Leo Panitch

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Leo Panitch
Canadian political economy professor Leo Panitch.jpg
Leo Panitch in 2015
Born (1945-05-03) May 3, 1945 (age 69)
Winnipeg, Manitoba
Occupation Professor of Political Economy, York University, Toronto
Nationality Canadian
Education PhD London School of Economics
Genres Essays, books, newspaper commentary
Subjects British and Canadian labour history, global capitalism, socialism
Notable work Co-author: The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire (2012)

Leo Victor Panitch, FRSC (born May 3, 1945, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada) is a Distinguished Research Professor of Political Science and Canada Research Chair in Comparative Political Economy at York University. Since 1985, he has served as co-editor of the Socialist Register, which describes itself as "an annual survey of movements and ideas from the standpoint of the independent new left." Panitch himself sees the Register as playing a major role in developing Marxism's conceptual framework for advancing a democratic, co-operative and egalitarian, socialist alternative to capitalist competition, exploitation and insecurity.[1][2][3][4]

Since his appointment as a Canada Research Chair in 2002, Panitch has focused his academic research and writing on the spread of global capitalism. He argues that this process of globalization is being led by the American state through agencies such as the United States Department of Treasury and the Federal Reserve. Panitch sees globalization as a form of imperialism, but argues that the American Empire is an "informal" one in which the US sets rules for trade and investment in partnership with other sovereign, but less powerful, capitalist states. His latest book, The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire (2012), written with his close friend and university colleague Sam Gindin, traces the development of American-led globalization over more than a century.[1][5] In 2013, the book was awarded the Deutscher Memorial Prize for best and most creative work in or about the Marxist tradition.[6]

Panitch is the author of many other books including, Working-Class Politics in Crisis: Essays on Labour and the State (1986), The End of Parliamentary Socialism: from New Left to New Labour (2001) and Renewing Socialism: Transforming Democracy, Strategy and Imagination (2008).[5]

Early life[edit]

Leo Victor Panitch grew up in Winnipeg's North End, a working-class neighbourhood that, as he noted decades later, produced "many people of a radical left political disposition."[7] His Jewish father, Max Panitch, was born in the southern Ukraine, but remained behind in Bucharest with a fervently religious uncle, when his family emigrated to Winnipeg in 1912. He was reunited with them in 1922 and by that time was well on his way to becoming a socialist and a Zionist. Panitch's mother, Sarah, came from what is now the Czech Republic around the same time.[8][4]

Panitch attended a secular Jewish school named after the radical Polish writer I.L. Peretz. During a conference on Jewish radicalism in Winnipeg held in 2001, Panitch said the school grew out of the socialist fraternal mutual aid societies that Jewish immigrants had established. These included the Arbeiter Ring also known as the Workmen's Circle. Panitch told the conference that its first declaration of principles, adopted in 1901, began with the words: "The spirit of the Workmen’s Circle is freedom of thought and endeavour towards solidarity of the workers, faithfulness to the interests of its class in the struggle against oppression and exploitation." He added: "As such institutions multiplied and spread through the Jewish community, for a great many people and for a considerable number of decades to come, to be Jewish, especially in a city like Winnipeg, came to mean to be radical."[8]

University education[edit]

Panitch received a B.A. (Hons.) in 1967 from the University of Manitoba. During his undergraduate years, he realized how much the writings of Karl Marx and the evolution of historical materialism helped him understand capitalism and its relation to the state.[5] One of his teachers, Cy Gonick, introduced him to ideas about industrial democracy in which workers would control and manage their own workplaces.[8] The 1960s generation of the New Left, Panitch writes, was impelled towards socialism by "our experience with and observation of the inequalities, irrationalities, intolerances and hierarchies of our own capitalist societies."[9]

At age 22, Panitch left Winnipeg and moved to London, England where he earned his M.Sc. (Hons.) in 1968 at the London School of Economics and his PhD from LSE in 1974. His doctoral thesis was entitled "The UK Labour Party and the Trade Unions."[10][8][4]

Academic work, writing and activism[edit]

Panitch taught at Carleton University between 1972 and 1984, and has been a Professor of Political Science at York University since 1984, serving as the Chair of the Department of Political Science from 1988-1994.[4] In 2002, he was appointed Canada Research Chair in Comparative Political Economy at York. The appointment was renewed in 2009. His research involves examining the role of the American state and multinational corporations in the evolution of global capitalism.[1]

He was the General Co-editor of the State and Economic Life series, University of Toronto Press from 1979 to 1995, and is the co-founder and a board member of the Studies in Political Economy journal. He is also the author of numerous articles and books dealing with political science including The End of Parliamentary Socialism: from new left to new Labour. He has been a member of the Movement for an Independent Socialist Canada (1973-1975), the Canadian Political Science Association, the Committee on Socialist Studies, the Marxist Institute, and the Royal Society of Canada.[10][4]


Panitch is a prominent exponent of Marxism who sees his own work as theoretically innovative within that tradition, because he maintains that the dominance of the United States in the early years of the twenty-first century can't be understood using theories of imperialism that are themselves a century old.

He has argued, for example, that the concept of imperialism developed for the Victorian era over-emphasized the matter of the export of capital. Yet if one uses that as a yardstick today (he reasons) Great Britain is more a victim of U.S. imperialism than Kenya—since American investors have much more at stake in the former than in the latter. The advanced industrial nations, in other words, are interpenetrating—exporting capital to one another, not to the 'South,' and this requires a great deal of revision in Marxist-Leninist models.

Panitch has also argued that Marx was wrong to contend that the rise of trade unions would develop a socialistic class-consciousness in the working class. The association of workers for the purpose of collective bargaining has proven quite compatible with capitalism—since such bargaining concerns the terms of wage labor, not the legitimacy of wage labor. He argues that Marxist political parties must abandon the assumption that there is anything inherently revolutionary about any class, so that they can get to work creating a self-conscious revolutionary class of wage earners, "articulating the articulation."

At the "Globalization, Justice and Democracy" symposium (Delhi University, November 11, 2010), Panitch, drawing on his book In and Out of Crisis (with Greg Albo and Sam Gindin), addressed a lack of ambition on the left which has been more debilitating than its lack of capacity in the current global economic crisis, and outlines the kinds of immediate demands for radical reforms as well as longer term socialist strategic orientation that is needed today.

Personal life[edit]

Leo Panitch married Melanie Risë, daughter of David and Sylvia Pollock in 1967. They have two children. Panitch speaks three languages, English, French and Yiddish. He lives in Toronto.[4]


  1. ^ a b c "Canada Research Chairs: Leo V. Panitch". Government of Canada. Retrieved 23 January 2015. 
  2. ^ "Socialist Register". Socialist Register. Retrieved 10 February 2015. 
  3. ^ Panitch, Leo. "Registering Class and Politics: fifty years of the Socialist Register" in Socialist Register 2014: Registering Class, edited by Leo Panitch, Greg Albo and Vivek Chibber. London: The Merlin Press, 2013.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Canadian Who's Who. Canada's Information Resource Centre Database, Grey House Publishing.
  5. ^ a b c Panitch, Leo and Gindin, Sam (2012). The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire. London: Verso.
  6. ^ "Past Recipients". Deutscher Memorial Prize. Retrieved 6 February 2015. 
  7. ^ Panitch, Leo. Globe and Mail, "Why was Winnipeg a hotbed for radicals? The socialist culture of Jewish, working-class immigrants in the city's North End came to define the whole community. PROFILES IN DISSENT: The Shaping of Radical Thought in the West," June 28, 1997, p.D12.
  8. ^ a b c d Jewish radicalism in Winnipeg, 1905-1960: proceedings of a conference organized by the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada, Sept. 8-10, 2001, keynote address by Leo Panitch, "Back to the Future: Contextualizing the Legacy."
  9. ^ Panitch, Leo. (2008) Renewing Socialism: Transforming Democracy, Strategy and Imagination. Pontypool, Wales: The Merlin Press Ltd.
  10. ^ a b "Inventory of the Leo Panitch fonds". York University. Retrieved 23 January 2015. 

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