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.