Monday, October 19, 2020

John Reed - author of the "Ten Days that Shook the World": 100 years since his death

John Reed's name has been inextricably linked to the events of the 1917 Great October Socialist Revolution. His book “Ten Days that Shook the World” is a first hand experience of the Revolution that changed the course of human history.

Reed was born on October 22, 1887 in Portland, Oregon. He attended Portland public schools and graduated from Harvard University in 1910. Soon after his graduation he began working as a journalist in various publications including the American Magazine and the The Masses
In the autumn of 1913, Reed was sent to Mexico by the Metropolitan Magazine to report the Mexican Revolution. He wrote a series of outstanding magazine articles which gained him a national reputation as a war correspondent. Reed deeply sympathized with the struggle of the Mexican people and vehemently opposed American intervention. Reed's reports were collected and published in the book Insurgent Mexico (1914).

His next experience was in Colorado, in April 1914, where he recounted the Ludlow massacre, a crime orchestrated by the chief owner of the mine John D. Rockefeller Jr and carried out by by the local militia during the Colorado Coalfield War. Reed investigated the events, spoke on behalf of the miners, and wrote an impassioned article on the subject ("The Colorado War", published in July).

When World War I broke out in 1914 he went to Europe as a correspondent of Metropolitan Magazine.  He covered the battle fronts in Germany, Russia, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria. From these experiences he wrote the book, The War in Eastern Europe, published in April 1916, revealing the imperialist nature of the war.

In August 1917, Reed was sent as a war correspondent to Russia. He and his wife, Louise Bryant, were first hand witnesses of the events surrounding the Great October Socialist Revolution. A result of this experience was the publication of the book “Ten Days that Shook the World” in 1919; perhaps the most significant piece of eyewitness reporting about the October Revolution.
In the introduction of the Russian edition of the “Ten Days that Shook the World”, Vladimir I. Lenin wrote: “With the greatest interest and with never slackening attention I read John Reed’s book, Ten Days That Shook the World. Unreservedly do I recommend it to the workers of the world. Here is a book which I should like to see published in millions of copies and translated into all languages. It gives a truthful and most vivid exposition of the events so significant to the comprehension of what really is the Proletarian Revolution and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. These problems are widely discussed, but before one can accept or reject these ideas, he must understand the full significance of his decision. John Reed’s book will undoubtedly help to clear this question, which is the fundamental problem of the international labor movement.”
The experience of the Great October Socialist Revolution changed Reed forever. He became an enthusiastic supporter of the Bolsheviks and collaborated with the revolutionary government. When he returned to the U.S. in 1918 he faced open hostility by the authorities and was arrested multiple times, charged with violating the Sedition Act. However, he remained active in the labour movement, adopting a radical political position.

In 1919, after he had been expelled from the National Socialist Convention, he formed the Communist Labor Party of America which, a few months later, was succeeded by the United Communist Party of America. Reed was the major contributor in the Voice of Labour, the party newspaper of the Communist Labor Party.

Indicted for sedition and hoping to secure Comintern backing for the Party, he fled America with a forged passport in early October 1919 on a Scandinavian frigate. He fell ill on September 1920 with the diagnosis being spotted typhus. John Reed died in Moscow on October 17, 1920, having his wife by his side. He was given a state funeral and was buried in the Kremlin Necropolis, being the first of the three Americans who were honored by being buried there (the other two are Charles Ruthenberg and Bill Haywood).

It must be noted that Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein's 1927 silent masterpiece film “October: Ten Days that Shook the World” was based on Reed's book. Fifty-four years later, in 1981, Reed's life was the inspiration behind the Hollywood film “Reds” starring Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson.