Now that most of the “tumult and shouting has died,” it is useful for people who took a variety of positions on the Sandinista revolution to reflect on exactly what did take place in Nicaragua during the decade of Sandinista rule. Revolution and Counterrevolution in Nicaragua helps do that. This multiauthor work presents a balanced and quite comprehensive treatment of the revolutionary decade. The book is divided into four sections covering the political process, public policy, the counterrevolutionary war, and the peace process.

The position taken by most of the 18 contributors is expressed by Thomas Walker in his introduction to part one: namely, that if a true revolution involves a “significant restructuring of the social configuration of power ... what happened in Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990 was a real, though moderate, revolution” (p. 13). In his very useful essay, “The Evolution of Governmental Institutions,” Andrew Reding concludes that, contrary to expectations that the Sandinistas would impose the bureaucratic communism of Cuba or the Soviet Union, they “broke virtually all ideological molds” (p. 45) by joining forces with revolutionary Christians and protecting religious rights, by interpreting socialism to require political pluralism, and by conducting internationally verified elections that ultimately led to their relinquishing power. Chapters on the mass organizations (Luis Hector Serra), the opposition parties (Eric Weaver and William Barnes), the FSLN as a ruling party (Gary Prevost), the role of women in the revolution (Patricia Chuchryk), and the role of both Catholic and Protestant religious groups (Michael Dodson) all reflect the contradictions and tensions between bureaucratic and pluralistic tendencies within the revolution.

The six chapters dealing with Sandinista government policy (social programs, health care, agrarian reform, economic policy, human rights, and foreign policy) document the severe constraints under which the regime labored. Harvey Williams suggests that there are four alternative explanations for the Sandinistas’ inability to achieve their social policy goals: the opposition of foreign governments, particularly the United States; an attempt to accomplish too much too soon; an attempt to please too many different factions; and a failure to “take seriously enough the need to promote the democratic and participatory role of the masses in the revolutionary process” (p. 206). He considers the first and the fourth to be the most supportable.

The fourth problem is reflected in the agrarian reform process as described by Eduardo Baumeister. Between 1980 and 1985, increased state control over land tenure and the marketing of agricultural products drove many frightened peasants into the arms of the Contras. In 1984 the government began a policy of “flexibilization,” but an agrarian policy that was “excessively centered on state farms, state control of commerce, and the authoritarian methods of government technocrats had embittered relations between a segment of the peasantry and the revolution” (p. 243).

An important aspect of the work is that it does not shrink from addressing the major criticisms leveled against the Sandinista regime by its opponents, such as the army’s role as a “party army” (p. 132), the Marxist character of the FSLN (pp. 101-4), the antagonizing of segments of the peasantry by the agrarian reform (pp. 233-43), human rights abuses (pp. 276-78), press censorship (pp. 281-82), and the orientation of the Sandinista press (p. 357).

Walker states that an international “learning dialectic” was also going on. Revolutionaries (in Nicaragua and elsewhere) learned a number of techniques for consolidating power and implementing change, while the U.S. and its counterrevolutionary allies learned how to destabilize revolutionary regimes (pp. 3-4). It is also clear that a learning dialectic took place between bureaucratic and pluralistic political practices within the FSLN itself. It will be interesting to see which lesson has been learned if and when the Sandinistas return to power.

The third edition of Walker’s Nicaragua: The Land of Sandino makes the more detailed material in Revolution and Counterrevolution accessible to a wider audience. The clearly written historical chapters provide the background for the chapters on the country’s economic, political, and social systems and its place in the international system. Attention is given to the first year of the Chamorro regime. The book also contains useful material on the evolution of the UNO and recent reform currents in the FSLN.

Each of these books is a useful and meaty contribution to the field of contemporary Nicaraguan studies. Revolution and Counterrevolution is written primarily for the scholar, however; The Land of Sandino is an excellent introduction for the beginning student.