A Class Act: Martin Rowson’s graphic take on The Communist Manifesto

The Communist Manifesto - © Martin Rowson

© Martin Rowson

SelfMadeHero recently marked the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth with a graphic novel adaptation of The Communist Manifesto, created by Guardian cartoonist Martin Rowson – and the book has gone down a storm.

Published in 1848, at a time of political upheaval in Europe, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ Manifesto for the Communist Party – written in haste over a few days after much procrastination – was at once a powerful critique of capitalism and a radical call to arms. It remains the most incisive introduction to the ideas of Communism and the most lucid explanation of its aims.

The Communist Manifesto - © Martin Rowson

© Martin Rowson

Much of what Marx and Engels proposed continues to be at the heart of political debate in the 21st century. It is no surprise, perhaps, that The Communist Manifesto (as it was later renamed) is the second bestselling book of all time, surpassed only by The Bible – and Rowson delivers a beautifully macabre take on the book.

For this interpretation of Marx and Engels work, Martin Rowson employs his trademark draughtsmanship and with a lively graphic novel adaptation, offering a timely reminder of the politics of hope.

The Communist Manifesto - © Martin Rowson

It’s also a thought-provoking guide to the most influential work of political theory ever published, offering, just as publisher SelfMadeHero says, “an incisive introduction to the ideas of Communism and a lucid explanation of its aims.”

Reviewers have given Rowson’s work the thumbs up, and some potential readers have taken to social media enthusiastically declaring this is the first time they’ve actually wanted to read The Communist Manifesto.

“Rather than allowing his personal thoughts about the evils of capitalism commingle with Marx’s prose in text form, Rowson lets the political philosopher’s ideas stand on their own – giving them horrifying physical forms in his adaptation,” notes Charles Pulliam Moore on Kotaku. “The capitalism borne from Rowson’s imagination is very much a cold, hard leviathan of a machine that’s powered by the endless labour of the proletariat who are ultimately consumed and destroyed by the system. But at the same time, Rowson envisions capitalism as something more mutable and dynamic than just an intricate system of cogs.

“…Rowson very carefully makes it obvious that he’s poking fun at the spark of optimism that’s woven into Marx’s ideas, because the kind of revolution that The Communist Manifesto agitates for can’t be achieved just through an uprising alone.”

The Communist Manifesto - © Martin Rowson

Rowson himself has written a piece for The Guardian about creating the adaptation, revealing he first read The Communist Manifesto aged 15.

“it made complete sense. I instantly got the Dialectic, the inexorable, tectonic grindings of All History Hitherto, the Class Conflict and all the stuff about the inevitability of the ultimate victory of the downtrodden over their oppressors,” he writes, also noting how some of his earlier cartoons about Marx, published in the 1980s, earned him brickbats from the left of British politics.

“Moreover, in its compelling combination of reason and romanticism, I was entranced not only by the manifesto’s universal scope but also its playfulness. Parts of it are very funny.”

Rowson has also made it very clear he’s not blindly enamoured of Marx and Engels work – or, indeed politicians, left, right or middle in general.

“Tyrants hate cartoons,” he says in a wide-ranging interview about the project for The Overtake.

“I’m firmly in the camp of trying to thwart power, so it’s my job as a satirist, to say to whoever is trying to seek power ‘Actually your feet are clay. You’re just like the rest of us. You’re not a god. You’re not a genius, you shit. You’re gonna die. And also you have stupid ears’ or whatever. It’s a caricature.

The Communist Manifesto - © Martin Rowson

“Not only is that an honourable kind of politics, it is also an important one. It’s very, very important for people like me to constantly be enabling readers to laugh at the people who think they’re in charge and seek to impose their will on everybody else and that includes philosophers, economists as well as politicians and other tyrants.”

• Follow Martin Rowson on Twitter @martinrowson | You can see more of Martin Rowson’s work here on ProCartoonits | SelfMadeHero

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The Germán city of Trier has several exhibitions about Karl Marx to celebrate his 200th birthday (note some of these sites are in German)

www.karl-marx-ausstellung.de/en – Jubilee Programme Information



Trier Museum

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