"It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ!" - Patrick Henry
In 1905 and 1906, Muste was a teacher of Latin and Greek at Northwestern Classical Academy in Orange City, Iowa. In 1909, he was licensed and ordained to the ministry of the Dutch Reformed Church in America. From 1909 until 1914 until 1917, he was minister of the Fort Washington Collegiate Church in Newtonville, Massachusetts. In 1918, he was enrolled as a minister of the Society of Friends (Quakers) at Providence, Rhode Island. In 1919, he became involved in labor affairs. In 1920 and 1921, he was general secretary of the Amalgamated Textile Workers of America. From 1921 until 1933, he was the educational director, fund raiser, and teacher at Brookwood College in Katonah, New York. From 1937 until 1940, he was director of the Presbyterian Labor Temple in New York City. From 1940 until his retirement in 1953, he was executive secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
In February 1957, Muste was the head of a delegation of observers who were invited to attend the sessions of the 16th National Convention of the Communist Party. In a report prepared for the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee in March 1957, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover said:
“The Communists boasted of having ‘impartial observers’ cover the convention. However, most of these so-called impartial observers were hand-picked before the convention started and were reportedly headed by A.J. Muste, who has long fronted for Communists and who recently circulated an amnesty petition calling for the release of Communist leaders convicted under the Smith Act. Muste’s report on the convention was biased, as could be expected.”Two months after Hoover had issued his report on Muste’s attendance at the Communist Party Convention, Muste instituted the American Forum for Socialist Education. Senator James O. Eastland, chairman of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS), and the subcommittee members wanted to know more. The Subcommittee was interested in the Forum’s officers and national committeemen, who were to work for the Forum’s purposes. The Subcommittee recognized in the list issued by Muste some well-known names associated with the Communist Party and Communist causes. They included James Aronson, John T. McManus, Russell Nixon, and Harvey O’Connor, who had pleaded the protection of the Fifth Amendment when asked to affirm or deny their Communist Party affiliations. Some names on the Forum’s roster had been cited under oath as members of the Communist Party; they included Carl Braden, Russell Nixon, Albert E. Blumberg, Joseph Starobin, and Clifford T. McAvoy. Most of the other names on the roster belonged to individuals easily recognizable as inveterate joiners of Communist fronts and participants in Communist Party enterprises.
Muste’s protestations against J. Edgar Hoover’s allegations and the SISS’s interest in the American Forum for Socialist Education can best be appreciated by a review of Muste’s extraordinary career in American radicalism. His affiliations with radical groups and individuals and his own personal radical activism eventually spanned more than half a century. In 1912, he voted for Eugene V. Debs. He would later admit that he never cast a vote for a Democrat or a Republican for a major national or state office, and by the 1960’s, even the Socialist Party was not radical enough for him.
When Muste studied at Columbia University, he met and developed a close and lasting friendship with John Dewey, whose revolutionary educational philosophy was matched by his radical political bent. At Union Theological Seminary, Muste developed an equally close and lasting friendship with Norman Thomas, who, over the years, richly deserved the title of the patriarch of the Socialist Party.
When Muste was serving as pastor in Newtonville, just prior to the outbreak of World War I, he assumed the veil of pacifism for the first time. Later in his life, after some fits of public militancy, the veil would be his permanent garb. When the United States entered World War I, Muste’s pacifism became intolerable to many of his parishioners and neighboring clergymen, and he resigned his pastorate in 1917. He then began to work on a voluntary basis for the new-born, Red-saturated American Civil Liberties Union in Boston on behalf of conscientious objectors and draft evaders. It was at the same time that he joined the Quakers. He did not work as a Quaker minister but instead helped to form a Comradeship in Boston of so-called pacifists and very real political radicals - many of them clergymen.
In 1919, Muste and his colleagues of the Comradeship became involved in a rather riotous strike of textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Muste became a leader of the strike and was jailed for the first time for radical activities. The Lawrence episode served as the inaugural of a long career for Muste in America’s radical and militant labor movement. From this experience he became adept at recognizing strife and conflict on the American scene, exploiting and expanding upon these opportunities, supplanting the Americanist ideal with the communist appeal. From the Lawrence strike, he moved on to become the general secretary of the Amalgamated Textile Workers, but his complete lack of success caused by zealous pursuit of his political beliefs, thereby neglecting the memberships’ grievances, caused him to resign his position after less than two years.
In 1924, Muste, in common with so many radical laborites, campaigned for Robert M. La Follette, Sr., the presidential candidate of the Progressive Party. The Progressives had attracted supporters from a broad segment of the right-to-left political spectrum. By this time, however, Muste was at the extreme left of the spectrum as a confirmed Trotskyite Marxist-Leninist.
In 1929, Muste became the founder of the Conference for Progressive Labor Action. He became chairman of the group known as Musteites, a “definitely anti-imperialist, anti-militarist and international labor movement.” The Musteites were so extreme that they would not tolerate Socialists in their membership. Their principal accomplishment was to instigate violent strikes in North Carolina’s textile industry. The Musteites cadres were known as the Unemployed Leagues.
With the Brookwood Labor College behind him, Muste established the American Workers Party, which replaced the Conference of Progressive Labor Action. In 1934, Muste’s American Workers Party merged with the Communist League of America, the Trotskyites, under the leadership of James Cannon, who had been urged to cooperate with Muste by Leon Trotsky. Out of the merger came the Workers Party of the United States, which had as its avowed purpose “the overthrow of capitalist rule in America and the creation of a workers’ state.”
As a result of Muste’s 1936 trip to Europe during which he visited with Trotsky in Norway, there developed a curious twist in Muste’s career. He claimed that as a result of his trip to Europe he had reconverted to Christianity and that he now considered himself a Calvinist Socialist (really!). For almost a decade he had been a minister without portfolio or any visible attachment to any religious practices. Now, however, he advocated a combination of Christian nonviolence and Marxism to change society.
At this stage of his career, Muste resumed a relationship with the Fellowship of Reconciliation. In 1916, he had become a member of FOR, a radical, pacifist group that operated under the halo of religious orientation. From 1926 until 1929, while at Brookwood, he served as national chairman of FOR. He left FOR in 1937 to become director of the Presbyterian Labor Temple for three years, and during that time he was reinstated in the Presbytery of New York as a minister. (This would be Muste’s last ministerial work, and in the last two decades of his life he seldom attended any church services, but there is no evidence that he ever renounced his claim to the title of clergyman.)
In 1940, Muste returned to FOR as executive secretary. After retiring from that position in 1953, he never again held regular employment. As the leader of FOR, Muste became a close and trusted advisor to Martin L. King, Jr., the arch agitator of the 1950’s and 1960’s. It was Muste who inspired the foundation of the Congress of Racial Equality, which was led by his protégés and for which over a period of several years he was the most productive fund raiser.
When Muste ended his regular employment by his retirement from FOR in 1953, he entered a new phase of his career as a gadabout elder statesman of ultra-leftist-pacifism in America and elsewhere. He also became a prominent participant in both obvious and thinly disguised Communist Party enterprises. As early as 1921, he was on the national committee of the Red-controlled American Civil Liberties Union and on the board of directors of the League for Industrial Democracy, one of the most influential of all Socialist organizations in America. He was a vice president of the Red-oriented American Federation of Teachers. He was on the executive committee of the League for Independent Political Action, which was thoroughly Socialist in its personnel and program and of great aid and comfort to the Communist Party. He was on the national committee of the War Resisters League and a contributing editor of its World Tomorrow. Muste received the War Resisters League’s Peace Award in 1958. He was on the national advisory board of the National Religion and Labor Foundation (“a Communist front”). He worked hand-in-hand with the Communists to organize the Progressive Miners of America Union. He was a member of the Continental Congress of Workers and Farmers for Economic Reconstruction, a Socialist Party organization that adhered to the Marxist line for abolition of capitalism by a state takeover of all means of production. He was a member of the National Committee on Labor Injunctions, an ACLU project to protect Red labor agitators from legal recourse taken by employers. In 1961, Muste was elected as one of three co-chairmen of a World Council to direct the newly-formed International Peace Brigade.
In the 1960’s, Muste devoted a great deal of energy to groups in opposition to United States participation in the Vietnam War. He was a rallying point in such organizations as the Vietnam Day Committee, the Fort Hood Three Defense Committee, the Fifth Avenue Vietnam Peace Parade Committee, the Spring Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam. In countless meetings, parades, and demonstrations he rubbed elbows with every variety of Communist and Socialist, with racial agitators, with duped do-gooders, with street militants, and with frenetic youths who seemed hypnotized by the octogenarian whose capacity for trouble-making and rabble-rousing appeared limitless.
In the last year of his life, Muste made two of his most memorable gestures in the name of “pacifism.” In April 1966, he led four of his followers on a trip to Saigon, where they hoped to perform a ritualistic anti-war demonstration. In Saigon, the five agitators were unusually quiet for several days; when they finally began a demonstration the Saigon authorities promptly placed them in custody and they departed from South Vietnam on the first available plane. In December 1966, Muste accompanied three Red-oriented clergymen to Hanoi. The four travelers, on their mission of “peace and sympathy,” received a warm and cordial welcome from North Vietnam’s leading butcher, Ho chi Minh. The North Vietnamese Communists made the most of the opportunity afforded by the visit of the four stooges to reap a propaganda harvest around the world. In Hanoi, Muste also drafted a “peace” message to the American people and an invitation for President Lyndon Johnson to visit Hanoi.
On February 11, 1967, less than two months after his return from Hanoi, Muste died at the age of eighty-two, a hero to Communists both a t home and abroad. From the Soviet Union, the Soviet “Peace” Committee expressed its condolences to the American peace movement and cited Muste’s courage and adherence to principles in his fight against aggression and injustice. Arnold Johnson of the Communist Party’s hierarchy offerred the Party’s farewell in a sentimental eulogy in the pages of the Worker. He mentioned the Party’s “deep sense of loss” at Muste’s death, and made due mention of the tremendous coopearation extended to the Party over the years by the “dean of the peace movement.”
It is indeed to Muste’s credit and others of his ilk, that by carrying the “peace” banner in the ages-old Communist tradition, millions of well-meaning Americans were duped and settled for America’s first-ever defeat in an international conflict.