If only all philosophy could be brought to life in this way! There’s a lot of fun to be had. I wish all political science students could read this book, as an adjunct to The Communist Manifesto; who knows, some of the ideas might stick a little better. Even younger, more precocious readers will see this alternative view is still as relevant as ever in terms of understanding the world, agree or disagree with the arguments, the point is to engage. For Rowson, it’s not about creating devotees of the communist cause but understanding the context of capitalism and the possibility of alternative views more fully.

This graphic adaptation of The Communist Manifesto is a bravura achievement. Rowson is funny and irreverent but also respectful and accurate when it comes to synthesising the original text. His cartoons are scathing, Steadman-like in their intensity, dark and vicious. Yet, the essence of The Communist Manifesto is presented faithfully. Rowson also reflects on the clash of ideologies and where that has brought the world over the last century and a half – no rose tinted spectacles. He doesn’t say that Marx’s Coda has the answer to the world’s problems, but wouldn’t it be a better place for more thinking outside the capitalist box?

If anyone tells you that capitalism is working just fine you need to ask yourself three questions about them: Are they sane? Do they care about people? Are they part of the problem? Martin Rowson puts it best: “…when just 43 individuals possess as much wealth as half of the rest of our entire species, Marx still has a lot left to say.”

This book is published as part of the bicentennial celebration of the birth of Karl Marx, the philosopher and economist who changed the world (whether for the better or not, you decide), but who only had eleven people at his funeral. Rowson makes it clear he is no longer a communist (The Communist Manifesto made sense to the sixteen-year-old idealist but doesn’t hold the same power in his life now: “….too authoritarian a Hegelian sell-out merchant and too hung up on the state to be up to the essential business prescribed by his brilliant analyses”). But, he also makes the point that Marx cannot be held responsible for all Marxism or Communism in practice and capitalism has to answer for food banks, financial meltdowns, zero hours contracts and the worst jobs for the lowest pay. What kind of future can we look forward to?

The central message of The Communist Manifesto is bolstered by the humour. The man with his tongue caught in an industrial mangle was one of the unforgettable images. The winged nineteenth century entrepreneurs hovering over the means of production are genuinely spooky. There are a lot of toilet images, industrial chaos and the most enduring image of Marx, cigar in hand, reading the manifesto as a stand-up comedian at the Kapitalist Komedy Club – that is brilliant and hilarious.

I suspect Rowson took longer to write and illustrate this book than Marx took for the original. Written over a January weekend in Brussels, the League of the Just commissioned the work and were getting anxious about its delivery. By the time it was finished, they had become the Communist League. The work had very little initial impact, Europe was in the turmoil of revolutions and war. However, by the time of the Paris Commune it was central to the aims of rebellion and the growing opposition to the status quo. The Communist Manifesto was instrumental in forcing Bismarck, the arch conservative, to introduce radical pension and social legislation in Germany. We all know where it led in the twentieth century.

I leave you with some of the ideas that Marx expounded, pithily set out in Rowson’s book:

– A heavily progressive or graduated income tax.
– Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
– Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form.

Sorry, I can’t resist this:

“THE PROLETARIANS OF THE WORLD HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT THEIR CHAINS.
THEY HAVE A WORLD TO WIN.”

Paul Burke 5/5

The Communist Manifesto: A Graphic Novel by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Martin Rowson
SelfMadeHero 9781910593493 pbk May 2018