By STEVE XAVIER
Mass protests leading to the downfall of long-term rulers in Sudan and Algeria have evoked memories of the Arab Spring protests eight years ago. That wave of protests began in Tunisia with the December 2010 self-immolation suicide of a street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi. The Tunisian government of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown on Jan. 14, 2011. Following the fall of Ben Ali, mass protests threatened regimes in Oman, Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt, Syria, and Morocco, resulting in state repression. Libya and Yemen were convulsed by civil wars.
Beginning on Jan. 2, 2011, Egypt’s Tahrir Square protests grew to tens of thousands bringing the Egyptian working class and youth into motion. On Feb. 11, Hosni Mubarak resigned and handed power over to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces of Egypt. Subsequent elections brought the candidate of the reactionary Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Morsi, to power with the support of some elements of the revolution that had brought down Mubarak. The Muslim Brotherhood had played little role in the 2011 mobilizations.
Morsi’s rule, marked by popular opposition to his attempts to impose an Islamic constitution, was ended by a military coup led by Defense Minister Abdel El-Sisi. El-Sisi was subsequently elected president in May of 2014 in a rigged election. El-Sisi’s regime has done nothing to bring reforms or democracy to the Egyptian people and has brutally repressed unions and popular movements. The state structure that maintains El-Sisi in power is essentially the same as the regime that had maintained Mubarak in power. The situation in Egypt makes clear for other countries in the region that without the independent organization and mobilization of the working class and its allies to push further and to take power, social conditions will continue to deteriorate for working people and poor farmers.
Sudan: “Revolution is the People’s Choice!”
For four months, the workers, farmers, urban poor, and youth of Sudan have mobilized, demanding, “Freedom, Peace, and Justice!” and saying, “Revolution is the People’s Choice!” Women have played a particularly important leadership role in the protest movement and are demanding an end to the oppression of women. Sudan’s suppressed trade unions have asserted themselves, calling strikes on March 5 and 13. Teachers have also played a key role in anti-regime mobilizations. Teachers’ strikes fighting against non-payment of wages preceded the mass upsurge.
The protest movement was sparked by the announcement of sharp increases in the price of fuel and bread. Sudan suffers from high unemployment, hyperinflation (122%), drought, and food and fuel shortages; about 80% of the population subsists on $1 a day. Child malnutrition is rampant affecting 2.5 million children. The secession of South Sudan, in 2011, deprived Sudan of much of its oil and other mineral wealth.
During the mass protests, elements of the army moved to protect protesters from riot police, threatening a split in the repressive machinery of the state. State repression has been severe, with at least 100 dead and thousands arrested. A state of emergency declared on Feb. 22 imposed curfews, shut down access to the internet and social media, and closed schools and universities. After the state of emergency was declared, protesters occupied the area outside of military headquarters, demanding the ouster of al-Bashir.
On April 11, 2019, the dictator, Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, who had ruled for 30 years, was brought down after months of unrest. Al-Bashir had presided over a reactionary Islamist regime known for the repression of women and oppressed nationalities. It soon became clear that the military, which had overthrown al-Bashir, was intent on merely changing the outer face of the regime while maintaining the same structures that had maintained al-Bashir in power. The newly installed president, General Awad Ibn Auf, lasted less than 48 hours in the face of mass protests. As this is being written, the military continues to maneuver for power.
The reaction of the masses has been swift and clear, they want a transition to democracy and the fall of the entire regime. One protester was quoted as saying: “It’s not just Bashir stepping down. It’s also about the whole regime going down and everything that came with it and 30 years of oppression. So what we want is a transition to a democracy. We want a civilian government and hand over of the authority and power to the people.”
China has huge investments in Sudan. Chinese, Russian, U.S. and European imperialisms are all trying to gain advantage in the new political situation on the ground. Russian politicians condemned the “unconstitutional” coup that removed al-Bashir. Russian private military contractors have been in Sudan as advisors to the military during the unrest.
An article in the Financial Times describes the situation in the capital: “Though the uprising owes much to 21st century technology, with the convening power of smartphones and hashtags, there is a retro-revolutionary feel to a movement that has both a secular and a syndicalist tinge. One cannot know for sure what Russia felt like in 1917 as the tsar was being toppled, or France in 1871 in the heady, idealistic days of the short lived Paris Commune. But it must have felt something like Khartoum in April 2019. Each day, tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, of people pour in from all corners of the pancake-flat city to stand in the dust and the heat before the gates of the military compound.” Financial Times, “Sudan’s protests feel like a trip back to revolutionary Russia.”
What is required going forward is the fight to build independent unions, mass organizations of workers, women and youth, and a revolutionary socialist party. The continued mobilization of the masses is crucial to making sure the demands of the mass movement are met. The solutions to the problems of the Sudanese masses can’t be solved in a capitalist framework but must be addressed by a workers’ government.
Algeria: Bouteflika falls, what next?
On April 2, Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned after 20 years in power following weeks of mass protests, involving millions of workers and youth, and a powerful general strike. Initially, the protest movement erupted against Bouteflika’s seeking an additional term as president, but it quickly grew to take up other political and social demands. The interim government is composed of allies of Bouteflika.
In a press conference on April 1, the head of the army, General Ahmed Gaid Salah, announced that the army supports “the demands of the people” and vowed to “protect Algerians …” as millions flowed into the streets to celebrate the downfall of Bouteflika. This does not represent any progressive role for the army, but rather the calculation of the military leaders of the strength of the movement and their desire to continue to serve as vassals of French imperialism.
The mass movement has not stopped, but has shifted to demands for the downfall of the regime. Teachers have played a leading role in the Algerian struggle, demanding improved educational funding and better working conditions alongside a transition to democracy.
A statement of the Socialist Workers Party (PST) read: “Workers, young people, women and the popular masses as a whole have just snatched, after more than 40 days of strikes and unprecedented mass demonstrations, a precious and historic first victory by forcing the departure on 2 April 2019 of Bouteflika—the embodiment of an oligarchic, authoritarian, quasi-monarchical liberal regime subject to the interests of imperialist foreign powers.”
The unemployment rate is high, at more than 11%, with a youth unemployment rate of 29%. The Algerian state has been reliant on oil revenues to finance government operations and programs. The low price of crude oil has resulted in a demand by imperialist interests to impose austerity measures on the Algerian working class and poor.
Some of the opposition have raised the demand for a constituent assembly, including the Workers Party (PT), a “mass” party under the leadership of the Lambertist Trotskyist current. In recent years, unfortunately, the PT has acted as left cover for the Bouteflika regime.
Continue and deepen the uprisings!
The Alliance of Middle Eastern Socialists stated, “In both countries [Algeria and Sudan], the overthrow of individual figureheads of the regime is understood to be far from enough. The call is to continue and deepen the uprisings until fundamental political and socio-economic changes are made in favor of the popular classes, completely replacing the old regimes and their rulers.
“The Sudanese and Algerian protesters have learned from their past revolutionary struggles and from the neighboring counter-revolutionary regimes that only through popular resistance, mass participation, and self-organization will they be able to achieve radical change and democratic and socio-economic rights.
“Various dictatorial regimes, regional and imperialist powers have witnessed the developments of these latest popular uprisings with fear, viewing them as a threat to their own interests and powers. In response, they have expressed their support to the Sudanese and Algerian heads of the army and encouraged them to retain control. Alongside these calls, these regional and international actors have warned directly or indirectly against the continuation and deepening of the revolutionary process.”
In neo-colonial countries and imperialist ones as well, struggles against neoliberal austerity measures are at center stage. To the discredit of the reformist and neo-reformist parties in Europe and elsewhere, their role has too often been to enforce cuts and privatization in service of big business. For example, in Brazil, the Workers Party (PT) disgraced itself by cutting social security and attacking working class-people. The failure of the left to effectively defend against cutbacks has opened space for the rise of an electoralist populist far right in Western Europe, former workers states, and in Latin America as the so-called Pink Tide receded.
In both Sudan and Algeria, the road ahead means fighting for the complete overthrow of the existing state structures and their replacement with popular democracy based on institutions accountable to the masses. Movements that lack structures and accountability of leaders are vulnerable to state repression, co-optation, and disorientation.
The political independence of the working class and the construction of mass revolutionary socialist parties is another urgent task. In any mass explosion against austerity and dictatorship, the leading role of the most advanced fighters is essential to ensure the demands of the mass movement are met. International solidarity from the labor and socialist movements is essential to keeping the imperialist powers from intervening against these revolutionary movements.
The years following World War II saw an explosion of anti-imperialist and anti-colonial struggles, as countries broke free of the grip of empire. In certain cases (China, Vietnam, Cuba), these movements overturned capitalism. In other countries anti-capitalist and socialist slogans were at the center of the demands of national liberation movements. Time and again, the USSR or China sacrificed internationalism to their attempts to make a deal with imperialism.
The petty bourgeois leaderships of national liberation movements often took, and held, power based on promises to settle accounts with imperialism. In almost all cases, however, their promises of democracy, land reform, and economic development were sold out to the IMF and World Bank in the form of structural adjustment programs as the leaders enriched themselves. What was missing was the independent self-activity of the working class, fighting to push past the immediate goals of the “national democratic” revolutions to take up the tasks of a socialist revolution. The lack of a revolutionary socialist party in the context of these revolutions was a decisive factor.
In Russia, prior to the October Revolution, most Russian socialists had accepted that the character of the coming revolution would be that of a “bourgeois democratic” revolution. It was generally thought that a socialist revolution would come as a distinct stage resulting from a period of capitalist development.
Following the defeated 1905 Russian Revolution, Leon Trotsky first devised his theory of Permanent Revolution. Trotsky later generalized the theory to other countries while challenging the Stalinist line on the Chinese Revolution.
Trotsky held in this thesis that the bourgeoisie in semi-colonial countries was incapable of decisively breaking with imperialism in order to complete the democratic revolution. The realization of the democratic revolution had to be accomplished by a working-class government, which would aim beyond simply achieving democratic demands but would take up the tasks of the socialist revolution. Trotsky opposed alliances in which the working class is subordinated to petty bourgeois or bourgeois nationalist forces.