A. J. Muste

Christian pacifist and civil rights activist (1885-1967)

A. J. Muste (January 8, 1885 – February 11, 1967) was a Dutch-born American clergyman who eventually became a Quaker, Christian pacifist, socialist and social activist involved in the U.S. labor and civil rights movements.

In a world built on violence, one must be a revolutionary before one can be a pacifist.


  • The psychological basis for the use of nonviolent methods is the simple rule that like produces like, kindness provokes kindness, as surely as injustice produces resentment and evil. It is sometimes forgotten by those whose pacifism is a spurious, namby-pamby thing that if one Biblical statement of this rule is "Do good to them that hate you" (an exhortation presumably intended for the capitalist as well as for the laborer), another statement of the same rule is, "They that sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind." You get from the universe what you give, with interest! What if men build a system on violence and injustice, on not doing good to those who hate them nor even to those who meekly obey and toil for them? And persist in this course through centuries of Christian history? And if, then, the oppressed raise the chant:
Ye who sowed the wind of sorrow,
Now the whirlwind you must dare,
As ye face upon the morrow,
The advancing Proletaire!
In such a day, the pacifist is presumably not absolved from preaching to the rebels that they also shall reap what they sow; but assuredly not in such a wise as to leave the oppressors safely entrenched in their position, not at the cost of preaching to them in all sternness that "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
  • "Recent Gains in the Quest for Peace" in The World tomorrow Vol. 11, No. 1 (January 1928), p. 8; including a quote from the Communist song "The Advancing Proletaire."
  • We belong to the Society of Friends, a community of love, a family of persons. In so far as we are not just another “denomination,” we know also that the salvation of our age is in our keeping; that is, that it lies in the divine-human society which is "rooted and grounded in love." This is the unity which alone can make one world out of "one world", and not one nightmare, one hell, one burned-out cinder. We know also and in a way we respond to the fact that we have a mission, we are "called to be saints".
    • Saints for This Age (1962).
  • It is said that if the United States were to stop shooting and withdraw its troops from Vietnam, the Viet Cong would then stage a great purge of the people who we have been seeking to protect — have pledged to protect. First of all, so far they have been getting precious little protection from us. The Vietnamese people as human individuals have been shot at by the French, by us, by Communists, by guerrillas for years. Maybe, if only somebody would stop shooting at them that would be something to the good.
    • "Who Has the Spiritual Atom Bomb?" in Liberation (November 1965).
  • There is no way to peace; peace is the way.
    • As quoted in "Debasing Dissent" in The New York Times (16 November 1967), p. 46; later quoted as "There is no way to peace, peace is the only way." in The Peasant's Revolt : McCarthy 1968 (1969) by William P. McDonald and Jerry G. Smoke: these statements have also become widely attributed to Mahatma Gandhi.
  • There is a certain indolence in us, a wish not to be disturbed, which tempts us to think that when things are quiet, all is well. Subconsciously, we tend to give the preference to 'social peace,' though it be only apparent, because our lives and possessions seem then secure. Actually, human beings acquiesce too easily in evil conditions; they rebel far too little and too seldom. There is nothing noble about acquiescence in a cramped life or mere submission to superior force.
    • "Pacifism and Class War" in The Essays of A. J. Muste (1967) edited by Nat Hentoff p. 179-85; also quoted in American Power and the New Mandarins (2002) by Noam Chomsky, p. 160.
  • We cannot have peace if we are only concerned with peace. War is not an accident. It is the logical outcome of a certain way of life. If we want to attack war, we have to attack that way of life.
    Disarmament cannot be achieved nor can the problem of war be resolved without being accompanied by profound changes in the economic order and the structure of society.
    • As quoted in Our Generation Against Nuclear War (1983) by Dimitrios I. Roussopoulos.
  • [Their foremost task] … is to denounce the violence on which the present system is based, and all the evil — material and spiritual — this entails for the masses of men throughout the world.... So long as we are not dealing honestly and adequately with this ninety percent of our problem, there is something ludicrous, and perhaps hypocritical, about our concern over the ten percent of violence employed by the rebels against oppression.
    • As quoted in Noam Chomsky American Power and the New Mandarins (1969 [The New Press 2002 edition]), p. 160.
  • Those who can bring themselves to renounce wealth, position and power accruing from a social system based on violence and putting a premium on acquisitiveness, and to identify themselves in some real fashion with the struggle of the masses toward the light, may help in a measure — more, doubtless, by life than by words — to devise a more excellent way, a technique of social progress less crude, brutal, costly and slow than mankind has yet evolved.
    • As quoted in Noam Chomsky American Power and the New Mandarins (1969 [The New Press 2002 edition]), p. 160.
  • In a world built on violence, one must be a revolutionary before one can be a pacifist.
    • As quoted in Noam Chomsky American Power and the New Mandarins (1969 [The New Press 2002 edition]), p. 160.

Quotes about Muste

  • [He made] remarkable effort to show that pacifism was by no means passivism and that there could be such a thing as a non-violent social revolution.
    • Norman Thomas, in "On the Death of A.J. Muste" in New America Vol. 6, No. 9 (February 16, 1967), p. 2.
  • There are two themes that ran through A.J. Muste's life so clearly and marked his own actions so decisively, that the conflict between them became a dialectic, never resolved. One theme was peace, nonviolence, profound reverence for life. The other theme was social justice. To respect life meant to struggle to achieve social justice, yet the struggle for social justice invariably disturbed the peace and risked the nonviolence so central to A.J. The life-destroying institutions of injustice which A.J. saw around him were intolerable--yet violent social change was also intolerable. It was this "dialectic" which led him into the Marxist-Leninist movement and then back into the religious pacifist movement. Those who worked most closely with him are convinced that he was never fully able to leave behind his Christian mysticism when he was a Marxist-Leninist, and that on his return to the Church he brought with him much of his Marxism.
    No authentic honor can be done to the memory of the man and his life if we select one theme and ignore the other. Few people have been so deeply committed at the same time both to peace and to social justice, so fully aware of the difficulty of reconciling these two demands, and so intent on making that effort.
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