Passings: Professor George C. Comninel

A field of flowers at sunset

Professor George Comninel (MA ’78, PhD ’84) was a faculty member at the Department of Politics of York University, since 1990. Sadly, Professor Comninel died suddenly at his home in Toronto on Aug. 18. He was in his 71st year.

George C. Comninel

Born in 1951, he completed his undergraduate degree at Cornell University and his master’s and doctoral degrees at York University.

During his illustrious career, Professor Comninel was the author of many significant and remarkable theoretical contributions. His first book – Rethinking the French Revolution: Marxism and the Revisionist Challenge (Verso, 1987) – a provocative study in which it is argued that the 1789 revolution did not create a capitalist society, was widely read, and reviewed. After this volume, in addition to more than 20 refereed journal articles and book chapters, Professor Comninel focused his research on the study of modes of production prior to capitalism. His forthcoming book The Feudal Foundations of Modern Europe (Palgrave Macmillan, 2023) is the outcome of a long and thorough investigation dedicated to a comparative historical overview of the development of major Western European societies, and nation states, in the early modern period.

Professor Comninel has also written, and given dozens of talks, in 10 countries, on the work of Karl Marx and the Marxist tradition. His main achievement in this field was the book Alienation and Emancipation in the Work of Karl Marx (New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2018), an insightful analysis of all the main writings of Marx in relation to the social and political context in which they were written. He was also the co-editor of the volume The International after 150 Years: Labor vs. Capital Then and Now (Routledge, 2015).

Professor Comninel is remembered by his students for his dedication, the passion for knowledge, and the constant willingness to help others, especially those in need. The graduate course “Theory and Practice of the State in Historical Perspective,” initially taught together with his colleague and friend Ellen Meiksins Wood, and then, for almost three decades, by himself, has been the crossroads of two generations of doctoral students interested in political theory.

He has unintermittedly contributed to the development of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies and of York University, including in his role as a Chair of the Senate of York University, which he held from 2015 to 2017. He was also the Chair of the Department of Politics from 2004 to 2005 and then again from 2008 to 2011. Professor Comninel was an affiliated professor with the Department of Philosophy at Nanjing University, one of the top five universities in China.

Beyond his career and intellect, Professor Comninel is remembered as a warm person who impressed all who he knew; he held dear friendships reaching back as far as 50 years. He often drove those in need of a lift to the airport or dropped them right to their door in the pre-subway days at York. Either speeding through shortcuts or sharing his thoughts on all manner of politics, he always had an upbeat story about his passengers when he arrived home.

He adored cottage trips, a pint up the street at his local and any party, holiday or not. With roots in New York City, he was formed by lessons of his blended Greek/Irish families; still, he became more Canadian in the finest sense of that word. In these past two years of retirement, a full professor at last, he loved nothing more than relaxing, reading, musing, talking and writing in his Toronto home.

He will be deeply missed by his wife, Ann Ball, the extended Ball/Comninel/Brophy families and his many students (past and present), colleagues and friends. A celebration of Professor Comninel’s life and achievements will be held soon.

The Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies has established the George Comninel Student Support Fund, which will be used to create a student award in politics. The details of this award will be worked out at a future date in dialogue with Professor Comninel’s loved ones. Those wishing to support the fund may give here.