Leslie Evans grew up in a home steeped in the lore of ghostly apparitions, spirit guides, star charts, and the astral plane. His parents met at a sÃ©ance conducted by a dead thirteenth century crusader. In high school he called himself an outsider, beginning a quest for mystic experience. At Los Angeles City College he organized a student political party with black nationalist ideologue Ron Karenga.
In 1961 he was recruited to the Socialist Workers Party, American followers of Leon Trotsky. Over the next twenty years he rose to serve as managing editor of the English news service of the Trotskyist Fourth International, under Joseph Hansen, who had been Trotsky’s secretary and had captured Trotsky’s assassin. He was editor of the party’s theoretical magazine and the group’s China specialist, where he befriended Peng Shu-tse, an early leader of the Chinese Communist Party who once outranked Mao Zedong.
In the 1960s the SWP masterminded anti-Vietnam War demonstrations that brought more protesters to Washington, D.C., than the entire city population. He chronicles the party’s growth in the mass antiwar movement, then its implosion in the early 1980s when younger party leaders turned on the old guard and staked their future on winning influence with Fidel Castro. Evans spent three years on the Mesabi Iron Range in northern Minnesota, two of them working in the iron mines. In later years he worked as web journalist for UCLA’s International Institute, and carried out assignments for the World Health Organization and the World Bank.