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Twenty-five years ago, on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. Within months East and West Germany were on a path to reunification. The collapse of the Wall was widely celebrated as signaling the end of the Cold War and the unravelling of Eastern European Communism.
Paul Hockenos was a student in West Berlin on that remarkable day. As 1989 came to a close, he became acquainted with a group of young, anarchist East Berliners led by Silvio Meier. Seeking freedom after years of state repression, they seized the opportunity to make real their own vision of what East Germany could be—with politics that embraced neither communism nor capitalism. That vision focused on democratic deliberation and genuinely collective ownership, not the ownership of a party-dominated, authoritarian state. And they pushed to expose the state’s crimes so a new society could be born on a more transparent foundation. They mobilized activists, ran an alternative press, and created cultural spaces out of abandoned housing.
Their movement was quickly overtaken by powerful forces for reunification and ended tragically with the murder of Meier by neo-Nazis. Still, Berlin’s cultural and political heritage owes a great debt to their work. The story, told here for the first time in English, is a moving testament to political commitments built from the ground up, rooted in a particular community, and animated by a generous, humane sense of democratic possibilities.
Elsewhere in this issue, contributors explore halting efforts to create a more decent society, as well as threats to those efforts. Henry Farrell documents Ireland’s Cold War over Catholicism. Gianpaolo Baiocchi tracks the progress of Brazil’s Workers' Party as well as its recent failures. And, reviewing three recent books, Mike Konczal explores two public spheres in the United States that have been transformed by profit motives and privatization—teaching and criminal justice. Konczal wonders whether those changes undermine the legitimacy of government itself.
Continuing the theme of engaged citizens, Stephen Phelan reflects on Scotland’s No vote, and Vivian Gornick offers provocative commentary on the decayed state of feminism, even as something by that name gains currency in popular culture.
Finally, close to home, we are delighted to note that Boston Review will be celebrating its fortieth anniversary in 2015. Keep an eye out for special events and content throughout the year.
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Protests in China are shining a light not only on the country’s draconian population management but restrictions on workers everywhere.
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Robin D. G. Kelley on the midterm elections.