January 30, 2022. Update added April 23, 2023
Like all the nations of the Horn of Africa that abut the Red Sea, the main passageway for the transit of Middle Eastern oil, Sudan has been a prize desired by many imperialist nations. (For a background summary of the region, see this.) For 75 years, there has been a large leftist opposition within the country. Now another military coup has taken place and led to mass protests. We international anti-racists and anti-capitalists should take note, support, and assess what chance there is that these large, valiant rebellions with their great human costs will actually bring about the kind of worker run society we need and strive for everywhere.
A Brief History
The Islamist dictator Omar al-Bashir, who had been in power for 30 years, was overthrown in December, 2018 following months of violently repressed protests over massive price increases and other injustices. Power was seized by the military, but resistance continued, culminating in a nationwide strike and the workers’ threat to turn off the nation’s electricity. On June 3, 2019, the army massacred over 100 strikers which only increased the ranks of protestors. Finally, the military signed an agreement to share power with opposition civilians, a coalition of political parties called Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC). The US, the European Union, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates all supported this fragile arrangement, as did the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which implemented privatization, removal of subsidies for basic goods and currency devaluation. The cost of living rose 300 percent in one year.1
This latest coalition lasted until October 25, 2021, when another military coup took place, led by General Abdel Fattah al- Burhan. The civilian prime minister appointed by the FFC, Abdalla Hamdok, was jailed along with other civilian cabinet members, and protestors were violently attacked. Hamdok, however, had not been unfriendly to the military and was fully in agreement with the policies of the IMF and World Bank. His only difference with the military was over the issue of criminal prosecution of al-Bashir over crimes against Darfur. The US demanded Hamdok’s release and a decrease in violence against demonstrators, to which the government acceded.2
A Pawn of Many Powers
Sudan has long been a prize valued by many more powerful nations. In an immensely abbreviated summary, Sudan was ruled by the British in 1898-1953, then underwent a series of regimes and civil wars until 1972. The Addis Ababa agreement in that year ended civilian-military conflict and ushered in multinational corporate and IMF funded development of wheat, sugar, cotton, and infrastructure. But corruption and inefficiency brought only financial crises and led to a long period of Islamist rule. In 2011, the long-standing brutal conflict between the mostly Muslim Arab north and non-Arab Christian and oil-rich south was resolved by the establishment of the independent country of South Sudan.
Today, many world powers have interests in Sudan. Most of the 156,000 daily barrels of oil produced come from South Sudan, of which some is refined in Khartoum in the north and much of the rest travels by pipeline through Sudan to ports where China is the largest customer. China also has large investments in infrastructure and sees Sudan’s Red Sea ports as important to its Belt and Road Initiative. Russia has a naval base on the coast, which is supported by the Sudanese military. The ruling generals wish the country to be taken off the US terrorist list, where it landed after Islamists bombed US embassies in Africa and the USS Cole. To this end, Sudan with four other Arab nations recently signed an accord with Israel. Egypt, along with Sudan, is anxious to stop construction of the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which would limit flow of the Nile into both countries, and wary of protests in Sudan which might encourage rebellion against Egyptian dictator Sisi. The EU is anxious to stop immigration from Sudan, which had been promised by Hamdok. The Sudanese military has supplied soldiers to Saudi Arabia to fight in Yemen and to the Russian backed forces of the Libyan National Army.3,4
US policy in Sudan has been in disarray as there hasn’t been an ambassador to the country since 1996 until a new one was appointed two months ago. Recently State Department officials visited Sudan just before the military coup and again before a crackdown on protestors, both of which then occurred without US concurrence. This is very unlike sixteen years ago when the US was a major player in bringing about the new state of South Sudan. Even the recent suspension of $700 million in annual aid was not enough to influence Sudan’s generals this time.9 Indeed, as in many areas, US influence is fading in comparison to China, Russia and other regional players.
The Long History of Opposition
Years before independence from Britain, the anti-colonial Sudanese Movement for National Liberation (SMNL) was formed by students and workers, along with nationalist and Islamist parties. The SMNL was the forerunner of the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP), which was founded in 1946, initially instigated by Egyptian and British communists. The party organized students, farmers, unions and for women’s rights, literacy and secularism.The SCP attempted to overthrow the government of Nimeri in 1971, after which it was destroyed by repression and executions, but it re-emerged from 1985-9. In 1989 the SCP participated in elections calling for a secular democratic constitution and repeal of Islamic law, and under the al-Bashir regime in 2007, the SCP joined the national Consensus Forces, a coalition of anti-government parties.
The SCP also began building resistance committees in neighborhoods, as well as seventeen unions and the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA).1,5,6 The resistance committees have used strikes, civil disobedience and barricades to oppose the new military regime, which in November alone killed at least 42 civilians, injured over 500, imprisoned hundreds, and even seized hospitals.1 The demands of the uprisings are for rejection of military rule and a transitional government led by civilians leading towards democracy a civil state.7 According to an interview with SCP leader Dr. Fathi al-Fadl, published in January in the Turkish e-zine Kaldıraç, the SCP is trying to establish a national democratic front around which it can build a broad alliance, and the main weapon is the intensification of the mass peaceful protest actions.2
A Winning Strategy?
The valor of the lengthy resistance in Sudan, in which the SCP has played a large role for decades, cannot be denied. Despite mass killings and detentions by the military, the movement has remained large and militant. However, what appears to be the main weakness of Sudanese communists is not to call for communism. Like so many parties that were under the direction of the USSR after the 1930s, the main goal was opposition to imperialist powers that were enemies of the Soviets and growth of influence through building coalitions with
local liberal parties. Although there was apparently relatively little direct contact between Sudan and Moscow, the Sudanese were heavily influenced by Egyptian communists, who certainly followed the Soviet line. Despite having a strong base amongst workers, moreso than was the case in Egypt, there is not a call by the SCP for workers’ power and a communist economy. Before the latest military coup, in August, 2021, the SCP met with Prime Minister Hamdok and made many agreements, including protecting landowners’ rights.8
As in the many armed national independence struggles of the last century, from the Congo to South Africa, and the election of many “socialists” such as Allende in Chile or Lula in Brazil, if the goal is not to establish a society run by the working class and the method does not include an armed body of workers who aim to control the state, the forces of capitalism will continue to rule. Such communist revolutions have only been made in the USSR and China, which despite many early successes, have devolved back to capitalism. So we cannot say it is an easy process, but instead of giving up the goal, we must analyze their mistakes and attempt to come closer to our goal of an egalitarian society which prioritizes the quality of life of all workers. Otherwise we will not only suffer cruel and impoverished life, as do most Sudanese, but face the ever worsening consequences of fascism, climate change and war which may obliterate workers worldwide.
Currently the fighting is between the regular army, led by General al-Burhan, and the Rapid support forces, led by Lt Gen Hamdan., since power was never handed over to a civilian government as promised. Hamdan, who now has the best equipped forces, has been making money in business deals with the United Arab Emirates, including shipping them Sudanese gold. He also has a contract to mine gold for Russia’s Wagner group since the start of the war in Ukraine and is now receiving weapons from Russia as well as from Libyan warlord Khalifa Hifter. Egypt, whose military is highly funded by the US, opposes the Hamdan militia that surrounded one if its bases near the border, and is siding with the regular military (NYT 4/23/03). According to one source, Burhan is also supported by the CIA, having given heavy support to a US supported coup attempt against Ethiopia (https://countercurrents.org/2023/04/bombing-khartoum-cias-latest-attempted-coup-in-africa/).
Meanwhile, the SCP is now the leading member of a coalition called the Forces for Radical Change (FRC), which disavows any connections with military leaders. “The victims of the continuing violence and counter-violence are the people who have been striving for the continuation of the revolution and achieving full democratic civil power…. The way back to normal life begins with an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire, the departure of armies and militias from the cities and villages and keeping them far from citizens’ gatherings in towns and rural areas.” (https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/w/sudanese-communists-call-for-immediate-ceasefire-bitter-power-struggle-leaves-least-50) There still does not appear to be a movement that sees the necessity to struggle to seize power in the name of the working class.