Guy A. Aldred Archive

Pioneers of Anti-Parliamentarism
Chapter 15
Karl Liebknecht — Rosa Luxembourg, Liebknecht and Spartacus

Written: 1940.
Source: PDF Scans from; OCR'ing and editing from
Transcription/Markup: Andy Carloff
Online Source:; 2021

Karl Liebknecht
Rosa Luxembourg

MARTYRED Berlin, January 15th, 1919

Section title: Liebknecht and Spartacus

Liebknecht assumed the pen-name of "Spartacus for a pamphlet which he wrote in 1916. Subsequently Rosa Luxembourg, Clara Zetkin, and Franz Mehrin wrote under the same name. Their articles were not printed, but mimeographed. Boldly they attacked the Imperial German Government, the patriotic majority Socialists, and the semi-patriotic minority.

Liebknecht proved himself more than worthy of the great name which he adopted as his own. He was truly the Spartacus of our century--a veritable giant, not of towering physique, but of splendid intellect and boundless daring.

In order to gain a correct conception of the Spartacus of Berlin, let us go back to the life of his historical parallel, the Spartacus of old Rome.

Returning from one of their expeditions of conquest, the Romans brought with them as a slave, a Thracian of herculean proportions. On account of his splendid physique, it was decided that he be sent to the training schools of Capua in order to be instructed in the gentle arts of gladiatorial combat. He was to be given a short sword and a net; he would amuse patrician and plebian; he would make conquest after conquest, and with every combat the excitement of his anticipated doom would intensify, and thus satiate the decadent lust for brutality and blood on the part of the Roman public.

Little did they know, however, of what quality the material this huge slave was made. And why should they know? Were not all slaves merely creatures of servility? But Spartacus was to teach his masters a lesson, a great historic lesson.

Spartacus was a willing scholar under the guidance of the slave gladiator instructors. He learned how to manipulate the sword with skill; he learned how to swing the net and dexterously trap his man, and finally he was prepared to meet half a dozen opponents simultaneously--and leave them on the arena, to be dragged off by the Plutos.

Image::1 Spartacus, however, had not the slightest intention of ever allowing himself to be dragged from the arena and having his skull smashed by the Pluto's horrible sledge-hammer.

Time having ripened his plans, Spartacus turned to his fellow-slaves. Calling them together, he asked them whether they wished to be free men or to "wait, like oxen, for the butcher's knife."

this was an entirely new idea, for not one of those slaves had ever imagined that they might be doing something more useful than slaughtering one another for the entertainment of the seigneurs and grand dames. To this new heresy they listened at first with hostile reluctance, but they were reassured and won over by the redoubtable Spartacus. His challenge: "I am stronger than any of you. Yes, come out and fight me--all of you. I am not afraid!" eliciting no response he cried: "Then fight with me!" From that moment he drew them after him irresistibly.

Thus, in the year B.C. 73, the gladiator slaves--who were only 74 in number and armed simply with clubs--under the leadership of Spartacus, insurrected, and after a struggle in which they killed all their guards, took refuge on Mount Vesuvius.

"The Romans will follow us," warned Spartacus. "We must prepare for a great fight. Better to die here fighting for our lives than butcher each other for our release in the arena."

Three thousand soldiers, under C. Claudius Pulcher, hunted down and completely surrounded the fugitive slaves. Their starvation being imminent, Spartacus again appealed to them, arguing that, rather than die like dogs, why not rush down the precipice into the ranks of the Romans and die the death of men?

Thrilled by the unbending courage of their leader, the handful of slaves hurled themselves against the Romans and, breaking through their lines, completely defeated them. Spartacus and his men had learned how to wield weapons, and they now began giving the hated Romans a taste of their own medicine. The name of Spartacus sped from on corner of the country to the other. Everywhere slaves raised their heads to a new hope. The small band of Spartacus rapidly swelled into a huge army. Everywhere slaves dashed off their manacles and followed Spartacus and helped him disseminate and actively illustrate the doctrine of resistance to tyranny.

In a very short space of time Spartacus controlled practically the whole of southern Italy. Large forces were sent against him from Rome, only to suffer defeat after defeat.

Then there arose a critical proposition. If Spartacus and his men wished to be sure of lasting security and freedom, it would be necessary to break through towards the north and reach the Alps. Spartacus was fully aware of his necessity, but was compelled to use all his persuasive powers in order to convince his men. But hey, in their short-sightedness, demanded of him why they should go north into strange lands when they were already in control of their present locality. Spartacus, knowing quite well that Rome could still send overwhelming forces, knew also that the hesitation on the part of his men would prove to their undoing.

However, although he entertained little hope for their ultimate success, he still led his men in every battle. Everywhere the legions of Rome went down before him like hay under the sickle. Slowly they cut their way through, and upwards through the Alps. But the further they advanced, the more the men wavered: they wished to remain behind. Although final victory was all but theirs, their temporary and insecure freedom held out to them greater temptations.

In the year B.C. 71, Pompey returned from Spain and marched to the aid of Marcus L. Crassus who was raising a large army against Spartacus.

Then came the clash of the last great onset. Spartacus knew that this was the end, and decided to go down fighting, rather than submit to the Roman tyrants. His men were literally cut to pieces by the vastly superior enemy forces.

Armed with a heavy sword, Spartacus tore forward into the ranks of the Romans, and cut himself a pathway through his enemies, before the finally succeeded in wrestling the life from his great body.

So fell he, who felt no fear of the apparently impossible achievement; he, the mere slave who dared to question the authority of proud and mighty Rome; he, the giant of old-world rebels: Spartacus.

The reading of this record enables one to appreciate with what grim understanding of the great struggle Liebknecht decided to assume, the mask of the ancient gladiator of revolution.

Inseparably, the names of Spartacus and Liebknecht will go down to posterity together, not because Liebknecht chose to adopt the name of the ancient battler of Proletarian Liberty, but because, in essence, through separated by a gulf of more than twenty centuries, the two men were one.