What Does the Spartacus League Want?*

Rosa Luxemburg on 14 December 1918


On November 9th, workers and soldiers smashed the old German regime to pieces. The Prussian sabre’s bloody delusion of world domination has melted away on the battlefields of France. The criminal gang that sparked this worldwide conflagration and drove Germany into a sea of blood has finally reached its wits’ end. Deceived for four years, the people, who had forgotten their cultural duty, their sense of honour and their humanity in service to this Moloch, who let themselves be abused in the service of every abomination, awoke from four years of torpor to find themselves before the abyss.

     On November 9th the German proletariat rose up to cast off their shameful yoke. The Hohenzollerns were driven away and the workers’ and soldiers’ councils were elected.

     But the Hohenzollerns had long ceased to be the representatives of the imperialist bourgeoisie and the Junkers. It is the class rule of the bourgeoisie that is truly to blame for the World War – in Germany as and in France, in Russia as in England, in Europe as in America. It is the capitalists of the world who are the real instigators of this genocide. International capital is the insatiable Baal whose bloody maw has swallowed millions upon millions of living human victims.

     The World War has presented society with an alternative: either the continuation of capitalism, new wars and the soonest descent into chaos and anarchy, or the abolition of capitalist exploitation.

     With the end of the World War, bourgeois class rule has forfeited its right to exist. It is no longer capable of bringing society out of the terrible economic collapse left in the wake of the orgy of imperialism.

     The means of production have been destroyed on a massive scale. Millions of workers, the best and the most skilled core of the working class, has been slaughtered. Those still alive will return home to the sneering misery of unemployment. Famine and disease threaten to destroy people’s strength at its root. Due to the enormous burden of war debts, the financial bankruptcy of the state is inevitable.

     There is no help for this, no way out of this bloody tangle and yawning abyss, no salvation other than through socialism. Only the world revolution of the proletariat can bring order to this chaos, only it can provide everyone with work and bread, only it can bring an end to the mutual human butchery of the war, only it can bring peace, freedom and true culture to an over-worked humanity.  Down with wage labour! This is the cry of the hour. We need cooperative labour instead of wage work and class rule. Materials and the means of labour can no longer remain the monopoly of one class – they must become the common property of all. No more exploiters and exploited! Production must be organized and products must be distributed in the interests of the general public. We must abolish the current mode of production, exploitation and robbery, that of contemporary commerce which is only a fraud.

     Instead of employers and wage slaves, free comrades in work! Work that is no one’s anguish because it is everyone’s duty! A humane, dignified existence for everyone who does his duty to society. Henceforth, hunger shall no longer be the curse of work, but the punishment of the idler!

     Only in that society can hatred between peoples and servitude be uprooted. Only when that society is realised will the Earth no longer be defiled by the murder of human beings. Only then can we say:

     This war was the last.

     At this hour, socialism is the only lifeline for humanity. The words of the Communist Manifesto blaze like a fiery omen over the crumbling walls of capitalist society:

     Socialism or the descent into barbarism!


     The realisation of the socialist organisation of society is the most tremendous task ever to fall on the shoulders of a class or a revolution in world history. This task requires the complete transformation of the state and a radical change in the economic and social foundations of society.

     This transformation and this change cannot be decreed by any government agency, commission or parliament – they can only be taken up and carried out by the people themselves.

     In all previous revolutions, it was only a small minority of the people who led the revolutionary fight, who set its goals and direction, and only used the masses as a tool to lead its own interests to victory, the interests of the minority. The socialist revolution is the first one capable of achieving victory in the interest of the vast majority, and only through the vast majority of the workers can it achieve victory.

      The calling of the proletarian masses is not merely to set the goals and direction of the revolution with a clear vision. They must also, through their own action, bring socialism, step by step, to life.

      The essence of socialist society lies in the fact that the great working mass of the people will cease to be a mass that is governed, rather, the entirety of political and economic life will live itself and steer it in conscious and free self-determination.

      Thus the proletarian masses must take all the traditional institutions of bourgeois class rule, from the uppermost tip of the state to the smallest community: the federal councils, the parliament, the municipal councils, and replace them with the institutions of their own class: the workers’ and soldiers’ councils. They must occupy all the posts, supervise all operations, judge all needs of the state according to their own class interests and the tasks of socialism. And only in the constant, living interaction between the people and their institutions, the workers’ and soldiers’ councils, can their work fill the state with the spirit of socialism.

      Even the radical reorganisation of the economy can only be consummated as a process carried out by the mass action of the proletariat. In socialization the naked decrees of the highest revolutionary agencies are only empty words. Only the workers’ deed can make the word flesh. The workers can take control over production and, finally, actual management and leadership, in dogged struggle with capital, shoulder to shoulder in every workplace, through the unmediated pressure of the masses, through strikes, through the creation of their own permanent institutions of representation.



     In the bourgeois revolutions, bloodshed, terror and political assassination were the indispensible weapons in the hands of the rising classes.

     The proletarian revolution does not require any terror for its aims, it despises and abhors the killing of human beings. It has no need of this weapon because its battle is not with individuals but with institutions, because it does not enter the arena with naive illusions whose disappointment would lead it to bloody revenge. The proletarian revolution is not the desperate attempt of a minority to shape the world according to its ideals: it is the action of the great mass of the people in their millions, called to fulfil their historical mission and to translate historical necessity into reality.

     But the proletarian revolution is also the death knell for all forms of servitude and oppression. This is why all the capitalists have risen up against the revolution like a man fighting for his very life, all the Junkers, the petty bourgeois, officers, all those who benefit and live as parasites from exploitation and class rule.

     It is a mad delusion to believe that the capitalists will obey the verdict of any parliament or of any national congress in good faith, that they will peacefully give up their property, their profit or their privilege to exploit. All ruling classes have doggedly clung to their privileges until the very end. Be it the Roman patriarchs or the feudal barons of the middle ages, the English cavaliers or the American slaveholders, the Bojars of Walachia or the silk manufacturers of Lyon — they all shed rivers of blood, they made their way through corpses, murder and fire, they incited civil war and treason, all in order to defend their privileges and their power.

     The imperialist capitalist class, as the last scion of the exploiting class, surpasses all its forebears in brutality, in unveiled cynicism, in malice. It will defend its Holy of Holies, its profit and its privilege of exploitation, with tooth and nail and with every means of cold cruelty displayed in the entire history of colonialism and the world war. It will move heaven and hell against the proletariat. It will mobilise the peasantry against the cities, it will foment backward sections of the workers against the socialist avant-garde, it will attempt to hinder every step of socialism by a thousand means of passive resistance, it will set a score of vendees on the throat of the revolution, it will invite foreign enemies, the murder weapons of Clemenceau, Lloyd George and Wilson, as its saviours, it will turn the country into a smoking heap of rubble rather than give up wage-slavery of its own free will.

     All this opposition must be broken, step by step, with an iron fist and with ruthless energy. The violence of the bourgeois counter-revolution must be countered by the revolutionary violence of the proletariats. The attacks, intrigues and subversions of the bourgeoisie must be countered by the unbending clarity of purpose, wakefulness and constantly active preparedness of the proletarian masses. The imminent dangers of the counter-revolution – by arming the people and the disarming the ruling classes. The bourgeoisie’s parliamentary manoeuvres in obstruction – by the active, productive organisation of the masses of workers and soldiers.  The bourgeoisie’s omnipresence and thousand instruments of power – by the concentrated, focused, highly increased power of the working class. There must be a unified front of the entire German proletariat: the South and the North, the cities and the country, the worker and the soldier, the living, intellectual leadership of the German revolution and the International. Only the expansion of the German proletarian revolution can create the granite foundation on which the edifice of the future can be built.

     The fight for socialism is the most violent civil war seen in world history, and the proletarian revolution must prepare the necessary equipment for itself. It must learn to use it – to fight and to win.

     To thus equip the concrete working masses of the people with all political power for the tasks of the revolution – that is the dictatorship of the proletariat, and therefore true democracy. True democracy is not in the false equality of debating life’s questions in parliament, where the wage slave sits next to the capitalist, where the country proletarian sits next to the Junker. It is only there, where the million-headed mass of the proletariat seizes all the power of the state in its own weathered, in order to smash the head of the ruling class like the god Thor with his hammer — only this is a democracy which is not a betrayal of the people.

     In order to enable the proletariat in fulfilling these tasks, the Spartacus League demands:

     I. For the Immediate Safeguarding of the Revolution

  1. The disarmament of the entire police, all officers and non-proletarian soldiers, the disarmament of all members of the ruling classes;
  2. The confiscation of all weapons and ammunitions stockpiles and arms factories by the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils;
  3. The arming of the entire adult male proletarian population as a Workers’ Militia, the formation of a Red Guard from the proletariat as an active part of the militia for the constant protection of the revolution from counter-revolutionary attacks and subversion;
  4. The abolition of the right of command for officers and non-commissioned officers, the replacement of blind military obedience with the voluntary discipline of soldiers, the election of superiors within their units with the right of recall at any time, and the abolition of military jurisdiction;
  5. The removal of officers and capitulators from all the workers’ councils;
  6. The replacement of all the former regime’s political institutions and agencies with representatives of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils;
  7. The appointment of a revolutionary tribunal for the conviction of those most guilty for the war and its continuation, both the Hohenzollerns, Ludendorff, Hindenburg, Tirpitz and their comrades in crime, as well as all counter-revolutionary conspirators;
  8. The immediate appropriation of all food supplies for the provision of the people

     II. In the Political and Social Spheres

  1. The abolition of all individual states, a unified German socialist republic;
  2. The elimination of all parliaments and municipal councils and the assumption of all their functions by the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils and their committees and institutions;
  3. The election of workers’ councils from across Germany by the adult working populationIIof both sexes, in the city and in the country, according to workplace, as well as the election of soldiers’ councils within their units with the exception of officers and capitulators, the right of workers and soldiers to recall their representatives at any time;
  4. The election of delegates from the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils from all of Germany for the Central Council of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils, for the election of the Executive Council as the highest organ of legislative and executive authority;
  5. The convening of the Central Council at least every three months in the interim – under the condition of the new election of its delegates each time – for the constant supervision of the operations of the Executive Council and the establishment of living contact between the masses of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils in the Reich and their highest governmental authority. The right of local workers’ and soldiers’ councils to recall and replace their representatives in the Central Council at any time, in the case that they do not act in line with their constituents, the right of the Executive Council to appoint and to remove People’s Commissioners, the central state authorities and civil servants;
  6. The abolition of all differences in social position, all decorations and titles, the complete legal and social equality of the sexes;
  7. Far-reaching social legislation, the shortening of the working day for the control of unemployment and with consideration of the physical exhaustion of the workers in the world war, a workday of no more than six-hours;
  8. The immediate and fundamental reorganisation of the provision of food, housing, healthcare and education according to the sense and spirit of the proletarian revolution.

     III. The Next Economic Demands

  1. The confiscation of all dynastic wealth and income for the public;
  2. The annulment of governmental and other public debts as well as all war loans, with the exception of subscriptions of an amount to be defined by the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils;
  3. The dispossession of the grounds and soil of all large- and middle-scale agricultural firms, the formation of socialist agricultural cooperatives under unified central management for all of Germany, peasant farms are to remain in the possession of their owners until the point of their voluntary affiliation with the socialist cooperatives;
  4. The dispossession by the Council Republic of all banks, mines, industrial works and all big businesses in industry and trade;
  5. The confiscation of all wealth over an amount to be defined by the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council;
  6. The takeover of all public transport by the Council Republic;
  7. The election of works councils in all workplaces, who shall manage the internal affairs of the workplace by mutual agreement with the workers’ councils, regulate working conditions, monitor production and take over the management of the workplace;
  8. The establishment of a central strike commission, which, in constant cooperation with the works councils, shall ensure the uniform management, the socialist orientation and the strongest support from the political power of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils.

      IV. International Tasks

The immediate establishment of relations with fraternal parties abroad in order to provide the socialist revolution with an international foundation and arrange and secure the establishment of peace through the international fraternity and revolutionary rise of the world proletariat;

       V. This is What the Sparacus League Wants!

And because this is what it wants, because it is a warning and an urging on, because it is the socialist conscience of the revolution, it is hated, persecuted and slandered by all open and secret enemies of the revolution and of the proletariat.

       Crucify it! cry the capitalists, trembling for their moneyboxes.

       Crucify it! cry the petty bourgeois, the officers, the anti-Semites, the yellow journalists of the bourgeoisie, trembling for the meatpots of bourgeois class rule.

       Crucify it! cry the Scheidemanns, having sold the workers to the bourgeoisie, like Judas Iscariot, trembling for their pieces of silver, their political power.

       Crucify it! repeat the voices of deceived, betrayed, abused strata of the workers and soldiers, like a echo, not knowing that they are raging against their own flesh and blood when they rage against the Spartacus League.

       All the counter-revolutionaries, enemies of the people, anti-socialists, equivocating, shadow-dwelling, indistinct opponents of the Spartacus League are united in hatred and slander. This is proof that the heart of the revolution beats in the Spartacus League, that the future belongs to it.

       The Spartacus League is not a party that will take power over the working masses or through the working masses. The Spartacus League is only the most purposeful, conscious part of the proletariat, directing the whole wide mass of the workers toward their historical tasks at every step, supporting the ultimate socialist goal at every individual stage of the revolution and representing the interests of the proletarian world revolution in all national issues.

       The Spartacus League refuses to share governing power with the stooges of the bourgeoisie, with the Scheidemanns and the Eberts, because it sees that this cooperation would betray the principles of socialism, strengthen the counter-revolution and cripple the revolution.

       The Spartacus League will likewise refuse to take power if only due to the fact that the Scheidemann-Ebert government has discredited itself and the independents, by working with them, have found themselves at a dead end.

       The Spartacus League will never take governing power by any other means than through the clear, unambiguous will of the vast majority of the proletarian masses from all of Germany, never if not by virtue of their conscious affirmation to the Spartacus League’s views, goals and methods of struggle.

       The proletarian revolution can only reach full clarity and maturity at last by making its way, gradually through defeats and victories, step by step, along the Golgotha of its own bitter experience.

       The victory of the Spartacus League lies not at the beginning, but at the end of the revolution: its victory is identical with that of the great millions of the proletarian socialist mass.

       Proletarians, arise! To the struggle! There is a world to conquer and a world to fight. In this last class struggle in world history, where the highest aims of humanity are at stake, these are our words for the enemy: Thumbs to your eyes and knees to your chest!

     The Spartacus League

1 This manifesto for the Spartacus League was written by Rosa Luxemburg and, with slight modifications, was chosen as the party manifesto on the day of the founding of the Communist Party of Germany.

First published in: Die Rote Fahne (Berlin), No. 29, December 14, 1918.

Quotes taken from: Rosa Luxemburg: Gesammelte Werke, Bd. 4., August 1914 bis Januar 1919, Berlin, S. 440-449.

* This is a draft version translated by Zachary Murphy King. The final translation will appear in the publication of the fifth volume of The Complete Works of Rosa Luxemburg, edited by Peter Hudis and forthcoming in 2020 from Verso Books with the support of the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung.