Most major advances toward a more equal and just society come about because organized working people use their power to disrupt capitalist profits. And we think that’s the only force that can ultimately end capitalist exploitation and establish a truly democratic society. For that reason, many on the Left see labor unions as essential to making radical change. But unions today are often top-down and undemocratic in structure, weak, defensive and even conservative in their politics. The labor movement lacks a coherent, organized left-wing leadership that could help re-found the movement on a democratic, class-struggle basis.
My first meeting with Leo Panitch didn’t go so well. I was sitting in a restaurant before the 2016 Labour Party conference in Liverpool with Jacobin editor Bhaskar Sunkara. Leo arrived dressed in a sharp leather jacket and looking far too young for his age. Unfortunately, he seemed to have travelled from Canada with a determination to debate Bhaskar about something or other, and a spirited conversation ensued. I literally didn’t get a word in and we barely exchanged names before he had departed again, already late for a meeting with another of his many mentees. Things didn’t swiftly improve. Bhaskar and I had been involved in organising one of the headline events of the first World Transformed festival, a discussion of the legacy of Ralph Miliband involving Leo Panitch, John McDonnell, and another of Leo’s protégés, Max Shanly.
The rich man’s media are calling it “the worst debate in modern American history,” but that’s because the truth is often painful to watch. The Biden-Trump confrontation revealed, with crystalline clarity, that the real “genius” of the American electoral process is its total imperviousness to popular demands for a healthier, more just and less economically precarious society and a peaceful, ecologically stable world. Instead, the Democratic alternative to the white supremacist Republican in the White House is — another lifelong racist, mass-incarcerating, corporate-serving, warmongering old white man.