This paper explores violent and non-violent collective action in Peru through community-level case studies. It tries to shed light on why widespread political violence emerged only late in the day - the 1980s - and was limited to certain regions of the country. It also asks why extreme inequality between groups has persisted for so long without violence or remedial action, and whether a weak propensity to collective action is part of the answer. The authors find significant evidence of constructive meso-level collective action and leadership; but potentially interesting action is restricted by a corrupt, selfseeking political system. In relatively fragile institutional systems, the poor find collective action more difficult and costly while the relatively well endowed with capabilities can manage it better, shedding some light on why inequality is often long lasting. When so much collective action results in only modest gains, frustration is to be expected, and the authors find that acts of 'controlled violence' on the part of organised communities are instruments to secure negotiation or dialogue and avoid the type of violence that is destructive in intent and based on an anarchic ideology.