New Political Science's
Charles McCoy Life Achievement Award
Acceptance Speech

(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 committee—Michael Parenti, who is here this evening, Fran Piven and Howard Zinn for starters.

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 is—attack". 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 say "simply"?

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". Or—he could have added—economics, 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 values—not, for the most part, by extolling the virtues of private enterprise but chiefly by taking capitalism for granted and ignoring the big questions—don'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
Of one species, indivisible,
To rid the earth of capitalism
Before it rids the earth of us."

Amen (Optional)
Thanks Again Carl...Thank You Karl... Thanks Comrades.