The Rise Of The Police State…And The Absence Of Mass Opposition
By James Petras & Robin Eastman Abaya
One of the most significant political developments in recent US history has been the virtually unchallenged rise of the police state. Despite the vast expansion of the police powers of the Executive Branch of government, the extraordinary growth of an entire panoply of repressive agencies, with hundreds of thousands of personnel, and enormous public and secret budgets and the vast scope of police state surveillance, including the acknowledged monitoring of over 40 million US citizens and residents, no mass pro-democracy movement has emerged to confront the powers and prerogatives or even protest the investigations of the police state.
In the early fifties, when the McCarthyite purges were accompanied by restrictions on free speech, compulsory loyalty oaths and congressional ‘witch hunt’ investigations of public officials, cultural figures , intellectuals, academics and trade unionists, such police state measures provoked widespread public debate and protests and even institutional resistance. By the end of the 1950’s mass demonstrations were held at the sites of the public hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in San Francisco (1960) and elsewhere and major civil rights movements arose to challenge the racially segregated South, the compliant Federal government and the terrorist racist death squads of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The Free Speech Movement in Berkeley (1964) ignited nationwide mass demonstrations against the authoritarian-style university governance.
The police state incubated during the first years of the Cold War was challenged by mass movements pledged to retain or regain democratic freedoms and civil rights.
Key to understanding the rise of mass movements for democratic freedoms was their fusion with broader social and cultural movements: democratic freedoms were linked to the struggle for racial equality; free speech was necessary in order to organize a mass movement against the imperial US Indo-Chinese wars and widespread racial segregation; the shutting down of Congressional ‘witch hunts’ and purges opened up the cultural sphere to new and critical voices and revitalized the trade unions and professional associations. All were seen as critical to protecting hard-won workers’ rights and social advances.