MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Organisations



Spartacus League (Spartacists)

A revolutionary left-wing organisation of the German Social Democratic Party, formed at the beginning of World War I by Karl Liebknecht (1871-1919), Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919), Franz Mehring (1846-1919), Clara Zetkin (1857-1933), Wilhelm Pieck (1876-1960), August Thalheimer (1884-1948), and others.

The Spartacists agitated tirelessly among the workers of Germany to stop the war through mass strikes, they organised anti-war action throughout Germany, fighting social-chauvinism in every way they could. Lenin wrote of the activities of Karl Liebknecht in 1917:

‘Karl Liebknecht called upon the workers and soldiers of Germany to turn their guns against their own government. Karl Liebknecht did that openly from the rostrum of parliament (the Reichstag). He then went to a demonstration in Potsdamer Platz, one of the largest public squares in Berlin, with illegally printed leaflets proclaiming the slogan “Down with the Government!”’

In April 1917, the Spartacists joined with the Independent Social-Democratic Party of Germany, but remained organisationally independent. During the November revolution of 1918, the group became the Spartacus League, issuing their own programme (on December 14) and broke with the Independents. In January 1, 1919 the League became the Communist Party of Germany. The Spartacus League was largely responsible for the Spartacus Rising and failed revolution of 1918-19.