A revolutionary reworking for Marx's 'Kapital'

Treatise on capitalism to be turned into manga comic 140 years after publication

David McNeill
Thursday 20 November 2008 01:00

Karl Marx, the German revolutionary who predicted that capitalism would crumble under the weight of its own contradictions, is making a comeback – in the form of a comic.

More than 140 years after Marx's Das Kapital was released on an initially baffled world, its dense exploration of political economy and alienation is to be splashed across speech bubbles on the pages of a Japanese manga.

Set for release next month, the comic is expected to be a bestseller. A string of publications have found success capitalising on Japan's growing inequalities and economic insecurity.

The world's second largest economy slipped into recession this week for the first time since 2001. More than a third of the workforce is employed part time and with profits dropping even at manufacturing powerhouses like Sony and Toyota, millions of young Japanese are pessimistic about the future.

The economic turmoil has provided fertile ground for critics of free-market capitalism. A manga rendering of Kanikosen, a 1929 proletarian classic about the exploitation of fishing boat workers, sold more than half a million copies this year; introductions to Das Kapital and other Marxist tomes were rushed out in its wake. A book by a former broker berating Wall Street bankers is one of the year's bestsellers.

"Poverty has been a growing and visible problem for some time, but now people are looking for answers about why it is returning," said Kaori Katada, a lecturer in social welfare. "That's why they're turning to these books."

Japan's prolific comic culture has for years distilled complex issues into pocket-sized, graphic books that can be read in the office or in transit.

History, war and Japan's tortured relationship with China have all been grist to manga artists; East Press, which is publishing Das Kapital, has a catalogue of similar titles such as Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, Dante's Divine Comedy, Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf, and Shakespeare's King Lear.

Previews suggest that the Marx comic has not shirked on the original's details. Exploited salarymen come to terms with Marx's central concept: that they are the sole source of capitalism's wealth. Along the way, they take a tour of commodity fetishism, market value and the law of declining profits.

"I think many young people in Japan are afraid of the future, and that fear is sometimes turning to anger," said Kosuke Hashimoto, an anti-poverty activist. "Reading comics might only be the start."

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