Muste, A. J.

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Labor and peace activist Abraham Johannes Muste (January 8, 1885–February 11, 1967) was born in the Netherlands. His father, a coachman, moved the family to the Dutch community at Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1891. The boy trained to be a Dutch Reformed minister and was ordained in 1909. The rest of his life was the story of a steady movement leftward, in both theology and politics. By the time of World War I, Muste had become a Quaker and an unyielding pacifist.

During the next twenty years, Muste devoted himself principally to the American labor movement. Starting as an observer of the Lawrence textile strike (1919), he became the leader of the Brookwood Labor College of Katonah, New York (1921), and, now a full-fledged Trotskyite, a thorn in the side of the much more conservative American Federation of Labor. Muste left Brookwood in 1933 for two other radical organizations that he had helped found: the Conference for Progressive Labor Action (established in 1929), whose members became known as "Musteites," and the American Workers Party (founded in 1933), which merged with the Trotskyites, who then ousted Muste from leadership.

While traveling in Europe in 1936 Muste experienced a kind of religious revelation that directed him away from Marxist class conflict and labor agitation and back to nonviolent, Christian pacifism. He worked with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, opposed World War II, and urged draft resistance. After the war he increased, rather than reduced his activism. He opposed Senator Joseph McCarthy's investigations into Communist influence in the United States, organized for the civil rights movement, and was the titular and symbolic father of the effort to limit nuclear weapons and end nuclear testing. Not surprisingly, he was one of the first opponents of the United States's war in Vietnam.

Lean, energetic, and deadly serious, Muste, "the American Gandhi," won the respect and admiration of thousands of devoted followers. Even those who detested his work acknowledged the purity of his motives and the tirelessness of his efforts. He died in New York City while trying to organize a massive demonstration against the Vietnam war.



Muste, A. J. The Essays of A. J. Muste, edited by Nat Hentoff. 1967.

Robinson, Jo Ann. Abraham Went Out: A Biography of A.J. Muste. 1981.

Rosenzweig, Roy. "Radicals and the Jobless: The Musteites and the Unemployed Leagues, 1932–1936." Labor History (winter 1975): 52–77.

David W. Levy