Abolitionist to Progressivist

“Progressive minded women did succeed in one great campaign – the right to vote –

A second American revolution began in 1840, when Susan B. Anthony’s colleagues, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, were turned away and not allowed to speak against slavery at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London — because they were women. In 1848, Anthony, Mott, Stanton and others held a historic meeting in Seneca Falls, N.Y., and issued a Declaration of Rights and Sentiments that spelled out women’s utter disenfranchisement.

The first national suffrage organizations were established in 1869 when two competing organizations were formed, one led by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the other by Lucy Stone. After years of bitter rivalry, they merged in 1890 as the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) with Anthony as its leading force.

Hoping the U.S. Supreme Court would rule that women had a constitutional right to vote, suffragists made several attempts to vote in the early 1870s and then filed lawsuits when they were turned away. Anthony actually succeeded in voting in 1872 but was arrested for that act and found guilty in a widely publicized trial that gave the movement fresh momentum.

After the Supreme Court ruled against them in 1875, suffragists began the decades-long campaign for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would enfranchise women. Much of the movement’s energy, however, went toward working for suffrage on a state-by-state basis.

When Anthony began the struggle for women’s equality, married women had to hand over their wages to their husbands. Their inherited property and their children belonged to their husbands, as well. Unwanted wives were sometimes gotten rid of by being locked away in mental asylums. Only single women could enter into contracts. Women had no political “voice” in the matters that related to their own destiny. Women could not easily attend college, law or medical school and could not belong to social organizations on campus. [In fact, the first “sorority” was launched as a “fraternity” – Kappa Alpha Theta – at Oberlin College in 1870.]

Anthony, Stanton and the American suffragist movement fought for 60 years to get women the right to vote. Anthony kept fighting until she died in 1906. The women’s vote was finally realized after seventy-two years of determined, courageous and hard work on August 18, 1920 by the ratification of the 19th Amendment (which was passed in 1919) – by a single tie-breaking vote, that of Tennessee Republican State Representative Harry Burn in a highly controversial special session of the General Assembly in Nashville, Tennessee, courageously called by Tennessee’s Democrat Governor Albert Roberts.

Burn admittedly voted in favor of ratification because of his mother’s note persuading him to support the amendment, writing;

“Dear Son:

Hurrah, and vote for suffrage! Don’t keep them in doubt. I notice some of the speeches against. They were bitter. I have been watching to see how you stood, but have not noticed anything yet. Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the “rat” in ratification.

Your Mother.”

Many say his vote cost Burn his political career. It should be noted that after Burn cast his historic vote, he hid in the attic of the capitol until the maddening crowds cleared away. It is also rumored that the anti-suffragists were so angry at his decision that they chased him from the chamber, forced him to climb out a window of the Capitol and inch along a ledge to safety. He wrote;

“I believe in full suffrage as a right. I believe we had a moral and legal right to ratify. I know a mother’s advice is always safest for her boy to follow, and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification.”

Governor Roberts was defeated in his bid for re-election in 1920 and didn’t return to public office until being elected to the State Senate in 1949. He also was a delegate for Roane County to the state Constitutional Conventions of 1953, 1959 and 1965.”

What would Anthony have to say about the progress American women have made since 1920? Women now account for a third of the nation’s lawyers and doctors. They have entered the military and the labor force in significant numbers, including in jobs that were traditionally “for men.” Women are now scientists, finance experts, programmers, chefs, stockbrokers, computer wizards, racecar drivers, electricians, basketball players, etc.

Since 1917, 313 women have served as U.S. senators, representatives and as non-voting delegates. In 1972, New York Rep. Shirley Chisholm ran for the Democratic nomination for president. Two women — Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Sarah Palin in 2008 — have been vice presidential candidates. Nancy Pelosi has been speaker of the House. The U.S. Cabinet has had 31 female officials, including three secretaries of state, Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton; an attorney general, Janet Reno; a secretary of transportation and of labor, Elizabeth Dole; and a secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano. Anthony would be impressed that there have been 44 women astronauts, a good number of CEOs, and even sports announcers! Perhaps she would be disappointed that so few women vote in their own best interests.

It was at this point that John Reed came on the scene. “John Silas “Jack” Reed (1887 –1920) was an American journalist, poet and socialist activist, best remembered for his first-hand account of the Bolshevik Revolution, Ten Days That Shook the World. He was married to writer and feminist Louise Bryant. Reed died in Russia in 1920, and was buried at the Kremlin Wall Necropolis (a rare honor for an American).

Reed made use of a valuable contact he had made at Harvard, the muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens, who appreciated Reed’s skills and intellect at an early date. Reed’s serious interest in social problems was first aroused at about this time by Steffens and Ida Tarbell, and once aroused it quickly led him to a far more radical position than theirs.

In 1913 he joined the staff of The Masses, edited by Max Eastman and his sister Crystal. Eastman later turned against communism. The first of Reed’s many arrests came in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1913, for attempting to speak on behalf of strikers in the New Jersey silk mills. The harsh treatment meted out by the authorities to the strikers and a short jail term which followed further radicalized him. Reed allied himself with the syndicalist trade union, the Industrial Workers of the World (a Communist International propaganda organ), at this time.

In the autumn of 1913 Reed was sent to Mexico by the Metropolitan Magazine to report on the Mexican Revolution. He shared the perils of Pancho Villa’s army for four months, and was with Villa’s Constitutional (Constitutionalist) Army (whose “Primer Jefe” was Venustiano Carranza) when it defeated Federal forces at Torreón, opening the way for its advance on Mexico City. Reed adored Villa, while Carranza left him cold.

On August 14, 1914, shortly after Germany declared war on France, he set sail for neutral Italy, having been sent by the Metropolitan. He met his lover, Mabel Dodge, in Naples, and the pair made their way to Paris. Reed saw the war as having emerged from imperialist commercial rivalries and showed little sympathy for any of the participants. In an unsigned piece entitled “The Traders’ War,” published in the September 1914 issue of The Masses, Reed, obviously not familiar with the geo-political dictum; “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”, passionately wrote:

“The real War, of which this sudden outburst of death and destruction is only an incident, began long ago. It has been raging for tens of years, but its battles have been so little advertised that they have been hardly noted. It is a clash of Traders” … “What has democracy to do in alliance with Nicholas, the Tsar? Is it Liberalism which is marching from the Petersburg of Father Gapon, from the Odessa of the pogroms?” … “No. There is a falling out among commercial rivals…. We, who are Socialists, must hope — we may even expect — that out of this horror of bloodshed and dire destruction will come far-reaching social changes — and a long step forward towards our goal of Peace among Men… But we must not be duped by this editorial buncombe about Liberalism going forth to Holy War against Tyranny.”

In France, he was frustrated by wartime censorship and the difficulty of accessing the front. Reed and Dodge went to London, and Dodge soon left for New York, to the relief of Reed. The rest of 1914 he spent drinking with French prostitutes and pursuing an affair with a German woman. The pair went to Berlin in early December. While there, Reed interviewed Karl Liebknecht, who was one of the few socialists in Germany to vote against war credits.

Reed was deeply disappointed by the general collapse in working-class solidarity promised by the Socialist’s Second Internationale, and by its replacement with militarism and nationalism.

After returning to New York, he paid a visit to his mother in Portland, where he met and fell in love with Louise Bryant, who joined him on the East coast in January 1916. Though happy, both had affairs with others rather freely, in accord with the bohemian sensibilities of sexual liberation in common currency in that day. As the country raced towards war, the radical Reed was marginalized: his relationship with the Metropolitan was over. John pawned his late father’s watch and sold his Cape Cod cottage to birth control activist and sex educator Margaret Sanger.

When Wilson asked for a declaration of war on April 2, 1917, the now fanatical Reed shouted at a hastily-convened meeting of the People’s council in Washington: “This is not my war, and I will not support it. This is not my war, and I will have nothing to do with it.” In July and August Reed continued to write aggressive articles for The Masses, which the Post Office now refused to mail, and for Seven Arts, which as a result of an article by Reed and others, had its financial backing cut off and ceased publication. Reed was stunned by the nation’s pro-war fervor and his career lay in ruins.

On August 17, 1917, Reed and Bryant set sail from New York to Europe, having first provided the State Department with legally sworn assurances that neither would represent the Socialist Party at a forthcoming conference in Stockholm. The pair were going as working journalists to see for themselves and report upon the sensational developments taking place in the fledgling “republic” of Russia. Traveling by way of Finland, the pair arrived in the capital city of Petrograd immediately after the failed military coup of monarchist General Lavr Kornilov, an attempt to topple the post-czar Provisional Government of Alexander Kerensky by force of arms.

Reed and Bryant found the Russian economy was in shambles and several of the subject nationalities of the old empire, such as Finland and Ukraine, autonomous and seeking to forge a military accommodation with Germany – Russia’s enemy. Reed and Bryant wound up at ground zero for the October Revolution, in which the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party (bolshevik) headed by Vladimir Lenin toppled the Kerensky government in what they believed to be the first blow struck in a worldwide socialist/communist revolution. The Bolsheviks, seeking an all-socialist government and immediate end to Russian participation in the war, sought the transfer of power from Kerensky to a Congress of Soviets, a gathering of elected workers’ and soldiers’ deputies to be convened in October.

The Kerensky government saw this as a clear effort to replace its own regime with another and moved to shut down the Bolshevik press, issuing warrants of arrest for the Soviet leaders and preparing to transfer the troops of the Petrograd garrison, believed to be unreliable, back to the front.

A Military Revolutionary Committee of the Soviets, dominated by the Bolshevik Party, determined to seize power on behalf of the future Congress of Soviets and at 11 pm on the evening of November 7, 1917, it captured the Winter Palace, seat of Kerensky’s government. Reed and Bryant were present during the fall of the Winter Palace, the symbolic event which initiated the Bolshevik Revolution.

Reed was an enthusiastic supporter of the new revolutionary socialist government and he went to work for the new People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs, translating decrees and news of the actions of the new government into English. “I also collaborated in the gathering of material and data and distributing of papers to go into the German trenches,” Reed later recalled. Reed was close to the inner circle of the new government.

He met Leon Trotsky and was introduced to Lenin during a break of the Constituent Assembly on January 18, 1918. By December, his funds were nearly exhausted and he took employment with an American, Raymond Robins of the Red Cross. Robins wished to set up a newspaper promoting American interests; Reed complied, but in the dummy issue he prepared he included a warning beneath the masthead: “This paper is devoted to promoting the interests of American capital.”

The dissolution of the Constituent Assembly left Reed unmoved, and two days later, armed with a rifle, he joined a patrol of Red Guards prepared to defend the Foreign Office from counter-revolutionary attack. Reed then attended the opening of the Third Congress of Soviets, where he gave a short speech promising to bring the news of the revolution to America, where he hoped it would “call forth an answer from America’s oppressed and exploited masses.” American journalist Edgar Sisson told Reed that he was being used by the Bolsheviks for their propaganda, a rebuke he accepted.

In January, Trotsky, responding to Reed’s concern about the safety of his substantial archive, offered Reed the post of Soviet Consul in New York; as the United States did not recognize the Bolshevik government, his credentials would almost certainly have been rejected and he faced prison (which would have given the Bolsheviks some propaganda material).

The appointment was viewed as a massive blunder by most Americans in Petrograd, and the businessman Alex Gumberg directly approached Lenin, showing him a prospectus in which Reed called for massive American capital support for Russia and for the setting up of a newspaper to express the American viewpoint on the negotiations at Brest-Litovsk. Lenin found the proposal unsavory and withdrew the nomination; thereafter, Reed only mentioned Gumberg’s name with a string of epithets attached.

Both Reed and Bryant netted books from their Russian experiences and, when back in America, Reed and Bryant took pains to defend the Bolsheviks and oppose American intervention, but a hyper-patriotic public incensed at Russia’s departure from the war against Germany, gave him a generally cold reception.

Affiliated with the Left Wing of the Socialist Party, Reed with the other radicals was expelled from the National Socialist Convention in Chicago on August 30, 1919. The radicals then split into two bitterly hostile groups, forming the Communist Labor Party of America (Reed’s, in the creation of which he had been indispensable) and, the next day, the Communist Party of America. Reed was the international delegate of the former, wrote its manifesto and platform, edited its paper, The Voice of Labor, and was denounced as “Jack the Liar” in the Communist Party organ, The Communist.

Reed’s writings of 1919 displayed doubts about Western-style democracy and defended the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, which he saw as a necessary step that would prefigure the true democracy “based upon equality and the liberty of the individual.” Indicted for sedition and hoping to secure Comintern backing for the CLP, Reed fled from America in early October 1919 on a Scandinavian frigate by means of a forged passport, working his way to Bergen as a stoker. Given shore leave, he disappeared to Kristiania, crossed into Sweden on October 22, passed through Finland and made his way to Moscow by train.

In the cold winter of 1919–1920, he traveled in the region around Moscow, observing factories, communes, and villages; filling notebooks; and carrying on an affair with a Russian woman. His feelings about the revolution were now ambiguous: on the one hand, he told the anarchist Emma Goldman, who had recently arrived, that the enemies of the revolution deserved their fate. However, he suggested that she see Angelica Balabanoff, a critic of the current situation, indicating he wanted Goldman to hear the other side.

His wife was holding his hand when he died in Moscow on October 17, 1920 from the ravages of typhus. After a hero’s funeral, his body was buried at the Kremlin Wall Necropolis.

For the Communist movement to which he belonged, Reed became a symbol of the international nature of the Bolshevik revolution, a martyr buried at the Kremlin wall amidst solemn fanfare, his name to be uttered reverently as a member of the radical pantheon. Reed has also been an influence upon the cinema. Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein’s influential 1927 silent film October: Ten Days That Shook the World was based on Reed’s book. Progressive historian John Dos Passos included a highly stylized, brief biography of Reed in his 1932 novel/history work titled 1919 that was the second part of his U.S.A. trilogy.

Half a century later, liberals were still lionizing Reed, as Warren Beatty made the 1981 film Reds, based on the life of Reed. Beatty starred as Reed, while Diane Keaton played the part of Louise Bryant and Jack Nicholson that of Eugene O’Neill. This marginal movie won three Academy Awards, and was nominated for nine others – demonstrating once again the continuing infatuation that progressive/liberals have with communism.

Through this whole period, the Progressive Movement enlisted support from both major parties. One leader, Democrat William Jennings Bryan, had won both the Democratic Party and the Populist Party nominations in 1896. When Teddy Roosevelt left the Republican Party in 1912, he took with him many of the intellectual leaders of progressivism, but very few political leaders. The Republican Party then became notably more committed to business-oriented and efficiency-oriented -progressivism, typified by Taft and Herbert Hoover. One progressive leader who remained in the Democrat Party was Woodrow Wilson.

Continued in the next post.

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