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The differing fates of revolutionary vanguards

Political Violence at a Glance has an interesting discussion of ISIS that branches out to this:

Vanguards often emerge from movements led by ideologues – whether student revolutionaries or foreign jihadists – who are weakly connected to local networks and communities. This is the most interesting organizational starting point because groups with vanguard origins can take remarkably diverse trajectories, from the rapid collapse of urban-based leftist insurrections in Latin America to the transformation of the Viet Minh from an isolated band of activists into a hegemonic insurgency.

Networks of Rebellion outlines pathways through which vanguards change, toward both integration and fragmentation. Vanguards fragment as a result of two processes. First, sustained leadership decapitation can be devastating to vanguard groups. Because of weak local institutions, there is not a deep layer of second-rung leaders to take over (in contrast to a group, such as Hamas, that can refill the ranks even in the face of decapitation campaigns). Though the downfall of many vanguards, decapitation is unlikely to undermine ISIS because of the Iraqi government’s weak intelligence and organizational dysfunction. Adding American advisers (or, for that matter, combat forces) will do little to generate the fine-grained information necessary for a comprehensive decapitation campaign.

Second, vanguards can be undermined by revolts from below. They rely on opportunistic cooperation from local factions and networks that their central leadership does not tightly control. These local free agents can turn against the center, launching fratricidal rebellions that weaken or even wipe out the leadership. In mid-1990s Afghanistan, for instance, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s inability to embed his Hezb-e Islami into tribal networks in eastern Afghanistan left him vulnerable to local defection in the face of the Taliban.

So, thinking of Occupy... My first thought is to say "Decapitation, fuck yeah!" and remember the 17-city paramilitary crackdown.

Then again, it seems a curious omission that the article doesn't include infiltration, surveillance, agent provocateurs, etc., as pathways to fragmentation. Perhaps that comes under the heading decapitation? Or alternatively, all these ruling class tactics are so constant that they don't deserve mention? And then there's this:

But my book also identifies an important local alliance pathway toward integration. If vanguard groups can take advantage of a recalcitrant government to create linkages to local armed factions against a common enemy, the stage is set to infiltrate and control these allied groups. Taking advantage of this opportunity requires compromising on ideological goals by adapting to local interests. Strategic flexibility can allow initially vanguard groups to build new institutions on the ground, co-opt and absorb local factions, and ultimately forge organizational integration.


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