A J Muste

Rev. A. J. Muste, the Dutch-born American was brought up in Calvinist traditions of the Dutch Reformed Church. He graduated from the Union Theological Seminary and was attracted to social gospel, which stressed the use of Christian doctrines to tackle the social and economic conflicts.


Growing in stature as a labor leader, he led the textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in a successful nonviolent strike. He co-founded the American Workers Party at the height of the Great Depression. He eventually discarded his Christian pacifism to become a Marxist.


However, he did not support everything thing associated with Marxism and its revolutionary activities. Firstly, he rejected violence as a means to an end. In 1909 he was ordained a minister in that church, and married Anna Huizenga, with whom he was to share the next 40 years and raise three children.


In the normal course of events Muste would have lived out his life within those conservative limits, perhaps with theological distinction, but without great impact on the temporal world. His record at the time of his ordination: class valedictorian at Hope College, captain of the basketball team, a magna cum laude degree from Union Theological Seminary.

For several years during the 1920s he served as Chairman of the Fellowship of Reconciliation but steadily drifted toward revolutionary politics, and in 1929 he helped form the Conference for Progressive Labor Action (CPLA), seeking to reform the AF of L from within.


When the Depression broke like a storm over America, the CPLA became openly revolutionary and was instrumental in forming the American Workers Party in 1933–a “democratically organized revolutionary party” in which A.J. played the leading role. A.J. had now completed one stage of his evolution, from conservative young pastor to revolutionary American Marxist.


He abandoned his Christian pacifism and became an avowed Marxist-Leninist. He was a key figure in organizing the sit-down strikes of the 1930s and, cooperating with James Cannon of the Trotskyist movement, he merged his own political group with Cannon’s, forming the Trotskyist Workers Party of America.

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In 1936 Muste had a religious experience that persuaded him to break with Marxism-Leninism and rededicate himself to Christian pacifism. After briefly serving as minister of Labor Temple in New York City, he became national secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, from which he published the book Nonviolence in an Aggressive World (1940) and trained a generation of activists in nonviolent direct action against racial segregation.


When the civil rights movement emerged in the 1950s, he served as an adviser to Bayard Rustin and Martin Luther King, Jr., among others. The issue that most preoccupied Muste during the postwar years was American militarism and the Cold War.


In 1947 he published Not by Might, a book that called for draft resistance and nonpayment of taxes. In 1948 he became chairman of the Peacemakers, a radical pacifist group, and in 1957 he helped to found the Committee for Nonviolent Action, which opposed nuclear proliferation through dramatic civil disobedience campaigns.


During these years, Muste also attempted to build a nonsectarian New Left as coeditor of the magazine Liberation and offered theological critiques of Reinhold Niebuhr and other Christian realists who supported the Cold War. Muste’s commitment to direct action and his opposition to the Vietnam War endeared him to the New Left, who joined him in organizing the coalition that later became known as the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE).