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Portland, Oregon
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Portland, Oregon

John Reed was an American journalist, poet, and socialist activist who became a hero to a generation of radical intellectuals during his brief career as a revolutionary writer. He graduated from Harvard and began writing for a socialist newspaper, ‘The Masses,’ as a member of a rich Portland family. In his book, ‘Insurgent Mexico,’ he covered the revolutionary warfare in Mexico and recounted his impressions. During World War I, he was repeatedly detained for organizing strikes, and his publications were deemed seditious. He rose to prominence as a radical leader and was instrumental in the formation of the Communist Party of the United States. He covered World War I for Metropolitan magazine and wrote a book called ‘The War in Eastern Europe’ about his experiences. He became a close friend of Lenin’s and was present at the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, which he documented in his best-known book, ‘Ten Days That Shook the World.’ It was written from the perspective of someone who had witnessed the revolution firsthand and sympathized with the Bolsheviks. He portrayed their leaders favorably, particularly Lenin, Trotsky, and Zinoviev. He died of typhus while attending the Communist International’s Second Congress in Moscow, and was subsequently buried alongside other Bolshevik heroes beside the Kremlin wall.

Childhood and Adolescence

Margaret Green Reed, the daughter of a prominent Portland resident, and Charles Jerome Reed, a representative of an agricultural machinery firm from the East, gave birth to John Reed on October 22, 1887, in Portland, Oregon.

He was a frail boy who had a failing kidney. For much of his adolescence, he was plagued by repeated pain attacks that kept him bedridden for weeks at a time.

With his younger brother Harry, he attended Portland Academy, a private institution. He was bright enough to pass his classes, but he didn’t want to work hard for top grades because he considered school to be dry and boring.

In 1906, he enrolled at Harvard College and excelled in swimming and water polo. He also served on the editorial boards of Lampoon and The Harvard Monthly, as well as writing music and lyrics for the Hasty Pudding Theatricals show.

In 1910, he graduated from Harvard College and traveled abroad to see more of the “dull outside world,” visiting England, France, and Spain before returning to the United States the following spring.

A Career of John Reed

He circulated essays and short stories about his six months in Europe, which were approved in The Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, The Forum, and The Century Magazine, since he aspired to be a freelance journalist.

After composer Arthur Foote adapted one of his poems to music, the editors of ‘The American’ approached him as a contributor and began to publish his work.

He became a member of ‘The Masses,’ a socialist magazine, in 1913. For the first time, he was arrested in Paterson, New Jersey, for speaking out on support of silk mill workers.

In 1913, he was dispatched to Mexico by the Metropolitan Magazine to cover the Mexican Revolution, and he reported Pancho Villa’s triumph over Federal forces at Torreón, one of the most notable Mexican Revolutionary generals.

When The Ludlow Massacre occurred in Colorado in April 1914, he arrived on the scene and reported on the incident, side with the miners and seeing it as a case of class strife.

Reed moved to Europe at the onset of the First World War to cover the battlefronts for The Masses and the Metropolitan Magazine in France, Germany, Russia, Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria.

He considered World War I as a “Clash of Traders,” and he had little compassion for any of the participants, lamenting the loss of working-class solidarity to militarism and nationalism.

He returned to Portland in 1915 and met Louise Bryant. They rented a house in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and acted in Eugene O’Neill’s play, Bound East for Cardiff.

He left for Petrograd in 1917, accompanied by his wife Louise Bryant, who was also granted foreign correspondent credentials. Just before Alexander Kerensky, the head of the Russian Provisional Government, went into hiding, he interviewed him.

He met Lenin in November 1917 and observed “the power of conveying great ideas in simple terms, of assessing a particular situation” in him. And the greatest intellectual daring, when paired with shrewdness.”

In April 1918, when he returned to New York City, he was arrested and accused with violating the Espionage Act by publishing anti-war articles and cartoons in The Masses, which harmed the war effort.

He was released on bail and went on to write a series of articles for The Liberator about the Russian Revolution. He was detained several times for allegedly breaking the Sedition Act.

Reed and a group of others decided to organize the Communist Party of the United States in September 1919. It quickly grew to 60,000 members, compared to only 40,000 for the Socialist Party of America.

He attended the Communist International’s Second Congress in Moscow in 1920, seeking official recognition for the American Communist Party. After consideration, the Comintern indicated that a decision would be reached.
Reed became disillusioned with Lenin’s transformation into a virtual dictator of Russia, believing that he had made a grave error in his interpretation of the Russian Revolution.

Major Projects of John Reed

He chronicled his time with Villa, whom he admired, in a series of pieces. He was against American intervention. His reports were later compiled and published in 1914 as Insurgent Mexico.
His adventures in Russia were chronicled in his 1919 book, “Ten Days That Shook the World.”

Estimated Net Worth

John Reed is one of the wealthiest novelists and one of the most well-known. John Reed’s net worth is estimated to be $1.5 million, according to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.

Personal History and Legacy

In 1916, Reed married writer and activist Louise Bryant.

He died of typhus on October 17, 1920, in Moscow, and his body was buried at the Kremlin Wall Necropolis after a hero’s funeral.