On Ukraine

On Ukraine

“A quarterly just can’t keep up,” Irving Howe wrote on November 15, 1989, “but we try.”

“A quarterly just can’t keep up,” Irving Howe wrote on November 15, 1989, “but we try.” This line appeared in an addendum to an interview about Poland that would be published in Dissent in January 1990. As the editors were dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s of that issue, the Berlin Wall had fallen. The world, and the articles, looked completely different.

As we were finalizing this issue, Russia invaded Ukraine. Thankfully, on the internet we can keep up a little better, so we paused our work on the print magazine and turned our attention to the website. We include two of those online articles here.

In “A Letter to the Western Left,” Ukrainian socialist Taras Bilous fiercely critiques leftists whose narrow analysis minimized Putin’s aggression in the lead-up to the war. Though Bilous is “not a fan of NATO,” he sees fixation on it as a kind of short-sightedness, which obscured the dangers posed by Russia: “How many times did the Western left bring up the United States’ informal promises to the former Russian president, Mikhail Gorbachev, about NATO (‘not one inch eastward’), and how many times did it mention the 1994 Budapest Memorandum that guarantees Ukraine’s sovereignty?”

In “The Seeds of War,” historian Gregory Afinogenov also critiques the “provincialism” of leftists who focused only on U.S. imperialism and couldn’t grasp Putin’s expansionist goals. “The truth is,” he writes, “NATO has no more devoted accomplice than Vladimir Putin. . . . In Ukraine, only a small minority supported NATO accession a decade ago; today, after years of Russian-instigated conflict and territorial losses, a clear majority does.”

Online, you can also find senior editor Nick Serpe’s interview with Nicholas Mulder, whose new book, The Economic Weapon, provides a historical perspective on the debates about sanctions that have raged over the past few weeks. And there’s a personal piece by editor emeritus Michael Walzer in which he recalls meeting young leftists on a visit to Ukraine organized by the Polish magazine Krytyka Polityczna. He reminds us of the moral crime of the invasion, “an act that forces peaceful, ordinary men and women to risk their lives, to fight and die, for their country.”

Last December we posed the question of whether we were on the cusp of a new Cold War with China to a diverse set of writers. Their responses, which appear here in a forum, don’t offer a simple answer to the question, but they do provide invaluable insight into how we should understand conflict between great powers today. Yangyang Cheng, a particle physicist from China based in the United States, contributes a personal piece on living with the fear of war between her two homes. Over the past couple of weeks, as I’ve read about the people in Ukraine (and Russia) whose lives are being destroyed, I’ve thought often of her words: “For those whose hyphenated identities straddle a divided world, life is a series of compromises; every step is heavy with regret.”


Natasha Lewis is co-editor of Dissent.


Lima