When Abraham Johannes Muste died in 1967, newspapers throughout the world referred to him as the "American Gandhi." Best known for his role in the labor movement of the 1930s and his leadership of the peace movement in the postwar era, Muste was one of the most charismatic figures of the American left in his time. Had he written the story of his life, it would also have been the story of social and political struggles in the United States during the twentieth century.
In American Gandhi, Leilah Danielson establishes Muste's distinctive activism as the work of a prophet and a pragmatist. Muste warned that the revolutionary dogmatism of the Communist Party would prove a dead end, understood the moral significance of racial equality, argued early in the Cold War that American pacifists should not pick a side, and presaged the spiritual alienation of the New Left from the liberal establishment. At the same time, Muste was committed to grounding theory in practice and the individual in community. His open, pragmatic approach fostered some of the most creative and remarkable innovations in progressive thought and practice in the twentieth century, including the adaptation of Gandhian nonviolence for American concerns and conditions.
A biography of Muste's evolving political and religious views, American Gandhi also charts the rise and fall of American progressivism over the course of the twentieth century and offers the possibility of its renewal in the twenty-first.
Chapter 1. Calvinism, Class, and the Making of a Modern Radical
Chapter 2. Spirituality and Modernity
Chapter 3. Pragmatism and "Transcendent Vision"
Chapter 4. Muste, Workers' Education, and Labor's Culture War in the 1920s
Chapter 5. Labor Action
Chapter 6. Americanizing Marx and Lenin
Chapter 7. To the Left
Chapter 8. Muste and the Origins of Nonviolence in the United States
Chapter 9. Conscience Against the Wartime State and the Bomb
Chapter 10. Speaking Truth to Power
Chapter 11. Muste and the Search for a "Third Way"
Chapter 12. The "American Gandhi" and Vietnam
"This first-rate study establishes A. J. Muste's significance by placing him in the rich context of left-wing politics and thought from World War I to the mid-1960s. Leilah Danielson captures Muste's unique position as a figure who, by dint of his welcoming personality, could often transcend bitter sectarian conflicts and build coalitions which advanced common purposes. She explains why Muste became a beloved figure, even among Americans who disapproved of his politics."—Michael Kazin, author of American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation
"Using manuscript and oral history collections, published writings,and an exhaustive array of secondary sources, this richly detailed political and intellectual history chronicles Muste's experiences and the movements he shaped and led, from the labor left of the 1920s and 1930s to the pacifist left of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. The result is a compelling portrait of a man who stood at the center of American radicalism's most powerful currents."—Journal of American History
"Leilah Danielson's American Gandhi: A. J. Muste and the History of Radicalism in the Twentieth Century weaves the story of Muste's unlikely life (1885-1967) into a deeply informed biography and intellectual history touching on twentieth-century religion, labor and civil rights organizing, and radical pacifism."—American Historical Review
"Leilah Danielson's state-of-the-art political biography of A. J. Muste is a major work in the history of twentieth-century American radicalism. Comprehensive and engrossing throughout, it will be indispensable to those interested in the history of the modern American left, to those interested in the history of pacifism and nonviolence, and to those interested in the intersection of religion and dissent in twentieth-century America. American Gandhi is really going to be the Muste biography for this generation, and for a long time to come."—Doug Rossinow, Metropolitan State University