Born in Peking, China in April 1904, Francis Claud Cockburn (pronounced COE-burn) was a British journalist and Soviet agent who edited and wrote a famous newsletter called The Week. Himself the son of a British diplomat, Cockburn fathered three journalists who have continued to spread his Communist values into the 21st Century: (a) His son Patrick since 1979 has been a Middle East correspondent for Britain’s Financial Times and the leftwing The Independent; (b) Andrew, who is also a writer and has produced a documentary on Iraq for the Public Broadcasting Service, lives in Washington, DC with radical journalist and filmmaker wife Leslie Cockburn; and (c) Alexander Cockburn writes books and articles, and since 1996 has co-edited CounterPunch, for which his brother Andrew is also a contributor.
After earning a degree from Oxford University, Claud Cockburn took a job as a journalist with the British newspaper The Times, working as a foreign correspondent in Germany and the United States before resigning in 1933 to establish The Week.
Cockburn also wrote for the Communist Party paper, the Daily Worker, under the pseudonym Frank Pitcairn. He was sent by Harry Pollitt, General Secretary of the British Communist Party, to Spain in 1936 to cover the civil war and to serve Stalin‘s interests. Cockburn worked closely with Mikhail Koltsov, the foreign editor of Pravda and, in Cockburn’s view, “the confidant and mouthpiece and direct agent of Stalin in Spain.” George Orwell in Chapter 11 of his 1938 book Homage to Catalonia identified Cockburn as slanting his reports to discredit non-Stalinist factions fighting against Franco, including the largely Trotskyite, anti-Stalinist P.O.U.M. (Partido Obrero de Unificacion Marxista) and its anarchist allies in the CNT (National Confederation of Workers) and elsewhere.
On May 11, 1937, a “Frank Pitcairn” (Claud Cockburn) story in the Daily Worker described the P.O.U.M as an “instrument” of Hitler’s and Mussolini’s secret agents and as “allies” of those just convicted in Stalin’s Moscow show trials [see Cockburn in Spain: Dispatches from the Spanish Civil War (edited by James Pettifer, 1986)]. By concocting and spreading such dishonest slanders, Cockburn knowingly served as a political accomplice to Stalin’s secret police in June 1937 as they arrested, tortured and murdered thousands of P.O.U.M., left-socialists and anarchists.
In 1947 Cockburn relocated to Ireland, where his contributions to various newspapers and journals included a weekly column he penned for The Irish Times. He wrote several novels, including The Horses, Ballantyne’s Folly, Jericho Road, and Beat the Devil (originally published under the pseudonym James Helvick). He also published several non-fiction books including Bestseller (an exploration of English popular fiction), Aspects of English History, The Devil’s Decade (his history of the 1930s), and Union Power.
In 1956 a volume of Cockburn’s memoirs was published under the title In Time of Trouble in the United Kingdom, and as A Discord of Trumpets in the U.S. Two years later Cockburn published Crossing the Line, and in 1961 he completed A View from the West.
Cockburn was married three times. His first wife was Hope Hale Davis, with whom he fathered the late Claudia Flanders. His second wife was Jean Ross, with whom he fathered the late detective novelist Sarah Caudwell Cockburn. And his third wife was Patricia Byron, with whom he fathered his aforementioned sons Alexander, Andrew, and Patrick. His granddaughters include “RadioNation” host Laura Flanders, BBC economics editor Stephanie Flanders, and actress Olivia Wilde.
To the end of his life, Cockburn remained a loyal partisan of the Communist cause. He died in 1981.