Sudan: The Dictator Goes but the Regime Lives On

Since December last year Sudan has been seething but it now looks like the Army have reasserted control. What started as bread riots last December, in the historic working class city of Atbara, transformed itself into a campaign of mass civil disobedience. In a country where 60% of the population are under 25 and 27% of these are unemployed it is not surprising that they should be in the vanguard of the resistance. Over the months that followed the leadership of the campaign was taken over by the Sudanese Professionals’ Association (SPA) representing mainly professional workers’ unions. Their sit-down strike in front of Army headquarters was always a tense affair threatened by the secret and non-uniformed police constantly circulating within it. However their courage and determination finally brought down the dictator. It took, however, 60 deaths before the military, fearing for their wider interests, finally agreed to bring the 30 year rule of Omar al-Bashir to an end in April [see for the background to this].

The demonstrators were not satisfied with the fall of the dictator and recognised what was going on. They knew how, time and again, in Sudan’s short post-colonial history the military had temporarily stepped down only to carry out another coup after a few years. The SPA joined some opposition politicians in the Alliance for Freedom and Change (AFC) to demand that a new majority civilian government of technicians should be set up for three to four years in order to oversee the establishment of real civilian rule. The Army countered with a proposal for a government of 10, with only 3 being civilians. This was not accepted by either the AFC or the people in the streets so on June 3 the peaceful sit-down demonstrators in front of Army headquarters were attacked.

Given the media blackout (which is now into its second week) the stories of the atrocities committed since 3 June are only now coming in. The BBC tells us that 30 have died whilst the Independent tells us

"According to the opposition-linked Central Committee of Sudan Doctors (CCSD) at least 188 have been killed since June 3, many of whom were shot or severely beaten to death by members of the RSF militia. The government confirmed 61 deaths." [1]

Of these 19 are children with a further 49 injured. And just to add to the barbarism, children and female doctors are being systematically raped by the same Rapid Support Forces (RSF) otherwise known as the Janjaweed militia which al-Bashir unleashed on Darfur some 16 years ago [see].

Today 7,000 of the RSF fight in Yemen as mercenaries for the Saudi regime. In Sudan their leader General Mohamed Hamdan Daglu (or Hemedti) has the backing of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt against the protestors. In fact they are more comfortable supporting this mass murderer than his former boss who was too close to the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. It is believed that Hemedti has 10,000 troops under his control in Khartoum alone. In the early days of the protests some regular Army units in Atbara and Khartoum seemed to have prevented the RSF from attacking demonstrators. However, since the end of April, and the refusal of the body representing the opposition, the Alliance for Freedom and Change (AFC), to accept a military-dominated interim government, the hardline of the RSF seems to be prevailing amongst Army chiefs of the Transitional Military Council.

After all, the military stands to lose much more than formal political power. Currently 75-80% of Sudan’s budget goes to the armed forces (whilst 2% goes to education). One reason why doctors are in the forefront of the protests is the massive underfunding of hospitals. And like the military in many countries (Venezuela and Iran come to mind) the military also has its fingers in many of the more profitable bits of the economy, which are located almost entirely in Khartoum and Port Sudan. These have long been in the hands of regime loyalists. As we wrote in our previous article,

"This same elite are the ones who travel abroad, engage in conspicuous luxury consumption ($2 billion worth of cosmetics are imported by them each year, and the wedding industry now puts on massive extravagant displays lasting for days at a time) now live off this state. As one Sudanese journalist put it as al-Bashir’s “cronies whizz around the city in their trademark white Land Cruisers, people have grown tired of a regime that cannot be bothered to hide its corruption”. However the money flowing to the army for the moment ensures the loyalty of those killing protestors on the streets."

In response to the killings on 3 June the SPA and AFC called for a general strike, which began on 8 June. This not only included the workers in education, health and the civil service as well as those who work in the oil and other industries, but also the petty bourgeoisie who boarded up their shops in protest at the attack on the sit-down strike. However it is too glib to dismiss this as a “petty bourgeois” movement per se.

The SPA is an umbrella organisation formed in August 2018 “when various independent unions (for teachers, doctors, university lecturers, lawyers, journalists, engineers etc.) forged an alliance.” [2] In the past these would have been considered middle class professions rather than part of the working class. However across the world we have seen educated professionals facing the same deterioration in working conditions and wages as the rest of the wage-labouring class.

"In Sudan, it is often “professionals” that live the most precariously — they share neither the comforts nor privileges associated with the “middle class” in the popular imagination." [3]

In fact they are en route to proletarianisation, if not already there. Doctors earn as little as $30 a month, whilst the minimum wage for teachers is roughly $10.25. The regime, with debts of $56 billion can only go to the IMF to beg for support so it is obliged to execute IMF austerity plans. These not only involve the removal of food subsidies (in a country where inflation is 70%), but also more cuts in health and education. It is therefore not surprising that the SPA lead the protests. This, of course, also demonstrates the weakness of the movement. The industrial working class in Sudan has declined numerically over the last four decades, largely as a result of the regime’s failure to invest in productive activity. The proletarianised professional classes have an ambiguous attitude to their new-found class position. Some embrace it, and seek the solidarity of the entire working class, but more look to restore a status that they have lost. As long as they have the illusion that a more democratic regime can actually tackle the economic problems they face, then their agenda will never go beyond that of getting rid of military rule and establishing “democracy”. This will still be “democracy for the rich”. As long as the same moneybags, whether in or out of uniform, continue to exploit the people and resources of the territory for their own profit there can be no real “democracy”.

Another weakness of the SPA is that their strikes can cause major disruption of services but the military clique is not bothered about such disruption. It does not have the immediate effect of, say, oil workers, who can shut down production and thus hit the regime where it hurts most.

Thus the general strike was not as effective as it might have been and on 12 June it was called off. The signs were that the petty bourgeois element was already weakening the strike. Some shops had re-opened and the SPA spokesman Mohamed Yousif Ahmed al Mustafa explained that there was a need to call off the strike to help

"People in the informal sector, those who are completely without any income. They need to make some revenue-generating activities." [4]

The organisers have tried to put a brave face on this by claiming that this would also allow time for the mediation of Ethiopian officials to restart negotiations with the Transitional Military Council. However the latter have not responded and the indications are that the military will only intensify its crackdown, albeit with the pretence that there will be a transition to some form of civilian rule (i.e. some generals will “retire” to become elected “democratic” rulers).

The social and economic problems will not go away either in Sudan or anywhere else. Global capitalism has been in a deep trauma since 2008.

"What we are seeing in Sudan is a movement which points the finger at a global capitalist system which is bankrupt. It cannot satisfy the basic needs of the many whilst the wealth of the few continues to expand obscenely. These movements also demonstrate that they no longer have faith in a political process which works only for the capitalist class."

"However, in themselves they can only pose these questions – they cannot answer them. Indeed the answer cannot be found in this or that country much less with the undifferentiated mass of the “the people”. There is only one class which carries within it the seeds of a programme based on previous collective experience, which is the antithesis of capitalism, and that is the world working class. Only a conscious working class, the majority of the world’s population, acting in concert can pose the alternative to the increasing misery which is the daily lot of so many. Not only will we abolish the profits system which is based on the exploitation of billions of workers across the globe, not only will we control production and revolutionise it by producing for the real needs of human beings but we will also abolish the capitalist state, including its military apparatus and replace it with an internationally coordinated system of workers councils which will bring the benefits of the world’s wealth to all."

This can only be carried out by a workers’ international political movement which will not only bring solidarity from one country to another, but also take the lead in ensuring that any revolt which does break out anywhere in the world, does not remain isolated to a single state. This is all the more important in a place like Sudan (178th in wealth terms in the world), where the proletariat is a relatively small proportion of the population. Only the defeat of capitalism and imperialism on an international scale can open the road to real emancipation for the workers and toilers in these most blighted of states.


13 June 2019



[3] loc. cit.

[4] Tom Wilson “Opposition in Sudan calls off general strike to allow talks with military” in the Financial Times 13 June 2019

Wednesday, June 19, 2019