Sudan has experienced a sharp development of its revolutionary movement in response to the deepening crisis of the state and society since a military coup on 25 October 2021. The coup saw the Sudanese civilian opposition parties summarily ejected from office by their military “partners” in the transitional government. This transitional government had been created as a result of negotiations during the popular uprising against dictator Omar El Bashir, which began in December 2018. Although El Bashir was driven from office by the revolution in April 2019, the coalition of oppositions leading the protests, the Forces of Freedom and Change, negotiated a compromise agreement to share power with the leadership of the armed forces in July 2019. The 2021 coup sought to tear up this agreement and seize total power for the generals.
The military regime has faced massive waves of street protests, spearheaded by the “resistance committees”, revolutionary organisations based in local neighbourhoods that mobilise for the demonstrations.1 This marks a shift from earlier stages of the revolutionary process, when a much bigger role was played by the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), an umbrella organisation of trade unions. Though the SPA was key to overthrowing El Bashir, its influence has waned after its participation in the disappointing transitional government, and the resistance committees have stepped into the leadership vacuum created by this. There are thousands of these resistance committees, which are crucial centres of political organising, but they are very heterogeneous and have a geographical basis rather than being specifically orientated towards the working class.
Anne Alexander interviews Sudanese revolutionary socialists Mohamed Abdelrahman and Muzan Alneel about the nature of the current phase of the Sudanese Revolution, the difficulties of uniting urban and rural workers, and how resistance committees have organised to increase democratic participation and discussion. They also reflect on what a revolutionary party might look like in Sudan and the challenges posed to revolutionaries by the extractive nature of the Sudanese economy, which is based on industries such as agriculture, gold mining and oil as well as a financial services sector that is integrated into the Gulf states’ “Islamic” banking system.
Anne: Since the October coup, I think we have witnessed the opening of a new and more profound phase of the revolutionary process in Sudan. This has been marked by two important features: first, a deepening crisis of the state; and second, the maturation and political development of the revolutionary movement. Do you agree with this analysis? If so, could you say something about these two aspects of the situation and the interplay between them?
Mohamed: That’s correct, and the crisis of the state is related to the state of the economy. This is part of a long structural crisis that can be traced all the way to the inception of modern Sudan in 1916 as a dependent country in the Global South. However, the responses to this crisis have always been the same since the late 1970s, when President Jaafar al-Nimeiri—who was later deposed in the uprising of 1984—implemented neoliberal policies and started to integrate Sudan into the so-called Islamic banking system of the Gulf countries.
In January 2005, the government of Omar El Bashir and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, intended to end the civil war that had raged since 1983. This brought a break from the crisis and a temporary economic boom, largely driven by the expansion of oil production in South Sudan. Nevertheless, the crisis resumed in 2011 when South Sudan became independent, causing the loss of the vast majority of those oil revenues. In 2016, this crisis, manifesting as lack of liquidity, started to accelerate, and the government responded with austerity measures. By the end of 2018, long queues became the norm everywhere in Sudan from bakeries to petrol stations. The political changes that occurred after the overthrow of El Bashir in April 2019 failed to affect the underlying dynamics of this structural crisis. Essentially, the state’s policies stayed the same.
The coup on 25 October 2021 was carried out by Abdelfattah al-Burhan, commander in chief of the armed forces, and supported by a coalition of the armed opposition movements that had signed the Juba Agreement for Peace with the military in August 2020. These armed movements were originally part of the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), the political coalition that opposed El Bashir during the revolution and then negotiated with the army following his ousting in April 2019. However, on 2 October, these armed movements had split from the FFC and formed their own body, the Forces of Freedom and Change-Founding Platform (FFC-FP), while the remainder named itself the Forces of Freedom and Change-Central Council (FFC-CC). The main aim of the coup was to abort the revolution. However, it also sought to re-divide the cake of wealth and power between the army generals and their new friends in the rebel groups of the FFC-FP without the nuisance of having to deal with the civilian elements in the FFC-CC.
On 8 December, Gibril Ibrahim—the government’s finance minister and leader of one of the armed movements within FFC-FP—announced that Sudan had been cut off from $650 million of international funding from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. The coup leaders are obviously short on cash, but they could not cut their own incomes and expenditures; that would defeat the whole point of the coup, which was to re-divide the wealth of the country between them. The generals and the warlords are dependent on a state based on rent extraction and the concentration of huge wealth in the hands of a few at the expense of the majority. They refuse to invest in long-term projects that would benefit the whole population and improve living conditions. Their goal is simply to absorb as much wealth as they can.
The class struggle is clearly visible in the 2022 budget, which is nothing short of a declaration of war by the ruling class against wage earners. The budget depends entirely on extracting different kinds of taxes from the pockets of the working class and removing subsidies on vital commodities such as wheat and medication. In public hospitals there has been an astronomical increase in fees for all medical services, from help giving birth to treatment in emergency departments. These fees are impossible to pay and will inevitably push more people to protest. Simultaneously, the warlords’ wealth—their share of the cake shared out by the Juba Agreement—has increased by 46 percent.
This new arrangement means Sudanese society is now chronically inflamed with popular discontent. In truth, the Sudanese state needs to be dismantled and rebuilt on the basis of new social relations. The revolutionary movement is constantly developing, which is evidenced by a flurry of political “declarations” issued by organisations such as the resistance committees. These resistance committees have staged a series of weekly street protests against the coup, playing an important role in stripping al-Burhan and his allies of the legitimacy they claim. The inspiring movement among farmers in the Northern State region is further proof of the development of the revolutionary movement. These waves of protests are still happening, and there’s no sign that they will stop as long as the military is still in power.
The resistance committees have gained experience in organising during the last three years. They did not rest in the period between the fall of El Bashir and the the coup, instead engaging in different sorts of political and social activities. They also understood that the politicians of FFC-CC and their utopian model of “partnership” with the military cannot achieve the change they hope to see. That’s why they are prepared to lead the resistance against the coup.
The crisis of the state—the necessary result of an economy based on exploitation—and the development of the popular movement are the key dynamics of class struggle.
Muzan: I agree we are seeing a second and deeper phase of the revolutionary process, but it is above all a deepening crisis of the ruling class. I am not sure if the term “crisis of the state” applies here, because it is not just a crisis of the military regime, but also of the civilian parties who were previously part of the transitional government. These parties are now trying to find a place amid a new balance of power and new political struggles. Within this context, we have seen the development of organised resistance bodies—the neighbourhood resistance committees.
Activists have joked that the slogan of “The Three Nos” (no negotiations, no partnership, no legitimacy) adopted by the resistance committees has reversed the job description of these civilian parties. After the overthrow of the El Bashir regime, the entire purpose of these parties was to carry out negotiations, seek partnership with the military and provide them with legitimacy. This slogan has cancelled the role of these parties. They are as much in crisis as the military are. This is even recognised by the military’s propagandists, who complain there is “no one to negotiate with” in the movement. Interestingly, the “international community” is saying the same thing. They are trying to recreate a leadership that can be co-opted and corrupted.
Meanwhile, the maturity of the political movement has without a doubt progressed. Lessons have been learnt. The two years after 2019 threw up tests for the movement and encouraged the ruling class to experiment with new lies. Now, people are learning the lessons, and there are organised bodies where people can discuss and debate important questions—they are not just experienced as thoughts in the heads of isolated individuals.
However, it is less clear that we are abstracting sufficiently from these lessons towards a full understanding of how the political process works and how we can intervene in it in a transformative fashion. For instance, when new political actors appear, can our community of resistance deal with them? Tasks such as this require a different kind of organisation: a revolutionary party. We need an organisation that can frame an analysis of the situation clearly, and this simply cannot be done by the existent grassroots bodies. That said, I am not sure how many people would agree with me on that. It is the logical conclusion, but it is not necessarily where we are going.
Anne: Why can the resistance committees not play the same role as a revolutionary party?
Muzan: Resistance committees are bound to the interests of their geographical constituencies, though this is not necessarily the whole neighbourhood, but rather those who are politically involved and will come out onto a demonstration. The main tool of the resistance committees is to bring out the masses onto the streets, and so they cater to the demands of the masses to ensure they participate in these street actions. This limits their political stances. The resistance committees are limited by who they have in their constituencies, and the nature of the resistance committees are defined by their geography. Some resistance committees do state that no members of the previous ruling party can join them, but they are still very broad groups that have many different, divergent interests within them. Moreover, the louder committees are those with more resources, more opportunities for media appearances and so on.
In recent weeks, we have seen the resistance committees drafting and putting out political declarations, which shows a certain maturation of the movement. Some of these declarations have been very interesting, and the way in which they are distributed and discussed is also encouraging. One that got significant attention was from the resistance committees in the city of Madani. In recent weeks, resistance committees in seven other Sudanese states have helped to redraft this declaration and have jointly adopted it as “The Revolutionary Charter for People’s Power”. The Madani resistance committees themselves sent it out for discussion by multiple means—emails, via Facebook and as voice notes on WhatsApp. They provided a WhatsApp number for people to get back in contact with suggestions and modifications.
The Charter is more progressive than most other declarations, addressing economic issues directly. It thus represents a more leftist approach than many of the other resistance committees. However, although it got attention, Sudanese social media largely responded with demands for the publication of a political declaration by the Khartoum resistance committees. These committees went on to publish “The Charter for the Establishment of the People’s Authority”, which has a consensus-building approach and advocates the creation of a large umbrella group of different resistance organisations, rather than arguing for a specific political vision and setting priorities for social and economic development. So this was a very different document to the Charter that originated in Madani, although this is to be expected given the realities of political action in the capital. Unfortunately, this big umbrella approach has brought reformist voices back to the surface of online and offline debates in ways we haven’t seen since the coup.
At the same time, many voices reject the road map for government formation proposed by the Khartoum resistance committees, which calls for appointing the prime minister first, and then the national assembly, state-level assemblies and legislative bodies. The prior publication of alternative proposals by the Madani resistance committees and others has boosted the voices of those who see the flaws in the Khartoum resistance committees’ proposal. It is frequently argued that the Madani proposal is closer to implementing “people’s power” because its road map starts from the local assemblies then goes to the state level and national assembly, which appoints the prime minister. The process of the different proposals being shared and discussed publicly is adding to the depth of the debates taking place.
Of course, this highlights the difference between the resistance committees and a revolutionary party. A revolutionary party would provide a clear analysis of where the masses should stand, where their interests are and what kind of tools they should use to break down the messaging of the ruling class. The current lack of sound analysis is a problem and produces confusion.
This political confusion manifests in all sorts of ways. For instance, we see people expressing anger towards the military and reactionary militias such as the so-called Rapid Support Forces militia, but unfortunately this is often done in elitist and xenophobic terms, attacking the ethnic and class backgrounds of the fighters. Another example relates to the farmers in the Northern State who have been blocking roads between Sudan and Egypt. People from rural areas have built over 20 blockades in different places, and networking is taking place between participating villages in order to formulate collective demands. The blockades were sparked by economic issues such as rises in electricity prices and the cost of living. However, when the urban resistance committees issued statements in support of the farmers’ movement, demands related to the electricity hikes are deprioritised and sometimes not mentioned at all. Something got lost in the process, and there is now much talk about bringing down the Sudanese government by pressuring the Egyptian dictator, Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, and impacting Egypt’s economy. However, simple logic dictates that bringing down the current government by pressuring Sisi means it will be replaced by a government that better serves Sisi’s interests. A revolutionary perspective would view those blockades as tools of the masses in a direct battle with their own ruling class and those profiting from exports to the detriment of the people. This is a perspective an engaged revolutionary party could have provided—a perspective that is against the state and wants to cripple the state.
The urban resistance committee’s misunderstanding of the demands of rural workers is a common theme. When the Sudanese Revolution began in 2018-9, the people of the peripheries began protesting over the lack of bread. However, when the transitional government came in, the urban resistance committees asked the people of the peripheries to support it, even though the bread crisis had intensified. There is a tendency for urban demands to simply take over, unless there is an organisation capable of putting out an analysis that goes to the root of the situation so that the urban and rural masses can come together.
Mohamed: The Revolutionary Charter for People’s Power is a reminder that resistance committees have changed the way politics is done in Sudan. This is reflected in the disturbed response of the political elite, who are saying to the resistance committees, “Please! Stick to the script!” The declaration has many merits, including its emphasis on popular participation in decision making and its stress on national sovereignty and economic independence. It had been received with enthusiasm from many other localities around Sudan. Nonetheless, the all-important question remains: how can the radical goals of the political declarations be transformed into reality?
A revolutionary party is necessary for radical transformation in Sudan. It would be able to push the popular movement further. The politics of this revolutionary party would have to be based on a material analysis of social relations in Sudan. As researchers Magdi El Gizouli and Edward Thomas have pointed out, rural populations in Sudan produce the commodities that form the majority of Sudan’s exports—the cash crops and livestocks that bring in the hard currency financing consumption in Khartoum.2 The cadres of a revolutionary party would need to be able to provide answers to how to manage this contradiction between production in the rural areas of the country and consumption in its urban centres. How can we resolve tensions over land ownership and use, which is a major cause of conflict across Sudan? How can we transcend the tribe as an institution that shelters so many workers? How can we organise the working class when most workers in both urban and rural areas are scattered due to the nature of their economic activities? A revolutionary party would be faced with all these questions and more.
This party would need to have deep knowledge of the living conditions of rural workers. Moreover, mere objective knowledge about the rural masses who produce the surplus in Sudan is not enough—the party would also need to recruit cadres from the rural masses and provide them with the necessary political education. Having workers in the party is crucial, though this is not a matter of “representation”. Instead, it is crucial because the class upbringing of these workers can help secure the party from rightist deviations, which is always a risk when dealing with middle-class radical intellectuals.
All this doesn’t mean that the party should neglect urban areas. Not at all. Of course, it would have to organise there as well. The urban workers are exploited as well. They can strike an alliance with their rural counterparts and provide the required manpower for an industrial leap.
On the ideological front, the party would need to engage in fierce battles over the definition of terms such as “national unity”, which are used in order to obfuscate the nature of the struggle. It would have to draw the battle lines clearly. We need a simultaneous process of unification and separation: unification of all the oppressed and exploited masses and their separation from the ruling class in Sudan. The party would thus need to examine the nature of Sudanese nationalism, which was revived following the revolution in December 2018.
The revolutionary party would also have to understand Sudan’s coordinates regionally and globally, developing tactics to manoeuvre through the capitalist world system and delink from it. This too would require many intense ideological battles, especially because one of the grievances against El Bashir’s regime among the middle class was Sudan’s “isolation from the international community”. Such a confrontation with global capitalism will require a high level of popular support as well as transnational solidarity. Leftists can organise workers against austerity measures, but it’s much harder to build a country with a new type of economy, especially under conditions of embargo and threats of military invasion. Moreover, of course, the socialist experiences of the 20th century, including those of the Sudanese Communist Party, will need to be studied thoroughly.
Right now in Sudan there’s a general feeling of yearning for social justice. There is a “spectre” haunting Sudan. But this needs to be captured and transformed into a political programme with clear and specific goals that can inspire millions of workers all across the country.
All these tasks require a vantage point that only a political party can attain.Organisations such as resistance committees cannot do this because they are limited by geography and lack the necessary class perspective. Neither can trade unions, which, although they have the required class perspective, are limited to the workplace. Nonetheless, these popular organisations can play a significant role in social transformation. The revolutionary party should try to connect with them.
Anne: This reminds me of the problems faced by revolutionaries in Russia when trying to unite workers, peasants and other layers of the poor. In his State and Revolution (1917), Lenin talks about how the two classes that make up “the people”—workers and poor peasants—are “united by the fact that the ‘bureaucratic-military state machine’ oppresses, crushes and exploits them.” Is this relevant to the tensions between the interests of urban and rural areas in Sudan?
Muzan: When the transitional government wanted to remove bread subsidies, they framed it as benefiting rural areas because urban areas had previously benefited more from subsidies. The transitional government tried to control urban areas by repression and talked about economic justice for the rural areas, upending the structure of power of the previous regime, which repressed the rural peripheries by force and gave subsidies to the cities. This shift encouraged us to review our positions on subsidies and wealth distribution. These sorts of actions by the ruling class, including the recent subsidy cuts and electricity price rises, continually force us to clarify the connections between the social, economic and political aspects of the revolution.
Anne: To what extent are social and economic demands by the people shaping the revolutionary struggle at local and national level?
Mohamed: They have a strong presence, even if they are not always clearly linked to the political goal of bringing down coup regime. For instance, there is the tremendous movement by farmers in the Northern State against huge increases in electricity tariffs. This increase would lead to extremely detrimental effects for the farmers, who depend on electricity for irrigation. As Muzan has described, the resistance committees in the Northern State joined forces with them, blocking the major route that links Sudan with Egypt and protesting against both the increased tariff and the military coup. On 14 February, the government temporarily suspended the implementation of the increase in electricity tariffs in the agricultural sector.
What’s interesting about this movement in the Northern State is that the revolutionaries there were demanding the halting of the export of raw materials to Egypt. For me, this reflects an awareness of the importance of national sovereignty and control over national resources if the revolution is to influence the daily lives of the people.
Resistance committees elsewhere responded to the example set by the farmers, inspired by their struggle. For instance, the resistance committees in Ad-Damir, the capital of the River Nile State, blocked a major route, demanding their share of the profits of the agricultural schemes. They also made other radical economic demands and emphasised their solidarity with the farmers’ movement in the Northern State.
Anne: One of the most interesting aspects of the development of the resistance committees is their involvement in popular and revolutionary democratic experiments at a local level. This includes processes of “basic construction” (al bina’a al-qa’idi), whereby resistance committees sought to refresh and democratise themselves by setting up better internal structures, electing leadership bodies and convening general assemblies. Can you say more about this?
Muzan: I have heard two members of different resistance committees in Khartuom say that they believe the process of writing the recent political declarations is more worthy of study than the content of the declarations themselves. These deliberative processes are ongoing and represent a learning curve. At least among the committees I have observed, none of them had a clear plan of how the declaration would come out, but instead worked on the basis of being as inclusive as possible. Some sent surveys around the neighbourhood, and others sent surveys to their members. They used a set of deliberative tools to filter and refine their ideas and demands. This process has made a section of the population more comfortable with engaging politically and is thus very important. This sort of deliberative activity is something that the resistance committees are capable of doing without the direction of a central body. Indeed, this ability to engage the local population in debate and deliberation is not a single skill, but a spectrum of skills and knowledge that is being developed by the resistance committees.
Anne: But are these just processes of consultation? Or do they involve real deliberation and decision making being opened up to a wider section of the population?
Muzan: It differs from place to place. For instance, during the formulation of demands during the blockades in the Northern State, the activists created committees and had meetings at the barricades. Announcements about the meetings and the discussions that agreed on what topics to discuss all took place in public. They were not all documented, but sometimes they were, and some were livestreamed on Facebook. Representatives from the individual barricades would then attend coordinating meetings with people from other barricades, and this is how they made decisions. One of the videos I watched showed a representative selected by one committee coming back from meeting another one, reporting back and explaining that the other committee had not agreed to their proposals.
With the resistance committees in some states, such as Khartoum, there is a formal structure bringing together delegates from committees across the three parts of the capital: Khartoum, Omdurman and Bahri (also known as Khartoum North). Representatives are elected or nominated by neighbourhoods to the city level and up to the state level. These bodies use a range of tools and channels, including public surveys.
Anne: Do they hold mass meetings?
Muzan: Yes, they hold meetings in the neighbourhoods. Mostly these involve lengthy discussion for hours, which are not necessarily resolved through votes and resolutions. There are resistance committees that have held organised meetings to vote on specific things and invited the local population to discuss them. The process of “basic construction” is one such topic. I am not the biggest fan of the way basic construction was introduced, because I thought it was dangerous to link the legitimacy of the resistance committees to some sort of democratic process. I believe there are basics that need to be tested via revolutionary logic and struggles, and this is not necessarily always what the majority selects—even though it is what serves the interests of the majority. The process of drafting political declarations has raised similar questions and debates about the role of political leadership. Should you get everyone on board first and then write a political declaration? Or should you issue the declaration first and then try to win people to it?
Mohamed: I think we should always welcome popular organisation, because it is a necessary step towards meaningful change. The question, however, is this—will it be a genuine popular organisation that can express the interests of the people and tilt the struggle in their favour? “Basic construction” is a plausible experiment, but we should keep in mind that it can be hijacked by the state and absorbed into its bureaucracy. For instance, one view on basic construction suggests electing different representatives from the neighbourhoods through different geographical levels and all the way up to parliament. Yet, if basic construction is understood in this way, then its work has to be done within the legislative framework of the state.
At the moment, there are few resistance committees that have completed the process of basic construction and elected members to different roles. The vast majority of resistance committees have shifted their attention to the political declarations. Either way, the task is still to build power at local level in all neighbourhoods and remain at a distance from the state at the same time.
Anne: Again this highlights the problem of revolutionary leadership and its relationship to the people. Even if the resistance committees represented “the people” as Lenin conceived it, there would be a broad spectrum of class interests and political perspectives involved. However, the geographical form of the resistances, combined with the crisis of the “civilian” political parties, opens up the possibility that they might end up representing an even broader version of “the people”. This might include not only the middle classes but potentially even sections of the ruling class, with only a narrow circle of the top military leaders and cronies of the old regime excluded.
Muzan: We may be reaching the limits of the resistance committees’ role as the sole revolutionary leadership. It will serve everyone much better if there was a clear revolutionary voice, supporting the revolutionary inclinations within existing resistance committees and providing sharp analysis. Without a revolutionary organisation we are at the mercy of individuals and social media algorithms.
Anne: Is this as a situation in which dual power is possible? What would it take to turn that into reality? What form of dual power would it be?
Mohamed: Lenin’s definition of a situation of dual power doesn’t apply to Sudan right now. One of Lenin’s criteria was “the replacement of the police and the army by the direct arming of the whole people”. This is simply not discussed publicly at the moment. Actually, the discourse of “peaceful” revolution, combined with the need to “build a national army” representing the national interest rather than the interests of corrupt generals, is dominant. The closest the Sudanese Revolution came to breaking the state’s monopoly on rifles was from 7 to 11 April 2019, when El Bashir fell. In those few days, soldiers and junior officers sided with the revolutionaries and fired at the the security forces that tried to disperse them. The opportunity here was dismissed by the reactionary leaders of the Forces of Freedom and Change, who instead negotiated with the generals who had staffed El Bashir’s state. These same generals staged the 2021 coup, throwing them out of the government.
Lenin mentions two other criteria for a situation of dual power: direct rule of the people in local areas that can outweigh state legislation and subjugation of government posts to the will of the people via democratic means. These are more attainable, but it’s the presence of all three criteria simultaneously that creates a situation of dual power. Another important point is that Lenin was inspired by the experience of the 1871 Paris Commune, which challenged the liberal separation of the executive, legislative and judicial powers. This notion is still prevalent in Sudan, and its alternatives can only arise from practice, not mere ideological debates.
Muzan: Looking at the political declarations and road maps, I think most share the idea of starting from local parliaments—with differing set-ups—and building up from there. Local representatives would be elected, and this would be built up to the next level until we get to the national level. Then the final parliament selects a prime minister. So, people are thinking already about how they can be more represented and make their representatives more accountable to them.
If you read any of those statements, people are talking about a more just state and fairer ways of redistributing wealth. What is missing is any sense that the way wealth is produced in Sudan precludes it being redistributed justly. We have to change how wealth is produced. People want free healthcare, education and housing, subsidies for food and electricity, and so on. Those sceptical of these demands say, “But how will you pay for it?” The question is a valid one and nobody is providing an answer. Of course, we could use revenues from gold mining to pay for healthcare, but gold production is extractive and leads to people being displaced and having their herds killed. This is why we need to start talking about wealth production, not just wealth redistribution. Our wealth is currently produced in an elitist way.
As for whether a situation of dual power is possible, I remember seeing an announcement online from the office of the Supervisor of Electronic Enrolment that might be relevant. This office is responsible for collating and publishing the results of the university enrolment process and notifying students which university they got into. A few weeks ago, they put out a statement begging “the gentlemen who organise protests” (that is, the resistance committees) and “the gentlemen who close bridges” (that is, the military government) to avoid changing their schedule so that employees could get to work and issue results to students.
Anne: What role is the organised working class playing in this process? What role could it play in the future?
Muzan: What we must remember about Sudan, which impacts everything, is that the role of most of the population is simply to not get in the way of resource extraction. They play no direct role in wealth production. Sudan has long been a rentier economy. The military oversaw the extraction process before 2019, but the transitional government adopted a similar model. The blockades are significant because they disrupt this model by closing the channels of extraction. People get that and see what it means in terms of fighting in their own immediate context. However, abstracting and learning lessons at a more general level—that’s harder.
The network of organisations being built through the revolutionary process are forcing a further contemplation of important issues. For example, we have seen a movement of sit-ins by female students in their privatised halls of residence. One began after a student was raped by a thief and the management asked her to remain quiet. A few days later, the girls got to know about it and started a sit-in in front of the halls of residence. They raised issues about security and said, “We have had these problems for a long time.” The original sit-in was in Khartoum but spread to other states, as female students protested in solidarity. Over the next couple of days, they put out a list of demands that generalised from the specific question of campus security right up to stopping the privatisation of higher education and halls of residence. The resistance committees started helping them, first of all by bringing food and showing solidarity with the sit-in, but then also by trying to find links between the demands of resistance committees and the students.
At first, solidarity mainly came from people who shared the same living environment as the original protesters. However, when the resistance committees got involved, they had to delve deeper into the economic roots of the underlying issues. I am not sure whether they just thought it was a good messaging tool to talk about links between the students’ fight and the struggle against the military or if it came up from a principled economic position that enabled an organic connection between the two struggles. Nevertheless, however it happened, they converged in the same place, going deeper into the economic roots of their joint demands. Organising and networking is clarifying analysis through practice.
Mohamed: Although strikes played a major role after El Bashir was toppled, this was not the case following the coup of 25 October. The role of the organised working class in the struggle against the coup has been marginal. There are a few exceptions, the most prominent of which are oil workers, but they cannot fight the coup by themselves. The working class didn’t build strong organisations during the lifespan of the transitional government, although there were many strikes and protests that demanded improved living conditions. We should not forget that the “civilian” government, led by prime minister Abdalla Hamdok after 2019, worked hard to stem the growing tide of worker activism. For instance, the so-called Empowerment Removal Committee appointed steering committees to run the trade unions without any regard for the will of the unions’ members. In some cases, government officials accused striking workers of being “kayzan”—supporters of the El Bashir regime—which is, for course, extremely insulting.
What role can organised workers play in the future? Well, in the short term they can seriously harm al-Burhan’s fragile military regime with strikes demanding improved wages and living conditions. Further struggles are expected due to the harsh austerity measures passed recently. In the long term, the workers’ role will depend on the balance of forces between them and the ruling class. Committed revolutionaries will have to work among the working class, learning from them and providing them with the political education that will enable them to radically change society. The organised workers’ movement will not go beyond economic demands spontaneously.
The future will also depend on the response of the ruling class and what it can do to destroy the movement. This need not happen in an explicitly violent manner. For example, many soldiers in the Rapid Support Forces and other armed groups are ex-workers who were unable to provide a decent living for themselves and their families within the market economy. By absorbing large numbers of ex-workers in this way, the ruling class weakens the working class and strengthens itself. In the Sudanese context, the reserve army of labour theorised by Marx can turn into a real army.
Mohamed Abdelrahman is a Sudanese socialist who lives in Ireland.
Muzan Alneel is a Sudanese socialist based in Khartoum. She writes industrial policy research and is the co-founder of ISTinaD—the Innovation, Science and Technology Think-tank for People-centred Development.
1 For more background on the revolutionary process, see https://socialistworker.co.uk/long-reads/all-power-to-sudans-resistance-committees
2 El Gizouli and Thomas have written extensively on the relationship between rural and urban economies and struggles in Sudan. See, for instance, https://africanarguments.org/2021/11/creatures-of-the-deposed-connecting-sudans-rural-and-urban-struggles