Fighting to survive: an organisational survival approach to insurgency
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 This dissertation uses previously unpublished internal documents from the Basque separatist group Euskal Ta Askatasuna (ETA) to demonstrate how organisational maintenance led the group to continue fighting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 These documents include previously unpublished transcripts from key internal debates about the organisation’s future.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.