Dancing with Dynamite in Latin America: Looking Back at Half a Decade of Political Struggle

This month marks five years since the publication of my book Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America, (AK Press). Thanks to everyone who has read, borrowed, pirated, or stolen it. The dance with dynamite between social movements and states in Latin America that the book followed in 2010 continues today, but in a transformed political and economic landscape.

While the region’s leftist shift has continued with major gains in the fight against poverty, social exclusion, and imperialism, the death of Hugo Chavez has been a critical turning point for Venezuela and the rest of Latin America. The coup against Fernando Lugo in Paraguay continued the onslaught against democracy and peasants’ rights that was well-entrenched even during Lugo’s brief time in office. The divisions, alliances and co-optations in Bolivia between the MAS government and indigenous and social movements have become more complicated than perhaps ever in the country’s history. The fault lines between indigenous movements, governments and multinational corporations that developed around the question of extractive industries have cracked open social conflicts from Quito to Patagonia.

At the same time, the internationalization of movement strategies and struggles connected at the end of the book exploded on the world scene over this time, with the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and the anti-austerity movements across Europe, to name a few.


I came up with the idea for Dancing with Dynamite one night in La Paz while reading John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. This quote rings true now as much as it did then, reading it while a new Bolivian constitution was drafted in Sucre, land was being occupied by the MST in Brazil, the worker-run factories hummed along in Argentina, and millions of people across the Americas conspired for a better world:



“The causes lie deep and simply—the causes are a hunger in a stomach, multiplied a million times; a hunger in a single soul, hunger for joy and some security, multiplied a million times; muscles and mind aching to grow, to work, to create, multiplied a million times… The danger is here, for two men are not as lonely and perplexed as one. And from this first ‘we’ there grows a still more dangerous thing: ‘I have a little food’ plus ‘I have none.’ If from this problem the sum is ‘we have little food,’ the thing is on its way, the movement has direction. Only a little multiplication now, and this land, this tractor are ours.” – The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck



Benjamin Dangl is the editor of TowardFreedom.com