“What did you do for Sudan?” asked Nimerie provocatively during interrogating Mahgoub after the failed coup. “Some political consciousness,” were Mahgoub’s last and memorable words
Abd al-Khalig Mahgoub was the secretary of the Sudan Communist Party (SCP) (1946) until he was tragically executed in 1971 by President Nemerie after a failed, allegedly communist coup. His generation remembers him as a thoughtful and well-read student. A school mate, Tayib Salih, the renowned novelist, regretted that Mahgoub had abandoned his literary talents to politics (Ibrahim 2009).
In 1946, Mahgoub left to study in Egypt where he came into contact with the virulent communist movement. The key to understanding Mahgoub’s evolution into a full-time revolutionary lies in his close association with Henri Curiel, a consummate communist leader of Jewish origin. Mahgoub’s strong advocacy for the working class originated in a vacation in 1947 in Atbara working with trade unionists to establish the first union in the country. He called his time in Atbara a “dear time in my life, when the vitality of the Sudanese working class was revealed to me” (1959/2009, 167).
His election to the secretariat of the party in 1949 was split-ridden. He was a good student of the conflicts in his party and believed that it grew through class cleansing. In his history of the party (1965), his own rise to power shades into the process of the proletariatization of the party. Callousness. Without endorsing Mahgoub’s class viewpoint, el-Amin concluded that it was Mahgoub who made the party into a social movement (1996 and 1997). Warburg (1978) captured Mahgoub’s flexibility in matters of nationalism and religion that made him probably “the most capable leadership of any communist party in the region” (1978, 166).
His accomplishments are attributed by Abushararf’s, his niece, to his “vernacularization” of Marxism (2009) spelt out in his autobiographical “Defense before a Court” (1959/2009). Although celebratory of his Marxism, he, as a Leninist and a Muslim, did not believe that the solutions of the concrete problems of the Sudan would be found in “any communist book” (Lenin 1965). The theory came to him as a member of a soul-searching postwar generation who awoke to the “voice of nationalism” (1959/2009, 162). Their crisis stemmed from a double jeopardy: cultural deprivation by colonial education (161) and a nationalist culture, for fixation on glamorizing an Arab past, “did not take account of our futurity” (164). A reading of Stalin’s The Problem of the Colonies caused him to rethink, “empire, colonial desire, dominance, violence, and governmentality” (163). An emancipatory praxis like nationalism, he wrote, could not be waged without a theory to undermine the “science of colonialism” (160) objectifying entries populations (161)
Mahgoub was exercised by the relevance of Marxism to a movement of social change in a Muslim country. Marxism, he emphasized, is not a break in the tradition. His acceptance of the theory was not a “religious conversion” (161). His most penetrating insights in Marxism and tradition emerged after the dissolution of the party for its “atheism” by a “savage” parliament in 1965. In protesting this “exploitation of religion”, he was avoiding sounding accusatory and defensive. Instead he suggested going on the offensive by co-opting the “utopia” of Islam that impassions ordinary Muslims. Marxism is best served when presented as a project to renew Muslim’s identity and invigorate its sources. In engaging the religious imagination of the masses, Marxists would put the ideologization of the religion by propertied conservatives to rest (Mahgoub 1968 ).
Mahgoub, a PM in 1968, was a staunch advocate of the liberal way to socialism. Workers who were awakened by unionism to their rights, he argued, would in due time accept socialism on the basis of bourgeoisie liberal rights. This explains his ardent opposition to imposing “new democracy” by progressive putschit tactics (Ibrahim 1999, 100). For establishing a strategically correct relationship between the struggle for democracy and struggle for socialism, Turok describes the SCP’s practice as “quiet extraordinary” for being pragmatic yet principled —something that has evaded many others in Arica (1987:153).
The balance Mahgjoub struck between his nationalism and internationalism was a source of trouble for him. Twice he refused a Soviet recipe to play second fiddle to local forces in power. In encouraging the best ties between the Soviet and those governments, he reserved to local communists the right to analyze the class situation and its implications. For refusing to play second fiddle to Nimerie’s putschists, he was characterized by communist authorities as ‘incomprehensible” and “doctrinal” (Gresh 1989: 404; Warburg 1978: 38-139).
“What did you do for Sudan?” asked Nimerie provocatively during interrogating Mahgoub after the failed coup. “Some political consciousness,” were Mahgoub’s last and memorable words.
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. Qadaya ma Ba’d al-Mutamar [al-Rabi’], a Report to the Central Committee of the Sudan Communist Party, June 1968b.
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