Sudan coup falters as masses rise: “the people are stronger – do not retreat!”

The coup launched on Monday by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan was supposed to be a swift and decisive seizure of power by the Transitional Military Council (TMC). But the coup plotters did not count on the strength of the revolutionary people, who have risen in their hundreds of thousands, launching protests and strikes all over the country to oppose any return to military rule. Lessons have been learned since Sudan’s 2019 uprising, which was never fully defeated. The seasoned masses have forced the military to a stalemate. Now, they must win victory.

After Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and his wife were kidnapped and the transitional government dissolved by military decree on Monday, a call went out from the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) and the Sudanese Communist Party for countrywide protests and civil disobedience, with the latter calling for a political strike. There was an immediate, tremendous response from the masses, who poured out onto the streets to repel the coup. Most of the protestors mobilised in Khartoum, but there were also huge crowds in Bahri, Omdurman, Atbara, Dongola, El-Obeid, Port Sudan, Gezira, Al Fashir, Madani, and the Red Sea State, with people throwing up barricades and burning tyres, creating smokescreens to protect themselves from the security forces.

Workers’ organisations also answered the call, with strikes launched by at least 20 trade union and professional bodies. These organisations represent doctors and pharmacists, civil servants, engineers, miners, university lecturers, schoolteachers, and food production workers. The pilots’ union has declared a strike, grounding flights from both the national carrier and Sudan Airways, as well as local carriers Badr and Tarco. Workers with the state oil company Sudapet announced they would join the movement, followed by the entire petroleum sector. Railway workers in Atbara have abandoned the rail yards to join the protests, as have employees at the Central Bank. Additionally, small businesses all over the country have closed their doors in solidarity with the resistance movement. Many of these strikes and closures were launched spontaneously from below, rather than following the call of any national leadership.

Masses face down repression

Using the cover of an internet blackout, the TMC unleashed the security forces on the masses, mostly the feared Rapid Support Forces (RSF), made up of the Janjaweed tribal militias under the command of the reactionary General Hemeti. In brief moments of internet connectivity, videos started leaking out of Sudan of armed thugs brutalising protestors, and dead bodies left behind in their wake. One viral video shows the RSF invading a women’s university dormitory and attacking the occupants. The face of the young woman who filmed and posted the video is shown bruised and bloodied, while screaming and shouting erupt around her.

Al-Tayeb Mohamed Ahmed, an activist in Khartoum, reported in an online interview with Democracy Now that the security forces were killing protestors indiscriminately. “They fired stun grenades. Then they fired live ammunition. Two people died. I saw them with my own eyes. Then they came back twice and killed one more. This is the third one I saw.” A surgeon in Khartoum described hospital beds filling up with dozens of victims, many injured so badly they will never walk again. “Most of the injuries were meant to be deadly. They just shot people or beat them on their heads or chests,” he said. “Some of the cases that came in were just too complicated. There was nothing more that we could do for them.”

One 17-year-old protestor walked 15 kilometres from his house in the south of Khartoum to reach the military headquarters on Monday, along with thousands of others. When they got there, the RSF was waiting, and forced them back, shooting the protestor in the spine. “We were running away and kept running. But then I was shot and saw many others fall, among them an elderly man who died.” Another young man at the same protest was held down and beaten with sticks by a gang of eight troops until he lost consciousness. They also shaved his head in an act of humiliation.

In Khartoum, snipers were spotted on top of buildings, shooting at unarmed civilians, including children at the barricades. As protestors removed their barricades to let ambulances pass through, a truck driven by a militiaman sped into the crowd, killing one person, while soldiers started shooting and removing paramedics from their ambulances. The surgeon in Khartoum said RSF soldiers also invaded his hospital and demanded the staff hand over any protestors. “Of course we refused,” he said. “They used heavy weapons to terrorise us including Doshka [the Russian-made DShK machine gun]. Patients had to hide under their beds and seats. Some of the bullets reached the gates of the hospital.” At the time of writing, an additional seven protestors have died in Khartoum, with the casualties likely adding up in other areas.

But despite this barbaric repression, the masses are refusing to retreat. On the contrary, the whip of reaction is spurring them forward. Today, Reuters reported on armed militiamen taking down barricades, only for groups of youths to rebuild them a few minutes later. “We want civilian rule,” one of the young protestors said. “We won’t get tired.” All over Sudan, people are protesting and staging sit-ins, chanting “Down with the military regime!”, and “Civilian!” (i.e. civilian rule). One of the main slogans – “Do not retreat!” – emphasises the understanding by the masses of what a return to military dictatorship would mean, and the need to wage a revolutionary struggle to prevent this at all costs. As in 2019, women – who face appalling repression in Sudan – are at the forefront of this movement and highly visible on the demonstrations.

The masses have learned lessons from the experience of the 2019 revolution and are applying them in their spontaneous self-organisation. “I think the past two years… a very dynamic political environment [has developed] in the country, where people took the streets more than they went to schools and universities,” said Ahmed. “People, just citizens, are communicating with each other. The internet is out. Phone connection is very poor. I think one network is working. But still, people are going door to door, talking to each other, you know, encouraging each other to take the streets. Remember that we didn’t have social media [in] December 2018 to April 2019. We didn’t have internet totally for over three weeks after the massacre in June 2019. So, people have developed not only the resilience but also the skills of communication beyond technology.”

The military is attempting to shut down communication between activists and intimidate those that speak out. Local news outlets reported on activists in El’Obeid opposing Burhan’s media statements. Immediately afterwards, they were arrested. Therefore, the protestors have been warning one another to avoid speaking to professional media networks. An activist on the ground reported that the local committees have given orders to continue sharing images and video of events online during lapses in the internet shutdown, and spread information within Sudan by direct means. “[Internet blackouts] never stopped us before, and it won’t stop us now. We go door to door, we slip leaflets through the doors, in some areas behind the barricades, if it’s safe, people hold educational circles in the evening.”

Dual power

These circles are being organised by the neighbourhood resistance committees. These bodies were formed organically by the Sudanese working class during the 2019 revolution. Despite attempts by the military to intimidate and destroy them – through the arrest and murder of leading activists, such as Mohamed Ismail Wad Akr in May 2021 – they continued to operate in underground conditions. They have developed beyond simply organising in neighbourhoods and have linked up on a regional level to form district committees, as can be seen in Ombada’s Resistance Council, Khartoum’s Eastern Resistance Council and Kararri’s Resistance Council. As a result of this clandestine work, these ready-made structures were able to move swiftly into action when the military launched its coup. Some are strong enough to effectively become the local government and prevent repression by the military. For example, Omdurman’s Resistance Council reports that no arrests have been made and the city remains under their control.

At the discussion circles organised by these committees, the masses are planning their strategy to link up with the workers’ movement in their fight against the coup. A “March of Millions”, coupled with a general strike, is being planned for Saturday. The following speech was delivered at a meeting in Atbara:

“Raising consciousness is important, and it is the task for all of us, from the youngest to the oldest. The revolution united everyone out of necessity, young, old, experienced, inexperienced, we are all one when we are on the streets. We all came out to defend our civilian democracy… The professional bodies, unions of workers in the Nile Valley and other local governmental organisations, declared that they will join the civil disobedience. We, the revolutionaries, will monitor these strikes, we will march at 8am, we will go into these organisations, one by one, if they are not striking, we will make sure they strike. This is for all Sudanese people who will go out on Saturday, and here in Atbara we will follow. Just how we taught Bashir and his gang a lesson, we will teach Burhan and his gang a lesson too. We will go out in the streets that day, and until then, we will hold these speeches at night, every night.”

These activities show the ingenuity and organisational capacity of the masses, who have emerged stronger and wiser following the many ebbs and flows of the 2019 revolution. The SPA has now made a nationwide call for these committees to expand their ranks; and organise bodies for gathering funds; acquiring medical resources and expertise; and setting up bodies responsible for maintenance, communication, and security. These bodies must be developed, and generalised.

Already, we have seen coordination at a regional level. This must now expand to a national level and the trade unions and all other revolutionary organisations must be integrated into them. From this, a situation of dual power could emerge, preparing for a decisive showdown between the reactionary TMC, representing the old Bashir regime, and the committees, representing the revolution. As a matter of urgency, these bodies should also establish self-defence committees and organise a systematic campaign to win over the rank-and-file soldiers in the army. The counter-revolution, spearheaded by the RSF, will not spare any means to protect their interests. The only way to guarantee another massacre does not happen is to prepare the people to defend themselves, in a disciplined way, arms in hand.

The coup plotters have clearly been rocked by the scale of the mass opposition. Yesterday, Hamdok was released back to his home, though he remains under guard; and Burhan held a second television address in which he struck a more defensive tone. He claimed that the coup was necessary to prevent a civil war, given the deadlock between the military and civilian wings of the transitional government. He stated that a US envoy, Jeffrey Feltman, failed to broker an agreement between the two wings of government – confirming that US imperialism either knew a coup was about to happen, or was convinced by the army’s false promises. He reiterated the military’s commitment to a democratic transition through elections in 2023, and said that the state of emergency would end soon. He promised that “innocent” arrested ministers and politicians would soon be freed, although some would face trial for trying to “incite a rebellion within the armed forces.”

This last comment probably betrays an important factor in the situation: divisions in the armed forces. In 2019, a big section of the regular army was sympathetic to the revolution. There was a great deal of fraternisation between the rank-and-file soldiery and the neighbourhood resistance committees. Though it is difficult to be sure, it appears most of the repression presently occurring in Sudan is being carried out by the RSF, rather than regular troops. Whereas the regular army is largely made up of ordinary drafted youth from poor, working-class and peasant backgrounds, the RSF is a mercenary organisation often funded by looting and terrorising areas under its control. The fact that Burhan is leaning on the RSF to fight the revolution, reveals that he cannot trust the ordinary army ranks.

These class divisions within the security forces could be exploited by the revolutionary masses. If there is any sympathy evident in the ranks of the ordinary troops, fraternisation must be resumed as a matter of urgency. One of the main reasons that the TMC was not ousted from power in 2019 is that the SPA failed to make a call to the soldiers to go over to the revolution. This mistake must not be repeated, and the groundwork for such a call must be laid by the masses, organised through the resistance committees.

In any case, the initiative seems to be passing out of the hands of the coup-plotters. Sections of the civilian government remain intact, despite Burhan declaring the ruling Sovereign Council dissolved. Foreign Minister Mariam al-Mahdi, declared on Tuesday that she and other members of Hamdok’s administration remain the legitimate authority in Sudan, and would continue their “peaceful disobedience and resistance.” Burhan also fired Sudan’s ambassadors to the United States, the European Union, China, Qatar, France and Geneva after they opposed the takeover.

The coup was met with predictable condemnation by the ‘international community’, represented by the UN, US, EU, IMF and World Bank, which have all suspended aid, threatened further sanctions and demanded a transition to civilian rule. The African Union has also suspended Sudan’s membership. Should the coup fail, the bourgeois media will of course attribute it to ‘international pressure’, but this is nonsense. It was the tremendous movement of the Sudanese masses that has forced Burhan onto the backfoot.

But even Burhan’s supposed ‘allies’ have turned their backs on him. The Arab League (a body that mostly follows the line of the Egyptian government, which is itself a military dictatorship under Abdel Fattah Al Sisi) has rejected the coup, while the UAE and Saudi Arabia have so far said nothing. These reactionary regimes have no love for the Sudanese Revolution, nor are they opposed to military dictatorship on principle. But they can see that Burhan has badly miscalculated by launching this coup prematurely. What horrifies these people the most, is the fact that the coup is reinvigorating the Sudanese Revolution, which threatens to inspire workers across Africa and the Arab world to take to the streets against their own dictatorial leaders. It is not surprising that these characters want nothing to do with Burhan’s coup, which is increasingly isolated.

The timing of the putsch reflects the fact that Burhan was approaching the deadline for handing over the chair of the Sovereign Council to Hamdok at the end of October, as stipulated by the power-sharing agreement set up by the transitional government. Clearly, the military had no intention of ceding power to civilian politicians. One consequence of this would be the expedition of handing over Bashir to the International Criminal Court. This was opposed strongly by both Burhan and Hemeti, who want him tried in Sudan, possibly fearing he would name them as culprits in the atrocities carried out during the Darfur War in 2003, where up to 500,000 people were slaughtered.

Furthermore, with Hamdok as the head of state, an investigation into the massacre of revolutionaries by the RSF in June 2019 was on the order of the day, which would undoubtedly put the responsibility for the massacre squarely at Burhan and Hemeti’s feet. The reactionary military leaders have always been accustomed to ruling the country without opposition, looting its wealth and dominating its people with impunity. The 2019 revolution threatened to halt the gravy train, but it did not go all the way. The generals are determined to wind back the clock, and are not prepared to tolerate any accommodation with the revolution. The power-sharing agreement simply provided an opportunity for them to bide their time and wait for an opportunity to seize back control.

Defeat the junta! For democracy! For socialism!

Burhan was counting on the unpopularity of the civilian politicians, who carried out a vicious austerity programme at the behest of the government’s imperialist creditors. There were in fact weeks of protests and sit-ins in Khartoum calling for a military takeover in the run-up to the coup, to restore order and address the failures of the government to end hunger and poverty in Sudan. While these protests were supported and pushed along by the generals, they nevertheless reflect the sentiment of a more-backward section of the population that is demoralised and frustrated at a lack of progress and reform after the revolution. But these were met with far-larger pro-democracy protests, which were tens of thousands strong even before the coup. It is notable that, despite their determined struggle against the putsch, many of the protestors are fully aware of the limitations of the civilian politicians who have shared power with the military since 2019. Ahmed commented to Democracy Now:

“Almost everyone had an issue with the government… But despite the legitimate criticism of the transitional government, of civilians included, most Sudanese would reject – are rejecting a return of the military… For most Sudanese, particularly the youth, after the 2019 revolution, the important thing is to see the transfer into a full civilian government, to see elections. Keep in mind, this is after 30 years of authoritarian rule by the government of Omar al-Bashir… The idea that we are setting back the clock, after months of protests that brought down 30 years of authoritarian rule, that is something I think most Sudanese will just simply not accept.”

Even though Burhan tried to distance himself from the RSF’s ‘dirty work’ in waging a counter-revolutionary terror in 2019, the masses see through this ruse. “Burhan was responsible because he was the leader, it’s that simple,” said Osman Mirgany, a Khartoum-based journalist. “He promised not to touch the sit-in and then a massacre occurred. From that point on, people realized he would never keep his promises.”

Indeed, Burhan’s siren song about the army’s ‘commitment’ to facilitating civilian rule is convincing nobody. It is plain as day to the masses that, if the army has its way, democratic elections will either never happen, or will be rigged to ensure the military remains in control.

Between the neighbourhood committees and the striking trade unions, we see a living example of workers’ power beginning to emerge. These are the only forces capable of defeating the TMC. Unlike in 2019, the SPA should not treat the revolutionary struggle of the people as a lever to secure negotiations with the military. Instead, the masses should be led to a final confrontation with the reactionary generals, to remove them from power altogether.

Therefore, the movement on 30 October must be nothing short of an open-ended general strike, with the explicit objective of bringing down the junta. To accomplish this, it must reach out to the rank-and-file of the armed forces, who will also be critical to arming and preparing the masses to defend themselves. This must be accompanied by a call for an immediate transition to civilian rule, that is, by the convening of a Constituent Assembly, so there can be a genuinely democratic process to decide the future of Sudan.

But this alone is not enough. The repressive, dictatorial character of the government in recent decades is a direct reflection of the decrepit and parasitic character of Sudanese capitalism, which is incapable of providing a decent existence to the people. Democracy is not an abstract demand, and its absence at bottom reflects social and economic problems in a society where nearly 60 percent of the population is in poverty, and over half is either unemployed or struggling in the informal sector. Ultimately, the question of democracy cannot be disconnected from the question of bread. Indeed, it was the austerity programme carried out by the transitional government, to ‘stabilise’ Sudan’s economy and seek foreign loans, that laid the groundwork for the current coup.

As long as capitalism prevails in Sudan, none of the people’s problems can be solved. It is not enough to simply remove the tops of the regime, who have not fundamentally changed since Bashir was overthrown. Immediate further steps must be taken to resolve the deep economic and social problems that plague Sudan. The counter-revolutionary generals, their parasitic capitalist cronies as well as all the remaining members of the old regime must immediately have all their assets and wealth expropriated. Their money, gold, oil, ports, industry and business holdings must be placed under the control of the working class and peasants, and utilised to carry out a sweeping programme of reforms.

By investing this untapped wealth on the basis of a democratic plan, the people can be provided with decent jobs and housing, access to essential goods like food and fuel, and high-quality public education. All foreign debt should be repudiated at once: the imperialist leeches have already grown fat on Sudan’s blood, they deserve not a drop more. And land must be parcelled out to the peasants, along with the necessary investment in technique, machinery, and material to develop the backward agricultural sector.

In short, the revolutionary masses of Sudan must begin the task of building a socialist regime: the only thing capable of dragging the country out of its state of parlous underdevelopment, breaking the death grip of imperialism, and driving out the reactionary military elites and their bloodthirsty attack dogs. The people of Sudan are not alone in this struggle. International solidarity rallies are planned in Germany, Brussels, Italy, Britain, Sweden, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, and elsewhere, to coincide with the action of 30 October.

The workers must only rely upon their own forces, and those of their brothers and sisters across the world, to win their freedom, and build a future worthy of their many sacrifices. Ultimately, this demands a revolutionary struggle against capitalism, all its rotten agents, and the barbarism it creates. This in turn will be a beacon of inspiration to the poor, worker and peasant masses stretching from the Horn of Africa, to the whole continent, to the Arab world and beyond.

Kick out the military junta once and for all! Finish the revolution!