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International Socialist Review, Summer 1964



Slave Revolt


From International Socialist Review, Vol.24 No.3, Summer 1964, p.94.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Spartacus: The Leader of the Roman Slaves
by F.A. Ridley
Frank Maitland, Kent, England, 1963. 90 pp. 7s. 6d. (Available from Pioneer Publishers, New York. $1.00.)

Newly revised and expanded, this book was originally published some twenty years ago as Spartacus, A Study in Revolutionary History, by the Independent Labour Party.

Written from an avowedly Marxist standpoint, it describes the social and economic background which gave rise to this heroic slave insurrection.

The introduction makes reference to other studies of the rebellion, including those of Leslie Mitchell, Arthur Koestler, and Howard Fast. Although these were cast in the form of novels, they derived much of their historical background from the few available historical sources.

Ridley, however, is principally concerned with the class forces and tensions that sparked off this rising. For Ridley, Spartacus had the same significance in a different and more ancient context, that Lenin has today.

This book first sketches the historic background of ancient Roman society and the “sequence of social revolution which sought to overthrow that society.” The second part reconstructs “what can be known with certainty of the course of the revolution itself,” beginning with the escape of a band of professional fighting men from a Capuan training center in the early summer of 73 B.C.

Succeeding chapters trace the course of this and other sporadic outbreaks which led to the coalescence of a mighty slave army, which challenged the very foundation of the Roman Empire. The victory of the counter-revolution, and the reasons for that victory are explained in terms of the “inherent weakness” of a slave army.

Ridley comments, “To keep a slave army together is almost impossible ... Only an overwhelming personality and a military genius could have done what Spartacus did.” It is this section of the book, perhaps, that needs a deeper treatment than the author has given it.

The final chapters deal with the lessons of the revolt. The close connection between the rise of Christianity and the defeat of the Spartacist revolution is brought out with a quotation from Archibald Robertson who observed: “From the moment that Spartacus failed, Jesus was bound to win.”

The book is dedicated to the memory of Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, and the German Spartacists who fell in the cause of revolutionary socialism, in 1919.

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