Reds

By Brazier, Chris | New Internationalist, March 1993 | Go to article overview

Reds


Brazier, Chris, New Internationalist


WHEN Reds was released in the early 1980s, it was fashionable in radical circles to deride it. How could it possibly be a good thing? Ageing Casanova Warren Beatty, one of the most privileged people this planet has ever contained, portraying stalwart socialist hero John Reed... A Hollywood epic version of the Russian Revolution, taking up where Zhivago left off... Using great political events as mere backdrop for romance between Reed and fellow journalist Louise Bryant...

Horse - shit, as Reed himself might have said. Any mainstream epic which tackles the Left head - on is bound to be suspected. But for me Reds was a quite miraculous achievement: a big - budget (huge for its time) Hollywood movie which treated revolutionary socialism sympathetically, which made people all over the world feel the magnitude of the Russian Revolution. You'd have to be quite a cynic, for example, not to be stirred by the extended sequence which sets the taking of the Winter Palace to the emotional strains of the Internationale and brings the first half of the film to a close.

In these post - Soviet times the Russian Revolution seems a more dubious proposition than it did even when this film was made. But it was still one of the key moments in human history, when the new industrial working class threw off the inevitability of its exploitation; it was surely this moment, for example, which made welfare states inevitable throughout the Western world as fireguards against the flames of insurrection. And by following John Reed through the exaltation and idealism of the Revolution to his profound doubts about its direction at the end, we are emerging with quite an accurate thumbnail portrait of its historical significance. Broadly Reds tells the story of Reed, an early luminary in the US communist movement who gave a fine eye - witness account of the Russian Revolution in his book Ten Days That Shook The World. On his return to communist activism in the US he was involved in some typical Left schisms. We witness these in the film -- and far more extraordinary to find in a Hollywood film than the Revolution itself is the sight of nitpicking debates in smoke - filled rooms between warring American communist factions. Reed travelled back to Moscow to seek Comintern ratification for his faction and ended up spending the rest of his short life there -- he died in 1920 at the age of 33, and remains theonly American to be buried with honour in Red Square. …

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