Where Did Putin Come From?

I’m a huge fan of Adam Curtis, maybe you can tell.

He has this way of explaining things that have happened that exposes some of the influences that we normally don’t see. Is he right all the time? I don’t know. But his explanations make sense and spin the listener into a new context – it feels like you’re suddenly getting a glimpse into the gears and wheels behind the scenes, that make everything happen.

So, this video is of (someone?) interviewing Curtis about the rise of Putin. For obvious reasons, there is a lot of conversation about Putin, now. But the default narrative is that Putin is a being of pure malice – which I never bought. Stupid, maybe? Malicious genius, obviously not. I think Curtis’ take is brilliant. And it’s wonderful to hear him confused and uncertain about what’s going on. I feel that Curtis is similar in many ways to Howard Zinn, who also was unafraid to show when he was unsure what was going on. In fact, I assume that anyone who seems to think they know what is going on is probably off in the weeds, somewhere.

Here’s a bit: (on the oligarchs) @33:59

They weren’t these sort of super criminals. I mean, some of them did some criminal things, but that was later. Early on, they were very clever, intelligent, children of the Soviet system – of the establishment – who spotted that as this system was collapsing it was becoming not only absurd but a strange logic was coming into play which meant that you could actually siphon some money out of it. From out of nothing. And they just thought, “isn’t this clever?”

His broader point is that the transfer of wealth to oligarchs that brought us Putin is also taking place in the UK. Some people made a vast fortune from brexit. The population gets fucked but the oligarchs don’t care. Same as in Russia. His thesis is that the politicians have no idea what they are doing and are just lurching from thing to thing trying to find something that works long enough. Meanwhile, the people don’t forget. The waves of “populism” we see now are not really populism – they are disenchantment.

What Putin did, early on, was he flooded Russia with money because the oil prices went up massively.

It is one of the interesting questions of our time, “why is everything dystopian in our culture and why do we sort of fetishize it?” Are we trying to actually make ourselves feel better, somehow?”

Putin, Curtis feels, is a bureaucrat who wound up in power because everyone had lost faith in their politics (after Yeltsin, who wouldn’t?) and someone stable and dispassionate looked awfully good. If you remember when Putin started out, he was sort of democratically elected, fairly popular, and seemed effective. He did not show the signs of someone power mad. He grew into the role.

Give it a listen. It’s not cheerful.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    … the default narrative is that Putin is a being of pure malice …

    A (not wholly undeserved) villainization which goes back well before 2/24/22. I read Jason Matthews’s 2013 novel Red Sparrow early this year because of a review claiming that the author (a former CIA spook) imbued it with lots of tradecraft (true), but chose to skip the sequels because of the cardboard characters and, yes, Putin demonization. (Rotten Tomatoes called the 2018 movie version “poorly made … incredibly boring and monotonous.”)

  2. says

    He definitely stepped up into the role.

    It seems to me that any bureaucrat above a certain level in the USSR had to be a bastard. It was interesting to see, for example, how quickly Yeltsin turned on Gorbachev, and how publicly. From here we were all being taught, “yay, Gorby” but the fact that the Russians thought he was dangerously weak did not get air play here.

    I wonder if history will record Biden as dangerously weak, standing by while a coup was openly arranged in clear view? Gorby’s failure to obliterate the coup-plotters tagged him as an ineffectual moderate and that was why Yeltsin said he had to take over. My guess is that Biden will go down in history like Hindenburg (“a senile old patsy who waffled uselessly while Hitler worked to take over government”) because a Real Leader would have had Rump dragged off in chains immediately, damn the consequences.
    Or maybe that is projection – because that is what I’d do and it’s what the republicans would do if the shoe was on the other foot.

  3. Tethys says

    It is Pence and ilk who stood by and failed to quash the attempted open coup plot. That’s what the cabinet is supposed to do, not the incoming POTUS who does not have any legal rights until after they are inaugurated and sworn into office.

    Good leaders go about their job quietly, thoughtfully, cooperatively, and without engaging in constant dickwaving. That does not make them weak.

  4. Reginald Selkirk says

    In fact, I assume that anyone who seems to think they know what is going on is probably off in the weeds, somewhere.

    Are you sure about that? If so, I would have to doubt you.

  5. says

    Which coup do you mean? Jan6 or the next one?

    J6. The next coup may not even look like a coup. That’s the problem.

    When Putin took over Russia, it didn’t really look like a coup, either. He did enough of the rigamarole with stepping down in favor of Medvedev (a puppet) and then running again, until that got tiring. I don’t recall if he has made himself president for life or not, yet. But effectively that’s the situation. The republicans are looking to turn the US into a one-party state, with the democrats being in the role of “useless hand-flapping bystanders.” They don’t even know how to fill the role of “loyal opposition” because they’re pretty sad and disunified. That will only get worse when they realize they are futile.

  6. says

    Reginald Selkirk@#5:
    Are you sure about that? If so, I would have to doubt you.

    I’m bloviating. Anyone who bloviates about the situation probably has a 25% chance of getting 50% of it right. Or a 50% chance of getting 25% of it right. I’m not sure which.

  7. seachange says

    Curtis talks about folks never telling others “you’ve been conned”. Please.
    … … …
    Maybe amongst the class that he belongs to that’s true? It’s certainly true that the top unitedstatian five percenters who have been cooperating with the top tenth percenters got scrod with the Trumpista tax-cut. It isn’t that the fivers were unaware that there’s utter fuckery underfoot by the tenthers IME. They most certainly cooperated with getting those in power for the last forty years. They just thought that’s where their bread would -always- get buttered. And now that they’re not needed they see no recourse.

    So I do see malice where he sees vapidity and decadence.

    I’ve been saying ‘you’ve been conned’ for a long time. I belong to the Green Party, and there’s a lot of folks who are Democratic Party or liberal-thinking who are imagining the Democratics are gonna take care of us. When I point out the emperor has no clothes, it is a matter of religious faith to them that there must must must be only two sides to the story.

    I’m good at rhetoric! Just like does ketchup belong on a hotdog or pineapple on a pizza, this is a religious argument. Can I convert people to christianity? Yes I can and have done. Mammon is powerful call and folks are playing that lottery as hard as they can. It remains to be seen if folks like me can convert people to “this planet”. Please. But if Curtis and those alike him *won’t associate* with the likes of me, I can’t fix this.

  8. seachange says

    However much he finds the dance the oligarchs and Putin are in and who is “on top” the former-Soviet-americans who live in my neighborhood and have kin back home that they talk to, they are pretty certain he kills who he likes.

Leave a Reply