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The New Masses

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The New Masses

New Masses
New Masses cover, November 1928.
Former editors Michael Gold, Granville Hicks, and Joseph Freeman
First issue  1926 (1926-month)
Final issue 1948
Country United States

The New Masses, published from 1926 until 1948, was an American [1]


  • History 1
  • Later years and demise 2
  • Editors 3
    • Mike Gold 3.1
    • Granville Hicks 3.2
    • Joseph Freeman 3.3
  • See also 4
  • Footnotes 5
  • Other Sources 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


The New Masses was launched in New York City in 1926 as part of the Workers (Communist) Party of America's publishing stable, produced by a communist leadership but making use of the work of an array of independent writers and artists.[2] The magazine was established to fill a void caused by the gradual transition of The Workers Monthly (successor to The Liberator) into a more theoretically-oriented publication. The name of the new magazine was a tip of the hat to The Masses (1911–1917), the forerunner of both of these publications.

The editorial staff of the New Masses included Masses alumni Wanda Gág, and Albert Halper.

The vast production of left-wing popular art of the 1930s and 1940s was an attempt to create a radical culture in conflict with mass culture. Infused with an oppositional mentality, this cultural front was a rich period in American history and is what Michael Denning calls a “Second American Renaissance” because it permanently transformed American modernism and mass culture. One of the foremost periodicals of this renaissance was the New Masses.[3]

The magazine adopted a loosely leftist position at its onset, and 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”.[4] There was, however, eventual transformation: the editorial shift from a magazine of the radical left, with its numerous competing points of view, gave way to a bastion of Marxist conformity. When Gold and Freeman gained full control by 1928 the “Stalinist/Trotskyist” division began in earnest. Gold’s January 1929 column “Go Left, Young Writers” began the “proletarian literature” movement, one spurred by the emergence of writers with true working-class credentials. Barbara Foley points out, though, that Gold and his peers did not eschew various literary forms in favor of strict realism; they advocated stylistic experimentation but championed and preferred genuine proletarian authorship.[5]

A substantial number of poems, short stories, journalistic pieces and quasi-autobiographical “sketches” dominated the magazine at its onset (class conflict was to expand to the literary realm and support political revolution.

Later years and demise

The New Masses featured the political art of a number of prominent radical cartoonists, including William Gropper.

In the 1930s New Masses entered a new phase: a magazine of leftwing political comment, its attention to literature confined to book reviews and explosive editorials aimed at non-John Hammond.

Though the Popular Front stage – fighting the threat of fascism and global war trumped class conflict and political revolution for the foreseeable future .[8]

Though the magazine supported these aims, the 1940s brought significant philosophical and practical troubles to the publication, as it faced the ideological upheaval created by the Soviet-Nazi non-aggression pact of 1939 (as well as blowback from its support for the Moscow Trials), while at the same time facing virulent anti-communism and censorship during the war. In 1948, editor Betty Millard published the influential article "Woman Against Myth", which examined and explained the history of the women's movement in the United States, in the socialist movement, and in the USSR. The New Masses ceased publication later that year.


Mike Gold

Mike Gold was among the most widely recognized radical literary figures associated with The New Masses.

Real name Itzok Isaac Granich, the Jewish-American writer was a devout communist and abrasive left-wing literary critic. During the 1930s and 1940s, he was considered the proverbial dean of American proletarian literature. In 1925, after a trip to Moscow, he helped found New Masses, which published leftist works and set up radical theater groups. In 1928, he became the editor-in-chief. As editor, he adopted the hard-line stance to publish works by proletarian authors rather than literary leftists. Endorsing what he called “proletarian literature,” Gold was influential in making this style of fiction popular during the depression years of the 1930s. His most influential work, Jews Without Money, a fictionalized autobiography about growing up in impoverished Manhattan, was published in 1930.

Granville Hicks

Hicks was an influential Marxist literary critic during the 1930s. He established his intellectual reputation as an influential literary critic with the 1933 publication of The Great Tradition, an analysis of American literature from a Marxist perspective. He joined the Communist Party and became literary editor of New Masses in January 1934, the same issue New Masses became a weekly. Hicks is remembered for his well-publicized resignation from the CPUSA in 1939.

Joseph Freeman

Joseph Freeman was an early proponent of cultural Marxism. His reputation rests on his influential introduction to Hicks’s 1935 anthology, Proletarian Literature in the United States and his 1936 account of his immigrant coming-of-age and becoming a Communist, An American Testament. During the Depression years Freeman did his most influential work as a literary theorist and cultural journalist. His 1929 essay “Literary Theories,” a review essay for New Masses, and his 1938 Partisan Review article, “Mask Image Truth”, would eventually frame his mid-decade introduction to Hicks’s anthology. Freeman strains in these essays to honor the Communist Party line and, concurrently, to resist the ideological crudity, or “vulgar Marxism”, that often resulted from such striving.

See also


  1. ^ Foley, Barbara. Radical Presentations: Politics and Form in U.S. Proletarian Fiction, 1929-1941. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993; pg. 65.
  2. ^ Paul Buhle, Marxism in the USA: From 1870 to the Present Day (London: Verson, 1987), p. 172.
  3. ^ Denning, Michael. The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century. New York: Verso, 1996. xi-xx.
  4. ^ Hoffman, Frederick J., Charles Allen, and Carolyn F. Church. “Political Directions in the Literature of the Thirties.” The Little Magazine: a History and a Bibliography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1946. 151.
  5. ^ Foley, Barbara. Radical Presentations: Politics and Form in U.S. Proletarian Fiction, 1929-1941. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993. 54-55. Print.
  6. ^ Foley, Barbara. Radical Presentations: Politics and Form in U.S. Proletarian Fiction, 1929-1941. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993. 88.
  7. ^ West, Samuel Richard. Foreword. The New Masses Index, 1926-1933. By Theodore F. Watts. Easthampton, MA: Periodyssey, 2002. 5.
  8. ^ Ferrari, Arthur C. “Proletarian Literature: A Case of Convergence of Political and Literary Radicalism.” Cultural Politics: Radical Movements in Modern History. Ed. Jerold M. Starr. New York: Praeger, 1985. 185-86.

Other Sources

  • Chambers, Whittaker. Witness. New York: Random House, 1952.
  • Freeman, Joseph. “Literary Theories.” New Masses 4.5 (1929): 13.
  • Folsom, Michael. “The Education of Michael Gold.” Proletarian Writers of the Thirties. Ed. David Madden. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1968. 222-51.
  • Gold, Mike. “Go Left, Young Writers!” New Masses 4.1 (1929): 3-4.
  • Hicks, Granville. “The Crisis in American Criticism.” New Masses 9.2 (1933): 4-5.

Further reading

  • Aaron, Daniel. Writers on the Left: Episodes in American Literary Communism. New York: Harcourt, 1961.
  • Freeman, Joseph. Introduction. Hicks 9-28.
  • Gold, Michael. Jews Without Money. New York: Liveright, 1930.
  • Hemingway, Andrew. Artists on the Left: American Artists and the Communist Movement, 1926-1956. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002.
  • Hicks, Granville, et al., eds. Proletarian Literature in the United States: An Anthology. New York: International, 1935.
  • Murphy, James F. “The American Communist Party Press and the New Masses.” The Proletarian Moment: The Controversy over Leftism in Literature. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1991. 55-82.
  • Peck, David Russell. The Development of an American Marxist Literary Criticism: The Monthly "New Masses." PhD dissertation. Temple University, 1968.
  • North, Joseph, ed. New Masses: An Anthology of the Rebel Thirties. New York: International, 1969.
  • Wald, Alan M. Exiles from a Future Time: The Forging of a Mid-Twentieth Century Literary Left. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

External links

  • Complete archive at
  • Selected articles at Montclair State University
  • Archives of American Art
  • Crockett Johnson
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