The Masses

ART FOR THE MASSES
A Radical Magazine and Its Graphis 1911-1917 by Rebecca Zurier

ECHOES OF REVOLT
History of the Masses Magazine - 1911 - 1917 edited by William L. O'Neill, Quadrangle Books, 1966.

THE BOHEMIANS
A Graphic History Edited by Paul Buhle and David Berger, Verson, 2014


The Masses, a richly illustrated radical magazine, was published monthly in New York from 1911 until 1917, when it was suppressed by the government for its anti-war and anti-government perspective. The Masses blended art and politics and included fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and illustrations by many of the leading radical figures of the day. Shortly after his arrival in New York in 1913, Floyd Dell was invited to join the editorial staff of The Masses to bring some editorial discipline to that haphazard enterprise. Max Eastman, a former college instructor in philosophy, had been named editor of the dry and stodgy magazine. Dell opened its pages to talented writers, artists and cartoonists whose work reflected the burgeoning realism in the arts. Dell also added a managing editor's expertise in planning, designing and producing a magazine, shaping it to his and Eastman's political and literary tastes. It became a stunning periodical with two-color lithographed covers and fine printing for the artwork in its pages.

In his autobiography Homecoming, Dell wrote: "I hardly realized at the time the nature of the problem The Masses group was trying to solve--co-operation between artists, men of genius, egotists inevitably and rightfully, proud, sensitive, hurt by the world, each of them the head and center of some group, large or small, or admirers or devotees; now it seems to me an extraordinary triumph that so much good-humored and effective co-operation was possible between them. Nobody gained a penny out of the things published in the magazine; it was an honor to get into its pages, an honor conferred by vote at the meetings."

Floyd Dell and Co-Defendants, Masses Trial, 1918
Following the passing of the Espionage Act of 1917, the government officially labeled the magazine "treasonable material" in August of that year and issued charges against its staff for "unlawfully and willfully . . . obstructing the recruiting and enlistment of the United States' military. The "conspirators" faced fines up to 10,000 dollars and twenty years improvement. At the trial one paragraph of Dell's writing was cited as an "overt act" in violation of the Espionage law. "there are some laws that the individual feels he cannot obey, and he will suffer any punishment, even that of death, rather than recognize them as having authority over him. This fundamental stubbornness of the free soul, against which all the powers of the State are helpless, constitutes a conscientious objection, whatever its source may be in political and social opinion."

After deliberating for three days, the jury was unable to come to a unanimous decision. The jurors seeking to convict the defendants blamed one juror for being unable to conform to the majority opinion, as he was also a socialist. Not only did the other eleven jurors demand the prosecutor to levy charges against the lone juror, but they attempted to drag the socialist supporter out into the street and Lynch him. The Judge, given the uproar, declared a mistrial. A second trial also resulted in a deadlocked jury. Floyd Dell and his Co-Defendants were free.