What is The Masses magazine?


What was the Masses all about?

The Masses was a graphically innovative magazine of socialist politics published monthly in the United States from 1911 until 1917. During World War I The Masses took an antiwar/protest stand, and in July 1917 the U.S. postmaster general declared the August 1917 issue “unmailable” under the Espionage Act of 1917.


The Masses published reportage, fiction, poetry and art by the leading radicals, feminists, and suffragettes of the time, including Max Eastman, John Reed, Carl Sandburg, Pablo Picasso, and poet Louis Untermeyer.

The magazine described itself in this way: "A Revolutionary and not a Reform magazine; a magazine with a sense of humour and no Respect for the Respectable; Frank; Arrogant; Impertinent; Searching for the True Causes; a magazine Directed against Rigidity and Dogma wherever it is found: Printing whatever is too Naked or True for a money-making Press..."


Why was it controversial?

The Masses took an antiwar stand and, in 1917, was accused of espionage and inciting civil disobedience.


Max Eastman

The Masses was founded in 1911 in New York City by the Dutch immigrant Piet Vlag; his goal was to educate the working people of America about art, literature, and socialist theory, but he and the magazine’s first editor quit within 18 months. From 1912 onward, socialist Max Eastman was editor. During his tenure the magazine followed a more radical socialist policy than that of the founder.

max eastman

That striking Masses cover art!

Artists John Sloan and Art Young were staff members; under their leadership The Masses published some of the best covers and illustrations of the period, including works by George Bellows, Stuart Davis, and Boardman Robinson, Frank Walts, Ilonka Karasz, and Hugo Gellert.

masses Cover by Ilonka Karasz, The Masses, December 1915

Writers included poet Amy Lowell, author Jack London, communist activist John Reed, Upton Sinclair, Sherwood Anderson, activist and journalist Louise Bryant, Floyd Dell, and Dorothy Day.

masses wall

The suffragette movement

"In November 1915, The Masses, an early 20th century socialist magazine, weighed in on the raging debate over suffrage with an issue dedicated to the topic.


Interestingly, the magazine’s editor, Max Eastman, was the founding secretary of the Men’s League for Woman Suffrage of the State of New York. This issue featured cartoons, poems, essays and articles on suffrage and the vote.


In “Adventures In Anti-Land,” novelist and journalist Floyd Dell goes undercover to an anti-suffrage organization’s office in New York, and writes humorously and sarcastically of his findings: “They show not merely that women isn’t fit to vote, they give good reasons for believing that she isn’t fit to live." *Source: suffragemedia

Why did it close down?

The Masses ceased publication at the end of 1917. In 1918 Eastman and several other editors twice stood trial under the Espionage Act; both trials produced hung juries.


In cases such as Abrams v. United States, 250 U.S. 616 (1919) and Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652 (1925) and others, the United States Supreme Court struggled to draw the line between politically unpopular speech and actual threats to national security.

Masses Publishing Co. v. Patten greatly influenced the Supreme Court's eventual adoption in Brandenburg v. Ohio of the "incitement test" for advocacy of illegal activity.

For more: Wikipedia.
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