By JOHN LESLIE
On April 15, an armed conflict broke out between rival factions of the military government of Sudan, beginning with clashes in the capital city of Khartoum and in the western Darfur region. As of May 9, the conflict had spread to much of the country and casualties stood at least 600 people killed and more than 5000 wounded. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says that a “frighteningly large” number of children have died in the fighting, with 190 killed in just the first 11 days of conflict. They estimate an average of seven children killed per hour. At least 700,000 people are internally displaced, and tens of thousands more have fled to neighboring Egypt, Ethiopia, and South Sudan.
The medical system in Sudan is on the verge of collapse as facilities are forced to close and medical personnel face repression from the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the military. Radio Dabanga reports, “The Sudanese Doctors Union, confirmed that at least 60 hospitals are still unable to operate. Out of the 88 hospitals in and near ‘clash zones’, 60 are still out of service and the remaining 28 hospitals are threatened with closure due to the lack of staff and essential supplies.”
The Al Kalakla and South Khartoum Resistance Committees Coordination released this statement on May 8: “We affirm that we do not support any side over the other, and we reject this war in its entirety. Our revolution’s demands remain firm and unchanged, including the return of the military to the barracks and the dissolution of the Janjaweed militias.”
Revolution until victory!
This war between contending factions, the Rapid Support Forces (Janjaweed) militia and the Sudanese military, has its roots in the long fight for democracy waged by the Sudanese people since December 2018.
At that time, demonstrations and strikes mobilized hundreds of thousands of workers, women, and students across Sudan for months. This led to a coup on April 11, 2019, which removed dictator Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir in an attempt by the military to preserve the regime by placing a new face in power. Al-Bashir’s military-installed replacement lasted less than 48 hours as the masses continued to mobilize and insisted on a transition to a civilian government.
A general strike on May 28-29, 2019, shut down industry, ports, transport, and government ministries, with high levels of participation by workers. The general strike was followed by violent repression on June 3 as demonstrators took to the streets. Government-aligned militias slaughtered more than 120 people, raped protesters and medical personnel, and wounded more than 700.
On July 5, 2019, the military and civilian opposition forces reached an accord to end the months of unrest. U.S. imperialism and its regional allies, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, exerted enormous pressure on both the movement and the Transitional Military Council to reach a deal. Similar pressure to resolve the situation came from both Russia and China, which have economic interests in the country. Subsequently, the Sudanese Communist Party withdrew from the negotiations and urged continued mass protests. However, sections of the opposition broke ranks and negotiated with the military regime ahead of the rest of the opposition.
Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, now the de facto head of state, seized power in October 2021 in a coup, deposing the transitional government formed after the popular upsurge of 2018-2019. Civilian members of the transitional government were placed under arrest. The reaction of the popular movement was swift and fierce. Demonstrations and strikes broke out and the Sudanese Communist Party called for “revolution until victory,” saying that “this coup is completely rejected by the Sudanese masses.” A million Sudanese across the country responded immediately to defend their revolution—flooding into the streets, barricading roads, and burning tires to block streets.
Beginning in January 2023, a “political process” brokered by the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development* (IGAD), and the United Nations Trilateral Mechanism held a series of conferences under the umbrella of the Forces for Freedom and Change Central Council to settle five “thorny issues.” The results of these conferences would be incorporated into a final agreement between the ruling junta and the opposition leading to the formation of a civilian government.
One of the key sticking points was the incorporation of the RSF into the armed forces. The democracy movement has been calling for the dissolution of the RSF from the beginning. The RSF played a central supporting role in the Omar al-Bashir regime and in the genocidal massacres in Darfur, which began in 2003. During the pro-democracy protests, the RSF brutally repressed protests and strikes. In the current fighting, the RSF has “rampaged” through Darfur, worsening the humanitarian situation. The news agency France 24 writes that the RSF engaged in “numerous attacks on towns in Darfur since the conflict between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) began on April 15. The militia has been blamed for bombing hospitals and burning down neighborhoods in the region, rendered particularly vulnerable by long-standing tribal tensions and thousands of internally displaced people. The chaos in the country has allowed them to carry out these raids with impunity.”
The RSF is reportedly armed by the Russian mercenary outfit, the Wagner Group, including with surface-to-air missiles. Wagner was caught taking shipments of gold, as much as $1.9 billion worth, out of Sudan in collusion with elements of the military. Russia became a key international supporter of al-Burhan following the 2021 coup. Wagner has been a key instrument of Russian imperialist policy in Africa, providing muscle to repressive regimes on the continent.
The warring factions have tentatively agreed to a ceasefire and began “pre-negotiation talks” in Saudi Arabia under the auspices of the Saudi regime and the United States. The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that representatives of the SAF and the RSF have been engaging in preliminary talks in Jeddah since Saturday, May 6. According to Radio Dabanga, “The talks, mediated by Saudi Arabia and the United States of America, aim to achieve an effective short-term ceasefire and set a timetable for more extensive negotiations to reach a permanent cessation of hostilities.” Some Sudanese have referred to these negotiations as a “check-the-box exercise.” An earlier April 25th ceasefire failed to hold, and current reports state likewise that fighting is still going on.
You can’t make revolutions halfway
The mass struggle against the dictatorship, including the general strikes, demonstrated a method for the Sudanese working class and its allies to challenge the military, fight austerity and privatizations, and build their own independent political instrument. But such tactics must be waged consistently and uncompromisingly, with the goal of supplanting bourgeois rule, and carrying the masses to state power. Bourgeois political forces can’t be relied upon to carry forward the struggle for democratic political change in semi-colonial countries—let alone solving the deep problems caused by imperialist exploitation and forced underdevelopment.
Foreign imperialist interests and their regional proxies, like the Saudi regime, are not honest brokers and will push the movement to compromise the goals of pro-democracy fighters. Ultimately, the imperialist powers fear the contagion of revolution above everything and will seek to find ways to resolve the situation in favor of capitalist rule. Western imperialism also fears the competition from Chinese and Russian imperialism for vital mineral and oil resources.
Only the working class, organized independently of bourgeois political forces, can carry the struggle forward. Such a struggle opens the possibility of overturning capitalism and fighting for the rule of workers and farmers in their own name. To accomplish this requires the building of a revolutionary party rooted in the working class and in popular sectors like the Resistance Committees. Another crucial factor is a programmatic and strategic outlook that fights for power independently of bourgeois and petty bourgeois political organizations.
In the struggle, the working class can’t stop halfway but has to contend for the formation of a government of the working class and its allies. The struggle for peace, democracy, and economic justice must grow over into a mass force that takes political power, institutes socialist measures, and destroys the power of the ruling classes. Only a government of the workers and their allies can defeat the machinations of imperialism—which would, once again, impose a dictatorship on the country in alliance with pro-imperialist Sudanese forces.
Down with both the RSF and the military! No confidence in imperialists! Free all political prisoners! Revolution until victory!
*The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) is a body based in Djibouti of eight member states: Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda. (Eritrea is currently inactive)
Photo: Refugees fleeing the armed conflict line up at the border with South Sudan. (Jok Solomun / Reuters)