Why does rebellion flare up so suddenly? Under a dictator, people hide their true loyalties. The dictator is not the only one in the dark about what people really think. The people are in the dark, too.

According to the economist Timur Kuran, many people give loyalty to an oppressive ruler insincerely, believing everyone else must be a committed supporter. For these people, the first spark of rebellion opens their eyes. Suddenly they realize they are not alone. The realization galvanizes resistance. That’s why the history of communism was punctuated by mass uprisings, such as the 1972 demonstrations in Kaunas, that took the authorities by surprise.

6. Stamp out every spark

In the right conditions, a spark can become a wildfire with immense speed, but it does not get there instantly. It takes time. Continual alertness and a rapid response give the secret policemen time to control the fire.

No one can tell when or where the next spark will fly. But some places are more dangerous than others: for example, colleges and high-tech factories, where educated young people tend to be gathered. That was where the KGB concentrated its informers. The secret police also watched any large official meeting—and especially public meeting places such as Red Square in Moscow, where no unofficial demonstration lasted more than five minutes before it was disrupted.

7. Order is created by appearances

Sooner or later, the secret policeman will fall down on the job and disorder will break out. The priority is then to restore order as quickly as possible and at any cost. Public order is vital because it is the ultimate source of stable dictatorship. For the ruler, the way society looks is more important than how it is.

The people and the party are united.” Why did every communist ruler continually proclaim this unity and require the people to act it out? So that dissenters would feel they were the only person to feel the urge to rebel. It’s dangerous to rebel when you expect to be on your own.

Keeping up appearances worked for decades. It made the collapse of communist rule unimaginable. Then, when order failed, it was bound to fail suddenly, catching everyone by surprise. In Alexei Yurchak’s words, “everything was forever, until it was no more.”

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