Report by US Journalist Who Witnessed Russian Revolution


Ten Days That Shook the World

by John Reed (1919)

Book Review

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Unlike Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution (see What We Didn’t Learn About the Russian Revolution in School), which begins with the February (1917) revolution, Ten Days that Shook the World begins in August 1917, with General Kornilov’s unsuccessful attempt to make himself dictator of Russia. Reed, an American journalist covering the Russian Revolution for the socialist journal The Masses, also writes in detail about the bloody counterrevolution that tried to displace the new Soviet government.

Owing to superior numbers and strict discipline enforced by Trotsky’s Military Revolutionary Committee, the revolution in which the Bolsheviks seized power was virtually bloodless (three people were killed in the storming of the Winter Palace). It was only with the counterrevolution launched by Kerensky, the Cossacks, Junkers* and White Guards that significant loss of life occurred.

Far more harmful to the new regime was the economic sabotage engineered by banks and landowners, determined to deprive the new regime of the money, food and fuel they needed to operate.

The Counterrevolution

The Military Revolutionary Committee mobilized nearly the entire civilian population to dig trenches and build barricades against Kerensky’s** attempted assault on Petrograd. Twenty-five Red Guards were killed in this battle and 200-300 captured. Bolshevik leaders eventually neutralized Kerensky’s Cossack troops by promising to redistribute the lands of large Cossack landowners.

The shops in Petrograd were closed for three days before the Red Guards reasserted military control. Fighting in Moscow lasted six days and losses were much higher (500 Red Guards were killed).

Economic Sabotage

The economic sabotage was much more difficult to address. All the bureaucrats running the government ministries went on strike when the Bolsheviks democratically won power in the Second Congress of Soviets on October 26 (see What We Didn’t Learn About the Russian Revolution in School). Bank clerks, telephone operators and postal and telegraph workers also went on strike rather than serve the new Soviet government. In addition, food speculators illegally removed large (two years worth) grain stockpiles from Petrograd warehouses. While other speculators illegally secreted Petrograd’s coal stores.

The Bolsheviks countered the strikes mainly by mobilizing massive public outrage again the strikers through decrees they published in Pravda and numerous leaflets and pamphlets. The strikes ended with the military defeat of the counterrevolutionary forces – which ended financial support of the strikers by bankers and other businessmen.

The new Bolshevik government addressed the food shortages by arresting speculators, by sending out bands of armed sailors to seize more than 20 tons of grain from warehouses, barges and railroad terminals, and by sending trainloads of iron and cloth to barter with Siberian peasants for grain and potatoes.

They eventually resolved the coal shortage when Baltic Fleet sailors liberated 30,000 tons of coal no longer needed for the war effort.***

*The Junkers and White Guards were armed militia organized by wealthy landowners.

**Kerensky was the deposed leader of the Provisional Government installed following the February revolution.

***One of the first acts of the new Bolshevik government was to withdraw Russian forces from World War I.

4 thoughts on “Report by US Journalist Who Witnessed Russian Revolution

  1. Fascinating period of world History even to this day with demonizing of Russia nothing has much changed in 100 years. I’ve scratched the surface with research on Henry Davisons Red Cross and Herbert Hoovers relief effort in Russia. Both effort in reality war against Socialism.


    • What I find most interesting about this account was the incredible amount of civic engagement of ordinary Russians even before the Bolsheviks started party building. The majority of working men and women belonged to some community group or working men’s organization – which meant they were already incredibly well organized by the time the Bolsheviks started up. Reed and other analysts don’t believe the Revolution could have happened anywhere else – in other countries working people weren’t that well organized.


  2. Fortunately world evolutionary developments have brought ideas steadily forward into more prominence as the weapon of choice for beneficial change, seen in trends toward resolution of differences through debate – over armaments that kill and maim. Precisely when humans manage to rely solely on ideas for running societies, having unanimously agreed to relegate weapons of war to museums and literal extinction, depends on dissemination of better ideas to such an extent the great Earthly peace turning becomes manifested.


  3. I totally agree, Jerry. I’m reading a really interesting anthropological compendium at the moment that talks about citizen councils being ubiquitous in the earliest cities. It was only with the rise of weapons and warfare that cities began appointment kings – and ousting women from public life.


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