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The Spartacus League (German: Spartakusbund) was a left-wing 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 illegal subversive publications, such as the newspaper Spartacus Letters.
Luxemburg and Liebknecht–the son of SPD founder Wilhelm Liebknecht–were 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 the German government's decision to declare war on the Russian Empire in 1914, beginning 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.
After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Spartacus League decided to agitate for a similar course, a government based on local workers' councils, in Germany. Liebknecht and Luxemburg 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 the German Revolution overthrew the Kaiser in November 1918, a period of instability began, which would last until 1923. In November, from a balcony of the Kaiser's Berliner Stadtschloss, Liebknecht declared a socialist republic in Germany, a "Free Socialist Republic" (Freie Sozialistische Republik).
In December 1918, the Spartakusbund was officially renamed 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 intending 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. The "uprising" was quickly crushed by the government, with the Freikorps fighting on the side of the government. Luxemburg and Liebknecht were killed while held prisoners. Luxembourg was found in the Berlin Landwehrkanal having been shot in the head.
One of the most notable parts of the Spartacist Manifesto (published in 1918) is the following:
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