A.J. Muste (1885-1967) was an American political activist, labor organizer, pastor and writer. Known as the “American Gandhi”, he was the foremost pacifist in the United States in the 20th century. He believed in an active and creative nonviolence that focused on justice. While his tactics varied, he came to base this on mass non-violent movements. Among Muste’s books were Nonviolence in an Aggressive World, Not by Might and The Essays of A. J. Muste. He also co-founded Liberation, a magazine for pacifists. Muste was active in the labor movement in the 1920’s and 1930’s. He created or participated in several other organizations, as well: the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the War Resisters League, the Committee for Non-Violent Action, SANE, and Clergy and Laity Concerned. An early opponent of the Vietnam War, he was the founding chairman of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam. He was also a mentor to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bayard Rustin, both of whom were introduced to nonviolent philosophy and strategy by him.
Muste became a Quaker in 1918 in response to the First World War. He was also influenced by reading the works of George Fox, John Woolman and Rufus Jones. Leaving the Congregationalist Church, he enrolled as a Friends minister at the Providence (NEYM) Meeting. Muste, however, was usually active as a Quaker in a leadership role in peace and justice organizations, rather than in Friends Meetings. He served as the first chairman of the American Friends Service Committee, and he co-wrote Speak Truth to Power, the AFSC pamphlet. Muste’s The World Task of Pacifism, War Is the Enemy, Of Holy Disobedience and Saints for This Age were published as Pendle Hill pamphlets. His sense of the Inner Light was so important to him that he always acted upon it, especially in his political work.
I have always admired A.J. and participated in many Mobe marches during the Vietnam War. His blend of the mystical and the practical was very moving to me (and very Quaker).
“There is no way to peace; peace is the way”.
“If I can’t love Hitler, I can’t love at all”. (Spoken at a Quaker Meeting).
“In a world built on violence, one must be a revolutionary before one can be a pacifist”.
(Above is a photo of Muste with fellow activists at a CNVA protest at the Atomic Energy Commission in August 1963).