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


James Maxton meeting with John Maclean, 1914-1916

image from Red Clydeside collection

James Maxton's early forays into the world of politics would were to give little indication as to his future political allegiances. Indeed, Maxton's membership of the Conservative and Unionist Association, whilst still a student at the University of Glasgow, showed him to be little more than a conventional product of his lower middle-class background.

In 1902 Maxton is known to have cast his first political vote for George Wyndham, the Conservative candidate for the Lord-rectorship of Glasgow University. However, in 1903 Maxton began attending open air meetings of John Maclean in Paisley and Glasgow and was won over to socialism. Maxton later admitted that it was Maclean, above all others, who influenced his early political thinking and who was responsible for his conversion to socialism.

Whilst both men were working as teachers at Pollokshaws Academy in 1904/05, they devised and ran an evening class entitled 'Citizenship and the social classes', this class was soon ended by the educational authorities when it became known that the set text used for the class was 'Das capital' by Marx. Although Maxton briefly assisted with Maclean's economic classes at Glasgow Central Hall in 1915, the two men had little contact after this. Maxton's adoption of the constitutional road to socialism, he had joined the ILP in 1904, left him at odds with Maclean who believed that only revolutionary action could secure a worker's state.

Source: Maxton Papers, Glasgow City Archives