Foundations of the Vanguard: The Origins of Leftist Rebel Groups

38 Pages Posted: 29 Apr 2020 Last revised: 1 Nov 2022

See all articles by Megan Stewart

Megan Stewart

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

Date Written: March 16, 2020


What explains the emergence of leftist rebel groups? I provide one explanation for their origins in colonized and recently decolonized countries during the Cold War. In this context, I argue that imperial assimilatory education programs terminating in the metropole facilitated the rise of a would-be rebel leadership cadre committed to leftist ideas and connected to leftist activists, and this cadre ultimately made the formation of a leftist rebel group more likely. Relying on archival and primary materials, I focus on variation in the educational experiences of rebel leaders in Eritrea’s Independence War to qualitatively evaluate different explanations for the formation of groups with different ideologies. I probe generalizability quantitatively with a global sample of civil wars, as well as qualitatively with an overview of cases colonized by Portugal using archival data from three countries.

Keywords: revolution, civil war, communism, ideology

Suggested Citation

Stewart, Megan, Foundations of the Vanguard: The Origins of Leftist Rebel Groups (March 16, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Megan Stewart (Contact Author)

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor ( email )

500 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

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