A life in the struggle: Bob Cox (1944-2014)

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Bob Cox was an organic intellectual who used his technical skills to aid the struggle for a better world. Jeff Jackson collects together the memories of Bob's friends, family and comrades.

“One must require from each one the duty which each one can perform. Accepted authority rests first of all on reason” — The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Bob Cox, who died on 25 November after a protracted fight with cancer, was a longstanding member of the Socialist Workers Party. Along with his many years of consistent activity as a revolutionary socialist in the workplace and community, he was a major contributor to Socialist Review’s web presence in the early days of the internet, creating a website indexing the magazine.

He was affectionately nicknamed “Little Prince” during the early 1980s for his outstanding ability to produce numerous high quality political leaflets, often at a moment’s notice, while holding down a demanding job in the power industry and bringing up a family of four with his partner Ros Gardner.

He became the epitome of Gramsci’s proletarian organic intellectual, developing over the years a deep understanding of socialist theory and history combined with consistent revolutionary self-activity in the fight for a better world.

Bob was born into a working class family in the East End of London during the last year of the Second World War. His mother worked as a domestic and his father was a shop steward in the gas industry. His family life was shaped by support for and involvement in the labour movement.

After an accident at work forced his father out of manual work his union fought and won compensation and the family moved to the edge of north London. Bob’s relationship with his father was tested as his father become a working class Telegraph-reading Tory.

Bob left school at 16 with few formal qualifications and quickly got a job at Kingston power station. He became a shop steward and, typical of many well-organised workers in the period of the post-war boom, he gained a reputation for being “Bolshie” towards management.

Perhaps the defining moment in Bob’s developing consciousness was the years 1972 to 1974. The two miners’ strikes of those years finally toppled the Tory government, and working class solidarity was crucial to their victory.

In particular, power station workers refusing to cross miners’ flying picket lines led to acute power shortages and the introduction of the three-day week, grinding industry across the country to a halt.
It was during this period that Bob began to read and then sell Socialist Worker. From this point on he was convinced of the ability of the working class not just to defend itself via trade union activity but to be able to create a political and economic order based on the needs of the many rather than the distortion and poverty produced by capitalism.

By now living in his brother’s flat in Belsize Park, north west London, Bob became a keen party activist. It was during this period that he met his future partner Ros, who was then in the Labour Party. Bob often claimed that Ros was the first person he recruited to the SWP — Ros would add, smiling affectionately, that she was his only recruit to the party.

Like many working class socialists Bob’s political development was fused with his fantastic technical ability — often amazing us not just with the sheer quantity of gadgets and devices he owned but with his tremendous dexterity in adapting them for use in the struggle.

Once we needed to locate the route of a National Front march and Bob produced a radio set that could listen in to police radios. A comrade was arrested while trying to get to the counter-march and the police found the radio, declaring that it was much better then the ones with which they were issued.

During the Great Miners’ Strike of 1984‑85 Bob worked at the Central Electricity Generating Board HQ central control room, where management would meet weekly to discuss coal stocks around the country. In the week before Christmas Bob adapted the banked computer screens in the room to constantly scroll across with the message “Victory to the miners”. While he was suspected of being the culprit no evidence was found, though he was swiftly relocated.

Their home, first in London, then in Bransgore, Hampshire, where he and Ros moved to in the early 1990s, always had the most up-to-date and sophisticated machinery available, from printing presses to computers, and all at the disposal of those engaged in the fight for a better world.

He was always patient with comrades and his tireless “backroom” work for the party won him the respect and affection of many of those he worked with over the years. Every year at the Marxism festival Bob would commit all of his time to producing recordings of meetings so others could access the hundreds of talks and debates.

Bob will be greatly missed by all of his family, friends and comrades in Southampton and around the world. Here at Socialist Review we will hold dear the memory of a dedicated and tireless fighter for socialism and a better, more humane world.