Spartakists were members of the Spartakusbund, or ‘Spartacus League’- a Marxist movement in Germany that was organised during the First World War by Clara Zetkin, Karl Liebknecht, and Rosa Luxemburg among others. It was later renamed the KPD, or Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (Communist Party of Germany), and joined the Comintern- (the Communist International or Third International, dedicated to “by all available means, including armed force, for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie and for the creation of an international Soviet republic as a transition stage to the complete abolition of the State”)- in 1919.
The movement to found the Bund as an independent party was in response to the SPD’s (Social Democratic Party of Germany’s) ‘failure’ in 1914, which was to support the government’s declaration of war on the Russian Empire. This was seen as a failure by the Bund’s founders because they saw the war as imperialist and therefore against their Marxist ideals; the KPD was in consequence much more left-wing, wanting not only to participate in Parliament but to initiate a revolution- unlike the SPD. From this time until 1916 it existed within the SPD as the ‘Gruppe Internationale’ (International Group), from 1916-1917 it changed its name to ‘Spartakusgruppe’ (Spartacus Group), and in 1917 it became the extreme left-wing party separate from the SPD as the ‘Unabhaengigen Sozialdemokratischen Partei Deautschlands’ (Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany). It fully established itself as an independent, nation-wide party as the Spartakusbund in the 1918 Novemberrevolution, or German Revolution, when it tried to encourage revolution through the pamphlets the Spartacus Letters and the newspaper Die Rote Fahne (The Red Banner).
In the 1919 Spartakusaufstand, or Januaraufstand, (Spartacus Uprising or January Uprising,) there was a general strike and several armed battles. During the Uprising, the Spartacus group tried to incite a wider armed revolt through their military presence and by appealing to the Volksmarinedivision (People’s Marine Division) in Berlin. This failed, but on Jan. 8th the KPD left the Revolution Committee because the committee had begun negotiating with Ebert, and called to their members to revolt with force. On the same day, Ebert ordered the Freikorps to attack the striking workers. In the ensuing violence many Spartacus leaders were killed, including Luxembourg and Liebknecht. The suppression of this chaos ended the German Revolution.