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."