Ten Days That Shook the WorldJohn Reed
(excerpt from chapter VII, "The Revolutionary Front")
We sallied out into the town. Just at the door of the station stood two soldiers with rifles and bayonets fixed. They were surrounded by about a hundred business men, government officials and students, who attacked them with passionate argument and epithet. The soldiers were uncomfortable and hurt, like children unjustly scolded. A tall young man with a supercilious expression, dressed in the uniform of a student, was leading the attack. "You realise, I presume," he said insolently, "that by taking up arms against your brothers you are making yourselves the tools of murderers and traitors?"
"Now brother,"answered the soldier earnestly, "you don't understand. There are two classes, don't you see, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. We..."
"Oh, I know that silly talk!" broke in the student rudely. "a bunch of ignorant peasants like you hear somebody bawling a few catch-words. You don't understand what they mean. You just echo them like a lot of parrots." The crowd laughed. "I'm a Marxian student. and I tell you that this isn't Socialism you are fighting for. It's just plain pro-German anarchy!"
"Oh, yes, I know," answered the soldier, with sweat dripping from his brow. "You are an educated man, that is easy to see, and I am only a simple man. But it seems to me..."
"I suppose," interrupted the other contemptuously, "that you believe Lenin is a real friend of the proletariat?"
"Yes, I do," answered the soldier, suffering.
"Well, my friend, do you know that Lenin was sent through Germany in a closed car? Do you know that Lenin took money from the Germans?"
"Well, I don't know much about that," answered the soldier stubbornly, "but it seems to me that what he says is what I want to hear, and all the simple men like me. Now there are two classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat..."
"You are a fool! Why, my friend, I spent two years in Schlusselburg for revolutionary activity, when you were still shooting down revolutionists and singing 'God Save the Tsar!' My name is Vasili Georgevitch Panyin. Didn't you ever hear of me?"
"I'm sorry to say I never did," answered the soldier with humility. "But then, I am not an educated man. You are probably a great hero."
"I am," said the student with conviction. "and I am opposed to the Bolsheviki, who are destroying our Russia, our free Revolution. Now how do you account for that?"
The soldier scratched his head. "I can't account for it at all," he said, grimacing with the pain of his intellectual processes. "To me it seems perfectly simple - but then, I'm not well educated. It seems like there are only two classes, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie ..."
"There you go again with your silly formula!" cried the student.
"and whoever isn't on one side is on the other..."
1887-1920, American journalist and radical leader, b. Portland, Oreg. After graduating from Harvard in 1910, he wrote articles for various publications and from 1913 was attached to the radical magazine The Masses. His coverage of the Paterson, N.J., silk workers strike of 1913 profoundly affected him, and thereafter he became a proponent of revolutionary politics. The articles that he wrote from Mexico about Pancho Villa established his reputation as a journalist and a radical. He served as a reporter in Europe in World War I and was in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) when the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917; his book, Ten Days That Shook the World (1919), is considered the best eyewitness account of the revolution. Expelled from the U.S. Socialist convention in 1919, he helped to organize the Communist Labor party, a left-wing splinter group of the Socialist party. He was indicted for sedition in New York City in 1918 and in Philadelphia in 1919, but both cases were dropped.
Reed returned to the USSR, worked in the Soviet bureau of propaganda, and was appointed Soviet consul to New York. Upon protest from the U.S. government, Reed was withdrawn from the consulship. He died in Moscow of typhus and was buried at the Kremlin. A selection of his writings was edited by John Stuart (1955).
From The Oregon History Project
For John Silas Reed, the conservative, early twentieth century city of Portland could never be "prepared to understand his dreams" of social revolution and change. Born in 1887, Reed grew up in a stately Portland mansion, attended the Portland Youth Academy and later, boarding school. Fascinated with the travels of his uncle and the unfamiliar habits of his family's Chinese servant Lee Sing, Reed's early writings were inspired by his desire to see the world.
Praised for his poetry and writing skills, Reed graduated from Harvard in 1910 and began a career in journalism in New York. He wrote predominantly for leftist magazines and was celebrated among Greenwich Village radicals. Reed first gained prominence when he covered the 1911 Mexican revolution alongside revolutionary Pancho Villa. The event inspired his romanticized chronicle, Insurgent Mexico. In 1915, Reed toured Eastern Europe reporting on the atrocities and injustices of World War I. He became especially captivated with Russia and its potential for revolution, writing that Russians "are perhaps the most interesting human beings that exist."
Returning home in 1916, Reed was lonely and tired of war, but on a visit to Portland he met Louise Bryant. In Bryant, Reed found his intellectual match. They married in 1916 and departed for Russia to witness the Russian revolution. Reed's 1919 Ten Days That Shook the World was an account of the Bolshevik seizure of power. In 1920, Reed traveled back to the U.S. to coordinate a domestic Communist party. Upon his return to Russia he was imprisoned and held in solitary confinement in Finland. Later released to Russia, a sickly Reed re-united with Bryant, but was tragically stricken with typhus.
John Reed died in October 1920. The only American ever buried at the Kremlin, Reed's idealism, intellect, and spirit would inspire radicals to form John Reed Clubs across the United States.