Issue 4 Animals Fall 2001

Cover Versions: The Communist Manifesto

Geoff Cox

Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei was first printed as a pamphlet in February 1848, in the office of the Workers’ Educational Association (Communistischer Arbeiterbildungsverein), 46 Liverpool Street, Bishopsgate, in the City of London. Since that date it has been reproduced in countless contexts and editions—making it not only one of the most widely read texts ever, but one whose various covers speak of the way the Manifesto has been received, perceived, used, and abused across different contexts and locations. How would one begin to approach the design and packaging of The Communist Manifesto—to conceive of it in terms of the book’s form and function, its use-and exchange-value?


The cover images include the metonymic uses of plain red and the hammer and sickle; images of chains or sticks; more figurative depictions of workers stoking the fires of industry, trudging or uprising; paintings such as May Day, 1929 by V. V. Kuptsov; a photograph of Marx (interestingly, without Engels); and a young woman threatening the reader with a machine gun. Given that the relationship of appearance and reality is fundamental to an understanding of the Manifesto, its packaging doubly invites close reading.


The sheer volume of publishing activity on the Manifesto’s 150th anniversary in 1998 subjected it on an unprecedented level to the rules and mechanisms of contemporary marketing. One example is Verso’s The Communist Manifesto: A Modern Edition with its high production values and silky red bookmark ribbon. Verso knowingly described it as the “Prada handbag” edition and it was received enthusiastically with an edition of 32,000. By June 1999, it had sold 21,000 in North America and 3,400 in the UK and other exports. Clearly, this indicates something about the edition’s commodity status and the market forces in which capital appears to have successfully commodified radical politics as something reducible to both nostalgia and fashion, which is why an engagement with the text itself seems all the more urgent.


There is no “Capitalist Manifesto,” but if there were, what might it look like?


    Citations
  1. First set of covers (from top row, left to right)
    Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974).
    Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1977).
    Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, Malayalam edition (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1978).
    Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Manifesto Comunista (São Paulo: Ched, 1982).
    Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1983).
    Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Manifestet (Oslo: Falken Forlag, 1984).
    Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics, 1985).
    Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1987).
    Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1988).
    Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, “The Communist Manifesto,” in Birth of the Communist Manifesto (New York: International Publishers, 1993).
    Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto (London: Pluto Press, 1996).
    Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Manifeste du Parti communiste (Paris: Librairie Générale Française, 1997).

  2. Second set of covers (from top row, left to right)
    Carlos Marx and Federico Engels, Manifesto Comunista (Madrid: Básica de Bolsillo Akal, 1997).
    Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).
    Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1998).
    Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Kommunistiska Manifestet (Stockholm & Malmö: Vertigo Förlag, 1998).
    Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto: A Modern Edition (London: Verso 1998).
    Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Manifest Komunisticke Partije (Zagreb: Bastard Biblioteka, 1998).
    Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto (New York: International Publishers, 1998).
    Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1998).
    K. Marx and F. Engels, KomünistManifesto ve Komünizmin Ilkeleri (Ankara: Sol Yayinlari, 1998).
    Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1998).
    Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party (Moscow: Vagrius, 1999).
    Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Manifest (London: Working Press, 1999).

Geoff Cox is an artist, teacher, and projects organizer. He lives in London and works at the University of Plymouth where he is also part of CAiiA-STAR (Science Technology Art Research).

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