A.J. Muste

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A.J. Muste or Abraham Johannes Muste was one of the most important figures in the American pacifisy tradition.

Born in the Netherlands in 1885 and brought to the U.S. as a child of six, Muste obtained a magna cum laude degree from Union Theological Seminary. When war broke out in Europe, A.J. Muste became a pacifist. He was inspired by the Christian mysticism of the Society of Friends (Quakers), participation in the fledging American Civil Liberties Union ACLU in Boston, and labor activism. Muste supported the textile industry strikers of Lawrence, Massachusettswhen they appealed for help from the religious community in 1919. He went on to became Director of the Brookwood Labor College in Katonah, New York in 1920.

During the 1920s Muste served as Chair of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. In 1929 he helped to organize the Conference for Progressive Labor Action (CPLA), which seought to reform the American Federation of Labor from within. With the advent of the Great Depression in 1929 the CPLA became a revolutionary organization and was instrumental in forming the American Workers Party in 1933--a "democratically organized revolutionary party" in which A.J. played the leading role. In 1936 Muste went to Europe to meet Leon Trotsky. This was an important turning point. Although he left America a Marxist-Leninist he returned that same year as a Christian pacifist. After that Muste led the Presbyterian Labor Temple on 14th Street in Manhattan.

Muste went on to become Executive Secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation from 1940 until 1953, the pacifist organization through which he was to have the most impact. Under his leadership, the organization stimulated the organization of the Congress on Racial Equality, the first of the militant civil rights groups. With swelling popular opposition to the Vietnam War Muste became an important figure. In 1966 he led a group a pacifists to Saigon, where after trying to demonstrate for peace, they were arrested and deported. Late that same year, he flew with a small team of religious leaders to Hanoi where they met with Ho Chi Minh. Old men meeting in the midst of war, one of them committed to the path of violent change, the other to nonviolence. Less than a month later, A.J. died suddenly in New York City.

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