JOHN REED died of typhus on the seventeenth of October, 1920, and was buried under the Kremlin. "In America the revolutionary movement prepared its tributes. Even the kept press that he hated praised John Reed now that he was dead. Friends stopped each other on the street and talked about him. To the students of English 12, Copey, cursing the Bolsheviki, praised the courage and loyalty of his Jack Reed. There were many who talked about wasted talent, and some whose pat phrases concealed relief. But in Atlanta and Leavenworth, in Sing Sing and Cook County Jail, in hundreds of prisons, and in the hiding-places of an outlawed Communist movement, men shut their jaws tight..."
This was John Reed of Portland, Oregon, of the Harvard class of 1910. The John Reed who wrote youthful poetry for the Harvard Monthly and the Advocate, who led the cheering in the Stadium, member of Hasty Pudding and Ibis of the Lampoon. The same John Reed wrote the words to the football song "Score," and created the Paterson strike pageant. The same Reed chummed with the romantic Villa in Mexico and, not much later, was under indictment in a half-score of sedition cases for defending the Russion Revolution in this country. He changed tremendously in the decade of upheaval from '10 to '12 but his change had been in intensity and not in attitude. While he was one with the aesthetes and the play-boys of the prewar Harvard society he mocked--not violently, but still he mocked--at the Back Bay and at the frivolities and superficialities of the typical undergraduate existence. He defended his father, a crusading prosecuting attorney, who belonged to one of the oldest and best-accepted families of the West Coast and was putting respectable and indignant old crooks in jail with whose families the Reeds had wined and dined for several generations. Later he was to feel disgusted with the vague socialism of his close friend Walter Lippmann, and to turn resolutely away from his companion Robert E. Rogers, who had implanted himself solidly on the side of the order that is, and now writes a column for the Boston Evening American. He was to go beyond the teachings of his liberal mentor Lincoln Steffens and to stop writing to his beloved Charles Townsend Copeland because correspondence with a radical was dangerous business in the war years. He bore the seeds of a conviction and as that conviction grew it crowded friendships, pleasures and privileges that were incompatible with it out of his mind. The story of his thirty-three years is precisely what Hicks calls it--the story of "The Making of a Revolutionary."
Well, for Mr. Hicks, John Reed's fight was in the right direction. Was "a first-rate poet spoiled to make a third-rate revolutionary?" Was John Reed simply a little more highly-flavored liberal than the run of his friends, who had just a little more adventurousness and a little more guts, so that he went the whole hog instead of signing up for Creel's Committee for Public Information? Was he sinsere or was he just too romantic to be sensible?
When he covered the World War front before America's entrance and said "This is not our war!" was he the self-conscious heretic, the kittenish reformer, that many of his Harvard friends and journalistic associates had been? The point had better not be mulled over. Let Mr. Hicks fight it out with the American Legion, let Earl Browder cross swords with the defenders of the late Woodrow Wilson. So far as we know, a really great leader of the Proletariat has get to be a Proletarian, Communist Party or no Communist Party, but one's appetite for the adventurous, the idealistic, and the unquestionably courageous need not be diminished thereby.
John Reed was an amazing, a talented, and a brave man. He deserves the full and well-documented history that Granville Hicks has made of him both from a sociological and a personal standpoint. Things significant need not be things effective, or even things agreeable. The life of John Reed by Granville Hicks is a beautifully-written and extremely absorbing book.