Spartacus (with a ‘c’) was a slave and gladiator from Thracia whom we know was crucified around 71 B.C. This intelligent and athletic man led a slaves’ revolt against mighty Rome. He started the rebellion with seventy fellow gladiators at his side, but rapidly gathered an army of several thousand willing volunteers, mostly escaping slaves. The slave army achieved a great deal before being crushed in battle by the legions of Crassus. All survivors were nailed to crosses on both sides of the Appian Way leading into Rome, pour encourager les autres.
The Spartakus or Spartakist League was formed by communist workers in Germany. It was 1916, and the Great War had two years more to run. The League joined first the Independent Socialist Party, which was itself a break-off from the Social Democratic Party. The leaders were Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg (distinguished names in socialist history).
Karl and Rosa rejected the socialist government of Ebert (q.v.) , naming him an enemy of true socialism and the working class, and called for government by workers’ and soldiers’ unions or councils (communes). They also craved for nationalization of all property, and for the army to be so re-organized that power would be taken from the officers and given to ordinary soldiers.
In December 1918 the Spartakists broke away and formed their own party, the German Communist Party. Their comrades the Russian Soviet wanted them to seize power right then, but Rosa know well that communists in Germany did not have sufficient support among the real working classes. However, the shop stewards’ movement promised support and the communists promised the formation of a revolutionary government. In Berlin, public buildings were occupied by armed revolutionaries.
The German Government acted immediately; though socialist soldiers were unwilling to fight fellow workers, their generals did not have the same problem. They formed the so-called Free Corps (Freikorps q.v.) which proceeded to crush the uprising. At least one hundred workers were killed in the street fighting, and more murdered in the street or at home. Karl Liebnecht and Rosa Luxemburg were captured and ‘shot while trying to escape’ meaning they were murdered on the way to prison. Fellow socialists were shocked by the brutality, forgetting their own. The Free Corps proved difficult if impossible to control, as it had never had proper military training and there was no discipline.
To conclude, the Spartakist Uprising had not been a serious threat to Germany’s government but it left a bitter taste which, added to the draconian measures dealt out to Germany at the Treaty of Versailles as a result of the War, led inevitably to the rise of Adolf Hitler.