Perry Anderson on Alexander Cockburn, in New Left Review (image from Wikimedia Commons):
No other person I have ever known was so deeply and productively marked by family background. The relationship of sons to fathers is rarely without conflict; and where there is none, the effect is more typically disabling than empowering, or neutral. For a father to be object at once of adoration, emulation and emancipation would seem a contradiction in terms. Yet so it was in the case of Alexander. Throughout his life Claud was a model for him—he once said he thought of him every day—and his career would follow an arc often uncannily like that of Claud’s. Yet far from being a psychological shackle, reducing him to imitation, it was as if the intensity of the bond was the condition of an individuality out of the ordinary. The paradox, of course, says much about the parent who made it possible.
Claud Cockburn recounted his own life—up to the age of fifty-seven—in an artful and entertaining trilogy that records a remarkable career. Born in Peking in 1904, where his father was secretary to the British Legation during the Boxer Uprising, as a youth he spent much of his time, during breaks from education in England, in Budapest, while his father sorted out Allied war claims on Hungary. After Oxford, Claud first worked free-lance for the Times in Berlin, before becoming a correspondent for the paper in New York. Arriving in the US on the eve of the crash of 1929, he resigned his post in early 1932, returning first to Central Europe again, and then to England. There he created The Week, a confidential newsletter, exposing intrigues and scandals in high places, read and feared not only in the clubs and country houses of the British oligarchy, but their counterparts across the Continent. In 1934 he started writing for the Daily Worker, while contributing concurrently to Time and Fortune. After 1936 he reported on Spain for the Worker, and England for Pravda. During the War, he was diplomatic correspondent for the Worker, but in 1947 quit for a life in Ireland with his wife Patricia. There he wrote his three volumes of memoirs; five novels, one of which was made into a film by John Huston; contributed to Punch; and became an inspiration and collaborator of Private Eye. He died in 1981.
For the richness of this trajectory and the personality behind it, there is no substitute for Claud’s own reminiscences. But retrospectively, certain strands of particular moment for Alexander can be indicated.