Four million people hit the streets of Sudan yesterday in a national demonstration against Monday’s military coup. At the same time, a general strike crippled the entire country, as dozens of trade unions and professional organisations came out in solidarity. This was met with ruthless violence by the counter revolution, resulting in heavy casualties and forcing the masses to retreat. We are now facing a decisive moment for the Sudanese revolution. Either it will go onto the offensive or it could face a bloody defeat. From here, no quarter can be asked or given.
Saturday began with a euphoric mood. The organised masses, represented by the neighbourhood resistance committees, worked tirelessly – despite the on-going media blackout and brutal repression by security forces – to build for yesterday’s ‘march of millions’. The results exceeded anybody’s expectations.
Videos leaked out of Sudan over the course of the day during brief periods of internet connectivity showing huge columns of people on the march, chanting revolutionary slogans, waving flags and demanding civilian rule. The limited coverage makes it difficult to gauge the exact scale and breadth of the demonstrations, but there were huge crowds in Khartoum, Bahri, Omdurman, Zalingei, Nyala, El Obeid, Port Sudan, Kassala, Gedarif, Arbaji, Ibri, Dongola, Al-Nahud, Medani and Kosti. There were also large international solidarity protests in 50 cities worldwide, including Washington DC, Ottawa, Perth, Paris and London.
But despite the power of the revolutionary movement, it has a major weakness. The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) at its head have insisted upon ‘peaceful civil disobedience’, even in the face of the most brutal repression. This call was echoed by the neighbourhood resistance committees and remains popular on the ground, with one of the main chants being “peaceful” (referring to the nature of the protests).
This was the same approach the SPA adopted during the 2019 revolution. Even when the reactionary tribal Janjaweed militias were slaughtering dozens of people in Khartoum during the terror in June 2019, the SPA continued to call for ‘peaceful’ protest and ‘pressure from the international community’ – in other words, relying on support from the imperialist nations and institutions like the UN.
We must be honest: this naïve insistence on non-violent methods puts the revolution at dire risk. There are no levels of brutality to which the counter-revolutionary generals will not stoop in defence of their power and privileges. They demonstrated this again yesterday. It is not entirely clear which security forces took part in repression during the march of millions, although allegedly the Central Reserve Forces (Abu Tera) and Tamazuj (3rd Front), as well as riot police, were involved. In any case, the RSF - Janjaweed militias - were the spearhead. On Saturday afternoon, lines of uniformed militiamen fired teargas and live ammunition to break up the demonstrations, while plainclothes troops infiltrated the protestors’ ranks to attack them behind their lines. The crackdown was especially brutal in Khartoum and Omdurman, with images emerging of armoured vehicles on the streets and troops firing indiscriminately on unarmed protestors, who could only respond by fleeing or throwing stones.
The exact number of casualties is impossible to calculate, but at least three people were killed yesterday, taking the total number of deaths since the coup to 13, with over 100 wounded on Saturday alone, meaning this number will rise dramatically. There were desperate appeals for blood donors and medical supplies by the Sudanese Central Doctors’ Union, and reports of the RSF attacking hospitals. They allegedly attempted to storm the Royal Care Hospital in Khartoum, backed by heavy artillery, to arrest the injured protestors there.
Leading activists from resistance committees are being targeted by the militias. In Al-Gineina, Central Darfur, there have been reports of four such arrests. In Riyadh’s local committee, there has been a report of one activist being ambushed outside his house the day of the coup. “We think they may have pinned his phone. They were waiting for him to leave the house and they captured him… they beat him up, pointed the guns at his parents and told them to stay inside or they’re going to shoot all 3 of them. We still don’t know where he is,” one protestor reported.
Most of the detainees that have been arrested this week have been taken to undisclosed locations. Protestors, activists and journalists were subject to brutal treatment under Bashir's regime after being arrested and taken to what became known as the “Ghost Houses”. Torture methods included, but were not limited to, being forced to stand up for days on end, being thrown into freezers, and waterboarding. These arrests have been a part of a systematic strategy to weaken the resistance committees, and there have been reports of missing activists over the last two years. Most notably is Mohamed Abubaker Wad Akr, who went missing on 4 April, and whose body was found months later. These methods are being ramped up now.
At the same time, the military ran a misinformation campaign via the state media (which is in their hands), denying that troops were using live ammunition, slandering the protestors as violent thugs, making up stories about the police being shot, and even suggesting the demonstrators were “not Sudanese citizens.” In Omdurman, the family of a young man killed by the RSF went to collect his body from the city morgue, only to find that his cause of death was officially attributed to COVID-19! The counter-revolution is trying to cover its tracks.
Bankruptcy of pacifism
With the casualties mounting and momentum swinging in the direction of the counter-revolution, the neighbourhood resistance committees made a call for protestors to retreat to their homes and barricade their communities. But even now, after yet another vicious crackdown, a statement issued by the SPA, while condemning the bloodshed at the hands of the army, continued to called for “peaceful resistance, the occupation of the streets... and mass civil disobedience.” The leadership have also made further appeals for support from the “international community”. Shaheen al Shaheef, a member of the Khartoum Resistance Committee, told the BBC: “People here are very peaceful. These protests are going to continue being peaceful even when faced with the guns.”
This is not a strategy for peace, but a recipe for defeat and death on an even greater scale. Unless the masses are prepared to defend themselves, arms in hand, they will simply be mown down. The counter-revolution is perfectly willing to restore the old military dictatorship on a throne of bones. The only way to defeat the coup, once and for all, and prevent further massacres, is for self-defence committees to be immediately established, the masses drilled and armed and a general appeal made to win over any sympathetic army ranks as soon as possible. This is the only way to repel the military.
It seems that General Burhan, the coup leader, is mostly relying on the most-reactionary section of the security forces to facilitate repression. In 2019, there was a lot of sympathy for the revolution from the ranks of the normal soldiers. The SPA was unwilling to agitate for support from the rank-and-file troops, because they knew this would result in an armed clash with the generals.
The Sudanese ruling elite will not give up its power without a fight. Confining the revolution to street protests and limited general strikes only emboldens the counter-revolution, while demoralising the revolutionary masses.
This squeamishness must be abandoned at once. A general appeal must go out to the normal troops – who are nothing but ordinary workers and peasants – emphasising the brutal treatment of their class brothers and sisters at the hands of the RSF, and calling on them to mutiny; and to join, support, train and arm the revolutionary people. Let us not forget that during the occupation at the military headquarters in 2019, some soldiers defended the masses from the RSF’s bullets. It is the responsibility of the leaders of the revolution to explain the necessity of these measures, to dispel any illusions in non-violent civil disobedience. Refusal to do so would be an act of criminal irresponsibility by the SPA and leaders of the resistance committees, and amount to condemning the Sudanese Revolution to slaughter.
As far as the ‘international community’ goes: the imperialist crooks have all announced sanctions and issued condemnations of the military takeover, but this is the extent of their support. Indeed, we know that US envoys were in Sudan shortly before this coup was launched – they probably knew it was coming, and they didn’t lift a finger to prevent it. Volker Perthes (UN Secretary General for Sudan) commented on Twitter today that he had been in discussions with the deposed civilian Prime Minister Hamdok about “options for mediation and the way forward for Sudan”. He pledged to “continue these efforts with other Sudanese stakeholders.” In other words, the imperialists are trying to cobble together (at best) another rotten “compromise” with the military. But as we have seen, these old elements of the Bashir regime have no intention of tolerating civilian rule.
For all their hypocritical talk of ‘respect for democracy’, the imperialist gangsters are ultimately responsible for the economic strangulation of Sudan for years, principally through foreign debt. They held the country in an artificial state of backwardness and created precisely the conditions that facilitated the military dictatorship of Al-Bashir, which was overthrown solely by the strength of the masses themselves. They are no allies of the revolution.
Blood for blood
There is evidence that yesterday’s events are starting to have an effect on sections of the masses. One protestor replied to Perthes’ statement on Twitter: “No mediation after what military criminals have committed against the people. We are now fully aware of their intention even more than before. What we actually need is their elimination from the power and to have a fully civil rule. This is the demand of the people.”
Similarly, an older woman in Khartoum whose son was killed during the week was filmed running directly from his funeral directly from Saturday’s protests, declaring: “blood for blood, I will not accept compensation”. This slogan from the 2019 revolution, referring to the blood money that can be paid to the family of a murder victim under Islamic law, shows a willingness to fight the coup to the finish, rejecting all compromises.
The masses also revealed their immense courage and a growing willingness to fight back yesterday. Crowds forced the military to retreat across Al Mansheiya Bridge in Khartoum, armed with nothing but sticks or bare hands.
The SPA has shown some sign of hardening following the brutal clampdown on Saturday. In a statement yesterday evening, it outlined its objectives as follows:
- Overthrow of the coup orchestrated by the military council and handing over all its members to immediate fair trials for their crimes against the Sudanese people.
- No negotiation with criminals, nor a return to the broken agreement, instead, an immediate handing over of power to a full civilian government chosen by the revolutionary forces whose elements believe in radical change and the fulfillment of the goals of December’s revolution.
- Liquidation of the National Intelligence and Security Services and dissolution of militias through disarmament and demobilization, instead, building of a professional national army on a doctrine of protecting the people and borders under the command of the civilian authority.
- Submitting all companies of the security and military forces to the civilian government’s authority and putting an end to the interference of these agencies in investment and economic activity.
- Cessation of intervention from regional and international opposition to our people and their aspirations in [Sudan’s] political affairs.
These demands are steps forward, showing the pressure of events on the SPA, but they don’t go far enough, and will not be accomplished by the failed methods of peaceful civil disobedience. If there is any peace to be found in the future of the Sudanese masses, it will only be obtained through defending their revolution by any means necessary.
While the counter-revolution scored a victory yesterday, the fight is not over. The trade unions have all issued statements confirming that the general strike remains in effect. The masses are back on the streets today. They are increasingly bloodied and enraged. There may come a point where they reject useless pacifism and put pressure on the resistance committees and SPA to meet the counter-revolution strength for strength. This should not happen in a disorganised way but be built for and coordinated by the resistance committees. The workers’ organisations must be fully integrated into these bodies, which must become the germ of workers’ and peasants’ power. It must appeal and send delegations to fraternise with the rank-and-file soldiers and prepare for a final showdown to defeat the bloodthirsty military coup.
Ultimately, the resistance committees must link up across the country and develop a programme for the expropriation of the counter-revolutionary generals, capitalists and all remaining elements of the Bashir regime. With these resources in the masses’ hands, they will be able to carry out a sweeping programme of social and economic reforms to put the democratic, civilian government demanded by the masses on a firm footing. This would lay the foundations for socialism and a worker and peasant regime. But before any of that can be achieved, the bankrupt strategy of ‘peaceful protest’ must be jettisoned. The fate of the revolution depends on it.