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Fighting to survive: an organisational survival approach to insurgency

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posted on 2023-12-18, 04:02 authored by Nell BennettNell Bennett

Why do rebel groups continue fighting when they know they cannot win? Why do they continue to use violence after all hope of achieving their political goals has vanished? The puzzle of insurgent persistence remains an underexamined area of civil war studies. I argue that organisational theory makes an important contribution towards explaining why, despite diminishing prospects of success, insurgents continue using violence. Over time, insurgents become organisations and the survival of the group can supplant their original political goals. This dissertation uses previously unpublished internal documents from the Basque separatist group Euskal Ta Askatasuna (ETA) to demonstrate how organisational maintenance led the group to continue fighting when the costs outweighed the benefits. These documents include previously unpublished transcripts from key internal debates about the organisation’s future. This new empirical material provides a rare view inside an insurgent organisation at crucial decision points. A detailed analysis of this material reveals that ETA was driven by a desire to survive and expand – and that the survival of their organisation was ultimately more important than the Basque nationalist movement. 


Table of Contents

Introduction -- Our current understanding of insurgent mobilisation and persistence -- The organisational survival approach to insurgency -- Background to Assembly VII -- Assembly VII of 1976 -- The elections of 1977 -- The new strategic direction -- The first debate of 1981 -- The second debate of 1981 -- Assembly VIII of 1982 -- The aftermath -- Conclusion -- Reference list

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Doctor of Philosophy

Department, Centre or School

Department of Security Studies and Criminology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Adam Lockyer

Additional Supervisor 1

Yves-Heng Lim


Copyright: The Author Copyright disclaimer: Complete version suppressed due to copyright restrictions. However, on receipt of an InterLibrary Loan Request, placed with Macquarie University Library by another library, we will consider supplying a copy of this thesis. For more information on Macquarie University’s Document Supply, please contact




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