Ten Days That Shook the World

Ten Days That Shook the World
John Reed

No, Reed was not a neutral observer. He did, however, have a ringside seat for the October (November in our calendar) Russian Revolution: “one of the great events of human history, and . . . a phenomenon of world-wide importance.” Much of his reporting takes the form of reproducing documentary evidence, which isn’t always the most interesting material but here has an importance and rhetorical intensity that makes for an exception. In hindsight, we know all too well that Reed’s optimism and faith in the revolution was misplaced. What, aside from the odd factual matter, did he get wrong? Primarily he was led astray by his belief that this was a truly democractic revolution, with the Bolheviks representing the “vast, unorganized popular masses.” But Bolshevism was not a mass movement, far from it, nor was there a single monolithic bloc of peasants, workers, and soldiers with identical or even always similar interests. Class warfare was a rallying cry, not a realistic program. Because Reed was a committed class warrior he remained blinkered to this, not seeing through his heroes Lenin and Trotsky despite all of the red flags. Meanwhile, no one seems to have noticed Stalin, who presumably wanted it this way for now. Faith, religous or political (and Reed explicitly saw the latter superseding the former), is always blinkered. We believe what we find it necessary to believe, not what may be right in front of us. This is especially the case for those with an idealistic cast of mind, and I think it goes a long way to excusing Reed’s blindness. The last man of history is the cynic, which was to be Stalin dying in his bed.

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