Pacifism of Bertrand Russell and A. J. Muste

This article covers The Pacifism of Bertrand Russell and A. J. Muste

Life and hope for the world
are to be found only in the deeds of love.
Bertrand Russell

If war no longer occupied men’s thoughts and energies,
we would, within a generation,
put an end to all serious poverty throughout the world.
Bertrand Russell, The Future of Mankind

Either man will abolish war, or war will abolish man.
Bertrand Russell

War can only be abolished
by the establishment of a world government.
Bertrand Russell

I favor the complete prohibition of all nuclear weapons.
Bertrand Russell, Common Sense and Nuclear Warfare

The time has come, or is about to come,
when only large-scale civil disobedience,
which should be nonviolent,
can save the populations from the universal death
which their governments are preparing for them.
Bertrand Russell

For love of domination we must substitute equality;
for love of victory we must substitute justice;
for brutality we must substitute intelligence;
for competition we must substitute cooperation.
We must learn to think of the human race as one family.
Bertrand Russell

The survival of democracy
depends on the renunciation of violence
and the development of nonviolent means
to combat evil and advance the good.
A. J. Muste

Only the nonviolent can apply therapy to the violent.
A. J. Muste

There is no way to peace; peace is the way.
A. J. Muste



Bertrand Russell and the World Wars

One of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century, Bertrand Russell, was an active pacifist, who spent considerable energy working for world peace, especially in his eighties and nineties. Bertrand Russell was born in England on May 18, 1872, and he died on February 2, 1970. Both of his parents died while he was a small child, and he was raised by his grandmother Russell. Bertrand was well educated and was an outstanding student at Trinity College, Cambridge. In addition to his expertise in mathematics and philosophy he studied and lectured on economics and political science. Although he believed that the intellect maintained his sanity, he considered the emotions and passions fundamental in human life. He married four times. His skeptical attitudes and questioning of authority and popular tradition made him seem scandalous to many people.

Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell

Russell earned his reputation as a distinguished thinker by his work in mathematics and logic. In 1903 he published The Principles of Mathematics and by 1913 he and Alfred North Whitehead had published the three volumes of Principia Mathematica. Although Russell was an analytic rationalist all of his life, he did have a significant mystical experience in 1901 which influenced his values for the rest of his life. In his Autobiography he described what happened.

Suddenly the ground seemed to give way beneath me,
and I found myself in quite another region.
Within five minutes I went through
some such reflections as the following:
the loneliness of the human soul is unendurable;
nothing can penetrate it except the highest intensity
of the sort of love that religious teachers have preached;
whatever does not spring from this motive is harmful,
or at best useless;
it follows that war is wrong,
that a public school education is abominable,
that the use of force is to be deprecated,
and that in human relations one should penetrate
to the core of loneliness in each person and speak to that.1

The usually skeptical Russell called it a “mystical illumination;” for a while he felt he could sense people’s inmost thoughts; he became closer to his friends; he changed from an imperialist to a pacifist and sided with the Boers against Britain; for a time his analytic mind was swept away by ecstatic feelings about beauty, an intense interest in children, and the desire to found a philosophy, as the Buddha had done, to make human life more endurable.

During the First World War Russell’s pacifism challenged British society. In July 1914 he collected signatures from fellow professors for a statement urging England to remain neutral in the imminent war. When the British were swept into the war and 90% of the population favored the fighting and killing, Russell was horrified and reassessed his views of human nature. In a letter to the London Nation for August 15 he criticized the pride of patriotism which promotes mass murder. Bertrand Russell was not an absolute pacifist. He explained that the use of force is justifiable when it is ordered according to law by a neutral authority for the general good but not when it is primarily for the interest of one of the parties in the quarrel. One solution, then, was for an international organization backed up by force to keep the peace. Another solution he suggested was passive resistance. If this was intelligently adopted by the whole nation with as much courage and discipline as was being shown in the war, then the national life could be better protected with far less carnage and waste.

In 1916 Russell began to work for the No Conscription Fellowship; he became its chairman when all of the original committee had gone to prison. He wrote a leaflet to defend the case of Ernest Everett, who had refused military service. When six men were arrested for distributing the leaflet, Russell wrote to The Times declaring he was its author. Russell was accused of hampering recruiting, and as his own attorney he explained that the case of a conscientious objector could hardly influence someone who is considering volunteering. He cited the English tradition of liberty, but he was convicted nonetheless. When he refused to pay the fine, the authorities preferred confiscating some of his possessions to putting him in prison. This conviction, however, prevented him from getting a passport to visit America. Russell felt that the more policemen and officials they could occupy with the innocent work of monitoring their pacifist activities, the less men would be available for the “official business of killing each other.”

After Wilson’s re-election in 1916, Russell wrote an open letter to the President which Katherine Dudley smuggled across the Atlantic. He appealed to the United States Government to make peace between the European governments. He wrote,

If the German Government, as now seems likely,
would not only restore conquered territory,
but also give its adherence to the League to Enforce Peace
or some similar method of settling disputes without war,
fear would be allayed,
and it is almost certain that an offer of mediation from you
would give rise to an irresistible movement
in favour of negotiations.2

Russell’s speeches to munitions workers in South Wales were inaccurately reported by detectives, and the War Office forbade Russell from entering prohibited areas. In January 1918 an article by Russell appeared in a little weekly newspaper called The Tribunal suggesting that American soldiers were likely to be used as strike-breakers in England, because they had been employed in that way in the United States. This statement was backed up by a Senate Report. For this, Russell was sentenced to prison for six months. He spent the uninterrupted time cheerfully writing.

During the war Russell published several books on politics, war, and peace. Principles of Social Reconstruction was released in America as Why Men Fight. In this work Russell began with the idea that the passions of war must be controlled, not by thought alone, but by the passion and desire to think clearly. Reason by itself is too lifeless. Wars can be prevented by a positive life of passion. Impulse must not be weakened but directed “towards life and growth rather than towards death and decay.” Russell suggested that the excessive discipline of impulse not only exhausts vitality but often results in impulses of cruelty and destruction; this is why militarism is bad for national character. He recommended therefore active pacifism with the impulse and passion to overcome the impulses of war. Great courage and passion are necessary to face the onslaught of the hostile public opinion of a nation. Three forces for life are love, constructiveness, and joy.

Russell believed that there must be strong action to assure international justice by a “Parliament of the nations.” War can be prevented if the great powers firmly determine that peace shall be preserved. They could establish diplomatic methods to settle disputes and educational systems to teach the horrors of killing rather than admiration for war. Peace can only be permanently maintained by a world federation with the civil functions of a state-legislative, administrative, and judicial-and an international military force. This authority would legislate, adjudicate, and enforce international laws, but would not interfere with the internal affairs of nations. Pragmatically he suggested that at any given time we ought to support the best direction of movement available in the situation. This direction can be determined by applying the two principles of liberty and reverence. In other words, the freedom of individuals and communities ought to be encouraged, but not at the expense of others.

Russell replied to the War Office’s restriction of his movement in the book Justice in War Time. He refused to surrender his spiritual liberty and declared that they could not prevent him from discussing political subjects, although they could imprison him under the Defense of the Realm Act. In the book he delineated the evils of war-the young men killed and maimed, the atrocities to non-combatants, the poverty of economic and social conditions, and the spiritual evils of hatred, injustice, falsehood, and conflict. He traced the theory of nonresistance held by Quakers and Tolstoy, and he imagined what might happen if England used nonresistance and noncooperation with the invaders as a means of defense. First there would be no justification at all for aggression. England would be giving up its empire and therefore could not be accused of oppressing anyone. Even if Germans did invade, what could they do if all the officials refused to cooperate? Would they really shoot or imprison them all? If the population refused to obey any German orders, they would not learn German nor serve in the army nor even work to pay taxes or supply products. Russell noted that this would require courage and discipline. The most the Germans could do would be to take away the empire and withhold food while demanding tribute.

For Russell, the empire was not a source of pride, and its self-governing parts could do the same thing. Demanding tribute is like the highwayman who says, “Your money or your life.” Just as a reasonable man would hand over his money rather than be shot, a reasonable nation ought to give tribute rather than resist by force of arms. Primarily the rich would lose by this because the poor would have to retain enough to be able to work and supply the means of tribute. It is unlikely that this tribute would be more than the cost of fighting the war. Many deaths and the moral degradation of war would be avoided. Russell suggested that it takes more courage and discipline to practice nonresistance than it does to kill out of fear. Thus militarism is caused by “cowardice, love of dominion, and lust for blood.” Even though nonresistance is a better defense than fighting, the more likely solution to the threat of war is the establishment of world government.

In Political Ideals Russell discussed the need for an international government to secure peace in the world by means of effective international law. Just as police are needed to protect private citizens from the use of force, so an international police can prevent the lawless use of force by states. The benefit of having law rather than international anarchy will give the international government a respected authority so that states will no longer feel free to use aggression. Then a large international force will become unnecessary.

Roads to Freedom includes a section where Russell pointed out the capitalistic factors which promote war. First is the desire of finance to exploit the resources of undeveloped countries. Second, large newspapers require capital and promote capitalistic interests. Third, capitalists like power and expect to command others. Nevertheless, Russell did not recommend abolishing capitalism as a means to peace. However, he did recommend abolishing the private ownership of land and capital as one necessary step toward peace. Writing in 1918, he supported the idea of the League of Nations and international cooperation. He asserted that no idea is as practical as the brotherhood of man. Again he emphasized the need for a world government and national disarmament.

While visiting China in 1920, Russell fell ill and was treated by John Dewey. Dewey was moved by a statement that Russell made while he was delirious-“We must make a plan for peace.”3 In 1922 Russell was intending to go to a Congress in Italy, but Mussolini informed the organizers of the Congress that, while no harm was to be done to Russell, any Italian who spoke to him was to be assassinated. Naturally Russell decided to avoid the country he felt Mussolini was defiling. In 1923 Russell prophesied that without a world government it would be impossible to preserve civilization for another century. He declared the fundamental principle that the rights of a nation against humanity are no more absolute than the rights of an individual against the community. In 1931 Russell applauded Einstein’s statement recommending that pacifists refuse military service. Like Einstein, Russell decided not to adhere to absolute pacifism in the face of the Nazi threat.

Russell published Which Way to Peace? in 1936. He criticized isolationism and encouraged international law and government with an international armed force to prevent war. He could not imagine Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin voluntarily renouncing national power. He also felt that England would not consent until after the disaster of war and that the United States would be reluctant unless Washington was in control. He cited Denmark as a successful example of national pacifism. Russell indicated that the three obstacles to disarmament are fear, pride, and greed. In 1937 he wrote a mock obituary of himself and described how he escaped to a neutral country before the Second World War broke out, because he thought sensible people stay out of the way while lunatics are employed in killing each other. However, when the war came, Russell believed that Nazi Germany had to be fought for human life to remain tolerable.

Bertrand Russell in the Nuclear Age

The development of nuclear weapons caused Bertrand Russell deep concern. In November 1945 he gave a speech in the House of Lords warning that atomic weapons were going to be made more destructive and cheaper. Understanding nuclear physics, he explained how a hydrogen bomb with much more explosive force could work. He predicted that soon the Russians would have bombs as destructive as those of the United States. He recommended that nuclear weapons be under international control, and he supported the Baruch Plan for an International Atomic Development Authority. Such great danger did he see if Russia and other nations developed atomic weapons that during this period when the United States was the only nuclear power he advocated that the US ought to force the Russians to accept a world government under American leadership, even by going to war against Russia if necessary. He believed that the only cause worth fighting for was world government. He compared this policy to the alternative of waiting until the Russians had atomic bombs and choosing between a nuclear war and submission. Russell never liked Communism, but his anti-Communism was moderated with the death of Stalin. McCarthyism’s restriction of civil liberties and the Bikini test in 1954 gradually led Russell to consider the United States a greater threat to unleash nuclear war than the Russians.

In 1950 Bertrand Russell was given the Nobel Prize for Literature. The last twenty years of his life were primarily devoted to warnings about the nuclear danger, advocacy of world government, and the active work of peacemaking and protesting about policies of war. He believed that world government was the only alternative to the disaster of nuclear war. People and nations must become willing to submit to international law. New Hopes for a Changing World is an optimistic view of how to solve world problems. He suggested that happiness depends on harmony with other people. The problem in forming a world government is that the nations are not yet willing to give it enough power to be effective. Yet war is inevitable as long as different sovereign states try to settle their disagreements by the use of armed force. Russell expressed the hope that if the west with its superior strength does not go to war, after a while the Russians may become less suspicious and begin to have friendly relations, which eventually could open the way to world government. Then both countries could be spared the expense of armaments, could benefit from reciprocal trade, and could escape the threat of nuclear destruction.

On March 1, 1954 the Bikini test of the H-bomb made it clear that this weapon is about one thousand times more powerful than the A-bomb. The radioactive fallout also proved to be deadly. Russell suggested that all fissionable raw material be owned by an international authority. International inspectors ought to make sure that no nation or individual has access to fissionable raw material. On December 23, 1954 Russell made a broadcast over the BBC on “Man’s Peril.” He spoke not as a Briton or European but as a human being. He recommended that some neutral countries form a commission of experts to report on the destructive effects of a war using hydrogen bombs and that they submit this report to the governments of the great powers so that they could agree that a world war could not serve the purpose of any of them. Russell pleaded,

There lies before us, if we choose,
continued progress in happiness, knowledge and wisdom.
Shall we instead choose death
because we can not forget our quarrels?
I appeal as a human being to human beings.
Remember your humanity and forget the rest.
If you can do so the way lies open to a new Paradise;
if you cannot, nothing lies before you but universal death.4

Russell followed this address by drafting a statement for scientists to sign. He sent it to Einstein and was disappointed when he heard the news of Einstein’s death. However, as one of his last acts, the great scientist had sent Russell a letter agreeing to sign. This Russell-Einstein Manifesto was also signed by a Communist scientist and several Nobel Prize winners.

The Parliamentary Association for World Government in August 1955, invited representatives from every country, including four from the Soviet Union. Russell moved a resolution that urged the world’s governments to realize and to acknowledge publicly that their purposes cannot be advanced by world war. Russell addressed an open letter to Eisenhower and Khrushchev in November 1957, asking that they make an agreement with each other on some points in which the interests of Russia and America are the same. Russell proposed the following: first, since the continued existence of the human race is paramount, neither side should incite war by trying for world dominion; second, the diffusion of nuclear weapons to other countries must be stopped; third, lessening hostility could lead to immense savings on armament expenditures; and fourth, by respecting each other’s rights and using argument instead of force, fears of collective death could be diminished.

Bertrand Russell was one of the main organizers of the Pugwash Conferences of Scientists. At the first meeting in 1957 three committees were formed-one on the hazards of atomic energy, one on the control of nuclear weapons, and one on the social responsibilities of scientists. One of the achievements of the Pugwash movement was the eventual agreement on at least a partial Test-ban Treaty. Russell considered this only a slight mitigation of the dangers. Russell was also the President of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), which worked for the unilateral disarmament of Britain and the expulsion of US bases from her soil.

Russell was also expressing his views on television in 1959 and in the books Common Sense and Nuclear Warfare and Has Man a Future? Nuclear warfare imperils mankind as a whole and therefore is to be treated like an epidemic and not be entangled in the conflicts of power politics. As a mathematician, Russell knew that as long as nuclear war is a possibility, its probability over time is increased. He quoted Linus Pauling’s estimates of the hundreds of thousands of birth defects and embryonic and neo-natal deaths likely if tests were continued. The steps toward peace include the abolition of nuclear tests, the solving of differences without the threat of war, complete disarmament of nuclear weapons and a reduction of conventional forces, appointment of a Conciliation Committee with representatives from the powers and neutrals, the prohibition of foreign troops on any territory, and the establishment of a Federal International Authority with armed force to prevent war. Russell cautioned that the armed force should be in units of mixed nationalities and under the command of officers from neutral countries.

A federal constitution would leave the nations autonomous in regard to their own internal affairs. The international court must have the same authority as national courts. To those who fear the tyranny of a world government, Russell responded that there would be more real freedom in the world under effective law and that in large modern governments it is fairly easy to maintain civilian control over the military. Technical advances have not only made international anarchy infinitely more dangerous, but also the facility of world cooperation is now more available. Eventually, for the sake of a stable world, greater economic equality and opportunity must be granted to the poorer peoples of the world. Education ought to be global in scope and perspective. Also the increase of population must be brought under control. Peace movements in every country ought to work together in spite of minor differences.

At the age of 88 Russell came to believe that a more radical strategy was needed, and he resigned from the CND to plan actions of civil disobedience through the Committee of 100. A sit-down demonstration took place at a US Polaris Base in which 20,000 people attended a rally and 5,000 sat down and risked arrest. On August 6, 1961 (“Hiroshima Day”) they met at Hyde Park, and Russell illegally used a microphone. He was arrested and convicted of inciting the public to civil disobedience; his sentence was commuted to one week. Russell wrote eloquent leaflets and gave speeches for these and other demonstrations urging that the seriousness of nuclear peril justified nonviolent civil disobedience against the offending governments which are “organizing the massacre of the whole of mankind.”

In October and November of 1962 Bertrand Russell acted as a peacemaker in two very serious international crises, even though he was only a private citizen. When President Kennedy ordered the naval blockade of Cuba to stop any Russian ship from carrying missiles to the island, Russell issued a press statement, which began, “It seems likely that within a week you will all be dead to please American madmen.”5 Russell hoped there would be large demonstrations of protest, and he noted that the most impressive was in New York, where Michael Scott and A. J. Muste spoke to ten thousand. On October 23 Russell sent a telegram to Kennedy, calling his action “desperate” and a “threat to human survival” without justification and pleading that he end the madness. To Khrushchev he telegraphed an appeal that he not be provoked but seek condemnation of US action through the United Nations. On the next day Premier Khrushchev publicized a long letter in reply to Mr. Russell assuring him that the Soviet government would not be reckless as the Americans had been in their pre-election excitement. Russell then telegraphed Khrushchev thanking him for his “courageous stand for sanity” and asking him to hold back the ships so that the Americans could come to an agreement. He also telegraphed Kennedy to urge him to negotiate.

Khrushchev ordered some ships to turn away and allowed others to be inspected; Russell praised the Soviet Premier for this magnanimous, unilateral act. In another press statement Russell argued that the US blockade was illegal and immoral even though he believed nuclear bases to be intolerable in Cuba or anywhere. How would America respond if the Russians or Chinese blockaded Formosa? Khrushchev offered to dismantle the nuclear bases in Cuba if the United States would guarantee that it would not invade Cuba. This Cuban fear was obviously valid, since the US had already tried to invade once at the Bay of Pigs. When Kennedy cabled Russell about the “secret Soviet missiles” and the Russian “burglars,” Russell pointed out that they had not been secret, that even if they had been long-range, which they were not, the US and USSR already had enough long-range missiles and submarines to destroy each other, and that the Russians were not burglars any more than Americans in Britain and western Europe; actually the Americans were contemplating “burglary.”

Russell wired Kennedy, asking him to accept inspection by the United Nations and to remove US missiles in Turkey as an exchange. This would show America’s stand for peace. He cabled Dr. Castro, requesting that he accept the dismantling and UN inspection in exchange for the pledge not to be invaded. Russell sent a long letter to Khrushchev, suggesting further steps toward peace, such as the abandonment of the Warsaw Pact. He telegraphed UN Secretary General U Thant, asking him if he would arbitrate and inspect bases. Castro wanted U Thant to mediate in Cuba, but the US refused to discuss the Guantanamo base or accept UN inspectors of Florida camps. In the face of US intransigence to trading bases in Turkey, Russell telegraphed Castro and Khrushchev, urging them to dismantle the bases, since even the insane American blackmail is preferable to catastrophe. Although he was no lover of Communism, in this instance Russell commended Khrushchev for his wisdom and courage but criticized Kennedy for violating the UN Charter and perverting the Monroe Doctrine into the idea that if the US does not like the form of government of a western hemisphere state and is threatening to attack it, then no outside power ought to try to help it.

In November 1962 Russell was similarly involved in mediating the border dispute between China and India in Kashmir. In numerous telegrams to Nehru and Zhou Enlai, Russell urged a cease-fire and withdrawal so that negotiation and arbitration could settle the conflict. He also urged President Sukarno of Indonesia and U Thant to help mediate. In this situation India, which as a neutral nation, had so often pleaded for peaceful relations, seemed to be overcome by war hysteria, and thus Russell found that the nation for which he had the most sympathy again was being the most unreasonable. This time Zhou Enlai exercised wisdom and thanked Russell for his peacemaking efforts.

Reflecting on these two crises, Russell reiterated the danger of brinkmanship and the need for nuclear disarmament, since nuclear weapons only offer the options of complete submission or annihilation. The value of an unarmed and reasonable mediator made it easier for Khrushchev and others to make concessions without damaging their pride as much. Russell hoped that these crises might help discredit the western belief that all Communists are wicked and all anti-Communists are virtuous. These situations and many others indicate the need for world government and strong international law so that disputes can be peacefully decided in courts.

The Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation was formed in 1963. He worked to free political prisoners in over forty countries. Russell began publishing articles criticizing the unofficial war in Vietnam. He explained how the French, Japanese, British, and Americans had prevented the Vietnamese people from obtaining their independence for the sake of imperialism and capitalistic exploitation. He described the atrocities that had been perpetrated by puppet governments of the west and American “advisors.” By mid-1963 there were already about 160,000 dead, 700,000 tortured and injured, 400,000 imprisoned, 31,000 raped, and 1,000 temples destroyed; 46 villages had been attacked with poisonous chemicals, and 8,000,000 villagers were in 6,000 concentration camps. He felt the time for protest was overdue. By 1965 the numbers had increased and in a speech criticizing the British Labor Party’s foreign policy, Russell tore up his Labor Party membership card. He complained that visas the Peace Foundation had requested for three members of the National Liberation Front (NLF) had been refused.

In January 1966 Bertrand Russell wrote “Peace Through Resistance to US Imperialism,” in which he warned that peace could not be obtained merely by requesting the United States to behave better, because a powerful system is based on continued exploitation and an increasing scale of military production. He suggested,

A united and co-ordinate resistance
to this exploitation and domination must be forged.
The popular struggle of oppressed people will remove
the resources from the control of US imperialism
and in so doing, strengthen the people of the United States itself,
who are striving first to understand
and second to overcome the cruel rulers
who have usurped their revolution and their government.
This, in my view, is the way to create a secure peace,
rather than a tenuous and immoral acquiescence in US domination,
which can neither work nor be tolerated by humane men.6

Russell backed up his vituperative criticism of US policies with numerous facts and figures. He gave four reasons why the United States must be compelled to withdraw from Vietnam. First, the US war crimes in Vietnam had been amply documented. Second, the US had no right to be there; only a puppet ruler and a few ambitious Vietnamese generals wanted them there. Third, US claims of “halting aggression” were absurd since the Geneva agreements had arranged for unification of Vietnam through election, which the US had blocked. Fourth, the US must not be encouraged to think that aggression pays. On May 24, 1966 Bertrand Russell spoke over NLF radio to American soldiers to explain to them the injustice of their involvement. Since the US was continuing to drop three million pounds of bombs daily on North Vietnam, Russell called for an international War Crimes Tribunal in keeping with the principles of the Nuremberg trials. The Tribunal convened in November 1966 to announce that it would prepare evidence of crimes in the following five areas:

  1. aggression violating international treaties;
  2. using gas and chemicals as experimental weapons;
  3. bombing hospitals, sanatoria, schools, dikes and other civilian areas;
  4. torturing and mutilating prisoners;
  5. pursuing genocidal policies, such as forced labor camps, mass burials, and other techniques of extermination in South Vietnam.

Distinguished individuals from various countries agreed to join the Tribunal. The War Crimes Tribunal met in Sweden and Denmark and became independent of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation. The proceedings of the Tribunal were published in Against the Crime of Silence, and in the introduction Russell wrote

War crimes are the actions of powers
whose arrogance leads them to believe
that they are above the law.
Might, they argue, is right.
The world needs to establish and apply certain criteria
in considering inhuman actions by great powers.
These should not be the criteria convenient to the victor,
as at Nuremberg, but those which enable
private citizens to make compelling judgments
on the injustices committed by any great power.7

Russell was now 95. He continued to work for peace to the end, and his last political statement was a condemnation of Israel’s aggression sent to the International Conference of Parliamentarians in Cairo in February 1970.

Nonviolent Activism of A. J. Muste

Abraham Johannes Muste

Abraham Johannes Muste

Abraham Johannes Muste was born in Zeeland of the Netherlands on January 8, 1885; his family brought him to the United States at the age of six and raised him in Michigan as a Calvinist. He graduated from Union Theological Seminary in New York in 1909 and married that year. He was ordained a minister, but during World War I his pacifist convictions and ideas led to his resignation.

Moving to Boston in 1918, Muste formed a Comradeship of pacifists and began to observe the labor situation at the Lawrence textile mills. He felt that during the war the pacifists had not risked their lives, but the strike was an opportunity to see if nonviolence really works. Muste raised money for the strikers and was soon made the executive secretary of the strike committee for 30,000 strikers. A. J. placed himself at the head of the picket line and was beat to exhaustion by the police and arrested. Several weeks into the strike, the police tried to provoke violence by lining up machine guns and having a labor spy urge the strikers to overcome them. Muste suggested that the strikers take the following courageous action:

I told them, in line with the strike committee’s decision,
that to permit ourselves to be provoked into violence
would mean defeating ourselves;
that our real power was in our solidarity
and our capacity to endure suffering
rather than to give up the fight for the right to organize;
that no one could “weave wool with machine guns;”
that cheerfulness was better for morale than bitterness
and that therefore we would smile
as we passed the machine guns and the police
on the way from the hall to the picket lines around the mills.
I told the spies, who were sure to be in the audience,
to go and tell the police and the mill managements
that this was our policy.8

This speech was greeted by cheers, and they went out, laughing and singing. Later Muste’s room was broken into by a strong-arm squad, but he was not there. A colleague of his was taken out into the country, beat terribly, and left senseless in a ditch. After fifteen weeks the workers were weakening. Muste and the leaders successfully urged them to stay out for a week longer, but they decided they would not pressure them after that. Muste was leaving town to report their failure to the union headquarters when he was contacted by management to arrange a settlement granting the strikers’ demands.

Muste served as general secretary of the Amalgamated Textile Workers for over two years. Strikes occurred somewhere almost every week. From 1921 to 1933 he was the educational director of Brookwood Labor College. During the Depression he worked with the labor movement, the Unemployed Leagues, the Workers Party, the sit-down strikes, and the forming of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Muste helped start the Conference for Progressive Labor Action (CPLA), which offered a radical alternative to the Communist Party. In 1936 he helped organize a strike of the Goodyear Tire workers in Akron, Ohio; this was the first time the sit-in tactic was used in the American labor movement. Also in 1936 A. J. gave up his Trotskyism and returned to Christian pacifism for the rest of his life, saying that God is love, and “Love is the central thing in the universe.”9 Love, he felt, must be carried into every aspect of family life, race relations, labor movement, political activity, and international relations.

In 1940 A. J. Muste published Non-violence in an Aggressive World outlining a Christian pacifist approach to revolution in a war-torn world. He described the interrelationships of the three revolutionary reform movements to which he was committed in the fields of religion, economics, and politics-namely Christianity, socialism, and democracy. He urged a pacifist revolution, which will enlighten minds and redirect wills. With unity and solidarity among the workers and using nonviolent methods, Muste predicted there will be less economic and social dislocation than in most revolutions. He criticized the totalitarian repression, terrorism, and conformity of some post-revolutionary regimes, and he called instead for democratic and brotherly life. Although he considered struggling against injustice by any means to be nobler than cowardice, Muste’s experience in the labor movement led him to believe that violence was always self-defeating, whether it was resorted to by workers or by employers using open or covert violence or by agents of the state.

The oppressed will make surer and faster progress
if they eschew violence and depend,
as they do mainly depend in their organizing and strike activities,
on their solidarity, courage, capacity for suffering and sacrifice,
and on non-cooperation where injustice becomes extreme.10

Instead of using national armies, Muste saw the need for an international police force. A political federation built on fair economic arrangements will be held together by mutual benefits, making armies unnecessary. He pointed out that there is a necessary connection between democracy and nonviolence; when external force is used, freedom is lost. Racism and nationalism, which promote war, are destructive to democracy, corrupting the external and internal relations of a country. Imperialism in foreign policy likewise causes injustice and oppression at home as well as abroad through the “crushing burden of militarism and totalitarian war.” Muste advocated unilateral disarmament, pointing out how reluctant people are to fight and kill in a war. How could they be led to slaughter a helpless population? “With much less effort than is required to put a nation on a war-basis, it could be organized to meet, confuse, and rout an invader with nonviolent noncooperation.”11 He concluded that pacifism is based on love and fellowship and treating one’s neighbor as oneself; our resources for living this life of love have hardly been tapped at all so far.

In an essay on “The World Task of Pacifism” in 1941 Muste declared that as long as people believe that war is a solution to social problems, then human resources will be devoted to “forging diabolically effective instruments of slaughter and destruction.”12 Once this delusion has been dispelled, then a new order will be built. He noted that Gandhi’s campaigns in India were giving the world an example of how nonviolence could be used on a massive scale. In another essay that year Muste suggested the following:

Christian realism would lead us to renounce war preparation
and war as obviously suicidal;
to offer to surrender our own special privileges;
to participate in lowering tariff walls,
in providing access to basic resources
on equitable terms to all peoples;
to spend the billions we shall otherwise squander
on war preparations, and war,
for the economic rehabilitation of Europe and Asia,
for carrying a great “offensive” of food, medicine, and clothing
to the stricken peoples of the world;
and to take our full share of responsibility
for building an effective federal world government.13

In 1942 Muste suggested that the United States enter into negotiations with all the nations in the war with the following proposals:

  1. The US will help build a federal world government;
  2. the US will invest billions for the economic rehabilitation of Europe and Asia;
  3. “no attempt shall be made to fasten sole war guilt on any nation or group of nations;”
  4. subject nations such as India, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Denmark, Norway, France, Belgium, and Holland must be granted full self-determination;
  5. “all peoples should be assured of equitable access to markets and to essential raw materials;”
  6. to further democracy the US should provide decent housing, adequate medical and hospital service, and equal educational facilities for all its people, “including Negroes and Orientals;”
  7. the US must repudiate racism and call on Germany and other countries to do the same; and
  8. drastic reduction of armaments by all nations should move all rapidly to an economy of peace.

As early as 1943 Muste recommended the use of nonviolent methods to bring an end to Jim Crow practices of racial discrimination. He was Executive Secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) from 1940 until 1953, and he influenced civil rights leaders such as James Farmer and Bayard Rustin, who were FOR staff members. In 1942 they founded the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Martin Luther King, Jr. and others were also influenced by Muste’s nonviolence philosophy and tactics. During the war he gave moral support to conscientious objectors, and in 1947 he sponsored a session of draft-card burning. He responded to Einstein’s “Emergency Appeal” in 1946 by urging scientists to become conscientious objectors by refusing to work on military projects. Einstein accepted this view and later said, “Noncooperation in military matters should be an essential moral principle for all true scientists.”14 Muste refused to pay Federal income tax from 1948 on. After the war he completely rejected Communism, but during the McCarthy period Muste spoke out for the civil rights of Communists. He called for the cessation of hostilities in Korea, urged the United Nations to stop acting as a war agency, advocated that the US abandon war and adopt nonviolence, and promoted the spirit of pacifism.

Muste helped organize and participated in many direct action campaigns. In 1955 he joined Dorothy Day and others in refusing to take cover in a New York civil defense drill. On August 7, 1957 he participated in a vigil protesting nuclear weapons tests near Las Vegas, Nevada. The following year he was an advisor in the project of sailing the Golden Rule into a bomb-test area. He chaired the “Walk for Peace Committee” which included the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the Catholic Worker, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Peacemakers, the War Resisters League (WRL), and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). For the Committee for Nonviolent Action (CNVA) Muste coordinated the Omaha Action project and was arrested as one of the trespassers at the Mead Missile Base. He considered nuclear war politically irrational, morally indefensible, and a hideous atrocity. Even preparation for such a war is a degradation of mankind. Neither the aims of Communism nor those of Christian democracy can be advanced or even salvaged after a nuclear war. He referred to threatening the obliteration of an enemy people as an extreme mental sickness. The real enemy is war.

In December 1959 Muste traveled to Africa to help coordinate a protest against French nuclear bomb tests in the Sahara. Meanwhile the Peace Walk had gone from San Francisco to Moscow. About 80,000 leaflets were distributed in the Soviet Union; the demonstrators spoke to meetings of several hundred people every night. Muste felt national barriers had been transcended in favor of a common humanity. In 1961 an experimental World Peace Brigade was formed at a conference in Beirut, Lebanon, under the direction of Muste, Michael Scott, and Jayaprakash Narayan. A training center for nonviolent action was established in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Muste hoped this was a beginning toward realizing Gandhi’s concept of a world peace army (Shanti sena). In the summer of 1962 the World Peace Brigade and others, such as the CNVA, CND, and the Committee of 100, sponsored the voyage of Everyman Ill to Leningrad to protest Soviet nuclear testing.

In the early Vietnam War era Muste was able to help bring together a broad-based coalition of groups to protest. He helped to establish the policy of refusing to accept the co-sponsorship of organizations that support war, military build-up, or violence, although any individual accepting nonviolent discipline could participate. In 1965 over 50,000 people paraded down Fifth Avenue in New York. Again in this war he suggested that the United States withdraw its forces and disarm. To young men facing conscription he always recommended “holy disobedience.” In 1966 Muste met with anti-war Buddhist and Catholic leaders in Saigon. In January 1967 he met with Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi to try to find ways to end the war. Muste died seventeen days later. He was honored in New York at the march of the Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam.

By Sanderson Beck

This is a chapter in World Peace Efforts Since Gandhi, which is published as a book.


  1. The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell 1872-1914, p. 234.
  2. The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell 1914-1944, p. 24.
  3. Ibid., p. 181.
  4. Quoted in “Bertrand Russell and the Peace Movement” by Ralph Schoenman in Bertrand’s Russell’s Philosophy, p. 239.
  5. The Life of Bertrand Russell by Ronald W. Clark, p. 596.
  6. War Crimes in Vietnam, p. 99-100.
  7. Quoted in “Bertrand Russell and the Peace Movement: Liberal Consistency of Radical Change?” by Edward F. Sherman in Bertrand’s Russell’s Philosophy, p. 262-263.
  8. “Sketches for an Autobiography” in The Essays of A. J. Muste, p. 70.
  9. “Return to Pacifism” in The Essays of A. J. Muste, p. 201.
  10. Non-violence in an Aggressive World by A. J. Muste, p. 118.
  11. Ibid., p. 159.
  12. “The World Task of Pacifism” in The Essays of A. J. Muste, p. 223.
  13. “Where Are We Going?” in The Essays of A. J. Muste, p. 250.
  14. Quoted in Ban the Bomb: A History of SANE by Milton Katz, p. 8.

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