Workers Vanguard No. 974
18 February 2011
Liebknecht and the Spartacists
To the Editor,
WV No. 972 (21 January 2011) appropriately marked January as the banner month of the 3Ls under the headline, “Honor Lenin, Luxemburg and Liebknecht” by publishing Karl Liebknecht’s 2 December 1914 statement motivating his lone vote that day in the German Reichstag (parliament) against its military budget for the inter-imperialist First World War. As WV noted, Liebknecht was prohibited from delivering his statement from the floor of the Reichstag, from entering it into the record, or from publishing it in the Kaiser’s Germany.
I want to add that Liebknecht’s statement has a special significance for us Spartacists. It did appear that same month as an illegal leaflet—the first of a series of newsletters that the supporters of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg began to issue clandestinely. These beacons of revolutionary internationalism were distributed throughout the Reich via underground channels, summoning German workers to civil war against the imperialist war. These newsletters mercilessly lashed both the overtly social-chauvinist majority of the Social Democratic Party and its centrist cover, provided by Karl Kautsky and Co.; they called for a new, revolutionary Third International; and hailed the October 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. These newsletters were known by the signature they came to bear, that of Spartacus—leader of the great slave revolt in ancient Rome. It was the popularity of these Spartakusbriefe (Spartacist Letters) that eventually gave the name of Spartakusbund (Spartacist League) to the group that initially formed around Luxemburg and Liebknecht in August 1914. All comrades today know that our forebears of the Revolutionary Tendency, expelled from the centrist Socialist Workers Party, honored this tradition in naming our press Spartacist in February-March 1964, and in taking the name of Spartacist League in September 1966. Less well known is that the name Spartacus first became an international symbol of the communist movement through the newsletters that began with Liebknecht’s historic declaration of 2 December 1914.