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South Sudan’s Struggle for Independence and the Betrayals of President Salva Kiir
While life gets harder in the imperialist centers every day, the true barbarity of capitalism runs naked in the colonies. Imperialism sits a man down in the worst place and knocks him down every time he tries to stand up. The racist comes along and points at that victim saying, “See, look at where he is sitting”. Today, the unacceptable situation of the majority of the people of this world continues to deteriorate. Meanwhile the capitalist becomes ever wealthier and rapacious. It is in this situation we are given two choices: socialism or barbarism.
The following is part two of an article covering the current situation in South Sudan, northern Sudan, Darfur, the history of colonialism in Sudan, the role of China, the history of the communist and rebel movements in Sudan, and the the unacceptable role of U.S. imperialism in the conflicts taking place called:
Imperialist Hands Off South Sudan, Sudan, and Darfur! Down With Both Governments! For Workers and Peasants Revolution!
For part one, see:
Obama Backs Genocidal Government in South Sudan
[Photo: A poster in South Sudan calling for a vote for independence. That referendum was voted on in July 2011 with 98.8% of the people voting for independence. This poster promises an end to the northern Sudanese abductions of slaves from South Sudan if the people voted for independence. Private slave owners currently hold about 35,000 people from South Sudan as chattel slaves in Sudan. This is after about 15,000 slaves were recently freed in Sudan. Sudanese troops and paramilitaries were involved in the abduction of slaves from South Sudan during the civil war, so getting those forces out of South Sudan was an important move towards abolishing slavery. Yet, with South Sudan’s President Kiir now in alliance with the government of Sudan to suppress a rebel uprising against President Kiir there are presently negotiations taking place to allow Sudanese troops back into South Sudan. This is a betrayal of the cause an estimated 4 million South Sudanese and Sudanese died fighting for and a deadly threat to the freedom of the South Sudanese people.]
Part 2 of:
Imperialist Hands Off South Sudan, Sudan, and Darfur! Down With Both Governments! For Workers and Peasants Revolution!
(Part 2) South Sudan’s Struggle for Independence and the Betrayals of President Salva Kiir
A new round of bloodshed and terror has inflicted South Sudan since December 15th, 2013. In one month of civil war and genocidal mass murder by the U.S. backed government of President Salva Kiir 10,000 people have died. That estimate comes from the International Crisis Group. An additional 200,000 people are displaced by fighting.
Siding with President Salva Kiir against the rebels is northern Sudan’s Islamic / capitalist dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir. On Monday, January 6th, Sudan’s foreign minister Ali Ahmed Karti said that "Sudan and South Sudan are in consultations about the deployment of a mixed force" of troops from both countries in South Sudan. South Sudan received its independence in 2011 from the murderous northern government of Sudan at the cost of 4 million lives, a peace process, and a whopping 98.8% majority voting to separate from Sudan. Omar al-Bashir came to power in a 1989 coup that overthrew the elected government of Sudan. After that coup, thousands of labor activists, communists and nationalists were imprisoned, tortured, and murdered by his regime as his dictatorship continued to be backed by U.S. imperialism. Since that time, however, Bashir has been on the outs with US imperialism and as a result he is now wanted in The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity. In addition, Sudan is under U.S. economic sanctions (the actual reasons for U.S. hostility towards Sudan are a subject of discussion in a future article in this series).
Now South Sudan's genocidal capitalist president, Salva Kiir, whose troops have systematically slaughtered people of the Nuer nationality, is in negotiations to bring Sudan's troops back into South Sudan to protect oil fields and help save his presidency from a rising rebellion. This betrayal by President Kiir is similar to when the bourgeois leaders of the "Irish Free State" received weapons from Britain to militarily crush the working class socialist left wing of the Irish freedom movement. While the Irish bourgeois leadership of Michael Collins and his ilk are portrayed in Hollywood as heroes and the importance of their small deeds in the midst of a mass working class and peasant uprising are laughably exaggerated, the reality is that they betrayed Irish Revolution and sided with the British against the Irish working class. President Kiir, another bourgeois nationalist who is opposed to a program for the liberation of the working class and peasantry, is carrying out a similar betrayal today by aligning himself with the government of Sudan against the ethnic Nuer within South Sudan who are the targets of his genocide.
Also much like the Irish freedom struggle when Michael Collins betrayed the northern counties of Ireland to the brutal repression of Unionist mobs and the British military, the SPLA/M has abandoned SPLA held zones in the Blue Nile state and South Kordofan to the repression of Sudanese troops and paramilitaries. In these zones the brutality has only intensified as the northern Islamist government has tightened the repression and Sharia law since independence. To continue fighting, the SPLM-North has been established as a split from the SPLA/M and continues to fight against Sharia law and the dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir. According to the BBC, these rebels are now siding with rebels in South Sudan against President Kiir and of course against Dictator al-Bashir.
Likewise, despite South Sudan’s ability to produce 350,000 barrels of oil a day ($815 million in crude), nothing in the SPLA/M’s program says that that money should go to meet the needs of the impoverished people of South Sudan. Jok Madut Jok, an official in the SPLM government, explained the country's 2012-2013 austerity budget saying the new budget would result in a “marked reduction” in services, “especially in the area[s] of education, security and health care and other such services.” But, he added, “On the whole, the impact is not going to be so great in the lives of the majority of the people who are not getting any benefits anyway...”
While a new ruling political elite in South Sudan lives well as a result of the country’s oil wealth, for the majority of the people of South Sudan independence under the bourgeois capitalist leadership of President Kiir is bringing nothing in the way of economic improvement. Today, despite rich oil reserves and other resources, the people of South Sudan suffer horrible poverty under capitalism. Limitations to access to food, clean water, and good sanitation are widespread problems. Four out of ten people in South Sudan faced food insecurity in 2013. Life expectancy is 54 years. Infant mortality is 135 deaths per 1000 live births in the first five years of life. Male illiteracy is 64.6% and female illiteracy is 85.5%. Only a socialist program that would include spending oil money on human needs could begin to solve these problems.
Despite massive hunger, poverty, and illiteracy, there are no major SPLA/M programs to deal with these problems as have existed with socialist revolutions. Meanwhile the government itself admits that $4 billion dollars have been stolen by corrupt officials within the SPLA/M government. Miguna Miguna of the Star gave a visual image of this corruption describing the official July 9th, 2011 celebration of South Sudan’s independence saying that despite only one paved road in South Sudan:
“…virtually all the former SPLA/SPLM guerrillas arrived in brand new air-conditioned Mercedes and MBW 4x4 vehicles. I was stunned by this unnecessary opulence and obvious misuse of public and donor funds. “
As bad as the bourgeois SPLA/M government is, the independence of South Sudan is actually a just cause. Without giving political support to the SPLA/M or supporting imperialist military aid to their capitalist government, Leninist-Trotskyists support the right of South Sudan to national self-determination while advocating our own program of socialism, anti-imperialism, and rights for all oppressed nationalities within South Sudan. In addition, we expose the fact that the bourgeois leadership of President Kiir, militarily aided by the dictatorships of Sudan and Uganda as well as by U.S. imperialism, is completely incapable of even the most elementary tasks of procuring South Sudan’s self-determination.
To understand why it is the vital duty of revolutionary socialists to defend South Sudan’s right to national self-determination from both Kiir and Bashir, one must start first by looking at the history of South Sudan. The Sudanese state was an artificial construct of imperialism with South Sudan’s oppression and exploitation by the north built in from the beginning. It is from the point of understanding this history we can begin to offer revolutionary socialist and anti-imperialist solutions without making the foul errors groups like the Workers World Party (US) who opposed the right of South Sudan to national self-determination in a January 9th, 2011 article where they ended their article “U.S. Seeks to Influence Sudan Referendum” by arguing against South Sudan’s independence saying, “The division of Sudan and the intensification of military conflict can only enhance the capacity of the imperialist states to set the terms for the future of the region.” It would instead be the failure of revolutionary socialists to uphold the just causes of national liberation struggles within Sudan that will leave the leadership of those movements in the hands of pro-imperialist bourgeois leaderships like President Kiir who completely betray the cause of national liberation.
For the Abolition of Slavery in an Independent South Sudan
South Sudan’s use by outsiders as a land for capturing slaves began under Ottoman and British colonialism. South Sudan was first conquered in 1821 and it, along with northern Sudan, was brought under the control of Turko-Egyptian rule. Before 1821, northern and southern Sudan were separate politically. This was because the northern governments in Sudan were unable to conquer the Shilluk and Dinka Kingdoms to the south. While Turko-Egyptian rulers brought some development to northern Sudan with improved irrigation and cotton production, their economic activities in the south were of the vilest capitalist nature. The world capitalist market at that time produced a high demand for enslaved human beings. The Turko-Egyptians conquered South Sudan to extract gold and slaves. By 1860 the people of southern Sudan were still being kidnapped into slavery with 12,000 to 15,000 human beings brought north as chattel every year.
It was early in this history that a low status was established for South Sudan. The region was seen as an exploitable hinterland with a people reduced to the most inhumane exploitation. This has not been shaken. Nor has slavery. Modern slavery, in fact, re-emerged under British colonial rule in 1918 when groups from northern Sudan began raiding South Sudan for slaves once again. The slave trade escalated even further in 1986 during the civil war and slave raids were only brought to an end in 2002 when progress in peace negotiations between the Sudanese government and the SPLA/M brought an end to the abductions.
While South Sudan’s independence has brought an end to the abduction of people from South Sudan into slavery, many people do, however, remain in slavery in Sudan. During the war about 20,000 people were abducted into slavery in South Sudan and brought north, according to the Committee for Eradication of Abduction of Women and Children (CEWC). By 2012 the CEWC reported they were able to secure the release of 15,000 slaves, but reported that an additional 35,000 slaves remain in bondage in Sudan today.
The abductions of slaves during the civil war were carried out by many different forces loyal to the northern government including government troops, the Mujahideen, Murahaleen militias, the Popular Defense Force, and Sudan Armed Forces. Boys were / are forced to herd cattle all day. Women and girls are forced to do domestic work and agricultural work. Girls are often forced to have sex (i.e. raped) or forced to marry relatives of owners. One of many stories is that of former slave Arek Anyiel Deng who began being raped by her master at age 12. Additional slaves are born into captivity and bought and sold. Slaves are fed leftovers, forced to sleep outside, beaten, and whipped. They are also sometimes mutilated, as is the case of one small boy who had a finger cut off by his master when he refused to convert to Islam.
James Aguer who grew up in South Sudan made it his life’s work to free Sudan’s slaves when he ran into slavery in a visit to northern Sudan. For his work the Sudanese government imprisoned him 33 times. Four of his colleagues were murdered. It is strange that in this century James Aguer and his colleagues have much in common with Harriet Tubman. In the United States, Harriet Tubman was an escaped slave known for her role in freeing 300 slaves, speaking out against slavery, and working as a spy and armed scout for the Union Army which eventually abolished slavery in the southern United States. Unfortunately, it has taken far longer to abolish slavery in Sudan as colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism have retarded the region’s economic and social growth.
Despite slavery supposedly being ended under the British Empire in 1833, it was continued in their colony of Sudan where British Governor-General Charles Gordon reinstated its legality in the late 1800s. Britain first gained control of Sudan indirectly. While Egypt controlled Sudan, the British took control of Egypt in part through debts related to the Suez Canal. This then also gave Britain control over Sudan.
Slavery was central to the economy of Sudan in the 1800s. The abolition of slavery in the west in the 1870s and the enforcement of that ban on Sudan in fact brought an economic crisis for northern Sudan. This in turn brought political instability which was used by the radical Islamist Muhammad Ahmad to lead the Mahdist revolt against British imperialist rule. The revolt forced concessions on British Governor-General Charles Gordon including an end to arbitrary arrests, the destruction of torture devices that had been used to terrorize the Sudanese people, and the re-legalization of slavery. Despite Gordon’s concessions, the Mahdist movement seized power from the British imperialists and executed the British Governor-General along with his entire garrison. While out of the grip of British imperialist rule, the Mahdist revolt did not bring plebian rule. The Mahdist movement instead ruled with the use of Islamic extremism and based its power in the most reactionary capitalist elements of Sudan including slave traders.
The victory of the Mahdist rebellion over Britain was the first major defeat of the British Empire by a colonized people since the American Revolution (another anti-imperialist revolution led largely by slave owners). News spread far and wide through the British Empire of these events. This included China where Charles Gordon had been a commander in British imperialist wars waged against the Chinese people, namely the Second Opium War (1856-1860) and the suppression of the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864). In the Opium Wars the British forced the Chinese to allow opium imports as a way out of the trade deficit between Britain and China. It was also a way for the British East India Company to extract massive profits from the misery of the Chinese people. Charles Gordon’s command was instrumental in killing tens of thousands of people, humiliation of the Chinese people, and forcing the scourge of drug addiction on the Chinese people. To this day, Chinese people visiting Khartoum ask to see the famous stairs where the Mahdist rebellion executed Charles Gordon.
In power from 1882 to 1898, the Mahdists introduced the rule of brutal sharia law (Islamic law). Large scale conversions to Christianity in the south hadn’t happened yet, as they would happen later under British rule in southern Sudan, but Coptic Christians were oppressed by the Islamic government. The Mahdists were a precursor to today’s Islamic government in northern Sudan, first established by the U.S. backed dictatorship of Gaafar Numeiri in 1983 and continued today under the dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir.
The Mahdists were defeated by the British imperialists in 1898. The British, newly armed with the recently invented Maxim machine gun, slaughtered the Sudanese who only had spears and non-automatic rifles. The British took terrible revenge in northern and southern Sudan killing hundreds of thousands of people in a campaign so brutal that it even received criticism from Winston Churchill.
Under British colonialism, as under Turko-Egyptian rule, rather than allow the two regions of northern and southern Sudan to become economically and culturally integrated, the division between northern and southern Sudan was intensified. Under British rule, southern Sudan was purposely kept underdeveloped and cut off from the north. They titled this the “Southern Policy” of “Closed Districts”. Economic and cultural interactions with the more developed north were prohibited. Christian missionaries moved in and converted many people from traditional animist religions to Christianity, creating the current demographics of a majority Christian South Sudan and a largely Muslim northern Sudan. The south was not developed at all either. In the north the British at least carried out some minimal development like roads and schools, but they neglected these basics in the south. The racist British imperialists referred to their policies in the tragically underdeveloped and isolated south as creating an “anthropological zoo”. Under these divided policies the basis for a united Sudanese nation state was never formed.
Sudan gained its formal independence from Britain in 1956. This was due to the fact that by the 1950s racist imperial arrogance in the colonies began to be tempered by:
(1) The existence of the Soviet Union and its anti-imperialist aid to struggling peoples of the underdeveloped world;
(2) A growing and increasingly rebellious working class around the world;
(3) The spread of communist ideas and parties through much of the world;
(4) The anti-imperial communist revolutions unfolding in China, Korea, and Vietnam.
In the colonies, the writing was on the wall. The imperial arrogance embodied in the Maxim machine gun was being answered by general strikes, AK-47s, and communist revolutions.
The Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) was first founded in 1946 and soon became popular among students. Later the SCP became an important party of the working class.
In the face of the rising anti-imperial revolution, rather than lose it all, the imperialists preferred to hand over formal independence to puppet government that would preserve the capitalist system and continue to allow foreign imperialist exploitation. These new governments, while being formally independent, would continue to base their power on the national bourgeoisie and foreign imperialist support gained through continued exploitation. In Africa, the United States, the biggest imperialist power coming out of WW II, would now also play a bigger role in these formally independent countries than they played under the direct control of European imperialism.
The British handed over formal independence to the Sudanese bourgeoisie in 1956. The seat of power was placed in the north with complete subjugation and impoverishment for the south. Resistance to these conditions began in the south of Sudan soon after formal independence. In response, the northern government burned whole villages and tortured and murdered people. Guerilla resistance to northern domination and subjugation began in the late 1950s. War raged almost non-stop from the time of formal independence until peace negotiations in 2005.
There was one break in the middle of that that war, however, with peace established from 1972 to 1983. This was due to a process started by military officers in the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP). While those officers were tragically executed by Sudan’s capitalist government in 1971, the process they started resulted in the Addis Ababa Agreement of 1972. Leading up to the 1972 agreement, an estimated 2 million people died in the fighting and brutal counterinsurgency. One of the executed architects of the Addis Ababa Agreement was Joseph Gorang who argued in his 1970 speech titled ‘Economics and Regional Autonomy’ that it was the uneven development between the north and the south that caused conflict. He went on to expose the ugly role of the Sudanese bourgeoisie, explaining:
“The exploiting classes here continued certain features of British policy, including the poll tax, cattle fines, forced labour, inequality of wages, restriction of education. More importantly they attempted to impose the Arabic language and Islam (or bourgeoisie culture) upon the Southern people”.
While what Joseph Garang exposed here was correct, the compromises of the SCP by that point would lead to the demise of the Sudanese Communist Party’s work. These included the compromise of accepting autonomy in the South rather than demanding full independence as well as Joseph Gorang attempting government alliances with elements of the bourgeoisie who would eventually execute him.
Sudan did at one time have a strong communist movement led by the SCP that supported South Sudan’s right to independence. The Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) had members across many nationalities in the north as well as in South Sudan. The SCP was a mass party and they were such a powerful force in the working class that the general strike they led in 1964 brought down the military dictatorship of General Ibrahim Abboud. Mass demonstrations and general strikes took place in Khartoum and spread to Port Sudan, Wad Medani, El Obeid, Kassala, and Atbara. Factories, shops, offices, and transportation services were all shut down. Curfews were ignored. In those five days the police and military were responsible for the deaths of 34 people and for 153 injuries. Brutal police and army patrols were directly challenged.
Two days into the general strike and five days into the mass uprising, General Ibrahim Abbud was forced to step down from his position as dictator of Sudan. Yet, it was he who left behind a bourgeois transitional government. Rather than continuing to fight to smash this capitalist state whose cops and military had just brutalized and martyred many Sudanese people, the SCP instead accepted the invitation to join that bourgeois transitional government where they were given the majority of ministerial positions. The SCP accepted those positions, but did not use them to fight for plebian power or to smash the capitalist state. Instead, they became mired in bourgeois politics and compromise. Among those compromises was dropping their previous position of support for South Sudan’s independence. Their new compromise position of supporting regional autonomy for South Sudan under the rule of the northern Sudanese state was, to a large degree, nothing more than nice words to sugar coat a position for the continued oppression of South Sudan under the rule of the northern capitalist state.
A key reason for the SCP’s betrayal of the potential of the October 1964 Revolution was the SCP’s Stalinist / Menshevik position of two stage revolution rather than the Leninist-Trotskyist theory of permanent revolution. Despite the strength of the SCP and the Sudanese working class in the 1964 general strike, the SCP sought an alliance with some non-existent progressive wing of the Sudanese bourgeoisie rather than pursuing a program of workers and peasants power and socialist revolution. These compromises were at the root of the SCP’s betrayal of the oppressed peoples of South Sudan.
The compromises the Sudanese bourgeoisie received from the SCP were what they were ultimately able to use to destroy the strength of the party. In the midst of a popular uprising, the capitalists allowed the SCP to enter a bourgeois government as a move towards saving the capitalist state (at its heart the repressive police, courts, prisons, and military). This of course would only be a temporary stage used by the bourgeoisie as they regrouped and prepared to smash the working class.
By 1965 the Sudanese bourgeoisie achieved the reproupment and recovery they needed from the days of the 1964 general strike. They were able to win a majority over the SCP by holding inherently unfair bourgeois elections that always give the wealthy and powerful an advantage. They then immediately, as their first act, used this majority to expel the SCP’s representatives from parliament.
This disaster flowed from the SCP’s application of Stalin’s two stage theory of revolution rather than the Leninist-Trotskyist theory of permanent revolution. The theory of permanent revolution states that the way to move forward in underdeveloped countries of belated capitalist development is to smash the capitalist state, overthrow the entire capitalist system, and attempt to break out of economic isolation through an internationalist program of proletarian revolution. It is a program that puts absolutely no trust in any element of the ruling bourgeoisie and seeks no compromise with them. Instead, we see the bourgeoisie as thoroughly reactionary so we put forward a program of proletarian revolution that relies solely on the strength of the working class and peasantry. This is the program that succeeded in the Russian Revolution and created a socialist planned economy that turned one of the poorest countries in the world into an industrial powerhouse capable of defeating two major imperialist invasions, including Nazi Germany, and rebuilding after to provide everyone with a guaranteed job, education, and healthcare.
Yet, Stalin did his best to erase the memory of the program it took to carry out the Russian Revolution. Stalin’s theory of two staged revolutions did not win out in the communist international through any sort of legitimate debate, instead it won out after Lenin’s death through Stalin’s accusations that anyone who defended Lenin’s program was a Trotskyist, and that Trotsky was supposedly a fascist agent. While Trotsky certainly wasn’t a fascist agent, Stalin did function as one in the period of time during the Stalin-Hitler pact. The USSR defeated Nazi Germany largely because of its superior socialist economy and despite the blunders of Stalin (including Stalin’s execution of the best military commanders). Yet, to Stalinists, Trotsky was an agent of Hitler. It was under these sorts of lies that Stalin murdered the original leaders of the Russian Revolution and consolidated the rule of his conservative and bureaucratic clique. Many of the tremendous gains of the Russian Revolution led by Lenin, including the planned socialist economy, remained after Lenin’s death, despite Stalin. Yet, the bureaucratic dictatorial rule imposed by Stalinism is a key reason why Trotskyists advocate workers and peasants democracy as a central component of our program for democratic communism.
Far from this revolutionary Leninist-Trotskyist program of permanent revolution, Stalin’s theory of two staged revolution is a spineless theory of servitude to the bourgeoisie. It is a program of betrayal of the interests of the working class and peasantry. In it, Stalin claims that underdeveloped countries must go through a stage of capitalist development before overthrowing capitalism, and that part of the process of establishing this is through alliances with imaginary progressive wings of the bourgeoisie against imperialism. Far from reality, alliances of parties that carry this Stalinist dogma lead to defeat after defeat of the working class and peasantry as their imaginary progressive wing of the bourgeoisie crushes the working class after getting what they needed from the communist leadership in the form of compromises, demobilization, and demoralization of the working class and or peasantry.
The loss of the potential of the October 1964 Sudanese Revolution was not, however, the end of the SCP’s attempts at alliances with progressive wings of the bourgeoisie. Their next disaster was in 1969. At that time, SCP military officers helped bring Colonel Numeiri to power in a military coup. Numeiri quickly turned to the right. Finally, in 1971 the SCP made an attempt at seizing power and formed a coup government that lasted three days. This was not, however, from the position of working class strength that they had at the time of the 1964 general strike. It was instead an attempt at a military coup after a series of compromises including betraying the struggle for self-determination in South Sudan. After the coup attempt was militarily defeated, thousands of SCP members were jailed and most of the SCP’s leadership were executed.
The Sudanese Communist Party’s work on the Addis Ababa Peace Agreement as a compromise on South Sudan’s independence would inevitably fall apart as well. The failure of the Addis Ababa Agreement to grant formal independence and the fact that it never really addressed the root causes of the problems in South Sudan eventually led to its ruin. In 1983 the Addis Ababa Agreement broke down when the northern government of Numeiri seized oil producing regions and attempted a policy of forced Islamization on the majority Christian South. From 1983 to 2005 a 22 year war raged as the South Sudanese people fought for independence and the northern government waged a brutal counter-insurgency war that left an estimated 2 million people dead.
Origins of the SPLM/A Movement
While the SCP was an important early force in the fight for South Sudan’s independence, in the last couple decades the leadership of that struggle has fallen primarily into the hands of the SPLA/M. The SPLA/M was formed out of a mutiny from government soldiers in 1983 during the US backed Numeiri dictatorship. Major grievances were the central government’s adoption of Sharia law (Islamic law), forced conversions to Islam, and land grabs into areas of the then somewhat autonomous South Sudan where oil had been discovered by Chevron.
Early on, the SPLA/M received the backing of arms from Gaddafi in Libya and the USSR backed Derg government of Ethiopia. The early program of the SPLA/M was not one merely for the independence of South Sudan. They spoke of socialism and were fighting for the overthrow of the Islamic central government in Khartoum. In addition, this was not a fight between Christians and Muslims as is evidenced by Muslim fighters joining the SPLA’s struggle in the north and east in the Blue Nile state, South Kordofan, and Bega.
In 1985 the SPLA/M participated in a general strike called by the Sudanese Communist Party that brought down the 16-year U.S. backed dictatorship of Gaafar Numeiri and forced the capitalist government to hold presidential elections. The SPLA/M joined the strike actions on the condition that the abolition of Sharia law be included in the demands. This condition was accepted. The United States was backing the brutal Islamic government Numeiri at that time. It was only later that the US imperialists switched sides and began backing the SPLA/M.
The Sudanese Communist Party’s strike call tapped into broad anger as austerity measures demanded by the imperialist International Monetary Fund caused sharp increases in the price of food and hunger. People marched in the streets chanting:
“The people are hungry! Down with America! Down with the IMF!”
Among the demands of the movement were an end to Sharia (Islamic) law, indictment of Numeiri and his cronies, confiscation of the wealth they had stolen, an end to Sudan’s alignment with U.S. imperialism, autonomy in the south, a multiparty system, civil liberties, and a constituent assembly.
A series of protests and student and workers strikes culminated in a March 30th 1985 SCP call for an open ended general strike. By April 3rd this movement generated the biggest demonstration in Sudan’s history with between one and two million people marching against the Numeiri dictatorship. Other actions included breaking into prisons and releasing 400 political prisoners. The strike was broadly successful in participation and eventually brought down the Numeiri dictatorship that same year.
In response, in an effort by the capitalist class to demobilize the working class, a military coup deposed Numeiri’s rule, reshuffled the military, and held bourgeois elections. Yet, this was not a revolution due to the fact that the capitalist state remained. At its heart the capitalist state is made up of the institutions of capitalist oppression including the police, prisons, courts, and military. Almost none of the strike demands were met and no significant changes were made. Sharia law remained in place. The strike did, however, force presidential elections. Yet, the elections were meaningless on many levels, including the fact that the South Sudanese were not allowed to vote. Likewise, the SPLM were not brought into the elections. The Sudanese Communist Party did run candidates, but in part due to repression under the Numeiri dictatorship which included executions and mass jailings of SCP members and leaders, the SCP received only three seats out of 360. Elected to the presidency was Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi of the Umma Party. Like Numeiri he was another Islamist with no anti-capitalist program and no real solutions to Sudan’s problems.
In 1989 a new coup overthrew the elected government and brought in another Islamic dictatorship, this time led by the current dictator of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir. After Bashir’s coup, thousands of labor activists, communists and nationalists were imprisoned, tortured, and murdered by his regime. The United States backed Bashir’s new coup regime in its early years. In just a few years, however, the United States completely switched sides in the Sudanese civil war.
After the capitalist counter-revolution in the USSR and the overthrow of the nominally Marxist government of Ethiopia, the opportunist leadership of the SPLM/A dropped all talk of socialism and turned to the west in its attempts to gain sponsorship. This happened in 1991 as SPLM/A leader John Garang stated explicitly:
“Socialism has come to an end; I and my movement, the SPLM/A, has now joined the political wind that is changing the world and blowing to the West.”
As a capitalist and pro-imperialist movement, John Garang quickly got the support from the United States he wanted. This came as retaliation from George Bush Senior against the Bashir government. Bashir refused to back George Bush Senior’s war against Iraq in 1991. As result, Bush Senior turned against its long held ally in Sudan’s capital of Khartoum, labeling Sudan a terrorist state and giving military aid to the SPLM/A instead of the Bashir dictatorship. All total, the United States provided the SPLA with $2 billion in military aid to fight the central Khartoum government.
The SPLA/M’s opportunistic capitalist leadership betrayed the promises they made for the revolution. Yet those promises were tiny anyway when so much more is needed. The fact that SPLA/M’s program lacked a socialist and anti-imperialist program assured that grinding poverty and national oppression would continue under their rule. It assured that little would change with independence except the religion and languages of the oppressors and the colors of the national flag. The SPLA/M, as a group with little to offer in terms of liberation, was able to get the support of U.S. imperialism.
To the extent that the SPLA/M was fighting against slavery, national oppression, and Islamic law they were fighting for an inherently just cause. Yet, some of the oppression found under Sharia law remains in the independent South pushed by Christian churches. This includes ten year jail penalties for homosexuality and abortion remaining illegal. In addition, the reintroduction of Bashir’s troops into the South may wipe away gains made against slavery.
Human Rights Abuses of the SPLM/A in the Struggle For Power
The SPLM/A, while fighting for the popular cause of independence had a number of human rights abuses under its belt before coming to power that are indicative of an organization that does not have the concern for humanity that is necessary of a liberation movement. Among these, Africa Watch documented the SPLA’s 1986 slaughter of about 20 Ugandan refugees as part of driving 35,000 Ugandan refugees back into Uganda from South Sudan. With the fear and panic this mass murder created, the tactic worked. By forcing the Ugandans refugees out, the SPLM/A gained control of the sorghum crops that the refugees had planted.
Another particularly troubling practice has been the SPLA’s use of child soldiers. Children were abducted, as young as seven years of age, and held against their will in camps to break and train them before sending them into combat. Human Rights Watch describes "the conditions in some of these camps have been described as 'heartrending': no schooling, no hygiene, few caretakers, ragged clothing, disease and little food." Thousands of abducted children died of starvation, in part because corrupt commanders sold food intended for the children to make money. Children were sent to the front lines for combat where they were slaughtered in huge numbers because they were just too young to fight. Others were kept as child slaves. Since independence child soldiers are being demobilized, but some still remain in the SPLA.
After the SPLA took power, Amnesty International’s Africa Director Audrey Gaughran reported in 2012, “Far from bringing security to the region, the SPLA and the police auxiliary forces have committed shocking human rights violations and the authorities are doing very little to stop the abuse.”
Among these, Amnesty International said they “documented credible reports of rape and attempted rape by SPLA forces.” One description is of an elderly woman who explained how a soldier “raped her daughter while other soldiers were beating her and her granddaughter with large sticks.” As a result her “granddaughter was left unconscious”.
From 2012 to mid 2013 SPLA government soldiers targeted the Murle ethnic group for murder and other abuses. Human Rights Watch documented the “unlawful killings of almost 100 members of the Murle ethnic group between December 2012 and July 2013” in 24 separate incidents. They also describe how “the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) soldiers burned and looted homes, physically and verbally abused civilians, and destroyed schools, churches, and the compounds of aid agencies providing life-saving assistance.” Far from protecting the Murle people, Human Rights Watch accuses the South Sudan government of driving them into harms way. Within only six months of independence, 3,000 people were dead in fights between the Murle and Nuer nationalities.
While civilians were targeted, the mass murder that was committed against the Murle people was a counterinsurgency fight against rebels fighting for a separate state within South Sudan. Igniting the separatist movement of the Murle people was the abusive forced disarmament of the Murle people by the SPLA. Human Rights Watch found that the Merle people also lacked confidence in UN troops for protection. As violence escalated, the Murle people turned to the separatist rebels for protection. Those rebels are also blamed for human rights abuses.
Both Sudan and South Sudan are prison houses of nations. South Sudan contains 64 tribes, or nationalities, with separate customs and languages. The horrendous poverty and want created by capitalism and imperialism that is faced by the majority of people creates conflict over scarce resources. In addition, the capitalist system tends to oppress certain nations and give privileges to others. This is often part of a divide and rule strategy intended to keep the oppressed and exploited fighting each other rather than uniting against the exploiters. While ending some of the oppression carried out by northern Sudan against South Sudan, the capitalist program of the SPLA/M offers no so solutions to never ending ethnic conflicts. In fact, the new set of oppressors and exploiters now empowered in South Sudan are now guilty of fanning the flames of ethnic conflicts.
A key to bringing peace between nationalities in the young USSR was the establishment of a federation of socialist republics where smaller oppressed nationalities would have the right to live and work using their native languages. While the USSR’s socialist economy moved to procure the right to the necessities of life, national rights were also a priority moving rapidly to provide republics where each nationality would control their own territory within a federation of socialist republics. The Czar’s banning of languages was ended. Within the new republics language rights, including in education, were guaranteed. This was a central task of the Russian Revolution, as V.I. Lenin, pointed out:
“To throw off the feudal yoke, all national oppression, and all privileges enjoyed by any particular nation or language, is the imperative duty of the proletariat as a democratic force, and is certainly in the interests of the proletarian class struggle, which is obscured and retarded by bickering on the national question.” -Critical Remarks on the National Question (1913)
These are critical tasks for the revolutionary socialist vanguard everywhere, including South Sudan and Sudan. For Leninist-Trotskyists, our position is strongly in favor of South Sudan’s right to independence. Yet, realistically, we have no hope that an independent South Sudan under the brutal capitalist leadership of the SPLA/M will ever bring major improvements. Not on the questions of national oppression that plague South Sudan, nor on the critical economic questions. In fact, it appears that the SPLA/M under President Kiir may even fail on the critical task of national liberation by inviting Bashir’s troops back in. As opposed to the SPLA/M’s capitalist program of betrayal, a revolutionary socialist party must be built, fighting for national liberation and socialism based on the Leninist-Trotskyist program of permanent revolution.
This was part two of:
Imperialist Hands Off South Sudan, Sudan, and Darfur! Down With Both Governments! For Workers and Peasants Revolution!
This is an article covering the current situation in South Sudan, northern Sudan, Darfur, the history of colonialism in Sudan, the role of China, the history of the communist and rebel movements in Sudan, and the unacceptable role of U.S. imperialism in the conflicts taking place. To catch the next installment of this article, subscribe free to Liberation News:
To read the previous article in this series, see:
Obama Backs Genocidal Government in South Sudan
The author of this article is Steven Argue of the Revolutionary Tendency. For related subjects from this author, see:
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Former slave Francis Bok describes his experience as a slave from age 7 to 17.