The Masses was founded in New York in 1911 by Piet Vlag. Organised like a co-operative, artists and writers who contributed to the journal shared in its management. Vlag edited the socialist journal for a year but in 1912 appointed Max Eastman, a Marxist, to carry out this task.
Articles and poems were written by people such as John Reed, Sherwood Anderson, Crystal Eastman, Hubert Harrison, Inez Milholland, Mary Heaton Vorse, Louis Untermeyer, Randolf Bourne, Dorothy Day, Helen Keller, William Walling, Carl Sandburg, Upton Sinclair, Amy Lowell, Mabel Dodge, Floyd Dell and Louise Bryant.
The Masses also published the work of important artists including John Sloan, Robert Henri, Alice Beach Winter, Mary Ellen Sigsbee, Cornelia Barns, Reginald Marsh, Rockwell Kent, Art Young, Boardman Robinson, Robert Minor, K. R. Chamberlain, Stuart Davis, Cornelia Barns, George Bellows and Maurice Becker.
Max Eastman believed that the First World War had been caused by the imperialist competitive system. Eastman and journalists such as John Reed who reported the conflict for The Masses, argued that the USA should remain neutral. Most of those involved with the journal agreed with this view but there was a small minority, including William Walling and Upton Sinclair, who wanted the USA to join the Allies against the Central Powers. When Sinclair failed to convince his fellow members he resigned from the Socialist Party and ceased to contribute to The Masses.
After the USA declared war on the Central Powers in 1917, The Masses came under government pressure to change its policy. When it refused to do this, the journal lost its mailing privileges.
In July, 1917, it was claimed by the authorities that articles by Floyd Dell and Max Eastman and cartoons by Art Young, Boardman Robinson and H. J. Glintenkamp had violated the Espionage Act. Under this act it was an offence to publish material that undermined the war effort. The legal action that followed forced The Masses to cease publication. In April, 1918, after three days of deliberation, the jury failed to agree on the guilt of the men.
The second trial was held in September, 1918. John Reed, who had recently returned from Russia, was also arrested and charged with the original defendants. This time eight of the twelve jurors voted for acquittal and the defendants walked free on October 5, 1918.
An interesting link with the JFK assassination is that the Masses most important financial backer was Amos Pinchot, a wealthy lawyer who supported a wide variety of progressive causes. His daughter, Mary Pinchot, shared her father's radical opinions and was a left-wing activist before marrying Cord Meyer of the CIA. The marriage broke up and Mary was having an affair with JFK at the time of the assassination. She as murdered in 1964. Cord Meyer, claimed just before his death that the same people who murdered his wife also killed JFK.
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