Woman demonstrator: “This is my revolution and we are the future”
The immovable has been removed: Omar al-Bashir who had ruled Sudan for 30 years has now been deposed by the military under huge pressure from below. Along with the removal of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algeria, this constitutes is a cause for celebration for the working class in Africa and internationally.
When it became clear the masses were prepared to die to install democracy, the military in Sudan staged a coup. This declaration of military rule was intended to cut cross the historic mobilization of working people and middle class. When the people defied the curfew, the general was replaced the very next day! Sudan saw three military leaders in three days and the struggle for a civil government to have democratic elections is continuing.
The resistance is now showing just how a new society can be organized. Security is effectively but politely maintained, street children fed, trash collected, giant screens show football matches, traffic is directed. Most graphically, the non-sectarian nature is shown by Christian Sudanese Coptics shading their Muslim brothers from the sun while they pray.
In a phenomenal mobilization lasting weeks and then months, the people of Sudan have risen up against the Omar al-Bashir’s regime which has been noted for genocidal brutality towards the non-Islamic south and rebellious Darfur. In week after week of growing resistance there have been demands for his resignation, the removal of his ruling clique and a rapid civil transition to elections. Working people and the organizations of doctors, lawyers and other professionals have combined in this unprecedented movement.
Under this relentless pressure the military is making faltering steps to hold on to power and repress. The generals of the various armed forces fear being held to account for their war crimes and are desperately clinging to power. Their refusal to concede power to a civilian transitional government steels the movement and demands its political self-organization.
An invincible movement
The deeply suffering people of Sudan have succeeded in overthrowing al-Bashir; they are striving to secure justice for the hundreds of thousands killed at his hands. They have demonstrated the confidence and knowledge of how to establish a new society.
Time after time it had appeared that the uprising would be met with the same brutality as that metered out in the past but the determination of this movement forced the army to waver. Even while al-Bashir’s allies in the Islamic parties were rallying around him,s the military are on the defensive realizing how much they have to lose.
The resistance ranged across the country. Unlike earlier smovements which started in the capital and centres of trade unionism, the uprising took shape in the towns north of the capital. It spread from these towns to the east to Port Sudan and then to the west towards the White Nile. Its swift and sweeping dynamics gathered new elements as a tornado and caught the regime off-guard just before the capital itself exploded.
For a period, this strength in resistance has paralyzed the state. Even militant Islamic groups in alliance with al-Bashir have had to watch women openly marching in defiance of the state-enforced sharia law.
There is a tradition of women participating and even being in the lead of previous resistance. Women have had a decided role in this uprising. When faced with a section of the security police throwing tear gas and shooting into the crowd, Alaa Salah, a 22-year-old architecture student, took a stand and sang a revolutionary song to hold the crowd together. Groups of women have been imprisoned and threatened but have continued defiantly in protest.
When faced with the prospect of violence, a woman demonstrator said “I immediately thought: this is my revolution and we are the future.” This has become the woman’s slogan in the marches. “We have a voice. We can say what we want. We need a better life and to stay in a better place.”
Acute economic crisis
The economic crisis propelled the political uprising; driving workers and the middle class into the streets and drawing in the reluctant. When the regime placed the burden of their economic crisis on the people by tripling the price of bread, this triggered the movement.
But political demands soon eclipsed the economic as the people chanted “Freedom, Peace and Justice”. Clearly no economic question could be solved without the removal of the al-Bashir military-based dictatorship. The marchers proclaimed the inevitability of revolution: “Revolution is the People’s Choice!” and showed their courage in defying the military and militias.
Despite al-Bashir using every trick in a dictators’ handbook, the economic crisis had decisively weakened the regime and strengthened the resistance. Flambuoyant political gestures can fade; elections can be rigged, but not the economy.
After losing all control over basic economic factors, as well as tripling the bread price, the government set strict limits on withdrawals from banks and tightened control over gasoline supply. The effective devaluation of the Sudanese pound from 7 per dollar to 18 per dollar further impoverished the people. Inflation soared as the regime made working people pay for its economic mistakes. The budget gave priority to the repressive apparatus. All this infuriated the people.
The resistance widened and deepened as the middle class found their salaries were inaccessible in the banks. The economic paralysis broke an unspoken pact between the presidential clique and the political elite. The tiny capitalist class was prised loose from its supportive position as sharp economic decline brought out their support for the resistance, The participation of professionals with the working class in the queue for survival built greater participation possibly than any previous movement of resistance.
Wealth and inequality
Colonialism consolidated the deep inequalities in Sudanese society between landowners and peasants, north and south, Darfur and the centre and west. Unfortunately, this inequality only deepened after independence. The British system of indirect rule consolidated the wealth, land and political power of a few selected families. Political parties were based on these families and the post-independence period, the combined rule of these families was ineffective. This led to their being overthrown by military government which was, in turn, deposed by the general uprising in 1964. For a period there was representative civilian government, but one which was incapable of resolving the question of national unity and democracy.
It eventually fell to a military coup in 1969; but a popular uprising in 1985 led to the military withdrawing support from the Numeiri dictatorship. The unstable government which followed culminated in al-Bashir coming to power and reinforcing sharia law.
The succession of governments; military dictatorships, nationalist-islamic, democratic, military based with elections, etc, utterly failed to grapple with the problem of regional and religious divisions.
Rule by sharia law and machine guns
The historic persistence of dictatorship, war and corruption cannot be explained by a lack of struggle; working people of Sudan have shown a revolutionary temper. Sudan has experienced deep uprisings to secure democracy but each of these attempts has eventually been followed by military coups.
The war between north and south began in 1955, just four months before Sudan achieved independence. This eased when the south was recognized as an autonomous region.
The last coup in 1989 crushed a weak government and ushered in the al-Bashir regime and the eventual split of Sudan into two countries and two dictatorships in strife with each other and themselves.
The declaration of Sudan as an Islamic country in 1983 exacerbated religious tensions and was followed by a second civil war which lasted 22 years; the longest civil war in Africa. More than 2.5 million died, and more than five million were externally and internally displaced.
Soon after achieving independence from the north, South Sudan itself erupted into civil war between armed militias previously united in resisting the north. This resulted in starvation and the deaths of 400,000.
The people, south and north, have been divided by dictatorial regimes using the state used as an instrument of accumulation and coercion.
Salvation through war
The al-Bashir regime built on Islamic movements and declared itself to be Inqaz (Salvation). Al-Bashir and a group of military officers drew in the National Islamic Front and supported sharia law. During the decades that followed, the country’s long and bloody civil war, which had raged since the early 1980s, spread from the south to Darfur and the Nuba Mountains in the west.
The regime deeply alienated women in the implementation of sharia law which saw about 15,000 women sentenced to flogging in 2016.
During his rule all available resources were used to wage war against the rebellious south where peoples did not share the Islamic faith. These people, from whom slaves were historically drawn, follow Christian or traditional beliefs. The war was fueled by deep racism and atrocities and an exhausted north eventually conceded independence to South Sudan in 2011. Although al-Bashir had responsibility for the disastrous division of the country this enabled him to consolidate his position of power.
The loss of the south reduced the base for state revenue. Previously the oil produced in the south flowed through the north and was appropriated by the Sudanese state. In the impasse following independence oil stopped flowing north. A state of acute tension between north and south resulted, oil was not sold and neither the south nor the north benefited. A state of economic decline in the north resulted with a viciously ugly civil war in the now independent south.
Al-Bashir ruled with a hydra-headed security apparatus to counter-balance sections of armed men against each other. He was also careful to secure the army officer corps from which he had emerged from punishment and humiliation for many military disasters. This was his technique of avoiding a coup and maintaining a loyal core of the security apparatus solidly against the people.
In addition, al-Bashir built paramilitary organizations with a more express political purpose, in particular an Islamic armed group. He used intelligence security forces to make the Khartoum coup proof but never relied on a single agency. He deployed different armed groups to balance atrocities, failures and successes against each other. Commanders have mutual fears of being held to account for war crimes as the regime falls and are clinging on to power.
These divisions in the security cabals will lead to power struggles and armed conflict if there is no victory for democracy in the immediate period.
Rulers and African Union against the people
As in the case of decrepit Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe, the leaders of the African Union (AU) have supported al-Bashir to the end. Many African rulers have had decades of divisive and bloody rule. The African Union acts as a defence agency of African leaders to support each other. In Bashir’s case genocide was ignored by the AU and the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) decision to indict him war crimes was denounced without offering an alternative. When he was about to be arrested in South Africa last year, the then President Zuma arranged for a safe quick exit. Now, at last, he faces the people’s wrath at home.
To sustain his war-torn rule, al-Bashir secured the political support of Egypt. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into propping up al-Bashir’s regime and the Sudanese economy but to no avail. During the rising protests, Egypt has expressed unequivocal support for Bashir as integral to its security; Turkey and Russia have committed diplomatic support.
Al-Bashir had new friends from unlikely places. Despite evidence of genocide the US had eased sanctions and the EU has followed the same diplomatic approach to reduce migration to Europe. Support from the West for the democratic struggle in Sudan has been tepid at best.
How did a country which entered into the post-colonial period with some promise enter unrelenting civil war, genocidal atrocities and the final division into hostile two countries?
The task of those coming to power was to draw the peoples of Sudan into a nation, uniting south and north, west and east in a peaceful manner. Democracy was vital to this task as authoritarian practices would be interpreted as sectarian and hostile to one or several of Sudan’s peoples. And the consolidation of democracy, full employment, educational advancement, and broad social reforms had to be supported by an expanding economy.
The inability of national bourgeoisie to undertake these tasks and take society forward deepened the entanglement with the military and cliques. Democracy was suffocated. The declaration of sharia law in 1983 was to be revoked, but it never was: that served notice of continuous war against the south and oppression of woman and non-Islamic groups.
The history of Sudan, as the history of Africa, is of the complete inability of the national bourgeosie to undertake and complete any of its historic tasks. In Sudan regional tensions based on religious and ethnic feelings have not been eased, rather they have become acute, ending finally in the catastrophic division of the country.
Under al-Bashir, the state and key institutions were degraded and reshaped to better maintain the government’s grip on power and to ensure its monopoly over the economy and regions as a means of economic extraction.
This is the way al-Bashir worked as society lurched downwards with the presidential clique hanging on to power, then tightening its grip, and continuing its rule even as the country spiraled downwards and divided into two antagonistic parts.
Tasks of the movement
The resistance has integrated towns across many regions, drawn together different classes and religious groups, staged impressive and then powerful demonstrations. The speed at which resistance gathered pace and spread made it difficult for the state to deploy. Later the state was paralyzed; should it try to drown the movement in blood or try to ride it out? Both strategies had dangers for the leadership which is desperate to avoid the wrath of the people and the arrest warrant of the International Crime Commission.
Removing al-Bashir is a signal victory but military rule is continuing to forestall genuine democracy. The military will also do everything possible to protect its own: al-Bashir could be hidden from view and then reappear. Clearing out the entourage of political parasites and military elite which supported him is essential to ensure Bashir’s permanent removal from power and justice for those he oppressed. As in Zimbabwe the people could find Bashirism after Bashir; a new driver in the same car.
For the moment the state is paralyzed by the resistance. Even the African Union, notorious for its support for dictators, has expressed reservations about the coup; it was “not the appropriate response”.
The resistance has risen marvelously to each task like a great ship to rising swells. But the most difficult tasks lie ahead. The ruling elite is still intact; to remove it the movement has to constitute itself into a political formation to express the demands of working people. It has to have clear perspectives of taking power and building a new society. This is the most challenging task; workers, peasants and youth have to be sharply aware of the need to organize independently of the national bourgeoisie no matter how radical individuals may sound.
The movement needs to ensure a democratic order with its political leaders, representatives and officials: there must be no privileged elite, representatives must be elected and paid the wage of worker and subject to recall. The state is not for technocrats (although their expertise might be useful); working people must be trained to take over positions, oversee and direct. This is what the people have shown is possible in the centre of Khartoum.
Those who are determined to see the revolution through to a successful end must know that the consolidation of democracy depends on the transformation of the social order. Unfortunately, the historic role of the Communist Party is to present two stages; a struggle for democracy to be followed by the consolidation of capitalism and then, in the course of time, a struggle for socialism.
The history of Sudan proves just the opposite. Courageous democratic struggles have been followed by weak reforms, military coups and the abyss of civil wars without end with millions dead.
Peace and democracy have proved illusive on a capitalist basis. When, on occasion, the armed forces have abandoned the regime and sided with the people it has eventually returned itself to power in one shape or form. This is the central problem of democratic rule; the many armed forces which have waged war against the people have to be broken up and war criminals prosecuted. These armed formations are reluctant to lose power and submit themselves to any form of justice and a difficult period is opening up in which they will hold on to power, or retreat only to return again.
After 30 years of military rule with the veneer of elections, Sudanese people have to develop political organization to resolve the ethnic and religious divisions of the people and consolidate democracy through resolving the deep social inequalities.
Rallying call for freedom in Africa
The Sudanese uprising is a rallying cry to the oppressed in Africa. As is the cry from Algeria. This cry will be heard particularly by those in Zimbabwe who have struggled for more than three decades to resolve ethnic divisions, achieve democracy and socialism. The uprising in January was brutally crushed but freedom, and another world is possible!
It will be heard by those who have been stifled for decades by aging dictators; in Equatorial Africa, Cameroon, eSwatini, Uganda, Congo and other countries. And by those groaning under one man rule and single party dictatorships.
The Sudanese movement is an inspiration to Africa’s youth which is becoming the majority in many countries.
Decade by decade Africa is falling further and further behind Asia and the rest of the world. Growth is faltering and slow and the grip of leadership and single party cliques on the state is limpet tight. State assets are eaten away through corruption and there is weak public investment in the needed industrialization. Economies are based on the extraction of raw materials; just as they were designed to do during the colonial period. These are the accommodations of the national bourgeoisie to the world order.
The aspirations of Africa’s working people for jobs, peace and democracy can only be achieved through the independent political organization of the working people and the ending of the existing forms of rule. National and regional harmony and peace, genuine democracy and shared economic prosperity can only come through socialism.