Sudan: revolution raises its head in response to military coup

Sudan’s transitional government has been toppled by a military coup. This long-threatened putsch was the inevitable consequence of attempted reconciliation between the leaders of the 2019 uprising and forces of counter-revolution. The enraged masses have returned to the streets in huge numbers, showing that the reserves of the Sudanese Revolution are not exhausted. What is required now is a relentless struggle to defeat the reactionary military leaders, once and for all. Read also our article from 2019, which predicted these events.


In the early hours of yesterday morning (25 October), members of the armed forces, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, kidnapped the liberal Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and his wife from their home, while several other leading political figures were placed under arrest. The news director of the state TV network was also seized, flights in and out of the country were suspended, and an internet shutdown was initiated. This was followed by a televised public address from Burhan, declaring a state of emergency, the dissolution of the transitional government, and the installation of military rule until new elections in July 2023.

Immediately after the arrest of Hamdok, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA: the leading body during the 2018-9 revolution) issued a statement, calling on “the masses of the Sudanese people, their revolutionary forces, and the resistance committees in neighbourhoods in all cities and villages to take to the streets and completely occupy them…” The Communist Party issued a separate call for a strike to repel the “full military coup.”

The response from the masses was instant. Huge columns of protestors – men and women, adults and children, all chanting and waving flags, many of them armed with sticks, tools, and other common implements – marched in their thousands on the army headquarters in Khartoum. There are reports of over a million people taking part in demonstrations all over the city. The masses have also established barricades to block the main roads and bridges, and burned tyres so the plumes of smoke could provide cover from the security forces.

Workers’ and professional organisations such as the Khartoum University Professors’ Union and the Executive Committee of the Sudanese Pilots Union have called on their members to join the street protests. The latter declared a “general strike and civil disobedience” and called for “all pilots and workers in the airfield to take to the streets and protect the Sudanese people’s revolution”. In response, Burhan has dissolved the committees managing Sudan’s trade unions.

Armed forces, allegedly consisting of both the regular army and the dreaded Janjaweed Rapid Support Forces (RSF) tribal militias, moved in to disperse the crowds. The masses have shown immense courage under fire. At least 10 people have been killed so far, with dozens wounded. Nevertheless, the people remain on the streets today, chanting in defiance: “Revolutionaries and free people will continue the journey... the revolutionaries are not afraid of bullets.” Online footage shows security forces attempting to disperse large crowds of protestors with tear gas, with the people chanting, “The people are stronger” and “Retreat is not an option!"

This provocation has roused the Sudanese Revolution from its slumber. Despite the disappointment and demoralisation of the past two years, the masses understand the implications of the return of military rule. Their revolutionary aspirations for democracy and a dignified existence remain intact, and they are not willing to surrender to barbarism and dictatorship without a life-or-death struggle.

Impasse of 2019 revolution

In April 2019, a revolutionary wave toppled Sudan’s dictator and former military chief Omar al-Bashir. With the masses failing to take power into their own hands, however, a self-appointed Transitional Military Council (TMC), consisting of the tops of the armed forces, stepped into the vacuum in an attempt to usurp the revolution. This led to a deadlock, with the masses mobilising on the streets, and the ruling elite manoeuvring by means of negotiation and false promises, trying to bide time to re-consolidate their power.

With negotiations for a civilian government stalling and the movement from below on the rise, the SPA called a powerful general strike in May that paralysed the country. Power was in the hands of the revolution. In fact, reports suggested that 98 percent of state functionaries were on strike, indicating that they adhered to the authority of the SPA strike committee, rather than the government. All that was needed was an appeal for the soldiers to join the revolution and oust the whole of the old rotten regime, which was desperately trying to stay alive.

Sudanese revolution Image Osama Elfaki Wikimedia CommonsIn April 2019, a revolutionary wave toppled Sudan’s dictator and former military chief Omar al-Bashir. With the masses failing to take power into their own hands, however, a self-appointed Transitional Military Council (TMC), consisting of the tops of the armed forces, stepped into the vacuum in an attempt to usurp the revolution / Image: Osama Elfaki, Wikimedia Commons

Nevertheless, after two days, the SPA called off the strike in favour of continued “civil disobedience”. The demoralising impact of this decision resulted in a swing towards counter-revolution which was now spearheaded by the arch-reactionary General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (AKA Hemeti), the commander of the RSF tribal militia. Under Hemeti’s command, the RSF attacked the sit-ins on 3 June and unleashed a wave of terror on Khartoum, killing over 100 people and brutalising hundreds more.

Rather than cowing the masses, this atrocity spurred them on. They pressured the SPA to call a new general strike on 9 June, which forced the TMC on the backfoot. But then the SPA called off this strike once again in a sign of “goodwill” to the TMC, and resumed talks, eventually culminating in a power-sharing agreement on 4 July. A military-civilian transitional government was set up to oversee Sudan’s “transition to democracy.” At its head was a Sovereign Council, with a balance of military leaders and civilian representatives of the revolution.

This ‘compromise’ arrangement was rightly seen as a betrayal, which amounted to inviting the butchers of the revolution into government, rather than relying on the strength of the masses to overthrow the old regime. The current coup leader, Burhan, was in fact the chairperson of the same Sovereign Council he has just dissolved! He is part and parcel of the old, rotten Bashir regime the Sudanese masses shed their blood to defeat. The same is true of Hemeti, who was also invited to participate in this transitional government.

In participating in this government along with these reactionaries, the SPA leaders paved the way for the situation that we see unfolding today. At every stage, rather than relying on the strength of the masses, the leaders of the Sudanese Revolution have sought to accommodate and find common ground with the forces of reaction.

The coup

On this basis, this latest coup came as a surprise to nobody. It was prepared by an escalating crisis. The country was wracked by severe economic hardship even before the COVID-19 pandemic. At the beginning of 2020, the UN estimated that 9.3 million people in the country, 23 percent of the population, would be in immediate need of humanitarian assistance that year. This number has surely risen sharply since, given the combined impact of the pandemic, a severe cycle of floods and drought, and a spate of locust swarms destroying crops.

The country has a debt burden of $60bn USD: equivalent 200 percent of its GDP. The US committed to sending $377 million in aid this year alone, while the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has agreed to forgive over $50 billion in Sudan’s external debts over three years. This imperialist “aid” comes with strings attached. The transitional government has been pressured to enact an austerity programme, most recently slashing fuel subsidies. This was one of the main factors behind the revolution in 2019, coupled with the removal of subsidies on bread (which has once again come under consideration), and high inflation – which reached an all-time high of 363.10 percent in April 2021. In short – all the old problems remain, leading to rising resentment with the transitional government.

The liberals, such as prime minister Hamdok, who from the beginning were thrown to the forefront of the revolution, have not only failed to criticise these measures, they have taken responsibility for them, and spearheaded their enactment by participating in government. They were mesmerised by the ‘promise’ of the armed forces to hand over power to a democratically elected government, and rubberstamped attacks on the workers and poor.

But the military never had any intention of handing over control. Tensions within the transitional government have been building since 2019, resulting in repeated failures to agree on legislation. A recent attempt to reduce spending on security prompted a backlash from the military leaders, which stopped participating in joint meetings with civilian leaders. Negotiations have also dragged out over a planned investigation into the bloody repression of 2019 – which is hardly surprising, as those responsible have been sitting in the Presidential Palace ever since!

Due to this deadlock, the transitional government had already delayed promised elections of a civilian government until 2023. A series of demonstrations were organised throughout 2020 by grassroots resistance committees, which sought to put pressure on the government to speed up the pace of economic and political reforms. And in September, a separate coup attempt was foiled, with the civilian and military leaders each accusing the other of being behind it.

It was obvious that the military was dragging out the economic and political crisis, waiting for the civilian politicians to become unpopular enough that they could stage a power grab. Outside of the urban centres, the generals have been currying favour with the tribal elites who previously benefited from the patronage of the al-Bashir’s regime. These corrupt, backward parasites rightly see the aspirations of the Sudanese Revolution for democratic rights, rights for women and so forth as a threat to their privileges. One of these tribal chiefs led a blockade of Sudan’s biggest port on the Red Sea, with tacit military support, strangling Sudan’s access to currency, food and fuel.

In the weeks leading up to the coup, sit-ins were held outside the Presidential Palace in Khartoum by crowds calling for a military takeover from the “government of hunger”. It was evident that these protestors had been organised, and many of them directly bussed in, by the military. But they were met with much larger mobilisations by pro-democracy elements, which revealed the real mood. Despite frustration with the deadlocked transitional government, the masses will not tolerate a return to military dictatorship.

The threat of backlash from the revolutionary masses has been the only thing preventing the military from completely seizing power up until now. But the generals felt that time was running short to make their move. Seeing pro-democracy protests grow, they have apparently decided that it is ‘now or never’.

The so-called ‘international community’ (i.e. the various imperialist actors with interests in Sudan) could also see which way the wind was blowing. A US special envoy visited Sudan three days before the coup in a failed attempt to smooth things over, urging a peaceful transition to civilian rule. The imperialists have of course issued hypocritical condemnations of a coup they all saw coming. The last thing they want is to reinvigorate the revolutionary movement we saw two years ago. But now the military has made its move, and the masses have answered.

The way forward

But we must say, after the first general strike in May 2019, the masses already effectively had power in their hands. It was only the compromising strategy of the SPA that allowed the military, the remnants of the old order, to maintain a grip on power.

In July 2019, we wrote the following:

“The TMC [Transitional Military Council – the military wing of the transitional government] is a direct descendant of the old regime. At every turn of events it has proven without doubt, that it will not compromise with the revolutionary masses whom it sees as a threat to the position of the ruling class. Spearheaded by their Janjaweed shock troops, they have been terrorising the masses throughout the revolution. At all steps, their aim has been to drag out time to disorient and tire the movement, in order to launch new counter-attacks. The present agreement is a continuation of the same methods. The agreement does nothing to touch the power of the TMC and the rest of the old regime which is left fully intact. But under its guise, the TMC will attempt to demobilise the masses and create the conditions of restoring “order” – ie. the total submission of the masses to the regime.” (Sudan: No to a rotten compromise! Finish the revolution!)

These words of warning have been confirmed to the letter. From here, there can be no further compromise. The SPA’s call for action has evoked a big response from the masses, but no amount of aimless protest will convince the army tops to retreat. Indeed, it was the lack of a clear plan during the 2019 uprising that contributed to its stagnation.

The Communist Party has issued a call for a general strike. This is the way forward and must be taken up, properly coordinated, and generalised across the entire country by the SPA. The neighbourhood committees formed in the 2019 uprising are already reconstituting themselves. These bodies must become the basis for a coordinated revolutionary struggle to defeat the military junta for good. Neighbourhood and strike committees must fraternise with ordinary soldiers, break the armed forces on class lines, and strengthen the revolution for a final showdown with Burhan and the generals.

The TMC has shown time and again that it is an irreconcilable agent of counter-revolution. It cannot be negotiated with – only brought down, which can only be accomplished by the Sudanese masses, relying on their own strength. Once the coup is repelled and the junta defeated, a Constituent Assembly must be called to establish genuine democracy, without any involvement from the reactionary military brass, whose wealth and property should be expropriated in order to help rebuild the country.

It is clear that capitalism is incapable of resolving the dire problems affecting the Sudanese masses. Ultimately, only a socialist government of workers and peasants will be capable of taking the necessary steps of repudiating all foreign debt, breaking with imperialism, and managing the economy on a democratic basis. The people of Sudan have shown remarkable courage and tenacity in the past – they must do so again, and complete the tasks started by the 2019 revolution.