Nearly two months after the overthrow of the former dictator Omar al-Bashir, who ruled Sudan for 30 years, the struggle between revolution and counter revolution has entered a critical stage. Protests against the former dictator began in December 2018. He was removed from power to try and contain the developing revolutionary movement. The Transitional Military Council (TMC) then usurped power. 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 organization, political parties, trade unions, action committees and other forms of organization by the working class. The shutting down of the internet by the TMC is an answer to those who have argued that organization and parties are no longer needed in this “digital age” to organize a struggle to transform society.
The bloodiest attack was the recent brutal repression of a protest camp in the centre of the capital, Khartoum, last Monday. At least 120 people were reportedly killed and others suffered beatings, rape, torture and violent assaults. The bloody slaughter was carried out by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) whose leader, Mohamad Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, 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, over a decade ago.
It was in response to the latest massacre that a general strike involving millions took 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.
The strike reflected one of the gains of the revolutionary movement in the beginning of building 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 radicalized middle layers like the Democratic Lawyers Union, the Sudanese Central Doctors Committee and others who have come together in the Sudanese Professionals Association. 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 even 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 neighborhood committees. These seem to have now become the main vehicle for the organization 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 historical tradition of workers’ struggle. In the past, a strong 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 historical 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 amongst 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 the 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 to 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, organized in the Forces of Freedom and Change (FDFC), includes not only the professionals’ union – 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 break 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.
The real role of the pro-capitalist parties and groupings in the FDC 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 24-hour 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 twenty four hours, the solid strike was called off and negotiations re-opened. Such steps can only serve to eventually demobilize the masses and prepare the way for a betrayal and victory of the counter revolution.
To take the revolution forward and overthrow the regime, a plan of struggle needs to be prepared and urgently carried through. The neighborhood 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 neighborhoods and subject to re-call. These then need to link up on a district, city wide, regional and national basis.
It is urgent to take the steps to organize armed defence committees and a militia under the democratic control of the neighborhood committees.
As in all revolutions, the mass movement has already provoked divisions amongst 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 the most 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. Yet 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 citywide, 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:
- Convening elections to a revolutionary constituent assembly
- For the establishment of workers’ tribunals to bring to trial of all those collaborating with the former regime and TMC
- A purge of the supporters and collaborators of the old regime the state
- Disband the RSF
- For the right to organize political parties, and free and democratic trade unions
- For a democratic press and media based on public ownership of printing and broadcasting resources and outlet, under democratic control and allocation of press and media facilities, based on support
- Nationalisation of all major companies, banks and multinational corporations under democratic workers’ control and management
- For massive investment in infrastructure and the economy
- No to foreign capitalist intervention
- For a democratic socialist Sudan, with full democratic rights for all minorities, and an international appeal for support and solidarity from the working class of Africa and internationally