Middle East Research and Information Project: Critical Coverage of the Middle East Since 1971

Fatima Babiker Mahmoud, The Sudanese Bourgeoisie, (London: Zed Press and Khartoum: Khartoum University Press, 1984).

Fatima Babiker Mahmoud, a prominent intellectual and a lecturer in political economy at the University of Khartoum, presents here much new material for a cogent analysis of the political and economic role of the bourgeoisie in Sudan’s development from 1898 to the present. In her view, the origins, affiliations and strategies of the highest echelons of the Sudanese capitalist class show its clear links to British colonial capital and continued ties with international capital. As a result, Sudan’s bourgeoisie, a dependent and “comprador” class, has failed to contribute to the country’s development, and even has acted as an obstacle to it.

The theoretical insights of The Sudanese Bourgeoisie will not be new to those familiar with Marxian and dependency theories of underdevelopment. Mahmoud criticizes conventional approaches to development and existing strategies of social change, including those of the Communist Party of Sudan. This book’s chief value, however, lies in the ample and solid documentation it provides concerning the means and relations of capital accumulation in Sudan. Its core is an empirical study based on interviews the author conducted with the hundred largest capitalists in the country. The results of this research are conveyed in synopses of their life histories and in an analysis of their education, consumption and investment patterns. The book concludes with an analytic discussion of the historic and political role of the bourgeoisie in the Third World in general and in Sudan in particular.

The book is most engaging in this final section. The author draws on the empirical data and historical material presented earlier to argue persuasively that the major capitalists of Sudan have never constituted a “national bourgeoisie.” She examines the historical interpenetration between the capitalist class and the state, documenting the collusion between the political parties of the bourgeoisie and the colonial government as Sudan struggled for independence, and, after independence, the central role of these same parties in bringing down or undermining those governments which threatened capitalist accumulation.

Her book is less satisfactory as a work of scholarship than as a political analysis. The methodology of her empirical study is questionable. She does not indicate how she determined who these leading capitalists were, nor how she selected her sample. She does not explain the nature of the interview or the format in which it was presented. Finally, there is no discussion of the reliability, suitability or validity of her approach. Dr. Mahmoud, who clearly understands the political and economic manipulations of the bourgeoisie as a class, seems to accept at face value their individual responses.

This methodological tenuousness carries over to the presentation of the empirical information. More tables would have made systematic variations in the survey results clearer. The results which are presented often seem disembodied, floating on the surface of the text rather than an integral part of it. This does not do justice to the importance of the central theme and conclusions of The Sudanese Bourgeoisie, which begins to fill a great vacuum of information on class relations in Sudan. Despite these shortcomings, Mahmoud’s documentation of the attributes, attitudes and practices of the upper strata of the dominant class in Sudan is a valuable and timely contribution.

How to cite this article:

Cindi Katz "Mahmoud, The Sudanese Bourgeoisie," Middle East Report 135 (September/ October 1985).
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