The concept of total war would refer to the idea that a nation is involved in a war on all levels of its society; economic, political, and social.


The effect of Total War on Civilians

One must consider the difference between war and total war. Tracing back from the medieval ages, war never involved the intentional harm to civilian population. Within war, there was a sense of honor; fight only those that are fighting against. Yet with the 1st and now 2nd World War, we are introduced to the concept of "total war"; the complete involvement of a country into a war effort. With this inclusion, every aspect of a country develops a use in the war effort, and therefore, represents a danger to any aggressors. This means that any human life is free game.
As with the concept of total war, that is, involving the entire nation in a war, civilians were no exception to enemy attacks and assaults. One such instance in using civilian casualty as a method in total war was during April 26th, 1937, when German bombers laid waste on Guernica, a small town in Northern Spain. With a population of 7,000, 1,000 civilians were killed in 3 hours alone.
This concept of bombing civilian towns came as a shock to the rest of the world. Measures were taken before to develop a single law for airborne warfare (Britain, France, Italy, and the United States had agreed in 1923), but talks were broken up until a final agreement was met. As a consequence, leaders such as Hitler incorporated air raids into his war strategy of blitzkreig. Assaults made by ground forces were supported by airborne bombing runs, leading to high civilian casualties. The bombing on London alone during Operation Sealion cost 30,000 civilian lives.
The loss of lives would only continue and increase in number as the war continued. Tactics became more streamlined and easier to perform, leading to more efficient and devastating "area-bombing" runs. The effect of total war on civilians reached a height when the Atomic Bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The firestorm on Hiroshima decimated 70% of the city and vaporized 70,000 Japanese.

This large number of civilian casualties raises conflict between the horrors of total war and whether these deaths were necessary to bring an end to the war. During a time of total war, military leaders are inclined to treat civilians as any other piece to the battlefield. From "Democracy and Civilians in War: American and German Bombing in World War II" (written by Alexander Downes), he writes that "leaders will consider alternative methods for achieving their objectives. Prominent among these alternative methods is to target the civilian population to undermine its morale or to impede the enemy’s logistics." Here he is stating that perhaps such an act is necessary; it is simply another tactic to use in order to gain the upper hand over an opponent.
Another opinion arises,arguing that attacking non-combatants is seen as a heartless way to win a battle. There should be no proper reason attack an indirect foe. But there are several arguments to contest this notion. One such argument is stating that it is improper to set a civilian's life with more priority than a soldier's. A civilian has no more reason to live as does a soldier, so as such, both lives should be treated the same, as they should be given equal chance. Another argument is since in total war, all the country's effort are put towards the war, targeting the civilians would still directly affect the war, and you begin to cut into production for the opposing side, giving you the upper hand. This tactic would be no different than attacking supply lines between military bases, the only added piece of information is "non-combatant". More to come.

Source: http://www.crf-usa.org/america-responds-to-terrorism/firestorms-the-bombing-of-civilians.html
http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/aureview/1984/mar-apr/best.html
http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p_mla_apa_research_citation/0/6/4/5/3/p64531_index.html
USSR
During World War 2, the Soviet Union was a nation involved in a total war. The USSR was not equipt to handle a total war at the time, as domestic issues continued to be a problem for communist russia. The Soviet economy could not manage the strain of total warfare, and almost collapsed as a result. The suffering experienced by the people was extreme, and cost the Soviet Union millions of lives due to the USSR's inability to cope with a total war situation.

Political consequences of the USSR and total warfare
The whole world feared another Great war during the inter war years, and as war became more evident, the Soviets feared another total war, such as World War 1. During the first world war, the soviets were unable to handle a total war at the time, as it required intense industrial output and massive conscription. The bolsheviks had gained power from the Tsar in 1917, only a couple years before the outbreak of the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1921. After the war scare in 1927, stalin realized that the world had changed, and there was a serious threat to communism if war was to break out again, as the war effort would rely on the peasantry which would be needed to supply the war effort with both soldiers and food. Stalin feared social unrest within the soviet union, should another total war commence, and therefore had to instate the 5 year plans to assist the USSR in becoming a strong industrial giant. To avoid both domestic and foreign crisis. Stalin feared that a weak, agrarian soceity could not stand up to the threat of war. Stalin, was aslo ambitious in his wartime goals. as Germany became a greater threat, Stalin sought to militaize the USSR for an agressive attack on Germany, rather than building up a defensive military soely to protect against any foeign invasion of the USSR. The Soviet Union had neither the resources or the monetary assets to build this kind of military, and the people had to suffer greatly as a result. The cracks in stalinist russia began to show. The commuist system was not capable of handling a full total war, which unfotunately is what the second world war turned out to be. Therefore the idea of total warfare started the slow chain of events that eventually led to the demise of the communist system within the soviet union. Another important factor to consider would be the moral of the people. The red army could not stop their soldiers from switching sides, and abandoning the soviet army during combat. The ease with which the baltic states fell to the Nazis surprised stalin, and ultimately led him to create new statutes outlawing unpatriotic behavior.

Economics Consequences
The Soviet Union at the time of the Outbreak of war was considered a poor nation, and did not have the resources available to keep their military and the rest of their nation thriving. Rearming was an intense burden on the Soviet economy and people. The stress on the soviets was way higher than on any of the other nations militarizing for war at the time. This includes Germany, Britain, and the US. The soviets feared a deep invation of their nation, and therefore their GNP plumeted by 1/3 while more and more resources were being sent to the military. By 1944, 10% of resources in the USSR came form foreign aid. The soviet union used more resources than were produced, and this creatd serious problems within the soviet economy. As a result of the decrease in the economy, employment fell by 1/3, but the number of people involved in war production rose drastically. This created a big problem. Many needs were not being met. Civilians were bein forced to halt work in the agricltural sectors and work for the military, or industrial sector. The amount of resources available crossed far below the acceptable minimum, and this caused great problems within the civlian sector. As well, there was a significant drop in the overall productivity due to an increase in efficiency standards for the industrial sector only. As the war drew on and the standard of living decreased, people could no longer see the reason to fight for their country to such an extent. This caused factories to begin to crumble. As civilian moral fell, so did Stalins ability to control their output. Farmers were deserting the Soviets in hope that they could join the Germans and run privatized farms. If foreign aid (mostly from the US) had not been given, the Soviet economy would have quickly collapsed during the war.

Social Consequences
At its lowest point during the war, the standard of living had dropped 40% from its pre-war value. Food was severely rationed along with other supplies, and the people starved. Mortality rose with the added affect of an increased work load for all people in the country. It is recorded that millions died in the USSR due to hunger. They were severely overworked due to the high demands for resources required by the military. Their moral fell, and many of the people lost sight of the reasons they were starving, and working so hard for a government that did not seem to be able to provide them with any sort of payoff. This idea was also portrayed by the soldiers, many of which decided to disobey the red army, surrender to the germans, and join the german troops. Stalin introduced new laws to crack down on "unpatriotic" people, which further increased social problems, as people feared joing the amy, or any work that involved the government, which in a command economy would be every aspect of society. Eventually it reached a point that if any soldier so much as fell behind, he would be shot. The social consequences of World War 2 became so severe that food crimes were very common, as people resorted to stealing, stockpiling, stealing ration cards, and even cannabalism. People who were convicted of food crimes were often shot. another social issue would be the issue of Stalin's rising paranoia during the war due to deserters and people leaving to join the German troops (some farmers and other citizens tried to become German in hopes to be able to privatize their farms) that he began to send entire minority groups into exhile in Siberia.

For further information:
http://72.14.253.104/search?q=cache:MtuJ7zt7-_8J:www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/economics/staff/faculty/harrison/papers/totalwar.pdf+total+war+in+the+soviet+union&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=2&gl=ca