Foundations of the vanguard: The origins of leftist national liberation rebel groups

October 2021
Megan Stewart (University of Michigan)

Abstract: What explains the emergence of leftist national liberation rebel groups? I argue that in imperial settings in the late-19th to mid-20th centuries, assimilatory education programs drew colonial elites to the imperial metropole. There, colonial elites experienced exclusion and more clearly recognized their collective subjugation relative to the imperial in-group. Exclusionary experiences triggered psychological and behavioral responses that led to the formation of a vanguard with national liberatory goals and leftist ideas. In the colonies, this vanguard was better able to contest the state relative to other groups or individuals. Individuals without these experiences were less likely to form a leftist, national liberation rebel group. I use variation in educational experiences of rebel leaders in Eritrea’s Independence War to quantitatively and qualitatively test mechanisms using archival and primary materials and an original dataset. Further applicability is probed with out-of-sample cases that include archival data from three countries.