Sudan’s rulers are trying to drown an uprising in blood. The assault on the protest camp in Khartoum last week left at least 110 dead—almost certainly many more.
The Rapid Support Force—hardened killers steeled through years of carrying out slaughter in the Darfur region—were unleashed to beat, rape and kill. Sit-ins were also violently dispersed in 13 other cities, with unknown numbers of casualties.
This is a crucial turning-point. Either it will see the victory of ferocious counter-revolution, or it could lead to the deepening of the revolt, further radicalisation and a push for fundamental change.
The massacre followed six months of developing protests that began over bread prices last December.
They grew to such a scale, and became so clearly political, that the military had to remove dictator Omar al-Bashir who had ruled for 30 years.
The Sudanese military shed the figurehead Bashir, but not the essential elements of the way he ruled.
The generals’ Transitional Military Council (TMC) that now runs the country wants Bashirism without Bashir—a heavily militarised regime that relies on divide and rule.
Achieving that has proved very difficult. For nearly two months mass sit-ins saw hundreds of thousands of ordinary people take a direct part in trying to win civilian rule.
Strikes in individual firms spread to whole industries and then a two-day general strike on 28 and 29 May. The fear that this power would grow pushed the military to act.
Those who directly seek to reverse change often resort to methods of terror and mass murder
Whenever a dictator is brought down by mass resistance, or a revolution begins, there are three broad reactions in society.
One group—those who have profited from the old regime—yearn for the return of the former system of rule.
In Russia in 1917 the February Revolution overthrew the ruler, the Tsar. Afterwards, sections of his state entourage, bosses, landlords and military figures looked for an opportunity to “restore order”.
In Egypt during the 2011 revolution, toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak’s networks in the state and industry worked to bring back what had existed before.
Because they have to confront an insurgent people, those who directly seek to reverse change often resort to methods of terror and mass murder.
They frequently rely on backing from external forces.
Significantly just before the massacre the TMC’s leader and deputy leader visited Egypt, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. These are all US and British allies in the region that tremble at the thought of revolution. They supplied billions of dollars and weapons to the TMC.
A second group accepts or even rejoices in the passing of the old regime.
But it wants to halt any further developments, do deals with elements of the previous government and clamp down on any revolutionary methods. In Russia this section spanned a very big group that clustered around the Provisional Government that replaced the Tsar’s rule.
In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood, elected after the fall of Mubarak, undoubtedly wanted some reforms.
But it was bitterly opposed to a major economic and political restructuring of society.
In Sudan this section is represented by some of those who have been part of the protests. They wanted the military out, but hoped they could be calmly sidelined by a process of negotiations and compromises.
This group saw the strikes and sit-ins as bargaining chips to strengthen the opposition in talks. The military played along with this, taking the time to regroup after the initial shock of Bashir’s removal. Then they went back on the offensive.
A third group, always a minority at the start of such processes, wants more than new faces at the top and a shuffle of the ruling elite.
They demand revolution that smashes the old state and creates a new form of democratic power.
The Bolsheviks played this role in the Russian revolution, becoming more popular as the masses learned through harsh experience the role of the liberal compromisers.
The liberals would not end involvement in the First World War or give the land to the peasants and the factories to the workers.
During periods of deep social crisis, these three groups contend for influence and power.
Workers’ councils are not simply created from wishes and speeches. They flow from the reality of mass strikes and the need to take over production and distribution
Moving from revolt to revolution requires a force that can organise the defeat of the military and run society in a new way. There needs to be workers’ councils that involve elected and accountable representatives from workplaces.
These can act as a focus for and involve other groups that have been prominent in the revolt. This includes women’s organisations for example, and the movements for equality and rights in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Workers’ councils are not simply created from wishes and speeches. They flow from the reality of mass strikes and the need to take over production and distribution.
When, for example, bread workers are on strike, how are the workers fed? There has to be an organisation for workers and the poor to decide democratically how to run the bakeries and who gets the bread.
It’s the same with the power plants and the hospitals and all the parts of Sudanese society.
The sit-ins were not run by workers’ councils. But they included Revolutionary Committees that, in a rudimentary way, organised security and food distribution and communications.
The experience of the sit-ins can be a spur to the development of workers’ councils.
There are some hopeful signs. Strikes began immediately after the Khartoum massacre at six sites of the Petro Energy Oilfield Operations Group in West Kordofan.
Teachers, hospital workers, some airport workers and others are also on strike. Port Sudan workers have been striking.
And on Sunday, the first day of the working week, millions of people ijoined a general strike despite a wave of arrests and intimidation?.
Shops were closed and streets were empty throughout the capital, Khartoum, and in the neighbouring Omdurman.
There have been mass demonstrations against the military in several cities. With great bravery groups of young people in Khartoum have been building barricades to block the RSF.
The refusal of the revolution to die has unnerved the military. General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the ruling military council, said two days after the massacre that he was prepared to resume negotiations without precondition with the opposition.
General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, leader of the murderous RSF announced a “fair and independent” investigation into the sit-in killings.
He promised that anyone who “crossed boundaries” will be punished—presumably starting with himself.
There has to be an attempt to split the armed forces. There are signs of the potential to achieve this.
To turn potential into reality requires political leadership
Channel 4 journalist Yousra Elbagir interviewed a member of the intelligence agency who had defected to the side of the revolution.
He told her that regular soldiers were disarmed and removed from near the sit-in site before the massacres and replaced by the RSF.
In other words the generals were unsure of the loyalties of sections of regular soldiers—who certainly might baulk at mass murder of protesters.
A determined revolutionary movement could persuade at least some of the army—staffed largely by conscripts—to mutiny, and neutralise others.
Such revolts would provide the means to defend a revolution from the RSF.
There must be no more talks and deals with the military.
A dictatorship that has ruled for 30 years has penetrated into every area of life, and created networks of privilege and control.
There has to be a thoroughgoing clearing-out of all aspects of the military in Sudanese society. The potential and the hunger for this has already been seen in Sudan.
When workers at the Sudanese Electricity Distribution Company in Khartoum struck last month one of their demands was dismissing the general manager and his deputy.
Teachers in West Darfur who have been striking for weeks said they wanted to “exclude the figures of the former regime from decision making and dissolve the trade unions established by the former regime.”
To turn potential into reality requires political leadership.
It is precisely at such moments that a revolutionary party, located in all the sections of the exploited and oppressed is necessary to chart a way forward and defeat the politics of those who want to half-make a revolution.
After General Kornilov attempted to murder the Russian revolution, Leon Trotsky wrote, “A revolution needs from time to time the whip of the counter-revolution”. He meant that the revolution radicalised because people had seen the true face of the ruling class.
Our solidarity goes to those fighting for revolution in Sudan.
Interview with author Phil Marfleet
He was knee-deep in blood
Protesters told Socialist Worker why they were marching