Spartacus party or Spartacists, radical group of German Socialists, formed c.Mar., 1916, and led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. The name was derived from the pseudonym Spartacus used by Liebknecht in his pamphlets denouncing World War I, the government, and the majority section of the Social Democratic party; the name was used to typify the modern wage slave in revolt like the Roman gladiator. The Spartacists, demanding the establishment of a dictatorship of the proletariat by mass action, gathered followers among the workingmen. After the overthrow of the German emperor, William II (Nov., 1918), the Spartacists continued to oppose the government, then composed of Majority Socialists and Independent Socialists, and headed by President Friedrich Ebert. The Spartacists launched a press campaign against the government and engaged in sporadic acts of terrorism. At an organizational meeting (Dec. 29, 1918–Jan. 1, 1919), the Spartacists officially transformed themselves into the German Communist party, and on Jan. 5, 1919, a Communist revolt broke out in Berlin. A general strike was proclaimed (Jan. 6) and the rebels occupied a number of government buildings. Gustav Noske was sent to Berlin to put down the revolt. He marched on the occupied part of the city and, by Jan. 13, had virtually defeated the Communists. Liebknecht and Luxemburg were arrested (Jan. 15) and brutally murdered by counterrevolutionary volunteers on the pretense that the two socialists had attempted to escape.
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