New Political Science's
Charles McCoy Life Achievement Award
(APSA Meetings, San Francisco, Aug. 31, 2001)
By Bertell Ollman
Thank you Carl Boggs for your kind Introduction. When Jean-Paul Sartre won the
Nobel Prize for literature, he turned it down. He didn't approve of where the money
came from. The Nobel fortune, as most of you know, had its origins in the production of
dynamite. I think Sartre would be proud to accept the McCoy Award, given the sterling
progressive credentials of both Charles McCoy, after whom the award is named, and the
caucus for a New Political Science. I know I am, especially when I think of the wonderful
socialist scholars and activists that I would have voted for had I been on the nominating
committeeMichael Parenti, who is here this evening, Fran Piven and Howard Zinn for
Except as a Life Achievement Award, it set me thinking about what exactly
I had achieved. And here I confess to feeling rather uncomfortable. After all, my main
goal as a scholar, teacher and political activist has always been to help abolish
capitalism, and, as you may have noticed, it hasn't happened. Not as of 8:00 pm this
evening anyway. Still, I have done what I can, and I promise (or threaten) to continue
to do so as long as I can.
On this occasion, I would like to let you in on a little secret. Karl Marx is only one
of my main influences. Equally important to me is the early 20th century American
humorist, T-Bone Slim. It's Slim who said, "Whenever you see an injustice, the only
polite form of response isattack". If I have any religion, this is the whole Ten
Commandments. Marx's writings have simply helped me understand where most of this
injustice comes from, how best to attack it and what a better world might look like. Did I
Which still leaves the question, "Why political science?". Why choose political
science as the main terrain on which to fight this battle? Here I can do no better than cite
the words of the American sociologist and social philosopher, Barrington Moore.
According to him, "To maintain and transmit a value system, human beings are punched,
bullied, bribed, made into heroes, encouraged to read newspapers, stood up against a
wall and shot, and sometimes even taught sociology". Orhe could have addedeconomics, or psychology, or political science. And he also neglected to mention that
the most effective of these is teaching sociology and political science.
But don't think that most of the professors who maintain and transmit capitalist
valuesnot, for the most part, by extolling the virtues of private enterprise but chiefly
by taking capitalism for granted and ignoring the big questionsdon't think that most of
these professors, that is the majority of our colleagues, are comfortable in this task or
even fully aware of what they are doing. They're not, which doesn't make what they do
any less pernicious, or our work in combating them less essential.
What is it, then, that I (and I hope many of you) do in political science? Well, in
his book, In Praise of Folly, the Dutch humanist Erasmus tells the story of a man
watching a play who, all at once, leaps onto the stage and tears the masks off of the actors
to reveal who they really are. With this breach, it is very difficult for the actors to go on
as before. Now, if you think of Marx as the man in the story, and the capitalists and their
ideological spokespersons as the actors, you can begin to understand both what Marx and
Marxists do (or try to do) and why the capitalists and their academic and other allies are
not too pleased with him (and us) for doing it.
Unmasking capitalist-serving lies and distortions is not an easy task. Success is
uncertain; it's not well paid; and it can be very lonely. Here, I have been unusually lucky
in being able to share my life with Paule, my wife, who has inspired me, educated and
comforted me, and kept my feet to the revolutionary fire for the last 41 years. Those who
know her (and us) know that I could not have done any of the things you are honoring
me for tonight without her. Our son, Raoul, who has designed the covers for my last
three books has also made a unique contribution to his father's modest success. Could
Paule and Raoul please stand, so I can publicly declare my immense love and
appreciation and thanks for who and what you both are.
Finally, before departing, I would like to lead all of you in a special Pledge of
Allegiance that I prepared just for this occasion. So please raise your right hand
and repeat after me:
"I pledge allegiance to the struggle
Thanks Again Carl...Thank You Karl... Thanks Comrades.
Of one species, indivisible,
To rid the earth of capitalism
Before it rids the earth of us."