Spartacus League

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Spartacus League
Spartakusbund
Country Flag of the German Empire.svg Flag of Germany (3-2 aspect ratio).svg  Germany
Leader(s) Karl Liebknecht,
Rosa Luxemburg,
Clara Zetkin
Foundation4 August 1914 (1914-08-04)
Dissolved15 January 1919 (1919-01-15)
Split from Social Democratic Party
Succeeded by Communist Party of Germany
Motives
Ideology Communism
Marxism
Revolutionary socialism
Political position Far-left
Notable attacks Spartacist uprising
StatusDefunct

The Spartacus League (German : Spartakusbund) was a Marxist revolutionary movement organized in Germany during World War I. [1] 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. [2]

German language West Germanic language

German is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol (Italy), the German-speaking Community of Belgium, and Liechtenstein. It is also one of the three official languages of Luxembourg and a co-official language in the Opole Voivodeship in Poland. The languages which are most similar to German are the other members of the West Germanic language branch: Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German/Low Saxon, Luxembourgish, and Yiddish. There are also strong similarities in vocabulary with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, although those belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language, after English.

Marxism economic and sociopolitical worldview based on the works of Karl Marx

Marxism is a theory and method of working class self-emancipation. As a theory, it relies on a method of socioeconomic analysis that views class relations and social conflict using a materialist interpretation of historical development and takes a dialectical view of social transformation. It originates from the works of 19th-century German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

Spartacus Thracian gladiator

Spartacus was a Thracian gladiator who, along with the Gauls Crixus, Gannicus, Castus, and Oenomaus, was one of the escaped slave leaders in the Third Servile War, a major slave uprising against the Roman Republic. Little is known about Spartacus beyond the events of the war, and surviving historical accounts are sometimes contradictory and may not always be reliable. However, all sources agree that he was a former gladiator and an accomplished military leader.

Contents

History

"Spartacus at work", propaganda poster against the Spartacus League, 1919. Spartakus bei der Arbeit LCCN2004665806.jpg
"Spartacus at work", propaganda poster against the Spartacus League, 1919.

Liebknecht (the son of SPD founder Wilhelm Liebknecht) and Luxemburg 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. [3] [4]

Wilhelm Liebknecht German socialist politician

Wilhelm Martin Philipp Christian Ludwig Liebknecht was a German socialist and one of the principal founders of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). His political career was a pioneering project combining Marxist revolutionary theory with practical legal political activity. Under his leadership, the SPD grew from a tiny sect to become Germany's largest political party. He was the father of Karl Liebknecht and Theodor Liebknecht.

Social Democratic Party of Germany political party in Germany

The Social Democratic Party of Germany, or SPD, is a social-democratic political party in Germany.

Russian Empire Former country, 1721–1917

The Russian Empire, also known as Imperial Russia or simply Russia, was an empire that existed across Eurasia and North America from 1721, following the end of the Great Northern War, until the Republic was proclaimed by the Provisional Government that took power after the February Revolution of 1917.

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 (USPD). The Spartacus League was part of the USPD in its formation period. [5]

War bond debt security issued by a government to finance military operations and other expenditure in times of war

War bonds are debt securities issued by a government to finance military operations and other expenditure in times of war. In practice, modern governments finance war by putting additional money into circulation, and the function of the bonds is to remove money from circulation and help to control inflation. War bonds are either retail bonds marketed directly to the public or wholesale bonds traded on a stock market. Exhortations to buy war bonds are often accompanied by appeals to patriotism and conscience. Retail war bonds, like other retail bonds, tend to have a yield which is below that offered by the market and are often made available in a wide range of denominations to make them affordable for all citizens.

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. [6]

<i>Kaiser</i> title of authority

Kaiser is the German word for "emperor". Like the Bulgarian, Serbian and Russian word Tsar, it is directly derived from the Roman emperors' title of Caesar, which in turn is derived from the personal name of a branch of the gens (clan) Julia, to which Gaius Julius Caesar, the forebear of the first imperial family, belonged. In general the german title was only used for rulers over kings (König). Although the British monarchs styled "Emperor of India" were also called Kaisar-i-Hind in Hindi and Urdu, this word, although ultimately sharing the same Latin origin, is derived from the Greek: Καῖσαρ (kaisar), not the German Kaiser.

Philipp Scheidemann German chancellor

Philipp Heinrich Scheidemann was a German politician of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). On 9 November 1918, in the midst of the German Revolution of 1918–1919, he proclaimed Germany a republic. Later, beginning in the early part of the following year, he became the second head of government of the Weimar Republic, acting in this post for 127 days.

In December 1918, the Spartakusbund formally renamed itself the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). [7] 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. [8]

Communist Party of Germany former political party in Germany

The Communist Party of Germany was a major political party in Germany between 1918 and 1933, and a minor party in West Germany in the postwar period until it was banned in 1956.

Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany political party

The Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany was a short-lived political party in Germany during the German Empire and the Weimar Republic. The organization was established in 1917 as the result of a split of left wing members of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). The organization attempted to chart a centrist course between electorally oriented revisionism on the one hand and bolshevism on the other. The organization was terminated in 1931 through merger with the Socialist Workers' Party of Germany (SAPD).

Spartacist uprising general strike

The Spartacist uprising, also known as the January uprising (Januaraufstand), was a general strike in Berlin from 5 to 12 January 1919. Germany was in the middle of a post-war revolution, and two of the perceived paths forward were either social democracy or a council republic similar to the one which had been established by the Bolsheviks in Russia. The uprising was primarily a power struggle between the moderate Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) led by Friedrich Ebert, and the radical communists of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, who had previously founded and led the Spartacist League (Spartakusbund).

Spartacist Manifesto of 1918

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.

Democracy system of government in which citizens vote directly in or elect representatives to form a governing body, sometimes called "rule of the majority"

Democracy is a system of government where the citizens exercise power by voting. In a direct democracy, the citizens as a whole form a governing body and vote directly on each issue. In a representative democracy the citizens elect representatives from among themselves. These representatives meet to form a governing body, such as a legislature. In a constitutional democracy the powers of the majority are exercised within the framework of a representative democracy, but the constitution limits the majority and protects the minority, usually through the enjoyment by all of certain individual rights, e.g. freedom of speech, or freedom of association.

Dictatorship form of autocratic government led by a single individual

A dictatorship is an authoritarian form of government, characterized by a single leader or group of leaders with either no party or a weak party, little mass mobilization, and limited political pluralism. According to other definitions, democracies are regimes in which "those who govern are selected through contested elections"; therefore dictatorships are "not democracies". With the advent of the 19th and 20th centuries, dictatorships and constitutional democracies emerged as the world's two major forms of government, gradually eliminating monarchies, one of the traditional widespread forms of government of the time. Typically, in a dictatorial regime, the leader of the country is identified with the title of dictator, although their formal title may more closely resemble something similar to "leader". A common aspect that characterized dictators is taking advantage of their strong personality, usually by suppressing freedom of thought and speech of the masses, in order to maintain complete political and social supremacy and stability. Dictatorships and totalitarian societies generally employ political propaganda to decrease the influence of proponents of alternative governing systems.

Democratic socialism is a political philosophy that advocates political democracy alongside social ownership of the means of production, with an emphasis on self-management and democratic management of economic institutions within a market or some form of decentralised planned socialist economy. Democratic socialists espouse that capitalism is inherently incompatible with what they hold to be the democratic values of liberty, equality and solidarity; and that these ideals can only be achieved through the realisation of a socialist society. Democratic socialism can be supportive of either revolutionary or reformist politics as a means to establish socialism.

Prominent members

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Paul Levi German politician

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References

  1. David Priestand, Red Flag: A History of Communism," New York: Grove Press, 2009
  2. Eric D. Weitz, Creating German Communism, 1890-1990: From Popular Protests to Socialist State. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997
  3. Eric D. Weitz, "'Rosa Luxemburg Belongs to Us!'" German Communism and the Luxemburg Legacy, Central European History, Vol. 27, No. 1 (1994), pp. 27-64
  4. Article on the Spartacus League with primary sources: http://spartacus-educational.com/GERspartacus.htm
  5. On the relationship of Spartakusbund and USPD see Ottokar Luban, The Role of the Spartacist Group after 9 November 1918 and the Formation of the KPD, in: Ralf Hoffrogge and Norman LaPorte (eds.), Weimar Communism as Mass Movement 1918-1933, London: Lawrence & Wishart, 2017, pp. 45-65; and 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.
  6. David Priestand, Red Flag: A History of Communism," New York: Grove Press, 2009
  7. Ottokar Luban, The Role of the Spartacist Group after 9 November 1918 and the Formation of the KPD, in: Ralf Hoffrogge and Norman LaPorte (eds.), Weimar Communism as Mass Movement 1918-1933, London: Lawrence & Wishart, 2017, pp. 45-65, especially p 53.
  8. Eric D. Weitz, Creating German Communism, 1890-1990: From Popular Protests to Socialist State. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997
  9. Kranzfelder, Ivo (2005). George Grosz. Cologne: Benedikt Taschen. ISBN   3-8228-0891-1

Sources