Sudan: Generals retreat but decisive action needed to secure revolution’s aims

Overthrown dictator, Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir (Wikimedia/CC)

Mid-August saw tens of thousands of Sudanese come onto the streets to welcome the launch of the “sovereign council” and a transitional government. This was in relief at what they felt was an important step in ending the nightmare of living, since 1989, under the brutal military dictatorship, headed by Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, until his overthrow last April.

After nearly nine months of sometimes deadly struggle, many hoped that significant change seemed to be taking place. The military appeared to be stepping back from direct rule, although they still control the interior and defence ministries. Although, formally, civilians have a majority in the “sovereign council” meant to oversee the country’s government, much of the real power still sits in the hands of the military. But it must not be forgotten, as the Financial Times commented, that all the military leaders “served Mr Bashir loyally until his ousting and some of whom were directly involved in some of the former regime’s worst atrocities”.

The chair of the “sovereign council” for the next 21 months is General Burhan who led the military council that ruled Sudan after the former dictator Bashir was ousted last April. Burhan’s recent record confirms that he cannot be seen as “democrat” or trusted. Since April, this year, Burhari presided over periods of brutal repression, particularly in June and July, as the military elite attempted to hang onto power after removing Bashir.

The military’s partial retreat from direct rule was forced upon them by the strength of the revolutionary movement, that started last December in reaction to austerity measures, including cuts to bread and fuel subsidies. The rapidly growing movement’s demands focused on removing Bashir and ending military rule. Not even the 3 June bloody killings of over 100 demonstrators, in Khartoum, was able to suppress the movement for long. Despite further killings by military units, the mass momentum soon started to pick up again.

Faced with this, the generals were forced to change their tactics. Advised by the US, British, Saudi and UAE governments and rulers, they adopted a ruling class strategy seen in most revolutions since those of 1848 swept through Europe. This was to involve leaders of the revolution in coalitions and agreements that didn’t threatened the existing order, as a way to buy time by restraining the revolution. The international powers, along with the African Union, intervened out of fear that the Sudanese revolution would reignite struggles in Africa and the Middle East. Unfortunately, leaders of the opposition Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), including the Sudanese Professional Association (SPA), representing some, mainly professional, trade unions, agreed to participate in this deal.

This was not without questioning and opposition from many wanting an immediate end to the military involvement in government. Many Sudanese are aware both of the failed 1964 and 1985 revolutions in the Sudan. And perhaps more directly of how the 2013 counter-revolution in neighbouring Egypt installed a regime often as brutal as the worst years that existed under Mubarak before he was overthrown in the 2011 revolution.

Repeatedly the FFC leaders had to argue for popular acceptance of the continuation of military involvement in the government. Even if there is acquiescence to this deal for now there is continuing deep suspicion of the military which will lead to future struggles. As the handover was taking place, the French AFP news agency reported a fruit seller saying, “If this council does not meet our aspirations and cannot serve our interests, we will never hesitate to have another revolution. We would topple the council just like we did the former regime”.

Beyond confines of capitalism

Within the opposition there were those who were demanding a purely civilian government. This is a positive demand but, at the same time, they include many on the left, like the Sudanese Communist Party, who do not question the continuation of capitalism. But capitalism is the system which lies at the roots of the economic and social crisis of Sudan. The new Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok, is a pro-capitalist professional economist, who was the imperialist-backed candidate and he is not somebody who will question the capitalist system. But this was simply ignored up by a SPA spokesperson, who described Hamdock as “a Sudanese scholar and a technocrat with a track record of achievement”. The fact that Hamdok has adopted the language of “revolution” does not change the fact that he is pro-capitalist.

Some commentators have correctly pointed to the basic contradictions in the current situation that will mean, sooner or later, that class struggles will develop, as workers and the poor push for their demands. One US-based professor told Aljazeera that “managing the people’s expectations will be one of the real challenges of this government”. This is because while “you are likely to have a very high expectations of the citizens … [but] the capacity for you to deliver will be limited because it’s the old system is still there.” A German analyst spoke of the continuing threat from the old regime and that it is not clear whether “the old networks and a few new actors will resume control”.

Given the revolution’s current strength, more concessions can be won now, particularly if demanded by mass mobilisations. But these will be only granted to buy time to attempt to defuse the revolutionary movements.

While there may be a temporary pause in the struggle, there can be no doubt that the military’s partial retreat and the installation of a formal “civilian” government will encourage demands to be made. For a time, the government may argue against should demands, saying that they go “too far”, “cannot be afforded” or threaten the deal with military tops. Such arguments will be the recipe for future struggles as workers, women, and youth and oppressed all press forward their demands.

All the key issues remain unresolved, whether they are securing democratic rights or the many economic and social demands of the movement.

Since last December, local committees developed which organised strikes, protests and community defence while trade unions repressed under Bashir’s dictatorship started to be rebuilt. These, and other organisations, can be the basis for building a movement that can secure the revolution’s goals, especially an end to repression and austerity.

However, to achieve this politically, such a movement would have to be independent of the ruling class, and imperialism. This means not participating in, or supporting the policies of, any government which does not challenge capitalism.

In Sudan, while there are different cliques and clashes of interest between different sections of the ruling class, and also within the military command, they all stand in fear of the revolution challenging the system. But this does not rule out the possibility that later military leaders will try to, once again, take direct control, both to stabilise the situation and maintain their grip over the economy, particularly gold mining. A recent Financial Times editorial described Sudan’s military rulers as “deeply untrustworthy”.

Obviously such a move back towards military rule would be likely to meet resistance. But fighting against this form of counter-revolution should not mean that the workers’ movement gives support to pro-capitalist policies of bourgeois democrats who may also be military targets. As in the fight against Kornilov’s attempted reactionary coup during the 1917 Russian revolution, the revolutionary sections of the working class might find themselves fighting temporarily alongside bourgeois democrats against counter-revolution, but would not form a political alliance or join with them in a government.

Take the revolution forward

The best form of defence against counter-revolution is to take the revolution forward. It is only the building of independent organisations of the working class – armed with socialist policies to end the economic crisis and to secure democratic rights – that can build a united movement to overthrow the capitalist elite and prevent counter-revolution.

The fight for democratic rights must include the demand that the Sudanese people can democratically decide their future and decide how they are ruled today. This is why the transitional agreement’s postponement of elections until late 2022 is wrong. It means that the unelected “sovereign council”, and especially the military run interior and defence ministries, will decide what happens, and certainly they will defend the profit interests of the capitalists and looters.

The call for a democratically-elected revolutionary constituent assembly can become popular in opposition to the unelected bodies imposed by the “transitional agreement”. It could become the forum where Sudan’s future is discussed and decided.

As we have previously argued, a genuinely revolutionary constituent assembly would bring the military murderers to justice, purge the military and judiciary, release all political prisoners, establish a free media, implement the minimum wage the SPA has been demanding, give freedom for political parties and the trade unions to organise and put an end to the persecution of ethnic minorities.

To consolidate these policies and to provide food, fuel, health care, education, housing, jobs, justice and to end corruption, a government of democratically elected representatives of workers and poor is needed. This can implement socialist measures through the nationalisation of the banks, industry and foreign monopolies and the repudiation of the foreign debt.

At the same time, with the continuing armed conflicts in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions pose the possibility of civil wars developing in these areas. This gives added importance to the questions of securing the rights of ethnic and religious minorities and building a united movement of working people and the poor across Sudan to fight together for their demands.

While Prime Minister Hamdok now speaks of implementing the revolution’s “Freedom, Peace and Justice”, his initial statements have been largely vague. It is significant that, so far, nothing has been said about rescinding the austerity measures that sparked off the revolution. Yet their reversal must be a key demand.

For a government of the workers and poor

To carry out and secure the revolutionary changes that are needed a genuine government of the workers and poor that is prepared to break with capitalism has to be created. Such a workers’ government needs to be based upon the popular organisations that are developing and backed by mass mobilisations.

Given that already both western imperialist powers and the regional dictatorships are intervening in Sudan, it is essential that to secure revolutionary change an appeal needs to be made to the workers and poor of Egypt and other neighbouring countries. They can be appealed to join in a movement against capitalism and for socialism.

Alongside the widespread relief at the formal end of military rule, there may be a sense of despair amongst some that the former leaders of the military dictatorship, especially the figure of General Hemeti, head of the 70,000-strong brutal paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), are still in power. Despite his RSF’s bloody record in fighting in Darfur province, as Saudi-paid mercenaries in Yemen, and in the murder of demonstrators in June and July, it was Hemeti who signed the outline power-sharing deal on behalf of the military.

However the revolution is not over yet. Movements will develop both amongst workers and youth determined to use their newly won rights to win their demands. Inevitability these will come into conflict with the capitalists, government and military. This can create the opportunity for socialist conclusions to be drawn, and the building of a revolutionary mass workers’ party capable of carrying through a socialist transformation and securing the fruits of this revolution.


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August 2019