The theory of totalitarianism, even in these looser applications, falls short of explaining the range and depth of resistance, noncompliance and apathy towards the demands of the state. The USSR was regulated to an exceptional degree in some ways while it managed to elude central political control in others. Behind the façade of party congresses and Red Square parades there was greater disobedience to official authority than in most liberal-democratic countries even though the Soviet leadership could wield a panoply of dictatorial instruments. Informal and mainly illegal practices pervaded existence in the USSR.

The unofficial, unplanned and illicit features of existence in the Soviet Union were not ‚lapses‘ or ‚aberrations‘ from the essence of totalitarianist state and society: they were integral elements of totalitarianism. The conventional definition of totalitarianism is focused exclusively on the effective and ruthless imposition of the Kremlin’s commands; this is counterposed to the operation of liberal democracies. What is missing is an awareness that such democracies are by and large characterized by popular consent, obedience and order. It was not the same in the USSR, where every individual or group below the level of the central political leadership engaged in behaviour inimical to officially approved purposes. The result was a high degree of disorder from the viewpoint of the authorities – and it was much higher than in the countries of advanced capitalism.

—Robert Service, The Penguin History of Modern Russia, (Great Britain: Penguin Books, 2020), xxxii-xxxiii.

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