Although ethnic identity is widely regarded as an importance source of group solidarity, insurgent organizations that claim to represent ethnic groups are often susceptible to intra-organizational schism. In this paper, we depart from preexisting meso-level organizational analyses to offer a micro-level approach that explains how elite members in the ethnic rebel group make their decisions in terms of whether to exit from the organization and form a splinter group. Drawing on a new individual-level database about elite members of the Inner Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (IMPRP), we present a relational theory of the ethnic rebel group’s organizational cohesiveness. We argue that the decision of whether to join a splinter entity is mainly shaped by the intra-organizational formal hierarchy, especially in the early stages of insurgency. The organizational hierarchy institutionalizes the distribution of formal power among affiliated members, which induces status conflicts between leaders and subordinates. Challengers thus tend to use their informal power or informal interpersonal networks to initiate a leadership dispute because they do not occupy positions at the top of the formal hierarchy.
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