Kari Polanyi Levitt

Emerita Professor of Economics, McGill University, Montreal – Canada

BOOK REVIEW From the Great Transformation to the Great Financialization: On Karl Polanyi and Other Essays, edited by Kari Polanyi Levitt (Zed Books, London, 2013)

Kari Polanyi Levitt is a renowned development economist and the only child of Karl Polanyi and Ilona Duczynska. Her best known works include groundbreaking studies on the impact of foreign direct investment in host countries (Levitt, 1970), and dependent development and industrialization in the Caribbean (Best & Levitt, 2009). This anthology of 14 highly readable essays contributes to a tidal wave of renewed scholarly interest in her father’s critique of self-regulating capitalism and free market utopianism across the social sciences (Gray, 1998; Stiglitz, 2001; McRobbie & Levitt, 2005; Bugra & Agartan, 2007; Hann & Hart, 2009; Dale, 2010; Harvey, Ramlogan, & Randles, 2014; Block & Somers, 2014). It aims to provide readers with a wide-ranging, accessible, and authoritative
account of the relationship between Polanyi’s ideas and the theory and practice of economic development today.
The chapters are mostly based on academic presentations delivered by Levitt during the 1990s and 2000s. The first eight essays (‘Polanyi on Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy’) consist of reflections on the life and work of Polanyi. The next three essays (‘The Global South from Conquest and Exploitation to Self-reliant Development’) track continuity and change in global capitalism over the very long run from its origins in European mercantilism to the 2008 economic crash. The last three essays deal with changes in the intellectual paradigms that have shaped postwar development economics and policymaking. The book also includes a brief biography of Levitt by Harry Veltmeyer and a 13-page afterword by Samir Amin.
Levitt’s discussion of Polanyi’s key concepts, such as ‘fictitious commodities’, ‘embeddedness’, and ‘double movement’, yields a compelling explanation of the new world disorder that emerged after the Cold War and its tendencies towards possible self-destruction. According to her, the most salient feature of this world is the contradiction between neoliberal capitalist globalization and the struggle of non-European peoples to make their own history after five centuries of dependency on
the West. Inspired by Polanyi’s (2001) analysis of the role of Ricardian-style liberalism in collapsing the 19th-century liberal international order (1815–1914), her argument is that neoliberal globalization is pushing capitalism’s fictitious commodification of labour, land, and money to its utopian limit. This results in the degradation of nature, culture, and society, and produces new forms of resistance
to the organization of economic life on the basis of pecuniary gain.

Viewed through this Polanyian lens, the successive stock market crashes, bank failures, and sovereign debt crises, as well as growing inequality within and between countries, which have marred global capitalism since the 1980s illustrate the fundamental social and political contradictions of the neoliberal project to construct a self-regulating global market order. Faced with the mounting social costs of reproducing capitalist globalization, rentier bondholders and neoliberal intellectuals demand more of the same policies—liberalization, deregulation, privatization, reduced capital taxation, and cuts to social spending—that generate these costs in the first place. In response, new political movements in both the South and the North struggle to reclaim enclosed land, subordinate deregulated labour and financial markets to popular control, and bring an end to global inequality and underdevelopment. For Levitt, this dialectic of power from above and resistance from below
highlights the anti-democratic nature of neoliberalism, which increasingly transfers sovereignty from states to technocratic market-enabling supranational governance institutions shielded from democratic accountability.

Leading interpretations of Polanyi’s political orientation within the existing scholarly literature seek to highlight his affinity with ‘embedded liberalism’ in postwar Europe (Ruggie, 1982; Block, 2003). Levitt challenges this incumbent scholarly wisdom by claiming that ‘[a]lthough not a Marxist, he was much less a social democrat’ (41). An associational socialist who nonetheless agreed with Marx’s fundamental critique of alienation under capitalism, Polanyi would not have endorsed the proposition that postwar European welfare capitalism, with its active government regulation of labour and finance, successfully re-embedded the capitalist economy in social relations. Neither would he have regarded the remnants of this ‘European social model’ as constituting a genuine
alternative to Anglo–American neoliberalism. What social democrats misunderstand, according to Levitt, is that state regulations of this kind reinforce rather than challenge the centrality of the market.
Furthermore, their effect is short-lived, as the crisis of Keynesian social democracy in the 1970s amply demonstrates. Rather than a capitalist world in which states act to correct market imperfections and maintain a skilled, high-wage proletariat, Polanyi advocated an end to the regulation of humanity and nature by the commodity form and the relegation of exploitative markets for labour, land, and money to the very margins of social reproduction (see also Lacher, 1999). Unfortunately, Levitt’s emphasis on Polanyi’s socialist pedigree stands in stark contrast to her
continued commitment to a variant of dependency theory. Her analysis of the relationship between declining Western power, the rise of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), and the prospects for Third World development does not envisage a global society liberated from the domination of market forces. Instead, it is solely concerned with the success of non-European societies in increasing their relative market power in a conjuncture of intensified international competition. It is, therefore, not clear whether for Levitt semiperipheral states such as China, India, and Brazil represent a genuine alternative to market self-regulation along capitalist lines, or have been
restructured so as to conform to the requirements of neoliberal globalization. Ultimately, she remains caught between two conflicting conceptions of social progress: on the one hand, a statist critique of the viability of neoliberal development strategies within the context of an international system structured by the core–periphery logic of global capitalism; on the other, a libertarian socialist critique of all development strategies that seeks to run faster on the treadmill of international accumulation instead of stepping off. This fundamental ambiguity suggests a need for further research intended to unpack
the relationship between Polanyi’s ideas and the basic concept of development. Even if Levitt remains equivocal about the possibilities for realizing Polanyi’s optimistic vision of a ‘world of diverse economic and social systems coexisting in managed inter-regional exchange’ (11), this does not detract from the value of her book for researchers and students. From the Great Transformation to the Great Financialization offers readers profound insights into the logical structure and political implications of Polanyi’s basic concepts, as well as a thought-provoking journey through a lifetime’s scholarly reflection on problems of development and underdevelopment. As such, it will likely become a key reference point for all those compelled by current circumstances to re-examine the historical legacy and contemporary significance of Polanyi’s thought.

Department of Political Science, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Published online in Wiley Online Library
Best L, Levitt K. 2009. Essays on the Theory of Plantation Economy: A Historical and Institutional
Approach to Caribbean Economic Development. University of the West Indies Press: Kingston.
Block F. 2003. Karl Polanyi and the writing of The Great Transformation. Theory and Society 32(3):
Block F, Somers MR. 2014. The Power of Market Fundamentalism: Karl Polanyi’s Critique. Harvard
University Press: Harvard.
Bugra A, Agartan K (ed). 2007. Reading Polanyi for the Twenty-First Century: Market Economy as
Political Project. Palgrave Macmillan: New York.
Dale G. 2010. Karl Polanyi: The Limits of the Market. Polity Press: Cambridge.
Gray J. 1998. False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism. Granta Books: London.
Hann C, Hart K (ed). 2009. Market and Society: The Great Transformation Today. Cambridge
University Press: Cambridge.
Book Review 157
Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Int. Dev. 28, 156–158 (2016)
DOI: 10.1002/jid
Harvey M, Ramlogan R, Randles S. 2014. Karl Polanyi: New Perspectives on the Place of the
Economy in Society. Manchester University Press: Manchester.
Lacher H. 1999. Embedded Liberalism, Disembedded Markets: Reconceptualising the Pax
Americana. New Political Economy 4(3): 343–360.
Levitt K. 1970. Silent Surrender: The Multinational Corporation in Canada. McGill-Queen’s
University Press: Montreal.
McRobbie K, Levitt K (ed). 2005. Karl Polanyi in Vienna: The Contemporary Significance of The
Great Transformation. Black Rose Books: Montreal.
Polanyi K. 2001. The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time.
Beacon Press: Boston.
Ruggie JG. 1982. International regimes, transactions, and change: embedded liberalism in the
postwar economic order. International Organization 36(2): 379–416.
Stiglitz J. 2001. Foreword. In The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our
Time, Polanyi K (ed). Beacon Press: Boston.

Ilona Duczynska Polanyi [1897-1978] – A Brief Summary of Her Life

Marie Helene Dorothea Angela Vlasta Duczynska, known to friends and family as Ilona, was born in Mariazell, near Vienna in 1897. Her father Alfred Von Duczynsky was an Austrian of Polish descent whose family had served in the Imperial Army of Austria-Hungary. He has been described as an independent scholar, inventor, atheist, and aristocratic anarchist, employed in the head-office of a state-owned railway company in Vienna. Her mother Helena Bekassy was an impoverished member of a family of large land-owners in Western Hungary. Ilona grew up in Vienna with prolonged stays at one of her grandfather’s properties. As an independent minded young person with socialist convictions Ilona enrolled in the Technical University of Zurich in 1914 to study mathematics and physics. Zurich was the meeting place of leftist representatives of European Social Democratic parties opposed to the First World War because Switzerland was neutral territory. There, Ilona became acquainted with leading figures of the anti-war movement, including Angela Balabanov.

When the soldiers and sailors of Petrograd laid down their arms in the Russian Revolution of February 1917, Ilona decided to take the Zimmerwald declaration of ‘War on War’ to Hungary. With the assistance of other young people, including Tivadar Sugar who was briefly her first husband, she composed an appeal to the soldiers and workers of Budapest to follow the lead of the Russian revolutionaries. Ilona organized the printing and distribution of the literature to war factories and army barracks in connection with a general strike in January 1918. Ilona and Sugar were arrested, imprisoned, charged with high treason, sentenced to several years in jail, but liberated by the Hungarian revolution of October 1918 which ended the war and the monarchy, and established the First Republic of Hungary. She joined the Communist Party of Hungary but did not stay in Budapest to participate in the short-lived Revolution of the Councils. As a well-educated comrade fluent in French, English, and Russian she was called to Moscow to assist Karl Raddik in the organization of the Second Congress of the International Communist Party. Two years after her return to Vienna she published an article criticising the bureaucratic comportment of the Communist leaders in exile in Vienna and was duly expelled from the party.

She met Karl Polanyi in 1920 and they were married in 1923. She resumed her university studies but continued to be motivated by political action. Together with fellow students Ilona was critical of the leadership the Austrian Social Democratic Workers Party and her membership was suspended and subsequently terminated. The ascent to office of Hitler in January 1933 and the rising tide of Austro-Fascism resulted in Karl Polanyi’s relocation to London. Following the defeat of the workers of Vienna in February 1934 and the arrest and exile of socialist leaders, Ilona sent Kari to England. She remained in Vienna as an editor of Dersprecher, the publication of the now-illegal Schutzbund. She participated in facilitating volunteers to join the international brigades in the Spanish Civil War until she joined Karl in England in 1936. During this period of illegality she re-joined the Communist Party but was expelled on orders from Moscow in 1937 for reasons not stated.
In England Ilona established a home, near Seven Oaks, where Karl worked as a lecturer for the Workers Educational Association in the counties of Kent and Sussex, until he left in 1940 for the United States. Ilona joined him in Bennington, Vermont in 1941, where ‘The Great Transformation’ was written, until their joint-return in 1943. She worked for the Royal Aircraft Establishment conducting aerodynamic tests in wind tunnels and also for the Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office until the end of the war.

When Karl accepted the appointment as Visiting Professor at Columbia University in 1947 and Ilona was barred from entry to the United States by McCarthyite legislation, she established a home in Canada at Rosebank, near Pickering, Ontario in 1950. Throughout the years, whether in England, the U.S., or in Canada she assisted Karl in his work and organized Polanyi’s manuscripts, publications, lecture notes, and extensive correspondences which constitute the Karl Polanyi Archive at Concordia University in Montreal.

In response to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Karl and Ilona collaborated in the joint production of the ‘The Plow and the Pen’ a collection of Hungarian poetry in English translation (1963). They visited Budapest together a year before his death, and now rest there together. Space does not permit an account of Ilona’s life between Canada, Vienna, and Budapest following the death of Karl in 1964, including her historical account of the Austrian working class movement, translation of six Hungarian novels to English, autobiographical writings, or her role as a cult figure in the encouragement she gave to dissident intellectuals in Hungary in the 1970s.

On a visit to Montreal in the early 70s Paul Sweezy met Ilona and persuaded her to permit him to publish an abbreviated English edition of her account of the role of the Schutzbund, the paramilitary arm of the Austrian Social Democratic Workers Party from its’ origin in 1918, its resistance to Austro-Fascism in 1934, and its dissolution in 1936. The book appeared as ‘Workers in Arms’ (1978) with a preface and tribute to the author by Eric Hobsbawm. But no words can speak better to Ilona’s spirit as a sovereign revolutionary than the dedication she wrote: ‘In Memory of all who worked and died true to social and national revolution – socialists, communists, guerrillas of all countries, believers in all faiths’.

Kari Polanyi Levitt
June 14th, 2015

“From the Great Transformation to the Geat Financialization”, talk at the Rosa-Luxembourg Foundation, Berlin, May 8 2014.

“if I were a believer, I would know that my mother was smiling down upon me here at the podium of the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation. My mother was a student of engineering in Zurich in 1915, when she was befriended by a community of representatives of the Russian Social Democratic Party opposed to the war, including Lenin, his wife Krupskaya and Angelica Balabanoff. Together with delegations from Germany, France, and Britain, as well as other European Labour and Socialist parties, they met to draft a program of action against the war, known as the Zimmerwald Declaration.

As an 18-year-old Hungarian-speaking student unknown to any informant, Ilona was entrusted with delivering this call to action to the leaders of the Social Democratic Party in Vienna. When she presented herself to these gentlemen, they took one look at her and told her to go home, child, just go home. Having failed in this mission, she proceeded to Budapest where she received a warmer welcome from Ervin Szabo – a leading anarchist and head of the public library. With his counsel and advice, she found other young people to participate in a plan to distribute anti-war literature. She wrote the texts, found the printer and together with her comrade Tibor Sugar, they organized the distribution of leaflets in the great Weiss Manfred war factory and the army barracks.

Eventually they were caught, imprisoned and charged with treason – it was not a small matter. The trial of Duczynska, a beautiful young woman from a very good family, and Tibor Sugar, who was briefly her partner in marriage before she met my father, aroused considerable public interest. They were liberated from prison by the 1918 revolution which terminated the war and established the first Hungarian Republic.”

Read more:

Rosa Luxembourg lecture

Roy Culpeper, former President of the North-South Institute and currently a Senior Fellow of the University of Ottawa’s School of International Development and Global Studies, and Adjunct Professor at the School of Public Policy and Administration, Carleton University, reviews From the Great Transformation to the Great Financialization for the Broadbent Institute here.

American Sociological Association Honors Karl Polanyi

The Economic Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association (ASA) marked the 70th anniversary of the publication of The Great Transformation with a session on Karl Polanyi at the 109th ASA Annual Meeting (San Francisco, CA, August 16-18, 2014). Panelists included Fred Block, Margaret Somers, and Kari Polanyi Levitt. To commemorate this anniversary, the Chair of the Economic Sociology Section, Nina Bandelj, presented a beautiful plaque to Kari. The plaque was donated to the Karl Polanyi Institute, Concordia in Montreal, where it is now prominently displayed.


In her address, Professor Polanyi Levitt recalled the significance of the Great War in the life and work of Karl Polanyi.


“… For my father and his generation, the First World War which consumed so many million lives, was a traumatic and transformative experience. It was, I believe, the defining event of his life, which motivated him to engage in the search for the ultimate origins of the collapse of all the apparent certainties of the world before 1914 and all the disasters which followed. In “The Calling of our Generation”, Karl Polanyi expressed the profound sense of disenchantment of a whole generation. During the First World War, he was a cavalry officer in the Austro-Hungarian army on the Russian front. The conditions were appalling, and he was tormented by a sense of personal responsibility for the disasters, the killings, the war, and what he later described as the collapse of our civilization…”  Read More

Culture & Economy

Kari Polanyi Levitt, 2014

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The Power of Ideas: Keynes, Hayek and Polanyi

The Power of Ideas: Keynes, Hayek and Polanyi

This is the title of the introduction to volume 41, no. 4 (Winter 2012-2013) of the International Journal of Political Economy. The full text can be downloaded below.

European intellectuals of the generation of Keynes (b.1883), Hayek (b. 1899) and Polanyi (b.1886) were conditioned to assume responsibility for the welfare of society. They believed in the power of ideas to affect the course of world events. They understood that ideological beliefs can sustain an unsustainable social and economic order, or release forces of revolutionary change. They profoundly affect how we live in society, or react to perceived injustice.

The Power of Ideas: Keynes, Hayek and Polanyi

Tracing Polanyi’s Institutional Economy to Its Central European Sources

Extracts from “Tracing Polanyi’s Institutional Political Economy to its Central European Source,” in Karl Polanyi in Vienna, 2nd ed., Kari Polanyi Levitt and Kenneth McRobbie, eds., Montreal: Black Rose Books, 2006, pp.386-389.

“The disembedded economy has been dismissed by my colleague who wrote the introduction to the new edition of The Great Transformation. Fred Block contends that Polanyi’s real discovery was the ‘always embedded economy.’  He is of the view that there is a basic contradiction within the text of The Great Transformation.  He maintains that there was a shift from Polanyi’s earlier Marxist influence to a later revision of his views and circumstances did not permit him to revise the manuscript of The Great Transformation to resolve this contradiction: “Polanyi glimpsed, but was not able to name or elaborate the idea of the always embedded market economy.” [1] “We can make systematic use of Polanyi’s insight in the GT (The Great Transformation) once we have ‘unpacked’ the text and shown the tensions between Polanyi’s original Marxist architecture for the book and the new ideas he developed as he was writing them.”

By discarding the disembedded economy, Block moved Polanyi into the mainstream of socio-economic discourse. The effect is to obscure the radical implications of the existential contradiction between a market economy and a viable society. There is a suggestion here that Polanyi was influenced by Marxism in the turbulent interwar years and that there was an ideological shift during the writing of the book in the United Sates from 1941to1943. Such an interpretation fails to understand what Polanyi accepted and what he rejected in Marx.

Polanyi shared Marx’s fundamental insight into the historically limited nature of the organisation of economic life by the universalization of the market principle, including private ownership of the means of production. His account of the societal consequences of the commodification of money, land, labour and indeed the essentials of life, recalls the Marx of The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1932). What he rejected was the Ricardian labour theory of value and the economism of historical materialism, including the Marxian stagiest theories of growth. Whereas Marx anticipated the eventual breakdown of the capitalist order on account of inherent economic contradictions, Polanyi emphasised the contradiction between the requirements of the capitalist market economy for limitless expansion and the human requirement to be sustained by mutually supportive social relations. In Polanyi’s account of this existential contradiction the outcome is not determinate. There is no grand design of progress. There are no impersonal historical forces which inevitably move humanity forward.

There is no evidence of a “theoretical shift” (Block,2001:2) in Polanyi’s thinking during the writing of The Great Transformation.  What may appear to Fred Block as a contradiction is due to his misconceptions of the relationship of Polanyi to Marx. Fortunately, we have testimony on the writing of The Great Transformation by its author, in a letter written to me from Bennington College, Vermont, dated February 23rd, 1941.  We note that the outline of the book, as we know it, was complete at the time this letter was written and that there was a deliberate decision to refrain from reading new material or extending beyond the original outline.  Polanyi’s admiration for the New Deal, formed during several visits to the United States in the 1930s is explicit in the final passages of the letter.  There is no evidence of new influences during his stay at Bennington College from 1941 to 1943.

“So about four weeks ago I began writing, and tomorrow I intend to go to New York to hand the Introduction and the first three chapters to the publishers. Curiously enough, it is not a draft, but a finished text, ready for print. Of the many surprises the writing was connected with, this is one. When Mother arrived, I had only an outline, in 25 chapters, appr. 20,000 words. I vaguely intended to amplify it and make it three times as long, before starting out to write the book. But hardly had I started out, I changed my mind and simply wrote the first chapter, which at once settled the book. Or now I knew what I had not even suspected before, namely, the length, shape and character of the book. So, my Darling, now I can tell you. It is going to be called Liberal Utopia, The Origins of the Cataclysm. It will be a very straight forward, simple story, easy to read and mainly historical in character, recounting the history of English enclosures, the Industrial Revolution, Speenhamland. But the two introductory chapters will deal with the Hundred Years Peace and the ‘Conservative twenties, Revolutionary thirties. The last chapters deal with America, Russia, the history of Economic theory and the history of the theory of the liberal state, It ends up with the formulation of new concept of freedom, the reform of human consciousness the transcending of Christianity. The structure is extremely strict and formal. The bulk of the book is called ‘Rise and Fall of Market Economy’ and takes some 20 chapters of the 25. It consists of three sections: A. Satanic Mill. B. Self-Protection of Society and C. Deadlock. There will be no footnotes, but all annexes will be added at the end with all notes under chapter headings; the notes will be full, and very much part of the book; written so as to be read- with gusto, even separately. I won’t do any extensive reading any more, if I can possibly avoid it, but only the reading needed to check all my statements insofar as the writing takes one beyond the original scope. The book will have appro 500 pages.

Mother was the greatest help imaginable. She typed the fresh MS pages for me so that I could at once correct them and rewrite them myself; she listened to every two or three pages as they were written, which is a tremendous thing, for it assists one to see exactly where you are. And she was so encouraging as we know only she can be. In America the title will have to be different, here liberal means progressive, or more precisely what radical meant in England, until not long ago. (By radical they mean here an anarchist or a communist; while the English term liberal is untranslateable into American unless you say laissez-faire, or more often conservative!) Hoover, eg. Is called a conservative because he is a liberal (in the English sense), while Roosevelt is called a liberal, meaning that he is for the New Deal. Therefore Liberal Utopia would be taken to mean an attack on supporters of the New Deal- which would be almost the opposite of my purpose. I intend to call it here The Great Transformation. Origins of the Cataclysm.”


As we enter the 21st century, we witness societal disintegration manifested in genocidal wars, displaced populations, the pandemic of HIV/AIDS, ethnic and religious conflicts and irreversible damage to the natural environment that sustains life on earth. Our world is arguably more turbulent and dangerous than Polanyi’s. The impulse of social protection of societies threatened by the concentration of economic, financial and increasingly military power may be mobilized by appeals to solidarities as diverse as class, race, ethnicity, caste, religious belief or nationalisms. Where the conflict between the ‘economic’ and the ‘social,’ cannot be resolved there is chaos. In the so-called failed states, social and civic relations of mutual support have disintegrated.[2] It is not by coincidence that Polanyi’s warning of the fateful consequences of liberating capitalist market relations from social control has such resonance today.”




Mme Kari Polanyi Levitt nommée Membre de l’Ordre du Canada

L’Ordre du Canada a annoncé aujourd’hui la nomination de Mme Kari Polanyi Levitt, économiste et professeur émérite de l’Université McGill, au titre de Membre de l’Ordre du Canada, pour avoir contribué à faire des études sur le développement international un champ de recherche pluridisciplinaire, ainsi que pour ses travaux de recherche sur l’économie politique dans les Caraïbes.


Née à Vienne en 1923, Kari Polanyi est la fille unique de Ilona Duczynska et Karl Polanyi[i], un économiste et historien de l’économie, reconnu aujourd’hui comme un des auteurs d’économie politique les plus marquants du XXe siècle, principalement pour son apport aux théories institutionnalistes. En 1933, Karl émigre à Londres, suivie par Kari en 1934 et Ilona deux ans plus tard.


Diplômée du London School of Economics (1941 à 1943) où elle se spécialise en statistiques, elle immigre au Canada en 1947 avec son mari l’historien Joseph Levitt, et s’inscrit au programme de maîtrise en économie de l’Université de Toronto en 1957, après avoir donné naissance à deux garçons.  Elle s’établit enfin à Montréal en 1960, alors que l’université McGill lui offre de donner un cours sur la planification économique. Mme Levitt s’implique alors dans un projet de recherche sur les intrants et les extrants (inputs/outputs) de l’économie des provinces maritimes canadiennes et dirigera ce vaste projet d’étude sur la région atlantique du Canada de 1965 à 1975, pour Statistiques Canada.


C’est à cette même époque qu’elle a son premier contact avec les Caraïbes, alors qu’elle s’implique dans un projet d’intégration entre les différents systèmes d’expédition de la région. Au cours des 40 années qui suivirent, elle s’investit aussi dans une multitude d’activités dans la région, parmi lesquelles des activités d’enseignement, de recherche, de conférences, de participation au débat public, ou de services de consultante auprès des gouvernements de la région.  Sa trace laissée dans les Caraïbes dépasse sa contribution intellectuelle qui permet de mieux comprendre le développement, l’histoire économique et les particularités de la région. Elle y jouit d’une certaine reconnaissance, ayant publié 4 ouvrages assez importants, ayant mis au point conjointement avec Lloyd Best le modèle économique de la plantation et y ayant présenté plusieurs conférences et enseignements.


Kari deviendra donc une voix importante au sein de ce courant au carrefour de différentes disciplines des sciences sociales, principalement l’économie politique, les relations internationales, les statistiques et la politique appliquée qu’on allait nommer «études du développement» (developement studies) et dont la théorie de la dépendance représente le noyau conceptuel central.  Ce concept cherche à démontrer les liens de dépendance inégaux entretenus par les pays développés par rapport aux pays du Tiers-Monde, et dénonce les obligations qui étaient imposées aux pays du Tiers-Monde, par exemple celles d’exporter à bon marché leurs ressources naturelles, qui maintiennent les moins développés dans un rapport de dépendance.


En 1970, Mme Levitt publie Silent Surrender, dont la thèse centrale soutient qu’entre les investissements directs étrangers (IDE) et les investissements de portefeuilles, il existe une différence centrale, celle du contrôle. L’impact de Silent Surrender est très important ; l’ouvrage est publié et republié et réédité plusieurs fois. Partout au Canada, le livre est recensé, puis est publié en français, sous le titre de « La Capitulation Tranquille », avec une préface enthousiaste de Jacques Parizeau, démontrant l’influence et la crédibilité qui était accordée à Kari tant par les cercles nationalistes canadiens que québécois.

En 1978, Kari hérite de l’ensemble des écrits de son père. Ce nouveau rôle de gardienne de la mémoire de Karl Polanyi lui donnera un nouvel élan, l’amenant à développer de nouvelles idées, basées sur la rencontre entre les siennes et celles de son père. En 1987, lorsque l’Université Concordia fonde l’Institut Karl Polanyi de politique économique,  le Professeur Levitt rend toutes les archives de son père disponibles. Ceci concorde avec la fondation de CASID[ii], et l’établissement du prix annuel Kari Polanyi Levitt pour le meilleur essai académique traitant du développement international.

Après 30 ans au département des sciences économiques, Mme Levitt prend sa retraite à titre de professeur émérite de l’université McGill en 1992.  Elle a alors gagné une reconnaissance internationale en tant qu’économiste  du développement dans la tradition d’économie politique. Depuis 1999, elle a publié cinq livres, dont Silent Surrender qui fut ré-édité en 2002.  Jusqu’en 1997, elle poursuit ses efforts d’enseignement et de recherche à l’Université des Indes Occidentales, en Jamaïque. En 2005, elle publie Reclaiming Development: Independent Thought and Caribbean Community et reçoit en 2008 un Doctorat honorifique de l’Université des Indes Occidentales, ainsi que le prix John Kenneth Galbraith au Progressive Economics Forum, conjointement avec Mel Watkins.


En 2013, Mme Levitt publie From the Great Transformation to the Great Financialization[iii]Suivant les pas de son père, dont l’œuvre propose aussi un portrait historique de l’évolution de l’économie, elle adopte le point de vue historique des pays en développement, et enrichit la proposition de Karl Polanyi en constatant que, pour ces pays, le phénomène de la globalisation se manifeste d’une façon fort semblable aux fois précédentes où le capitalisme leur a été imposé.  Dans son dernier chapitre, elle conclut que la crise financière de 2008 a mis en relief le déclin relatif de l’ouest au profit du reste du monde, ouvrant ainsi la voie à un futur possible de cohabitation entre les pays aux héritages historiques et culturels différents.


L’Ordre du Canada

La nomination de Mme Kari Levitt à titre de Membre de l’Ordre du Canada vient couronner le travail de toute sa vie, et elle en est extrêmement honorée.


[i] Son ouvrage le plus important est sans contredit « La Grande Transformation », qui paraît pour la première fois en 1944, dans lequel l’auteur cherchait à expliquer la montée du fascisme au vingtième siècle.

[ii] Canadian Association for the Study of International Development

[iii] Définie comme étant la capacité, de la part des capitaux financiers, de prendre le dessus et d’ainsi dominer toutes les activités commerciales, la financiarisation découle d’une récurrente suraccumulation de capitaux. La tendance à la financiarisation s’observe donc dans différentes phases du capitalisme, incluant la phase préindustrielle. L’expansion financière et matérielle sont des processus qui se déploient dans un système d’accumulation et de normes dont l’ampleur s’élargit depuis des siècles.

Rappelons que l’Ordre du Canada été créé en 1967, l’année du centenaire du Canada, afin de souligner «les réalisations exceptionnelles, le dévouement remarquable d’une personne envers la communauté ou une contribution extraordinaire à la nation». Cet honneur a été décerné à plus de 6000 personnes jusqu’ici. Le titre de membre de l’ordre reconnaît « une vie vouée au service d’une communauté, d’un groupe ou d’un champ d’activité ». L’Ordre du Canada est la plus haute récompense du régime canadien de distinctions honorifiques. Il reconnaît des réalisations exceptionnelles, le dévouement remarquable d’une personne envers la communauté ou une contribution extraordinaire à la nation.

The Governor General of Canada has announced that Professor Kari Polanyi Levitt, Emerita Professor of McGill University in the Department of Economics, will receive the Order of Canada for her contribution to the study and multi-disciplined research in the field of international development as well as her research and insights into the political economy of the Caribbean.

Established in 1967 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Order of Canada is the centrepiece of Canada’s honours system and recognizes a lifetime of outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation. The Order recognizes people in all sectors of Canadian society. Their contributions are varied, yet they have all enriched the lives of others and made a difference to this country. The Order of Canada’s motto is DESIDERANTES MELIOREM PATRIAM (They desire a better country).