Red Clydeside: A history of the labour movement in Glasgow 1910-1932


Certificate of James Maxton's exemption from military service on grounds of conscientious objection, March 1916

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Despite the anti-war pact agreed by European socialist parties at the 1912 Basle Conference of The Second International, few of the formally anti-war socialist parties of Europe were able to resist falling into line behind their respective ruling classes at the outbreak of war in 1914. The ILP was one organisation that did resist. The political leadership of the ILP, along with the majority of its members, believed in a brotherhood of all workers and saw the war as a capitalist plot to make profit out of war and weaken the working classes.

In the early months of the war ILP members were frequently attacked and beaten up and many were imprisoned for their anti-war stand. Out of 1,191 trials of conscientious objectors in Britain, 805 were ILP members of whom 70 died in detention as a result of mistreatment.

As a political opponent of the war James Maxton was ordered to appear before the Barrhead Military Tribunal in March 1916. The tribunal offered him the opportunity to join the Royal Army Medical Corps, Maxton turned this offer down and before he had the opportunity to reappear before the tribunal Maxton was arrested and imprisoned for sedition. Following his release from prison in 1917 Maxton was ordered to reappear before the Barrhead Military Tribunal where once again he was offered the opportunity to engage himself in work of national importance. Once more Maxton refused to aid the war effort and was found work with a firm of barge builders who manufactured barges for neutral countries. Maxton remained with this firm for the duration of the war.