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Kabul: City Number One - Part 7

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Adam Curtis | 16:06 UK time, Friday, 29 January 2010


Afghanistan didn't just defeat the Soviet army. It reached out and corrupted and corroded the Soviet Union's faith in itself. Above all it destroyed what was left of the dream that communism was the future universal model for the world.

The fascinating question now is whether Afghanistan is beginning to do the same to us in the West. Bit by bit, as we accept torture, corruption and rigged democracy, is our faith in the universalism of our European idea of democracy beginning to falter? And with it our power.

This is the story of two individuals who tried to save their countries from terrible crises caused by their involvement in Afghanistan. They did this through radical extreme projects that they were convinced would change the course of history. But their actions were to have the most unexpected and terrible consequences. They would find themselves still haunted by Afghanistan, and both would die sad, untimely deaths.

Both were children of powerful dynasties who had shaped the destinies of their countries.

One is Yegor Gaidar who was the architect of Shock Therapy in Russia. The other is Benazir Bhutto who helped to create the Taliban in Afghanistan.

illustfront.jpgYegor Gaidar's grandfather was one of the heroes of the Russian Revolution. He was called Arkady Gaidar. In private he was haunted by the terrible memories of how at the age of 14 in the Red Army he had brutally killed people in the civil war as he suppressed anti-communist rebels. He wrote in his diary:

"I dream about the people I killed when I was young, in the war"

So he decided to write children's books.

His most famous was called "Timur and his Squad". It is about Timur who gathers a group of children who come to help familes whose fathers have gone off to war. Arkady wrote it at the end of the 1930s - convinced that another terrible war was coming. Here are some pages and a photo of Arkady Gaidar.

squadcomp.jpgIn 1941, Arkady Gaidar volunteered to fight the Nazis. But he was killed in the first few weeks. "Timur and his Squad" became the most popular children's book in the Soviet Union ever. 

Arkady's son was called Timur. He grew up as part of the revolutionary aristocracy. Timur Gaidar was taught that he was part of an elite who were transfoming the world - they could create a new kind of future. Here is a bit from a Soviet promotional film of the 1950s. It gives a sense of that optimistic vision, but it also has a mood of the strange and artificial feeling of life in the Soviet Union during that time - as young men and women at a New Years Eve dance in Omsk in 1960 are watched through a two-way mirror.

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Timur became a defence correspondent for Pravda. He reported on the Bay of Pigs in Cuba in 1962. Yegor grew up travelling the world with his father and meeting all sorts of famous people.

Yegor believed in the Soviet system. It was good to him and his family. But then the Gaidars became friends with the Strugatsky brothers. Arkady and Boris Strugatsky were Russia's most famous Science Fiction writers.

Although James Cameron denies it, many Russians believe that much of the story and many of the ideas in Avatar are taken from the Strugatskys' "Noon Universe" sequence of novels that they wrote in the 1960s. Even down to the planet name - Pandora - and the humanoid race called the Naves.

But the novel that fascinated Yegor Gaidar was "Roadside Picnic" written by Arkady Strugatsky. It is about a strange and enormous place called The Zone.  It is a magical area that has been created on earth by an alien visitation. Inside the Zone among the ruins are alien artifacts that have dangerous powers - and daring individuals called Stalkers go into the zone to get the artefacts.

The Zone is ambiguous. On the one hand it is coded criticism of the Soviet experiment - a ruined empty world that no one understands any longer. And it opened Yegor Gaidar's eyes to a new and critical way of looking at the world around him.

But on the other - somewhere at the centre of The Zone - is a Golden Sphere which if found will grant the deepest desires of the person who discovers it.

Roadside Picnic was turned into a film - Stalker, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky in 1979

roadside.jpgBenazir Bhutto was the daughter of Pakistan's most famous and charismatic politician, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

In 1967 Bhutto formed the Pakistan Peoples Party. He challenged the military who ruled Pakistan and their slavishness to America.  He wanted to create a new kind of socialist society.

His slogan was "Islam is our faith, democracy is our policy, socialism is our economy. All power to the people."

Here is Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto at the UN in 1971. You can get a sense of his power and charisma. He is trying to stop the UN recognising the breakaway East Pakistan as an independent Bangladesh.

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In 1971 Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto became President and set out to transform Pakistan into a planned socialist society. And Benazir became an international princess.

youngbenazir.jpgAnd behind her was the power and confidence of one of the great feudal dyansties of the Sindh province. This is her grandfather Sir Shahnawaz .

sirsbhutto.jpgBut then it went wrong. Many of Bhutto's reforms failed. His government was riddled with corruption. To hang on to power Bhutto rigged the next election, and amid mass violence his favourite general, General Zia, took power in a coup.

Zia then sentenced Bhutto to death. And Benazir Bhutto began to change. Here she is describing the moments before her father was hanged. It is followed by the moment her two brothers - Murtaza and Shahnawaz  - come out of her family house early in the morning to announce their father has been hanged.

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The Bhutto family vowed revenge. Benazir stayed in Pakistan and was held under house arrest. Her two brothers - Murtaza and Shahnawaz - fled to Kabul. The communist regime in Afghanistan gave them one of the old Royal Palaces. Murtaza put a sign outside saying "Pakistan Peoples Liberation Army" - although he and his brother, three of their friends, and Murtaza's alsatian dog called Wolf were the only members.

Here is Murtaza and his sisters, Sanam and Benazir on a plane in happier times.

bhuttosonplane.jpgThen Murtaza created a terrorist wing called Al Zulfikar. They let off some bombs in Karachi, and in March 1981 they managed to hi-jack a PIA plane (only because the X-Ray machines weren't working at Karachi airport). The plane landed at Kabul when everyone was away in Moscow at the 26th Communist Party Conference in Moscow.

The plane sat on the runway. Murtaza played the passengers a cassette tape of "revolutionary songs". One of the other hi-jackers described the effect.

'I can't express to you what effect these 'revolutionary songs' had on the passengers. Forget the passengers, I myself developed a headache after listening to them. In all my life, I've never heard such crude, unmusical, off-beat, mindless drivel. All of us had to undergo this tuneless torture day after day. At the end of the hijacking I asked Murtaza where these cassettes had come from, but he refused to answer'

The songs had in reality been written and recorded by his brother - Shahnawaz.

Here is a fragment taken over a satellite feed of the hi-jack

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Finally Murtaza gave up waiting and ordered a young Pakistani officer on the plane to be shot. General Zia then released some political prisoners and the hi-jack ended. But the Afghan government were fed up with the Bhutto brothers and asked them to leave. They were also fed up with Murtaza because when Wolf went missing he demanded that the whole Afghan intelligence service search the Kabul area for him.

Murtaza and Shanawaz left Afghanistan with two new wives. They were sisters, daughters of a member of the Afghan Foreign Ministry.

The leadership of the struggle against Zia passed to Benazir. Here is part of an interview with her in 1981. She has not only become radicalised, but she can also see clearly how General Zia's support of the mujaheddin resistance in Afghanistan was going to corrupt Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto is looking into the future and seeing the terrible dangers that were coming - the danger of allying with America and the Islamists, in the name of democracy, in their struggle with the Soviet Union.

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As Benazir spoke, and Murtaza looked for Wolf in the streets of Kabul, Timur Gaidar was also in Afghanistan. He was the leading reporter for Pravda, and he was reporting on the Red Army's struggle.

Yegor Gaidar is quiet in his memoirs about his father's role in Afghanistan. Whatever he thought politically, Timur believed in the Red Army. By all accounts he wrote pieces announcing the Red Armies "successes" against the insurgent Islamists. Like his father, Arkady, and millions of other Russians Timur saw the Red Army as the guardian not only of the people but of the noble ideals of the revolution.

And the Soviets, as well as fighting the mujahedin, were trying to transform Afghanistan into a version of that revolutionary dream that had begun in Russia. Here are some extracts from a brillant film made in Afghanistan in the mid 80s. It is shot by a man I consider a genius. He is called Erik Durschmied. He has a wonderful eye and in my opinion is the best cameraman the BBC ever had. It begins with the Afghan President, Babrak Karmal, visiting a factory. Watch his face - and know that within a year the Soviets would remove him.

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But as Timur Gaidar faithfully reported the Red Army "victories" against the mujahedin, his son, Yegor Gaidar, was becoming radicalised. He was turning against the Soviet system.

Yegor had studied economics in the 1970s at Moscow University. Then he met again the daughter of Arkady Strugatsky, the science fiction writer. They fell in love and married. And as the caption says above the photo in Gaidar's memoir - it was one of the happiest marriages ever.

happygaidar.jpgBut Yegor had decided that all of Russia and its empire had now become The Zone.

It is difficult to convey just how weird and alien-like the Soviet system had become by the mid-80s. Nothing was real. Brezhnev would take foreign leaders on fishing trips while underneath the boat Soviet frogmen would place already captured fish on their leader's fishhook. At the same time the giant economic plan had created an absurd and fictitious world. Here is a bit from a film I made for the series "Pandora's Box" just as the plan was collapsing in 1991. It begins with one of the heads of GOSPLAN, the central control for the whole Soviet Plan, showing us round the HQ in Moscow. Within months of the filming it was going to be closed down - in part by the actions of Yegor Gaidar

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In the face of this many of the children of the communist elite retreated from the absurdity that political ideology had created. They tried to create worlds that were free of politics.

Here are two extracts from a series called "Comrades" made in 1985. Its about a group of experimental musicians grouped around the noise artist Sergey Kuryokhin. I think the noise that Kuryokhin creates is wonderful. Here is a bit of him conducting his band called "Mechanical Pop". You can see where Beyonce stole many of her moves from.

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And here is Kuryokhin playing with a friend's band. They are children of the Soviet elites playing in a house that had been given to one of their familes personally by Lenin. It is Prodigy before Prodigy - and just wonderful, especially the song "Exterminator"

As one of them says - people both in Russia and the West try and force music to have something to do with politics. I don't think music has anything to do with politics he says.

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Kuryokhin was going to become one of the central figures in the new Russia in the early 90s. As was Yegor Gaidar.

And like Kuryokhin, Gaidar was also retreating from politics. He was beginning to dream of a new type of economic system that would function efficiently and automatically - free from the corruption of power.

In the early 80s Gaidar joined the All Union Institute for Systems Research. It was modelled on the RAND corporation in Santa Monica, and it was full of young technocrats who sensed that a giant crisis was coming - and were trying to create a radical new idea to save Russia.

Here are a couple of shots of Yegor in the 80s - along with his fried Anatoly Chubais, who was also going to become central to the Shock Therapy project.

gaidar80s.jpgAt the same time Shahnawaz Bhutto was found dead in his apartment in Cannes on the Riviera. It was where he and his Afghan wife Rehana Fasihudin had gone after being thrown out of Kabul.

Here is Benazir arriving in Cannes for the Coroner's hearing.

bbcannes.jpgRehana said Shanawaz had committed suicide by eating a cynaide pill left over from his terrorist operation. But Benazir Bhutto didn't believe her. According to Benazir there were signs of violence and his papers had been searched and Rehana seemed to have done nothing to help him. Benazir was convinced he had been assassinated and she speculated that Rehana might actually be an agent for the Pakistan Secret Intelligence Agency, the ISI.

Three months later Murtaza divorced Rehana's sister Fauzia and moved to Damascus with his young daughter Fatima.

A few months later Benazir Bhutto came back to Pakistan. She sensed that Zia's power was weakening. It was an extraordinary arrival. Millions came out to see her - and she promised Pakistanis a new kind of democracy. Here is the extraordinary journey she made in 1986 - from Bradford to the streets of Lahore.

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Then, in 1988, General Zia's plane mysteriously crashed and in the election that followed Benazir was elected Prime Minister. But to be a politician she had to be married. So she accepted the Zardari family's offer of an arranged marriage with their son Asif.

Here is Benazir at the wedding. The music is from Shostakovich's ballet The Bolt.

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Benazir came to power in a country whose political system and large parts of its society had been completely corrupted by the war in Afghanistan. Senior members of the army were smuggling heroin. The country was awash with weapons. And much of Pakistan's foreign policy was now in the hands of the mysterious intellgence agency, the ISI who along with the Americans had backed the Islamists fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan.

But something else had happened which few people noticed at the time.

General Zia had brought in an Islamic tax - a Zakat. It was a levy to help the poor - and large amounts went to fund religious schools across the country. They were the madrassas - run by the Deobandi movement - and by the late 1980s there were thousands of these schools producing masses of students - many of them Afghan refugees - for whom the pashto word is "talib".

Most "terror experts" conflate Islamists like bin Laden with the Taliban. That is completely wrong. The Deobandi ulemas who ran the madrassas were traditionalists and believed that modern Islamism was a dangerous corruption of Islam and they condemned it.

The founders of modern Islamism, Qutb and Mawdudi, had tried to fuse Islam with modern politics to create a new kind of modern, revolutionary society. The ulemas in the Pakistan madrassas wanted to do the very opposite - to go back into the past. They wanted to retreat completely from the corruption of politics and create an idealized version of an old Islamic society.

Then in 1988 the Soviets gave up and left Afghanistan. As they watched the Islamist mujahedin groups tear each other apart, the young Taliban leaders realized their teachers had been right about the corruption of power. 

As the Red Army came home the revolution they had protected and guaranteed collapsed. The Soviet Union was destroyed. And in 1991 Yegor Gaidar was given the task of producing a new reform plan by President Yeltsin. He realised this was his chance to create a new world.

Gaidar gathered a group of idealists around him and they set out to create a utopia that would also be completely free of politics. But his was like a science fiction vision of the future. He was going to create his Zone - a pure and idealised version of American capitalism but without any state or political control. Every state control was going to be removed and the system would find its own order.

Many of the left argue that the 1990s reforms were brought into Russia by Western free-marketeers, and that people like Gaidar were simply western puppets. Whilst it is true that Western bankers, accountants and politicians did all pile in, the more you look into the roots of the shock therapy project it is clear that much ot its strange, innocent simplicity came from Gaidar and the other young idealists.

It was their utopian dream that they created inside the isolated bubble of the decaying Soviet Union in the 1980s. 

gadarmont.jpgHere is Gaidar at a press conference announcing the start of his plan. All price controls would be removed overnight. And all state enterprises woud be privatized. It is followed by a bit from an interview with Gaidar the day the scheme began. He is aware of the irony that he and Yeltsin were going to use harsh political powers in order to destroy the power of politics in Russia.

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Here are some extracts from a brilliant series called Russian Wonderland that recorded Russia during that time in wonderful detail. These extracts give a sense of Gaidar's vision as it began to spread. I really want to know what happened to the young girl.

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And Afghanistan was about to get its own utopian experiment.

In 1990 Benazir Bhutto was forced out of power by the army. But in 1993 she returned triumphantly to power. To do this though she had done a deal that was going to change the fate of the world.

She had allied her father's party, the PPP, with another party called the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam. They represented the Deobandis. Although the Deobandis hated politics they still knew they needed to be represented - and this deal brought them into the corridors of power.

Benazir Bhutto then decided to use her new allies to bring order to Afghanistan. Many of the Deobandi students were Pashtuns and Bhutto was convinced she could create a new force that would bring order to the country. It would also restore Pashtun power.

At the end of 1994 she and her interior minister, General Babar, unleashed the Taliban, backed by vast amounts of Pakistani arms and money. Within months the "students" had taken Kandahar and were advancing on Herat.

And as the Taliban took control of the cities they began their experiment. All they cared about was morality so the only organisation they created was called - "The Organisation for the Commanding of Good and the Hunting Down of Evil". Otherwise they had no interest in any social or political institutions. They just got rid of them all.

And as they did so the Taliban experiment began to look strangely like Gaidar's utopian experiment further north. Because by removing all state control the Taliban allowed the purest and most basic form of commerce and capitalism to emerge. And as it did so merchants, dealers, and transporters in the old bazaars became rich, uncontrolled by any taxes or regulations.

Here is some footage from rushes directed by the brilliant producer Tom Giles in 1996 as the Taliban approached Kabul. First driving from Kabul towards the Taliban lines. And then some long hand held shots on the streets of Herat as the Taliban take over.  Holding it long really gives you a sense of the tense and strange mood of that time.

The music is from Stalker.

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But things weren't going to work out the way either Bhutto or Gaidar thought.

The force that Benazir Bhutto had helped create would mutate and in the end kill her. While Gaidar would find himself haunted by the political force that had been defeated in Afghanistan - the Red Army. It  had defined his family's life for 80 years and it would return to destroy his dream.



  • Comment number 1.

    Wonderful, just wonderful, but very depressing at the same time. I agree wholeheartedly with you on the "Karzai" issue; it amazes me how almost no one else in the media has commented upon the fact that we're effectively propping up a corrupt dictator. The politicians don't want to know this either, and Gordon Brown is prepared to meet with Karzai to talk over the Taliban problem and whatnot. These people truly believe that it's just a matter of sending the right equipment or buying off the right people, while the biggest problem that Afghanistan faces today is staring them right in the face and shaking their hand, smiling all the while.

    There's also Iraq and the election turmoil that has been festering over the past few months. It is very hard to find any kind of news on the situation in Iraq; almost all references to the country deal with OUR problems and fear: Oil prices, political issues that indirectly inpige on this beleaguered nation, etc. And for some reason the Chilcot Inquiry affair pops up whenever I type "Iraqi news" in to the search engine. We're turning a blind eye to Iraq and Afghanistan because, perhaps, we're afraid of what might stare back. And like you say, this is going to have a corrupting effect on our democracies. I truly fear for the future if this is the shape of things to come.

  • Comment number 2.

    Yo, Mr. Curtis, being dying to ask you question. It has nothing to do with Afghanistan (or does it?) but I'll give it a go anyway.

    After watching The Trap for approximately the fifth time I sort of zoomed in on the interview you did with Philip Mirowski. I can't really remember why it stood out but I decided to buy his books. So, I looked around, spent a small fortune (they're not exactly best-sellers) and read them.

    Wow! Just, wow! These were some of the most interesting books I've ever laid my eyes on. They're not a light read (to say the very least) but boring they are not.

    So my big question: Is The Trap based on Mirowski's work, especially Machine Dreams? I'm dying to know - sad as it may seem this is the kind of thing that keeps me awake at night. If so, how did you come across his work? If not why did you decide to interview Mirowski in particular?

    I'm guessing you probably don't post comments on your own blog - that would be, in Yankese, majorly "lame" - so maybe drop me an e-mail or something. If you don't I may die of sleep-deprivation and then you'd feel really bad and stuff.

  • Comment number 3.

    Honestly can't agree with you in the Beyonce thing...

  • Comment number 4.

    Ah, Afghanistan -- the barren graveyard of world's empires...

  • Comment number 5.

    Very few commentators seem to have considered the fiscal implications of the US/UK 7-Years War. Was the USSR's belief in itself decayed by Afghanistan? I'm not sure that would be the case, given that most of its citizens would probably not have had the faintest idea of what was going on there. Perhaps rather it is just that unending and unendable war seriously debilitates any State, or combination of States, financially.
    It could be argued, and no doubt has been, that the USA financed its (worthwhile and gratefully-received) contribution to WW2 by utilising the assets of the British Empire as collateral. What of the present collapse of the Western financial system? Is it pure coincidence? Hardly, to my mind. I was reading/hearing some statsitic the other day which said that, left to itself, the GDP of Aghanistan was $1.5B a year and the USA was curently spending at a rate of some tens of Billions per year. Factor in whatever the colossal costs of Iraq were, and it's hardly surprising the Capitalist System has been having a monetary melt-down, just as the Communist one did.

  • Comment number 6.

    @Moor Larkin

    You definetely have a point about the financial implications of the war(s). But I don't think that the present financial collapse has anything to do with war spending. These collapses have been a long time coming. I got my hands on some interesting stats the other day.

    In 1952 the US financial institutions were valued at approximately 400% of GDP (seems like a lot, but having lots of cash to invest sloshing around is the norm). This stayed pretty stable through the US's "Golden Era" (1950ish - 1970ish). By 1982 it was approximately 420% of GDP.

    Now fast-forward through the crazy 80s and the loony 90s - in 2007 it was approximately 1100% of GDP!!! That's a near threefold increase.

    All the while the profit-rate for non-financial companies has been in decline. In 2006 it reached its second lowest point in the post-war years, 5.5% or so (the lowest point was after the dot-com crash when it dropped to just under 4%).

    Capital investment in the non-financial sector has also bombed. It was at about 6% (% of GDP) in 2007 - its lowest point since 1960 (the post-war period of reconstruction was a shaky period for capital investment - the difference being that profits back then were rising).

    Finally consider the fact that real wages in the US have stagnated since around 1979. So non-financial companies are getting cheaper labour than they were in the "Golden Era" but there profits are... down?

    I think that these trends account for the increased investment in finance. There's less money to be made in non-financial investment. The financial meltdown seems to have been a structural problem.

    Although war-spending is undoubtadly going to speed-up the crash of the US empire, this crash was inevitable. How is this connected to the Soviet experience in Afghanistan and the Union's collapse? Frankly, I think history is just having a bit of a joke with us...

  • Comment number 7.

    Amazing stories and some incredible footage.

    I enjoyed the film of Benazir Bhutto on breakfast TV, was she talking to Selina Scott? I loved the way the camera moves to Micheal Fish, who is wearing an appalling jumper and makes some quip about how she should be pleased to leave the UK because of the bad weather coming up. I can't imagine seeing anything like this on TV today.

    The film of Afghanistan in 1996 is fascinating too, you get the feeling that it is an incredibly chaotic country. Fighting and winning a war there seems near impossible.

    Keep up the good work Mr Curtis.

  • Comment number 8.

    Fascinating, as always. It also feels increasingly surreal to me as your reportage moves into the time periods in which I myself was around to experience events (I was only born late 70's, so a lot of the earlier considerations really have been 'history' to me). But I vividly recall events like the fall of the USSR being reported as it happened, and was brought up within the 80's media environment, and it is always bizarre and remarkable at the same time to learn more about what was *really* going on during the era - whilst retaining some sense of the peculiar concerns of the era (I can still recall, even from my time as a small child, the obsession with nuclear dread that the 80's manifested throughout, but which is now so alien to our current sensibilities, for instance). I also remember coming across references to the Taliban for the first time in about 1996 when I went to university, mainly focusing on their involvement in the opium trade.

    I was especially interested (as a lifelong sci-fi fan) in your quoting the Strugatsky brothers (and their link to Gaidar). 'Roadside Picnic' is a masterpiece, in my opinion (and 'Stalker' is no mean film either). Although I felt a couple of the analogies in the details above were, perhaps, a little stretched, I think you are absolutely right to say that 'Roadside Picnic' effectively conjures up something very deep rooted, and peculiar, about the Russian psyche under Communism - there is a nihilism and bleakness at its heart that could never have been replicated in the US science fiction of the time. It seems that the analogies run deep in Russian sensibilities - I recall reading an astonishing article about the Chernoybl area in the present day, which is still so badly irradiated that it now exists as a kind of mid 1980's Pompeii, a lasting 'time capsule', because no one dares enter the area for fear of radiation poisoning. Or rather, a very few bohemians migrate to the edges to explore on day trips driven by curiosity. They often refer to the area of the irradiating as 'the Zone', and they see themselves in the guise of 'stalkers' reclaiming the lost legacy of a fallen empire.

  • Comment number 9.

    ...and another thing.

    I'm just wondering: the band Kuryokhin plays with...who are they? I think they mention the name of the lead singer at the beginning of the clip but I'm not familiar with the Russian language so I'm afraid that the pronunciation went over my head. I would really like to know because they sound like an excellent band; "Exterminator" in particular is, as you say, a wonderful song. If anyone else here can tell me what I want to know it would be very helpful.

    Besides that, I just want to point something out: when detailing Gaidar's rise and fall you make him responsible for the "Shock Therapy" policies that were implemented in Russia following the fall of the Soviet Union. Isn't that a reversal of your previous position on the matter? I believe it was in one of your documentaries, "The Trap" IIRC, where you laid the share of the blame at the hands of select cadre of neo-conservatives. I'm not accusing you of hypocrisy, I just want to point out that you had previously made the same argument as those "in the left", as you describe them. It's something that jumped out at me when I re-read the blog.

    Anyway, excellent work as always, and I look foward to the concluding part of this fascinating story.


    I think he's just being humorous... ;)

  • Comment number 10.

    Just a message to say thank you. I always enjoy your posts on here.

  • Comment number 11.

    @Phiiip Pilkington

    I certainly would not attempt to fathom the way big money flows work. As the Financial Times once wondered aloud about Money, in its advertising, "What would happen if you tried to spend it all?" Maybe that is exactly what we are seeing. War used to be an easily replenished resource - Human software was cheap and available. Nowadays the first-world version of war relies entirely on very expensive hardware and all the resources needed to keep that hardware serviceable. The Soviets found that Hardware is much more difficult to finance than Software.

    As an aside, I was reading Pervez Musharraf's memoir and he makes exactly the same point about Zia and the madrassa schools, as in this blog.

  • Comment number 12.

    Thanks Adam, really fascinating views. Not as funny as Train of Terror, but hey.....

    Just out of interest, has anyone here's read Obama's book - 'The Audacity of Hope'?

    Not as high brow as some of the things that get suggested on here, but I started reading it recently and felt there was a some crossover between the book and the topics covered by AC, which is something I did not expect I must say.

  • Comment number 13.

    To Juan Neira: I have sort of changed my mind about shock therapy. So you are sort of right - the more I have researched this area the more I have realised that while the American economists and other free-market utopian theorists were very important, people like Gaidar and the ideas they developed in the 1980s were equally important in beginning the whole project.

    I will look in more detail at the role of the Americans in Russia in the next part of the story. But in this part I wanted to pull Gaidar forward - plus others like Anatoly Chubais - to counter what I think is the simplification of blaming it all on the Americans. I may be pushing this a bit too far - it is such a complicated story that it's difficult to sort out responsibilities - but Gaidar's ideas were really important.

    But the most important thing about the Americans involved in the Russian experiment in the early 90s is that they were NOT neo-conservatives. In reality they were the very opposite. Neo-conservatives believe passionately that societies can only cohere if there are central ideas and moral beliefs.

    Those behind the shock therapy believed that all you had to do was take away most of the state controls and you would get a new, stable society (although there would be some initial pain)

    And in response to Phiiip Pilkington. I think Philip Mirowski is a brilliant historian. His ideas did influence a lot of the Trap. He was on to something very early - that I notice a number of historians are now getting interested in. It is the question of whether the "neo-liberalism" that emerged in the west in the 1980s was a strange version of capitalism that massively simplified and distorted the original ideas of Adam Smith.

    Above all the neo-liberals discarded all the ideas about "moral sentiments" and instead re-cast capitalism as a kind of cybernetic system in which human beings are like parts of a self-regulating machine. Mirowski's argument if that this owes as much to engineering and systems theory as it does to any more sophisticated capitalist ideas. Which means that it was a kind of technocratic project born out of the cold war - and its odd fusion of electronic engineering and paranoia.

    Philip Mirowski is also a very nice man.

  • Comment number 14.

    Quickly, though I'm sure the readers of this blog will have picked it up: 'Illustrious Corpses' is the title of a superb political thriller from the mid 1970s by Francesco Rosi. Well worth trying to track down, as is the same director's 'The Mattei Affair'. These marvellous films have been a long time away from our tv screens and are largely forgotten, but will repay your effort.

  • Comment number 15.

    Adam, or anyone else for that matter, what do you think were the factors behind the emergence of this narrower neoliberal philosophy?

    Did the horror of WW2 challenge what Smith wrote about "moral sentiments" and only leave the type of ideas that more greatly characterise The Wealth of Nations? I can't help but feel that the war had an enormous and still has a widely pervading effect on how we view ourselves, more than we realise.

    Likewise neoconservatism, was this the opposite reaction to the same event, or is this much too simplistic? It's as if something polarised and radicalised people in the West and I wonder this force was?

    I'm not sure how to explain the point I'm trying to make here, but it's as if Pearl Harbour happened, and the Holocaust happened and the A-Bomb happened, and in the face of that extreme horror extreme philosophies became widely accepted. Is this true?

    It seems to make sense that neoliberalism could have been influenced by 'engineering and systems theory '. But the type of ultra-rationality that this influence implies is also what seems to be examined throughout The Trap with regard to the neocons and Cold War strategy, Blair and Performance Indicators, psychiatry etc. So is the wider point that our entire culture has been become one with an over reliance and an wildly undue faith in mathematical solutions to human social problems?

    I think I've said this before but a lot of AC's work seems to suggest we've become convinced of our ability and our righteousness in trying to control things. Perhaps it's human nature, or specific events or technological advances......I don't know. I don't know whether it really suggests, because it doesn't overtly advocate to my eyes, any political idea. My best guess at the mo, with all this talk of Smith is maybe we need to reexamine the kind of stuff going around in the Enlightenment, which was moderate and rational and encouraged a type of serious discourse and compromise and examined structures of power that didn't allow it to be centralised.

  • Comment number 16.

    It is hard to convey the hatred for Gaidar amongst the older generation in Russia. My taxi driver in Moscow gave a stream of invective on the subject.

    I have never managed to see the Comrades series of 1985. I know that the Comrades series was followed up about 10 years later. I like you watched the Winter Wonderland series asking myself where are they now.

    I would watch this as well


  • Comment number 17.

    In response to Alex's comment, I'm not sure about the details either. But as regards the long - term impact of the Enlightenment experiment...

    It is fair to say that the 18th century Enlightenment developed a variety of discourses surrounding a more rational manner of structuring European (and, by extension human) society, as it was understood to function in the 18th century (it is worth recognising that this model of society remained essentially fedual, and had been in force since at least the Dark Ages. If you wish to extrapolate, you could argue it had been the basic model for most human societies the world over since the first attainments in urban civilization about 3500 BCE).

    One of these discourses was about the perfectibility of the human organism (alongside others advocating e.g. a primitivist return to natural spontaneity abandoning the detritus of material civilization - essentially Rousseau- and a general scepticism and cynicism about the improvement of anything -essentially Voltairean. There were discourses on technological-scientific improvement, political reorganisation of hierarchies in order that better rulership would enshrine accountability and so on). The Marquis de Condorcet, for example, in 1794, was one of the first to write a treatise in which he asked the question of whether human society could be understood, in effect, in mathematical and statistical terms, and, if so, whether societies could be built in which the sum of human happiness might be increased by following scientifically deduceable procedure.

    It is interesting that, although many of the French Revolutionaries paid much lip service to the values of Enlightenment, they tended, in practice, to avoid restructuring society in mathematically coherent ways. Although there were rationalisations in the early part of the revolution (concerning government adminstration and land reform mainly), the later instigators of the Reign of Terror were too driven by a combination of base expediency and Romanticising idealism to institute anything on the systematic scale of modern 'social engineering'. The Terror was, in this sense, an ad hoc phenomenon, and comparisons with the Russian Revolution (with which the French has much in common, and for which it served as a model) break down when one considers the systematisation with which Lenin intended to restructure the whole basis of the Russian state.

    It was actually, I believe, in the 19th century, after the 'aberration' (or so it then seemed) of the French Revolution was over, that a European fascination with 'social engineering' became paramount, heralded initially by thinkers like Malthus, Bentham and Saint- Simon. Although it is difficult to identify the precise origins of the trends that would result in so much catastrophe in the 20th century, these ideas appear to have gained currency hand in glove with the development of industrialisation, emerging as both a response to the increased socio-economic problems of societies which were, in political terms, rapidly becoming enfranchised, and because the ability to control and dictate the behaviours of masses of people went in tandem with this. For much of the 19th century these ideas were distinctly subversive and liberally minded in political terms, as they were upheld as positive remedial responses to a continued conservative reliance on outmoded forms of (essentially) feudal governance. By the end of the 19th century, these scientific and reformist forces had triumphed and were taking the cultural ascendancy throughout Europe, and influencing the behaviour of the rest of the world into the bargain.

    It seems to have been the case that the 'crashing of empires' occassioned by mass wars in the 20th century acted as further catalysts for 'social engineering' solutions - peoples grown desperate to abandon morally, financially and politically bankrupt modes of governing and desperate to refound their societies on principles that might induce a scientifically determinable 'success' embraced the ideas of 'guided planning' with mad abandon in the wake of WWI. They did it, in effect, once more in the wake of WWII. I have read somewhere the contention that the reaction after WWI was boundlessly pessimistic (as if the world had ended, and there was little left to mourn) and that after WWII boundlessly optimistic (as if the world must refound itself in order that the horrors it had just experienced should never be countenanced again), but the end result seems to have been similar. I think the idea of the West becoming obsessed with ultra-rationality has therefore been a long, long time coming. It characterised the entirety of the 20th century, and was exported by the West across the world. It seems to have gone through stages of development, with the sort of blunt and brutal channelling of human resources that characterised the 1930's dictatorships and the Depression years giving way during the Cold War to much more intricate conflicts that played out at economic, psychological, and societal levels. In some ways, it is remarkable that the Cold War was, in some sense, less about the actual physical brinkmanship displayed between the US and USSR on the ground, and more about the way in which those societies (and the societies they controlled and influenced) learnt to consistently 'regulate' and 'surveill' themselves, whether this was in terms of measuring their peak performances, their psychological predispositions and fallibilities, their economic efficiencies, and so on. It was a form of war that was waged internally, and on the very basis of the culture - an eternal vigilance that was demanded for fear the enemy would prove more vigilant yet, and acculturate its own citizenry better - and this is often the impression of the Cold War I get (unintentionally or otherwise) from Adam's work. We don't seem to have lost the practice even though the war seems over.

    Elsewhere in the world, anti-colonial, fundamentalism and rebel tendencies have seemingly risen up violently in reaction to this form of Western self-policing, and reasserted societal mores that appear more spontaneous and less 'contained'. And yet, very often, they too have initiated movements on the basis of Western influenced notions of redefining the nature of their state and the people, of ensuring that they too can make societies that function in 'traditional' manners whilst operating at a modern level of 'efficiency' and 'productivity'. And if some of these movements sometimes appear to be abandoning the heritage of 200 odd years of socio-political development, it is probably because that is what, indeed, they are eager to do.

    As Adam said in part three of 'The Trap' this is, in many ways, a contest between the values of 'negative' and 'positive' liberty. But whilst he came to the conclusion that over-reliance on ideas of 'negative liberty' appears to have stunted modern Western society, whether or not 'positive liberty' as it had historically been practiced offers the solution remains to be seen.

  • Comment number 18.

    This is totally not connected to anything about Afghanistan, it probably is a bit in the sense that everything is more connected than we think at first glance, which is one of the things that looking at the contents of this blog demonstrates again and again. Anyway I ve just been doing some very basic research into land ownership in the UK, Kevin Cahill wrote an excellent book called "Who Owns Britain", demand that your libraries get a copy immediately. This book demonstrates how little who has owned the land has changed over the last 500 years or more, and how these big land owning aristocrats are getting away with not paying tax on their lands whilst at the same time receiving subsidies from UK and EU taxpayers. Our own royal family are among the biggest landowners in Britain, immensly wealthy but pay only very little tax, I know to a lot of people this isn t news. Anyway, apologies this is way off topic, but I was just putting out there as an appeal to Mr Curtis, please do some digging and a documentary into our own sick class system and the way people forget how messed up and imbalanced it is.

  • Comment number 19.

    Hi Ed, re your comment #18....

    I haven't read Kevin Cahill's book but I have heard it referred to as a good read.

    I believe Anthony Sampson's book 'Who Runs This Place?:The Anatomy of Britain in the 21st Century' republished in 2004 as an updated version of earlier work/s written through the early 1960s to early 1990s is also worth having a look at although again I haven't read it - all the way through.

    If you want an AC genre type of entertainment, easy flowing, I would recommend, if you haven't already done so of course, 'Fantasy Island' by Larry Elliot & Dan Atkinson published by Constable in 2007. The strap line : "WAKING UP TO THE INCREDIBLE ECONOMIC, POLITICAL AND SOCIAL ILLUSIONS OF THE BLAIR LEGACY".

    NOW,In answer to the question in your last sentence : Someone, cleverly,
    has uploaded, an AC produced documentary,shown in 1984, "Inquiry : The Great British Housing Disaster." Originally broadcast on Channel 4 I think.

    AC is not in this. He produced it. You will need to search the www video channels. But it is on the net in parts, on video google???. I haven't found a continuous run as yet....

    Anyway, it's an answer of sorts, something at least!!, and I hope will placate your curiosity..and arouse your curiosity.

    Welcome to Mr Adam Curtis's disciples. I hope we all don't become too radicalised in the process of following AC's blog. How ironic that would be..

    love to all X. Love and Peace.etc

    Have a holiday Adam. It's a game. It's a game....It's a game..You will make money from it...What is the bloody point?????

  • Comment number 20.

    One of the premises of your work is the notion that “ideas have consequences”. You are interested primarily in the power of ideas and particularly in the way ideas fail in reality. But your work seems to lack the opposite approach – how material circumstances (or perceptions of how circumstances can change) shape ideas. Take neoliberalism. Hayek, arguably its founding father and also an aristocrat, believed with a Blair-like conviction that his world was under material threat from political ideas such as the welfare state. He did not just pluck these beliefs out of thin air; they were a response to a world in which he thought he would quickly find himself if he did not act. The crisis in self-belief of the West that began in the 1960s (the Paris events of 1968, ‘postmodernism’, the rise of the counterculture, etc) were as much a response to the economic difficulties of the end of the post-war boom in the late 1960s as they were some strange set of new ideas, and the principal actors were the baby-boomer generation that had been the young beneficiaries of that boom. Crucially, ideas require fertile ground in order to gain mass acceptance. It was the subsequent economic meltdown of the late 1970s that prepared the way for the mass acceptance of the radical neoliberal reforms that Thatcher would make to Britain. There are historians like Robert Brenner who show in epic detail (e.g. in his book The Economics of Global Turbulence) how it was the emergence of production centres like Japan that caused of the end of the post-war boom in the West, and how all the ideas about countering that development, including forty years of neoliberalism, have failed – witness also the rise of China etc -- culminating in the material crisis of neoliberalism that we are enduring right now. (Brenner of course believes that the financial turbulence is really just a reflection of much deeper economic problems.) It is not Afghanistan that will undo the West in this view; it is events that occurred almost fifty years ago on what was then the periphery – not the straightforwardly colonial periphery of the Belgian Congo or central Asia, but the emerging production centres of East Asia.

  • Comment number 21.

    Interesting commentary, Materiality. I was just reading Niall Ferguson's 'War of the World' and was struck by how he, from the other end of the telescope, appeared to be addressing a similar issue at an earlier point in historical development - as his principal argument seemed to me to be that 'Great Power' conflict (and, indeed, much Western political realisation) between the turn of the c.20th and the 1950's was dictated by questions of which nations would hold control of the East and its resources, and whether, in fact, the imperial powers (and their successors) would prove capable of solidly exploiting these resources or would fail in the attempt. Some of this material is obvious (e.g. the redefinition of Japan in the wake of the Meiji Restoration), although given new slants, some appears to be assumptionist, but intriguing (that, for Hitler, part of the detestation felt towards Jews and leading ultimately to the Holocaust was bound into issues of Western vs. 'Eastern' [including Communist] values).

    Although I am sure the emphasis is different (and I will have to search out Brenner's book now you've recommended it!), the consensus reached appears similar. The West did *not* succeed in imposing its susbtantive will on the East in the first half of the 20th century, and thereafter has been steadily losing ground and control over this vital region of the globe, whilst Eastern polities have been furiously reasserting their own cultural values and economic influences ever since. This has had a peculiarly destabilising effect on Western society.

    Of course, it must be remembered that the way in which we interpret the 'course' of history alters to reflect our current views, and choice of what is 'significant' and what is not so - I recollect clearly (and possess the books to prove it) that the great concern in the early to mid 1990's (before the crash of the so called 'tiger economies') was with the inexorable rise of Japanese influenced technocracy, which, hand in glove with West Coast Californian technocracy, was going to singlehandedly dominate the world. Now, something like 20 years later, the emphasis is shifting to the belief that China's monolithic stature will prove world defining. I think it is clear that the jury remains out on this, and what has actually altered is our response towards what appears inexorable. All that can be said with certainty is that no cultural imperialism lasts for ever, and Western infl has been in severe decline for probably the best part of 70 years now. Nonetheless, what is most definitely interesting about the Cold War years is that no-one quite appeared to perceive matters in this way at the time - the US and USSR were seen almost universally as unassailable 'superpowers', and government across the world, accepting their economic and political 'superiority', willingly allowed themselves to fall into line with the ruling ideologies of the central blocs. This is part of the Cold War's peculiarity, and one of the aspects of it that I think Adam Curtis explores with aplomb.

  • Comment number 22.

    Adam: Thank you for the clarification. :)

  • Comment number 23.

    Excellent post as always.

    Given the direction of the comments, I wanted to add my ‘five cents’.

    I thought The Trap was a superb documentary, but I felt that the treatment of Russia was oversimplified, especially identifying Putin with ‘reactionary forces’.

    Russia has never had a Western liberal democracy. During Yeltsin’s 8 years, twice as many journalists were murdered as during Putin’s 8 years. Yeltsin was responsible for a horrific war in Chechnya and bombing his own parliament.

    The irony, as I see it, is that people with my views, being fairly positive about Putin/Medvedev in a historical context, are often called ‘Russophiles’ whilst the opponents of Putin are called ‘Russophobes’.

    For me the irony is that people with my views aren’t giving a blank cheque to Putin. I readily concede that the second Chechen war was horrific, that the infrastructure dangerously stagnated under Putin’s reign (and seems to be doing the same under Medvedev) and that there are numerous human rights issues in Russia.

    However, it seems to me it is the so-called ‘Russophobes’ who are the strangely naïve idealists: who think Russia HAD a liberal democracy under Yeltsin. (And I entirely agree with you: the shock-therapy was a largely internal process, though it is interesting how naïve the neo-liberals were and how bad their advice was).

    And this is an on-going romance. I personally have a soft-spot for Garry Kasparov, because I like Quixotic figures, but the way the Western media treats him is ridiculous. The economically right wing liberal parties (treated as 'the opposition' in Anglophone countries) have about 3% popularity between them.

    I think that there is a very interesting story in the essential ‘collapse’ of the United Russia Party and how Putin took it in a different direction out of necessity.

    Subsequently, despite Russia’s flat tax, Putin has been described as ‘Stalinist’. Whilst I certainly don’t see Russia as an ideal country in any way, I also don’t think that there is any blueprint for an open society.

    However, the MSM is mired in clichés about modern Russia (we still constantly read about ‘Putin’s Russia’ long after he stood down as leader). Recommended reading:


    Incidentally, I also thought it was interesting how often Hitler/Churchill/Chamberlain/Appeasement metaphors were used in the press during the Ossetia conflict. These were exactly the same arguments for invading Iraq (please, let’s not pretend anyone was taken in by the ‘dodgy dossier’).

    It seems to me that British history really is a broken record. It’s relevant to the Living Dead documentary that was very prescient.

  • Comment number 24.

    Thanks for the reply Leeravitz, very interesting indeed. The Marquis of Condorcet sounds like, possibly, an important figure in the evolution of this ultra-rationalism. Not someone I'm familiar with at all, I should find out more about some of the characters and ideas you mention, I appreciate the time. It's all very complex isn't it....I mean can't Adam just give us the answer and we can get on with the revolution? Joke, by the way.

    The point I wanted to make about the Enlightenment was that aspects of that period of thought, and I'm mainly talking about Smith and some of his contempories and countrymen (no Scottish bias here, despite my name), seem to be appealing. These ideas, and perhaps more importantly the process by which they were reached, seemed to be characterised by greater balance and moderacy than we see in many modern political or social philosophies, and those examined in AC's stuff. I'd agree that Smith gets a bad press with regard to his influence on modern market economics. The power held by markets now is far wider reaching than he could have imagined was possible never mind have suggested. His ideas have been hijacked and split in half, with the role of the state and exceptions to market efficiency and moreover the benign and selfless virtues of human nature, that were fundamentals of his philosophy, simply ignored. Actually that's the point AC makes, but I think it's a widely held view.

    At the core of Enlightment thinking is a need for power to be justified rationally. As you suggest, this is revolutionary idea when set in the context of the previous feudal system. So it attempts not to prescribe a very exact and specific structure (which to an extent would be absolute and therefore tyrannical itself and limited greatly by the age it was written amongst other things), but an argument and a practical broad framework for power to be more widely dispersed which they saw as being at the core of inequality and human suffering.

    I wonder sometimes, and maybe this is the point, if sophisticated or bold models is what we need. I wonder if post WW2 we became obsessed with our own ability to do evil, and wanted to control ourselves and others, if this was a catalyst. This of course is a traumatised and unrealistic view of what people are about, but I wonder if we collectively how much we are influenced by this perception of human nature, and particularly those who founded neoconservatism, neoliberalism i.e. ideas that take an extreme view of human nature. Is it a deeper trait of being unable to accept risk, or possibly conceive ideas that are, in some sense superficially, contradictory? I sometimes wonder, and this is a very simplistic viewpoint I know, if people simply need to be reminded that they are capable of extraordinary selflessness and humanity, and have a unique gift in being able to genuinely empathise with other people, without this being somehow false or immoral? I'm thinking of an Ayn Rand Objectivist type of philosophy, which is ludicrous and extreme but I believe pretty influential. I think the alienation and isolation people feel today is partly the conflict between natural altruism and need for empathy, and the brutal individualism of much of society, which is what results from an over reliance on rationality.

    Ultra-rationality isn't even rational at all though, right? Extremes of neoliberalism, conservatism, religious practise follow an overly strict set of rules that are not always applicable or, as we've seen, have unintended results. Any model or philosophy for a great society must include a great model of human nature. If we agree this can't be modelled, can any overarching idea ever hope to achieve this? But the Freud/Bernays stuff....I mean they were right to an extent weren't they with their theories? What they did worked, and people started buying rubbish and could be manipulated for far worse things than hawking washing powder. Or was this less an exploitation of deep human desires and more a reflection of broader, societally induced wants that in fact coincided and seem to validate psychoanalytic ideas and techniques?
    Someone asked me once what I thought the roots of racial prejudice are, and I said that I thought it might be human beings need for order. I'm not sure if that's true, but I'm beginning to think that this is at the root of this type criticism of modern life and it's problems. I've checked out a little about Max Weber and stuff about qualitative/quantative study, positivism.....I don't claim to understand it fully. It seems Rationality, the larger idea, is not the same as rational thinking in a more common usage. Now I think about that point I'm not sure.....but anyway, I think it's about an adherance to a specific idea of how to acquire understanding and knowledge. I'm don't wanna go on so I'll try and summarise - I've read people's arguements on this, and this concept seems to make sense, and certainly underpins our general idea of how we understand things, and it's validity is not the problem for me. It's that people think it's everything, that only Rationality can provide us with knowledge. Moreover, it seems to be inherently linked to mathematics, particularly statistics. But, and again this is what I think AC's work is partly about, there are other ways to understand things, and attribute value possibly, especially people and societies which are as complex propositions as we can imagine.

    I was gonna make a point about the popularity / success of Eastern Philosophies, particularly Buddhism, and things like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and how the success of these might reflect a need not fulfilled generally in western society - the ability to accept risk and fighting a tendency to prioritise the self, some kind of myopic narcissism. But that was as far as I got and I've not really thought it through. Bleh. Rambling.

    One other thing - Adam Curtis is the Wizard of Oz. Discuss.

  • Comment number 25.

    Hi Adam,

    I would like to post a link on here to a really interesting video on swine flu from 1976. There are lots of 'swine flu doubters'- however this video is quite significant and should be watched. I know this video is way off the mark for the current topic but thought you and others might find it insightful. Adam, do you know if countries have ever conducted international physical 'experiments' as well as psychological ones eg MKULTRA post 1950-60?

    Thanks- love your work

    Part 1 www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFcnneAqnTM&feature=related
    Part 2 www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9Bvf9AaC-4&feature=related

  • Comment number 26.

    Hello Mr Curtis.

    Thank you for your great films, I have watched most of them with the greatest pleasure.

    I would like to comment on this:

    > While Gaidar would find himself haunted by the political force that had been defeated in Afghanistan - the Red Army. It had defined his family's life for 80 years and it would return to destroy his dream.

    The Red Army certainly didn't act in a vacuum, what has been called Cold War II can easiliy be dated to March 28 2006 and the following article by Mr Gaidar.


    Which in turn can be considered a semi-official Russian response to this:


    " The current and future U.S. nuclear force, in other words, seems designed to carry out a preemptive disarming strike against Russia or China.
    …the sort of missile defenses that the United States might plausibly deploy would be valuable primarily in an offensive context, not a defensive one — as an adjunct to a U.S. first-strike capability."

    References to this diplomatic exchange is strangely absent in western media and makes it so much easier to understand what Putin said at the security conference in Munich and at the G8 meeting in Heiligendam. For some I think it actually has the potential to turn the mainstream western view on aggressive Russia completely upside down.

  • Comment number 27.


    ‘Ultra-rationality isn't even rational at all though, right?’

    As I see it, people can make rational and logical statements that contradict each other and that is why people developed complex, non-utilitarian ethics over the centuries. And why these are hated by many ‘rational’ idealists. Take the current hooha about arresting Tony Blair. In 2003 Blair (and many politicians and journalists) made the perfectly logical and rational statement that Saddam Hussein has killed and tortured vast numbers of people. If we get rid of Saddam then we’ll get rid of a mass-murdering torturer.

    Perfectly logical, perfectly rational.

    Of course, even at the time many others argued the opposite. If you bomb Iraq, the Iraqis will be hostile, old ethnic/religious hatreds will surface, the economy will suffer and the occupiers will have to use imperial methods to hold onto power, using corrupt and authoritarian strongmen.

    Again, perfectly logical, perfectly rational.

    Personally, as a Christian (a group treated with open contempt by many heterogeneous idealists) I wouldn’t support a pre-emptive war even if it could be mathematically projected with some accuracy that doing so would save life. I realise that my views may not be entirely rational, but I also think that utilitarian ethos and simple logic can lead to chaos.

    John Gray has developed some similar ideas to Adam Curtis. An interesting article here:


  • Comment number 28.

    I'll come back to make another comment, just watched the Kuryokhin music for the first time.

    The singer is very Prodigy, not sure about the song generally. Also what song is 'Exterminator'? I thought the first one would be called 'Experimentor'!!

    The second one reminds me of lots of things; Jerry Lee Lewis/Big Bopper style rock and roll, but the way someone like Roxy Music did it, or Sensational Alex Harvey Band or someone.

    The lyrics to the first song are unbelievably appropriate for this blog. I'm not sure we hear enough from the musician to tell, but it doesn't sound like he's fingering the West for making music about politics at all, seems to me he's talking about the USSR, which would make sense. I also think he's saying that music has 'hardly anything to do with politics' rather that nothing at all. Hate to be a pedant. I think he's
    wrong either way actually. I think pop music can reflect, and potentially influence, its time in lots of ways.

  • Comment number 29.

    Interesting stuff about the music, Alex. I made the assumption that the singer was certainly talking about music in the USSR being politically dominated - and making the point that his group wished to revel in music made for the sake of the sound only. I know nothing about Soviet era 'popular music' in the USSR (and whether there really was any such thing much before the 80's - I know certain other 'Soviet bloc' countries were able to -just- gain access to Western modes of music), but I would assume that the majority of widely available music at a popular level was state sanctioned and essentially propogandistic in nature.

    I'm not sure that the point being made by the singer was that music is, by its nature, a-political - surely he and his band mates must have been aware, even if all their music expressed was anger at the system, or surreal poetry deliberately contesting the assumptions of the Communist state, that there was a 'political' slant to their emphases - but, in a more general sense, that their songs are not directly about politics, and, more importantly, they are not conditioned by prevailing assumptions and viewpoints. That, in fact, was what I took the meaning to be - that the new style of music was breaking away from the state sanctioned, and so 'acceptable' form of music making, and, instead, taking Western models as its inspiration. One of the most interesting aspects of the 'sound collage' (and perhaps why Adam chose to include it) was the use of the sounds of the foundry, alongside orchestration, to make a kind of (literally) 'industrial' sound - which I thought was a fascinating subversion of the obsessions of the state. And I couldn't help thinking that both the programme makers and Adam C. felt there was a delicious irony that all this subversion was going on amongst the grandchildren of Lenin's one time elite cadres.

  • Comment number 30.

    Just came on here to congratulate you on the piece that you produced on the latest Newswipe, it was excellent. Just some thoughts: did Jenkins really achieve all he did because he was an "elitist"? I don't think he necessarily had a low of view of those "below" him, although maybe that's because I'm using the modern definition of "elitism". The impression I got from your short piece of him is that he was an elitist because he was somebody who was part of an elite who was not afraid to use to his imagination in order to bring on the change that he thought the masses needed, instead of giving them what they wanted (which seems to be the popular approach these days).

    Also, you report on the various scandals that peppered public life following the breaking of the dam that was Watergate. Some of it you attribute to journalism's increasing hunger for a foil to fight against, but I wonder: why did the elites become corrupted in the first place? The chaos of the seventies and the scandals that subsequently fed the press would seem to indicate that the patrician elites were becoming ever more clueless in managing the affairs of the state. Yet this is the same elite where Roy Jenkins sprang from, and from which he was able to bring about the change that we "needed". So are elites good or bad? You left it all very ambiguous, which I suppose is a good thing but it doesn't give me the answer that I need at twenty past one in the morning. ;)

    Final thought: I love how you skewer both the Left and the Right with your analysis of what I guess can only be called the "conspiracy theory" mindset. You provided one of the best analysis I've seen as to how and why this mood of fear deeloped, which is a tad ironic considering how many times you have been accused of being a "conspiracy theorist" by intellectual wonks. This peculiar ideology seems to trascend, and from now on I'll think of it as "Nixonian conservatism" thanks to your program. ;)

  • Comment number 31.

    Mr. Curtis

    I'm a documentary filmmaker from Pakistan and a big fan of yours. The other day I was watching The Power of Nightmares, and as you spoke of how the establishments supported Islamic militant groups that were carrying out attacks on civilians in Algeria and Egypt, just to turn public opinion against them, I realised that is exactly what they're doing in Pakistan. Not that it is not practically common knowledge that Islamic militants are backed by the Military and the ISI, but now I suspect part of the game is to support such attacks as an exercise in sabotage against the groups themselves that has already cost hundreds of lives. I have also been noticing that many of the attacks have been carried out with military vehicles, and some of the senior militants being 'captured' have military vehicles in their possession. I thought you would be interested in all of this... I hope to make something out of it soon.

    Thanks for being an inspiration.

    Nofil Naqvi

  • Comment number 32.

    Another fantastic article and some wonderful stuff here. Especially liked the From Bradford to Lahore piece. Wonderfuly emotive film making. Keep up the good work...

  • Comment number 33.

  • Comment number 34.

    Adam, I was wondering how you would justify the idea that the UK has a European idea of democracy:
    "Bit by bit, as we accept torture, corruption and rigged democracy, is our faith in the universalism of our European idea of democracy beginning to falter? And with it our power."

    The UK's sense of moral superiority, which is still influenced by WWII, has taken it in a different direction from the European idea of democracy.

    European democracy is a tough one to define (part statist, technocratic, idealistic, prone to obvious failures of competence, compromising national identities); the British is elitist, newly technocratic, driven by no long term vision of the state, the people, renewal, or fairness or by an ideology we can sit down and break apart for analysis.

    It seems though to continue a belief that elites will bring some kind of universal benefit (even as the social fabric has morphed into something quite grotesque- read 16 year olds have children who have children at 16).

    If I was asked to define British moral or political ideology it would be "a belief in the beneficial power of freeforming and traditional elites"). If I was asked to define the European political and moral ideology it would be something like "attempting to redefine the role of the state but stuck with a functionary view of what the state is."

  • Comment number 35.

    Sorry to lower the tone of the discussion, but Stalker has also been re-made into a computer game. The difference being that 'the zone' is a vast area around the ruins of Chernobyl

  • Comment number 36.

    Glad to see another Nine Inch Nails song in one of your videos. For anyone that is curious, in the fragment where Benazir Bhutto travels "from Bradford to the streets of Lahore", the music is "2 Ghosts I" from the NIN album Ghosts I-IV.

  • Comment number 37.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?


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