John Reed: American Communist or American Spy?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013 | 12:30-1:30 p.m.
Presenter:  Richard Spence, Professor of History

Portland-born John Reed is an icon of American radicalism. He was witness to the Bolshevik Revolution, and his Ten Days That Shook the World remains an important account. He became a founder of the U.S. Communist Party, died in Moscow, Russia, and was honored by the Soviets with a grave along the Kremlin Wall.

But was Reed really what he seemed? Was he, in, fact a long-time agent of American agencies and interests? Did some of his Soviet comrades discover or suspect this and did that lead to his premature death?

The answers may lie in the curious relationship between Reed and Weston Estes, a U.S. Army intelligence officer who infiltrated the radical movement of which Reed was a part. In 1920, Estes helped free Reed from a jail in Finland, and Reed then assisted Estes in entering Soviet Russia on a secret mission, a mission that may have sealed the fate of both men.

Richard “Rick” Spence
is a professor of History and has taught at the University of Idaho since 1986. He specializes in Russian, intelligence and military history. His course offerings include Modern Espionage, Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, History of Secret Societies, and the Occult in History. He has served as a consultant to the International Spy Museum, the History Channel and documentary film and television programs in Russia. His research on John Reed will form part of a new book, American Spies in Revolutionary Russia.