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You are here: The Platypus Affiliated Society/“Leave the global South to itself”: An interview with Mohamed Khalifa and Osama Saeed

“Leave the global South to itself”: An interview with Mohamed Khalifa and Osama Saeed

D. L. Jacobs, Artendy Malik, and Lucy Parker

Platypus Review 168 | July - August 2024

On March 16, 2024, Platypus Affiliated Society members D. L. Jacobs, Artendy Malik, and Lucy Parker interviewed Sudanese Communist Party members Mohamed Khalifa and Osama Saeed. An edited transcript follows.

Artendy Malik: When did you join the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP)[1] and why?

Osama Saeed: I joined in 1991, while in secondary school. Even though it was after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in Sudan we had the Islamic front military coup d’état in 1989. There was massive opposition to the coup from pro-democracy parties within the student movement. The SCP played a vital role within the student movement in schools. My father was a Communist and then became a right winger anyway. I took it from there. To oppose the Islamists with a pro-democracy movement, within the student movement.

Mohamed Khalifa: I joined the SCP in 1995, when I was in my fourth year of medical school. Before that the SCP had alliances — we called them “fronts” — with the democrats who also agreed with the SCP program; their main aim was to lead in a non-capitalist way. There was a democratic front in all universities in Sudan, and most of the members who joined from universities or secondary schools usually started by first joining the democratic front, which was the alliance between the Communists and the democrats. I joined the students’ democratic front first in 1993 and later joined the SCP.

I was studying economics in secondary school and we read about the West European experience and Eastern Europe, but I was interested in English history with the Labour Party, the conservatives, and the mixed economy. So I was more pro-“socialist” at that time. But, the SCP is the spearhead of the Left in Sudan, so I joined the SCP in 1996, during university.

DLJ: What was the Party like when you joined? You mentioned that the SCP had been around for decades and a significant history since the beginning of the independence of Sudan (1956). Osama mentioned the coup of 1989, so there was a democratic opposition. How was the SCP thinking about its past and present?

MK: It’s important to recall the background of the establishment of the SCP in 1946. That was before Sudan’s independence. The Party’s founding was influenced by two groups. One group was the Egyptian communist movement. Within it was Henri Curiel, a Jewish Italian man, who started some circles of communism in Egypt, although the party in Egypt was established before that, in the 1920s. But it wasn’t that prominent until the 1940s, when Curiel established the Democratic Movement for National Liberation. At that time the Sudanese who went to Egypt for their studies, started the first early stages of what we call the Sudanese Movement for National Liberation. But at the same time there was a circle in Sudan who had been influenced by some of the British army officers who were communists, and had brought books by Marx and Lenin and so on, like Herbert Storey, who was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. During that period the SCP was founded in the late 40s.

The first period during the struggle for independence which lasted from 1946 to 56, the party line was “self-determination for the Sudanese people.” This political line was directed against the line that was pro-Egypt, which called for unity and union with Egypt at the same time there was another line who was pro-Britain. The SCP adopted a third way: self-determination. During this period the SCP was recruiting from the new professionals, students, and most importantly the rising working class. Because Sudan mainly depends on agriculture, the working class was not well established at that time. However, the first nuclei of trade unions was established under the influence of the SCP. The Party was highly successful in organizing the railway workers in Atbara, a city in the center of Sudanese railways. In the 1950s, the Sudan Workers Trade Union Federation became one of the strongest trade unions in the Middle East. That was established under the influence of the SCP. The party was also able to have a strong influence on the tenants association in Gezira, which was the main cotton-grower trade union in the 50s and the beginning of the 60s. The SCP had a considerable number of members and sympathizers in vital sections of Sudanese society, but mainly the members were students from universities or secondary school.

OS: From what I understand, the question is, what is the type of organizational tasks or political activities that the SCP had after the coup? We’ve been through a period of the most repressive sort of dictatorship in the world because it’s a theocratic dictatorship. Their main flag is jihadism, and their jihad is against the communists. They knew well the communist influence among students and organized sectors of the workers, either working-class trade unions or professional trade unions, etc. They started crushing the Party straightaway: mass arrests; people put in prison by the hundreds during the first 4 years of the military coup. The SCP went underground, and the party had a long experience in doing so. It started to function through the underground structure which was based in work, resident, and student branches.

Students are always the spearhead and the flame of the people’s movement. So they always will be in the forefront within the confrontation against the government or the security apparatus, such as the police. There will always be a protest about the student union having problems, student campaigns about their residences, etc. In the University of Khartoum where Mohamad studied, in the first three years they had four students murdered by members of the Islamic Front.

There was a general strike called by the trade unions to oppose the coup. There were elected trade unions which had been disbanded by the coup. The strike was called by the Doctors Union before it spread out to others. They crushed the strike. Ali Fadul, our first trade-unionist doctor and Party full timer, was tortured and killed in 1991. We had to work underground, away from the student branches and democratic fronts within the students. This was the climate: intimidation, arrests, etc. The Party was secretly producing and distributing the al-Midan newspaper. The main leadership and cadre of the SCP were in prison.

MK: We were witnesses of the background of the Party in the 90s because we were there. Before that, the SCP had a major setback in the early 70s, the impact of which continued into the 80s.

LP: Is it true that the SCP decided to run not as a communist party in 1953?

MK: Yes, that’s right; at that time it was the Anti-Imperialist Front.[2] The reason is that the country was still traditional. The prominent parties were traditional, religious, etc. It was hard for society to accept a new party with a new ideology. That’s one of the reasons the SCP decided to broaden the alliance against imperialism.

OS: The election of 1953 was about independence. The country was run by British colonialism, and they had a smart way to rule the country: they called it a condominium, and it was ruled over by the British and Egyptians. The agreement for Sudan’s independence came about after Gamel Nasser, et al., led the Egyptian Revolution of 1952. It was agreed that Sudan will be for the Sudanese, and it will have self-determination, etc. After independence, the SCP declared itself to be communist. Until then, it had been part of the anti-imperialist front, in which many people participated — not just communists. We managed to get a member of Parliament elected at that time.

MK: Sudanese independence was achieved in 1956, and after only a few years of democracy there was a coup in 58. That was the second phase of the history of the SCP. During this period the Party defended its power based on the opposition to the military regime; it joined the front of opposition parties, which included former civilian political parties. More importantly, the SCP had a dominant position in trade unions in addition to student and professional organizations, which enabled the Party to call the general strike that brought down the military regime during the so-called October Revolution in 1964.

After this regime was brought down, the SCP was unable to take advantage of its enhanced position between 1964 and 69. During the first general election in May 1965 the Communists won 11 seats, including the first woman elected. Although it wasn’t a big number, it was significant for a communist party in a traditional society.

With the rising communist tide, the Muslim Brotherhood (at that time the Muslim Brotherhood was relatively new) launched a campaign against the SCP, accusing the Party of being an atheist and anti-islamic organization. This campaign ended with the SCP being outlawed in November 1965. In an effort to work around this ban, the Party nominated some members as independents in the 1968 elections, and secured two seats. Then on May 25, 1969, there was another military takeover by the Free Officers,[3] spearheaded by Gaafar Nimeiry. In that period there was a split in the SCP concerning what stance the Party should take.

DLJ: I understand that the Egyptian experience and maybe the Indonesian experience — namely the Egyptian and Indonesian Communist Parties being smashed by their respective nationalist Free Officers — had an influence on the debates within the SCP.[4] The Soviet Union’s program at the time was considering how communist parties might relate to “progressive nationalists” or the “progressive bourgeoisie”: should the parties be subordinate to them? Should they be in a mass front together? Should there be a separate party?

MK: This is an important question because the May 1969 military coup bears resemblance to what happened in Egypt and some other Arab countries, where free officers took power and adopted socialist policies, expecting the communist and Marxist parties to become subordinate to them. That was one of the reasons for the division within the SCP in September 1970, as one faction supported the revolutionary army movement due to its “progressive” and “anti-sectarian” character. Additionally, some of the members of the SCP were appointed as ministers. The other section, led by the Party secretary Abdel Khaliq Mahjub, condemned the 1969 military coup in general and pursued the SCP’s previous goal of establishing a broad national democratic front in which the SCP would retain its independence rather than dissolve in the union. So these tensions between the regime and the SCP arose to the extent that Nimeiry announced his intention to destroy the Party, dissolving the Communist-dominated student, women, and youth organizations as well.

To preempt this expected repression, SCP officers, such as Major Hashem al-Atta, launched a “counter-coup” on July 19, 1971. They arrested Nimeiry, and declared Sudan a democratic republic. However, due to a lack of preparation and strong Libyan and Egyptian intervention, the coup failed after three days. The Communist leaders were arrested and executed, including Abdel Khaliq Mahjub, El-Shafi Ahmed el-Sheikh, Joseph Garang, alongside Major al-Atta, Colonel Babikir al-Nur Osman, and Major Farouk Hamadallah.

DLJ: You said that Muammar Gaddafi’s government in Libya intervened on the side of Nimeiry.

MK: Yes. At that time, Colonel Osman and Major Hamadallah were here, in London, for a health check-up, when they were appointed by Major al-Atta to the new revolutionary council. Gaddafi dispatched fighter jets to force down the British airline jet carrying these new leaders.

OS: Let’s talk about the debate within the SCP, about the way forward for the revolution itself and the rule of the Free Officers and their pact of Arab-nationalism. The Free Officers were within the Sudanese army. They were maintained by Arab nationalists: some were Nasserists and others were SCP members. But, the debate goes back within the Party itself, back after it was made illegal and Members of Parliament were arrested. There were public debates within the Party’s central committee between Abdel Khaliq Mahjub and Ahmad Sulayman about the way forward. Sulayman was publicly calling to “follow the Egyptian road and have a military coup: this is a civil dictatorship and we have to lead a revolution to rule the army,” etc. That debate took root, and spread to the army officers as well. The Arab nationalists were aiming for military coups. We as communists think that the Arab nationalists — Ba’athists[5] or Nasserists — don’t believe in the revolution building from the bottom up. They believe in straightaway, petit-bourgeois military coups to get to power. Then some among them fight for power, and it continues.

When the split happened, the vote was 12 to 13; 13 were against dissolving the Party within the military coup and wanted to maintain the SCP independently to continue the revolutionary task among the working class from the bottom up. Others went with the coup. This split resulted in the July 1971 coup, which had been controversial within the Party until recently, and it had led to the Party leadership’s confusion within the army, within the political wing, and to the arrest of thousands of communists for years. It was a massive debate about arab nationalism and the way forward, and the role of the army within the revolution and army officers and stuff like that. That weakened the SCP very much. It’s still building itself up; it took years to rebuild.

LP: This ideology of a uniquely “Arab socialism” has had a lot of purchase in different contexts. We had an article a number of years ago in the Platypus Review looking at the history of the Ba’athist Party in Iraq, versus the Iraqi Communist Party, and obviously Nasserism is another example of this, in Egypt.[6] Does the SCP have a critique of Arab socialism as a uniquely Arab — as opposed to an international socialist — project?

OS: Yes. I was discussing it earlier with another comrade. These ideas came up within the Arab communist movement in the 1930s. Later on Michel Aflaq, the founder of the Ba’athist Party, picked it up from there, and called it Arab nationalism and socialism, etc. As the Communist Party in Sudan, we say, yes, we are a part of the Middle East, but Sudan is unique.

Don’t forget, straightaway we had the “Southern question,” as it used to be called, in Sudan. The question of South Sudan, and how it would be incorporated after independence, after its suffering through the colonial era by what the British called the “South Sudan Ordinance Act,” which closed areas of the South totally from the North, etc. As Sudanese Communists we were not enticed at all by so-called Arab socialism. No. We were more towards an International sort of socialism than the Soviet Union version of it. But even within that, for example, at the 1967 conference, we had documents titled, “Marxism and Sudanese Issues.” In many chapters we talked about Arab liberation movements, and African liberation movements and whether we should work together in solidarity towards building a socialist society in Africa or in the Middle East. But this wasn’t spoken of in terms of any kind of Nationalism. As Sudanese Communists, we are the main enemy of all the Arab nationalists — the Ba’athists, the Nasserists, et al. We were not a part of that at all, politically or theoretically.

DLJ: You were talking about 1971, which led to mass repression. Years of work building up the mass movement amongst trade unions, among peasants. When we think of a party, we think of it as a repository for historical knowledge: that these different moments in the Sudanese Communist Party, could be passed down. One of the reasons I asked about how things were in the 1990s is because I was wondering how history was received. How did people reflect on 1971, 1969, and earlier? How did they learn what ought to be done, from the 1990s onward? How was this history taught to young cadres?

OS: Because of secret organizational rules, there was dysfunction. There is therefore no proper archive being kept or passed down. With this legacy, one of the main issues was a lack of writing. Much of it has been passed down through Party talks, experiences, storytelling, along with drinking sessions and conversation. We’d talk about mistakes in organizational tasks, etc. Within the student movement, they did write about their experiences, and they would give these texts to new members — mistakes to be learned from, etc. Most of the Party’s archive is safe in Holland, at the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam.

MK: Yeah, but at the same time, the Party has reflected on what has happened during the coup in 1971. And they referred to the coup in 1971 as a “corrective measure.” Later on, the Party released a document stating clearly that this had been a coup, and that the Party should continue the struggle from the bottom up, rather than this route, which was ill-prepared and fatal. The main motive of the SCP members was that they felt threatened by Nimeiry, but that wasn’t the right way to correct things.

DLJ: First it was called a corrective measure, and now it is called a coup?

OS: There was a move to call it a coup. It was a political stance. They used a very Arabic phrase: “we don’t deny” or “we don’t claim” a coup. That was the stance until the uprising in 1995, then the document came out, saying that that it was a “petit-bourgeois military coup” perpetrated by “the Right,” and that the way of the Party is through “building the masses” and “working in the masses from the bottom up.” So that was the stance. It was a call against the dictatorship, for the Party members to maintain solidarity and strength — that they not be crushed by the death of the leadership and imprisonment of thousands of them.

MK: During the early 1990s, although the Party was working underground, some of the members had been forced to leave their country, to Europe, Egypt, etc. That’s when they started opening general discussions among Party members, especially after the fall of the Soviet Union. There was open discussion, even about the internal structure of the Party, about democratic centralism, about the way forward. That was a healthy discussion, which later paved the way for open discussion at the Fifth Congress in 2009. The Fourth Congress was in 1967.

AM: From the SCP’s founding, through to the 1971 coup, to the Soviet Union’s collapse, how was the relationship between the Party and the Soviet Union?

MK: After the 1969 coup, the Soviet Union encouraged the SCP to support the change and to accept the involvement of some Party members as ministers in the new cabinet. However, the main faction of the SCP was keen to maintain the Party’s independence and was not in full agreement. The USSR had adopted a pragmatic stance against the 1969 coup. However, after the coup of 1971 and the execution of Party members, the Soviet Union strongly condemned it.

When Nimeiry returned in 1971, he took a different path, after having been a Leftist, or pro-Leftist; he shifted towards the United States, and from 1977 on he started adopting neoliberal policies. During that period the SCP was underground. And by the time of the 1985 uprising, when Nimeiry was overthrown, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union started to adopt glasnost[7] policies.

The SCP is a Marxist-Leninist party, and it maintained good relations with the Soviet Union. However, it didn’t replicate European models. Recognising Sudan’s unique context — predominantly agrarian and hence distinct from Europe — the Party recognized the need to adapt its ideology and agenda accordingly. Party leader Abdul Khaliq Mahjub held notably independent views in this way.

OS: It was a love-hate relationship with the Soviet Union. The USSR had their own views of the global South and of fighting U.S. imperialism. The USSR supported the first military coup in Sudan in 1958. Mahjub went and met with them. Even at that time Sudanese students had been sent messages from the SCP that anything might happen regarding this military dictatorship, and to be prepared. The SCP was not following the Comintern[8] line. That’s why the USSR was not happy with the SCP and its leadership, even after 1971.

But, the SCP maintained the relationship in terms of sending students to study in the Eastern bloc — not just communist students, but whoever got access to these scholarships in Sudanese society. We didn’t get arms from the USSR — just education, and sometimes medical care.

DLJ: You mentioned learning the lesson of building from the grass roots up, and you carried this method forward into the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s.

OS: To build a pro-democracy movement we’re always building our Communist Party united front through the popular front. We bring even the Right-wing, religious base and parties into the popular front to defend democracy. Despite their religious and Right-wing political and economic programs, their base is the working class and poor farmers, along with the nomads and herders. So you have to bring them to you, if you want to build a mass movement for democracy, you have to bring them to you. We are not fighting to build a Left-wing, socialist front.

We worked on that throughout the 1990s, until we came to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA)[9] that functioned until 2003 — because the Americans were already designing the peace between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM)[10] and President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s Islamic Government, a peace which was completed with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005.[11] The NDA was dissolved after that.

The hope was that the six-year transitional period of 2005–11 would be attractive enough for the South Sudanese people to work for unity. But that agreement was already done to separate the South. And after the South’s separation, we’ve got to renew the struggle against the dictatorship in the North, led by the National Congress Party (NCP).[12]

We rebuilt another popular front called the National Consensus Forces.[13] And that carried on working until the 2019 Revolution.[14] We had been working within it. But there’s a vital thing to think about here: we are established and we exist within all the public meetings, and all the party flyers and statements, to say that the dictatorship has to be brought down by a popular uprising, a general political strike, and civil disobedience. Building this front is necessary to do that. The contradiction within the front comes out of these Right-wing parties having their own political goals related to the regional and imperial power within Sudan.

DLJ: I brought up the 1969–71 moment because it seemed like the debate at the time was concerned with this question of mass democracy and the independence of the Party. How has that come to bear now regarding the 2019 Revolution and the present moment?

OS: It’s always there! It’s always this evil circle! The masses still don’t hold their own agency in terms of maintaining and solidifying their power. So they always get sold out by the Right-wing leadership. And we always knew that! But you have to work within this contradiction. We often have this debate especially within the younger cadre in the Party: “Why do we always have alliances with the Right when they’re always selling out the Sudanese people?,” “Why shouldn’t we work independently through our own democratic and united front?” Those parties, like it or not, have the masses among them, and the masses are supposed to be our supporters and members, but still they give their support to their religious sects, etc. In order to work among them, you work within a coalition of their leadership in the popular front in addition to working with the masses at the grassroots level. At the end of the day, we would be lying if we said that we’d lead it ourselves as the “Communists,” because we don’t hold the masses; the masses are not with us.

MK: The Party line now is looking for a radical change alliance, aiming to break this vicious circle of having an uprising and then divisions between the civilian front, leading to another coup, and then you build the grass roots, and then again the civilian front, etc. This is a vital question. That is why the Party now thinks that the way forward is to build an alliance at the grassroots level. Since 2019, the resistance committees have emerged. They are well organized, and they’ve been mobilizing the masses, especially after another coup on October 25, 2021.[15] We need to think about building alliances with trade unions, resistance committees, and different fronts, but at the same time we are not going to dismiss the Right-wing parties completely, because they still have the support of the masses.

LP: When doing grassroots organizing in Sudan, how do you address people’s discontents? How do you critique the Right-wing groups? Do you critique Islam?

What would you say to the Left elsewhere in the UK or the U.S.? There’s often confusion about how to build a critique of Right-wing, Islamist political movements. This comes from an anti-imperialist perspective on the Left. In Western countries there’s a reticence to critiquing Islamist groups. What would you say to Western Leftists about that?

OS: On the first part, I wish you could speak Arabic so that you could hear how much we confront those bastards in Sudan. We are not shy about it; we confront them at the public meetings, student meetings, and all sorts of fronts. We criticize them publicly and absolutely — no retreat. Period.

We differentiate between the role of religion in people’s lives and political Islam, or even other Right-wing sects that use religion for Sudanese politics. That’s why they still fight us as an “atheist” political faction: we are disorienting society, making it an “infidel,” irreligious society — all this propaganda about communism from the mid-20th century is still being used.

Our generation, especially in the universities, grew up dealing with the harshest period of Islamism. The National Islamic Front in Sudan tried to be the leader of the Sunni world, because it was a Sunni government starting in 1989. The Islamic Front declared jihad against us. They came at us on the university campus with knives, iron bars, pistols, and AK-47s. We have no excuses not to defy them on all fronts — physically, theoretically, politically.

Concerning the Left in the West, I understand the case of imperialism, colonialism, and Islamophobia: they think you have to stand by these religious organizations. For example, when we met with People Before Profit[16] in Ireland, they asked us about our stance on Hamas. And I said to them, they’re bastards! Totally bastards! We’ve faced them in Sudan, they’ve been in Sudan since the early 1990s. They trained there; they tortured Sudanese people; they participated in Sudanese violence — we’re familiar with this kind of organization.

We support the Palestinians struggle, not Hamas’s struggle. The Palestinian people’s struggle for liberation, armed struggle, peaceful democratic struggle, whatever. But, if the Palestinian people themselves elected Hamas, that’s the Palestinians’ people’s choice! It’s not up to us to decide. But it’s not a clean sheet to support Hamas or Hezbollah, because these kinds of organizations have a bloody history within their own people. Hezbollah in Lebanon: they killed the communists. They killed them. And it’s called a “resistance movement” — whatever.

So, for the Western Marxists, I want to tell them, fix your bloody Left issues in Britain or whatever, and leave the global South to itself. They’ll sort themselves out; they are answering their own questions and leading their own revolutions. In Britain, since 1921, there has been no general strike, let alone a revolution. Yet they like to teach people, the colonial minds, “this is the way forward, and the revolution has to be like so,” and their “uneven-and-combined-development” Trotskyist perspective — despite not knowing what’s going on in Africa.

DLJ: How does one justify the need for a communist party? The whole fear of being in a popular front is not simply working with the Right wing, but that you would dissolve into the front. The need for a communist party would be rendered superfluous or redundant — why have a party if we’re in a mass democratic movement? How do you approach the question of the necessity of a communist party?

OS: We make it clear to all members, and they understand it well, that participation with the popular front does not mean that we become absorbed in it. No! The Communist Party maintains its independence; it maintains its independent organizational and political activity. For these fronts to function properly, they depend on the Communist Party’s independence among the people — expressing the people’s voice, having an opinion on every political, economic, and social issue. Those Right-wing parties in the front won’t budge. They would destroy it without us.The SCP maintains itself because it maintains its independence. Even with the dictatorship and in its secretive way, the Party paper has to be published, and we speak out in any chance we have. We have internal, semi-public meetings under the dictatorship. We hold our meetings in houses, with 50–60 people there, and you talk to them about the Party’s political lines. To maintain the Party, its independent Party lines need to be heard by the people. We have our representatives in the front, but our main task is with the Party.

MK: For example, at the beginning, the SCP was a member of the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC).[17] In spite of us being part of the alliance, we issued our own statements and even criticized the FFC’s agreement with the military council.

Let’s return to the question of the Islamic Right wing. The Right wing in Sudan is a big umbrella. Some of them were part of the civilian alliances that supported democracy and were against the Muslim Brotherhood. However, the political Islamists of Sudan are different than elsewhere. In other countries, there was no real experience of Islamists coming to power. Even in Egypt, it was for a short period. In Sudan the Islamists are not anti-capitalist. From the first day, Sudanese Islamists had a very good relationship with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. They adopted all the structural adjustments of the World Bank. They had a good relationship with the CIA as well. They are not part of the resistance. Even in 1977, during Nimeiry’s reign, the Islamists were part of the government alliance, when the Jewish diaspora came from Ethiopia, through Sudan, to Israel. The Islamists weren’t anti-capitalist or anti-imperialist in any way.

AM: I would like to cover some events from 2005, specifically the independence of South Sudan from the North. There has even been a communist party that started in the South, the Communist Party of South Sudan (CPSS).[18] What is the SCP’s stance regarding South Sudan: is it for or against it — and what about this new party?

OS: The independence of South Sudan is the same self-determination that was granted by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and we, as communists, believe in self-determination. However, the way it was designed, along with the general atmosphere, led to separation, which was the aim of the imperialist powers. They wanted to do as the Islamists and the right-wing leadership of the SPLA say in Sudan: we can’t deny the southern Sudanese the right for their self-determination. We had to accept the result, but we still want Sudan to be unified. And we want a unified Sudan because what is happening is just continuous bloodshed in southern Sudan in terms of SPLA factions and tribal problems; it is bleeding out the resources of Sudan. Before Southern Sudan independence, 9% of its land was bought by agri-businesses. I don’t know how much of it is owned, with the ongoing civil war in southern Sudan, but major Israeli agricultural companies are exporting from Sudan, and taking their products to Israel. Even with this war going on, Sudan is one of the biggest producers of coffee beans, but nobody mentions that within world trade, because it’s smuggled. It’s not accounted for immediately because it is cowboy capitalism.

We accepted the result because we didn’t have anything else. In the early 1950s, when the question of independence came up, we called for self-governed South Sudan, as autonomous but unified with Sudan. We called for it to have special economic and social plans to develop it and to be incorporated within the political structure of Sudan, but the Right-wing party didn’t allow it to happen — so now there’s a Communist Party of South Sudan as well. SCP members working in the government, who returned to the South or were already there, established the CPSS.

The CPSS is weak because they’ve been crushed by the SPLA, along with tribalism and political factionalism, which are more dominant in South Sudan. That’s why they are in a weaker position calling for South Sudanese unity, a pro-democracy movement, trade-union building, etc. The SPLA is doing the nastiest thing you could imagine. They crush you wherever they can, so there is no voice for a peaceful, democratic movement. The CPSS has built a popular front among civil society in South Sudan, but its voice is weaker there, where having bigger guns and bigger tribes gives one the stronger voice.

DLJ: Since 2019, how do you see socialism or communism as potentially providing a solution to the conflicts that have been happening? In other words, why pursue communism, as opposed to being a democrat? Why does one have to be a socialist or a communist?

MK: As communists, we analyzed the Sudanese problem through a Marxist lens, and concluded that the main issue is social injustice and the unequal distribution of wealth and power. This is a fundamental problem and a root cause of the ongoing conflict, regardless of whether it’s a proxy war or not. The problem is inequality and social injustice. Some groups and parties believe this problem solely stems from the superstructure or culture, attributing it to Arab and Muslim domination, rather than focusing on economic, social injustice and wealth-distribution issues. Regional inequalities exacerbate the problem. Regarding the economy, we believe we shouldn’t rely solely on loans but on our own resources. While we may need to engage with institutions like the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund, we must strive for independence, with the government playing a significant role in the economy. Our ultimate goal is a non-capitalist economy, but we recognize the need to form a broad front initially. We advocate for a mixed economy with a substantial governmental role.

OS: We say to people that the ultimate solution is socialism, but we cannot simply jump to it out of this period when the country is engulfed in civil wars, tribalism, sectarianism, and divisions. We have to have a base of stability; even liberal democracy, with all its flaws, could be a base. Then you build and organize the working class. As Lenin says, liberal democracy, with all its issues, is the best way to organize the working class and to lead their political emancipation. It won’t come without stability. It won’t come with these wars happening. We have to maintain a politically stable system, rooted in the people, who can fight for their freedom and democratic rights. We’ll take it from there to build the economic and social structure that will lead us to socialism. | P

[1] Founded in 1946 as the Sudanese Movement for National Liberation (SMNL); it became the Sudanese Communist Party in 1956.

[2] Founded in 1952 by the SMNL.

[3] Also known as the Revolutionary Command Council. This coup was against the government of President Ismail al-Azhari.

[4] See Alain Gresh, “The Free Officers And The Comrades: The Sudanese Communist Party And Nimeiri Face-To-Face, 1969–1971,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 21, no. 3 (August 1989): 393, 396.

[5] The Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party (Iraqi-dominated faction) has a regional branch in Sudan, which was founded in 1970. The faction was founded in 1966 when the original Ba’ath Party split into two parties that retained the same name, with one party becoming established in Syria while the other was based in Iraq. The original Ba’ath Party was founded in Syria in 1947 by the merger of the Arab Ba’ath Movement, led by Michel Aflaq and Salah, and the Arab Ba’ath Party, led by Zaki al-Arsuzi.

[6] See Ian Morrison, “Ba’athism and the history of the Left in Iraq: Violence and politics,” Platypus Review 3 (March 2008), available online at <>.

[7] [Russian] Openness, transparency, etc. The term was used as a political slogan by USSR General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986.

[8] The Communist International, also known as the Third International.

[9] The NDA was a group of Sudanese political parties that formed in 1989 to oppose the new government of al-Bashir.

[10] The SPLM is the political wing of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), which was founded in 1983 as a guerrilla movement against the Sudanese government. The SPLA is now known as the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces.

[11] Also known as the Naivasha Agreement, this accord was signed on January 9, 2005. This was an agreement to end the Second Sudanese Civil War. A referendum took place on January 9–15, 2011 concerning the independence of South Sudan, and it was decided that it would become an independent state on July 9, 2011.

[12] Founded in 1998 by key figures of the National Islamic Front. The NCP was banned by the Sovereignty Council of Sudan after the military coup of 2019. The National Islamic Front, Founded in 1976 and led by Hassan al-Turabi, influenced the Sudanese government starting in 1979 and through the 1990s. In 1999, President al-Bashir expelled al-Turabi from the NCP; al-Turabi founded the rival Popular Congress Party in the same year.

[13] Formed in 2010 as a group of Sudanese political parties that sought to compete against the NCP in the elections of that year.

[14] In the 2019 coup, the Sudanese Armed Forces overthrew the government of al-Bashir.

[15] In this coup, the Sudanese military, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, took control of the government, and placed Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok under house arrest. Hamdok was reinstated, after al-Burhan signed a political agreement, on November 21, 2021.

[16] Founded in 2005 by members of the Socialist Workers Party (UK), People Before Profit is a political party active in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

[17] The FFC was founded on January 1, 2019, during the 2018–19 Sudanese protests, as a coalition of civilian and rebel groups opposed to the government of al-Bashir.

[18] The CPSS was founded in June 2011.