John Reed was born in Portland, Oregon, on 22nd October, 1887. His father, Charles Jerome Reed, was a prosperous businessman, who paid for him to be educated privately. As a teenager he suffered from health problems. According to his biographer, Barbara Gelb: "In his eleventh year, the focal point of his illness became a weak kidney. There seemed no cure for the condition, and for the next six years he suffered recurrent attacks of pain that kept him bedridden for periods of a week or more at a time."
In the early 1900s Charles Jerome Reed became associated with Theodore Roosevelt in his attempt to tackle corruption in Oregon. Reed was appointed as a United States Marshal. Reed was now regarded as a "traitor to his class" and was "ostracized by much of Portland's business and social community". As the author of So Short a Time (1973) has pointed out: "Charles Jerome Reed was distressed that he could not support his sons in the style and comfort he wanted for them, but he would not withdraw from his newfound political commitment." During this period he became friends with the radical journalist, Lincoln Steffens. He introduced him to his son who was later to help him in his chosen career.
At Harvard University he showed little interest in politics and only occasionally attended meetings of the Socialist Club, then headed by Walter Lippmann. According to Theodore Draper: "He preferred to be the football team's star cheerleader, urging the future Republican congressman, Hamilton Fish, Jr., on to greater glory as the team's star player. Steffens introduced the young poet and playboy to the world of radicals and nonconformists in New York. But Steffens was then no Socialist himself and did not exert the kind of influence that would lead to a political commitment. Reed was drawn into the radical movement by going beyond Steffens and associating with the more unconventional New York intellectuals who were closer to him in age and temperament." Bertram D. Wolfe argued: "Reed shopped around, too, at the Single Tax and Anarchist clubs, the Harvard Men's League for Woman's Suffrage, and the other causes enlisting enthusiasm on the campus: modern art, thesis drama, anti-puritanism - an apprenticeship for the life he was to find in Greenwich Village."
Reed was only impressed by one of his teachers at university, Charles Townsend Copeland. He later wrote that Copeland "stimulated me to find color and strength and beauty in books and in the world, and to express it." Richard O'Connor has pointed out: "Professor Charles Townsend Copeland was a small, waspish, and bitterly witty man... Copeland vigorously advocated in youthful writers the search for that lean, sinewy quality which distinguished American prose from its English ancestry, and the impact he made on a generation of Harvard students was tremendous."
One of Reed's fellow students, Heywood Broun, later wrote: "Copeland had a great deal to do with the making of John Reed. Copey did not know, and no one of us knew, that this humorous, light-hearted youngster would burn himself up in a fever of revolution. We believe only a few things which Reed believed. As a political economist he did not inspire admiration, but he stuck closely to the creed which an artist ought to have as any man we have ever known. He wrote what he felt. Copey did not groan in vain for this pupil."
Reed said that it was Charles Townsend Copeland and Lincoln Steffens who determined his future career: "There are two men who gave me confidence in myself - Copeland and Steffens."In 1911 Steffens took Reed to New York City. As Steffens pointed out: "His father, U.S. Marshal Charles Reed, whom I had known intimately in the timber fraud cases in Portland, Oregon, had asked me to keep an eye on his boy, Jack, who, the father thought, was a poet." According to Steffens his father had said: "Get him a job, let him see everything, but don't let him be anything for a while. Don't let him get a conviction right away or a business or a career, like me. Let him play."
Reed began work for the American Magazine. Reed later admitted: "I never stuck long at anything I didn't like. On the other hand, there are few things I don't get some fun out of, if only the novelty of experience. I love people, except the well-fed smug, and am interested in all new things and all the beautiful old things they do. I love beauty and chance and change... I suppose I'll always be a Romanticist."
Bertram D. Wolfe pointed out that Lincoln Steffens "took Reed under his care, introducing him to life and art and the men, women, and isms of Greenwich Village." During this period he met Max Eastman, the editor of The Masses. He introduced him to other intellectuals and artists such as Margaret Sanger, Louise Bryant, Bill Haywood, Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman, Frances Perkins, Amos Pinchot, Carl Van Vechten, Frank Harris, Charles Demuth, Andrew Dasburg, George Sylvester Viereck, John Collier and Amy Lowell.
Reed's time in New York City turned him into a left-wing activist and during this period he joined the Socialist Party of America. "I couldn't help but observe the ugliness of poverty and all its train of evil, the cruel inequality between rich people who had too many motor-cars and poor people who didn't have enough to eat. It didn't come to me from books that the workers produced all the wealth of the world, which went to those who did not earn it." Floyd Dell later recalled: "He was a great, husky, untamed youth of immense energies and infantine countenance."
Reed also met Mabel Dodge. Her apartment in New York City became a place where intellectuals and artists met. This included Lincoln Steffens, Robert Edmond Jones, Margaret Sanger, Louise Bryant, Bill Haywood, Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman, Frances Perkins, Amos Pinchot, Frank Harris, Charles Demuth, Andrew Dasburg, Albert Rhys Williams, George Sylvester Viereck, John Collier, Carl Van Vechten and Amy Lowell. As Bertram D. Wolfe explained: "Sometimes Mrs. Dodge set the subject and selected the opening speaker; sometimes she shifted the night to make sure that none would know of the gathering expect those she personally notified." Dodge pointed out in her autobiography, Intimate Memories: "I switched from the usual Wednesday to a Monday, so that none but more or less radical sympathizers would be there."
Mabel Dodge began an affair with John Reed. She later described their first meeting: "His olive green eyes glowed softly, his high forehead was like a baby's with light brown curls rolling away from it and two spots of shining light on his temples, making him lovable. His chin was the best... the real poet's jawbone... eyebrows always lifted... generally breathless!"
Reed received a small salary from the American Magazine and he supplemented his income by selling short stories and non-fiction articles to The Masses, Collier's Weekly, Saturday Evening Post, The Metropolitan Magazine, The Smart Set and The Century Magazine.
Paterson was known as the "Silk City of America". More than one-third of its 73,000 workers held jobs in the silk industry. In 1911 silk manufacturers in Paterson decided that workers, who had previously ran two looms, were now required to operate four simultaneously. Workers complained that this would cause unemployment and consequently, would bring down wages. On 27th January, 1913, 800 employees of the Doherty Silk Mill went on strike when four members of the workers' committee were fired for trying to organize a meeting with the company's management to discuss the four-loom system. Within a week, all silk workers were on strike and the 300 mills in the town were forced to close.
John Reed decided to report on the Paterson Strike and took Mabel Dodge with him. He was soon arrested and imprisoned in Paterson County Jail. When the police found that he was embarrassing them by writing articles on prison conditions, they released him. Other left-wing journalists such as Walter Lippmann arrived to show solidarity with Reed and to support the demand that reporters should be free to report industrial disputes.
Reed, Dodge and John Sloan organised a Paterson Strike Pageant in Madison Square Garden in an attempt to raise funds for the strikers. Dodge later wrote: "For a few electric moments there was a terrible unity between all of these people. They were one: the workers who had come to show their comrades what was happening across the river and the workers who had come to see it. I have never felt such a pulsing vibration in any gathering before or since." However, the strike fund was unable to raise enough money and in July, 1913, the workers were starved into submission.
However, as Bertram D. Wolfe pointed out: "It is hard work to fill Madison Square Garden. The dollar and two-dollar seats remained almost empty until workers and strikers were let in free or at ten cents a seat. Instead of making money, the pageant ended with a deficit". The strike fund was unable to raise enough money and in July, 1913, the workers were starved into submission.
The day after the Paterson Strike Pageant, Dodge and John Reed left for a tour of Europe. He told his current girlfriend, "Rose, I don't love you: I love Mabel Dodge." However, the relationship was stormy. After one argument Reed sent her a parting letter: "Goodbye, my darling - you smother me. You crush me. You want to kill my spirit. I love you better than life but do not want to die in my spirit. I am going away to save myself. Forgive me. I love you."
In December, 1913 Carl Hovey of Metropolitan Magazine sent Reed to Mexico to report on Pancho Villa and his army. Bertram D. Wolfe has argued: "To Reed the Mexican Revolution was a pageant, a succession of adventures, a delight to the eye, a chance to discover that he was not afraid of bullets. His reports overflow with life and movement: simple, savage men, capricious cruelty, warm comradeship, splashes of color, bits of song, fragments of social and political dreams, personal peril, gay humor, reckless daring... Reed's mingling of personal adventure with camera-eye close-ups lighted by a poet's vision made superb reporting."
Carl Hovey was very impressed with Reed's work in Mexico. After he received one of his articles he wired Reed: "Nothing finer could have been written. We are absolutely delighted with your stuff. Lincoln Steffens later recalled that Reed had "so much stuff that he didn't know how to write it, and I sat whole nights with him editing them into articles.... I showed him what he had." Reed's reports were later collected together and published as Insurgent Mexico.
On the outbreak of the First World War, Reed went to Europe where he covered the battle fronts in France, Germany, Russia, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria for The Masses and the Metropolitan Magazine. The author of The Roots of American Communism (1960) argued: "The war, which he saw at close range on the eastern front for a few months in 1915, gave Reed his first profound, personal political cause. He was deeply, irreconcilably opposed to it, convinced that it represented merely a struggle between rival capitalist interests. Since the American press was almost totally pro-war, he had to cut himself off from the important, lucrative assignments to which he had become accustomed."
Reed also visited the Western Front with Boardman Robinson. He wrote that "I could fill pages of horrors that civilized Europe is inflicted upon itself. I could describe to you the quiet, dark, saddened streets of Paris, where every ten feet you are confronted with some miserable wreck of a human being, or a madman who lost his reason in the trenches being led around by his wife." His reports were later published in the War In Eastern Europe: Travels Through the Balkans (1916).
His experiences during the First World War turned him into a pacifist. However, Max Eastman, the editor of The Masses, was not convinced: "John Reed, as a pacifist, was only too eager for a fight. He was a big man with jovial animosities and powerful muscles. I remember his presence as a rather unsettling phenomenon. He had a habit of looking away when he was talking to you, not looking in any particular direction but everywhere, as though he were afraid he might miss something."
In 1915 Reed returned to Portland where he met Louise Bryant. He wrote to a friend: "I think I've found her at last. She's wild, brave and straight-and graceful and lovely to look at. In this spiritual vacuum, this unfertilized soil, she has grown (how, I can't imagine) into an artist. She is coming to New York to get a job with me, I hope. I think she's the first person I ever loved without reservation." Bryant remarked: "I always wanted somebody who wouldn't care when you went to bed or what hour you got up, and who lived in the way Jack did." Reed took her to New York City and she was introduced to Max Eastman, Sherwood Anderson, Eugene O'Neill, Upton Sinclair, Amy Lowell, Mabel Dodge, Floyd Dell, Inez Milholland, Carl Sandburg, Crystal Eastman and Boardman Robinson.
In the summer of 1916 Bryant and Reed decided to rent a home in Provincetown, a small seaport in Massachusetts. A group of left-wing writers including Floyd Dell, George Gig Cook, Mary Heaton Vorse, Susan Glaspell, Hutchins Hapgood, William Zorach, Theodore Dreiser and Neith Boyce, who lived in Greenwich Village, often spent their summers in Provincetown. In previous year, several members of this community, established the Provincetown Theatre Group. A shack at the end of the fisherman's wharf was turned into a theatre. Later, other writers such as Eugene O'Neill and Edna St. Vincent Millay joined the group. Bryant wrote: "It was a strange year. Never were so many people in America who wrote or painted or acted ever thrown together in one place."
On 28th July, 1916 the group performed Bound East for Cardiff, a play written by the young playwright, Eugene O'Neill. The cast included John Reed, George Gig Cook and O'Neill, who was persuaded to play the one-line role of the ship's mate. It was the ideal play for the Provincetown Theatre. Susan Glaspell later recalled: "The sea had been good to Eugene O'Neill. It was there for his opening. There was a fog, just as the script demanded, fog bell in the harbour. The tide was in, and it washed under us and around, spraying through the holes in the floor, giving us the rhythm and the flavour of the sea while the big dying sailor talked to his friend Drisc of the life he had always wanted deep in the land, where you'd never see a ship or smell the sea."
O'Neill's one-act play shared the bill with The Game , that had been written by Louise Bryant. According to Barbara Gelb: "Louise hurried to finish her play, The Game. Though it was a rather stilted attempt at parable... it caught the interest of William and Marguerite Zorach, both artists, who thought they could create an innovative stage setting, and it was accepted for the second bill." Mary V. Dearborn, the author of Queen of Bohemia (1996), remarked: "The play boasted a remarkably overstated and formalized acting style... Utterly, deliberately non-realistic, the play received more acclaim than it perhaps deserved." John Reed himself provided a one-act play entitled, Freedom. This was followed by another, The Eternal Quadrangle.
In June 1916, Reed went to see a doctor about his health problems. He was told that he needed an operation to remove one of his kidneys. While he was away Louise Bryant became close to Eugene O'Neill. The author of So Short a Time (1973) argued: "Louise was spellbound by O'Neill's marathon swims. Sometimes after watching him from her window, who would join him on the beach. O'Neill could no longer pretend that he was not deeply and unhappily in love with her... He was convinced that Louise, committed to Reed, would be offended by his love. He not only concealed his feelings, but tried his best to avoid her; he was the only one to whom it was not plain that Louise was pursuing him." Louise sent a note to O'Neill that read: "I must see you alone. I have to explain something, for my sake and Jack's. You have to understand." As a result of the meeting, Louise and O'Neill became lovers and soon most of their friends were aware of it. However, John Reed was completely ignorant of the affair.
On 9th November 1916, John Reed married Louise Bryant. Eleven days later, Reed had one of his kidneys removed at an hospital in Baltimore. His friend, Robert Benchley, who worked for the New York Tribune, wrote to him while he was recovering from the operation: "Allow me to to condole with you on your recent bereavement. we never realize. I suppose, what a wonderful thing a kidney is until it is gone. How true that is of everything in life, after all, isn't it?"
Reed feared that the United States would eventually become involved in the First World War. He came to the conclusion that the election of Woodrew Wilson was the best way of preventing this happen. In 1916 Reed joined forces with other radicals such as Lincoln Steffens, John Dewey, Franklin Giddings, George Creel, George Gig Cook and Susan Glaspell, in the campaign to re-elect Wilson.
After the USA declared war on the Central Powers in 1917, The Masses came under government pressure to change its anti-war policy. Reed was strongly against war. He wrote in the magazine: "I know what war means. I have been with the armies of all the belligerents except one, and I have seen men die, and go mad, and lie in hospitals suffering hell; but there is a worse thing than that. War means an ugly mob-madness, crucifying the truth-tellers, choking the artists, side-tracking reforms, revolutions and the working of social forces... For many years this country is going to be a worse place for men to live in; less tolerant, less hospitable. Maybe it is too late, but I want to put down what I think about it all. Whose war is this? Not mine... But the speculators, the employers, the plutocracy-they want it, just as they did in Germany and England; and with lies and sophistries they will whip up our blood until we are savage and then we'll fight and die for them."
Reed came under fire from his mother because of his anti-war views: "It gives me a shock to have your father's son say that he cares nothing for his country and his flag. I do not want you to fight, heaven knows, for us, but I do not want you to fight against us, by word and pen, and I can't help saying that if you do, now that war is declared, I shall feel deeply ashamed. I think you will find that most of your friends and sympathizers are of foreign birth, very few are real Americans comparatively."
In early 1917 Lincoln Steffens suggested that Reed should go to Russia. He was keen that Louise should accompany him and so he helped her to get accreditation as a foreign correspondent to report the war for the Bell Syndicate. The notation clipped to her application read: "I suppose I will have to issue a passport to this wild woman. She is full of socialistic and ultra-modern ideas, which accounts for her wild hair and open mouth. She is the wife of John Reed, a well-known correspondent."
John Reed and Louise Bryant left for Petrograd on 17th August 1917 after Eugen Boissevain raised money for the trip. Reed was commissioned to write articles for The Masses, The New York Call and Seven Arts. As Theodore Draper pointed out: "Max Eastman scraped together the money, and he reached Petrograd in September 1917. Thus he had two months before the Bolsheviks seized power. These were the days that shook John Reed. He went to Russia purely as a journalist, but he was not a pure journalist. He could not resist identifying himself with underdogs, especially if they followed strong, ruthless leaders. Reed was first and foremost a great reporter, but he was at his best reporting a cause he could make his own."
Reed was very impressed with Russia: "In Russia everyone talks about his soul... In Petrograd I have seen a crowded cafe at two o'clock in the morning-of course no liquor was to be had-shouting and singing and pounding on the tables, quite intoxicated with ideas.... Russian ideals are the most exhilarating, Russian thought the freest, Russian art the most exuberant; Russian food and drink are to me the best, and Russians themselves are, perhaps, the most interesting human beings that exist.... Every one acts just as he feels like acting, and says just what he wants to."
On 30th October, 1917, Reed interviewed Alexander Kerensky: "The Russian people are suffering from economic fatigue - and from disillusionment with the Allies. The world thinks that the Russian Revolution is just beginning." It was the last statement that Kerensky made before being forced to go into hiding." Reed wrote to Boardman Robinson: "We are in the middle of things and believe me it's thrilling. For color and terror and grandeur this makes Mexico look pale."
According to Bertram D. Wolfe: "He (Read) made his way into the Smolny, where the Bolsheviks had their headquarters; into the City Duma, stronghold of liberal democracy; into the soviets of workers and soldiers and into the soviets of peasants; into barracks, factory meetings, street processions, halls, courts; into the Constituent Assembly, which the Bolsheviks dispersed; into the Winter Palace when it was being defended by student officers and a woman's battalion, and again when it was being overrun and looted. All Russia was meeting, and John Reed was meeting with it."
On another occasion the couple were nearly killed. Louise Bryant later wrote about the incident in Six Months in Russia (1918): " We found ourselves crammed against a closed archway that had great iron doors securely locked. There were twenty in our crowd and about six were Kronstadt sailors. The first victim was a working man. His right leg was shattered and he sank down without a sound, gradually turning paler and losing consciousness as a pool of blood widened around him. Not one of us dared to move. One thing that I remember, which struck me even then, was that no one in our crowd screamed, although seven were killed. I remember also the two little street boys. One whimpered pitifully when he was shot, the other died instantly, dropping at our feet an inanimate bundle of rags, his little faced covered with his own blood. The hopelessness of our position was just beginning to sink in on me when several Kronstadt sailors with a great shout straight into the fire. They succeeded in reaching the car and thrust their bayonets inside again and again. The sharp cries of the victims rose above the shouting, and suddenly everything was sickeningly quiet. They dragged three dead men out of the armoured car and they lay face up on the cobbles, unrecognizable and stuck all over with bayonet wounds."
On 8th November, 1917, Reed spent time with Lenin: "A short, stocky figure, with a big head set down in his shoulders, bald and bulging. Little eyes, a snubbish nose, wide, generous mouth, and heavy chin; clean-shaven now, but already beginning to bristle with the well-known beard of his past and future. Dressed in shabby clothes, his trousers much too long for him. Unimpressive, to be the idol of a mob, loved and revered as perhaps few leaders in history have been. A strange popular leader 'a leader purely by virtue of intellect; colourless, humourless, uncompromising and detached, without picturesque idiosyncrasies - but with the power of explaining profound ideas in simple terms, of analysing a concrete situation. And combined with shrewdness, the greatest intellectual audacity."
John Reed arrived back in New York City on 28th April, 1918. He was immediately arrested and charged with Max Eastman, Floyd Dell, Art Young, Boardman Robinson and Henry J. Glintenkamp for violating the Espionage Act by publishing anti-war articles and cartoons in The Masses. Under this act it was an offence to publish material that undermined the war effort.
Louise Bryant found that Reed's arrest resulted in her losing work. The Philadelphia Public Ledger, which had run her Russian articles, refused to publish a proposed series on Ireland. "In view of the fact that your husband has again been arrested, I think it would be wiser for you to let the matter rest a while. Your identity as Mrs. Reed has been pretty widely established, and I am afraid the newspapers would not go in for a series from you until Mr. Reed has cleared up all his troubles."
Reed was released on bail and he published a series of articles on the Russian Revolution in The Liberator. He was attacked by Upton Sinclair for dismissing stories of "Bolshevik terrorism". He also described him as "the playboy of the social revolution". Lincoln Steffens also disapproved of Reed's articles. In a letter to Reed he urged him: "You must wait. I know it's hard, but you can't carry conviction. You can't plant ideas. Only feelings exist. The public are bewildered. I think it is undemocratic to do much now. Write, but don't publish."
The second trial was held in January 1919. John Reed, who had recently returned from Russia, was also arrested and charged with the original defendants. Floyd Dell wrote in his autobiography, Homecoming (1933): "While we waited, I began to ponder for myself the question which the jury had retired to decide. Were we innocent or guilty? We certainly hadn't conspired to do anything. But what had we tried to do? Defiantly tell the truth. For what purpose? To keep some truth alive in a world full of lies. And what was the good of that? I don't know. But I was glad I had taken part in that act of defiant truth-telling." This time eight of the twelve jurors voted for acquittal. As the First World War was now over, it was decided not to take them to court for a third time.
Reed's experiences in Russia were recorded in his book, Ten Days That Shook the World, that was published in March 1919. Lenin later claimed it was the best book written about the Russian Revolution. and added that he "unreservedly do I recommend it to the workers of the world". However, others were not so kind. Walter Lippmann argued: "Reed was a great talent, the great descriptive journalist of our era, but as a descriptive, romantic writer, not a political thinker." Charles E. Russell, writing in The New York Times, had grave misgivings about Reed's thesis that: "All revolutions are good; some revolutions are better than others; the Bolshevik revolution was of the best."
Reed returned to America and worked for the left-wing journal, The Liberator. He also joined the Communist Propaganda League. As his biographer, Granville Hicks, pointed out Reed's "next steps were natural stages in the transition from the task of giving information about Bolshevism in Russia to the task of organizing Bolshevism in America."
In February 1919, Reed joined forces with Bertram Wolfe, Jay Lovestone and Benjamin Gitlow to create a left-wing faction in the Socialist Party of America that advocated the policies of the Bolsheviks in Russia. On 24th May 1919 the leadership expelled 20,000 members who supported this faction. The process continued and by the beginning of July two-thirds of the party had been suspended or expelled.
In September 1919, John Reed, Jay Lovestone, Earl Browder, James Cannon, Bertram Wolfe, William Bross Lloyd, Benjamin Gitlow, Charles Ruthenberg, William Dunne, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Louis Fraina, Ella Reeve Bloor, Rose Pastor Stokes, Claude McKay, Michael Gold and Robert Minor, decided to form the Communist Party of the United States. Within a few weeks it had 60,000 members whereas the Socialist Party of America had only 40,000.
Reed told Susan Glaspell that he wanted to stay in Provincetown and write poetry. However, he decided to return to Russia in 1920 to attended the Second Congress of the Communist International in Moscow. As his passport had been confiscated by the United States government, James Larkin arranged for him to be smuggled out of the country and he arrived in Moscow via Stockholm and Helsinki. On his arrival he sought official recognition of the American Communist Party. However, Grigori Zinoviev, the chairman of the Comintern, made it clear that a decision would not be arrived at without lengthy deliberation.
Clare Sheridan, the British artist, met John Reed on 22nd September, 1920. She later recalled in her book, Russian Portraits (1921): "We were delayed in starting by John Reed, the American Communist, who came to see him (Kamenev) on some business. He is a well-built good-looking young man, who has given up everything at home to throw his heart and life into work here. I understand the Russian spirit, but what strange force impels an apparently normal young man from the United States?"
While in Moscow Reed visited Emma Goldman. According to her autobiography, Living My Life (1931) he said to her: "Your dream of years now realized in Russia, your dream scorned and persecuted in my country, but made real by the magic wand of Lenin." Goldman replied that she had not been impressed by Lenin and his Bolsheviks. "I must be crazy, Jack, or else I never understood the meaning of revolution. I certainly never believed that it would signify callous indifference to human life and suffering, or that it would have no other method of solving its problems than by wholesale slaughter."
Reed also met Clare Frewen Sheridan, the first cousin of Winston Churchill, and the lover of Lev Kamenev and Leon Trotsky. She wrote in her diary: "I understand the Russian spirit but what strange force impels an apparently normal young man from the United States? I am told by the Russians that his book, Ten Days that Shook the World, is the best book on the Revolution, and that it, has become a national classic and is taught in the schools."
According to Bertram Wolfe, the author of Strange Communists I Have Known (1966): "The order of business for the Second Congress had been determined by Lenin. Having concluded that the great push for world revolution had failed, and with it the attempt to smash the old socialist parties and trade unions, Lenin set it as the task of all revolutionaries to return to or infiltrate the old trade unions. As always, Lenin took it for granted that whatever conclusion he had come to in evaluation and in strategy and tactics was infallibly right. In the Comintern, as in his own party, his word was law."
Reed and other members of the Communist Party of the United States and the Communist Party of Great Britain disagreed with this policy and tried to start a debate on the subject. To do so, they needed to add English to the already adopted German, French and Russian, as an official language of debate. This idea was rejected. Reed became disillusioned with the way Lenin had become a virtual dictator of Russia.
Benjamin Gitlow, was with Reed in Russia. He later recalled: "Reed took his defeat (on the trade union question) badly, not because he lost, but because of the methods employed against him." His friend, Angelica Balabanoff added: "When he came to see me after the Congress, he was in a terrible state of depression. He looked old and exhausted. The experience had been a terrible blow.... He was becoming more and more depressed by the suffering, disorganization and inefficiency to be found everywhere." Balabanoff added that he knew that Grigori Zinoviev and Karl Radek were involved in a campaign to discredit Reed.
Louise Bryant arrived in Moscow in September 1920. She wrote to Max Eastman that she "found him older and sadder and grown strangely gentle and ascetic." In another letter to her mother she remarked that he was tired and ill and close to a breakdown." Louise later recalled: "He was terribly afraid of having made a serious mistake in his interpretation of an historical event for which he would be held accountable before the judgment of history."
On 28th September, Reed complained of dizziness and headaches. A doctor confirmed he was suffering from typhus. Louse wrote to her mother: "I got permission to stay with him although it is no means customary to allow any one but doctors and nurses to remain with a patient." Louise later recalled: "He was never delirious the way most typhus patients are. He always knew me and his mind was full of stories and poems and beautiful thoughts. He would tell me that the water he drank was full of little songs."
John Reed died on 19th October, 1920. He was given a state funeral and buried in the Kremlin Wall. Louise wrote to Max Eastman: "I haven't the courage to think what it is going to be like without him. I have never really loved any one else in the whole world but Jack, and we were terribly close to each other... No one has ever been so alone as I am. I have lost everything now."
Clare Sheridan was devastated by the death of John Reed: "Everyone liked him and his wife, Louise Bryant, the War Correspondent. She is quite young and had only recently joined him. He had been here two years, and Mrs. Reed, unable to obtain a passport, finally came in through Murmansk. Everything possible was done for him, but of course there are no medicaments here: the hospitals are cruelly short of necessities. He should not have died, but he was one of those young, strong men, impatient of illness, and in the early stages he would not take care of himself."
In her book, Russian Portraits (1921), she described the funeral that was also attended by Nickolai Bukharin and Alexandra Kollontai: "It is the first funeral without a religious service that I have ever seen. It did not seem to strike anyone else as peculiar, but it was to me. His coffin stood for some days in the Trades' Union Hall, the walls of which are covered with huge revolutionary cartoons in marvellously bright decorative colouring. We all assembled in that hall. The coffin stood on a dais and was covered with flowers. As a bit of staging it was very effective, but I saw, when they were being carried out, that most of the wreaths were made of tin flowers painted. I suppose they do service for each Revolutionary burial... A large crowd assembled for John Reed's burial and the occasion was one for speeches. Bucharin and Madame Kolontai both spoke. There were speeches in English, French, German and Russian. It took a very long time, and a mixture of rain and snow was falling. Although the poor widow fainted, her friends did not take her away. It was extremely painful to see this white-faced, unconscious woman lying back on the supporting arm of a Foreign Office official, more interested in the speeches than in the human agony."
(1) Bertram D. Wolfe, Strange Communists I Have Known (1966)
To Reed the Mexican Revolution was a pageant, a succession of adventures, a delight to the eye, a chance to discover that he was not afraid of bullets. His reports overflow with life and movement: simple, savage men, capricious cruelty, warm comradeship, splashes of color, bits of song, fragments of social and political dreams, personal peril, gay humor, reckless daring. Neither Steffens, who joined and counted on Venustiano Carranza, nor Reed, who celebrated the pastoral dreams and bold deeds of Pancho Villa, had any real notion of the Mexican maze. But Reed's mingling of personal adventure with camera-eye close-ups lighted by a poet's vision made superb reporting. The book he made of them, Insurgent Mexico, despite its careless ignorance of men, events, and forces, and even of Spanish, which he mangled in the ballads he quoted, was closer to the feeling of Mexico in revolution than most things that Americans have written on it. When he returned to New York, he found that he had a reputation as a war correspondent.
(2) John Reed, Metropolitan Magazine (December, 1913)
Villa has two wives, one a patient, simple woman who was with him during all his years of outlawry, who lives in El Paso, and the other a cat-like, slender young girl, who is the mistress of his house in Chihuahua. He is perfectly open about it, though lately the educated, conventional Mexicans who have been gathering about him in ever-increasing numbers have tried to hush up the fact. Among the peons it is not only not unusual but customary to have more than one mate.
One hears a great many stories of Villa's violating women. I asked him if that were true. He pulled his mustache and stared at me for a minute with an inscrutable expression. "I never take the trouble to deny such stories," he said. "They say I am a bandit, too. Well, you know my history. But tell me, have you ever met a husband, father or brother of any woman, that I have violated?" He paused. "Or even a witness?"
"It is fascinating to watch him discover new ideas. Remember that he is absolutely ignorant of the troubles and confusions and readjustments of modern civilization. "Socialism," he said once, when I wanted to know what he thought of it, "Socialism - is it a thing? I only see it in books, and I do not read much." Once I asked him if women would vote in the new Republic. He was sprawled out on his bed with his coat unbuttoned. "Why, I don't think so," he said, startled, suddenly sitting up. "What do you mean-vote? Do you mean elect a government and make laws?" I said I did and that women already were doing it in the United States. "Well," he said, scratching his head, "if they do it up there I don't see that they shouldn't do it down here." The idea seemed to amuse him enormously. He rolled it over and over in his mind, looking at me and away again. "It may be as you say," he said, "but I have never thought about it. Women seem to me to be things to protect, to love. They have no sternness of mind. They can't consider anything for its right or wrong. They are full of pity and softness. "Why," he said, "a woman would not give an order to execute a traitor."
(3) Mabel Dodge, Intimate Memories (1933)
The young man came and sat by me. He was young, big, and full-chested. His clothes wrinkled over his deep breast. He wasn't startling-looking at all, but his olive green eyes glowed softly, and his high, round forehead was like a baby's with light brown curls rolling away from it and two spots of light shining on his temples, making him lovable. His chin was the best of his face, for it had a beautiful swinging curve forward - the real poet's jawbone, strong and delicate above his round throat. His eyebrows were always lifted and he was generally breathless!
(4) John Reed, The Masses (September, 1914)
No recent words have seemed to me so ludicrously condescending as the Kaiser's speech to his people when he said that in this supreme crisis he freely forgave all those who had ever opposed him. I am ashamed that in this day in a civilized country any one can speak such archaic nonsense as that speech contained.
More nauseating than the crack-brained bombast of the Kaiser is the editorial chorus in America which pretends to believe - would have us believe - that the White and Spotless Knight of Modern Democracy is marching against the Unspeakably Vile Monster of Medieval Militarism.
What has democracy to do in alliance with Nicholas, the Tsar? It is Liberalism which is marching from the Petersburg of Father Gapon, from the Odessa of Progroms? Are our editors naive enough to believe this?
We, who are Socialists, must hope - we may even expect - that out of this horror of bloodshed and dire destruction will come far-reaching social changes - and a long step forward towards our goal of peace among men. But we must not be duped by this editorial buncombe about Liberalism going forth to Holy War against Tyranny. This is not our war.
(5) John Reed, Metropolitan Magazine (September, 1914)
The truth is that with two millions of the youth of France fighting a losing battle against the German hordes pouring down the north, Paris, the heart and soul of France, remained tranquil, ignorant, apathetic. As the enemy approached, far from facing them, Paris emptied itself toward the south and west. Almost two million people left the city. The splendid and luxurious hotels, the palaces of the rich, were offered to the Red Cross under the excuse of patriotism, but really so that the Red Cross flag would save them from German destruction. On the shutters of the closed shops were posted notices saying: "The proprietor and all the clerks have joined the army. Vive la France!" And yet when, after the battle of the Marne, the population poured back into the city, these same shops reopened, and the proprietor and his clerks shamelessly reappeared; even some of the great hotels and houses were withdrawn from the Red Cross when all danger seemed past."
(6) Lincoln Steffens, Autobiography (1931)
My "home" was a room in Washington Square, where youth lived and reds gathered, the young poets, and painters, playwrights, actors, and Bohemians, and labor leaders of a radical trend, like Bill Haywood, socialists like Max Eastman and Floyd Dell, anarchists, and IWW's. John Reed had a room above mine. His father, U.S. Marshal Charles Reed, whom I had known intimately in the timber fraud cases in Portland, Oregon, had asked me to keep an eye on his boy, Jack, who, the father thought, was a poet. "Get him a job, let him see everything, but don't let him be anything for a while," that wise father said. "Don't let him get a conviction right away or a business or a career, like me. Let him play." I got Jack a job on the American Magazine, on condition that he work only for a living, not to become an editor, but to use it as a springboard from which to dive into life. "Do well what you have to do, but keep the job in its second place," I bade him. And he acted on the advice. I used to go early to bed and to sleep, but I liked it when Jack, a big, growing, happy being, would slam into my room and wake me up to tell me about the "most wonderful thing in the world" that he had seen, been, or done that night. Girls, plays, bums, IWW's, strikers-each experience was vivid in him, a story, which he often wrote; every person, every idea; Bill Haywood, some prostitute down and out on a park bench, a vaudeville dancer; socialism; the I.W.W. program-all were on a live level with him. Everything was the most wonderful thing in the world. Jack and his crazy young friends were indeed the most wonderful thing in the world.
Jack became enamored of Mabel Dodge, who is, in her odd way, one of the most wonderful things in the world; an aristocratic, rich, good-looking woman, she has never set foot on the earth earthy. "A cut flower," Hutchins Hapgood called her. With taste and grace, the courage of inexperience, and a radiating personality, that woman has done whatever it has struck her fancy to do, and put it and herself over-openly. She never knew that society could and did cut her; she went ahead, and opening her house, let who would come to her salon. Her house was a great old-fashioned apartment on lower Fifth Avenue. It was filled full of lovely, artistic things; she dressed beautifully in her own way. "I found out what styles of hats and gowns suited me, and them I wore through all the passing fashions." She read everything; she believed - for a while - everything; she backed everything with her person and her money, especially young geniuses, like Jack and Robert Edmond Jones. She gave "Bobbie" Jones a back room in her flat to play in, and it looked like a nursery of toys. There he slept, worked, and played with the miniature stages and stage accessories he gathered to develop his childlike gift for stage-making and decorating.
Jack Reed had a second room there, when he got home in time to sleep, and either Jack or Mabel Dodge suggested the salon. Anyway we were soon told that one evening a week we might all come there with our friends, anybody, and talk. A rich, abundant luncheon was laid in the dining-room, apart, and that was visited by some people who were hungry. All sorts of guests came to Mabel Dodge's salons, poor and rich, labor skates, scabs, strikers and unemployed, painters, musicians, reporters, editors, swells; it was the only successful salon I have ever seen in America. By which I mean that there was conversation and that the conversation developed usually out of some one theme and stayed on the floor.
(7) John Reed, The Masses (March, 1915)
The French Army has not been fighting well. But it has been fighting, and the slaughter is appalling. There remains no effective reserve in France; and the available youth of the nation down to seventeen years of age is under arms. For my part, all other considerations aside, I should not care to live half-frozen in a trench, up to my middle in water, for three or four months, because someone in authority said I ought to shoot Germans. But if I were a Frenchman I should do it, because I would have been accustomed to the idea by my compulsory military service.
I could fill pages of horrors that civilized Europe is inflicted upon itself. I could describe to you the quiet, dark, saddened streets of Paris, where every ten feet you are confronted with some miserable wreck of a human being, or a madman who lost his reason in the trenches being led around by his wife.
I could tell you of the big hospital in Berlin full of German soldiers who went crazy from merely hearing the cries of the thirty thousand Russians drowning in the swamps of East Prussia after the battle of Tannenburg. Or of the numbness and incalculable demoralization among men in the trenches. Or of holes torn in bodies with jagged pieces of melanite shells, of sounds that make people deaf, of gases that destroy eyesight, of wounded men dying day by day and hour by hour within forty yards of twenty thousand human beings, who won't stop killing each other long enough to gather them up.
(8) John Reed, letter to a friend about meeting Louise Bryant (December, 1915)
I think I've found her at last. She's wild, brave and straight-and graceful and lovely to look at. In this spiritual vacuum, this unfertilized soil, she has grown (how, I can't imagine) into an artist. She is coming to New York to get a job with me, I hope. I think she's the first person I ever loved without reservation.
(9) John Reed, The War In Eastern Europe (1916)
Slowly we drew near the leisurely sound of the cannon, that defined itself sharply out of the all-echoing thunder audible at Novo Sielitza. And topping a steep hill crowned with a straggling thatched village, we came in sight of the batteries. They lay on the hither side of an immense rolling hill, where a red gash in the fields dribbled along for miles. At intervals of half a minute a gun spat heavily; but you could see neither smoke nor flame - only minute figures running about, stiffening, and again springing to life. A twanging drone as the shell soared - and then on the leafy hills across the river puffs of smoke unfolding.
In the very field of the artillery, peasants were calmly ploughing with oxen, and in front of the roaring guns a boy in white linen drove cattle over the hill toward the pasture along the river. We met long-haired farmers, with orange poppies in their hats, unconcernedly driving to town. Eastward the world rolled up in another slow hill that bore curved fields of young wheat, running in great waves before the wind. Its crest was torn and scarred with mighty excavations, where multitudinous tiny men swarmed over new trenches and barbed-wire tangles. This was the second-line position preparing for a retreat that was sure to come.
(10) John Reed, The War In Eastern Europe (1916)
The village through which we passed was populous with great brown soldiers, who eyed us sullenly and suspiciously. Over a gateway hung a Red Cross flag, and along the road tickled a thin, steady stream of wounded - some leaning on their comrades, others bandaged around the head, or with their arms in slings; and peasant carts jolted by with faintly groaning heaps of arms and legs.
(11) John Reed, The Masses (April, 1917)
I know what war means. I have been with the armies of all the belligerents except one, and I have seen men die, and go mad, and lie in hospitals suffering hell; but there is a worse thing than that. War means an ugly mob-madness, crucifying the truth-tellers, choking the artists, side-tracking reforms, revolutions and the working of social forces. Already in America those citizens who oppose the entrance of their country into the European melee are called "traitors," and those who protest against the curtailing of our meager rights of free speech are spoken of as "dangerous lunatics."
For many years this country is going to be a worse place for men to live in; less tolerant, less hospitable. Maybe it is too late, but I want to put down what I think about it all.
Whose war is this? Not mine. I know that hundreds of thousands of American workingmen employed by our great financial "patriots" are not paid a living wage. I have seen poor men sent to jail for long terms without trial, and even without any charge. Peaceful strikers, and their wives and children, have been shot to death, by private detectives and militiamen. The rich have steadily become richer, and the cost of living higher, and the workers proportionally poorer. These toilers don't want war - not even civil war. But the speculators, the employers, the plutocracy - they want it, just as they did in Germany and England; and with lies and sophistries they will whip up our blood until we are savage and then we'll fight and die for them.
(12) Louise Bryant, letter to John Reed (4th July, 1917)
You are the only person in the world I tell everything to and we have been and are such wonderful friends. I'm glad you said what you did about being a good friend, besides a lover. I think that's why we were able to see this through.... I'm sorry I wrote you all those blue, hysterical letters. I'm quite ashamed. I want to come home as much as ever but quite tranquilly, sweetheart, quite whole and healthy-not broken. You said I'd forget things if I was normal. I guess I am, because I've forgotten. Sometimes I wonder how I would feel if it all happened again. I can't think - I can't believe it will. I don't have nightmares and things like that any more. Sometimes I feel I can't bear it away from my honey - but it's a different feeling - not the awful mad need I used to have when I first left.
(13) John Reed, Almost Thirty (20th October, 1917)
I am twenty-nine years old and I know that this is the end of a part of my life, the end of youth. Sometimes it seems to me the end of the world's youth, too; certainly the Great War has done something to us all. But it is also the beginning of a new phase of life; and the world we live in is so full of swift change and color and meaning that I can hardly keep from imagining the splendid and terrible possibilities of the time to come.
The last ten years I've gone up and down the earth drinking in experience, fighting and loving, seeing and hearing and tasting things. I've travelled all over Europe, and to the borders of the East, and down in Mexico, having adventures; seeing men killed and broken, victorious and laughing, men with visions and men with a sense of humor. I've watched civilization change and broaden and sweeten in my lifetime; and I've watched it wither and crumble in the red blast of war. And war I have seen, too, in the trenches, with the armies.
I'm not quite sick of seeing yet, but soon I will be - I know that. My future life will not be what it has been. And so I want to stop a minute, and look back, and get my bearings....
And now, almost thirty, some of that old super abundant vitality is gone, and with it the all-sufficient joy of mere living. A good many of my beliefs have got twisted by the Great War. I am weakened by a serious operation. Some things I think I have settled, but in other ways I am back where I started - a turmoil of imaginings... I must find myself again.... The war has been a terrible shatterer of faith in economic and political idealism. And yet I cannot give up the idea that out of democracy will be born the new world-richer, braver, freer, more beautiful...
As for me, I don't know what I can do to help - I don't know yet. All I know is that my happiness is built on the misery of other people, that I eat because others go hungry, that I am clothed when other people go almost naked through frozen cities in winter; and that fact poisons me, disturbs my serenity, makes me write propaganda when I would rather play - though not so much as it once did.... I am writing, waiting, for the war to end, for life to resume so I can find my work.
In thinking it over, I find little in my thirty years that I can hold to. I haven't any God and don't want one; faith is only another word for finding oneself. In my life as in most lives, I guess, love plays a tremendous part. I've had love affairs, passionate happiness, wretched maladjustments; hurt deeply and been deeply hurt. But at last I have found my friend and lover, thrilling and satisfying, closer to me than anyone has ever been. And now I don't care what comes.
(14) Bertram D. Wolfe, Strange Communists I Have Known (1966)
He made his way into the Smolny, where the Bolsheviks had their headquarters; into the City Duma, stronghold of liberal democracy; into the soviets of workers and soldiers and into the soviets of peasants; into barracks, factory meetings, street processions, halls, courts; into the Constituent Assembly, which the Bolsheviks dispersed; into the Winter Palace when it was being defended by student officers and a woman's battalion, and again when it was being overrun and looted. All Russia was meeting, and John Reed was meeting with it.
If two shots from a German Mauser did not make him cease to be a neutral in the Great War, in this "class war pure and simple" he strove to be a participant. Twice he addressed crowds in the Cirque Moderne, bringing fraternal greetings (from whom?), being presented as spokesman for the American Socialist party (which he was not), and as a man under indictment in far-off America (which, as an editor of the antiwar Masses, he was). He addressed Bolshevik factory meetings, careened around the city on one of their trucks hurling out leaflets he could not read, joined the looting of the Winter Palace, carrying off some notes of a doomed minister and a jewel-handled sword concealed under his coat.
With his poet's blood and rebel's heart he decided what to believe. Then, with the artist's gift for selection, heightening and unifying, he assimilated all the chaotic impressions into a picture more impressive and more beautiful than life itself.
When Boardman Robinson reproached him once with "But it didn't happen that way!" his answer was an ad hominem of artist to artist. "What the hell difference does it make?" And, seizing one of Robinson's sketches: "She didn't have a bundle as big as that ... he didn't have so full a beard." Drawing, Robinson explained, was not a matter of photographic accuracy but of over-all impression. "Exactly," Reed cried in triumph, "that is just what I am trying to do!"
Yet there is nothing of the mean, deliberate lie about John Reed's Ten Days That Shook the World. A good reporter, always in the thick of things, he possessed an honest sense of vivid detail that makes one page refute another.
He idealized the masses. He believed the ridiculous legend, born perhaps of his own dream, that the Bolshevik Central Committee, after having rejected the idea of an insurrection, was made to reverse itself by a single speech of a rank and file workingman. (There was such a reversal, but the "rank and file workingman" was Lenin!)
(15) John Reed, Ten Days That Shook the World (1919)
The policy of the Provisional Government alternated between ineffective reforms and stern repressive measures. An edict from the Socialist Minister of Labour ordered all the Workers' Committees henceforth to meet only after working hours. Among the troops at the front, 'agitators' of opposition political parties were arrested, radical newspapers closed down, and capital punishment applied - to revolutionary propagandists. Attempts were made to disarm the Red Guard. Cossacks were spent order in the provinces.
In September 1917, matters reached a crisis. Against the overwhelming sentiment of the country, Kerensky and the 'moderate' Socialists succeeded in establishing a Government of Coalition with the propertied classes; and as a result, the Mensheviki and Socialist Revolutionaries lost the confidence of the people for ever.
Week by week food became scarcer. The daily allowance of bread fell from a pound and a half to a pound, than three-quarters, half, and a quarter-pound. Towards the end there was a week without any bread at all. Sugar one was entitled to at the rate of two pounds a month - if one could get it at all, which was seldom. A bar of chocolate or a pound of tasteless candy cost anywhere from seven to ten roubles - at least a dollar. For milk and bread and sugar and tobacco one had to stand in queue. Coming home from an all-night meeting I have seen the tail beginning to form before dawn, mostly women, some babies in their arms.
(16) John Reed, was in Petrograd when the Women's Battalion attempted to defend the Winter Palace against the Bolsheviks.
Immediately following the taking of the Winter Palace all sorts of sensational stories were published in the anti-Bolshevik press, and told in the City Duma, about the fate of the Women's Battalion defending the Palace. It was said that some of the girl-soldiers had been thrown from the windows into the street, most of the rest had been violated, and many had committed suicide as a result of the horrors they had gone through.
The City Duma appointed a commission to investigate the matter. On 16th November the commission returned from Levashovo, headquarters of the Women's Battalion. Madame Tyrkova reported that the girls had been taken to the barracks of the Pavlovsky Regiment, and that there some of them had been badly treated; but that at present most of them were at Levashovo, and the rest scattered about the city in private houses. Dr Mandelbaum, another of the commission, testified dryly that none of the women had been thrown out of the windows of the Winter Palace, that none were wounded, that three had been violated, and that one had committed suicide, leaving a note which said that she had been "disappointed in her ideals."
On 21 November the Military Revolutionary Committee officially dissolved the Women's Battalion, at the request of the girls themselves, who returned to civilian clothes.
(17) In his book, Ten Days That Shook the World, John Reed described Alexander Kerensky and the Cossacks entry into Tsarkoye Selo.
The Cossacks entered Tsarskoye Selo, Kerensky himself riding a white horse and all the church-bells clamouring. There was no battle. But Kerensky made a fatal blunder. At seven in the morning he sent word to the Second Tsarskoye Selo Rifles to lay down their arms. The soldiers replied they would remain neutral, but would not disarm. Kerensky gave them ten minutes in which to obey. This angered the soldiers; for eight months they had been governing themselves by committee, and this smacked of the old regime. A few minutes later Cossack artillery opened fire on the barracks, killing eight men. From that moment there were no more 'neutral' soldiers in Tsarskoye.
(18) Max Eastman, Love and Revolution (1965)
John Reed, as a pacifist, was only too eager for a fight. He was a big man with jovial animosities and powerful muscles. I remember his presence as a rather unsettling phenomenon. He had a habit of looking away when he was talking to you, not looking in any particular direction but everywhere, as though he were afraid he might miss something.
(19) Floyd Dell, Homecoming (1933)
Jack Reed I began to know for the first time; he had been away much of the four years I had been in New York. He was a great, husky, untamed youth of immense energies and infantine countenance, who had helped Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Arturo Giovannitti organize the Paterson strike, had been arrested and jailed there, and then had organized the magnificent Paterson Strike Pageant in Madison Square Garden; he had been a war-correspondent with Villa in Mexico, and then in Europe reporting the World War, and then in Russia. Along the way he tossed off beautiful poems, and poetic plays, and stories full of a profound zest for life. He was adventurer and artist, playboy and propagandist. He wrote casually like this, reporting the Industrial Workers of the World trial in Chicago: "Small on a huge bench sits a wasted man with untidy white hair, an emaciated face in which two burning eyes are set like jewels, parchment skin split by a crack for a mouth; the face of Andrew Jackson three years dead. This is Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis." He had been in Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution, and was now completing a history of it, soon to be published under the title of Ten Days That Shook the World. He was also starting a new magazine, of which Frank Harris, Jack Reed and I were to be the editors. It was to be called These States, and it was to be full of the finest modernist literature now being produced in America. Jack collected together most of the contents of the first issue, but at that point Frank Harris, who had been very enthusiastic about it, read some of the contents of this modernist magazine of which he was to be one of the editors, and suddenly and furiously revolted. What he disliked most, it seemed, was Carl Sandburg's poetry - which we had been printing with pride in The Masses and The Liberator. "No, no-good God!" he repeated violently, "no, no-good God!" And so the whole project was abruptly abandoned.
Jack read me a very beautiful poem that he had written while in Russia, about New York, of which only a fragment was printed, the rest being lost.
He told me that he was going to organize a Communist Party in America - which he subsequently did, though it turned out to be one of several, which later coalesced. It would be a disciplined party of professional revolutionists, he said. "Then I shan't join it," I told him; "I am a professional writer." Jack wanted to be everything, artist, revolutionist, adventurer.
He had secret news, of a conclusive character, of the negotiations to end the war, a month before the Armistice was officially declared. The slaughter was going to end! He and Edna Millay and I celebrated the event by riding back and forth half the night on the Staten Island ferry, in a dense fog. He was telling her his most thrilling adventures as a war correspondent and Communist conspirator, and she said, like Desdemona, "I love you for the dangers you have passed!" She was writing Aria da Capo then.
It was true-the "false" Armistice day came, and New York went mad with joy. Then the "real" Armistice day, celebrated more decorously. And now that the war was over, and human life counted for something again, one could think of the soldiers uselessly killed in the last days, after it was really all over - a final touch of horrible meaninglessness in all that meaningless horror.
(20) John Reed, The Liberator (January, 1919)
How inevitably, how clearly in all these cases, the issue narrows down to the Class Struggle! District Attorney Barnes' opening address to the jury implied one chief crime - that of plotting the overthrow of the United States Government by revolution; in other words, the crime of being, in the words of Mr. Barnes, 'Bolsheveeka,' addicted to what he called 'Syndickalism.' An immortal definition of the Socialist conception which he made to the jury remains in my mind.
These people believe that there are three classes - the capitalists, who own all the natural resources of the country; the bourgeoisie, who have got a little land or a little property under the system; and the proletariat, which consists of all those who want to take away the property of the capitalists and the bourgeoisie.
We were described as men without a country, who wanted to break down all boundaries. The jury was asked what it thought of people who called respectable American businessmen "bourgeoisie."
In no European country could a prosecuting attorney have displayed such ignorance of Socialism, or relied so confidently upon the ignorance of a jury.
I was not present at the first Masses trial. In prospect, it did not seem to me very serious; but when I sat in that gloomy, dark-paneled court-room and the bailiff with the brown wig beat the table and cried harshly, "Stand up!" and the judge climbed to his seat, and it was announced, in the same harsh, menacing tone, "The Federal Court for the Soµthern District of New York is now open." I felt as if we were in the clutches of a relentless machinery, which would go on and grind and grind....
I think we all felt tranquil, and ready to go to prison if need be. At any rate, we were not going to dissemble what we believed. This had its effect on the jury, and on the Judge.... When Seymour Stedman boldly claimed for us, and for all Socialists, the right of idealistic prophesy, and repudiated the capitalist system with its terrible inequalities, a new but perfectly logical and consistent point of view was presented. The jury was composed of a majority of honest, rather simple men, the background of whose consciousness must have contained memories of the Declaration of Independence, the Rights of Man, Magna Charta. They could not easily, even in war time, repudiate these things; especially when all the defendants were so palpably members of the dominant race.
Two weeks later I saw in that same court the trial of some Russian boys and girls on similar charges. They did not have a chance; they were foreigners. An official of the District Attorney's office was explaining to me why the Judge had been so severe upon these Russians, while our Judge in the Masses case had been so lenient.
"You are Americans," he said. "You looked like Americans. And then, too, you had a New York Judge. You can't convict an American for sedition before a New York Judge. If you'd had Judge Clayton, for example, it would have been equivalent to being tried in the Middle West, or in any other Federal Court outside of New York. You would have been soaked."
It has been said that the disagreement of the jury in this second Masses case is a victory for free speech and for international Socialism. In a way this is true. International Socialism was argued in court, thanks to the curiosity and the fair-mindedness of Judge Manton.
Free speech was vindicated by the charge of Judge Manton, who ruled that anyone in this country could say that the war was not for democracy, that it was an imperialist war, that the Government of the United States was hypocritical - in fact, that any American had the right to criticize his government or its policies, so long as he did not intend to discourage recruiting and enlistment or cause mutiny and disobedience in the armed forces of the United States.
But the one great factor in our victory was Max Eastman's three-hour summing up. Standing there, with the attitude and attributes of intellectual eminence, young, good-looking, he was the typical champion of ideals - ideals which he made to seem the ideals of every real American.... Max boldly took up the Russian question, and made it part of our defense. The jury was held tense by his eloquence; the Judge listened with all his energy. In the courtroom there was utter silence. After it was all over the District Attorney himself congratulated Max.
(21) Benjamin Gitlow, The Whole of their Lives (1940)
After a long day of conferences, mass meetings, organizational duties and hours at the typewriter, Reed would drag his tired feet to One Patchin Place and climb wearily up the three flights of stairs to the dingy, dirty apartment on the top floor...
Strewn all over Reed's living room were newspapers, pamphlets, letters, torn envelopes, manuscripts and books. Ashes obscured the base of the little wood-burning fireplace. Heaps of dust covered newspapers, and printed matter lay piled high in utter confusion on the large flattop desk. Its drawers were open, each packed with printed rubbish and paper. On a little table stood a dirty, smudged enameled coffee pot, an ashtray full of cigarette butts and a couple of unwashed cups and saucers. The cot against the wall of the small room directly across from the fireplace was always mussed, with a few pillows scattered on its untidy surface.
Reed on entering the apartment usually threw himself upon the large stuffed chair, pressed his temples between the palms of his hands, stretched out his legs in their full length, and sat motionless for a few minutes. One hardly knew whether he was relaxing or thinking. Then he would get up from the chair with a jump, grab some newspapers from the desk, and toss them into the fireplace. Lighting the papers, he hurled kindling wood and large chunks of coal after them. Throwing off his jacket he picked up the coffee pot, rinsed it superficially, filled it with water and coffee and set it to boil on a greasy, black cast iron two-burner gas stove. Lighting a cigarette he would sit down and talk. And when he talked, he rambled over the universe, never confining himself for a long time to one subject.
(22) Angelica Balabanoff, My Life as a Rebel (1938)
It was John Reed who put into words that which I had already begun to suspect. We had been meeting frequently since his return to Russia... drawn together by our common disillusionment and growing despair.... I do not think that any foreigner who came to Russia in those early years ever saw or came to know so much about the conditions of the people as did Reed in the spring and summer of 1920. He was becoming more and more depressed by the suffering, disorganization and inefficiency to be found everywhere.... He was particularly discouraged when he saw his own efforts and those of the other friends of the Revolution defeated by indifference and inefficiency. Sensitive to any kind of inequality and injustice, he would return from each of his trips around the Russian countryside with stories that were heartbreaking to both of us.
(23) Louise Bryant, letter to Max Eastman on the death of John Reed (October, 1920)
He was never delirious the way most typhus patients are. He always knew me and his mind was full of stories and poems and beautiful thoughts. He would tell me that the water he drank was full of little songs... I haven't the courage to think what it is going to be like without him. I have never really loved any one else in the whole world but Jack, and we were terribly close to each other... No one has ever been so alone as I am. I have lost everything now.
(24) Theodore Draper, The Roots of American Communism (1957)
He (John Reed) was not an immigrant; his grandfather had been one of the pioneer builders of Portland. He was not an Easterner; he came from the Far Northwest. He was not a poor boy; he was born into wealth and privilege. He was not self-educated; he attended private schools and Harvard. He was not a revolutionary turned journalist; he was a journalist turned revolutionary. Not a little of the attraction Reed had for the majority of the poor, immigrant Communists may be attributed to what he was, as well as to what he did. Communism was more than a movement of social outcasts if it could attract someone like Reed.
At Harvard, he showed little interest in politics and only occasionally attended meetings of the Socialist Club, then headed by Walter Lippmann. He preferred to be the football team's star cheerleader, urging the future Republican congressman, Hamilton Fish, Jr., on to greater glory as the team's star player. Steffens introduced the young poet and playboy to the world of radicals and nonconformists in New York. But Steffens was then no Socialist himself and did not exert the kind of influence that would lead to a political commitment. Reed was drawn into the radical movement by going beyond Steffens and associating with the more unconventional New York intellectuals who were closer to him in age and temperament.
Max Eastman gave Reed his first literary and political home in The Masses early in 1913. By the end of that year, they were putting out the magazine together, with Reed as managing editor, though he soon went off to make his reputation as war correspondent in Mexico and Europe for more commercial publications. For the next four years of the Masses' existence, however, the man and the magazine can hardly be separated. The Masses did not give Reed a political dogma because it did not have one itself. It provided him, as well as others, with a political climate, loose and disorderly enough for his still romantic and bohemian rebelliousness. It was also in 1913, as we have seen, that Reed was initiated into the class struggle by way of Mabel Dodge's salon, Bill Haywood, and the Paterson textile strike. The next important political experience in Reed's life was the Mexican revolution some months later. In it he found a strong man to admire, the swashbuckling Pancho Villa. Until the outbreak of the first World War, however, Reed's political education was spasmodic, emotional, and superficial. A strapping, fun-loving American boy in appearance, he was still playboy, poet, gilded youth, bohemian, and successful reporter.
The war, which he saw at close range on the eastern front for a few months in 1915, gave Reed his first profound, personal political cause. He was deeply, irreconcilably opposed to it, convinced that it represented merely a struggle between rival capitalist interests. Since the American press was almost totally pro-war, he had to cut himself off from the important, lucrative assignments to which he had become accustomed. That he supported Wilson for the presidency in 1916 shows how far he still was from committing himself to any Left Wing political party or movement. But he was no ardent Wilsonian. He felt that he had to choose between "the lesser of two evils" because the Socialist party lacked "any real soul or vision." More and more, as the war dragged on and his journalistic career suffered, he drew closer to the antiwar anarchists and Socialists. The third year of the war was perhaps the emptiest and dreariest which he had ever endured. He was dissatisfied with his work, disillusioned with many of his past associates, and discontented with the world in general. He was ripe for revolutionary Russia.
Soon after Lincoln Steffens came back from his first trip to Russia, Reed decided he belonged there. His imagination, his sympathies, his personal depression, and his interrupted career all impelled him toward the vast, turbulent upheaval which had overthrown a centuries-old tyranny and now struggled to extricate itself from the war. The decision to go to Russia was both escape and fulfillment.
Eastman scraped together the money, and he reached Petrograd in September 1917. Thus he had two months before the Bolsheviks seized power. These were the days that shook John Reed. He went to Russia purely as a journalist, but he was not a pure journalist. He could not resist identifying himself with underdogs, especially if they followed strong, ruthless leaders. Reed was first and foremost a great reporter, but he was at his best reporting a cause he could make his own. For the Masses, this was not only possible but necessary, and he did his finest work for it. It took him only a single week to become a partisan of the Bolsheviks, hardly enough time to entitle him to hold strong views about a country whose history he knew only sketchily and whose language he knew not at alll. Yet Reed was nobody's fool and his quick choice was as much inherent in the situation as in himself. Tourists and journalists have to make up their minds in a hurry or not at all. As Reed ran from meeting to meeting, interviewed one leading politician after another, the boldness, the zeal, the unbounded promises of the Bolsheviks overwhelmed him. That Lenin and his followers were able to impress an American radical like John Reed so quickly is perhaps one indication of what enabled them to impress so many people all over the world.
Reed stayed in Russia six months. For the first time in his life he made a real political commitment. He went to work in the Bureau of International Revolutionary Propaganda. He made speeches as an American revolutionary sympathizer. Just how far he was willing to go in adherence to the new regime was shown before his departure. Trotsky proposed Reed as Bolshevik Consul General in New York, and he was actually appointed. But evidently Reed, whose imagination sometimes ran riot with half-formed, grandiose projects of all sorts, from making money to making revolutions, conceived of some scheme for putting American money to work for the Bolsheviks. Reed's plan was prematurely divulged to Lenin, who was alarmed by its capitalistic implications, and the consular appointment was abruptly cancelled. The incident ended unhappily on both sides; it was Reed's first disappointment with his new political affiliation. But the reason for the cancellation was less significant than the reason for the appointment. That an American should go home as the consul general of a foreign power appeared to both the Bolsheviks and Reed as a triumph of revolutionary internationalism. The line between what was Russian and what was revolutionary was still so indistinct that Reed was more upset by the cancellation than astonished by the appointment.
Instead, Reed went home in the spring of 1918 with something more important-his notes and his memories of the Bolshevik revolution... He had one inestimable advantage over old-timers like Fraina, Lore, and Boudin: he had been there. He had seen it with his own eyes. He had talked on terms of intimacy with Lenin and Trotsky. As a public speaker, Reed was more in demand than any other Left Wing figure, and with his native-born, educated accent and slouching, pants-hitching, boyish charm, he could reach people none of the others could. The newspapers and general public treated him as if he were the No. 1 American Bolshevik, a reputation which he had hardly earned, but which fed his growing political ambition.
Of all the first Communists, Reed was the hardest to classify. That he was capable of becoming a Communist leader of the first rank despite his family background, his education and upbringing, his anarchistic and pleasure-loving temperament, can serve as a warning against all easy generalizations about how Communists are made, where they come from, how they should behave, and why they should be converted. A movement capable of converting Reed had potentialities which cannot be too simply dismissed with a formula. Yet a movement which had to convert him in Russia in conditions so foreign to anything he had known at home had in store some unpleasant surprises.
(25) Bertram D. Wolfe, Strange Communists I Have Known (1966)
Reed made two attempts to return to America. On the second he was caught in Finland, and after more than two months of hunger and filth in a Finnish jail, was deported back to Moscow. He had scurvy; his arms and legs were swollen from malnutrition. But he continued to insist on living like the masses.
Now he decided to wait for the Second Congress of the Communist International in Moscow. From it came another sort of disillusion to which his heart was peculiarly vulnerable.
The order of business for the Second Congress had been determined by Lenin. Having concluded that the great push for world revolution had failed, and with it the attempt to smash the old socialist parties and trade unions, Lenin set it as the task of all revolutionaries to return to or infiltrate the old trade unions. As always, Lenin took it for granted that whatever conclusion he had come to in evaluation and in strategy and tactics was infallibly right. In the Comintern, as in his own party, his word was law.
But the British delegates had worked out their own attitude toward the Labor Party, and the American delegates were hostile to the American Federation of Labor and supported the I.W.W. As for Reed, he had been brought to the labor movement by the I.W.W.'s strike in Paterson. The I.W.W. leaders had gone to jail en masse for opposing the war, while the A.F. of L. had been pro-war and supported "the system." The A.F. of L. must be smashed, the I.W.W. supported.
That Lenin had made up his mind for America did not impress him. It was the Americans who knew their land and had to determine the policies they were to carry out in it. Jack prepared for a fight. On behalf of thirty delegates from the English-speaking countries, he introduced two motions: to put the trade-union question at the top of the order of business, and to add English to the already adopted German, French, and Russian, as an official language of debate. With Zinoviev in the chair, the motions were not so much voted down as simply ruled out... Thus Reed could neither have his arguments seriously presented to other delegations nor find out what was being said against him. He had seen steam-rollers before, but never one like this.
Shunted to the Trade Union Commission, he was told that the matter had been "settled" and he must obey discipline. Radek accused him of sabotage. Mocking him for believing that America could be taken from the Rockefellers and Morgans, but not the A.F. of L. from the Gomperses, Zinoviev mobilized obedient henchmen, lined up delegations on the basis of loyalty to the Russians, held meetings without notifying Reed of time or place.
Reed would not give in. A rebel, not a robot, he was not made to be a cog in a ruthless machine. The Comintern, even then, was on its way to becoming a"monolith," appropriate symbol not of the diversity of rebellious humanity, but of the solid block of granite that might serve as a tombstone over men's hope of freedom. Not one of the impatient and ardent rebels who had flocked from all over the world to Moscow would long endure in the Comintern. Even Angelica Balabanoff, despite her two decades of activity in the socialist parties of two nations and the Second and Third Internationals, would last only a few months longer.
By the time the Congress was over, Angelica was the only Russian leader to whom Jack could still talk and confide his doubts and sorrows. Yet he still had fight in him, and wrote an article for his party's journal in which he said: "Nobody in Russia seems to understand industrial unionism... At the next Congress these theses must be altered."
(26) Clare Sheridan, Russian Portraits (1921)
24th October, 1920: We have all been very much saddened by the death from typhus of John Reed, the American Communist. Everyone liked him and his wife, Louise Bryant, the War Correspondent. She is quite young and had only recently joined him. He had been here two years, and Mrs. Reed, unable to obtain a passport, finally came in through Murmansk. Everything possible was done for him, but of course there are no medicaments here: the hospitals are cruelly short of necessities. He should not have died, but he was one of those young, strong men, impatient of illness, and in the early stages he would not take care of himself.
I attended his funeral. It is the first funeral without a religious service that I have ever seen. It did not seem to strike anyone else as peculiar, but it was to me. His coffin stood for some days in the Trades' Union Hall, the walls of which are covered with huge revolutionary cartoons in marvellously bright decorative colouring. We all assembled in that hall. The coffin stood on a dais and was covered with flowers. As a bit of staging it was very effective, but I saw, when they were being carried out, that most of the wreaths were made of tin flowers painted. I suppose they do service for each Revolutionary burial.
There was a great crowd, but people talked very low. I noticed a Christ-like man with long, fair curly hair, and a fair beard and clear blue eyes; he was quite young. I asked who he was. No one seemed to know. "An artist of sorts," someone suggested. Not all the people with wonderful heads are wonderful people. Mr. Rothstein and I followed the procession to the grave, accompanied by a band playing a Funeral March that I had never heard before. Whenever that Funeral March struck up (and it had a tedious refrain), everyone uncovered; it seemed to be the only thing they uncovered for. We passed across the Place de la Revolution, and through the sacred gate to the Red Square. He was buried under the Kremlin wall next to all the Revolutionaries his Comrades. As a background to his grave was a large Red banner nailed upon the wall with the letters in gold: "The leaders die, but the cause lives on."
When I was first told that this was the burying ground of the Revolutionaries I looked in vain for graves, and I saw only a quarter of a mile or so of green grassy bank. There was not a memorial, a headstone or a sign, not even an individual mound. The Communist ideal seemed to have been realised at last: the Equality, unattainable in life, the Equality for which Christ died, had been realisable only in death.
A large crowd assembled for John Reed's burial and the occasion was one for speeches. Bucharin and Madame Kolontai both spoke. There were speeches in English, French, German and Russian. It took a very long time, and a mixture of rain and snow was falling. Although the poor widow fainted, her friends did not take her away. It was extremely painful to see this white-faced, unconscious woman lying back on the supporting arm of a Foreign Office official, more interested in the speeches than in the human agony.
The faces of the crowd around betrayed neither sympathy nor interest, they looked on unmoved. I could not get to her, as I was outside the ring of soldiers who stood guard nearly shoulder to shoulder. I marvel continuously at the blank faces of the Russian people. In France or Italy one knows that in moments of sorrow the people are deeply moved, their arms go round one, and their sympathy is overwhelming. They cry with our sorrows, they laugh with our joys. But Russia seems numb. I wonder if it has always been so or whether the people have lived through years of such horror that they have become insensible to pain.