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Five lessons from Sudan and Algeria

Article by The Socialist Newspaper, 9 March 2019

A new wave of mass mobilisations has been on the rise for many weeks in Algeria, and over the past three months in Sudan. It proves that the structural political and economic problems of the regimes – from political authoritarianism to extreme economic liberalism linked to corruption – will continue to spark mass resistance from below, even to the point of uprisings and revolutions, if the conjuncture of class relations and political circumstances is right. The popular uprisings in Sudan and Algeria carry vital lessons for the peoples of the region, of which the following are perhaps the most important:

Lesson 1: The age of popular revolution is not over

For many years the dictatorships and counter-revolutionary forces across the regime have striven not only to physically defeat the Arab Spring of 2011-2013, but to consolidate a bleak ideological picture of revolution as a political choice, presenting it as bringing only misery to the masses and leading inevitably towards defeat.

But the return of the masses to the political scene in Sudan and Algeria confirms that revolution will remain a political choice for the people. In fact, it is the only solution which can overcome the problem of regimes which cannot be reformed. In Algeria, Bouteflika is the public face of corrupt networks of generals and big businessmen, while in Sudan El Bashir heads a bloodstained regime pursuing tough austerity policies on the orders of the International Monetary Fund.

At the same time as the Sudanese and Algerians are rising, a strong protest movement is developing in Morocco, with participation of professionals and trade unionists, while Tunisia is witnessing major workers’ strikes, and in Lebanon there have been mass protests against deteriorating living conditions. Even in Jordan, last June a mass movement forced the King to reverse the government’s economic decisions, and before that we saw the Great Return marches in Palestine. Meanwhile growing popular anger in Egypt and other countries is still looking for a spark to start the fire.

Despite the defeats it has suffered, the memory of the region’s revolutions remains inspiring, offering lessons and experiences. The spectre of revolution still haunts the region’s tyrants. If the uprisings in Sudan and Algeria achieve significant victories in the near future, waves of hope and confidence will spread across the region.

Lesson 2: From the political to the economic and back again

Contrary to the way they have been portrayed in the Arab and even the international media, the uprisings in Sudan and Algeria erupted for more profound reasons than the slogans to which the news coverage reduces them.

In Sudan, the spark was the regime’s decision to triple the price of bread, but after the beginning of the uprising on 19 December, widespread public discontent quickly turned into calls for the downfall of the regime. The people declared there was no room for compromise or negotiation with El Bashir’s bloody regime, which has impoverished them for three decades. “Just go now”, they demanded.

In Algeria the slogans and demands rapidly broadened from rejection of Bouteflika’s fifth presidential term to social demands including ending the unemployment crisis, (29 percent of people under 30 are jobless), as well as protests against high prices and the spread of poverty and corruption (a quarter of the population lives under the poverty line). The movement has continued to raise calls for the “downfall of the regime” and not just against the candidacy of a president who has not been seen in public since 2013 because of his illness.

In other words, the broadening of the mass movement in both countries allowed shifts from the economic to the political (from the price of bread to the fall of the regime in Sudan), and from the political to the economic (from rejecting the fifth term to social demands in Algeria). The breadth of the movement has led to open war on the political front, as well as on the economic and social front. This is what is most terrifying for the dictatorships. One the principal tasks of the two uprisings is to fully integrate struggles on the political and economic fronts, to move towards the overthrow of the system as a whole.

Lesson 3: Confront the manoeuvres of the regimes

The uprisings Sudan and Algeria are escalating, despite a combination of direct repression, blackmail, distortion and deceptive concessions. Since the eruption of the uprising El Bashir has accused “foreign parties” of stirring up protests, and warned demonstrators of colluding with the “conspiracy” and pointing to the economic sanctions imposed on Sudan in order to blackmail the revolutionaries. He made some deceptive concessions, such as calling on parliament to reverse constitutional amendments (which are similar to the constitutional amendments in Egypt which extend the dictator’s stay in power), while in parallel imposing a state of emergency. Yet on the same night, Friday 22 February, thousand responded by marching in more than 80 rallies in different Sudanese cities. Demonstrations and strikes are continuing on a daily basis across the country. The Sudanese uprising broke the myth of fear which the regime has been sowing for more than 30 years.

The regime in Algeria is also manoeuvring with Bouteflika’s pledge to stay in power for a year and then hold early elections, prepare a new constitution and broad reforms, in a manner similar to deposed dictator Mubarak’s claims in 2011 that he “did not intend to run for election”.

The Algerian uprising has also destroyed the myth of the “Black Decade” (1992-2002). The regime has menaced the people for long years with the threat of repeating the horrors of that period in case of opposition to its continuation in power or a challenge to its rule. Throughout that decade, the Algerian waged a cruel war against factions associated with the Islamic Salvation Front (Front Islamique du Salut) after the army cancelled the results of the parliamentary elections in 1991 in response to a clear victory by the Front.

The two uprisings have reached a stage where falling for these manoeuvres, or responding to this blackmail, will unleash a vicious campaign of political revenge by the regimes against all their opponents.

Lesson 4: Build for the long term

Great popular uprisings are never born in a vacuum, but rather represent the fruits of years of tireless, hard struggles against the regimes in power. In Sudan, the people never surrendered to El Bashir and his regime. Tens of thousands rose up in [June and July] 2012 against the regime’s harsh economic policies, and in September 2013 also protests spread in many Sudanese cities which were met with brutal violence and the killing of around 200 protesters. Demonstrations and strikes continued to pose a serious challenge for many years before they exploded into the current uprising.

In Algeria as well, there is a history of workers’ strikes which have been building up for years, the most important of which have been the strikes involving tens of thousands of workers in health and education last year over wage policies. Without these clouds gathering on the horizon over the past few years, the mass storms in Algeria and Sudan today would not be raging with such power and resilience. Once again this confirms that popular uprisings require the accumulation of struggles in many battles over a long period, however limited these may seem at the time, and however elusive their victories. This is exactly what we need to see in Egypt today.

Lesson 5: The role of the working class

At the heart of the heroism and resilience of protesters in Sudan stands the “Sudanese Professionals Association”, consisting of eight trade union organisations, which leads demonstrations and strikes on a daily basis against El Bashir. Meanwhile in Algeria some of the trade unions have begun to challenge the regime by rejecting Bouteflika’s fifth term.

There is no doubt that massive popular marches in the two countries are playing a crucial role in the escalating challenge posed by the uprisings. Yet this kind of challenge is one which the regime can tolerate, and there is a danger that it will continue to repress marches and demonstrations over long periods of time. This is why the two uprisings need decisive intervention by major sections of the working class to stop the wheels of production (or rather the wheels of exploitation), through open-ended mass strikes, in order to open up major fissures within the two regimes. The steadfastness of the escalating mass rallies has stayed the regimes’ fist. But there remains an urgent need for a decisive blow, through coordinated action from the working class, acting as a class in the workplaces, to paralyse the regimes and bring them to their knees.