"I went to Nicaragua with nothing but a tourist visa, $1,500 in cash, the name of someone at the Agrarian Reform Ministry, and the idea of being a revolutionary intellectual. . . . The idea took hold in a simple character flaw: wanting to believe that I knew better than everyone else."
—From the preface
When Michael Johns joined a Sandinista militia in 1983, a fellow revolutionary dubbed him a rábano, a radish: red on the outside but white on the inside. Now, more than twenty-five years later, Johns appreciates the wisdom of that label as he revisits the questions of identity he tried to resolve by working with the Sandinistas at that point in his life. In The Education of a Radical, Johns recounts his immersion in Marxism and the Nicaraguan sojourn it led to, with a painful maturation process along the way.
His conversion began in college, where he joined a student group called the Latin American Solidarity Association and traveled to Chiapas, Mexico, for research on his senior thesis. Overwhelmed by the poverty he witnessed (and fascinated by a new friend named Maricela who was trying to turn peasants into revolutionaries and who carried a heavily highlighted copy of Late Capitalism), he experienced an ideological transformation. When a Marxist professor later encouraged him to travel to Nicaragua, the real internal battle began for him, a battle that was intensified by the U.S. invasion of Grenada and its effect on the Sandinistas, who believed they were the next target for an imminent American invasion. Before he knew it, Johns was digging trenches and learning how to use an AK-47. His intellectual ideals came face-to-face with revolutionary facts, and the results would perplex him for years to come.
Bringing to life a vivid portrait of the sometimes painful process of reconciling reality with romanticized principles, The Education of a Radical encapsulates a trove of truths about humanity, economics, and politics in one man's memorable journey.
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Michael Johns is Professor of Geography, University of California, Berkeley, and the author of The City of Mexico in the Age of Díaz and Moment of Grace: The American City in the 1950s.Review:
"It’s a gutsy, revealing story that compels readers to question their own motivations and beliefs. Though there is no doubt that some may be uncomfortable with John’s personal revelations, criticisms of Marxism, and portrayal of the revolution, his is a story well told." (The Americas 2013-07-01)
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