Nonetheless, after a brutal massacre by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in 2019, the initial revolutionary phase in Sudan was brought to an end, and counter-revolutionary negotiations — denounced by the resistance committees but not liberal and middle class forces — led to a power-sharing agreement, a mixed civilian and military government, which almost inevitably led to the military coup of 2021. And just over two months ago, tensions between two militias, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the RSF, burst out into all-out war, with the SAF bombing RSF bases in Khartoum and the RSF taking over homes, each backed by regional and international states eager to intervene for their own gain, from the Gulf states to Egypt to the EU.
The neighborhood resistance committees were in the process of cohering a national charter when war broke out and suddenly hundreds of thousands of people were displaced, hundreds killed, and the revolution was drastically pushed back. This shows that a protracted situation of dual power cannot be sustained, as it will open up the door for counter-revolution and brutal repression. It is a reminder that militaries and militias must be removed from power and dismantled, and an alternate left-wing force must take power. Although easier said than done, the lesson is clear: without that, counterrevolution is inevitable. Nonetheless, in Sudan there has been far more experimentation with revolutionary form and tactics that should be studied more closely. Unfortunately, the western left has all but ignored Sudan’s revolutionary movement, which thus far has been the strongest and most advanced of the revolutionary struggles, and which is now suffering one of the most brutal defeats.
Syria, too, is a key example. The struggle there went perhaps the farthest of the 2011 revolutions, and then faced a crushing and brutal defeat. In 2011, Syrians joined the revolutions that were emerging, and when met with harsh repression, deepened their revolution, eventually liberating entire areas and attempting to reorganize society independent of the regime. But while Sudan has been largely ignored by the western left, Syria stumped them altogether, as it did not fit the outdated bipolar framework of imperialism.
Similar to Ukraine today, Syria should be a reminder that we cannot rely on outdated analyses of imperialism that assume the enemy of my enemy is my friend. It indicates that inter-imperial rivalry is increasing, not decreasing. To crush the Syrian uprising, Russia and Iran intervened on the side of the regime, and Turkey and the Gulf states intervened ostensibly in opposition, but worked to sideline the progressive elements and transform the struggle into an ugly, drawn-out, sectarian war. Resistance to the Assad regime and to Russia and Iran’s military interventions remained widespread until around 2018 when the brutality of siege and bombardment far eclipsed the possibilities for continued organizing.
Another weakness on the Syrian revolution’s side was that after decades under a harsh police state, organizing levels were low, and localized, anarchist-model organizing was prioritized over a larger scale model, leaving rebellious towns and cities even more vulnerable to decimation. Syria is one of the tragedies of the 21st century and a dangerous warning that until the left learns to provide solidarity to those resisting imperialism, even if it is not primarily the imperialism of the US, there will continue to be other mini-Syrias, while the Left remains divorced from the movements it must relate to.
Although not technically part of the 2011 MENA revolutions, Palestine is central to the region due to its 75-plus-year struggle against colonialism and imperialism, making it a symbol of the oppression, as well as a spark historically for revolts across the region. More recent dynamics of volatility, polarization, revolt, and reaction are present here as well.
Two summers ago, Palestinian youth mobilizing against Israel’s ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem, in particular defending the Al-Aqsa mosque, transformed their mobilizations into a revolt that became known as the Unity Intifada. For the first time in decades, Palestinians united in uprising against Israeli fragmentation from the West Bank to Gaza to Palestinians inside Israel proper, and generalized a new liberatory framework, vocabulary, and consciousness against Israel’s settler-colonialism. The Unity Intifada was a refusal of Israel’s regime that has fragmented and divided Palestinians, and it was largely propelled by youth organizing, not by the Palestinian political factions.
In fact, within this struggle against Israeli ethnic cleansing emerged a struggle against the Palestinian Authority, a body created under the guise of state-building to carry out the role of policing Palestinians while upholding neoliberalism in the West Bank in particular. Through this larger struggle, Palestinian political consciousness and activity sharpened, even as the attacks of the colonizer and its right-wing settler-colonial population became harsher.
But the Unity Intifada has been followed by increasing brutality by Israel, in the form of bombing Gaza, assassination of journalists, mass arrests, curfews, and targeted killings in Palestinian towns, attacks across the West Bank amounting to a slow-motion war, and the rightward march of Israeli politics now bringing on board extreme far-right leaders like Ben Gvir. Meanwhile in the UK, the US, and elsewhere, the liberal left — whether the Labour Party in the UK or the Democratic Socialists of America in the US — have made clear that solidarity with Palestine is not only no longer a priority but will be actively repressed.
What the general dynamic and the particular cases all point towards is the need for a left that takes seriously the revolts that emerge globally, even as the majority of them will not be as sophisticated as Sudan’s due to the legacy of neoliberalism and decades of defeat. A left that can study, learn from, and help guide revolts with lessons from prior waves is sorely needed — especially as we are entering an age of increased economic volatility, climate change, inter-imperial and regional rivalry. Neither existing regimes nor reactions to uprisings have the political ability to fundamentally alter the underlying dynamics that lead to these increasingly radical opportunities.
This is why surface-level frameworks on the left that fail to analyze the dynamics on the ground or ignore the role of intervening states just won’t cut it anymore. We instead need dynamic movements that can engage with activists and revolutionaries in struggle around the globe, call mass protests and forums on their behalf at home, and provide solidarity and attention even if these rebellions do not espouse perfect politics or fit our preconceived notions. The failure to do so, as we have seen, leaves the door increasingly open to the forces of reaction.