For this assignment, I chose to examine how three pieces in The Masses no. 7 contribute to a discourse on the role of literature in the socialist movement in America. Horatio Winslow’s opening editorial, “What Everybody Knows,” elucidates a conflicting conception of literature in the expressed mistrust of printed text and, contradictorily, the imperative function of literature to the socialist movement. Introducing the letters received from readers, Winslow explains that they “did not come in response to an appeal. … They were not made up in the office” (2, emphasis his). Winslow expresses here a felt imperative to qualify what will follow as genuine, unsolicited praise for The Masses. By foregrounding the letters in this manner, Winslow makes clear an underlying mistrust of printed text, as it is prone to falsification or modification prior to being received by the reader. However, this suspicion of print is almost immediately countered by his proclamation of the importance of literature to the socialist movement and his use of letters to promote The Masses. Winslow continues by explaining that the magazine has been “built up by such men as Eugene Wood, George Allan England, Arthur Young, Chas. Winter and others just as well known” (2). In spite of his previously expressed mistrust of printed text, Winslow conceives of the artistic and literary elements present within the magazine as the primary feature of the magazine. By namedropping these writers, he also assumes a level of literary competency in his readership, as they would need to be familiar with literary figures in order to comprehend the references. As the opening of the magazine, this editorial highlights a contradictory sentiment towards literature in its expressed need to qualify printed text alongside the appeal to an understanding of literary figures and the notion that the work of these writers and authors will “convert more people” (2, emphasis his).
Contributing to this expressed imperative function of literature as propaganda, Emanuel Julius’s “Roadtown: A Glimpse of the Future” also speaks to the role of literature in the growth of socialism in America, but adds a layer of complexity to its function. Having described Edgar Chambless’s plan for a utopian city, Julius explains that – because of the time saved through conveniences of Roadtown – “families [will] adjourn to the library or music room” (6). Depicted in this manner, reading and/or literature can potentially serve two functions in Roadtown. As the family is coming together in the library, literature could potentially be seen here as serving an educational and propagandistic purpose – as the adults would instill the virtues of living in Roadtown in both their children and themselves during this time. This function aligns itself with the sentiments in Winslow’s “What Everybody Knows” by conceiving of literature as serving a wholly utilitarian function in the promotion of socialism. However, given the utopian description of Roadtown and the ability of “a few men with the aid of machinery [to] do the work which now occupies half a hundred mothers,” this enjoyment of literature in the family library could be a leisure activity (6). By potentially endorsing literature as a leisure activity, Julius complicates the function of literature/printed text, because it can be seen here as existing solely for itself, art for art’s sake. Further, given the idyllic description of the rural mingling with the urban in Roadtown, this latter function could be seen as the ideal role of art in the socialist setting. In calling forth these two oppositional functions of literature, Julius further complicates the portrayal of literature’s role in this issue of The Masses.
From this establishment of oppositions in how literature could function in the early articles, Vera Lynn’s “Fear” can be read as a reconciliation of these conflicts by depicting the function of literature at the moment of this issue's publication. The brief fictive sketch depicts a boy “brought up on a farm…[that] longed for a friend…[in] the Terrible City” (16). Lynn’s short piece clearly provides an allegory for the present alienating experience of capitalism and calls for a change. The title of its section, "The Color of Life," further elucidates its function as a naturalist depiction of the present moment. In bringing up the disparate experiences of the rural and the urban, Lynn’s “Fear” refers back to “Roadtown: A Glimpse of the Future” and explicates the disparity between the present conditions and the utopian view of a socialist civilization depicted therein. Although Julius brings up a non-propagandistic function of literature, “Fear” contributes to the broader discourse on the function of literature by explicating the imperative to serve a solely propagandistic function at the present moment of the issue’s publication.