Throughout history, revolutionaries have modeled their revolutions, designed their revolutionary and post-revolutionary strategies, and developed their ideological theories from revolutions of the past. The Russian communist revolutionaries looked to the what the French had done, the revolutionaries in China looked to the Russian revolution, and the Cuban revolutionaries looked to the Chinese. The Comintern was developed to help export and inspire more revolution, and Che Guevara drew lessons from the Cuban revolution in his attempt to start revolution across Latin America and Africa. In this way, each revolution has been inspired and triggered by another.
For the Russian revolutionaries, the French revolution was a source of inspiration. Many Russians in 1917 saw themselves reenacting the struggle in France after 1789, fighting against the oppressive rule of the tsar for the creation of an egalitarian state. Indeed, it was easy to equate a movement which had begun with an attack on the nobility with a revolution built around a theory of history which emphasized the class struggle. The communist revolutionaries saw in France the earliest example of when the masses entered politics for the pursuit of their own interests rather than as tools of more powerful manipulators; in this way, the Russian revolutionaries saw the French revolution as an inspiration for a popular, anti-elite revolution. It taught them that the old social and political order could be overthrown and emerge anew, and that the people could be as powerful a force in politics as the elite.
Yet more than looking to it for just inspiration, the Russian revolutionaries looked to the French revolution for revolutionary lessons. Lenin saw in the French revolution lessons on what was necessary for sparking and sustaining a successful revolution. Knowledgeable of what had occurred in 1789, he recognized the importance of having a ‘revolutionary moment’ to serve as the spark for the Russian revolution. He achieved it by ordering the warship Aurora to fire blank shells at the Winter Palace. The parallel with the French storming of the Bastille, and the subsequent revolutionary fervor that followed, is impossible to miss. He also recognized the importance of the armed forces, declaring it the first task of every revolution to gain their support. As Bruce Mazlish points out in his piece on the French revolution in comparative perspective, “Lenin called the army the Key to the country. He was merely restating what Rivarol had said of the French Revolution.” Without the defection of the French Royal troops there would likely have been no French revolution, and Lenin knew that had the Petrograd troops fired on the uprising crowd the Russian revolution too would have likely failed. The lessons he garnered from the French experience at revolution therefore influenced how he directed his own.
The Comintern, an international communist organization, was initiated in Moscow in March 1919 and held seven Congress between 1919 and 1935. Lenin believed that unless socialist revolution swept Europe, the young Soviet state would be crushed by the military might of world capitalism like how the Paris Commune had been destroyed by force of arms in 1871. The organization was thus designed to inspire and support socialist revolution around the world, and to achieve that end it sent financial and military assistance to other communist revolutions across the world. However, as an organization supported largely by the Soviets, the Comintern was mostly used as a means to expand Soviet influence and protect Soviet interests. After the implementation of Stalin’s ‘Socialism in One Country’ policy the Comintern was dissolved, having failed to make much tangible difference in the outcome of socialist revolutions worldwide.
Similar to how the Russians drew inspiration from the French, the Chinese communist revolutions drew inspiration from the Russian revolution. They saw an appeal in Lenin’s theories about imperialism and how it related to capitalism and socialism, theories which offered the colonial and semi-colonial lands a crucial international revolutionary role. Lenin had concluded that revolutions would occur first in less developed, economically exploited societies and would involve not only the working class but also the participation of the peasantry. As these less developed lands went over to socialism, the capitalist nations would begin to follow. Revolution in China, at the time a less developed, economically exploited society like what Lenin had talked about, could thus play a major role in causing socialist revolutions in more advanced countries. Such a theory made the Chinese communists’ desire for revolution all the more important and pressing. According to the theory, China needed to toss off foreign imperialism and was given a role of significant importance in the global revolution. Such ideas resonated with the nationalist ideals held by many Chinese, who wanted to rid their land of foreign domination.
However, the Chinese also looked with some dismay at the Russian revolutionary model of development and Russian revolutionary strategy. The Chinese revolution was peasant-based and waged through guerilla warfare, a major departure from Lenin’s ‘vanguard’ party of intellectuals and the proletariat leading full-scale, face-on revolutionary warfare. Instead of focusing on heavy industry and economic bureaucratization like the Soviets had during their development in the 1920s and 1930s, the Chinese communists also decided to develop agriculture, light industry, and heavy industry simultaneously. This was signaled a departure from the ‘bureaucratic elite’ approach to decision making characteristic of the Soviet model, favoring a more mass-line approach instead. Thus, though the Chinese drew inspiration in Lenin’s theories about Marxism and the success of the Russian communist revolution, they did not reproduce the Soviet’s revolutionary strategies nor did they mirror their approaches to governance or economics. This demonstrates that revolutions can be inspired from the same ideological theories and one can inspire the other, but don’t always produce the same post-revolution results.
The Cuban revolutionaries drew inspiration and strategy from Mao’s communist revolution. The Cuban revolution was driven by an anti-imperialist nationalist outlook, mirroring the Russian revolution in its anti-capitalist goals and the Chinese revolution in its nationalism. Che Guevara, the main theoretician of the Cuban revolution, made use of Mao’s guerilla revolutionary strategy. He argued that “victory by the popular forces in Latin America is clearly possible in the form of guerrilla warfare undertaken by a peasant army in alliance with the workers.” The Cuban revolutionaries based themselves in the Sierra Maestra mountain range, staging ambushes and relying upon peasant support for information, supplies, and assistance. Promises of land reform, schools, and healthcare encouraged more peasants to join the rebel forces, just as how the good conduct of Mao’s forces and his reform policies bred goodwill from Chinese peasants. Help from friendly peasants and reinforcements from the local rural population grew the size of Cuban rebellion, while the rebel guerilla strategy demoralized Batista’s army. This strategy is what enabled Mao’s revolutionary forces to overcome numerically superior opponents, and when employed by Castro and Guevara’s forces it also proved successful. Using this strategy, Castro’s force went from being composed of only a few dozen fighters in 1956 to securing revolutionary victory in 1959. That Mao’s revolutionary strategies enabled the Cuban revolutionary victory can easily been seen.
The successful Cuban revolution inspired Guevara to attempt to export revolution to other places across the world, thereby triggering further revolution. He saw the conditions that existed in Cuba prior to the revolution, those of imperialism and social injustice, existing in societies across Latin America and, additionally, Africa. As the Cuban revolution had successfully shaken off those conditions, he believed that the rest of Latin America and Africa could do the same. The success of the Cuban revolution thus served as inspiration for his aspirations for a greater, global revolution. Guevara also argued that an armed revolutionary band of as few as thirty to fifty combatants could, through violent attacks on a state’s instruments of repression, create the necessary conditions for a successful revolution. The actions of the guerilla fighters would gain the otherwise apathetic peoples’ attentions and make them realize that their rulers are not all-powerful, thereby spreading the concept of revolution. Popular support would therefore constitute the necessary condition for a revolutionary victory. This was the same strategy which the Cuban revolutionaries had successfully used. Thus, he hoped to employ the strategies used in the Cuban revolution, and before that the Chinese revolution, as well as using the Cuban revolution as inspiration. In turn, he hoped to inspire other revolutionaries to take up the cause and provided them the strategies necessary to do so.
It is clear that these revolutions were inspired and triggered by one another. Russian’s revolutionaries were inspired by the French revolution, and saw themselves fighting the same struggle the French had in 1789. The Comintern was established to inspire and support socialist revolution worldwide. The Chinese found reason for revolution in the theories produced by the Russian revolutionaries, though they broke from the Russian revolutionary strategy and post-revolutionary model development, and the Cuban revolutionaries succeeded by using of Mao’s strategy of revolutionary guerilla warfare. The Cuban revolutionaries success provided Che Guevara with the strategies and inspiration needed to wage revolutionary warfare across Latin America and Africa, and he hoped to inspire further revolutionaries with them. Revolutions thus serve as sources of inspiration for other revolutionaries looking to change their own social and political order. They provide valuable lessons for other revolutionaries on how to wage and win revolution. The theories developed during revolution can serve as the basis for revolutions elsewhere. In these ways, revolutions trigger other revolutions.