The Masses and The Liberator


The covers, as well as the history, of The Masses can be found at NYU’s Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. The cover designs are compelling. I had no idea the publication even existed. The Liberator, the successor to The Masses can be found at Marxist.org. It was that site’s curator, Tim Davenport, who led me from one magazine to the other. 

In the United States, during WWI, the passage of the Espionage Act in 1917 and the Sedition Act in 1918 made speaking out against the war illegal. “These acts were part of the ‘Red Scare,’ a domestic battle against antiwar and anticapitalist activism…” Socialist publications like The Masses were banned. The magazine was “founded in 1911, and silenced in 1917 after government harrassment…During its run, however, The Masses was a vital publication, a clearinghouse of radical art and politics, one that painted a picture of the spirit of dissent… 

”The artists donated their time and energy, and the magazine honored both their politics and their art. The layout of the art was exceptional, as was the printing quality and the space afforded to the images. Most important, the magazine belonged to the artists. Decisions, including which images and articles were to be included, were voted upon, although the editor’s opinions carried more weight…. 

“The U.S. Postal Service, fulfilling the Red Scare tactics of the federal government, ended The Masses… by denying them access to the mails… In 1918, The Masses resurrected itself as The Liberator, and continued until 1924, but The Liberator’s content and approach differed greatly… The Liberator included art, but the overall content of the magazine showed blind support for the Bolshevik Revolution… Gone was The Masses that had reached a middle ground - open to both activism and bohemian culture–one whose credo in 1913 boldly stated: ‘A magazine directed against rigidity and dogma, wherever it was found.’ Those days ended with the First Red Scare, the Russian Revolution, and World War I.” 

Source: “A People’s History of the United States,” by Nicolas Lampert

Please note that though The Liberator continued to publish after 1924, the group never filed for copyright, thus, the cover images are in the public domain. (information from Tim Davenport, Marxist.org)

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