MIA: History: USA: Introduction: The New Masses

To the New Masses digital archive on Marxists Internet Archive
By Marty Goodman for the Riazanov Library


Current state of this archive:

The scans here I made from my personal collection, from the personal collection of Tim Davenport, from the personal collection of Ted Watts, and from the holdings of Holt Labor Library of San Francisco.

Note: Early on in this project, Stanford’s Hoover Library gave us very kind assistance in supplying color scans of color covers of two issues (July 1926 and May 1927) and with a color 2 page center graphic art work in May 1927 where we did not have access to the original paper. May 1927 is an exceptionally rare issue: neither Tamiment Library nor Hatcher Labadie library had a copy of it! Two weeks after I received those scans, a copy of May 1927 became available from Lorne Bair rare books, enabling me to make scans of it entirely from the original paper. Two or three years after Stanford provided the color July 1926 scans, I obtained an issue of July 1926 New Masses with its color cover, and re-did the scan of that.

I began this archive project in late 2014. By early 2016 it included digital images of all 85 issues of the monthly New Masses published 1926 through 1933. By mid 2017 it included the 52 more issues of the weekly New Masses of 1934. As of January 2018 it now includes all issues, all pages of the first 10 years of New Masses, 1926 through 1935..

Current plans are to finish providing scans of the 14 months of New Masses not available on the UNZ.org web site. UNZ.org currently has available most (but not all... 14 months of issues are missing) of New Masses 1937 - 1948 posted as low resolution scans made from scratched microfilm). We currently have over half of those "UNZ.org missing issues" (March 1941, some of November and December 1944, and Jan - June 1945) posted here, and plan to eventually provide Jan - June 1939, as well.

At that point it's probable I will end this project, and leave making a complete high quality / art-preserving digital record of New Masses to someone else. However, I do have access to original issues of New Masses 1937 - 1939, so it's possible at some time in the future work on this project will resume and more years of New Masses will become available here. But not for a year or more, at least.

I personally scanned every page of every issue from original paper, using art-preserving scanning strategies and relatively high resolution (600 and 1200 dpi). Epson GT 20000 and 10000 XL flat bed tabloid (A3) size scanners were used for the vast majority of the scans. Very occasionally a Contex Flex 50i broadsheet (A2) size flat bed scanner was employed for two page wide art. At times 2 page wide art is presented via stitching together higher resolution scans made on the tabloid size scanners.

Marty Goodman
Brooklyn, NY, USA
January 2018


Predecessors / Preludes to New Masses:

In 1923, the Workers / Communist Party took over putting out Max Eastman’s periodical The Liberator. One of the single most famous communist periodicals ever in American history, and most widely known in scholarly circles, The Liberator combined communist political news and stories and political cartoons with general literary fiction and poetry, and some general (not specifically political) works of graphic art.

The Workers Party shut down The Liberator after the October 1924 issue, combining it with two of its other publications (Soviet Russia Pictorial and Labor Herald) to produce Workers Monthly, starting in November of 1924.

The covers of Workers Monthly strikingly resembled in some respects those of The Liberator: Bright, colorful, art in a wide variety of styles. But internally, Workers Monthly from the start was largely... and increasingly became near entirely... a political journal.

In May of 1926 a group of artists in conjunction with the Communist Party launched a new publication dedicated to a radical perspective on art and literature, titled New Masses.

The name was an homage to the predecessor of The Liberator of 1918-1924, which was The Masses of 1911-1917, shut down by the US Government in 1917 for its fierce opposition to US recruitment for fighting in The Great War (what we now call World War I). The format of New Masses upon its introduction in some ways resembled that of the earlier The Masses issues, too: Large paper size (10 x 14 inches).

Artistic content:

Some of the graphic artists who frequently graced the cover and insides of The Masses and The Liberator were prominently featured in New Masses (such as Hugo Gellert, Stuart Davis, Boardman Robinson, Wanda Gag, William Gropper and Otto Soglow). But other talented artists appeared in the pages of New Masses, who had not been seen in The Liberator, such as Louis Losowick and I. Klein.

Format of the first six issues of New Masses May 1926-October 1926:

The first six issues (the first volume, May - October 1926) of New Masses each was printed on extremely high quality, thick, 11 x 14 inch no-acid paper, which survives to this day (90 years later) in mostly supple, clean, creamy-white condition... not that different, most likely, from the way it looked when it was first printed.

Each of these first six issues used a single bright color ink as part of the art on its cover, and to augment graphic art inside on 4 or 5 of the inside pages. May: red, June: green, July: orange, August: pink, September: red-orange, October: blue.

Format used November 1926 thru March of 1928:

After October 1926 (the sixth issue), a new volume (Volume 2) begins and the format changes. Somewhat smaller paper is used (13 x 10 inches). The quality of the paper drops somewhat. It is now a lot thinner and less robust than before, but still low or no acid. The covers of these issues today tend to often be rather battered, but interior pages tend to be intact and without any browning. With the exception of the cover and center art in the May 1927 issue, there is no more use of color ink, only black ink on white paper.

Post March 1928 format:

After the April 1928 issue of New Masses (and after a one month hiatus, for there was no May 1928 issue printed), the format and paper of the periodical changes again. It gets still smaller in paper size (around 9 x 12 inches), and the paper quality plummets, so that many of the issues past this point that survive today are in extremely bad shape... brittle and brown and fragile.

The May 1927 issue’s Color Cover and Center Art:

There is one exception to the exclusive use of black and white ink after October of 1926: The cover of the May 1927 issue, the issue put out on the first anniversary of New Masses' publication, features a lovely Hugo Gellert graphic that is enhanced with bright red-orange ink, and a center two page wide cartoon that has a stunning dash of the same red ink employed in the bullfighter's red flag, drawn by Miguel Covarrubias.

This issue is quite rare, and missing from a number of prestigious special collections library’s collections. I despaired of getting the kind of access to it needed to make my sort of scans, and ended up making copies of it from a xerographic copy of the issue. Stanford's Hoover Library and of Paul Thomas then enhanced our digital copy very significantly by making for us 600 dpi 24 bit color scans of the cover and of the 2 page center.

Much to my surprise, just a few weeks after putting together that scanned copy from Xeroxes and color scans from Stanford’s bound volume, Lorne Bair rare books contacted me to let me know an original May 1927 issue was for sale. Lorne gave me a very good price, for he heartily supports this project of making these images freely and widely available.

The copy currently in the archive is scanned from this original, in my personal collection, which I was able to take apart into pages and scan perfectly flat, a luxury special collections are unable to permit themselves to do with their bound volumes.

Literary content:

Editors in this early period of New Masses included Hugo Gellert, John F. Sloan, Max Eastman, Mike Gold, and Joseph Freeman. Writers included (over the course of the run of the publication) William Carlos Williams, Theodore Dreiser, John Dos Passos, Upton Sinclair, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Dorothy Parker, Dorothy Day, John Breecher, Langston Hughes, Eugene O’Neill, Rex Stout and Ernest Hemingway.

Political content:

Originally New Masses was put out in large part by those sympathetic to but not officially members of the Workers / Communist Party. Wikipedia on New Masses states: Frederick J. Hoffman describes “among the fifty-six writers and artists connected in some way with the early issues of the New Masses, [Joseph] Freeman reports, only two were members of the Communist Party, and less than a dozen were fellow travelers”

As time passed, the character and politics of New Masses (and that of the CP USA) changed.

During this time Stalin was cementing and consolidating his control over the Soviet Union, and the political character of New Masses reflects this.

Wikipedia observes: “the editorial shift from a magazine of the radical left, with its numerous competing points of view, gave way to a bastion of [Stalinist] conformity. When Gold and Freeman gained full control by 1928 [a] “Stalinist/Trotskyist” division began in earnest.”

By February 1933 New Masses printed (and answered) a letter of resignation from Charles Yale Harrison, who wrote:

“the magazine has ceased to be an organ of free expression and has degenerated steadily until today it is nothing more than the servile mouthpiece of the Stalin apparatus in this country.”

Charles also chided New Masses for not commenting on the death of Trotsky’s eldest daughter Sinaida, who he writes committed suicide after being denied medical care in the Soviet Union, kept under a kind of house arrest. He stated that there was no protest of this in the Soviet Union, because:

“If a protest meeting were called, you know perfectly well that it would be shot down by Stalin’s political police.”

The editors of New Masses answered with denial, and soft-pedaled what was in fact the physical liquidation by Stalin of his real and perceived political enemies (including nearly all of the original Bolshevik leadership) over the next 4 years. New Masses (and the American Communist Party) massively lost credibility when it, adhering to the Moscow line, defended the Moscow Trials in 1936 and 1937, and then again in 1939 for its 180-degree political flip flop overnight in supporting the Stalin-Hitler peace pact.

However, also during this period, Wikipedia notes: “The magazine still included literary and artistic content until its eventual demise, just not in the same abundance as in its previous years. While this content was slowly crowded out in favor of more journalistic pieces, New Masses still impacted the leftist cultural scene. For example, In 1937 New Masses printed Abel Meeropol’s anti-lynching poem “Strange Fruit,” later popularized in song by Billie Holiday. The magazine also sponsored the first From Spirituals to Swing concert on 23 December 1938 at Carnegie Hall and was organized by John Hammond.”

As Stalinization became more complete, the graphic art content of New Masses declined substantially. First the striking and beautiful use of color ceased. Within a few years the number of works of graphic art in each issue of New Masses significantly decreased, too. Where during its first two years one found 65% or more of the 32 pages of each issue covered in significant part with graphic art, by 1933 in some issues less than 20% of the pages carried such art. The relatively low graphic art content compared to that in its first four or five years continues throughout the rest of the publication of New Massses.

The End:

In “Radical Representation, Politics and Form in US Proletarian Fiction" by Barbara Foley, it is stated in a footnote on page 100: “from 1928 to 1930 or 1931 New Masses reached several thousand readers in labor circles, but reached very few in the literary community." Another source states New Masses had a circulation of 25,000 when it began to be a weekly in 1934. There were 100,000 of a December 1936 issue printed.

New Masses ceased publication early in 1948, when it was merged with “Mainstream", a CP cultural quarterly that had been started the previous year.

Masses and Mainstream had a circulation of 17,000 in 1948, which steadily declined during the McCarthy era. It ceased publication in 1963.

Technical comment on how the issues were scanned:

In creating this digital archive, I went to great lengths to produce good quality reproductions of the art. At times here I render a work of art twice, using different scanning techniques, to capture more of its detail (or perhaps to provide a tutorial to future digital archivists that compares single bit black and white scanning modes to 8 bit gray scale scanning modes). As a result of using color scans for the half dozen or more color art pages, and high resolution single bit and 8 bit gray scale scans for the rest (at 600 and at times at 1200 dpi), the files for a single 32 page issue get relatively large: 35 to 90 megabytes in size. The degree of detail is such that, if you wish, you can print out any individual image on a page the size of the original page, and you’ll get something likely as clear and sharp and detailed as the original printed page. Perhaps more so. Suitable for framing. This was a mission-goal in making this archive.

All issues had their staples removed for scanning, and were scanned as individual pages pressed flat against glass on a flat bed scanner (mostly an Epson GT 20000). Where a work of art stretched across the center two pages of the issue, I scanned it as one continuous work of art. In some cases, I used a broadsheet (18 x 24 inch) size flat bed scanner (Contex Flex 50i) in order to capture the entire image.

Martin H. Goodman MD Brooklyn NY April 2018
Director, Riazanov Library digital archive projects