The Liberator (magazine)
Cover of debut issue, March 1918.
Cover art by Hugo Gellert.
|Editor||Max Eastman (1918-22)
Floyd Dell (1922)
Robert Minor (1922-24)
|Staff writers||Cornelia Barns
Charles T. Hallinan
Ellen La Motte
Charles W. Wood
|First issue||March 1918|
|Final issue||October 1924|
|Company||Liberator Publishing Co. (1918-1922),
Workers Party of America (1922-1924)
The Liberator was a monthly socialist magazine established by Max Eastman and his sister Crystal Eastman in 1918 to continue the work of The Masses, which was shut down by the wartime mailing regulations of the U.S. government. Intensely political, the magazine included copious quantities of art, poetry, and fiction along with political reporting and commentary. The publication was an organ of the Communist Party of America from late 1922 and was merged with two other publications to form The Workers Monthly in 1924.
The Liberator’s international news coverage was first-rate. Legendary war correspondent and Communist Labor Party founder John Reed reported the ongoing situation in Soviet Russia; major reports were filed from across tumultuous post-war Europe by Robert Minor, Hiram K. Moderwell, Frederick Kuh, and Crystal Eastman. Pivotal conventions of political parties and labor unions were covered in depth by intelligent participants. The great political trials of the day were reported in detail with perception. Speeches and articles by sundry revolutionary leaders of the world found space on its pages.
As with The Masses, The Liberator relied heavily upon political art, including contributions from some of the finest talents of the day. Among the artists and writers who contributed to the publication were Maurice Becker, E.E. Cummings, John Dos Passos, Fred Ellis, Lydia Gibson, William Gropper, Ernest Hemingway, Helen Keller, J.J. Lankes, Boardman Robinson, Edmund Wilson and Art Young. Each color cardstock cover of The Liberator was unique and distinctive, a miniature work of art, again echoing its illustrious predecessor. Poetry and fiction fleshed out its pages, including work by Carl Sandburg, Claude McKay, Arturo Giovannitti, and others. The magazine was, in short, a monthly intellectual banquet for the American radical intelligentsia, available on newsstands for just two thin dimes.
Maintaining a low cost of the elaborate publication for its readers came at a huge price, however. To economize, ultra-thin newsprint was used for the magazine’s pages — cheap and terrible, high in acid content. The result was predictable, a publication as fragile and ephemeral as a spring wildflower. Despite a circulation which peaked at 60,000 copies per month, comparatively few specimens of The Liberator have survived.
Switch to Communist Party ownership
The Liberator ran into trouble in 1922 — both financial and motivational, as editor Max Eastman’s interests shifted from the mundane work of editing to book writing. Eastman ceded his editorial blue pencil around the first of January 1922, with literary critic Floyd Dell taking over the job. Throughout 1922 political matters were somewhat deemphasized in favor of art and culture under Dell’s watch, including the first publication of poetry by the likes of Claude McKay and the fiction of Michael Gold. When finances became tight that year, the underground Communist Party of America moved to fill the void, working with Eastman, Dell, and the core of writers behind the magazine towards a friendly takeover of the publication effective in October of that same year.
After the fall of 1922, The Liberator emerged as the de facto official organ of the CPA and its “Legal Political Party” sibling, the Workers Party of America — maintaining a similar graphic style and orientation toward fiction, albeit with a noticeable ideological narrowing of political content. Long articles began to be published by prominent Communist leaders, including C.E. Ruthenberg, John Pepper, William Z. Foster, Jay Lovestone, and Max Bedacht. Former anarchist turned Communist true believer Robert Minor served as editor during this period, assisted by Joseph Freeman as an associate editor in charge of literary material.
In 1924 The Liberator was merged with the Workers Party’s “Trade Union Educational League” magazine, The Labor Herald, and its “Friends of Soviet Russia” monthly, Soviet Russia Pictorial, to form a new publication. This new magazine, The Workers Monthly, was fundamentally similar to the 1923-24 vintage Liberator and continued as the Workers Party’s de facto theoretical journal until 1927, at which time it was given a new form and title as, The Communist. This magazine continues today, known since 1946 as Political Affairs.
- Paul Buhle, Marxism in the USA: From 1870 to the Present Day. London: Verso, 1987; pg. 172.