Teal and grey posters, a main display in the library, and a highlighted topic of conversation in classrooms have been sprinkled throughout campus, each entity begging the question: Who was AJ Muste? The answer begins right here at Hope College. After graduating in 1905, AJ Muste went off to pioneer the peace movement and shape a legacy that has inspired the most influential nonviolence movements of all time.
He was born in the Dutch shipping port of Zierikzee in 1885 to parents Martin and Adriana. The family immigrated to the United States in 1891 and settled in the Dutch Reformed Community of Grand Rapids. He was raised in an environment rooted deeply in the Christian faith and Biblical text. After his time at Hope, he married college sweetheart, Anna Huizenga.
After his education at Hope, Muste went on to pursue a degree at New Brunswick Theological Seminary in New England and work as a pastor. However, ultimately, his faith became the light that led his quest for peace. A fellow labor radical and activist, Sidney Lens, explained that “for Muste the term ‘religious’ and the term ‘revolution’ were totally synonymous.”
This life mission of peace led him to several counts of jail time due to trespassing and disturbing the peace in peaceful protests. Specifically, the Lawrence Textile Strike of 1919 which was held in response to wage cuts for immigrant workers. As a strike leader, Muste was beaten and arrested.
His passion for change did not waver or sneak to anger when faced with adversity. Instead, his responses were often calculated and thoughtful. Being careful to not attack those involved with war, but the body that tied them to it. In his own words, “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.”
Critics of Muste see his entanglement with the Communist party as a reason to disassociate from the rest of his efforts. His involvement primarily included his leadership of the American Workers Party which combined with the Trotskist Communist League of America. However, in 1936, after time spent traveling in Europe, Muste stepped down from his involvement in both Communist and Socialist parties to continue his mission as a Christian pacifist.
Throughout his life, this mission brought Muste to inspire many to speak in opposition to the violent wars of his time. He held leadership roles in the Fellowship of Reconciliation, War Resisters League, and Committee for Non-Violent Action with numerous amounts of books and essays to exemplify the research behind his work.
The remnants of Muste’s legacy can be found in the workings of the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute, a group dedicated to pursing nonviolence. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., both claim to have found inspiration for their work in his leadship within the nonviolece movement. New voices of students and faculty are rising with Muste’s most coined expression, “There is no way to peace, peace is the way.”