Joseph Burgess (1853-1934) and the Founding of the Independent Labour Party

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Joe Burgess was once described as the chief mover behind the foundation of the Independent Labour Party. While Keir Hardie and others worked behind the scenes to synchronise the efforts of aspiring Socialist organizations, Burgess placed the issue before a wider audience in the pages of his newspaper, the Workman’s Times. Burgess was a self-made man with minimal formal education. He was fortunate in that, at an early age, his mother instilled in him a love of literature which he cultivated for the rest of his life. That interest led him to gain early fame as a dialect poet and then into a career in journalism. Almost inadvertently he became involved with politics. He soon discovered politics to be his natural territory. As his party burgeoned Burgess became unhappy about the adherence of individuals whom he saw as careerists rather than genuine Socialists. He expressed his opinions frequently, publicly and, perhaps sometimes, indiscreetly. Few who attain the status reached by Joe Burgess have untroubled careers. During the First World War he disagreed vehemently with ILP policy and left the party. Eventually he was readmitted and he resumed his vigilant standpoint down to his death in 1934.


"Joseph Burgess (1853-1934) was one of the founder members of the Independent Labour Party which was formed in January 1893. Much more than this, it was he who, through his paper Workman's Times, was largely responsible for organising the inaugural conference at Bradford in January 1893 ... It was in the Workman's Times in April 1892 that he announced the need for a 'friendly and serious' conference of socialists and from that month onwards he produced the form to establish the ILP ... The author has done a sterling job in resurrecting the life and career of one of the founder members of the ILP. Burgess has long been a neglected figure but it should not be forgotten that he was a major contributor to that section of the early socialist movement ... " – (from the Commendatory Preface) Keith Laybourn, Professor of History, University of Huddersfield

"This is an interesting account of the life of a little-known writer and politician who played an important role in the early development of the Labour Party ... This book thus fills an important gap in labour history ... The author has added a valuable chapter to the "lives of the Left." – Michael E. Rose, School of History and Classics, The University of Manchester

" ... The author has written an account of his life [Joseph Burgess], both his journey of self-education, and his politics which illuminates the growth of Labour ... Burgess is a figure in the early labour movement that badly needed to be rescued from the ‘condescension of posterity’. The author has achieved that." –Alan Fowler, Principal Lecturer in Economic & Social History, Manchester Metropolitan University

Table of Contents

Preface by Keith Laybourn
1. Family background, a Victorian childhood, the textile trade
2. Early experiences, early influences – schooldays – child labour
3. A promising writer – dialect poetry – personal tragedy 1870-1881
4. Local journalist – reporter to newspaper owner 1881-1884
5. Wider horizons – the Cotton Factory Times 1885-1889
6. ‘Liberty, Charity and Conscience’ – Yorkshire Factory Times 1889-1891 7. A new political outlook – working with Socialists 1891-1892
8. Breaking from Liberalism – the Independent Labour Party 1893
9. Elections at Leicester – Socialist missionary – the ILP in Leeds and Glasgow 1895-1904
10. General election at Glasgow – the Liberals renege – contests at Montrose 1906-1910
11. A truce with the Party – John Burns, a biography – kudos at Bradford – the First World War Homeland or Empire? 1910-1915
12. The First World War causes a crisis 1915
13. Nationalist and Socialist – joins H.M. Hyndman – Burgess and Philip Snowden 1915-1924
14. Rejoining the Party – homilies on Party leaders 1926-1927
15. A Socialist without dogma – achieving the possible
16. Poetry, politics, economics – the legacy of Joe Burgess
Appendices 1, 2

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