In Praise of Jack Reed, American Communist

The discussion on our previous post, “Headlines”, inspired me to write a bit about Jack Reed, an American Communist who had – and still has – the honour of having his remains interred in the Kremlin Wall, because he was instrumental in assisting Russia’s Communist Revolution of 1917.

Why have I been inspired to remember Jack Reed?  Well, as the previous post’s discussion and some related blogosphere discussions have indicated, I (and my China Blogosphere friend, “Ivan”) seem to be regarded by many, as rabid anti-communists who hate the Chinese Communist Party (and all “Communists”) for blinkered, unthinking, ideological reasons.

Nothing could be further from the truth. 

My friend Ivan – my “kindred spirit” – has some close personal connections with former members of the Soviet Communist Party.  And he has told me about an American Communist named Jack Reed (1887-1920) – a man whose life was a bit like Ivan’s, with the happy difference that Ivan has lived longer than Jack Reed.

Jack Reed became disillusioned by the failure of socialism in America, and so he went to Russia to participate in the Bolshevik revolution.  He went to Russia with honest and charitable intentions.  But the Revolution quickly began to mutate in ways which Reed had not expected.  (Karl Marx did not anticipate such mutations either.)  The revolution killed him, perhaps indirectly, but it killed him all the same, at age 33, when he died of disease and weariness, and I speculate that part of what killed Jack Reed was the wound which the corrupted “revolution” had inflicted upon his  heart.

I am not a Marxist – although I do agree with a lot of what Marx said – and in fact I am a man of the Right, the leftish side of the Right.  But still, I admire Jack Reed’s chivalry, his integrity, and his dreams of “progress”which were, paradoxically, all too American for his own good.

So now, I would like to share two clips from the 1980 movie “Reds”, about the life of Jack Reed.  In these two scenes, he goes to the Soviet province of Azerbaijan to preach the “gospel” of Marxist revolution to people who – I would say, very much like the Chinese – misinterpreted what Marx, and Jack Reed, were trying to say.

In that sense, yes, Jack Reed was a fool.  But the most lovable kind of American fool, as in the old joke, “God looks after drunks and fools and Americans”.  Communism is nonsense, and Jack Reed died young because he didn’t perceive the folly of “progress”.  But then I remember, one of King Arthur’s Knights, Parzifal, was allowed by God to see the Holy Grail precisely BECAUSE he was a “Holy Fool”.

Here’s a toast to all “Holy Fools”, including the noble American Communist, Jack Reed!

Part one of the scene from “Reds”:

…followed by part two of the same scene:

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