Maurice Becker, the son of a soldier in the Russian Army, was born in Gorky in 1889. Three years later the Becker family emigrated to America and settled in the Jewish quarter of New York. After attending New York'sCommercial High School, Becker worked in a local garment factory. He developed an interest in art and in 1908 he began taking lessons from Robert Henri and eventually became a member of what became known as the Ash-Can Group.
In 1913 Becker joined with Robert Henri, John Sloan, George Bellows and Stuart Davis in taking part in the famous 1913 Armory Show. Becker also began drawing cartoons. He was a great admirer of radical artists such as Art Young, Rockwell Kent and Robert Minor who were using their art in an attempt to obtain social reforms.
In 1914, John Sloan, the editor of The Masses, began using Becker's work. Becker also had cartoons published in the New York Tribune and Metropolitan. Becker was a pacifist and a large number of his cartoons concerned the First World War. This included his powerful front-cover cartoon for The Masses in September, 1914, entitled Whom the Gods Would Destroy They First Make Mad.
Becker was also active in the pacifist organisation, American Union Against Militarism. Attitudes towards pacifists changed when the USA entered the war in 1917. Becker was conscripted into the USA Army and when he refused to fight, he was sentenced to 25 years hard labour in Fort Leavenworth Disciplinary Barracks.
In 1919, with the war over, President Woodrow Wilson decided to free all conscientious objectors from prison. After his release, Becker began contributing cartoons to the new radical journal in New York, the Liberator. He later moved to Mexico where he concentrated on painting but his cartoons continued to appear in left-wing journals such as the Daily Worker, New Solidarity and the New Masses.