Sir Geoffrey Cox
Thursday 10 April 2008
One of the most searching examples of Geoffrey Cox's integrity as a human being,
writes Paul Trewhela [further to the obituary by Leonard Miall, 4 April], came in the early 1930s when Cox measured himself against one of the most complex issues of the day, differentiating his own perceptions from those of a close colleague at Oxford University, the young Bram Fischer, later to become chairman of the illegal South African Communist Party and leading counsel in the defence of Nelson Mandela and his colleagues in the Rivonia Trial of 1963-64.
In the summer of 1932, Cox, Fischer and three student colleagues made a four-week journey to the Soviet Union, organised at a cost of £30 by the Soviet travel agency Intourist. The journey, which has been described by Fischer's biographer, Stephen Clingman, who had access to correspondence from Cox, took them along a moral fault-line in western journalism, which separated the young Malcolm Muggeridge (reporting on his experiences in the Ukraine less than a year later in the Manchester Guardian) from Walter Duranty, then Moscow correspondent of the New York Times and "Stalin's apologist".
Cox commented in correspondence more than half a century later that "he and his friends had not understood much of what they saw during that visit. For in the summer of 1932 Stalin's programme of forced collectivisation was at it height." Fischer noted in letters to his family that food was "meagre and unappetising, even for tourists. On the steamer down the Volga masses of people (chiefly old men, women and children) fought to get on board, carrying huge bundles . . . But the Intourist guides, offering the official account, said that this was merely part of a shift of population following on the Five Year Plan. That too was how they accounted for the crowds (in reality fleeing from starvation and persecution) who filled every inch of the railway stations in the Ukraine."
Clingman reports that "Geoffrey Cox said that it was only when he returned to England and read Malcolm Muggeridge's description of the absolute starvation in the wake of an 'organised famine' that he began to comprehend what it all meant". Fischer, however, wrote to his father in South Africa that "there could be no doubt of the advantages of Communism".
In the summer of 1936, writes Tony Heath, Geoffrey Cox filed graphic reports of the onset of the Spanish civil war by telephone from the Telefónica skyscraper in Madrid. There were only two lines to the outside world, shared by Cox and his Reuters colleague Henry Buckley.
Cox's reports led the News Chronicle for days on end. On 11 November 1936 his paper led with a piece headlined "Franco Is Still Not In Madrid". He reported the entry of the International Brigade, describing the force deploying in the capital as "the most truly international army since the Crusades". It is to Cox and those like him to whom we look for the best in journalism.
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