York University Tributes to Leo Panitch     

This page is dedicated to tributes from members of the York University community to the memory of Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus Leo Panitch, who passed away on December 19, 2020. Selected tributes from around the world can be found here.

If you are a York University community member, please click this link to leave a tribute to Leo Panitch. We welcome tributes from students, front-line administrative personnel, faculty, and all other colleagues.

A Statement by York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton on the Passing of Leo Panitch (PDF)

A Message from Dean JJ McMurtry, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies on the Passing of Leo Panitch (YFile)

A Tribute from Karen Murray, Chair, Department of Politics.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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. 

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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: https://www.cbc.ca/listen/live-radio/1-2/clip/15815506). Thank you, Leo!  - Professor Ute Lehrer, Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change

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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

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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

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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.

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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. 

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

 

Tributes to Leo Panitch from Around the World

Events in Honour of or Dedicated to Leo Panitch