Monday, October 23, 2017

BIRTH | Oct. 22 – John Reed

Russian Versions of Reed's Works,
in English and Russian.
October 22, 2017 – This day in 1887 was born in Portland, Oregon, American journalist John Silas “Jack” Reed.

He's best known as the author of Ten Days That Shook the World (1919), his eye-witness account of Russia’s 1917 "October" Revolution.

He is included in this Inez Milholland blog because:
  • He was an older contemporary of Inez's brother John ("Jack") Milholland at Harvard. Both of them tried out for the Harvard football team.
  • He was a part of Inez Milholland's circle of radical feminists and pacifists.
  • His famed trip to Russia in 1917 was financed, according to their friend Max Eastman, through an appeal to Alma Vanderbilt Belmont and others by Inez's widower Eugen Boissevain.

Reed was from a wealthy Portland family. His mother, Margaret Green Reed, was the daughter of a man who owned Oregon's first gas works, first pig-iron smelter, and the City of Portland water works.

At Harvard, Reed tried out for football but did not make the team (unlike Inez's brother Jack, who became the team's well-publicized designated drop-kicker). While a student, Reed attended meetings of the Socialist Club headed by Walter Lippman and became an admirer and friend of Lincoln Steffens, the famed muckraker. His favorite professor was English Professor Charles Townsend "Copey" Copeland (1860-1952), who recommended that his students interested in a writing career get involved in real-life gritty working experiences as a way of generating something to write about.

Reed graduated from Harvard in 1910 and after several gritty jobs began in 1913 writing for Max Eastman's anti-war and socialist magazine, The Masses. In 1914 he covered the revolution in Mexico and recorded his impressions in Insurgent Mexico. In 1915 he met the leftist journalist Louise Bryant. He said:
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.
They were married that year. They spent that summer in Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod, with a group of other writers from Greenwich Village that included Floyd Dell and Theodore Dreiser. Several of them established the Provincetown Theatre Group at the end of a wharf, which inspired another theater on McDougall Street in New York City with the same name. Bryant wrote:
Never were so many people in America who wrote or painted or acted ever thrown together in one place. 
Other writers like Eugene O'Neill and Eugen Boissevain's second wife Edna St. Vincent Millay joined the group in later years.

Arrested often for his coverage of strikes, Reed rapidly became established as a radical leader and helped form the U.S. Communist Party. He covered World War I for Metropolitan magazine and wrote The War in Eastern Europe (1916).

Reed sought money to go to Russia in 1917 to cover what became the Russian Revolution. Eugen Boissevain, now Inez Milholland's widower, spoke with some of their New York City friends, including Alma Vanderbilt Belmont, and, according to Max Eastman, was the key person who put together Reed's funding.

In Russia, Reed befriended Lenin and was an eye-witness to the early days of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Reed wrote back with enthusiastic correspondent reports that generated U.S. headlines.

He returned to to New York and when the U.S. Communist Party and the Communist Labor Party split in 1919, Reed became the leader of the latter. Indicted for sedition (treason), he escaped via Scandinavia to Russia. But in his final years he was disillusioned by the loss of democracy after the Russian Revolution and especially by restrictions on his own travel.

He died in 1920 in a Moscow hospital of scrub typhus, which is associated with poor hygiene and cold weather. He is buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis for Bolshevik heroes, along with Bill Haywood, Chairman of the American Communist Party and a leader of the IWW ("Wobblies") and the Paterson strike, who died in 1928 in Moscow. 

Reed and Haywood are two of only three Americans buried with Soviet heroes (the other is Charles E. Ruthenberg, Cleveland-born co-founder of the Communist Party USA). Russian leaders have seldom expressed admiration for Americans. Usually it is in response to praise in the other direction – other examples that come to mind are Jack London (1876-1916) and Donald J. Trump (1946-present).

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