This paper analyzes strategic challenges inherent in alternative coalitional choices made by social movements. Not only do grievances and resources influence alliance patterns, but movements that survive over the long-term do so in part because they successfully manage the dilemmas associated with different coalitional positions. The first section discusses the risks and trade-offs that accompany particular types of alliances and introduces a typology of different alliance patterns formed by social movements. This typology is then applied to the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST) in Brazil, with the goal of tracing the specific alliance patterns that have emerged as this movement has evolved. Based on interviews with MST activists within the leadership structure, as well as at the grassroots level, the paper considers recent changes within the movement's membership base. These emerging sectors—the “diminishing core” and the “new recruits”—differ sharply from each other given the interaction of their origins and motivations, which in turn affect their interpretation of the movement’s goals, strategic choices, and alliance patterns. While the diminishing core members prefer multiple international alliances to achieve broader social and economic goals, new recruits seek movement autonomy to achieve the narrower goal of land reform. This incipient disjuncture suggests that the movement may soon take a new coalitional direction—possibly by expanding alliances within domestic political institutions—to remain a major force within the Brazilian political arena.
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