Ten Days That Shook The World by John Reed (1919) (read in 2018)

Published by marco on

Disclaimer: these are notes I took while reading this book. They include citations I found interesting or enlightening or particularly well-written. In some cases, I’ve pointed out which of these applies to which citation; in others, I have not. Any benefit you gain from reading these notes is purely incidental to the purpose they serve of reminding me what I once read. Please see Wikipedia for a summary if I’ve failed to provide one sufficient for your purposes. If my notes serve to trigger an interest in this book, then I’m happy for you.

This is a first-hand account of the ten days prior to and just after the Russian Revolution in November of 1917, John Reed was living in St. Petersburg as things got into full swing. He was a strongly left-leaning journalist with at least a partial grasp of the Russian language, though it’s unclear how well he could read it. It’s hard to believe that he didn’t understand any of it, considering how much of the book seems to have been transcribed from meetings or conversations in the street.

The book offers an enthusiastic and detailed account of the involvement of the myriad participants and factions. The book covers many of the intrigues between factions involved in the revolutions as well as the external pressures of the other nations of Europe—Finland, England, Germany and others. These were trying from the very beginning to extinguish the Bolshevik revolution that they saw as an infectious threat to all that they’d taken for themselves.

The Russian refusal to continue fighting alongside the other nations in WWI, throwing away its young men’s lives for the capitalists, was the final straw: they had to be eliminated before they were allowed to show that another way was possible. Internal forces—particularly in the person of Yussov Djugashvili-Stalin took care of the rest.


“On October 15th I had a conversation with a great Russian capitalist, Stepan Georgevitch Lianozov, known as the “Russian Rockefeller”-a Cadet by political faith. “Revolution,” he said, “is a sickness. Sooner or later the foreign powers must intervene here-as one would intervene to cure a sick child, and teach it how to walk. Of course it would be more or less improper, but the nations must realize the danger of Bolshevism in their own countries-such contagious ideas as ‘proletarian dictatorship,’ and ‘world social revolution’… There is a chance that this intervention may not be necessary. Transportation is demoralized, the factories are closing down, and the Germans are advancing. Starvation and defeat may bring the Russian people to their senses….””
Page 4
“As in all such times, the petty conventional life of the city went on, ignoring the Revolution as much as possible. The poets made verses-but not about the Revolution. The realistic painters painted scenes from medieval Russian history-anything but the Revolution. Young ladies from the provinces came up to the capital to learn French and cultivate their voices, and the gay young beautiful officers wore their gold-trimmed crimson bashliki and their elaborate Caucasian swords around the hotel lobbies. The ladies of the minor bureaucratic set took tea with each other in the afternoon, carrying each her little gold or silver or jewelled sugar-box, and half a loaf of bread in her muff, and wished that the Tsar were back, or that the Germans would come, or anything that would solve the servant problem…. The daughter of a friend of mine came home one afternoon in hysterics because the woman street-car conductor had called her “Comrade!””
Page 8
“"Comrades,“ he cried, and there was real anguish in his drawn face and despairing gestures. “The people at the top are always calling upon us to sacrifice more, sacrifice more, while those who have everything are left unmolested. “We are at war with Germany. Would we invite German generals to serve on our Staff? Well we’re at war with the capitalists too, and yet we invite them into our Government…. “The soldier says, ‘Show me what I am fighting for. Is it Constantinople, or is it free Russia? Is it the democracy, or is it the capitalist plunderers? If you can prove to me that I am defending the Revolution then I’ll go out and fight without capital punishment to force me.‘”
Page 13
“At once every one began asking me questions about America: Was it true that people in a free country sold their votes for money? If so, how did they get what they wanted? How about this “Tammany”? Was it true that in a free country a little group of people could control a whole city, and exploited it for their personal benefit? Why did the people stand it? Even under the Tsar such things could not happen in Russia; true, here there was always graft, but to buy and sell a whole city full of people! And in a free country! Had the people no revolutionary feeling? I tried to explain that in my country people tried to change things by law. “Of course,” nodded a young sergeant, named Baklanov, who spoke French. “But you have a highly developed capitalist class? Then the capitalist class must control the legislatures and the courts. How then can the people change things? I am open to conviction, for I do not know your country; but to me it is incredible….””
Page 139
“A couch lay along the wall, and on this was stretched a young workman. Two Red Guards were bending over him, but the rest of the company did not pay any attention. In his breast was a hole; through his clothes fresh blood came welling up with every heart-beat. His eyes were closed and his young, bearded face was greenish-white. Faintly and slowly he still breathed, with every breath sighing, “Mir boudit! Mir boudit! (Peace is coming! Peace is coming!)””
Page 141

These scenes remind me of Idi i smotri (IMDb).

“"You foreigners look down on us Russians because so long we tolerated a mediæval monarchy,“ said he. “But we saw that the Tsar was not the only tyrant in the world; capitalism was worse, and in all the countries of the world capitalism was Emperor…. Russian revolutionary tactics are best….””
Page 154
“Executing the will of these Congresses, the Council of People’s Commissars has resolved to establish as a basis for its activity in the question of Nationalities, the following principles: (1) The equality and sovereignty of the peoples of Russia. (2) The right of the peoples of Russia to free self-determination, even to the point of separation and the formation of an independent state. (3) The abolition of any and all national and national religious privileges and disabilities. (4) The free development of national minorities and ethnographic groups inhabiting the territory of Russia. Decrees will be prepared immediately upon the formation of a Commission on Nationalities. In the name of the Russian Republic, People’s Commissar for Nationalities YUSSOV DJUGASHVILI-STALIN President of the Council of People’s Commissars V. ULYANOV (LENIN)”
Page 157
“the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Supplies, the Ministry of Finance, similar incidents occurred. And the employees, summoned to return or forfeit their positions and their pensions, either stayed away or returned to sabotage…. Almost all the intelligentsia being anti-Bolshevik, there was nowhere for the Soviet Government to recruit new staffs…. The private banks remained stubbornly closed, with a back door open for speculators. When Bolshevik Commissars entered, the clerks left, secreting the books and removing the funds. All the employees of the State Bank struck except the clerks in charge of the vaults and the manufacture of money, who refused all demands from Smolny and privately paid out huge sums to the Committee for Salvation and the City Duma.”
Page 158
“The opposition newspapers, suppressed one day and reappearing next morning under new names, heaped bitter sarcasm on the new regime. (See App. XI, Sect. 5) Even Novaya Zhizn characterized it as “a combination of demagoguery and impotence.” From day to day (it said) the Government of the People’s Commissars sinks deeper and deeper into the mire of superficial haste. Having easily conquered the power… the Bolsheviki can not make use of it. Powerless to direct the existing mechanism of Government, they are unable at the same time to create a new one which might work easily and freely according to the theories of social experimenters.”
Page 159
“"The attitude of Socialists on the question of freedom of the Press should be the same as their attitude toward the freedom of business…. The rule of the democracy which is being established in Russia demands that the domination of the Press by private property must be abolished, just as the domination of industry by private property…. The power of the Soviets should confiscate all printing-plants.“ (Cries, “Confiscate the printing-shop of Pravda!”)”
Page 163
“"The monopoly of the Press by the bourgeoisie must be abolished. Otherwise it isn’t worth while for us to take the power! Each group of citizens should have access to print shops and paper…. The ownership of print-type and of paper belongs first to the workers and peasants, and only afterwards to the bourgeois parties, which are in a minority…. The passing of the power into the hands of the Soviets will bring about a radical transformation of the essential conditions of existence, and this transformation will necessarily be evident in the Press…. If we are going to nationalize the banks, can we then tolerate the financial journals? The old régime must die; that must be understood once and for all….“ Applause and angry cries.”
Page 163

The internet as originally envisioned is socialist.

“”We have thrown off the yoke of capitalism, just as the first revolution threw off the yoke of Tsarism. If the first revolution had the right to suppress the Monarchist papers, then we have the right to suppress the bourgeois press. It is impossible to separate the question of the freedom of the Press from the other questions of the class struggle. We have promised to close these newspapers, and we shall do it. The immense majority of the people is with us! “Now that the insurrection is over, we have absolutely no desire to suppress the papers of the other Socialist parties, except inasmuch as they appeal to armed insurrection, or to disobedience to the Soviet Government. However, we shall not permit them, under the pretence of freedom of the Socialist press, to obtain, through the secret support of the bourgeoisie, a monopoly of printing-presses, ink and paper…. These essentials must become the property of the Soviet Government, and be apportioned, first of all, to the Socialist parties in strict proportion to their voting strength….””
Page 163
“There remained several centres of dangerous opposition, such as the “republics” of Ukraine and Finland, which were showing definitely anti-Soviet tendencies. Both at Helsingfors and at Kiev the Governments were gathering troops which could be depended upon, and entering upon campaigns of crushing Bolshevism, and of disarming and expelling Russian troops. The Ukrainean Rada had taken command of all southern Russia, and was furnishing Kaledin reinforcements and supplies. Both Finland and Ukraine were beginning secret negotiations with the Germans, and were promptly recognized by the Allied Governments, which loaned them huge sums of money, joining with the propertied classes to create counter-revolutionary centres of attack upon Soviet Russia. In the end, when Bolshevism had conquered in both these countries, the defeated bourgeoisie called in the Germans to restore them to power….”
Page 171
“Not by compromise with the propertied classes, or with the other political leaders; not by conciliating the old Government mechanism, did the Bolsheviki conquer the power. Nor by the organized violence of a small clique. If the masses all over Russia had not been ready for insurrection it must have failed. The only reason for Bolshevik success lay in their accomplishing the vast and simple desires of the most profound strata of the people, calling them to the work of tearing down and destroying the old, and afterward, in the smoke of falling ruins, cooperating with them to erect the frame-work of the new….”
Page 175
“In the industrial, agrarian and supply departments the politics of the propertied classes, acting with the Government, increases the natural disorganization caused by the war. The propertied classes, which are provoking a peasants’ revolt! The propertied classes, which are provoking civil war, and openly hold their course on the bony hand of hunger, with which they intend to overthrow the Revolution and finish with the Constituent Assembly!”
Page 194
“The interview of which this is an excerpt was cabled to the United States, and in a few days sent back by the American State Department, with a demand that it be “altered.” This Kerensky refused to do; but it was done by his secretary, Dr. David Soskice—and, thus purged of all offensive references to the Allies, was given to the press of the world….”
Page 207
“The printing of advertisements, in newspapers, books, bill-boards, kiosks, in offices and other establishments is declared to be a State monopoly.”
Page 252
“Advertising offices are confiscated by the Government, the owners being entitled to compensation in cases of necessity. Small proprietors, depositors and stock-holders of the confiscated establishments will be reimbursed for all moneys held by them in the concern.”
Page 252
“Every conscious worker understands perfectly that we cannot avoid this hostility, because the high officials have set themselves against the People and do not wish to abandon their posts without resistance. But the working classes are not for one moment afraid of that resistance. The majority of the people are for us. For us are the majority of the workers and the oppressed of the whole world. We have justice on our side. Our ultimate victory is certain.”
Page 253