five articles called Diary of a Revolution2 written by the International Socialist League.

There are countless other examples, but we will report only three, so as not to bore the reader A) Atbar railway workers: they had been fighting for some time against the destruction of the company, and in recent months they have been fighting for a pay rise. When the mobilizations gained strength, they took the initiative to operate a train on their own to transport all those who wanted to go to the capital Khartoum to participate in the demonstrations. The railway workers didn’t ask anyone for permission. They decided on an assembly and went. B) Sudanese women are subjected to unimaginable degrees of oppression. Wearing long pants is grounds for arrest for indecent exposure; women can only go to meetings if authorized or accompanied by their husbands; female genital mutilation is common practice; and rape can only be reported to the police if the rapist goes along! These women played an incredible role in the mobilizations3; C) On June 30, thousands of people marched towards the army headquarters chanting they wouldn’t accept the military in power anymore, even in its current form as the Transitional Military Council. They camped there and at dawn, they were machine-gunned by the Rapid Support Forces. At least 127 people were killed. Even so, the mobilization continued and, on August 20, the Transitional Military Council government fell.

Thus, the will of the masses was, at least partially, realized.

An agreement to control and tame the mass movement

The revolutionary energy of the masses scared the military of al-Burhan and the militiaman Hemetti. It also frightened the country’s neighbors of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Republic, Egypt and Ethiopia, since none of them wanted to be contaminated by the revolutionary wave. China was worried about the continued extraction of oil and the Russians about gold mining. Overall, and from its imperial position, the United States was imposing its policy for an end to military rule and for a civilian and democratic government.

Coincidentally, the Communist Party and the Professionals Association, as we saw above, advocated for “a civilian and democratic government.”

In fact, the local and regional bourgeoisie, U.S. imperialism, the Communist Party, and the Professionals Association were all against the independent action of the masses. It was necessary to control, tame, and demobilize the unsubmissive masses.

The Sovereignty Transitional Council emerges

The goals of the agreement were drawn. And so a new Council made up of five civilians chosen by the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) alliance, five military representatives chosen by the Transitional Military Council (TMC), and one civilian agreed to by both the FFC and the TMC was formed. It is worth remembering that the masses were in the streets against the Transitional Military Council. Therefore, this “new” government was a kind of stillbirth.

The Communist Party and the SPA not only participated in the efforts to create the Sovereignty Transitional Council but also nominated their representative to lead it: Mohammed Hassan Osman al-Ta’ishi.

Who were the other members? Among them, there were General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the self-proclaimed General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemetti), leader of the Rapid Support Forces militia. Both al-Burhan and Hemetti have a long record of repression, war, and genocide. In short, the Sovereignty Council put together coup plotters, paramilitaries, and workers’ organizations.

The big agreement to get the masses off the streets was complemented by a Draft Constitutional Charter that defined the leadership, institutions, and procedures for a 39-month transition period, after which – when the end of the mobilizations was foreseen – elections would be called. In the first 21 months, the mandate would be exercised by a military officer and in the last 18 months by a civilian.

The Constitutional Charter was not more than a patch on the 2005 Constitution from al-Bashir’s time. It was drafted by the military and without the presence of those who were in the streets to overthrow the dictatorship and was created only to legitimize the theft of freedom and sovereignty won in the streets.

The international media described the mood and atmosphere in which the Constitutional Charter came out as very lively:

In a room full of senior foreign officials and under heavy security measures, Sudan’s civilian opposition and the military junta that holds power in the country ratified on Saturday the Constitution that will serve as a roadmap for the next three years and three months of transition.5

The unions, women’s organizations, youth organizations, troops, and insurgent corporals’ organizations were not invited. Where were those who fought in the streets for the end of al-Bashir’s dictatorship? They were not in the crowded room, but the high foreign officials, the civil opposition elite, and the military, as the media said.

The presidency and vice-presidency of the new government that took office in August 2019 were in the hands of the military, and the most visible figure in that government was Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, a pro-U.S. civilian and a trusted man of big business. He was the CEO of the transnational firm Deloitte & Touche6, was in the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), and in other bodies. As always happens in “class collaboration governments,” Hamdok ruled for the rich, and the Sovereignty Council, with the support of the U.S. and the European Community, took extremely conservative measures such as privatizing the ports, selling land to foreigners, and evicting residents. It allowed inflation to be above 400% per month, food shortages, and the total capitulation to imperialism by renegotiating the foreign debt. It also established relations with the State of Israel and agreed to pay compensation of US$ 335 million for the victims of two bombings in 1998 against the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. At the same time, it issued some important democratic laws for women that were not actually enforced.

The military, civilians, SPA together; the mass movement apart

There has been no respite for the Sovereignty Transitional Council and nor could there be. According to a World Bank report, the number of people living in poverty has increased from 50% in 1994 to 77% in 2016, which translates into an income of less than $1.25 a day. Meanwhile, fuel prices increased by 400%.

There were numerous mobilizations and strikes. The most emblematic of them was the strike of workers at the Kenama sugar industry, who halted production and exports for almost two months, demanding a pay rise, and the reinstatement of those fired for fighting al-Bashir. There were also strikes by doctors, nutritionists, veterinarians, teachers, University of Khartoum employees, Ariab Mining Company workers, Sennar Dam Reservoir Workers, Port Sudan workers, and White Nile Sugar Factory workers, not to mention the gigantic weekly marches called by the Resistance Committees to protest fuel and food shortages.

The more the Communist Party changes, the more it stays the same

An inflation rate of 200% per month and food and fuel shortages (even though the country is an oil exporter) led to escalating mobilizations against the Transitional Sovereignty Council. The Communist Party, the SPA, and several Resistance Committees tried to adjust to the avalanche of struggles. They withdrew from the Forces for Freedom and Change alliance that made up the government. According to the CP and its followers: “Nothing has been achieved so far. We must call again for Freedom, Peace, and Justice to renew the revolution and improve people’s lives.” There were no anti-imperialist or anti-capitalist demands. They were just demanding more democracy from a government that represented the big interests of China, Russia, and the U.S.

The October 2021 Coup

The Sovereignty Transitional Council government could not control the anger of the masses. They continued to fight, even against the will of their leaders, for wages, for food, against the repression that continued to kill people in demonstrations and strikes, and for the arrest and punishment of the genocides in Darfur. In addition, the Council was divided, as it was formed by the pro-China military, pro-Russian militiamen, and the pro-U.S. civilian Hamdok.

The October 2021 coup aimed at controlling the mass movement at any cost and removing the troublesome U.S. representative. Hamdok fell, but under U.S. pressure he returned and eventually resigned a few weeks later. The October coup transformed the government from a tripartite (military, militiamen and civilians) to a bipartite government with the exclusion of the civilian representative. This set the stage for a final confrontation that began on April 15. See the article Sudan: serious risk of civil war and the involvement of neighboring countries.

Co-optation, demobilization, and demoralization

The entry of the Professionals Association into the government and the orientation of the Communist Party led to a huge contradiction between the willingness of the masses to struggle and the program of the Professionals Association and the CP that was based, as we said above, on “Freedom, Peace, and Justice.”

Never have these organizations fought for the workers, peasants, and youth power, nor have they radically opposed the interests of the local and foreign bourgeoisie. They never proposed the building and development of dual power bodies. After all, according to these organizations, it was not about overthrowing the Sovereignty Transitional Council government, but about demanding that the military, after thirty years of dictatorship, and the genocidal killers of Darfur granted more “Freedom, Peace and Justice.”

The Communist Party against Lenin

In a similar situation in 1917, Lenin stated: no confidence in the provisional government. The Communist Party of Sudan did exactly the opposite when it helped build the interim government of the Transitional Sovereignty Council, and led to completely opposite policies. Let’s see: a) in the great Kenama strike for a pay rise, the persecution of those who fought al-Bashir, and the dismissal of the company’s managers, Lenin would surely have proposed that the demands be met and advocated workers’ control. The CP restricted itself to the wage issue; b) the goals of the Resistance Committees, for Lenin, would surely be directly linked to the building of dual power organizations. The CP, for its part, demanded democracy from the heirs of al-Bashir and the genocidal killers of Darfur; c) For Lenin, the main slogan to organize the soldiers and corporals who fraternized with the mobilizations, would be, surely, to build soldiers’ councils, but the CP said no word about their independent self-organization.

Start over with an anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist program

Since April 15, when a civil war between the forces of al-Burham and the militias of Hemetti began, another tragedy has been taking place. We must recognize that the unsubmissive masses are overwhelmed by it and that there is no progressive side to stand by. The task has now become more complicated. The first task is to build self-defense organizations, and patiently and insistently explain that peace cannot come within capitalism. In fact, since independence in 1956, the country has been living under military rule.

Peace will only come by destroying the different forms of capitalist dictatorship, no matter if they have a civilian or military face, and by building a workers’ government. For this, it is necessary to build a revolutionary workers’ party following the guidelines and program left by Lenin and Trotsky.

Notes:

1 According to the NGO Global Witness, Hemetti has captured much of the gold market in Sudan in previous years. Reuters stated, in November 2019, that the “militia leader got rich selling gold.” Just one of his companies, Al Junaid Multi Activities Co, extracts 30 to 40 kilograms of gold per month, according to Emetti himself.

2 Ralph, M. Sudan: Diary of a revolution. Parts 1 to 5.

3 Nassor, A. Sudan: Women’s Struggle in an Unfinished Revolution. In Portuguese.

4 Ralph, M. and Neto, C. Down with the dictatorship and its constitution.

5 Efe. Sudan already has a constitution for transition. In Spanish.

6 Deloitte, according to its website, is a leading global provider of audit, consulting, financial advisory, risk advisory, tax, and legal services. It operates in more than 150 countries and provides services to four out of every five Fortune Global 500 firms.

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