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With ExoMars, will Russia break its “Mars Curse?”

In the mid-morning of March 14, 2016, a Russian Proton-M rocket carrying the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter lifted off from the Bikonaur Cosmodrome in the Kazakh steppes, headed for a seven month journey to Mars. The launch marked the beginning of a long-awaited, multi-phase Mars exploration program – consisting of the satellite and lander and eventually a rover – jointly run by Europe and Russia. By ushering in a new era of European Mars exploration and rebooting Russia’s interplanetary program, the ExoMars mission can rightful be considered historic. But possibly just as significant, considering the historical context, is the opportunity Russia now has to break the “Mars curse” it’s been under for nearly half a century.

“The Mars Curse”

The past fifty years of Mars exploration have been unfavorable, unlucky even, for the Russians. Over this time, not one of the 18 total Soviet and Russian mission to Mars was a full success. Some were lost in launch failures, others stopped communicating en route, and a few managed to function around Mars for only a number of months – shorter than their expected length of operation.

97/2/4Space craft model, Mars 3 USSR/Russian Academy of Sciences side view

The Mars 3 spacecraft. Source: The Powerhouse Museum

Of the 15 missions launched to Mars between 1960 and 1973, only four – Mars 2 and 3 in 1971 and Mars 4 and 5 in 1973 – returned any useful data. Three of four landing attempts failed, and the one that successfully achieved soft-landing fell silent merely 20 seconds after touchdown. By 1973, the Soviets decided to cut their losses and turned attention to other destinations, where they found better luck. They conducted an ambitious robotic exploration of the Moon, which culminated in a return of lunar samples by Luna 24 in 1976. Meanwhile, a series of missions to Venus were highly successful, as were two probes sent to Halley’s Comet.

Still, Mars beckoned. A number of highly ambitious missions to Mars were planned in the 1980s and 90s – to the dismay of scientists whose hopes were dashed when these too failed.  Phobos 1 and 2, launched in 1988, were designed to explore the small Martian moons, deploying landers and hoppers to scout their surface. Contact was lost with Phobos 1 on the way to Mars. Phobos 2 came tantalizingly close, up to the critical lander deployment phase of its mission, before suddenly falling silent due to a computer failure.

Even amidst the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian planners managed to scrape together resources for a mission in 1996 and worked on improvements to the Phobos probe design it would utilize. The Mars 96 spacecraft – at the time the heaviest interplanetary probe ever built – carried a lander with equipment to penetrate and study Mars’ interior. It met a fiery fate burning up on reentry after the rocket launching it failed.

In light of these setbacks, the developing economic crisis of the late 1990s, and increasing Russian involvement in the International Space Station, the Mars program was again put on hold. Following the destruction of the Mars 96 spacecraft, another 15 years would pass before the Russian space program was ready to attempt another shot at Mars. Once again, the joint Russian-Chinese Phobos-Grunt mission, prepared for launch in 2011, was just as ambitious, if not more so, than those which came before it.

A render of the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft. Source: Space.com

A render of the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft. Source: Space.com

The spacecraft, weighing in at 13.2-metric-tons, featured a Phobos lander, a sample return vehicle, a Chinese sub-satellite, and instruments and experiments from France, Finland, Bulgaria, and The Planetary Society. Its objective was, and remains, perhaps the most lofty in the history of Mars exploration – obtain a sample of surface soil from Phobos and return it to Earth for study.

Commentators hoped that Phobos-Grunt would mark the end of the “Mars Curse.” Mission planners recognized the stakes, acknowledging that if “any one of the critical stages [of the mission] fails, the whole mission will be compromised.” Yet faith and optimism again turned to dismay in late 2011, as Phobos-Grunt became trapped in Earth orbit due to an upper stage failure. Like Mars 96 before it, the mission ended in failure as the spacecraft burned up in its eventual reentry back through Earth’s atmosphere.

“With ExoMars, Lessons Learned?”

Whether one believes in luck or not, it is clearly agreeable that Russia’s experience with Mars has been marked by misfortune. Of course, this track record was made poor through multiple influencing factors. For many of Russia’s pre-1973 missions, failure was at least in part the result of early-stage technology and limited experience. Such was the nature of early space exploration; the United States’ record with interplanetary spacecraft during this period was not much better. The Soviets tried to “brute force” the issue by launching a large bulk of spacecraft at Mars, hoping some of them would succeed – hence the significant failure rate.

Yet from the 1970s through the 1990s, the United States saw recurring success at Mars while the Soviets continued to face technical issues flying to the planet. Still, advancements in technology and the decades of design upgrades between Phobos 1/2 and Phobos-Grunt lent some continuing confidence that further missions were possible.

The two – failed – Mars missions of Russia’s “modern” exploration program, Mars 96 and Phobos-Grunt, shared two commonalities:

  • An “all-eggs-in-one-basket,” highly ambitious, expensive approach to design and planning;
  • Mission failure brought about by failures during launch/early operations.

On the first point – Mars 96 and Phobos-Grunt were both expensive, high-profile, multi-part spacecraft designed as flagship missions. Years of planning, design, and construction went into each mission, as well as significant dedications of funding. A wide array of lofty science goals were contingent upon the spacecrafts’ operation, a single point of failure. The failure of one, let alone both, would’ve represented a considerable loss on investment – enough to reasonably prompt a halting and review of Russia’s Mars exploration program. And, as it turned out, both were destroyed before even leaving Earth orbit. As such, Russia has not returned to Mars in over a quarter of a century.

This approach contrasts with that taken by the United States over the past two decades, which spreads science objectives over a long-term plan by striking a balance between successive small and large-scale missions. Such an approach has served to reduce the risk associated with losing a spacecraft; while obviously a setback, NASA’s Mars exploration roadmap has not been sufficiently jeopardized in terms of funding or achieving scientific objectives when missions have failed (such as the Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander in 1999).

A Russian Proton rocket fails in a 2013 launch. Source: Space.com

A Russian Proton rocket fails in a 2013 launch. Source: Space.com

As for the launch failures – Russia’s launch industry has faced a slew of launch-related issues over the past years. These issues have not been isolated to missions to Mars – multiple satellite launches have failed due to malfunctions with the rocket – though recent Mars missions have been affected. Mars 96’s fate was sealed when its Block D-2 upper stage failed during second ignition, sending the spacecraft on a trajectory back into Earth’s atmosphere instead of onward to Mars. Phobos-Grunt failed when a computer error prevented its rockets from reigniting, leaving the spacecraft stranded in orbit.

Regardless of the point of failure in launch, be it initial ascent or in the upper stage, the issues seen in Mars 96 and Phobos-Grunt, as well as a slew of other failed launches, point to systemic problems in the Russian space industry. The post-launch investigation report for Phobos-Grunt pointed to cheap parts, poor quality control, insufficient testing, and corruption as root causes of the failure. As much as issues with technology have held back Russia’s exploration program, so too have issues with the culture in the industry and bureaucracy.

With ExoMars, however, Russia appears to be taking steps to alleviate these issues. In December of 2015, President Putin dissolved Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, replacing it with the Roscosmos State Corporation – a state-run corporation that consolidates the entire Russian space industry under a single point of authority. This reform could be, depending on implementation, a first step toward resolving the issues of corruption, bureaucracy, inefficiency, and financial mismanagement which have plagued Russia’s launch services in recent years. It remains too early to tell, however, whether this reorganization will bring an end to the steady cadence of launch-associated issues and whether reform amounts to tangible changes in the status quo.

A more marked suggestion of change is in the approach Russia is taking toward planning its missions to Mars. The ExoMars program represents a significant departure from the “eggs-in-one-basket” design characteristic of Mars 96 and Phobos-Grunt. The program is split into two stages – the Trace Gas Orbiter, which just launched, and the ExoMars rover to launch sometime in 2018. The Schiaparelli lander currently attached to the Trace Gas Orbiter will test the landing techniques needed to successfully deploy the rover, and the Trace Gas Orbiter will eventually serve as a communications relay between Earth and the rover.

As such, with the slew of scientific targets and instruments spread across both vehicles, the program isn’t doomed to failure with the loss of one or the other spacecraft. Equally so, the loss of one or the other spacecraft won’t entail as significant a loss on investment as it would were the whole program integrated on a single vehicle. This staggered, evolutionary approach, reminiscent of NASA’s MER program consisting of the Pathfinder lander followed by the Spirit and Opportunity Rovers, can be considered a safer bet for a Russia burdened by recent spacecraft failures.

A significant element of ExoMars is its nature as a joint Russian-European project. While both are major partners, the European Space Agency has paid-in the most to foot the mission’s cost. In return, Russia has agreed to provide services that fall outside the European Space Agency’s expertise. Per the agreement set out with the European Space Agency, Russia’s involvement in the ExoMars program will entail:

  • Providing launches for both missions using the heavy-lift Proton rocket;
  • Providing an entry-descent-landing (EDL) spacecraft to carry the ExoMars rover down to the Martian surface;
  • Having space allocated for two scientific instruments on the Trace Gas Orbiter;
  • Having joint intellectual property rights over the scientific information returned by the missions.

This set of responsibilities comes with both risk and benefit for the mission. Of interesting note is Russia’s primary responsibility as launch and EDL provider – two direct areas where its recent track-record is poor and where responsibility for failure falls squarely on them. Yet this arraignment takes into account Russia’s overall competitive advantage with these technologies –  the Proton rocket is substantially more powerful than European equivalents (indeed, past European missions to Mars have purchased rides on Russian or Russian-derived rockets) and Russia has a long, successful history with EDL on the Moon and Venus. In the end, it is a more financially and operationally sound decision to have Russia provide these services than for Europe to develop the technologies and practices itself.

ESA Exomars robot

A design of the ExoMars rover. Source: SpaceNews

Russia can find benefit in the split responsibilities. While it has the right to provide scientific instruments for experiments and has right over the total scientific data gathered during the course of the program, the country is otherwise contributing little to the actual spacecraft involved in the missions. The Trace Gas Orbiter, the Schiaparelli lander, and the ExoMars Rover are all European designed and built vehicles.

To that end, Russia need not take bets with its self-described “inefficient and corrupt” space sector – to which the finger was pointed after the failure of the past two Mars missions – and can instead rely on European contractors, technologies, and standards to achieve mission success. At the same time, Russia can absolve itself – and insulate its exploration program from the resulting repercussions of – responsibility for spacecraft failure during the operational portion of the flight. Similarly, the European Space Agency is responsible for the spacecrafts’ tracking, maintenance, and communications, again absolving Russia of direct responsibility over these crucial, and challenging, elements of the flight.

“The ‘Curse’ may be Broken. What now?”

The launch of the Trace Gas Orbiter went smoothly, though some sources reported a near-disaster when the spacecraft’s upper stage booster exploded after separation, and the ExoMars mission is on its way to the planet. So far, it seems, so good, and the mission has now progressed further than Russia’s last two. Still, Russia’s “Mars curse” may not be broken just yet – the Trace Gas Orbiter still needs to complete its mission, and Russia will need to perform to expectations with the ExoMars rover, where the country’s operational responsibilities are more significant. Nonetheless, hopes are rightfully high that all will go as planned.

Should the ExoMars missions succeed, the arraignment between Russia and the European Space Agency for joint-responsibility could come to represent a paradigm shift in how Russia interweaves international cooperation into its exploration strategy and uses it as a means to success. While Mars 96 and Phobos-Grunt carried instruments from other nations, including a substantial Chinese satellite, Russia remained the major partner and held responsibility for most, if not all, portions of the missions. With ExoMars, the European Space Agency and Russia are both major – if not entirely equal in terms of mission funding – partners, each drawing full benefit from the scientific and exploration data derived from the mission. In effect, Russia will have found its first interplanetary success in over two decades by partnering and sharing responsibility with other space programs in lieu of ‘going it alone.’

This could lead Russian policymakers and mission planners to one of two conclusions – Russia’s space sector has demonstrated enough success with its portions of ExoMars that the country is ready to reengage in its own exploration missions, or Russia should pursue further international cooperation and responsibility sharing when attempting an interplanetary exploration mission.

The conclusion, and resulting decisions, will depend on mid to long-term factors. The ExoMars program will not be “finished” until 2020, 6 years after the launch of the Trace Gas Orbiter. In that time, Russia’s reorganization of its space sector may have produced enough positive change to warrant another look at an indigenous Mars mission. Yet, equally possible, those changes may not manifest in 6 years time, if at all, should the reports about how rooted the corruption and bad practices are in the Russian space program be true. Because of the opaque nature of Russia’s space program, it also remains to be seen where interplanetary science fits into the country’s new space organization, if at all.

Of similar significance is Russia’s budgetary constraints. Facing an economic crisis brought about by world events, the new budget and plan allocated to the Russian space program is modest at best. According to the plan, a renewed focus will be on robotic lunar exploration, likely building off the successful designs of the Soviet lunar program, but space research – including interplanetary exploration missions – is facing a cut.

It is important to keep in consideration Russia’s new space plan covers space activities until 2025, 5 years after the tentative end of the ExoMars program. Such may not afford Russia enough time – or money – to engage in a new Mars exploration program, in which case the lessons learned by ExoMars may be moot or inconsequential in the future’s circumstances. Alternatively, this may give Russia all the more reason to seek out further international cooperation on interplanetary exploration. By partnering jointly with the European Space Program for ExoMars, many of the program’s costs were offset for Russia – a favorable way to work around the constrained budgetary environment. Equally important, Russia’s involvement in ExoMars came after the program had been initiated by the Europeans, cutting short Russia’s long-term involvement in planning and mission design. This “piggy-backing,” in which Russia’s exploration program need not dedicate needed resources to years-long planning, could serve as an effective way to participate in exploration missions within the short term.

Yet this last point poses a significant challenge to Russia, as well. ExoMars was initiated in 2009 as a joint project between NASA and the European Space Agency. In 2011, when the United States dropped out of the program because of constrained funding and priorities for NASA, the fate of the missions seemed threatened. This gave Russia ample opportunity to sign an agreement of cooperation with Europe where it enjoyed the benefits of a full partnership while contributing comparatively less financing, responsibilities, and planning. To that end, should Russian policymakers seek to replicate the efforts and execution of ExoMars in future programs, they may be hard pressed to find an equally favorable set of circumstances.

Nonetheless, some current opportunities may present themselves as the opening Russia needs. Both China and India are planning interplanetary exploration missions in the next five years, and both espouse long-term exploration plans within the inner Solar System. Considering that Russia has been courting stronger relations with these countries in global affairs, and that international cooperation in space exploration is seen as a positive way to build soft-power relations and mutual trust, future cooperative missions with these countries may benefit Russia’s broader geopolitical goals and could mirror ExoMars both in execution and success.

Of course, with the ExoMars program only now just flying, these decisions are still many years away. Many factors may and likely will come to play a role in Russia’s exploration strategy and approach which fall beyond the scope detailed here. Either way, this much is clear:

With ExoMars, Russia has demonstrated clear ‘lessons learned’ from its past two – failed – attempts at Mars, and could employ these lessons to favorable affect in the future despite a constrained budgetary environment and exploration plan. Though the Trace Gas Orbiter is still on its way to Mars, and the ExoMars rover has yet to launch, Russia has performed better with this interplanetary mission than it has in the past two decades. Indeed, the “Mars Curse” may well soon be broken – with Russia finding its first interplanetary success since 1988.

Revolutionary Forces Impact Revolution Outcomes

The Russian and Chinese models of revolution offer two different approaches to structuring a revolution. Russia’s model involved a highly centralized, highly hierarchical vanguard party while the Chinese model involved a disciplined, peasant-based guerilla force. Guerilla warfare is widely applicable, and because of this the Chinese model of revolution has become more influential than the Soviet model. Indeed, Mao’s tactics of guerilla warfare have become the typical mode of revolution around the world. The organization and structure of these revolutions’ forces have also had important effects upon what was created following the attainment of power. The Russian model, with its ‘democratic centralist’ formula, led to a state ruled by an elite bureaucracy and enabled the rise of authoritarianism. The Chinese model of an organized guerilla force, buoyed by popular support, led to a state operating under mass-line principles.

The Chinese model was characterized by an organized guerilla force operating with peasant support that engaged in the revolutionary struggle. The model involved hierarchy in command and demanded high discipline of its fighters, who needed to be able to withstand the stresses of guerilla warfare. However, because of China’s territorial size and because of the relatively impromptu nature of guerilla warfare, such a force couldn’t be as centralized as the Soviet model. Mao’s strategy relied closely upon peasant support, and as a result his revolution became structured around the peasantry. A populist, mass-line outlook among the guerilla fighters was the result. The Soviet model involved an elite vanguard party which would spread consciousness to the Soviet people, guide the state to socialism, and which hoped to realize society’s common interest in its policies. Under threat from the civil war and opposing capitalist powers, Lenin created the doctrine of ‘democratic centralism’ to create unity within the party when it was at its weakest. Under this doctrine, Political factions were banned, party democracy and debate stifled, and orders were to be carried out from above without question. This created a highly disciplined, highly hierarchical party, where decision-making power resided at the highest levels of office.

As a strategic model, the Chinese model is more influential than the Soviet model. This is because Mao’s tactics of guerilla warfare and the conditions he deemed necessary for revolution are more widely applicable to other revolutionaries. The Soviet revolution relied upon the industrial proletariat and a vanguard party to lead the revolution whereas the Chinese revolution relied upon the peasantry and a politicized guerilla force. In many places, such as the post-colonial third world, an industrial proletariat or intellectual elite do not exist and revolutionaries must thus rely upon the support of local peasants to wage revolution. They must also rely upon the peasants to become agents of political change as well. In this way, the Chinese model is more applicable than the Soviet model, as it directly lays out the strategy needed to engage in such a revolution. Additionally, creating a highly structured, highly organized vanguard party such as that created by the Bolsheviks is impossible for many revolutionaries who are operating with limited numbers of forces or without good networks of communication. Mao’s model, involving a more decentralized force, can thus be more easily utilized in such a situation. Guerilla warfare is also a better method of fighting for revolutionaries who are numerically or strategically disadvantaged compared to the front-on, full-scale warfare seen during the Soviet revolution. Most revolutionaries around the world are were a disadvantage in forces, and thus made use of the guerilla warfare strategies Mao developed in order to succeed militarily. It is because of these factors that the Chinese revolution has been more influential than the Soviet revolution as a strategic model.

The structure of the Chinese and Russian revolutionary models had important effects upon what political systems were produced following the obtainment of power. In China, the mass-line structure of the guerilla force led to the belief that party policy and policy implementation must come from the people and be based on popular support. Like how his military force had been intimately connected with the peasantry, Mao wanted members of his government to take part in manual labor alongside the peasantry, while also submitting themselves to regular public criticism. Furthermore, as the Chinese guerilla force had relied so heavily upon the peasantry, Mao believed that “all correct leadership comes from the masses, to the masses.” His revolutionary government would thus find out what the peasants wanted and provide it, thereby improving the plight of the peasants while breeding further support for the government. This model of governance continued the strategies which defined his guerilla war and allowed for its success.

This contrasted with the structure of the Soviet model, which produced a centralized, elitist state. The Bolshevik vanguard party, which led the revolution, saw its authority stemming from its ability to manage Soviet society. Flowing the revolution’s success, a party-state apparatus developed where members of the party oversaw the economy, production and distribution, maintenance of order, and education and cultural policies. As a result of this, the state witnessed enormous expansion during the early years of the Soviet Union, as new institutions were created to manage all aspects of society. In order to control such a bureaucracy and create unity among party ranks, discipline was imposed by ‘democratic centralism,’ where orders were carried out from the very top without criticism. This led to an emphasis being placed on putting the “right people in the right place,” as failure was seen as the fault of an individual instead of as a problem with the order. As a result, a system of appointments, which had begun during the civil war, led to the emergence of massive patronage networks. Coupled with a ban on factions within the party, imposed by Lenin as part of the party’s focus on unity, party members increasingly associated and aligned themselves with individuals. It was through the manipulation of these systems that Stalin, the party secretariat with control over appointments and party member’s personal information, was able to amass enough support and backing to rise to power. Once in power, the structure of the Soviet system, which relied upon the unquestioned carrying out of orders from above, enabled him to rule in an authoritarian manner. The structure of the Soviet model, with its all-powerful vanguard party controlling society and disciplined through the doctrine of ‘democratic centralism,’ thus led to the creation of a massive bureaucratic state ruled from the highest offices.

The structure of the two revolutionary models also had important implications for the economic transitions which followed after power was obtained. The Soviet Union’s centralized and hierarchical vanguard party produced a bureaucratized economic system. The Party, organized to guide the Soviet Union into socialism and communism, was to oversee the distribution of society’s needs. As state command of the economy grew, an enormous economic bureaucracy run by a technocratic elite grew along with it. Mirroring the Soviet model’s emphasis on control and centralization, the economy was managed hierarchically, with commands being issued from the center to the producing units. The party-centric structure of the Russian revolution and its need to guide the state into socialism thus led to the creation of a massive, highly-organized, state-run economic bureaucracy.

The Chinese implemented a peasant-based strategy of industrialization, breaking from the Soviet model of development. This involved a decentralization of authority to release the forces of peasant creativity and to provide greater popular participation in policymaking. The peasants would also use and manufacture industry themselves in village foundries and factories. Such policies were further continuations of the populist, peasant-based strategies Mao had formed his guerilla strategy around. In this way, the revolutionary experience and organization of the revolutionary forces continued to influence the way the Chinese governed their state. However, the ‘Great Leap Forward,’ under which these policies were implemented, was a major economic failure. To bring about economy recovery, the Communist government had to increase reliance on centralized economic planning and power began to be concentrated in party bureaucracies. This change in the model of governance was made to bring about economic recovery, however, and not to diminish or change Mao’s model of revolution.

The Russian and Chinese models of revolution offered two different structures and approaches to revolution. As a model, the Chinese revolution is more influential because of the more widespread applicability of guerilla warfare and its reliance on peasants instead of an industrial proletariat. The two models created two different kinds of states following their success. The Chinese guerilla strategy, structured around the peasants, created a mass-line state. The hierarchical Russian ‘vanguard party,’ operating under the doctrine of democratic centralism, produced a bureaucratic, patronage-driven state. The structures of the revolutionary forces in Russia and China thus impacted the way the Russian and Chinese states were structured and operated following the attainment of power. These governments were modeled after, and therefore operated similarly to, the forces which had fought in the revolution.

Revolutionary Inspirations

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.

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