April 1999

John Reed

One of the most interesting stories of the 20th Century is that of John Reed, journalist and activist. He began his career covering conflict and writing about Socialism, and ended it as a friend to Lenin and fervent support of the Oktober Revolution, witnessing first-hand the formation of the Soviet Union.

Born in Portland, Oregon, in 1887, his wealthy upbringing would later contribute to his fervent desire for social equality. After graduating Harvard in 1910, he travelled Western Europe, learning more about leftist philosophies. Upon his return to New York, he began writing for noted Socialist magazines The Masses and New Review.

In 1917, Reed married writer Louise Bryant, and together they went to Russia to cover the Oktober Revolution for The Masses. What he saw ignited further his belief in Socialism and Communism. His pro-Communist articles later led to the the magazine's trials on the grounds of sedition. These writings would be expanded and published as Ten Days That Shook the World in March 1919, now a classic and a best-seller even then.

In 1919, Reed founded the Communist Labour Party and was first editor of the Voice of Labour. He illegally left the United States for Russia to organize support from the Central Committee, which he failed to receive. While attempting to return to the U.S., he was captured in Finland and imprisioned, returning to Moscow during a prisoner exchange. Bryant found her way to him shortly before his death. He died of typhus on October 19, 1920, and is one of only two Americans buried in the Kremlin. Bill Haywood of the IWW has half of his ashes there as well; the other half are in Chicago.

I have only touched the surface here about John Reed. I find his passion and dedication very admirable, however misguided it turned out to be. You can find more information at:

  • John Silas Reed Brief bio.

  • The Emma Goldman Papers Contemporary of Reed, deported to the Soviet Union because of her views and, unlike Reed, saw the futility of Communism and rejected it.

  • Salon: Sneak Peeks Louise Bryant biography by Mary Dearborn, The Queen of Bohemia.

  • Movies Unlimited Purchase the award-winning 1981 film "Reds," directed by and starring Warren Beatty as Reed and Diane Keaton as Bryant. Powerful and moving, highly recommended.
John Reed and Louise Bryant
John Reed and Louise Bryant

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