After 30 years of dictatorship in Sudan, historic mass protests have achieved the fall of President Omar Al-Bashir in a forced ‘palace coup’ by the generals. Following this, a ‘transitional military council’ was established, with defence minister Amhed Awad Ibn Auf sworn in as president.
He is part of the old regime and a brutal army general who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide in Darfur. But the protests continued, with protesters chanting: “Revolutionaries, we will continue our path!”
A day later Auf was forced to step down, replaced by a supposedly ‘less controversial’ general Abdel-Fattah Burhan. This did not satisfy the masses, who are demanding a complete end to military control.
The masses in Sudan have ousted three ‘leaders’ of the old regime in as many days, and still the mass protests go on. Thousands of protesters dance and chant “freedom!” Protesters want a ‘New Sudan’. But the key question they face is how is that possible? Which force in Sudanese society can achieve it? What kind of new Sudan do we want to create?
These are questions that are posed in many parts of Africa. Just a week before, we saw the fall of Bouteflika in Algeria. The regimes in the region are in fear of a new ‘Arab Spring’ – a new wave of revolutionary uprisings.
This is a critical moment in the unfolding revolution in Sudan and discussion about its direction is vital.
Burhan presents himself as one of the generals who went to meet protesters and listened to their views. The military clearly hope to create illusions that they want a ‘dialogue’ with protesters.
But protesters know that in reality this is the regime trying to save itself. They declare they will continue protesting until they have achieved a ‘civilian government’.
Initial interaction of the protesters with the military is with the low-ranking officials and soldiers who came to protect them against the brutality of the national intelligence and security services.
At no time had the masses any illusion that military control of the country will be the best outcome.
The regime has been in panic and is divided, but they are also determined to hold on to power. The announced three-month emergency and two-year transition periods are an attempt to buy time. They know that masses of people cannot stay in the squares forever.
A senior army officer said on state TV, “our key responsibility is to maintain public order” and “we will have zero tolerance for any misdeed in any corner of the country”. Serious danger of a brutal clampdown of the movement still exists.
Potential power at the moment lies with the masses in the streets. But a mass movement in the streets by itself won’t take power. If the workers and youth don’t take the next steps to seize and consolidate power, then they will lose it.
Workers and poor people in Sudan have faced savage deteriorating conditions. With around 70% inflation, hundreds queue for fuel and food. In the cities, people suffer overcrowding, poor housing, violence and crime. People say “governments have stolen our money and run away”.
Mass protests began on 19 December against the overnight tripling of bread prices. Beginning in Atbara, historically where the Sudanese trade union movement began, the protests spread over the next days to other areas, including the capital Khartoum.
School students protested about increased costs of school meals. Protesters set fire to the offices of the ruling National Congress Party, local government headquarters, and attacked offices of the security services. Reportedly, pro-regime Imams were removed from mosques in some areas.
Doctors and medical staff launched an all-out strike on 27 December, later joined by journalists. The protests escalated on 6 April, when, responding to a call for a general strike, thousands began a sit-in outside the defence ministry in Khartoum.
Quickly the mass movement gathered strength. It is this strength that is now achieving demands that were unthinkable in the past, including the release of political prisoners which was a result of people marching on the prisons.
The workers and youth have shown heroic courage in the face of a brutal regime that carries out arrests, torture and killings; where if you go on strike you lose your job. Showing great defiance, young people have circumvented the closure of social media.
An association of Sudanese doctors said 26 people had died and more than 150 had been injured since the sit-in began, following many deaths in the preceding months.
In further signs of the revolutionary potential, soldiers are among the dead, killed protecting the demonstrators from attack.
Protesters are very aware of the Arab Spring in 2011 and consciously say that this movement is not the same – in other words, they are aware that following those mighty revolutions, elements of the old regimes came back to power, and they don’t want that to happen in Sudan.
This means it is essential to learn the lessons. The Arab Spring did not, at that stage, lead to the workers and poor taking power, because of the lack of an independent mass party of the working class with a revolutionary leadership, fighting for the next steps to take power, with an independent working-class programme.
The main opposition group in Sudan is the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which involves the trade unions, the Women’s Union and other groups. The SPA has shown brave resistance. Even putting forward basic democratic demands and declaring that they will fight on till they win is extremely courageous. They say: “Our endeavour towards getting rid of the regime will continue until the legacy of tyranny is liquidated and its leaders brought to justice.”
But to achieve this they need to go further than their current “Declaration of Freedom and Change”. Drawn up by the SPA on 1 January, it has been signed by a long list of organisations and protest groups, including pro-capitalist parties.
The declaration calls for the replacement of Bashir with a four-year national transitional government of “qualified people based on merits of competency and good reputation, representing various Sudanese groups and receiving the consensus of the majority”, to rule until “a sound democratic structure is established and elections held”.
While there are many good demands – such as ending civil wars, economic freefall, discrimination and oppression of women, and ensuring health, education, housing and social and environmental welfare – this declaration does not distinguish between the different class interests. It is important to take a class position, as calling for democratic elections alone will not result in meeting the demands that are now put forward.
Who will be standing in the election and with what policies? The danger remains that the ruling party of Bashir, the National Congress Party, will regroup to come back to power if the opportunity and time is given.
There must be no illusions in pro-capitalist parties and leaders. While they say they want democracy, they will only go so far. Any new capitalist government would face the same pressures that the Bashir regime faced. In the end it would just mean replacing one set of exploiters with another.
Sudan faces a major economic crisis. The immediate trigger of this uprising was the removal of state subsidies on flour, leading to a tripling of bread prices. This was at the diktat of the IMF. Sudan has $55 billion of external debts. There will be pressure to pay back $8 billion outstanding debt to the IMF.
In reality, as long as the new government is not prepared to stand up to the capitalist powers, and as long as the main parts of the economy are left in the hands of the profiteers, what would any capitalist government do differently?
What would they do about the paramilitaries that terrorise the country and threaten civil war? What would they do about the religious divisions in the country, with sectarian groups that are supported by regional powers, ready to exploit those in their own interests? What would they do about the conflict that exists over sharing the oil wealth of South Sudan?
It is not an accident that the US government has said the Sudanese government should “exercise restraint and allow space for civilian participation within the government”. The state department spokesman told reporters: “The Sudanese people should determine who leads them … and the Sudanese people have been clear and are demanding a civilian-led transition.” Similarly, the EU and UK have urged the army to carry out a “swift” handover to civilian rule.
Western powers are keen for a cooperative regime that will pay back debts, prevent any further development of the revolution and reduce the chances of uprisings spreading across the region. Workers would soon find a new capitalist government will repress further mass action for lower prices or decent jobs and pay – as has been the experience in Tunisia and Egypt.
The only way to unite the working class and poor across the country and to achieve the desires for a decent standard of living, jobs and homes, genuine democracy, freedom to follow their religion and so on, is for the movement of workers, youth and poor to take control themselves.
The workers’ organisations need to establish a mass workers’ party urgently and fight for a government based on the working class.
Protests and sit-ins in central Khartoum have been powerful so far but now the trade unions should call for a strike, to take the battle into the workplaces, and pose the question of who controls the factories, the means of production. It is essential to fight to rebuild the unions, and remove leaders, at any level, who are supporters of the regime.
In some areas, such as Atbera, action committees have been set up. In the encampment, basic steps of organisation have begun, with committees to feed people, for security, to control traffic, even a clinic. But this needs to be more organised, on a political basis.
These committees should include local unions, workers, and other forces of the revolution with the view of continuing until all the demands are realised. Linked together, on a local, state-wide and national level, workers’ committees can provide the basis for an alternative state structure that can seize power from the military.
The programme is essential. 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 the big landowners, under working class democratic control and management.
A socialist plan would be able to begin to invest in job creation, decent housing, health care and education. A workers’ government on this basis would be able to appeal to mass movements in the region to take the same action and come together in close economic cooperation including with South Sudan.
Hence we argue for the creation of a democratic socialist Sudan, as this is the only way the masses can realise their hope to create the new Sudan that they want.
A democratic state of the workers and poor would also be able to ensure religious and national rights, and real justice for the old oppressors. For example, the transitional military council has announced they will not send al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court but will try him in Sudan.
This is because they in reality are all guilty of the same war crimes. But a democratic justice system run by and in the interests of the workers and poor in Sudan would genuinely be able to try war criminals and administer justice.