The Writings of Bertell Ollman
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BALLBUSTER? - Acknowledgements, Contents, Introduction < DIALECTICAL MARXISM: The Writings of Bertell Ollman
BALLBUSTER? True Confessions of a Marxist Businessman

Acknowledgements | Contents | Introduction


For services to these Confessions over and beyond the call of duty and the hourly rate of wages—one red star, plus a freight reduction of 10 percent, are awarded to Marilyn LaPorte, Alan Orling, Sol Yurick, Bob Carroll, Emile de Antonio, John Toll, John Birnbaum, and Barry Schwartz.

Two red starts, plus a premium tie-in, a two-for-one advertising allowance, and a rebate on all group sales of more than $500, go to Ira Shor, Bill Livant, Nick Bakalar, Margaret Nell, and Marie and Michael Brown.

Three red starts, plus shipping and mailing costs and profit-sharing plan (no returns), go to the brothers Polsky (Howard and Milton), Ed Nell, Isidore Silver, and Paul and Jo Ann Gullen.

Four red stars, plus a 21-gun salute and my undying devotion, go to Paule Ollman, who also takes the cake.

Whatever errors, distortions, and exaggerations have crept into this work are also their fault. They should have seen them (what did they think I was paying them for?).

—Bertell Ollman
President, Class Struggle, Inc.


Introduction: Chamber of Commerce Sees Red xi

1. In Search of Critical Games 1
2. Return to the City in the McCarthy's Hearse: The Making of a Marxist Professor 9
3. Class Struggle Is the Name of the Games 18
4. From Class Struggle to Class Struggle, Inc. 23

5. Into the Entrails of the Toy Building, or How Does One Produce a Game? 33
6. Litmus Test in Maryland: Academic Freedom Is Also Class Struggle 46
7. Mayday 1978, 4:30P.M.: "You Are Invited to a Press Conference..." 53
8. Rocky Grapples with Marxist: The Media Discover Class Struggle 62
9. Strike at Brentano's Bookstore 74
10. Selling Revolution over the Counter 85
11. Vox Populi 102

12. Are the Banks Ready to Finance the Class Struggle? 118
13. Putting Marx Back into Christmas 135
14. Just Another Small Business About to Go Broke 144
15. Enter Warner Brothers 155

16. The Grand Tour: Selling Games or Carrying the Word? 168
17. The Marxist Millionaire 182
18. Class Struggle becomes a War Game 199

19. From the Russian Tea Room to the Frankfurt Book Fair: Class Struggle Lurches Forward 211
20. Is it Time to Bury Karl Marx? 227
Hollywood 227
Maryland 232
Rome 240

I. Last Roundup 243
II. Where Are They Now 246
III. Professor's Epilogue: In Praise of Small Business II 247

Why "Ballbuster?"? 253



"Sixty-five Liberty Street, please." Whether it fell out of a fortune cookie or came with the American dream, the address was an inspired act of naming. The cab took no more than 10 minutes to get from New York University, which is at the southern end of Greenwich Village, to Wall Street, but my inner journey from professor to corporation president about to attend his first meeting of the New York Chamber of Commerce had taken just over a year.

I held out my membership card just in case my best suit and tie did not cancel out a full growth of scraggly reddish beard and an academic haircut. Once past the guard, I ran up the white marble stairs, not wanting to keep the business community waiting.

In a large hall whose illuminated stained-glass ceiling reminded me of a Venetian palace, I found over 200 oversized faces looking down at me from the walls, but only a few living people. As I discovered later, the unsmiling portraits belong to past presidents of the Chamber, Alexander Hamilton and a couple of Rockefellers among them. Of the 18, perhaps 20, warm bodies present, all but two were men, and the average age was well over 50. The hall may have looked like an aristocratic palace, but if functioned as a capitalist mausoleum.

The chairman, a touch more distinguished than the rest—though it might have been the raised dais or the crossed American flags that separated us, or his black female stenographer (the only black in the room)—had just begun his annual report. Choosing one of the well-padded black leather chairs, I sat down and began to scribble: "The new logo for the Chamber...ads to promote New York City...succeeded in getting rid of unnecessary governmental regulations...This year, 60 foreign banks have joined the Chamber as compared to only ten last year. We must be doing something right."

Are there any questions?" the chairman asked. "If not, this year's meeting will come to a close." It was all happening a little too fast. Familiar with lengthy scholarly meetings, I found it hard to believe that a 20-minute report was all that happened at the annual meeting of the Chamber of Commerce.

Just as the gavel was about to come down, someone in the back of the room raised his hand. "Are there members of the board of directors of the Chamber present? I would like to ask them..." It seems to me that the fellow had asked a reasonable question, but the chairman thought otherwise. "No" he responded, "they are very busy people." Maybe he considered an audience of 20 too large and was trying to make sure that attendance at next year's meeting would be less.

My turn, my time, had come. The chairman recognized me, and I stood up, a little unsure about how to begin. As the only person in the room whose image did not come off the front cover of Business Week, some words of introduction were necessary. "Mr. Chairman, permit me to preface my question with a few introductory remarks. I am a new member of the Chamber. My name is Bertell Ollman, and for a little over a year I have been president of a game company. My 10 years as a Professor of Politics at New York University did little to prepare me for the rigors and frustrations of life as a businessman. How was I to know that banks only lend money to businesses that can prove they did not really need it? Finding suppliers who know how to keep a deadline, tracking down lost goods, the tax swamp—these are all problems I was ill prepared to solve." The smiles and nodding heads showed I had struck a responsive chord.

"Most troubling of all has been the endless search for customers. What began as a search for people who might be interested in our product soon became a way in viewing everybody. Friends, relatives, casual contacts could be sold if only they were approached right. Smiling became something I did to sell games. I think I've become a good salesman, but people I know are beginning to avoid me. Bankruptcy is always around the corner. My work and worry go on seven days a week. I'd get an ulcer if I had the time for one." More nods, fewer smiles.

"Mr. Chairman," I continued, "I shall soon emerge from this nightmare, scarred, somewhat dulled and brutalized, but what of the poor souls I leave behind? Though I have long known that a democratically planned society would mean a better life for workers, through my experience in business I have come to understand that we capitalists, as human beings, would also benefit from a rejection of the profit system." At this, my listeners began to shuffle uncomfortably. "So the question I would like to ask is this: What is the Chamber of Commerce doing to look into the possibility that what is commonly called 'socialism," instead of being the enemy, may be the means to our common salvation?"

None of the gilt-framed portraits fell off the wall, but it did seem as if Alexander Hamilton lost some of his rosy glow, and John D. Rockefeller's notoriously thin lips disappeared altogether. The New York Chamber of Commerce had just heard its first socialist speech. Would the chairman pick up my gauntlet, and if he did, what impassioned script would he write with it? The lords of Gotham City waited for the wit and wisdom of their leader to put everything right.

"Thank you for your interesting suggestion...(ahem), but the Chamber is wedded to the idea of private enterprise, which has given us the richest society in the world...(pause) and the best health care [sic]. I don't think the Chamber views socialism as a solution to any problem."

The collection of saints along the wall may have been satisfied, but I couldn't resist coming back one more time. "As a member of the Chamber, I would like to pursue the matter. What can I do to promote such an inquiry?"

The answer this time came quick, and was meant to be final. "There is nothing." And polite. "Of course, you could seek out one of our committees, but they are all busy doing something else."

During our exchange, some members of the audience had become visibly agitated. Believing that the discussion required another kind of conclusion, one elderly gentleman could hold himself back no longer. "No, no," he insisted, "We don't need Socialism. The Chamber of Commerce has better ways to solve America's problems...like giving money to the Boy Scouts. Just last night I went to a meeting of the Boy Scouts as representative of the Chamber. At the end of the meeting, everyone stood up and sang "The Star-Spangled Banner." Then, pointing to me as if for emphasis, he added, "You would have been as proud as I was, young man, if you had heard how well those boys sang our national anthem." And he sat down, fixing me with a triumphant glare.

Having settled all important matters of the day and turned back the threatened barbarian invasion from Greenwich Village, the meeting was officially adjourned. I waited in my seat to see if anyone would come over. The last speaker averted his eyes. The chairman quickly descended from the dais and marched out of the room. It was then that two younger businessmen, including the man who had asked the first question, approached me.

"We liked what you said. They really needed to hear it." They held out their hands and introduced themselves. The taller, balding one went on: "That's democracy for you. How do these guys even know what the members want?"

Given a receptive listener, their anger began to build: "It's old money which dominates this organization. That and the banks...Our interests are not the same as theirs...All those guys on the wall intimidate me. I guess that's what they're up there for." Still there might be something we could do, if we stood together, "No?" Within minutes, a caucus, the first socialist caucus in the New York Chamber of Commerce, was born.

We'll give them a run for their money," they assured me. And I couldn't help adding, "Today, the Chamber of Commerce. Tomorrow, the world." What business are my new comrades in? They are partners in a small collection agency, "squeezing blood out of turnips." I run a company that produces one socialist game. The struggle to take over the New York Chamber of Commerce will not be an easy one.

One more contradiction (or is it absurdity?) in my life, but by this time such contradictions had ceased to bother me, or so I told anyone who asked. Having traveled so far down this twisted path, I was determined to explore the rest. Still, I could not keep from asking once again, what am I doing here? How did a Marxist professor get lost in the jungle of capitalist business? Am I winning or losing, and by which set of rules? What are the chances that I will ever emerge alive, my socialist principles intact, my family and friends still talking to me? It was in order to find answers to these questions, to satisfy myself as much as anyone else, that I decided to set down my true confessions as a Marxist businessman.

"The American system of ours, call it Americanism, call it capitalism, call it what you like, gives each and every one of us a great opportunity if we only seize it with both hands and make the most of it."

—Al Capone (1929)

"All legislators suppose that an alteration to children's games really is just a 'game'...They don't appreciate that if children introduce novelties into their games, they'll inevitably turn out to be quite different people from the previous generation; being different, they'll demand a different kind of life, and that will then make them want new institutions and laws...In fact, it's no exaggeration to say that this fellow [the game inventor] is the biggest menace that can ever afflict a state."

—Plato, The Laws


On first reading Goethe's Faust, my strongest reaction was that the good doctor had given away too much. His soul was too high a price to pay for youth. I was quite young at the time and didn't believe that anything was worth such a sacrifice. As an older and wiser man, I developed an obsession about breaking out of the ghetto in which capitalist justice has placed people with radical political ideas. We are usually tolerated, but segregated behind high walls of media indifference. How often have I wondered what it would be like to climb these walls, to reach out to "ordinary people" over breakfast from the pages of their daily newspaper, or to surprise them on their favorite talk show while they are driving to work, or to join in an evening's family pastime.

What wouldn't I give for a chance to help bring socialist ideas to the American people, to poke a few holes in the corporate Attica that imprisons our free and democratic future? Faust gave his soul for less. My opportunity came when I invented Class Struggle, the world's first Marxist board game. It was then that my own devil awoke and said he would help me get into every home in the land. He would help find investors, stir up favorable publicity in the press, and even make me a movie star (something I never believed), and in return he only wanted my soul.

"No..." I said. "Yes," he answered. "I want you to make and sell this goddam game yourself. From cloistered professor, you'll become a Marxist businessman.

"What kind of animal is that?" I asked.

"You'll find out," he smiled.