Violent struggle and authoritarian durability

I’m only a few months behind the curve on this one – Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way had a very interesting article in December’s issue of Perspectives on Politics called “Beyond Patronage: Violent Struggle, Ruling Party Cohesion, and Authoritarian Durability” (earlier ungated version at SSRN).

This paper argues that institutionalized party patronage — the focus of recent studies by Barbara Geddes, Jason Brownlee, and Beatriz Magaloni — is an ineffective source of elite cohesion. Patronage may preserve elite unity during normal times, but it is often insufficient to ensure elite cooperation during crises. The most durable party-based regimes are those that are organized around non-material sources of cohesion, such as ideology, ethnicity, or bonds of solidarity rooted in a shared experience of violent struggle. In particular, parties whose origins lie in war, violent anti-colonial struggle, revolution, or counter-insurgency are more likely to survive economic crisis, leadership succession, and opposition challenges without suffering debilitating defections. To demonstrate this argument, we compare post Cold War regime trajectories in Kenya, Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Pure patronage parties in Kenya (KANU) and Zambia (UNIP) that were not founded in violent struggle suffered severe defections and fell from power after the Cold War. By contrast, Frelimo in Mozambique and ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe, which were both the outgrowth of long and violent liberation struggles, remained highly cohesive and retained power in the face of powerful opposition challenges and significant economic downturn.

The RPF in Rwanda fits this narrative quite well, and in a 2006 article, Filip Reyntjens noted that the CNDD in Burundi also enjoyed some legitimacy among the Hutu majority because of its role in the civil war. I wonder if this has something to do with Joseph Kabila’s unusual longevity in power, as well.  He doesn’t appear terribly interested in either governing or politicking, but he does seem to lean on his father’s legacy, perhaps getting a boost from any legitimacy he might have earned during the first war.  When I was in Kinshasa in 2009 I remember noting that all of the political posters featured Kabila père rather than the current president.  Would be curious to hear thoughts on this from people who are more familiar with the elder Kabila’s political legacy than I am.