Ten Days That Shook The World
Books 351 pages
Reed’s classic account of the Russian Revolution of November 1917 isn’t an
attempt at large-scale dispassionate historical analysis, but an eyewitness
account of the Bolsheviks’ rise to power penned on the spot or shortly
afterwards by a sympathetic US socialist. It is a mark
of the respect in which Reed was held by the Bolsheviks that Ten Days That Shook The World was
published with a short but very appreciative introduction by no less than
Lenin, in which the Russian socialist leader says that he would like to see
Reed’s book ``published in millions of copies and translated into all languages’’.
was a founder member of the Communist Party of the USA and when he died in
Soviet Russia shortly after the publication of the book in 1919 he was buried
in the Heroes’ Grave in Red Square in Moscow.
book certainly captures the spirit of the days leading up to and following the
revolution of November 7: it is based largely on notes that Reed personally
took at the time, on hundreds of Russian newspapers that he collected, and is
interspersed with quotes from proclamations, decrees and announcements
recovered from the walls of Petrograd.
the story has a dreamlike quality, with figures such as Lenin, Trotsky,
Zinoviev and Kamenev fleeting past Reed in the middle of the night in the
corridors of the Smolny Institute, the chaotic headquarters of the revolution.
Reed’s accounts of the many meetings and debates featuring the various
political groupings prominent at the time have an immediacy and vividness that
is hard to describe. Despite the fact that Reed was firmly on the side of the
Bolsheviks, though, this is no hagiography or fake history such as those later
put out by Stalin and his followers: Reed never stifles the voices of the
opponents of the Bolsheviks, and there are plenty of quotes from publications
and speeches from the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries. Although Reed
doesn’t hide his sympathies, readers are left to make up their own minds about
the rights and wrongs of the case.
number of things are notable in Reed’s account of the early days of the revolution.
First, Stalin’s name appears only twice in the course of the book, once in a
list of People’s Commissars and once on a proclamation, and the man himself
never appears in person.
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the vast tasks faced by the new government. A passage from Reed’s notes on
November 8gives a flavour: ``Smolny was tenser than ever, if that were possible. The same running men
in the dark corridors, squads of workers with rifles, leaders with bulging
portfolios arguing, explaining, giving orders as they hurried anxiously along,
surrounded by friends and lieutenants. Men literally out of themselves, living
prodigies of sleeplessness and work—men unshaven, filthy, with burning eyes,
who drove upon their fixed purpose full speed on engines of exaltation. So much
they had to do, so much! Take over the Government, organise the City, keep the
garrison loyal, fight the Duma and the Committee for Salvation, keep out the
Germans, prepare to do battle with Kerensky, inform the provinces what had
happened, propagandise from Archangel to Vladivostok … Government and Municipal
employees refusing to obey their Commissars, post and telegraph refusing them
communication, railroads stonily ignoring their appeals for trains, Kerensky
coming, the garrison not altogether to be trusted, the Cossacks waiting to come
out … Against them not only the organised bourgeoisie, but all the other
Socialist parties except the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, a few Mensheviki
Internationalists and the Social Democrat Internationalists, and even they
undecided whether to stand by or not. With them, it is true, the workers and
the soldier-masses—the peasants an unknown quantity …”
that Lenin and Trotsky – both the undisputed leaders of the revolution in
Reed’s narrative – had no dreams of constructing a totalitarian state or ``socialism
in one country’’, but were fully aware of the fact that the revolution was a
gamble whose success depended on the proletariat of Germany, France and Britain. As Trotsky puts it in a
speech captured by Reed: ``There are
only two alternatives; either the Russian Revolution will create a
revolutionary movement in Europe, or
the European powers will destroy the Russian Revolution!”. This no doubt accounts
for the fact that the book was banned in the Soviet Union following the death of
Lenin, the expulsion of Trotsky and the gradual destruction of the generation
of Bolsheviks involved in the revolution.
recognising the immeasurable odds against the success of the Revolution, Reed’s
book ends on an optimistic note on November 29, 1917, with the union of the
Congress of Peasants and the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. As
socialists worldwide prepare to mark the 91st anniversary of the Bolshevik
Revolution and as revolution stirs in South America in the early years of
the 21st Century, Reed’s book is worth reading and re-reading by all
those who share his optimism and vision.
book is available free and in full at: www.marxists.org]