John Reed Biography

John Reed was an American journalist, poet, and socialist activist. This biography describes his childhood, early life, career, major works, personal life, legacy and trivia.

Quick Facts

Birthday: October 22, 1887

Nationality: American

Famous: Poets Journalists

Died At Age: 32

Sun Sign: Libra

Born in: Portland, Oregon, United States

Famous as: Journalist, Poet

political ideology: Communist Labor Party


Spouse/Ex-: Louise Bryant

father: Charles Jerome Reed

mother: Margaret Green Reed

siblings: Crystal, Harry

Died on: October 17, 1920

place of death: Moscow, Russian SFSR

U.S. State: Oregon

More Facts

education: Harvard University, Harvard College

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John Reed was an American journalist, poet, and socialist activist whose short life as a revolutionary writer made him the hero of a generation of radical intellectuals. A member of a wealthy Portland family, he graduated from Harvard and began writing for a Socialist newspaper, ‘The Masses’. He covered the revolutionary fighting in Mexico and recorded his impressions in his book, ‘Insurgent Mexico’. He was arrested frequently for organizing strikes, and his writings were considered seditious during World War I. He became established as a radical leader and helped form the Communist Party in the United States. He covered World War I for Metropolitan magazine; and wrote of his experience in the book, ‘The War in Eastern Europe’. He became a close friend of Lenin and was an eyewitness to the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, recording this event in his best known book, ‘Ten Days That Shook the World’. It was written from the perspective of someone experiencing the revolution first-hand and was sympathetic to the Bolsheviks and their cause. He portrayed their leaders – particularly Lenin, Trotsky and Zinoviev – in a favorable light. While attending the Second Congress of the Communist International in Moscow, he died of typhus; he was subsequently buried with other Bolshevik heroes beside the Kremlin wall.

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Childhood & Early Life
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  • Wanting to be a freelance journalist, he circulated essay and short stories about his six months in Europe which were accepted in The Saturday Evening Post, Collier's, The Forum, and The Century Magazine.
  • One of his poems was set to music by composer Arthur Foote, and the editors at ‘The American’ came to see him as a contributor and begun to publish his work.
  • In 1913, he joined ‘The Masses’, a magazine of socialist politics. He was arrested for the first time in Paterson, New Jersey for speaking on behalf of strikers in the silk mills.
  • In 1913, he was deputed to Mexico by the Metropolitan Magazine to report the Mexican Revolution and covered Pancho Villa’s—one of the most prominent Mexican Revolutionary generals—victory over Federal forces at Torreón.
  • When The Ludlow Massacre happened in April 1914, he arrived at the scene in Colorado and reported on the event, siding with the miners and seeing it as an example of class conflict.
  • 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.
  • He saw World War I as a “Clash of Traders” and showed little sympathy for any of the participants and observed with dismay that working-class solidarity was being replaced by militarism and nationalism.
  • In 1915, he returned to Portland where he met Louise Bryant. They rented a home in Provincetown, in Massachusetts and acted in, Bound East for Cardiff, a play written by Eugene O'Neill.
  • In 1917, accompanied by his wife Louise Bryant who was also provided foreign correspondent accreditation, he left for Petrograd. He interviewed Alexander Kerensky, head of Russian Provisional Government just before Kerensky went into hiding.
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  • In November 1917, he spent time with Lenin and saw in him, “the power of explaining profound ideas in simple terms, of analyzing a concrete situation. And combined with shrewdness, the greatest intellectual audacity."
  • He returned to New York City in April, 1918 and was immediately arrested and charged for violating the Espionage Act by publishing anti-war articles and cartoons in The Masses that undermined the war effort.
  • He was released on bail and he published a series of articles on the Russian Revolution in The Liberator. He was arrested many times on charges of violating the Sedition Act.
  • In September 1919, Reed and several others, 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.
  • In 1920, he attended the Second Congress of the Communist International in Moscow and sought official recognition of the American Communist Party. The Comintern declared that a decision would be arrived after deliberation.
  • Reed became disillusioned with the way Lenin had become a virtual dictator of Russia and thought that he had made a terrible mistake in interpreting the Russian Revolution.
Major Works
  • He wrote a series of articles about his time with Villa whom he admired. He opposed American intervention His reports were later collected together and published as Insurgent Mexico in 1914.
  • His experiences in Russia were recorded in his book, ‘Ten Days That Shook the World’, published in 1919.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • Reed married writer and feminist Louise Bryant, in 1916.
  • He died on October 17, 1920, due to typhus, in Moscow, and after a hero's funeral, his body was buried at the Kremlin Wall Necropolis.

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John Reed

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