Opposition and Dissent in Soviet Type Regimes: Civil Society and its Limitations

Matt Killingsworth. Journal of Civil Society. Volume 3, Issue 1. May 2007.

Following the collapse of Communist regimes in 1989, academics and dissidents alike were quick to claim that agents of ‘civil society’ had played an integral role in the 1989 ‘Velvet Revolutions’. However, the appropriation of civil society to explain events in Eastern Europe is highly problematic. In arguing that civil society offers an inappropriate framework in which to study opposition and dissent in Soviet type regimes, this article recommends dismissing the typology for this particular scenario. Instead, a new typology, the totalitarian public sphere, is introduced. This article concludes by elaborating on why the totalitarian public sphere serves as a more comprehensive typology by which to explain dissent and opposition in Soviet type regimes.


The nature of new opposition in Poland, best characterised by the actions of the Komitet Obrony Robotników (KOR or Committee for the Defence of Workers), prompted Jacques Rupnik to announce ‘the end of revisionism and the rebirth of civil society’ (Rupnik). Following the publication of Rupnik’s article, scholars were quick to describe dissenting opposition in Soviet type regimes as representative of ‘civil society’. The main premise of this article is to challenge this assertion, and, in turn, to offer an alternative framework in which to discuss and analyse the actions of the dissenting opposition in the former communist regimes of Czechoslovakia, the GDR and Poland. In arguing that the civil society paradigm serves as an inappropriate tool by which to analyse the actions of dissenting opposition in Soviet type regimes, it is recommended here that the typology be dismissed from analysis of this particular scenario. Instead, it will be argued that a new theoretical descriptive framework developed here, the totalitarian public sphere, when applied to the actions of opposition and dissent in Soviet type regimes, presents solutions to the identified limitations of the civil society framework. This article will discuss how the concept of the totalitarian public sphere serves as a better descriptive term and analytical framework that understands the intrusive capabilities and ‘weight’ of totalitarian Soviet type states, while simultaneously appreciating that the nature of these regimes did not exclude occurrences of dissenting opposition.

This article is divided into six parts. The first three are primarily concerned with civil society: section 1 presents only a very brief historical introduction to the concept, in acknowledging its attractiveness to intellectuals and dissidents in Communist Eastern Europe; section 2 introduces Antonio Gramsci’s re-conceptualisation of Marx’s notion of civil society and section 3 elaborates on the way civil society has been employed in the analysis of opposition and dissent in Communist Eastern Europe, highlighting two dominant themes that emerge in this modern application. Considering the name given to this paper’s alternative framework, section 4 argues that understood as an ideal-type, totalitarianism remains the most apt description of the Eastern European communist regimes. Section 5 introduces Jürgen Habermas’ ‘Bourgeois Public Sphere’, the theory of which forms the basis of this paper’s alternative analytical framework, the totalitarian public sphere. Finally, through seven specific points, section 6 explains why the totalitarian public sphere presents a more appropriate framework than civil society by which to study opposition and dissent in the Soviet type regimes of Eastern Europe.

Civil Society

An Introduction

Up until the eighteenth century, the state and civil society were interchangeable terms (Keane, pp. 35-36). It was only during the Enlightenment, and particularly through Adam Ferguson’s An Essay on the History of Civil Society, that a distinction was drawn between the two. However, while Enlightenment thinkers such as Ferguson, Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine showed enthusiasm for the concept, particularly as an arena in which humans could free themselves from the restrictions of the state, first G. W. F. Hegel, then later Karl Marx, were less enthusiastic; Hegel viewed civil society as a ‘self-crippling entity in constant need of state supervision and control’ (Keane, p. 50); for Marx, ‘civil society is a fraud’ that facilitates inequality (Gellner, pp. 1-2).

The concept enjoyed a remarkable career in Europe up until the middle of the nineteenth century, but then fell into obscurity and disappeared from intellectual debate for well over a century (Keane, p. 1).

Gramscian Civil Society

Writing in 1988, John Keane announced that, ‘the old topic of the state and civil society is again becoming a vital theme in European politics … [Having] first appeared at the end of the eighteenth century [the topic] enjoyed a brief but remarkable career in Europe until the second half of the nineteenth century, when it fell … into obscurity and disappeared almost without trace’ (Keane, 1998b, p. 1). This revival was due, in no small part, to a renewed interest in the writings of Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci.

Motivated by the failure of the revolutionary movements in the West at the end of the First World War, and the subsequent rise of Fascism, Gramsci both revitalised and added to the Marxist conception of civil society. Asking why capitalism continued to survive when, according to him and other Marxists, the objective conditions existed for a Socialist revolution, Gramsci argued that the answer lay in the superstructure, which he divided into two parts:

one that can be called ‘civil society’, that is the ensemble of organisms commonly called ‘private’, and that of ‘political society’ or the ‘state’. These two levels correspond on the one hand to the function of ‘hegemony’ which the dominant group exercises throughout society and on the other hand to that of ‘direct domination’ or command exercised through the State and ‘juridical’ government (Gramsci, p. 12).

Whereas Marx and Engels had argued that the failure by the working class to overthrow their oppressors was primarily due to the coercive powers of the state, Gramsci argued that in Western industrialised countries the system was maintained not only through coercion, but also through consent (see Gramsci).

According to Gramsci, consent is created and re-created through the established hegemonic power of the state. Like Marx, he argues that hegemony was organised and maintained in civil society through institutions such as newspapers, schools and publishing houses. However, in a confusing and perhaps contradictory addition to this understanding, Gramsci suggests that civil society also serves as a space where alternate hegemonies can be established.

It is clear why Gramsci’s vision of civil society was so attractive to intellectuals and left-wing dissidents in the Soviet Bloc. As Robert Miller notes, Gramsci’s vision was ‘designed precisely for a situation where the opposition movement had to operate within a strong, modern state, which it had almost no prospect of overcoming by violence or direct political action’ (Miller, p. 6). Although Gramsci’s reformulation of the idea of civil society did not provide a viable action plan in Fascist Italy, developments in Eastern Europe, and particularly Poland, gave the Gramscian approach a new lease of life. Pelczynski writes that Gramsci’s re-working of the civil society concept presents ‘an analytical framework for considering developments in advanced (capitalist) bourgeois society (that) has been transformed into a framework for analysing the situation in contemporary socialist countries of East Europe’ (Pelczynski, p. 367).

However, despite the obvious applicability of the Gramscian model to Poland and Soviet type regimes, once studied in greater depth, the model reveals serious contradictions. The Gramscian model of civil society was a clear and express strategy for the overthrow of a particular political society. However, as is clear in the writings of Adam Michnik, in particular, the goals of both Solidarity and its predecessors were for the ‘humanising’ of the Soviet form of socialism (see Michnik). Furthermore, Gramsci’s model, although calling for the overthrow of the state, depended on the continuing existence of state institutions and the legal security that these institutions provided.

Opposition in Poland formulated its actions with the memory of both the Soviet invasion of Hungary and the Warsaw Pact involvement in the Prague Spring fresh in the collective mind. It was, therefore, imperative that its actions remained ‘self-limiting’. The serious limitations of the Gramscian model also become apparent, as once the Gramscian strategy became feasible, it was no longer necessary. The ability to recognise elements of civil society appearing in the totalitarian system was a sign that the system was already experiencing change. Therefore, the Gramscian project is already obsolete once the objective of the transfer of ‘hegemony’ is complete.

Civil Society as Applied to Soviet type Regimes

The term ‘civil society’ has assumed an increasingly omnipresent status in political science. Much of the term’s popularity stems from the way it has been applied to the emergence in the late 1970s of democratic opposition in the Soviet satellite states, particularly that which emerged in Poland. Following the ‘Velvet Revolutions’ in 1989, and the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991, the popularity of the term increased as a great deal of literature chose to focus on the role that civil society might have played in these events. However, as with much of the literature concerning civil society, each new addition to the debate was accompanied by a different understanding of civil society. It is argued here that it is possible to break these understandings of civil society into two broad categories: liberal/market and situation-specific. A broad overview of these definitions will be presented with the aim of highlighting the limitations of civil society as applied to the analysis of dissenting opposition in Soviet type regimes.

Writing about civil society and the supposed role it played in the break-up of the Soviet Union, Chandran Kukathas and David Lovell present a narrow definition of civil society when they define it as ‘a complex set of institutions and practices which make up “the market”, as well as associations of individuals who join together to pursue all sorts of goals beyond narrowly economic ones’ (Kukathas & Lovell, p. 21). However, as Leslie Holmes notes, ‘by including the modifier “narrowly”, Kukathas and Lovell are—at least implicitly—suggesting that civil society is basically concerned with economic activity that is autonomous of the state'(p. 126). Similarly, Rau, in arguing that civil society is ‘a space free from both family influence and state power’ suggests that ‘civil society is market orientated, since resources, goods and services are allocated through a spontaneous process of voluntary transactions between individuals and their associations’ (p. 4). Definitions that present civil society as little more than activities centred on and around market activities not only offer a very limited understanding of civil society, but they have limited applicability to the analyses of dissenting opposition in totalitarian regimes. Such definitions do not allow for activities such as group protests, nor do they allow for collective political activity beyond economic issues.

Focusing on events in Poland in 1980-1981, Andrew Arato presents a definition of civil society that, ‘while not developed merely by the interpretation of East European politics, is largely compatible with the trajectory of the project of the reconstruction of civil society as it emerged in this region’ (p. 129). Rather than civil society being a space for economic interaction, he suggests that civil society provides a counterbalance for both the state and the economy. He defines civil society as a ‘sphere of interaction between economy and state, composed above all of associations and publics’ (p. 128). Arato then distinguishes civil society from a ‘political society of parties, political organisations and political parties in particular parliaments’ (p. 128). He argues that

the structures of political society cannot afford to subordinate strategic criteria to the patterns of normative integration and open minded communication characteristic of civil society …. The political role of civil society in turn is not directly related to the control or conquest of power but to the generation of influence, through the life of democratic associations and the unconstrained discussion in the cultural public sphere (p. 128).

Seeking to distinguish political society from civil society only adds to the confusion regarding the term and concept. Holmes is correct when he points out that ‘political society in its full blooded sense is one part of civil society’ (p. 126). Arato (1991) then defends his separation of civil society from economic society by arguing that ‘civil society in fact represents only a dimension of the sociological norms, roles, practices, competences and forms of dependence or a very particular angle of looking at this world from the point of view of conscious association building and associational life’ (pp. 128-129). As argued below, separating civil society from the state and the economy based on functional differentiation has merit. However, while Arato’s definition offers a thought-provoking introduction to the idea of civil society, in failing to explore differences relating to the nature of the state, it is limited in its applicability.

Also, working within the area of Soviet studies, Tismaneanu and Turner understand civil society to mean ‘the unofficial, autonomous and self-regulated social activities and initiatives undertaken outside government structures’ and, quoting Ernest Gellner, argue that civil societies represent ‘institutional and ideological pluralism, which prevents the establishment of monopoly of power and truth, and counterbalances those central institutions which, though necessary, might otherwise acquire such a monopoly’ (p. 4). Having established a definition of civil society, they then argue that ‘the institutions of civil society are necessary for the establishment of a modern democracy; and they ensure that it functions smoothly by moderating the capriciousness of the markets and self-aggrandising appetite of the state’ (p. 4).

Like Arato’s understanding of civil society, Tismaneanu and Turner fail to sufficiently explore differences relating to the nature of the state, and more particularly, the form that the state may take, in their definition. Furthermore, in arguing that civil society was a major cause of what they call ‘Gorbachevism’, Tismaneanu and Turner are suggesting that civil society is a project for revolution. Presenting civil society simultaneously as both a revolutionary project and an institutional necessity to ensure liberal democratic stability is not only contradictory, but also does nothing to solve the ambiguity surrounding understandings of the term.

In his book Framing Democracy, Civil Society and Civic Movements in Eastern Europe, Glenn redefines the notion of civil society as ‘a successful framing strategy with which the democratic movements (in Poland and Czechoslovakia) mobilised support on behalf of their aims’ (p. 24). Glenn goes on to argue that ‘the notion of “civil society” should be reconceptualised as a master frame with which civic movements across Eastern Europe sought to mobilise public support in light of changing political opportunities’ (p. 25). Although Glenn presents his framework as a solution to ‘monocausal logic and conceptual imprecision’, this redefinition of civil society appears to be limited in its application only to the events that occurred in Eastern Europe in 1989.

In a similar argument to that offered by Glenn, Baker suggests that the methods of the Polish democratic opposition can be best understood through the unique ‘Polish model of civil society’ (p. 125). In an eloquent argument, Baker points out that, framed against a totalitarian state, the Polish re-conceptualisation of civil society as ‘the realm of freedom that the very annexation of civil society by the state … had precluded’ served as a critique of classical alternatives of reform and revolution (p. 142). But Baker’s normative model is still problematic. First, as with Glenn above, this idea of civil society is ‘situation-limited’. Secondly, in arguing that what he calls the ‘Polish model of civil society’ was unable to reconcile the radical and liberal elements contained in their model, Baker is arguing that the aim of the dissenting opposition in Poland was not only the overthrow of the Communist Party-state, but also the establishment of liberal-democratic institutions.

While not working within the field of Soviet studies, the definition of civil society that Gellner (1995) presents in Conditions of Liberty: Civil Society and its Rivals appreciates the importance of the nature of the relationship between the state and civil society. He defines civil society as a

set of diverse, non-government institutions which are strong enough to counterbalance the state and, while not preventing the state from fulfilling its role of keeper of the peace and arbitrator between major interests, can nevertheless prevent it from dominating and atomising the rest of society (p. 5).

In pointing out the need to ‘counterbalance the state’, Gellner’s definition implicitly appreciates the nature of the state and how this relates to the existence of civil society. This definition highlights the importance of civil society being juxtaposed to the state, rather than acting completely independent of, or against, the state. He also makes it clear that a key function of civil society is the prevention of state domination and atomisation of the rest of society. It is possible, however, to make an addition, using Michael Bernhard’s understanding of civil society, to Gellner’s definition of civil society. Bernhard introduces notions of law into his understanding of civil society when he writes that ‘civil society must be legally separated from the state by law, and the actors within it must be guaranteed specific personal and group liberties, so they may pursue their real and ideal interests’ (p. 4). When this legal component of civil society is added to the definition, the relationship between civil society and the state becomes mutually appreciative, as both are legally recognised. Furthermore, a legal demarcation means that the state is not prevented from ‘fulfilling its role of keeper of the peace and arbitrator between mutual interests’. This adapted definition best encapsulates what most theorists argue civil society is or what it should be.

Combining Gellner’s civil society-state equilibrium with Bernhard’s legal demarcation makes for the most complete and satisfactory understanding of civil society. But, considering the totalitarian states’ ability to dominate and atomise society, combined with the clearly liberal institutional underpinnings of this definition, it still does not provide us with an adequate analytical framework through which to analyse the actions of the dissenting opposition in Soviet type regimes.

The application of liberal/market civil society frameworks to activities of opposition and dissent in Soviet type regimes, as exemplified by Kukathas and Lovell, Rau, Baker and Tismaneanu and Turner (and Gellner to a lesser degree) are problematic for a number of reasons. Such applications form part of the powerful consensus that has developed around liberal interpretations not only of the events of 1989, but also of dissenting opposition in Communist regimes in general. First, it is argued here that using a liberal/market civil society paradigm to study opposition within these regime types results in analysis that is tainted by Cold War dichotomies; the tendency to compare these regimes to Western market democracies becomes unavoidable. Hence, conclusions reached using this framework are often reduced to a Manichaean idea that totalitarianism is bad and civil society is good. Secondly, liberal/market civil society analyses of 1989 place too much emphasis on ‘bottom-up’ explanations for these events. While bottom-up factors played a part, the capitulation of the Communist Party-state was negotiated in many cases by a small number of elites in relatively non-transparent ’round table’ negotiations. Thirdly, much of this liberal analysis offers not only a political prognosis of events, but ‘an historical interpretation to the effect that liberal democratic institutions were the intended outcome‘ of said events (Isaac, p. 158). But, and in direct contrast to Baker’s claim, Jeffrey Isaac correctly points out that while certainly democratic, it is not clear that the dissenting opposition was unambiguously liberal democratic (p. 159). Following from this is the fourth and final point: such analysis implicitly suggests that the establishment of a flourishing, post-revolution civil society is a given. However, as Morjé Howard’s (2002) research reveals, many of the post-Communist Eastern European states are still struggling to establish a thriving civil society.

Those understandings of civil society identified under the broad description of situation-specific (Arato, Glenn and Baker) are restricted by two problems. The first is that they are limited in their applicability to very particular events, i.e., the 1989 Revolutions or the events of 1980-1981 in Poland. Secondly, as with the liberal conception, these normative conceptions make assumptions about the likely outcome of any dissenting opposition and hence provide answers to questions before they are asked.


Having argued above the importance of the state when considering civil society, it is pertinent to outline the defining characteristics of Soviet type regimes. It is argued here that Czechoslovakia, the GDR and Poland were all, to varying degrees, totalitarian regimes. Appreciating the level of often-heated debate surrounding the concept of totalitarianism, especially in the way the term has been utilised in the past, this part of the paper will illustrate how, when utilised as an ideal-type, totalitarianism serves as the term that best encapsulates the relationship between the leaders and led in the Soviet type regimes studied here. Having done this, the reasons for titling the ‘totalitarian public sphere’ as such will become apparent.

First introduced by Italian writer Giovanni Gentile to describe Mussolini’s Fascist regime, the connotations of this term were initially favourable. However, once used to describe the dictatorships of Hitler and Stalin, the term took on a more negative and menacing connotation (Canovan).

The concept assumed analytical value when developed as an ideal type by Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski. In their book Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy, they argued that totalitarian dictatorships should be characterised by six ‘basic features’. Like Hannah Arendt, they argued that the totalitarian regime was a distinctive modern form of dictatorship of which Nazi Germany under Hitler and Stalin’s Communist Russia were the most prominent examples (see Arendt). Importantly, Friedrich and Brzezinski argue that a completely totalitarian system cannot be achieved in practice in such an extreme form; in such systems there still exist ‘islands of separateness’, havens free from encroachment by the regime (Friedrich & Brzezinski, p. 279).

A central tenet of classical totalitarianism theory is the role of terror in totalitarian regimes. According to this theory, coercive capabilities of these regimes are so great that political change from within is virtually impossible. Chalmers Johnson reflects this when arguing ‘very possibly the most damning criticism of Communism in power is that its practitioners have been unable to think of any way other than terror to bring about the changes they desire’ (cited in Dallin & Breslauer, p. vi). While Johnson’s statement is exaggerated, the clear significance of terror in totalitarian regimes necessitates a discussion of the term, including a definition.

The first of these definitions is that presented by Robert Slusser. Writing in, Slusser turns to the definition offered by Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary and defines terror as ‘the systematic use of violent means by a party or faction to maintain itself in power’ (p. 428). As Holmes points out, there is a point at which quantitative differences in levels of coercion become a qualitative difference between a ‘highly coercive’ and a ‘terroristic’ regime (Holmes, p. 59). Therefore, the Slusser definition does not help in distinguishing between coercion and terror.

An alternative definition, presented by Alexander Dallin and George Breslauer, offers a more apposite understanding of the term. They define political terror as the arbitrary use, by organs of political authority, of severe coercion against individuals or groups, the credible threat of such use or the arbitrary extermination of such individuals or groups (Dallin & Breslauer, p. 1). This definition is far more satisfactory for a number of reasons. First, it makes a clear distinction between state terror and terror employed by groups other than the state. Secondly, and most importantly, it is the use (twice) of the word ‘arbitrary’ that sets this definition apart. As Holmes notes, ‘one of the features that distinguishes terror from other forms of coercion is that those affected by it are unaware of the “rules of the game”… Citizens must be able to predict whether their actions or words (or non-actions and silence) will bring them into conflict with state authorities; when they cannot, terror is present’ (Holmes, p. 59). Dallin and Breslauer further highlight this point when they write:

Although at times the boundaries between terror and other calculable forms of coercion are vague, coercive means other than terror leave the victim an opportunity to orientate himself and foresee the consequences of his actions; terror typically does not. It tends to erode the relatively stable patterns of expectations required by social organization. Under conditions of terror, even conformity does not assure security or survival (Dallin and Breslauer, p. 4).

It is this element of arbitrariness—or, from the vantage point of the citizen, the unpredictability—in the use of terror that is its distinguishing mark.

Another important aspect of the Dallin and Breslauer understanding of terror is the distinction drawn between the notion of a threat of severe and arbitrary coercion and actual arbitrary coercion. By including the notion of a ‘credible threat’, Dallin and Breslauer’s definition is a lot more acceptable.

After the death of Stalin and his denouncement by Khrushchev at the 20th Party Congress in 1956, the cognitive value of totalitarianism was questioned. It was argued that it was no longer appropriate to use the same term to describe the Soviet Union under both Stalin and Khrushchev (see Curtis), especially since by the 1960s, Khrushchev was making references to his predecessor’s crimes. The term became even more unpopular in the 1970s as the relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States moved into a phase of détente (Holmes, p. 15790). However, as Thompson points out, East European intellectuals came to regard the term totalitarianism as an effective means of highlighting the fundamental distinctiveness of Marxist-Leninist regimes.

While recognising that the role of ideology had changed, and there had been a reduction in overt, Stalinist terror (although appreciating it had not been eliminated), East European dissidents argued that as long as communist parties continued to rule in the name of Marxist-Leninist principles, these regimes could best be understood as totalitarian regimes. As with the totalitarianism of Arendt and Friedrich and Brzezinski, East European dissidents understood ideology and terror to be the defining characteristics of the systems they lived in.

A proponent of this point of view was Václav Havel (in Blair). In an interview conducted in 1987, Havel argued that Czechoslovakia, and by implication, all the Soviet type regimes in Eastern Europe were totalitarian. He argued that totalitarianism was a system which, through the dominance of the ideology, absorbs the whole of society:

From morning to night, everything every ordinary citizen does is in some way interfered with by the system. The regime leaves its mark on everything …. You can see this manipulation in apparently trivial things, such as the opening and closing times of restaurants, which are conceived with a view to discouraging people from sitting around too long, and encouraging them to get off home to their television screens to watch the messages broadcast by the centralised media (p. 81).

Like K, the main protagonist in Franz Kafka’s The Trial, Havel knows of the ‘fog’ that envelops totalitarian systems.

This East European understanding of totalitarianism paid particular attention to the regimes’ ability to manipulate information to the extent that the very basis of the ‘truth’ is destroyed. The dissidents understood that originally, the ideology has served as a guiding, utopian principle; it now served as a general justification for continued communist rule. In elaborating on this idea, Havel argued that individuals need no longer believe in what he called the regimes’ ‘mystifications’, ‘but they must behave as if they did … they must live within a lie‘ (p. 31). It is this notion of the ideology, and the regime’s ability to control the truth through the ideology, that resonated with many East European dissidents.

As Havel highlights in his seminal essay ‘The Power of the Powerless’, post-Stalin, the ideology is no longer believed by either the regime or society. Importantly, while both the regime and the greengrocer recognise this reality, the greengrocer still feels compelled to behave in a way expected of by the regime. According to Havel, in totalitarian regimes, ‘a general and all embracing lie begins to predominate; people begin adapting to it, and everyone in some part of their lives compromises with the lie or coexists with it’ (Blair, p. 81). While the official cannon remained in the Soviet type systems of Eastern Europe, belief in it waned. But, as argued above, it continued to serve a function in determining the relationship between leaders and the led.

Regarding terror, it also remained an integral part of the Soviet type systems in Eastern Europe. Again, this is best explained by Havel (in Blair), who points out that while the nature of totalitarian power has changed, this does not mean terror has been eradicated. Rather, the regime now indulged in less obvious forms of terror:

The violence in our system will never be seen by a tourist or a visitor. It is the kind of violence they would see only if they got a job at CKD Engineering Works in Prague … They would realise how much they were at the power of the all-powerful bureaucracy so that for every little thing they need to approach some official or other … These are features of the totalitarian system which can neither be filmed by television camera nor easily explained to outsiders … (p. 82).

Granted, while demotion, reduction in pay and the loss of holidays are undesirable, these forms of sanctions are far removed from the horror of concentration camps and arbitrary executions. However, while the nature of the terror may have changed, the fear of totalitarian terror remained, and combined with regular arbitrary ‘crackdowns’, served as an integral determinant in the relationship between the regime and the citizenry.

As noted above, much of Western scholars’ dislike for the typology stemmed from its supposed inability to account for change. However, for Soviet and Eastern European dissidents alike, the system maintained, to varying degrees, its key characteristics, i.e., while internal changes may have taken place, the main instruments of the totalitarian state remained intact. Sharing the sentiments of Havel, Smolar argues that while

socialism of the 1970s and 1980s was obviously different from that of the 1940s and 1950s … the institutions created during the revolutionary period retained their form … totalitarianism as a millenarian movement had long since died, but the set of institutions that it had created was left behind like the fossilised carcass of some extinct beast … (p. 26).

Hence, for so many Soviet and East European intellectuals, academics and dissidents, no term is as suggestive of their country’s experience as totalitarianism is (Gleason).

That the only example of a fully regulated society rendered uniform under the effect of terror and ideology appears to be in George Orwell’s 1984 does not render totalitarianism obsolete. Furthermore, attempts to appropriate the idea for moral and political purposes, hence stripping it of analytical and descriptive values, also should not render totalitarianism obsolete.

Rather, what is required, and what has been done here, is an explanation as to how, when understood as an ideal-type, totalitarianism serves as the most appropriate term by which to describe the Soviet type regimes analysed here. When one considers the continuing insistence on the ‘leading role’ of the Party-state and the regular occurrence of arbitrary ‘crackdowns’ supported by the omnipresent ‘Brezhnev Doctrine’, it is not unreasonable to argue that Czechoslovakia, the GDR and Poland constituted totalitarian regimes. Appreciating that totalitarianism is best utilised as a tool to both describe and analyse the relationship between the Party-state and the dissenting opposition, it is argued here that totalitarianism best explains the relationship between the Party-state (the leaders) and the citizenry (the led).

Public Spheres

Habermas and Beyond

Having highlighted the limitations of the Gramscian conception, and both the situation-specific and liberal/market conceptions of civil society, and argued the cognitive benefits of understanding Communist Czechoslovakia, the GDR and Poland as totalitarian regimes, it now becomes possible to introduce and elaborate on this paper’s alternative descriptive and analytical frameworks.

In his seminal text, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, Jürgen Habermas introduces a public sphere that comes into existence whenever and wherever all affected by general social and political norms of action engage in a practical discourse, assessing their validity. The public sphere can be viewed as the creation of procedures, whereby those affected by general social norms and collective political decisions can have a say in this formulation, stipulation and adoption. It will be argued here that there are characteristics of Habermas’ public sphere that can be taken and applied in the study of opposition and dissent in Soviet type regimes. However, in appreciating that Habermas formulated his idea of the bourgeois public sphere in a social environment far removed from that of the Soviet type regimes found in Eastern Europe in the latter half of the twentieth century, and in order to differentiate from Habermas’ public sphere, this new framework will be referred to as the totalitarian public sphere.

By the public sphere, Habermas was speaking of

a realm of our social life in which something approaching public opinion can be formed. Access is guaranteed to all citizens …. Citizens behave as a public body when they confer in an unrestricted fashion-that is, with the guarantee of freedom of assembly and association and the freedom to publish and express their opinions-about matters of general interest … (p. 136).

As a sphere between civil society and the state, in which critical public discussion of matters of general interest were institutionally guaranteed, the public sphere took in the specific historical circumstances of a developing market economy.

According to Habermas, the idea of the public sphere is that of a collective of private people gathered to discuss matters of public interest or the common good: ‘it was a public sphere constituted by private people’ of which its political task was ‘the regulation of civil society (in contradistinction to the res publica) (1989b, pp. 30 and 52, emphasis added).

The public sphere is an area conceptually distinct from the state. Furthermore, as far as Habermas is concerned, it is also conceptually distinct from the official economy. As Fraser correctly notes ‘it is not an area of market relations, but rather one of discursive relations …. Thus the concept of the public sphere permits us to keep in view the distinctions among state apparatuses, economic markets, and democratic associations …’ (p. 111).

Habermas makes it very clear that the bourgeois public sphere is a historically specific phenomenon: ‘the bourgeois public sphere is a category that is typical of an epoch. It cannot be abstracted from the unique developmental history of that civil society originating in the Europe High Middle Ages; nor can it be transferred, ideal typically generalised, to any number of historical situations that represent formally similar constellations’ (p. xvii).

As Cohen and Arato (a) point out, Habermas’ public sphere is bourgeois:

because in it, independent owners of property, divided into their competitive, egoistic economic activities that have grown vastly beyond the limits of the household, are capable of generating a collective will through the medium of rational, unconstrained communication (p. 211, emphasis added).

Inasmuch as Habermas’ public sphere was a clearly identifiable milieu, distinct from that of the state, the public sphere should not be thought of as non-political. In this manner, it served as an environment in which to check authoritarian power.

In short, the bourgeois public sphere served two functions. First, it was a setting in which the critical public could address social problems and check institutional authority. Secondly, it designated a particular kind of discursive interaction. The discussion was to be open, unrestricted and accessible to all. Hence, participants in the public sphere were treated as peers. Merely private interests were to be inadmissible. The result of such communicative activity would be the establishment of a public opinion concerning collective notions of the common good.

A number of prominent academics have subsequently engaged with the Habermasian notion of the public sphere and its relation to civil society. As with Jean Cohen and Andrew Arato, Young posits herself within a broadly Habermasian framework when she expands on the theme of communicative action by suggesting that the activity that constitutes civil society corresponds to the activities described by Habermas’ as constituting the ‘lifeworld’. In a continuation of this theme, Young adopts Cohen and Arato’s dualistic notion of civil society. However, while Cohen and Arato describe ‘defensive’ (the way associations and social movements develop forms of communicative interaction that expand participatory possibilities and create networks of solidarity) and ‘offensive’ (whereby associational activity aims to influence or reform state or corporate policies and practices) aspects of civil society, (pp. 136-139), Young refers to these activities respectively as the aspect of self organisation and the activity of the public sphere (Young, pp. 165-166). Considering the focus of this paper, it is apt to examine Young’s notion of the public sphere and what it contributes to civil society.

While Young argues that civil society should not be described using spatial language, she argues that referring to the public sphere with spatial metaphors is appropriate, as it ‘enables the theory to say that a society has one continuous public sphere without reducing those who are “in” it to common attributes or interests’ (p. 171). As with Habermas, Young argues that the public sphere is the primary connector between people and power; ‘In the public sphere political actors raise issues, publish information, opinions, and aesthetic expression, criticise actions and policies, and propose new policies and practices. When widely discussed and disseminated, these issues, criticisms, images and proposals sometimes provoke political and social change’ (p. 173). However, unlike Habermas (and Cohen and Arato), who argue that a functioning public sphere is an essential precondition for civil society, Young argues that it is civil society that enables the emergence of public spheres (p. 155).

Young’s distinction between state, economy and civil society based on function is insightful. Related to this argument, and equally insightful, is Young’s argument that the public sphere, and not civil society, should be referred to using spatial metaphors. But, as Young admits, her investigation asks about ‘the function and limits of civic association in the context of societies guided by a rule of law that recognises basic liberties, and have democratic political practices, but where structural injustices exist’ (p. 155). Therefore, while providing beneficial guiding ideas, further work is required if the Habermasian notion of the public sphere is to be utilised in an examination of dissenting opposition in the Soviet type regimes of Eastern Europe.

More recently, the appropriateness of the public sphere as an analytical tool by which to examine social space has been addressed in Public Spheres in Soviet-Type Societies: Between the Great Show of the Party-State and Religious Counter-Cultures, a collection printed in a combination of English and German, edited by Gábor Rittersporn, Malte Rolf and Jan Behrends. Unlike the above discussed analyses, this text focuses on social space in the former Communist regimes of the Soviet Union and its East European satellites. Rather than offering a definitive answer on the applicability of the public sphere as a research tool, this book suggests ways one might go about utilising this framework, while at the same time pointing out possible pitfalls. The way in which this volume addresses both the existence and applicability of a public sphere is best summarised in the concluding sentence of the introduction; ‘ … inquiries focusing on social spaces and communicative structures as the public sphere are likely to enlarge our vision not only of Soviet type regimes but also of regimes which succeeded them’ Rittersporn et al. (p. 35). It is with these thoughts that this project was undertaken.

Expanding on the argument made by Nancy Fraser, Rittersporn et al. argue that the public sphere in Soviet type societies is best understood as constituting multiple public spheres. The first sphere that Rittersporn et al. identified was a realm which they refer to as the official public sphere. The official public sphere was dominated by the Party-state, and is best viewed as an event staged by the Party-state. Further, this was a manufactured public sphere. Its creation was a formal project, the goal of which was to generate a participating, critical public opinion from where the fully developed Soviet man would emanate (2003b, p. 438). The official public sphere was the arena where, through ostentatious displays such as banner waving, birthday parades for Party luminaries, monument inaugurations and naming or renaming of streets, officials sought to legitimise the regime (see Behrends; Brooks; Petrone). Perversely, this was the same sphere in which the activities of the secret police, secret camps, secret Politburo meetings and media control and censorship also took place. The omnipresent nature of the state means that these contrasting activities took place in the same milieu. This was not a domain in which a critique of the state apparatus could be mobilised. This is further emphasised when one appreciates that the state withheld the right to shut down this public sphere when it saw fit.

While using the word ‘official’ to describe the Party-state controlled realm is appropriate, the activity undertaken in this sphere certainly does not constitute that of a Habermasian public sphere. The official sphere described by Rittersporn et al. was manufactured, uncritical and closed and restricted.

As well as the official public sphere, Rittersporn et al. identify what they call an ‘alternative public sphere’. They argue that due to the overwhelming power of the official public sphere, alternative public spheres withdrew into certain niches and that alternative forms of communication developed within these niches (2003b, pp. 440-41). It is this sphere that it is of most interest to this research. However, rather than continually making reference to a non-specific ‘alternative public sphere’, this paper regards this milieu as a totalitarian public sphere. It is argued here that ascribing the term ‘totalitarian public sphere’ to this milieu appreciates the specifically limited nature of this ‘public’, while simultaneously acknowledging that although described as totalitarian, dissenting opposition existed within these regime types.

Rittersporn et al. touch briefly on another issue that is integral to the argument made here when they state ‘ … recent research has shown that the symbols, themes and dreams of the official canon permeated this sphere’ (2003b, p. 441). This is important. Although they have identified an alternative public sphere that exists outside the official sphere, Rittersporn et al. also appreciate that the nature of Soviet type systems meant that even alternative public spheres were not totally removed from the omniscient gaze of the state. This observation by Rittersporn et al. further supports references to a totalitarian public sphere.

The Totalitarian Public Sphere

Rittersporn et al. are correct when they argue ‘the uniqueness of public spheres can only be recognised in contrast to the functions and characteristic of public spheres in liberal-democratic societies … This should include more, however, than a simple listing of deficits in Soviet societies compared to the ideal normative model of the bourgeois society’ (2003b, p. 435). In appreciating these comments, and acknowledging that Habermas made it quite clear that his study on the transformation of the bourgeois public sphere primarily dealt with a liberal tradition grounded in Western capitalism, seven qualifications are offered here. They serve two functions: first as points of distinction between Habermas’ public sphere and the concept of the totalitarian public sphere developed here and secondly, to elaborate on how the totalitarian public sphere not only presents solutions to the identified limitations of the civil society framework, but serves as a better descriptive term and analytical framework.

First, Habermas asserted that his public sphere facilitated a ‘guarantee of freedom of assembly and association and the freedom to express their opinions’. However, opposition groups in totalitarian regimes were rarely, if ever, guaranteed these kinds of freedoms. For example, during the Prague Spring, while new forms of association were briefly tolerated, they were never fully independent of the Party-state. Indeed, according to Hauner, the Action Programme ‘could not have been more conservative so as not to arouse anger in Moscow’ (p. 217). Additionally, the ease with which ‘normalisation’ policies were introduced serves to further strengthen the argument that Czechoslovakia was totalitarian. In later years, members of Charter 77 were regularly harassed, subjected to house searches and were often arbitrarily arrested and detained (see Renner; Skilling). In the GDR, the degree to which the Stasi infiltrated almost all spheres of life, creating a climate of fear and mistrust that pervaded nearly all aspects of life, and establishing a ‘credible threat’ through arbitrary crackdowns, serves to underpin claims concerning the totalitarian nature of the GDR; Fulbrook correctly argues that there was ‘virtually no social group, no area of life or leisure, which was not in some way contained or captured by a relevant SED-controlled organization’ (p. 60). While Poland was arguably the most rambunctious of the three totalitarian regimes studied here, it was also arguably the least totalitarian; Poles experienced less Party-state intrusion than was experienced in the other Soviet type regimes. However, the prominence of arbitrarily coercive policies, combined with the maintenance of a monopoly over information throughout Poland’s Communist history, again serves to support the argument that Poland was totalitarian. Even during the period when Solidarity was legalised, there was little institutional change; few of Solidarity’s gains received irreversible legal consolidation. While labour felt that it had greater freedom of action there was still no law guaranteeing the right to strike. Similarly, there was no law banning or even limiting censorship (Crampton, p. 372). Following the imposition of martial law, many of the negotiated gains were quickly rescinded; civil liberties and freedoms outlined in the constitution were suspended, as were the activities of the legally registered associations and organisations. A nationwide curfew was imposed, and travel to places other than one’s permanent residence was prohibited. As discussed above, this lack of guaranteed autonomous space, general lack of associated freedoms and the fear perpetuated by the various security apparatuses, combined with the Brezhnev Doctrine, lends weight to the argument that these regimes remained totalitarian.

Secondly, while Habermas’ public sphere is ‘a realm … in which something approaching public opinion can be formed’, in Soviet type regimes, as part of its maintenance of the ‘leading role’, the Party-state controlled public opinion. Despite the dissenting opposition clearly understanding this, in each of the Czechoslovakia, the GDR and Poland, one of the driving concerns was the establishment of an alternative public opinion, often through what Havel called ‘revealing the truth’. Therefore, while it has been argued here that these regimes were totalitarian, it is clear that this did not mean there was no opposition to the Party-state. However, unlike in Habermas’ public sphere, an alternate public opinion could not be established through formal elections. This, and that the attempt to establish an alternative public opinion was done in a non-sanctioned space, make it necessary to present a reformulated public sphere.

Thirdly, Habermas’ naming of the bourgeois public sphere reflects his assertion that it was the property-owning elite (the bourgeoisie) who began to question public authority. Yet, in Czechoslovakia, the GDR and Poland, a variety of groups were responsible for the establishment of opposition movements. Like the property-owning class in the bourgeois public sphere, they all identified concerns that they believed had become ‘a subject of public interest’. In Czechoslovakia, Charter 77, a self-described free, open and informal assembly, through the dissemination of samizdat, sought to establish a counter public opinion, a move that simultaneously challenged the authority of the Party-state. Likewise, Civic Forum argued that they represented a public that was becoming increasingly ostracised, hence, undermining the ‘leading role’ status of the Komunisticka´ Strana Cˇeskoslovenska (KSČ [Czechoslovak Communist Party]). In the GDR, before the 1980s, the dissenting opposition generally consisted of disenchanted Marxists. During the 1980s, groups with a variety of concerns, including what they saw as the increasing militarisation of the GDR, from a variety of backgrounds, challenged the authority of the Party-state. In Poland, while significant moments of dissenting opposition against the Party-state took place relatively frequently, the nature of this opposition was certainly not consistent. Whereas early uprisings were determined by the concerns of the workers and students, Komitet Obrony Robotniko´w (KOR [Committee for the Defence of Workers]) (later to become KOR-KSS [Komitet Samoobrany Społecznej-Social Self-Defence Committee]) was established by intellectuals responding to the regime’s brutal repression of the June 1976 workers’ strikes. Again, such enterprise undermined the Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robitnicza (PZPR [Polish United Workers Party])’s claim to be representative of the Polish people. Similarly, the demands made by Solidarity at the Gdansk Shipyards in 1980, in particular, the insistence on the formation of independent trade unions (see the Gdańsk Agreement, 1996) were aimed at forming a public opinion distinct from that manufactured by the Party-state. In contrast to Habermas, labelling this thesis’ conception of the public sphere ‘totalitarian’, is not to suggest that it was ‘totalitarians’ that questioned the authority of the Communist Party-state. Rather, the totalitarian public sphere is a term designed to reflect the ‘weight’ of these regimes. At the same time, the concept of the totalitarian public sphere appreciates that the dissenting opposition in Soviet type regimes sought to form an alternative ‘public’. Yet, as explained above, such attempts took place within a political entity that mostly refused to recognise their existence.

Fourthly, Habermas’ bourgeois public sphere presented a setting where the public could place a check on the potentially authoritarian power of the state. In arguing the necessity for major modifications to Habermas’ bourgeois public sphere in developing the concept of the totalitarian public sphere, and applying it to dissenting opposition in Soviet type regimes, two points can be made. First, the degree to which any of these groups was able to check the power of the Party-state is debatable. Institutions were often either co-opted to the Party-state (much of the Lutheran Church in the GDR), harassed into submission (the Catholic Church, to varying degrees, in Czechoslovakia and Poland), or, as was the case with the Jugendweihe in the GDR, alternative social institutions were established by the Party-state; hence the need to present a revamped version of Habermas’ public sphere. Secondly, as this paper’s adopted definition of civil society pointed out, the most complete understandings of civil society situate the state and civil society in a complex, mutually appreciative relationship. In contrast, the relationship between the bourgeois public sphere and the state was not as complex as the relationship between civil society and the state, in that it did not specify recognition of the bourgeois public sphere by the state. Similarly, by definition, actions within the totalitarian public sphere do not need to be recognised by the state. Considering the lack of recognition (Solidarity serves as an exception, albeit a short-lived one) of the various groups by the Party-state, it is argued here that the totalitarian public sphere overcomes this deficiency in the civil society paradigm.

Fifthly, offering the reformulated public sphere as a more appropriate framework in which to analyse opposition allowed Habermas’ claim that ‘the bourgeois public sphere could be understood as the sphere of private individuals assembled into a public body, which almost immediately laid claim to the officially regulated ‘intellectual newspapers’ for use against the public authority itself’ to be updated so as to incorporate the samizdat publications that proliferated during this period. The dissemination of printed material served as a vital element in establishing an alternative public sphere. All of the significant dissenting opposition, albeit to varying degrees, disseminated samizdat. For example, it was shown that the main modus operandi of Charter 77 was the distribution of samizdat. In the GDR, the Initiative Frieden und Menschenrechte produced Grenzfall, the ‘first truly samizdat publication of the GDR’ (Fulbrook, p. 219). According to the leaders of the IFM, Grenzfall, like the dissident literature in neighbouring Soviet type regimes, was designed to create a network of information for those involved in the political underground. Likewise, in Poland, KOR, KOR-KSS, Solidarity and Underground Solidarity as well as a variety of quasi-independent publishing houses (of which NOWa-was the best known), published a range of underground literature and information pamphlets, all of which constituted a major part of their oppositional activity. For H. Gordon Skilling, in its simplest form, samizdat ‘offered a way in which the individual could maintain his intellectual integrity and achieve a certain degree of freedom under repressive conditions’. At a more complex level, samizdat helped to ‘protect and develop a second or alternative culture’ and ‘served as a channel for the expression of political dissent and opposition’ (Skilling, p. 17). While Habermas’ ‘intellectual newspapers’ and samizdat were important media in their respective milieu, the differences between each, particularly the fact that samizdat publications were often arbitrarily closed down or re-subjected to state censorship, are important enough to warrant a qualifier.

Sixthly, it is maintained that the totalitarian public sphere offers a more appropriate understanding than civil society of the 1989 revolutions regarding the ‘self-limiting’ strategy and use of Aesopian language by opposition groups in Soviet type regimes after the Prague Spring. The ‘self-limiting’ strategy, best exemplified by Adam Michnik’s ‘New Evolutionism’ (1985), had as its founding tenet the recognition of the centrality of the Party-state and its associated mechanisms. Hence, opposition movements went to great lengths to ensure they were not viewed as a challenge to the Party-state. For example, in its founding letter, Charter 77 announced that it ‘is not an organization; it has no rules, permanent bodies, or formal membership …. It does not aim, then, to set out its own programmes for political or social reforms or changes …’ (‘Charter 77’, 1996, pp. 165-166). Similarly, Michnik felt it essential to assure the Party-state of Solidarity’s non-political nature (see Arato). Even when granted legal standing, Solidarity was still required to acknowledge the continuing ‘leading role’ of the PZPR (see ‘The Gdańsk Agreement, 1996, p. 205). Groups who failed to assure the authorities of their non-political nature, such as the IFM, were often brutally repressed or, in the later years of the GDR’s existence, deported to the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). Furthermore, the civil society typology, as applied to dissenting opposition in Soviet type regimes, does not appropriately acknowledge the nature of the state. Hence, in not fully appreciating the particular characteristics of totalitarian regimes, the civil society typology does not allow adequate exploration of the need by the dissenting opposition for the use of Aesopian language. It is suggested here that utilizing the concept of the totalitarian public sphere provides a better insight into the use by the dissenting opposition of such language. Hence, two conclusions can be reached. First, the action of the opposition movements serves to reinforce the argument that these regimes were totalitarian. Secondly, in such an environment, identifying civil society is not possible. Therefore, civil society as a framework by which to explain opposition and dissent becomes redundant. The totalitarian public sphere aims to provide a solution to this problem.

Finally, by reformulating Habermas’ idea, the totalitarian public sphere consciously appreciates the ‘instructions’ that Habermas issues when he writes that the ‘bourgeois public sphere … (can not) be transferred, ideal typically generalised, to any number of historical situations that represent formally similar constellations’.


As argued earlier, the use of the civil society paradigm is severely limited by its historical attachments to Enlightenment ideas; when it is used as a descriptive term in non-democratic regimes, the assumption is that the establishment of liberal democratic institutions is predetermined. This is particularly evident when one considers the way in which aforementioned authors have suggested that a nascent civil society in Eastern Europe facilitated the mobilisation for a ‘democracy project’ in these countries. The use of the concept in this manner is underpinned by an almost Fukuyamaesque triumphalism. Even attaching qualifiers such as ‘nascent’ or ’embryonic’ to the term civil society fails to solve the problems highlighted here. In using such qualifiers, there is an implicit assumption that the establishment of a flourishing civil society is a given. The assumption continues to its (il)logical conclusion that the establishment of a flourishing market democracy is also a given. The nature of the political systems that have emerged in the former Soviet type regimes, and the stagnant growth of civil society in most of these states, only further undermines the usefulness of civil society as an explanatory framework.

In contrast, the totalitarian public sphere is able to explain the dissenting opposition’s desire to establish democratic spheres away from the heavy gaze of the Party-state without assuming the establishment of liberal-democratic institutions. In utilising the concept of the totalitarian public sphere, it has been argued that one of the main drawbacks to the civil society paradigm can be overcome; namely, the limited, ‘Western’ analysis this paradigm presents. The nature of the totalitarian public sphere also allows students to analyse activities within these regimes without indulging in moral judgements.

The application of the totalitarian public sphere provides a deeper understanding as to the methods adopted by the dissenting opposition in totalitarian regimes, especially, regarding the language used by the dissenting opposition. While the writings of Cohen and Arato and Young, working within a broad Habermasian framework, acknowledge the importance of differentiation of activity, few have sought to apply this understanding to different spheres of activity in Soviet type regimes. It is suggested here that the application of the totalitarian public sphere in the analysis of the activities of the dissenting opposition in these regime types goes someway to filling this lacuna.

Considering that an indispensable precondition for the creation and subsequent vitality of civil society is the existence of institutions of a free society (democracy, the rule of law, a free press and the freedom of association) and that these preconditions did not exist in totalitarian regimes, the totalitarian public sphere should be viewed as a ‘stepping stone’ in the evolution toward a possible fully functioning civil society. By applying this new framework, some of the highlighted ambiguities that currently exist in the literature regarding transition from totalitarian regimes to functioning democracies can possibly be overcome.

Using the totalitarian public sphere as an analytical tool is not to suggest that activity within these spheres was coterminous or motivated by the same rationale. The fact that these spheres were discontinuous, fragmented and scattered about societies whose establishments did everything to dictate the rules is important, because each of these regimes was different. In utilising the totalitarian public sphere as an analytical tool, the differences, both in the way each country organised itself politically and socially, and hence how the population responded to this, can be better explained. The concept of the totalitarian public sphere acknowledges that while the situation in each of the studied regimes was different, the context was the same.

The arguments presented here are not to suggest that civil society claims constitute a ‘myth’. Nor are they designed to undermine the resoluteness of the dissenting opposition in Soviet type regimes. Rather, it has been argued here that describing and explaining acts of dissenting opposition in a totalitarian regime through a civil society framework is problematic. Rather than add to the existing myriad of civil society definitions, an exercise that results only in confusion and academic ‘muddying of the water’, a new framework by which to describe the space occupied by dissenting opposition and through which to better understand their actions has been proposed.

The totalitarian public sphere serves as both a term by which to describe the space in which the variety of dissenting opposition in the Soviet type regimes of Eastern Europe organised themselves, and as an analytical framework through which to explain the activities of these groups vis-à-vis the totalitarian Party-state. It is a paradigm that understands the intrusive capabilities and ‘weight’ of the totalitarian Soviet type states that were discussed here, while simultaneously appreciating that the nature of these regimes did not exclude occurrences of dissenting opposition.