The Masses

American radical periodical

The Masses was a graphically innovative magazine of left politics published monthly from 1911 until 1917, when federal prosecutors brought charges against its editors for conspiring to obstruct conscription in the United States during World War I. It was succeeded by The Liberator and then later New Masses. It published reportage, fiction, poetry and art by the leading radicals of the time such as Max Eastman, Floyd Dell, Louise Bryant, Dorothy Day, John Reed, Mary Heaton Vorse, and Art Young.

Quotes about The Masses edit

  • One explanation for the neglect of women's part in shaping The Masses and its content may lie in an image of the magazine constructed by its chroniclers. Indeed, the extent to which historians have neglected discussion of Masses women is quite remarkable. Daniel Aaron, in his Writers on the Left (1961), devotes some twenty pages to The Masses. He deals with Eastman, Dell, and Reed at considerable length, while mentioning the founding members Inez Haynes Irwin and Mary Heaton Vorse in a single line...More recent histories redress the balance somewhat-notably Judith Schwartz's study of women of the Greenwich Village Heterodoxy club, many of whose members had ties with The Masses, and Art for The Masses, Rebecca Zurier's 1987 anthology of the work of Masses artists. Nancy Cott's frequent allusions to Masses women in The Grounding of Modern Feminism (1987) indicate how very central to that grounding to the shaping of turn-of-the-century feminist discourse Masses women were. But in many imaginations, The Masses remains the project of Max Eastman, Floyd Dell, John Reed (journalist), Art Young, and Charles Winter.
    • Margaret C. Jones, Heretics and Hellraisers: Women Contributors to The Masses, 1911-1917 (1993)
  • Two editors of The Masses, Crystal Eastman's brother Max and Floyd Dell, used that journal for vigorous advocacy of feminist issues... The Masses was the only male-edited socialist journal that consistently affirmed the importance of equality as essential for the full development of the lives of both men and women. In a satiric piece, Floyd Dell took up the arguments of the antifeminists. "I thought, you see, that [women] were persons like myself. Well, they aren't. I know better now."
    • Margaret S Marsh, Anarchist Women, 1870-1920 (1981)
  • All day, every day, the circles are in the Square, close packed huddles, voices rising and falling and rising again. "Did y' see Art Young's cartoon in The Masses? That one where two big cops are draggin' a little guy off to jail? One bystander says: "What's he been doin'?" and another guy says: "Overthrowin' the gov'ment." It's a scream!"
    • Rose Pesotta Bread upon the Waters (1945), about Union Circle on May 1, 1914

"The Policy of The Masses: An Editor's Reflections", Max Eastman edit

Afterward to Echoes of Revolt: The Masses, 1911-1917 by William L. O'Neill (1989)

  • The Masses marked, I have been told, the first appearance of "realism" in an American magazine. But I was ignorant of, and indifferent to, schools of art and literature. Of the new movement in art represented by John Sloan, George Bellows, and the other pupils of Robert Henri, I had never heard.
  • It is this catholicity of The Masses, its freedom from the one-track mental habit of the rabid devotee of a cause, for which I as editor was most responsible. I never could see why people with a zeal for improving life should be indifferent to the living of it. Why cannot one be young-hearted, gay, laughing, audacious, full of animal spirits, and yet also use his brains? The everlasting cerebral attitude of such papers as The Nation and The New Republic, the steady, unbillowy, unjoy-disturbed throbbing of grey matter in their pages, makes me, after some months, a little dogsick. And yet on the other hand I hate and always did hate smart-alecky and irresponsible leftism. This posture of mind was, I think, my chief contribution to The Masses.
  • Art Young drew a picture of a complacent cherub carrying a tiny pail of water dipped from the "Ocean of Truth." The pail was marked "Dogma," and my editorial read: "I publish this little picture in answer to numberless correspondents who want to know just what this magazine is trying to do.' It is trying not to try to empty the ocean, for one thing. And in a propaganda paper that alone is a task."
  • This freedom from dogma enabled us to join independently in the struggle for racial equality and woman's rights, for intelligent sex relations, above all (and beneath all) for birth and population control. Socialist dogma declared that all these problems would be solved when the economy of capitalism was replaced by a cooperative commonwealth. I was convinced to the contrary.
  • So far, at any rate, as I shaped its policy, the guiding ideal of the magazine was that every individual should be made free to live and grow in his own chosen way. That was what I hoped might be achieved with all this distasteful palaver about politics and economics. Even if it cannot be achieved, I would say to myself, the good life consists in striving towards it. As my notebook of those days declares: "I can bear the prospect that the world may never be free, but I can not bear the prospect of my living in it and not taking part in the fight for freedom."

Introduction to Echoes of Revolt: The Masses, 1911-1917, Irving Howe (1989) edit

  • For a brief time, roughly between 1912 and 1918, The Masses became the rallying center-as sometimes also a combination of circus, nursery, and boxing ring-for almost everything that was then alive and irreverent in American culture. In its pages you could find brilliant artists and cartoonists, like John Sloan, Stuart Davis, and Art Young; one of the best journalists in our history, John Reed (journalist), a writer full of an indignation against American injustice that was itself utterly American; a shrewd and caustic propagandist like Max Eastman; some gifted writers of fiction, like Sherwood Anderson; and one of the few serious theoretical minds American socialism has produced, William English Walling. All joined in a rumpus of revolt, tearing to shreds the genteel tradition that had been dominant in American culture, poking fun at moral prudishness and literary timidity, mocking the deceits of bourgeois individualism, and preaching a peculiarly uncomplicated version of the class struggle. There has never been, and probably never will again be, another radical magazine in the U. S. quite like The Masses, with its slapdash gathering of energy, youth, hope.
  • Behind them still throbbed the tradition of nineteenth-century American radicalism, the un-ambiguous nay-saying of Thoreau and the Abolitionists. This tradition implied that the individual person was still able to square off against the authority of the state; it signified a stance-one could not quite speak of it as a politics-of individual defiance and rectitude, little concerned because little involved with the complexities of society. The radicalism of nineteenth-century New England had been a radicalism of individual declaration far more than of collective action; and while Eastman and his friends were indeed connected with a movement, the Socialist party of Debs, in essential spirit they were intellectual freebooters, more concerned with speaking out than speaking to. They swore by Marx, but behind them could still be heard the voices of Thoreau and Wendell Phillips-and it was a good thing.
  • As one looks back across the shambles of the intervening decades, it is hard not to envy them: the fierce young Reed making his prose into a lyric of revolt, the handsome young Eastman mediating among a raucus of opinions, the cherubic Art Young drawing his revolutionary cartoons with the other worldly aplomb of a Bronson Alcott. History cannot be recalled, but in this instance at least, nostalgia seems a part of realism. For who among us, if enabled by some feat of imagination, would not change places with the men of The Masses in their days of glory?

Art Young: His Life and Times (1939) edit

  • Most of us who were cooperatively bringing out The Masses were agreed upon that. Some channel of protest must be safeguarded for those who had not been stampeded into dumb obeisance to the world's war-makers.
  • Rough going had been encountered by The Masses in its efforts to remain a medium for free interpretation in a time of hysteria. Because of its pitiless reporting in trying to reveal true causes, its lack of respect for commercialized religion, and its attacks on sex taboos in art and literature, the magazine had earlier been barred from the reading rooms of many libraries, ousted from the subway and elevated news stands in New York, and refused by distributing companies of Boston and Philadelphia; and our right to use the mails in Canada had been revoked by the Dominion government
  • For three months after the United States declared war on Germany the Masses kept on assailing the jingoists, the profiteers, and the capitalists who caused the beating and deportation of strikers, the Post Office censorship, and other evils which had been loosed in the campaign to silence all critics of the war administration.

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