The Emergence and Consolidation of Opposition to Authoritarian Rule

Tension between these two objectives (increasing the likelihood of political success and reducing violent repression) leads groups to build the largest, most diverse coalition they can, as long as violent repression does not force members to operate underground. This is what I call the pluralist coalition logic. The larger the group, the more attractive it is as an ally because numbers translate into political power. On average, the more participants there are, the less likely it is that each individual will be repressed. If the regime perpetuates violence beyond the protest–arresting and killing leaders in their homes, for example–groups will go underground. While an effective way to continue operating in repressive contexts, clandestinity significantly hurts the ability to mobilize the masses.

Beyond forcing opposition groups to go underground, the book shows that repression atomizes communities by making people unwilling to talk to neighbors and even family members for fear of denunciation. Extreme fear and uncertainty break citizens’ most basic channels of communication. However, when repression is below the threshold that forces the opposition to operate underground, how do opposition groups forge coalitions? The book contends that expertise in conflict resolution, negotiations and mediation significantly increases the probability that civil society groups will be able to overcome their differences, agree to compromise and build an alliance.

The pluralist coalition logic implies that ideology, identity, and post-transition considerations are far less important predictors of alliances in repressive contexts than group size, level of repression, and conflict resolution expertise. In contrast to civil society organizations, political parties and armed groups follow a minimum winning coalition logic. Political parties and armed groups tend to form a large enough coalition to ensure victory but small enough to maximize post-transition spoils. When political parties are at the helm of an anti-regime campaign, building broad alliances that enable mass mobilization becomes far more difficult.

The book tests these theoretical predictions at the subnational level and with micro level data from the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. Using tens of thousands of archival documents and more than 100 interviews during 8 months of fieldwork in Chile, I created a dataset that includes all observable attempts to organize against the Pinochet dictatorship in the most populated state. I identified 1,685 opposition groups that run the gamut from small failed groups to organizations that challenged the regime. The dataset includes student and professional associations, faith-based groups, unions, grassroots organizations, soup kitchens, art collectives, human rights NGOs, and even political parties in the opposition and armed groups. Therefore, rather than studying Chile as a single instance of a nonviolent movement that succeeded in ousting a military regime, my book shows that the opposition to the dictatorship was far more diverse. Alliance formation among civil society organizations in Chile, as well as civil society’s independence from political parties, made nonviolent mass mobilization possible and it undermined the armed attempts of the more extreme factions in the opposition.

I also leverage qualitative evidence to demonstrate that repression atomized citizens and that negotiations reversed those effects. Dozens of interviews with faith leaders and archival documents from Chile’s Catholic Church show how the Cardinal, bishops, priests, and nuns led a massive undertaking to negotiate, mediate, and build alliances between civil society organizations. The Catholic Church’s deep knowledge and experience in conflict resolution at the community level, as well as their legitimacy in the eyes of the opposition, made them very effective mediators.

Contact me for a draft of the main theoretical and empirical chapters of the book manuscript.