James Maxton was a Scottish politician. Born in the burgh of Pollokshaws (now part of the city of Glasgow) in 1885, he was the son of two schoolteachers, the profession he would later enter himself. He is viewed as one of the leading figures of the Red Clydeside era.
Maxton had whilst studying at the University of Glasgow described his political loyalties as lying with the Conservatives. He later embraced the ideology of socialism and in 1904 he joined the Barrhead branch of the Independent Labour Party (ILP).
Maxton's move to socialism was heavily influenced by John Maclean, a fellow student at Glasgow University, who would also become a schoolteacher. Maclean was not alone in influencing Maxton; it was directly following a meeting in Paisley addressed by the socialist Philip Snowden that he decided to join the ILP.
Maxton in his later life claimed that the biggest influence in his decision to become a socialist was the grinding poverty experienced many of the children he taught.
Maxton, along with Maclean, was a vociferous opponent of World War I and he spent a year in prison for campaigning against the war. He and Ramsay MacDonald were responsible for moving the motion at the Labour Party's National Executive Committee which dictated that Labour members of the wartime coalition government resign from it in preparation for the 1918 General Election.
Maxton became the ILP MP for Glasgow Bridgeton at the 1922 General Election and led the ILP thereafter. He was initially keen that the ILP retained its affiliation with the Labour Party but later changed his mind and led the ILP out of any association with Labour.
Maxton died (still a sitting MP for Bridgeton) in 1946. After his death the ILP stagnated until it ceased to be a viable independent political party. Maxton was considered one of the greatest orators of his day both within and outwith the the House of Commons.
However, his forthright views often caused controversy, indeed his parliamentary privileges were withdrawn on one occasion when he called Winston Churchill "a murderer" following the government's decision to withdraw school milk. Churchill, whilst holding political opinions wholly inconsistent with those of Maxton, described him as 'the greatest parliamentarian of his day'.
Maxton heavily influenced his family's political opinions, with his mother and all his siblings joining the ILP. His nephew John Maxton was MP for Glasgow Cathcart from 1979 till 2001.
The British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown has confessed to having been fascinated by Maxton as a young man and has written a biography of him, simply entitled Maxton