On Thursday, Jan. 14, York University Professor Emerita Ellen Meiksins Wood died at her Ottawa home at the age of 73 after battling cancer. She is survived by her second husband, Ed Broadbent; and brothers, Peter Meiksins of Cleveland and Robert Meiksinsof Milwaukee. She was predeceased by her first husband, Neal Wood (1922 – 2003).
A celebrated political theorist and socialist historian, Meiksins Wood was born in New York City on April 12, 1942, the daughter of political refugees from Latvia who had been active in the Jewish labour and socialist Bund movement. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Slavic languages from the University of California, Berkeley in 1962 and a PhD in political science at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1970.
Her first book, Mind and Politics: An Approach to the Meaning of Liberal and Socialist Individualism, was published in1972. This was followed by eight other influential books published throughout her academic career. Several were translated into many languages, including The Retreat from Class, which received the Isaac Deutscher Memorial Prize in 1988.
Meiksins Wood arrived in Canada in 1967 with her first husband, fellow political theorist, Neal Wood to teach in the political science department at Toronto’s York University, where she co-authored several books with Neal and taught a seminal graduate level course entitled Theory and Practice of the State in Historical Perspective. During her 30 years at York, she came to be considered one of the left’s foremost theorists on democracy and history. Challenging the prevailing logic and assumptions in her field, During her 30 years at York, she came to be considered one of the left’s foremost theorists on democracy and history. Challenging the prevailing logic and assumptions in her field, Meiksins Wood’s scholarship emphasized the importance of political processes and class conflict in shaping historical change.’s scholarship emphasized the importance of political processes and class conflict in shaping historical change.
Throughout her life, she remained deeply engaged in careful historical work emphasizing the very specific historical emergence of capitalism in England, and promoted the idea that democracy always has to be fought for and secured from below; that it is never benevolently conferred from above.
Meiksins Wood also spent many years in England with Neal, a country to which they both felt deeply connected. It is there she would serve on the editorial committee of the influential British journal The New Left Review, and became a much respected and beloved member of Britain’s radical left.
In 1996, she was inducted into the Royal Society of Canada. Later in life, Meiksins Wood would go on to reconnect with an old acquaintance and academic colleague, and find love again with Canadian politician Ed Broadbent. They spent the last six years together between Ottawa and London, debating the merits of social democracy and more radical transformation. They were married in 2014.
Meiksins Wood’s life will be celebrated at a memorial at York University in Toronto at the end of February. Messages to can be sent to