Sudan’s counter-revolution

Since 2019’s revolution, the Sudanese elite and its international backers suppressed popular democratic energies. Although military in-fighting rages on, the accumulated experiences over the past three years has ensured that the resistance cannot be easily broken.

Public domain image by Agence France-Presse via Wikimedia Commons.

In April 2019, an alliance of civilian forces in Sudan finally removed Omar al-Bashir’s genocidal militaro-Islamist regime. After years of continuous rebellions, the alliance of workers, students, progressive women, youths, small farmers, and cultural workers created resistance committees to direct energies at fully disrupting the military’s chokehold over the society.

From December 2018 to April 2019 the tempo of the demonstrations and rebellions forced sections of the military to oust Bashir. After the overthrow of Omar al-Bashir’s government, there was a power sharing agreement between the military and civilians. The Constitutional Declaration of August 2019 created the Transitional Sovereignty Council where the emphasis was on the transitional arrangements, underlining the commitment for the military to hand over power by April 2022.

General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan became the chairman of the Sovereignty Council. General Burhan had also served as a regional army commander in Darfur, in western Sudan, when approximately 300,000 people were killed, and millions of others displaced in fighting from 2003 to 2008. This genocidal violence was widely publicized in Africa, with loud calls for Bashir and his generals to be held accountable for the killings in Darfur.

General Burhan had acted preemptively when the popular demonstrations exposed the atrocities of the military. Thus, in spite of the fact that al-Burhan had been closely aligned with Bashir, he maneuvered to take control of the military and the transition by removing Lt. Gen. Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf. Al-Burhan presented himself as an opponent of Bashir by pretending to side with the protesting masses who were calling for the removal of the military and the dismantling of militias.

Al-Burhan’s deputy in this moment of Machiavellian machinations was Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo had achieved international notoriety as a commander of the notorious Janjaweed militias responsible for the genocidal violence in Darfur. His paramilitary forces, organized within the faction called Rapid Support Forces (RSF), were Bashir’s shock troops whose government became a mercenary force fighting for the Saudis and Emiratis in Yemen, and for General Khalifa Haftar’s war in Libya.

After 2015, there were up to 15,000 Sudanese military and paramilitary deployed by the Saudis to fight the Houthis. Flush with resources from the alliance with Russia in the gold mining and export sector, the RSF had in a short period amassed millions of dollars. General Burhan had tolerated the alliance with Dagalo but had become increasingly concerned as Dagalo built up his militia forces to over 100,000.

It is these two factions from the Darfur mess that are at war with each other to decide which faction will prevail to crush the Sudanese people. The clash between the two had intensified following the 2021 military coup that ended the civilian role in the transition, and broke out in open warfare on the weekend of 15 April 2023. The alliance between al-Burhan and Dagalo had been a marriage of convenience as neither faction supported the breaking of the economic power of the military and the militias. A genuine transition away from militaristic oppression and the cheapening of human life demanded breaking the economic power of the military in state and commercial institutions.

Organized in a manner similar to the military capitalists in Egypt, through the military and intelligence services, top generals were involved in more than 400 of the major state enterprises, including agricultural conglomerates, banks, telecommunications, medical equipment import companies, gold mining, transport, and real estate. With this economic supremacy, the military refused to hand over power. As the date for the handover of control to civilians became closer, al-Burhan staged a coup d’état on 25 October 2021 with the support of Dagalo, ousting the civilian government led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.

The 2021 removal of the civilian prime minister came in the wake of efforts to give teeth to the “Commission for Dismantling the June 30, 1989 Regime, Removal of Empowerment and Corruption, and Recovering Public Funds.” The civilian minister and the civilian bureaucrats were not only exposing and uprooting the network of companies owned by the Islamists forced out of power in 2019, but also the tentacles of the commercial empires owned by senior generals. The civilian leadership wanted access to the vast sums available to the generals. Hamdok had become increasingly outspoken in his criticism of the military’s entanglement in the economy and both generals felt threatened by the objective to dismantle the military’s economic stranglehold.

From uprising to revolution

The 2019 uprisings in Sudan brought together all the forces fighting for social change. Organized under the umbrella of the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) the alliance brought together workers, students, progressive intellectuals, cultural artists, farmers, and professionals in a loose, but democratic network. The Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) created a new political force in Sudan. But the FFC included the traditional political careerists who had sold out the Sudanese people on numerous occasions since independence in 1956.

The FFC was itself being challenged by more progressive elements in Sudan. The base of this opposition to compromise with the military were the youth and mobilized progressive women. Resistance committees emerged in all parts of the country to organize the uprisings, oppose the military, and hold the FFC accountable. When the FFC dithered in declaring their complete opposition to militarism, the progressive women and youths pushed the demands for change beyond elections and power sharing. It was within the struggles between the resistance committees and the military that the uprisings evolved from protests to a revolutionary situation.

The three elements that Vladimir Lenin recognized as central to the revolutionary situation were now apparent in Sudan: (i) When it is impossible for the ruling classes to maintain their rule without any change; when there is a crisis, in one form or another, among the “upper classes,” a crisis in the policy of the ruling class, leading to a fissure through which the discontent and indignation of the oppressed classes burst forth.

For a revolution to take place, it is usually insufficient for “the lower classes not to want” to live in the old way; it is also necessary that “the upper classes should be unable” to rule in the old way; (ii) when the suffering and want of the oppressed classes have grown more acute than usual; (iii) when, as a consequence of the above causes, there is a considerable increase in the activity of the masses, who uncomplainingly allow themselves to be robbed in “peace time,” but in turbulent times are drawn both by all the circumstances of the crisis and by the “upper classes” themselves into independent historical action.

All of these three elements of the revolutionary situation had emerged in Sudan when the upper classes were unable to rule in the old ways. Incessant negotiations between the military and their supporters in Washington, Paris, Riyadh, Dubai and Moscow failed to weaken the protracted popular struggles. The military proceeded to shoot down the people in the streets. With every demonstration and neighborhood confrontation, the militant resistance committees matured to become a defensive front against militarism, exploitation, divisions, and manipulation.

Young Sudanese women emerged as the vanguard force pushing the ideas of revolutionary change and opposing the Arabist/Islamist consciousness that had been unleashed to divide this multi-ethnic, multi-racial and multi-religious society. The traditional middle strata and their bureaucrats who were looking to London, Washington, and Dubai could not keep abreast with the changing resistance on the ground. These were the forces led by Hamdok that were swept aside on 25 October 2021, leaving the confrontation between the military and their imperial backers on one side and the organized resistance of the mobilized popular forces on the other.

Washington and Moscow’s alliance

After the removal of Omar al-Bashir, the United States and the European Union worked hand in glove with the United Nations to orchestrate a transition process that would disempower the people. Western embassies in Khartoum organized numerous meetings to feel out the depth of the popular mobilization.

The United States worked with Israel to build new relations between the genocidal generals of Sudan by bringing the generals into the so-called Abraham Accords. The generals under Bashir had fought for France and the US in Libya to remove Gaddafi, had fought in Chad, and were fighting in Yemen. As an inducement to collaborate with Israel and Saudi Arabia, Sudan was removed from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.

This collaboration between Israel and the generals formed part of the regional strategy by a section of global capital to isolate Iran. The regional alignment against Iran included Egypt, Israel, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. The European Union created its own alliance with the militarists by pledging hundreds of millions of euros for the “Khartoum Process,” a multinational effort to empower the Hemedti militia forces to manage migration from the Horn of Africa to Europe. This opened a new front for human trafficking by the RSF.

Objectively, Russia was part of this grouping with the Western oppressive forces in the Sudan. Of the two military factions, the Russians were in a firm alliance with the gold traders and hustlers through the Wagner private security group. Both factions of the military were and are highly dependent on Russia for military capital. China was a silent partner in this unprincipled array of forces. The Chinese capitalists worked with all sides in the region: Israel, Iran, Qatar and the Wahabist conservative religious forces. As the crisis of capitalism intensified, the Russians had gained a foothold in the mining and export of gold from Sudan.

This alliance between the Emiratis, Saudis, Sudanese, and Israeli forces in the plunder of the gold fields came to international attention as the Western propaganda organs identified the Wagner Group as the prime beneficiary of the plunder of the gold fields in the Darfur region. The Wagner group of paramilitary capitalists from Russia built a formidable alliance with the RSF forces to the point where the capital resources of the RSF placed them in a position to challenge the established military that were involved in accumulation through the state.

The lucrative gold mining and trading operations of the RSF gave confidence to the faction of the military under Hemedti. The alliance started to crumble when the older “professional military forces” sought to dismantle the RSF and militia forces. Under the terms of the transition to democratic rule in the Sudan, the military had sought immunity from the National Security Service (NSC) for the criminal activities unleashed since the Bashir pogroms. After the 2021 coup d’état, the progressive forces had coalesced into a more coherent force to oppose the military. These forces placed the three Nos on the table: No negotiation, No partnership, No foreign military intervention.

The coalescing of the popular forces was manifest in the completion of the Revolutionary Charter For Establishing People’s Power (RCEPP). The Charter made explicit the position of the resistance committees that there would be “overall reform and restructuring of the armed forces, including review of its laws, tasks, responsibilities and force size, resulting in a unified and professional national army, capable of playing its main role of safeguarding the people, the constitution and the country’s borders.”

This alliance of progressive forces opposed the Framework Agreement between one faction of the resistance and the military. The Framework Agreement signed in December 2022 retreated from the demands of the 1989 Regime: removal of empowerment and corruption, and recovery of public funds.  The pact outlining the Framework Agreement set no date for a final agreement or the appointment of a prime minister and there were differences on sensitive issues including the dismantling of the militias.

Due to the fact that the RCEPP had published its demands and the requirements for a genuine transition, those parties and militia forces that wanted to do deals with Washington to isolate the revolutionaries were themselves isolated. In their isolation, the two strong military factions began to attack each other. Both factions would not heed the call of the people for accountability for the crimes of the Bashir regime. This call for accountability within the society was made explicit in the following statement:

Accountability shall include individuals who organized and participated in war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocides and ethnic cleansings in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains, the southern Blue Nile, South Sudan, eastern Sudan, Khartoum, and other parts of the country. All individuals who participated in the crimes during and after the December Revolution shall be brought to trial inside Sudan and by the Sudanese, in accordance with the Interim Constitution, which shall stipulate for the legal process of the trials through establishing special immediate trials.

Both factions of the military are opposed to the calls for accountability and for the new interim power forces to “combat all practices of corruption, recovery of looted public funds and assets, and restore privatized companies through a Commission of Combating Corruption and Recovery of Looted Public Funds and Assets.” Both factions are also opposed to the plans of the resistance committees to “place all state-owned enterprises (SOEs) as well as those owned by the military, intelligence and police services under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Finance.”

Changed regional situation

The global insecurity generated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine affected all parts of the world. Additionally, the weaponization of finance and the freezing of Russian assets created alarm in all parts of the world. If the US Treasury could freeze US$600 billion, then it could act against other countries. There was renewed interest in many countries to seek relations with the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) formation and the BRICS bank.

In the midst of the global financial uncertainty generated by the US banking system, the Chinese brokered a de-escalation of tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Additionally, the Saudis had reduced oil production to push up prices, despite President Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia to plead for an increase in production to offset the challenges faced by Europe because of the sanctions against Russia.

The tiff between the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and the US threw the regional alliances into a predicament. When Chinese diplomatic efforts brought about a rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the future of the Sudanese mercenary forces fighting the Houthis was put in question; the Sudanese military would have to be withdrawn from Yemen. Secondly, the premises of the Abraham Accords that had brought about the alliance between the military and the Israelis were now in doubt.

There could no longer be a focus on Iran when the right-wing anti-people government of Israel was unleashing violence and oppression inside and outside Israel. The Saudis, Egyptians, Sudanese and Moroccans who were willing to sacrifice the rights of the Palestinian peoples were now faced with a choice: join with Israel and the US against the Palestinians, or join with the Palestinians, the Egyptian and Sudanese masses to oppose militarism and fundamentalism.

Russia was now faced with the question of how to move forward with its agreement with Israel in Syria. The contradictions within contradictions in Sudan and in the region broke out in the fighting between the RSF and the military. The two factions are fighting to decide which faction would emerge as the ally of Washington to crush the resistance committees.

Maturation of the revolutionary situation in the Sudan The two military factions of the counter-revolution that are today fighting each other have for the past three years killed hundreds if not thousands of people who are agitating for a new political dispensation. Despite being shot down in the streets, the resistance committees have demonstrated another form of robust people’s power by their resistance and by forming the nucleus of a new state.

Despite its foreign allies and legitimizers, the military has failed to crush the new self-organized peoples’ committees. In the midst of the fighting between the two factions, the Sudanese Professional Association (SPA) and the resistance committees have called for the people to form neighborhood peace committees:

We call on the forces of the living revolution, including the resistance committees in the neighborhoods, trade union forces, and professional bodies, to take the initiative to protect neighborhoods in villages, towns and cities, through the formation of (community peace committees). We are fully aware of the absence of the state and its institutions, and we have no choice but to activate the role of our peaceful civil society and the forces of the living revolution that have been the capital of our local communities for a long time.

The community peace committees will bring the Sudanese revolution into the phase of armed self-defense. The name calling and fighting between the two factions of the military will continue to unleash death and destruction in Sudan. But the accumulated experiences over the past three years have ensured that the resistance cannot be easily broken; the popular revolutionary forces have held power in the streets for more than 1000 days.

Those who have studied the rhythm of revolution and counter-revolution over the past 150 years will remember the writings of Karl Marx who had celebrated the fighters of the Paris Commune. In his communication to the First International, Marx commented positively on the communards surviving more than 71 days. Then, the communards were crushed by the invading German army.

There is no invading army to save either side in the current counter-revolutionary war in Sudan. Both sides will fight to the death to remain in power. The major outside forces that can make a difference now are two: the first is Russia, which is connected to Hamdan and the RSF through the gold trade. The second is the Egyptian military; the military capitalists in Sudan have long historical links with the Egyptian militarists and Islamists. Other smaller elements include the military of Eritrea, which Hemedti recently visited.

Progressive forces internationally must call for the arrest and trial of the military forces that have unleashed genocidal violence on the Sudanese peoples since 1989. The Resistance Committees’ and the popular forces are calling for solidarity and non-intervention to push the process of transition from militarism to one where the peoples of Sudan can enter into new relations. Progressives internationally must transcend the propaganda war of the bourgeois forces who are quaking at the prospect of this counter-revolution inspiring millions of Egyptians who can take courage from Sudan if their leaders continue in the alliance with Israel against the Palestinian peoples.

About the Author

Horace Campbell is a professor of African American Studies and political science, Syracuse University. He is the author of Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya.

Mahder Serekberhan is a political science PhD student at Syracuse University. She is the vice chairperson of the Global Pan-African Movement, North America Delegation.

Further Reading