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Passings: Leo Panitch, Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus

Passings: Leo Panitch, Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus

We are devastated by the passing of Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus Leo Panitch and send our most heartfelt condolences to his family. Leo was the quintessential public intellectual. Informed by Marxist thought, he was a stalwart of social justice who helped us grasp the causes of oppression while offering a socialist vision of a different kind of world, one where people come before profit. Even in these difficult times, Leo saw “the hopeful side." Leo was also our colleague, the person with whom we shared the sixth floor of the South Ross Building at York University.

He holds a special place in the hearts and minds of those of us who studied and worked closely with him. And we know that we will honour Leo's memory by continuing the struggle for justice in our backyards, neighbourhoods, cities, countries, and indeed globally. In Leo, we recognize that what we do as scholars matters. It matters when scholarly research is aimed at confronting injustices and pursuing a vision for a better world. It matters when the university and social justice communities collaborate and come together. It matters when the academy harnesses its resources for the many, not the few, for those oppressed, not the privileged. This site provides space for members of the wider York University community to post a tribute in honour of Leo, as well as for selected tributes from further afield, and for announcements of events in honour of or dedicated to Leo.

Rest in power, Leo. You will be deeply missed and never forgotten.
- Karen Murray, Chair, Department of Politics

Events in Honour of or Dedicated to Leo Panitch

February 10, 2021 - The first event is for a book launch to be held in honour of Leo. Socialist Register 21: Beyond Digital Capitalism (Merlin Press, 2020) will be launched "with presentations by Greg Albo, Sam Gindin, Bryan Palmer, Joan Sangster, Stephen Maher, Pat Armstrong, Hugh Armstrong, Tanner Mirrlees, and Derek Hrynyshyn."

February 11, 2021 - The second event is a seminar series launch organized by John Clarke (Packer Visitor in Social Justice, York University), dedicated to the memory of Leo Panitch, and sponsored jointly by the Department of Politics and the Global Labour Research Centre.

Social Justice Movements in the Changed Reality of the Pandemic and Beyond

We dedicate this webinar series to the memory of Professor Leo Panitch, whose passing in December 2020 is a loss that “will be felt deeply across York University and around the world”. Leo initiated the Packer Visitor in Social Justice in York’s Department of Politics, and was among a small group of people who supported the creation of the Global Labour Research Centre.

Join us for a series of five panel discussions organized by Packer Visitor in Social Justice John Clarke, co-hosted by the Global Labour Research Centre (GLRC) and the Department of Politics at York University.

The presenters, from both a Canadian and an international perspective, will provide an analysis of the crisis the pandemic has unleashed. They will also discuss how movements for social justice must respond in the face of huge challenges and a greatly changed reality.

Struggles for Racial Justice

Date: Monday, February 22, 2021
Time: 11:00 am – 12:30 pm ET

Facing the Threat of Mass Evictions

Date: Wednesday, March 3, 2021
Time: 11:00 am – 12:30 pm ET

Workers’ Struggles

Date: Thursday, March 11, 2021
Time: 11:00 am – 12:30 pm ET

Basic Income: Does it Take Us Closer to a Just Society?

Date: Wednesday, March 17, 2021
Time: 11:00 am – 12:30 pm ET

John Clarke spent 28 years working as an organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) and was involved in an ongoing effort to challenge austerity, poverty and homelessness. He is presently the Packer Visitor in Social Justice at York University.

Leo Panitch Scholarship at Merchants Corner

Leo Panitch’s family and many friends created this fund to remember Leo, and to provide scholarships for University of Winnipeg students in the Urban and Inner-City Studies program in Winnipeg’s historic North End, based in Merchants Corner.


Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus Leo Panitch, who passed away on December 19, 2020, was a global public intellectual. As Colin Leys and Sam Gindin point out: "Very few intellectuals on the left have had the intellectual impact on progressive thinkers and activists that Leo has had." Not surprisingly then, as Raju Das notes, Leo "contributed to the national and global reputation of York University as a progressive institution." The many tributes published from around the world upon his passing testify to Leo's worldwide influence and impact. A selection of these tributes is included below. For a special tribute to Leo as a teacher that took place on October 6, 2017, please see the Building Capacities: Education for Democracy panel with Stephanie Ross, Judy Hellman, Steve Hellman, Amy Bartholomew and Avishai Ehrlich.

Please note that Brill publisher has made all of its Historical Materialism journal articles written by Leo Panitch open access until March 1st.

From York University

On Leo’s passing -This kind of heart-breaking news swirls around all of those of us in our seventies and eighties these days, not least because of COVID - which was a part of Leo’s tragic demise - but because of the unpredictable vagaries of the human “end-game” itself. Still, with Leo, the grim reality of what has just occurred is especially difficult to swallow, this because he was, first and foremost, such an irrepressible and passionate comrade in any struggle against the world’s inequities. Not that he did not defend his own corner in an argument vigorously, something I learned from his spirited engagement in debating those real differences of opinion that sometimes arose between us. Nonetheless, with me as with many others, he would always choose to debate the arguments themselves rather then to attack the persons of the comrades who raised questions and proposed alternative explanations. For he was a democrat as well a socialist and such a blend is an essential, if also an eminently admirable, one. Of course, as several commentaries have emphasized, it is possible that Leo wasn’t always as confident as he sometimes had been in the past that “time was on our side” and that “a vitoria é certa.” In fact, I also fear that that is becoming a bit true for myself as well. Yet Leo knew that there was no good purpose in not betting on human beings – on their promise and on the possibility of a humane political, economic and cultural purpose winning the day in the long run – and that, in any case, there was not an alternative choice that many of us could easily make in good conscience. So thanks Leo for your undying example; it is one that makes it more important than ever for us – your comrades - to keep on carrying on.
- Professor Emeritus John Saul, Department of Politics

Leo Panitch passed away! We have lost a friend, a teacher and a comrade. Words are missing to express the grief and loss of a giant, giant in his mind, his heart and soul. Time rarely replaces such exceptional human beings, if at all! It was too soon, my friend, way too soon! Pain and suffering, but more wonderful memories remain. Farewell Leo, may your soul rest in peace!
- Associate Professor Sabah Alnasseri, Department of Politics

A giant has left this earth with an enormous legacy. My condolences to the colleagues in the department.
- Professor Narda Razack, Department of Social Work

Leo was an enormously vibrant and valuable colleague. I remember how pleased we all were when we were able to persuade him to come to York from Carleton and how much we relished the glory reflected on the department by his accomplishments. More valued than that however was the way in which he compelled us to think and re-think by the quality of his arguments, as well as the admiration he engendered by his generous commitment to the department and its students. We always claimed to be about social justice, but Leo forced us to be more practical about our promise and to enliven our theory with empirical evidence. He was a presence larger than life and he will be much missed.
- University Professor Emeritus, Robert Drummond, Department of Politics

Leo Panitch's sudden death is a big loss to the Left in Canada and beyond. His work as a public intellectual contributed to the national and global reputation of York University as a progressive institution. An important quality of Leo was that he was kind and generous towards people, including those who had theoretical/political differences with him.
- Professor Raju Das, Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change

A life-force so committed to struggles against inequality has left us. But his life’s work survives and it is now up to us to sustain and transfigure it in new ways.
- Professor Ilan Kapoor, Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change

I was so sad to learn about my friend Leo Panitch’s departure from this earthly realm. There will be countless tributes pouring in from his friends and admirers on the left. However, I wanted to write a tribute to him from someone just a little outside of that group. I got to know Leo when I joined the Political Science Department at York in 1985. I was the coordinator of the department’s public policy and administration program from 1989 to 1991, and so when Leo became the Chair, I got to know him quite well. In 1992 Leo asked me to become the Undergraduate Program Director in the department, and for a couple of years we worked closely together, meeting every week to make plans and consolidate improvements. Both of us were student-centered, and both of us were reformers, trying to make the departments’ course offerings even better, and inspiring our students to become future leaders. But together we made the necessary changes at a breakneck speed, which led to the printing of a T-shirt, “I survived the Panitch years.” We became the only political science department in Canada, if I remember correctly, that increased enrolments during a challenging time. Leo and I were both passionate about the basic principles of democracy – mutual respect, equality, free and fair elections, human rights and ethics. I learned a great deal from Leo about labour rights, and he helped to advance my research. We sometimes disagreed about the best strategy for bringing about the reforms that were clearly needed – whether in the department or Canada or the world – but I don’t think I’ve ever met a colleague so open to fully considering alternate points of view. Leo practiced what he preached. He was respectful, compassionate, insightful, a good listener, and a forceful advocate. Progressives in Canada need to emulate his character to make progress. In 1990, my wife and I applied to adopt a child, and I needed a reference from my workplace. I asked Leo, and he agreed. He wrote a forceful reference that speeded along in our first adoption at the end of 1992. We had a service at our church of thanksgiving for the gift of a child, which was attended by Leo and his wife Melanie. There were tears all around. Leo, my friend, you will be missed. But your impact will endure.
- University Professor Emeritus, Ian Greene, School of Public Policy and Administration.

Leo Panitch: “The point of being a Marxist today, is to recover the spirit of the revolution.” The voice of Leo will be missed. For what he said. And for how strong and warm it was. His voice was heard one more time last night at CBC's "As It Happens", starting at minute 27:30, where they played an interview with him from 1982 and summarized his life’s work "urging the Left to replace social democracy with what he called a democratic socialism rooted in worker’s rights" (source: Thank you, Leo!
- Professor Ute Lehrer, Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change

Leo was big; he had a big voice; he had a big mind. His thirst for knowledge that could be applied to serve causes to create a better world, a socialist world, was unquenchable. He was one of the few political scientists I ever met who wanted to understand how law served capitalism and what the limits and possibilities of its use in furthering progress could be. His curiosity was inspiring. When we had differences (and we had quite a few), he stated his views with respect for the counter-view. He shared his knowledge generously. He was not just a natural intellectual; he was, in every respect (as his rich list of political involvements shows) a public intellectual. And he was a joy to be with: eating, drinking, laughing, all the good things in life, were made better by sharing them with him. He was a mensch -- as he might have said. He will be missed. I will miss him.
- Professor Emeritus and Senior Scholar Harry Glasbeek, Osgoode Hall Law School

I was surprised and saddened to hear of Leo's passing. His passion and commitment to moving beyond capitalist ways of organizing society was something I always took for granted would be there - in all of the myriad forms in which his presence was felt. I knew him for a long time; first as a graduate student when he was my doctoral thesis supervisor and then as a colleague in the department of politics. I must say he was the single most important influence in the evolution of my thought and analysis of the capitalist state and of politics more generally. Sometimes it was terrifying to experience the force of his objections to what I was doing, but it never failed to motivate me to move in directions I had not previously considered. Although I never had a close relationship with Leo, he had a profound impact on my academic life and his absence will be felt deeply.
- Professor Emeritus Bruce Smardon, Department of Politics

Leo Panitch - teacher, supervisor, friend, and comrade. The epitome of a socialist intellectual, stolen from us by the pandemic. This world won't ever be the same without you, Leo.
- PhD Candidate, Kyle Bailey, Department of Politics.

As we collectively reflect on the sudden passing of Professor Leo Panitch, even those of us who knew him well can’t help but be struck by the outpouring of public testimonies attesting to the depth and reach of his work as an activist intellectual. Among his contributions, for many years Leo helped to build and sustain a space for the study of work and labour at York University. It was nearly a decade ago that we began a collaborative effort – with Leo deeply involved – to develop a proposal for what would become York’s Global Labour Research Centre (GLRC). As we envisioned a research centre that would have a global focus, bridge academic and activist communities, and focus on equity issues in and at work, Leo gave inspiration and clarity to our project. Leo’s institutional knowledge, tenacity of character, and international reputation and connections were key to gaining institutional traction for our proposal. Once the GLRC was launched, his steadfast support was essential in sustaining its work. He did this in ways that pushed others onto the stage, always using his influence and reach to create opportunities for new generations of scholars. In addition to helping us navigate the many obstacles of building a research centre in a challenging university climate, Leo’s scholarship gave inspiration to the intellectual orientation of the Centre itself and to the many faculty members and graduate students who would ultimately affiliate with the Centre and participate in its activities. His groundbreaking writings on trade unions and the state, working-class politics, and global capitalism are touchstones in the study of work and labour in Canada and internationally. His volumes Working Class Politics in Crisis and From Consent to Coercion: The Assault on Trade Union Freedoms, written with Donald Swartz, remain foundational texts in the field of Work and Labour Studies. Essays in the annual Socialist Register regularly offered deep and critical insight into the dynamics of working-class organizing around the world. His work with labour movement activists at home and abroad was the epitome of a publicly engaged academic dedicated to social justice. All this was done with a sense of humour and a commitment to the long haul in the struggle for a just world. Perhaps over and above it all, Leo’s generous spirit, always both supportive and productively critical, was a constant source of energy for those of us trying to build a better world both within and beyond the university. His friendship meant more than we can truly say. We extend our heartfelt condolences to Leo's family, close friends, and loved ones and we look forward to celebrating his legacy and continuing the work that he inspired.
- Global Labour Research Centre Founding Committee Members: Distinguished Research Professor Pat Armstrong, Department of Sociology; Associate Professor Stephanie Ross, School of Labour Studies (McMaster University); Professor Mark Thomas, Department of Sociology; Professor Leah Vosko, Department of Politics.

Professor Panitch's progressive academic tradition at York, in Canada, and internationally is well known. He will be sadly missed at York. My condolences to his colleagues in the department.
- Associate Professor and Chair, Merle A. Jacobs, Department of Equity Studies

The loss of Leo Panitch is a loss for so many of us. His passionate commitment to collective analysis and strategy and his curiosity about the potential for deep, radical change was so rare and so appealing. His warmth and support to students and colleagues will be deeply missed. I am sure his family and close friends must be reeling. I wish them strength and care at this impossible time.
- Associate Professor and Chair, Lesley Wood, Department of Sociology

Thank you for this initiative to honour Leo Panitch who was not only a McLaughlin College Fellow but a great supporter of our College. He was kind enough to accept an invitation to give a Lunch Time Talk at the College a couple years ago that was held in our Senior Common Room that was absolutely jam packed. I don't think we have had such a turnout for any other Lunch Time Talk speaker and certainly not since I have served as College Head. What was most evident to me was the wide range of people who attended: faculty members, graduate and undergraduate students, staff, and other Fellows of our College. And, of course, he gave simply a brilliant address. And, I mean brilliant in terms of not only the quality of his analysis but also the depth and range of his knowledge on the subject and all with such facility and not a single note or PowerPoint deck. A true university seminar where he sat in a single seated couch at the head of our Senior Common Room. He handled all the questions posed with the same degree of seriousness and consideration whether they were asked by a Full Professor or a first-year student. I was truly shocked to hear of his passing. He was not only a gifted scholar and a passionate leader for the cause of social justice, but he was a powerful and indomitable voice who was never inhibited to speak the truth to those in positions of institutional authority and power in the advancement of the public good. He will be sorely missed but has set the standard for us to follow. May he rest in peace and may his memory be a blessing.
- Associate Professor and Head of McLaughlin College, James C. Simeon.

I want to take a moment to thank Leo for always being supportive and encouraging in all of my interactions with him. Even though I was an M.A student at York University way back in 2010, Leo agreed to speak as a panelist for my book launch this past summer. It was a great honour to have Leo's support as a young scholar. It saddens me that I won't be able to talk with Leo again. I'd also like to express my heartfelt condolences to Leo's family, friends, and all of the people who were inspired by his unyielding commitment to changing the world for the better.
- Graduate of the Politcal Science Program (Master of Arts), Dr. Igor Shoikhedbrod

I read many a book of Professor Panitch in my formative years at York. He was a challenging and articulate spokesperson of the left. Our democracy is diminished by the lack of his presence in the discourse of our Canadian politics.
- Former York University Student and External Fellow of McLaughlin College, Tony Genco

As York came awash in identity politics Leo remained a beacon of strength in socialist Marxist thinking for the creation of a better world. At the personal level, besides his outstanding intellectual brilliance and achievements, I most appreciated his generosity in time and effort when asked for support. For this, he has a special place in my heart.
- Associate Professor Emerita Brigitte Kitchen, Department of Social Work

My first encounter with Leo was by email. He was asking for financial support for a student in need. This request has stayed with me, as it demonstrated a commitment to students in a fulsome and wholistic manner. As far as I was concerned, he set a standard that I have always tried to live up to as a colleague and faculty member. Leo helped with my last edited collection, responding almost immediately when I reached out to him. I really appreciated his assistance, and I really valued him as a colleague. He is missed. Leo was always a decent and kind man to me. For me, it wasn't just his professionalism, but his humanity that made a difference in the department.
- Professor Jacqueline Krikorian, Department of Politics and Department of Social Science

What will we miss about Leo? The academic world will miss his illuminating scholarship. Many will miss the way in which his scholarship and his activism fueled each other. Many of his students will retain fond memories of his teaching, especially how he led and pushed them to deeper levels of thinking. They will regret that future students will benefit only indirectly. At York – and in broader democratic socialist circles – colleagues will miss his leadership. To use a baseball metaphor, I think of Leo as a five-tool player. He excelled at every aspect of the academic enterprise. For me personally, he encouraged my somewhat unorthodox scholarship, made sure that I continued to be engaged in the Political Science Department during my involvement in Communication Studies, Environmental Studies (my passion since 1986), and Sport York during the entire period of his chairmanship. Leo consulted me, asked me to take on important tasks, and made me feel that I was an important part of the departmental community. I am sure most of our colleagues would say the same. Leadership came naturally to Leo because he cared about the objectives and the people.
- University Professor Emeritus, Fred Fletcher Department of Politics

Leo Panitch was not a traditional, bookish intellectual but was what Antonio Gramsci would have called an organic intellectual. He was a committed person of action, a man of his times, a strategic thinker with a clear and compelling vision to promote the interests and development of workers in a socialist project of intellectual and political renewal.

I knew Leo Panitch long before I ever met him – as a student and a junior professor I read Socialist Register, and absorbed its illumination and radical insights about the questions of our time. The Register was regarded by many of my professors, student colleagues, friends and associates as one of the globally leading institutions and emblems of the tolerant post-Stalinist left. I’m sure everyone appreciates his central role as an editor, widening its audience and further realizing its political and intellectual potential. I secretly hoped that one day I could make a contribution to the Register and luckily that eventually happened.

I eventually did meet Leo in person when I was being hired at York in early 1989. Both he and Robert Cox supported me. I was, I think, the first person that Leo hired in his role as Chair of the Department of Political Science. I should note that when I was hired I was astonished at the quality and self-confidence of the graduate students I met and I was impressed more generally by the tremendous intellectual atmosphere that Leo was instrumental in fostering. After I was hired both Leo and Bob Cox gave me a great deal of friendship and generosity with their time. And I should note that having finally got to know Leo personally I realized that he was not just an intellectual and political leader but was in fact akin to a very force of nature! He was a person of tremendous intellect, energy and drive that inspired many people. He was massively influential and instrumental in building our department, extending its reputation as an intellectual powerhouse of the left, worldwide.

I should also add to an earlier comment that was made by Ian Greene (and echoed by sundry others) about Leo’s personal generosity. When I eventually did come to York from the United Kingdom in 1990 I knew very few people in Canada. Leo and his family befriended me. In fact Leo spent several days helping me to find an apartment, to move in and settle, often sharing a generous glass of malt whisky. Melanie and Leo invited me, as well as many other people, to enjoy hospitality at their home. I was privileged also to be able, on the occasions when they were away, to look after Toby, their wonderful little dog who I loved – all these sentimental moments helped me overcome my initial loneliness.

Leo’s generosity did not stop there. For example he was instrumental in proposing and nominating me as a Fellow for the Royal Society of Canada. This is not something that Leo had to do – he chose to do it and once again he supported me. More generally, Leo’s influence in the profession and as an advocate for others was legendary.

We all mourn the sudden, tragic and irreplaceable loss of the great Leo Panitch. I will always carry the memory of Leo in my heart.
- Distinguished Research Professor Stephen Gill (Department of Politics) Mono, Ontario 5 February 2021.

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