Leo Panitch

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Leo Panitch
This is a 2012 photo of Leo Panitch, professor of political economy at York University in Toronto, Canada.jpg
Leo Panitch in 2012
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 the U.S. Department of the 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 in the U.K. for best and most creative work in or about the Marxist tradition and in 2014, it won the Rik Davidson/SPE Book Prize for the best book in political economy by a Canadian.[6][7]

Panitch is the author of more than 100 scholarly articles and nine 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) in which he argues that capitalism is inherently unjust and undemocratic.[5][8]

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."[9] His Jewish father, Max Panitch, was born in the southern Ukraine town of Uscihtsa, but remained behind in Bucharest, Romania 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 Labour Zionist. As a sewer and cutter of fur coats (an 'aristocrat of the needle trade'), he was active in the Winnipeg labour movement and the Manitoba CCF and its successor, the NDP. Panitch's mother, Sarah, was an orphan from Rivne in the central Ukraine who had come to Winnipeg in 1921 at the age of 13 accompanied only by her older sister. Max and Sarah married in 1930. Panitch's older brother Hersh was born in 1934.[10][4]

Panitch attended a secular Jewish school named after the radical Polish-Yiddish 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."[10]

University education[edit]

Panitch received a B.A. (Hons.) in economics and political science 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.[10] 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."[8]

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 Labour Party and the Trade Unions." It was published as Social Democracy and Industrial Militancy in 1976 by Cambridge University Press.[11][10][4][12]

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]

After his text in Canadian political science, The Canadian State: Political Economy and Political Power, was published in 1977 by the University of Toronto Press, Panitch became the General Co-editor of its State and Economic Life book series in 1979 serving in that role until 1995. In 1979, he was also co-founder of the Canadian academic journal, Studies in Political Economy (on whose advisory board he still sits).[13][4]

He was also politically active in the two main organizational successors to The Waffle after it was expelled from the NDP in the early 1970s, the Movement for an Independent Socialist Canada and the Ottawa Committee for Labour Action. In the 1980s, he was a regular columnist ("Panitch on Politics") for the independent socialist magazine, Canadian Dimension, and has remained active in socialist political circles, in particular the Socialist Project in Toronto (www.socialistproject.ca). He was inducted as an Academic Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1995, and has also been a member of the Marxist Institute and the Committee on Socialist Studies as well as the Canadian Political Science Association.[14][15][4]

In addition to the 33 annual volumes of the Socialist Register he has edited since 1985, he has been the author of over 100 scholarly articles and has published nine books, including From Consent to Coercion: The Assault on Trade Union Freedoms; A Different Kind of State: Popular Power and Democratic Administration; The End of Parliamentary Socialism: From New Left to New Labour; American Empire and the Political Economy of Global Finance; and In and Out of Crisis: The Global Financial Meltdown and Left Alternatives.[4][11]

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, he argued, has been more debilitating than its lack of capacity in the global economic crisis. He outlined immediate reforms that could lead to fundamental changes in class relations including nationalizing banks and turning them into public utilities; demanding universal public pensions to replace private, employer-sponsored ones; and free health care, education and public transit as a way of escaping capitalism's drive to turn public needs into marketable, profit-generating commodities.[16]

Transcending pessimism[edit]

With the apparent victory of global capitalism and the neoliberal state in the 21st century, Panitch notes the persistence of what he calls a "debilitating pessimism" about the possibility of realizing a better world. He writes that while some on the left, such as Tony Blair, chose what they called the politics of the third way -- an attempt to reconcile socialist goals with a capitalist economy -- others continue to feel powerless and defeated, especially in light of communism's failure to develop a democratic alternative to global capitalism.[8]

Panitch argues that to avoid the politics of the third way and to transcend pessimism, socialists need to revive the utopian ideal in which human beings are free to realize their potential by building their capacities for freedom and equality through social co-operation. He writes that "capitalism is unjust and undemocratic not because of this or that imperfection in relation to equality and freedom, but because at its core it involves the control by some of the use and development of the potential of others, and because the competition it fosters frustrates humanity's capacity for liberation through the social."[8]

He recommends that socialists work towards a better world by developing alternative models to enhance human capacities for co-operation and democracy. These include communications systems that are not driven by advertising and consumption; organizations that are non-hierarchical beginning with socialist parties, unions, movements, NGOs and universities; and alternative, communal ways of living that could extend the bonds of the nuclear family to "a broader supportive community."[8]

Panitch argues a rekindling of the socialist imagination requires the recognition of the basic utopian principle that "you simply cannot have private property in the means of production, finance, exchange and communication and at the same time have an unalienated, socially just and democratic social order; and that you cannot begin to approach a utopia on the basis of the acquisitive and competitive drive."[8]

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 g h 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. ^ "Book Prize in Political Economy". Studies in Political Economy. Retrieved March 20, 2015. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f Panitch, Leo. (2008) Renewing Socialism: Transforming Democracy, Strategy and Imagination. Pontypool, Wales: The Merlin Press Ltd.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ 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."
  11. ^ a b "Inventory of the Leo Panitch fonds". York University. Retrieved 23 January 2015. 
  12. ^ "Leo Panitch (Bio and Stories)". Parkland Institute. Retrieved March 24, 2015. 
  13. ^ "The Canadian State: political economy and political power". Google Books. Retrieved March 24, 2015. 
  14. ^ "Leo Panitch". Fernwood Publishing. Retrieved March 24, 2015. 
  15. ^ "Canadian Dimension, about us". Canadian Dimension. Retrieved March 24, 2015. 
  16. ^ Leo Panitch. "Web Transcript". socialistproject.ca. Retrieved March 24, 2015. 

External links[edit]