Leo Panitchs Many Lessons on Living Under American Empire

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Leo Panitch’s Many Lessons on Living Under American Empire

Alex Colás

Leo Panitch’s untimely death last weekend is a tragic loss for the international left. His intellectual and political contributions toward rebuilding working class movements in such diverse settings as North America, the UK and Greece were consistently lucid, incisive and trenchant – that is, indispensable. They reflect an internationalist commitment to concrete struggles for democratic socialism from a strategic standpoint, always mindful of capital’s pervasive power across the planet, particularly after the demise of the Soviet bloc.

Others will write about Leo’s life-long involvement with the UK Labour Party, both as an active participant and academic observer of the... Bennite left – not least in his latest book Searching for Socialism written with Colin Leys. These assessments were shaped by Ralph Miliband and Nicos Poulantzas’ theories of class power and the capitalist state, but from the 1990s Leo also reformulated and upscaled these concepts when applying them to the analysis of global capitalism. Through his collaborative work in editing the annual Socialist Register, and culminating in the prize-winning book on the political economy of the American Empire (co-authored with Sam Gindin), Leo provided invaluable insights into the dynamics of the contemporary international system.

Foremost among these was the insistence that globalization is authored by states. In a variation of Karl Polanyi’s paradoxical dictum that ‘laissez-faire was planned’ under the nineteenth-century free-trade Pax Britannica, Panitch and Gindin demonstrated how neoliberal globalization was the product of a state-sponsored re-regulation of markets across the world in favour of the capitalist class through privatizations, labour reforms, union-busting legislation, fiscal discipline, trade and financial liberalization, and so forth.

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