N is for New Masses

by RS on April 22, 2012

New Masses Cover, January 12, 1937

 

In Julius, the idea of publishing a leftist literary and political magazine is based on resurrecting the New Masses, a periodical that Corinne has admired since the days she read her father’s old copies. The editorial mission of Julius is similar to the early New Masses, focusing on domestic issues, and that’s all I’m saying…

The New Masses was in direct line of the Masses (1911-1917) and the Liberator (1918-1924). The New Masses launched in May 1926 and was a monthly through September 1933. It was revamped to become a weekly that started on January 2, 1934.

Early editors of the New Masses were Max Eastman and Floyd Dell—holdovers from the period of “lyrical radicalism of the 1910 and early 1920s. But as these two drifted away, the New Masses was run by the likes of Mike Gold and Joseph Freeman, who were more strident in their radical political beliefs and argued for stronger revolutionary positions and stronger ties with the USSR.

In 1930, the International Union of Revolutionary Writers met in Kharkov an urged the magazine to become “in every respect the cultural organ of the class-conscious workers and revolutionary intellectuals of the country.” The editors happily accepted the challenge and readers saw Mike Gold’s campaign for proletarian literature on the late 1920s and early 1930s that helped bridge the gap between art and politics and followed the tradition of the Masses and Liberator.

From the mid-1930s until the end of the decade and during the period of the Popular Front, the weekly magazine enjoyed its peak popularity. The magazine boasted visually exciting graphics and published the cream of the literary left like Theodore Dreiser, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Albert Maltz, but also established authors like Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker and Thomas Wolfe.

The magazine sponsored literary organizations like the John Reed Clubs in the early 1930s, and the First American Writers and Artists Congresses in 1935. It also provoked controversial discussion on art and Marxism.

During the first have of the 1930s, the publication’s articles stressed on sectarian and domestic issue, but with the opening of the Popular Front the New Masses began to focus more heavily on the Spanish Civil War, and the growing threat of international fascism.

New Masses continued after the Soviet-Nazi pact, from 1941 to 1947, as weekly. The journal’s political and literary scopes were narrower and its influence greatly diminished. By March 1948, the magazine reappeared as the merged  Masses & Mainstream, which ran until 1956.

To read an assortment of stories from the magazine, there’s a lovely little volume, New Masses; An Anthology of the Rebel Thirties.

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