By Sam Gindin
December 21st, 2020
Leo passed away this evening. Some five weeks ago he was hospitalized and diagnosed with multiple myeloma. While in the hospital he contracted Covid-19 and this developed into viral pneumonia. The pneumonia made it near impossible for him to breathe and he spent his last hours in palliative care resting peaceably.
The shock of Leo no longer being with us is impossible to fathom. He was a life force, a ubiquitous presence in private life, social life, intellectually and in socialist politics. In this moment, his absence just can’t be processed. Later the time will come to organize a celebration of his life.
Less than a week ago, before his health began its accelerated decline, Leo read Red Plenty referring to it as ‘one of best intellectual as well as literary experiences of my life’. In the last email I received from him he sent this passage from the book:
‘What has come over me? Thought Sasha. He remembered a joke. What is a question mark? An exclamation mark in middle age. Maybe that was all this was, just his arrival at a time of life when the muscles of certainty begin to go slack and doubt naturally replaces vigour. Just the first delivery of the universal skepticism of old men. But then why did he find himself so much angrier than before?’
Identifying with these sentiments was vintage Leo. His ‘muscles of certainty’ were never in fact especially taut but as he grew older, there were more reasons for skepticism about our collective future. Yet Leo was constitutionally incapable of giving up. If he perpetually raised doubts to us about our ability to transform the world – as he did to the very end – it was because he was looking to us to convince him, and ourselves, otherwise. And whatever those doubts he found himself ‘so much angrier than before’ about the state of the world and so much more determined to carry on the struggle.
Leo will remain a presence in our lives; as one friend said, the intensity of the pain is the flip side of the depth and intensity of what he brought to us. But his absence is at the same time a painful loss of friendship and creative energy.
Sam Gindin, Greg Albo and Leo Panity co-edied In and Out of Crisis: The Global Financial Meltdown and Left Alternatives.