Magdi el Gizouli:
I would claim that the resistance committees are the biggest, youngest, and most active political agent in the country. They might be described as “an sich.” Through the few years since 2019 the committees have evolved from mobilization and maneuvering units against the coercive apparatus of the state to an archipelago of political and organizational experiences and orientations.
The category an sich, translated in English as “in itself,” is drawn from the Hegelian lexicon and contrasts with the reflexive explicit self-comprehending and full-blown für sich (or “for itself”) of self-consciousness that a reader of Marxist classics would encounter in Lukács’s History and Class Consciousness. The Hegelian categories are not a mere flourish of theory but are acutely necessary to deal with the divergence between the potentiality and the actuality of the committees, a divergence that can to my mind only be adequately addressed through a dialectic of praxis. This is no easy task though and should not be underestimated. Marx himself did not articulate a theory of class consciousness. Volume 3 of Capital ends with a short fragment titled “Classes” that poses the question “what constitutes a class?” Marx challenges the self-evident definition around the identity of revenues and sources of revenue as an unsatisfactory “at first glance” explanation. The manuscript breaks off here, and the question is suspended, one that haunts many a reader of Capital!
Why is it important to raise the problem of (class) consciousness at this juncture? In their initial stages of emergence, the resistance committees of Khartoum’s impoverished working-class neighborhoods that were critical in the mobilization and sustenance of popular anger against Bashir’s regime mirrored the informality of their livelihoods. The committee in this context had an open-access character akin to ad hoc neighborhood football teams, constituted at the hour of play and reconstituted anew the next day as convenience dictates. The word committee confers a factional solidity that is at odds with the fluid nature of the actual formation of these structures and invites hasty parallels with the commune and the soviet.
There is a precise northern Sudanese Arabic term for ad hoc afternoon football games in neighborhood squares: dafoori. In contrast to the formal game dafoori is not bound by the definite formal rules of football. Teams are constituted of the available numbers of players, the ball could be a ball-formed mass of rags, and the referee, if he exists, does not necessarily have the last word in matters of dispute. There is no boss in a dafoori. The timeline of the game is not defined by an intrinsic rule but by the energy of the players and possibly the availability of lighting, players opt out of the game when exhausted or when they can’t stomach defeat. An injured player is readily replaced by an onlooker who is cheered upon to join the game. Relations between dafoori players are predicated on a “moral economy” that involves mutual recognition, trust, social and sporting skills and of course male camaraderie. Once in the game, social stratification is suspended, and an egalitarian ethos of performance predominates.
The resistance committees of Khartoum’s working-class neighborhoods were in many ways constituted as dafoori teams for political agitation and hence the challenge they continue to pose to the mechanics of the security apparatus. Thanks to this particular conformation, the resistance committees proved a magnetic field for political engagement. The peddler, the artisan, the day laborer, the school-dropout, as well as the student and the politically seasoned university graduate – both with and without waged employment – teamed up in the neighborhood-based resistance committee with the protest march as their theater of operation. The protest march also defined the egalitarian plane of the committee and the skillset required for distinction. In the face of state brutality, an ethos of steadfastness, heroism, and sacrifice became a characteristic feature of the committees and their outlook. The committees acquired names reminiscent of male-sporting teams, for instance the Lions of al-Barrari and the Tigers of al-Abbasiya.
In this milieu of male sacrifice, the sharp edge of the committees was bound to be directed against young women who were called upon to excel in confrontations with the security apparatus, like their heroic male peers, or accept their protective mantle at the proverbial rear end of the revolutionary trail. This important contradiction was on display in the utterances and actions that clouded the protest marches of March 8 on the occasion of International Women’s Day in Khartoum. The mainstream of the committees announced a protest march titled the Million March of Women, rejecting the coinage “Feminist March” declared by cohorts of young women whose horizon of liberation encompassed emancipation from patriarchal strictures. The result was considerable confusion and consternation around what constituted revolution. The mainstream of the committees spoke a language of priorities around confrontation with state power and their detractors from the feminist bloc were informed by ideas of social conflict and gender relations. This is but one demonstrative example of antagonisms in the monstrous interregnum of revolution and counter-revolution in Sudan. Apart from the extrinsic threats of cooptation and capture that you mentioned in your question I think it might be worthwhile to highlight the intrinsic threat of fetishization of the committees as such and of the sacrificial mode of operation in their struggle against a brutal state order.