Spartacus League

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"Spartacist League" redirects here. For other organizations with the same name, see Spartacist League (disambiguation).
Spartacus League
Founded 1915
Dissolved 1918
Split from Social Democratic Party of Germany
Succeeded by Communist Party of Germany
Newspaper Die Rote Fahne
Ideology Communism,
Revolutionary socialism,
Left communism,
Political position Far-left
Colors Red
Politics of Germany
Political parties

The Spartacus League (German: Spartakusbund) was a Marxist revolutionary movement organized in Germany during World War I. The League was named after Spartacus, leader of the largest slave rebellion of the Roman Republic. It was founded by Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Clara Zetkin, and others. The League subsequently renamed itself the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (KPD), joining the Comintern in 1919. Its period of greatest activity was during the German Revolution of 1918, when it sought to incite a revolution by circulating the newspaper Spartacus Letters.[citation needed]


"Spartakus at work", propaganda poster against the Spartacus League, 1919.

Luxemburg and Liebknecht—the son of SPD founder Wilhelm Liebknecht—became prominent members of the left-wing faction of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). They moved to found an independent organization after the SPD supported Imperial Germany's declaration of war on the Russian Empire in 1914 at the start of World War I. Besides their opposition to what they saw as an imperialist war, Luxemburg and Liebknecht maintained the need for revolutionary methods, in contrast to the leadership of the SPD, who participated in the parliamentary process. The two were imprisoned from 1916 until 1918 for their roles in helping to organize a public demonstration in Berlin against German involvement in the war.

After two years of war, opposition to the official party line grew inside the SPD. More and more members of parliament refused to vote for war bonds and were expelled, which ultimately led to the formation of the Independent Social Democratic Party (ISPD). The Spartacus League was part of the USPD in its formation period.[1] After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Spartacus League began agitating for a similar course: a government based on local workers' councils, in Germany. After the abdication of the Kaiser in the German Revolution of November 1918, a period of instability began, which lasted until 1923. On 9 November 1918, from a balcony of the Kaiser's Berliner Stadtschloss, Liebknecht declared Germany a "Free Socialist Republic". However, earlier on the same night, Philipp Scheidemann of the SPD had declared a republic from the Reichstag.

In December 1918, the Spartakusbund formally renamed itself the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). In January 1919, the KPD, along with the Independent Socialists, launched the Spartacist uprising. This included staging massive street demonstrations intended to destabilize the Weimar government, led by the centrists of the SPD under Chancellor Friedrich Ebert. The government accused the opposition of planning a general strike and communist revolution in Berlin. With the aid of the Freikorps (Free corps), Ebert's administration quickly crushed the uprising. Luxemburg and Liebknecht were taken prisoner and killed in custody .

The Spartacist Manifesto of 1918[edit]

An excerpt from the Spartacist Manifesto (published in 1918):

The question today is not democracy or dictatorship. The question that history has put on the agenda reads: bourgeois democracy or socialist democracy. For the dictatorship of the proletariat does not mean bombs, putsches, riots and anarchy, as the agents of capitalist profits deliberately and falsely claim. Rather, it means using all instruments of political power to achieve socialism, to expropriate the capitalist class, through and in accordance with the will of the revolutionary majority of the proletariat.

Prominent members[edit]


  1. ^ On the relationship of Spartakusbund and USPD see Ottokar Luban: "Die Rolle der Spartakusgruppe bei der Entstehung und Entwicklung der USPD Januar 1916 bis März 1919", in: Jahrbuch für Forschungen zur Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung, No. II/2008.

External links[edit]