Rebels in Bohemia: The Radicals of the Masses, 1911-1917

By Leslie Fishbein | Go to book overview

Chapter 2 The Masses: A Socialist Magazine of "Free Expression"

The Literary Context: The Little Magazines and Socialist Literature

The Masses was the product of a revolt against the genteel tradition and against commercial control of publishing. It benefited from a flurry of new interest in socialism and from a proliferation of alternatives to the established press; by the early twentieth century a small, increasingly sophisticated audience existed for experimental socialist publications. The first two decades of this century witnessed in America the rise of many little magazines that accepted contributions from socialists and the production of several explicitly socialist novels a year.1 It was this quickening of literary activity that provided a context for the rise and fall of The Masses.

In the Progressive era socialism no longer seemed as distinctive and as threatening as it once had been. The Socialist party attracted to its ranks such urban reformers as Joseph Medill Patterson, Upton Sinclair, J. G. Phelps Stokes, William English Walling, Robert Hunter, and Charles Edward Russell, and it grew increasingly respectable. The capitalist press opened its pages to news about socialism. The New York Times and the New York Evening Post interviewed Morris Hillquit during his 1906 congressional campaign, and William Randolph Hearst New York Journal invited the Milwaukee socialist Victor Berger to write a series of articles.2 This leftward drift resulted in the unexpected conversion of the Metropolitan Magazine, a popular monthly, that announced early in 1912 that it would "give socialism a hearing." Suddenly it began printing contributions from Morris Hillquit, Algernon Lee, W. J. Ghent, Professor George D. Herron, and Helen Keller.3 3 This receptivity on the part of the capitalist press was helpful for the purpose of socialist propaganda, but it was crucial as a means of economic support for radical artists and writers. Since The Masses could not afford to pay for contributions, its writers and illustrators often tried to sell their work to the

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