Resilience Beyond Rebellion:

How Wartime Organizational Structures Affect Rebel-to-Party Transformation

Scholars have established that the best prospects for peace, stability, and democratization in war-torn states occur when former rebels compete in post-conflict elections. However, only about half of the insurgencies with political aspirations successfully reinvent themselves as lasting political contenders, while the others fracture or even revert to violence. In light of conventional portrayals of insurgent organizations, rebels should not make especially good democrats. Yet, nearly half of the groups attempting this transition suddenly muster the skills and support required to succeed in the electoral arena.  Why are some rebel groups able to seamlessly transform into political parties on the heels of war while others die trying? 

 

Resilience Beyond Rebellion represents a fundamental shift in how we understand rebel-to-party transformation by placing the insurgent organization at the center of the analysis. I argue that the capacity for successful rebel-to-party transformation lies, in part, in the diversity and type of organizational structures built during wartime. Moving beyond homogenous, combat-centric models of rebel groups, I identify a variety of subdivisions commonly—though not universally—built during conflict, which mirror the functions and goals of structures in party organizations. Where present, these proto-party structures provide decisive advantages when rebel groups face the pressure of post-conflict transformation. Specifically, wartime subdivisions dedicated to governance, political messaging, social outreach, and other non-combat tasks imbue the organization with personnel, skills, and routines that retain their value the electoral arena. In short, some rebellions come to the negotiating table looking more like parties than others. 

 

I test my organizational theory of rebel-to-party transformation with a mixed-method design. First, I constructed novel cross-national dataset (the Insurgent Structures and Organizations (ISO) data) to test the predictive power of organizational characteristics against alternative explanations. To test the mechanism of transformation, I employ process tracing using extensive archival research on the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). The Salvadoran case allows me to exploit unique structural and geographic variation to test my theory at the sub-organizational level. I find that the groups with established proto-party wings not only form the core of the nascent party, but civilians who lived alongside those cadres during the war also cast more votes for the FMLN party in its aftermath.

 

The book manuscript is based on my dissertation, which won the 2018 United States Institute of Peace (USIP) Peace Dissertation Prize. I will be presenting a draft manuscript at the Center for International Studies in the Fall of 2022.