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Spartacus League 1916-1919 (Germany)

spartacist league, spartakusbund, skb

Last modified: 2012-09-16 by pete loeser
Keywords: spartacist league | spartacus league | spartakusbund | skb |
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Red Banner of the Spartacus League 1916-1919

Image by Pete Loeser
[based on poster "Wählt Spartakus/Vote for the Spartacists" - Victoria and Albert Museum collection]


On this page: See also:

Introduction: Spartacus League 1916-1919
also: Spartacist League or Spartakusbund

     The Spartacus League, also known as the "Spartacist League" (Spartakusbund), was a left-wing revolutionary socialist group active in Germany during World War I. Their name came from their illegally distributed pamphlets "Spartacus Letters" (Spartakusbriefen) - which was derived from the name of Spartacus, the leader of the largest slave rebellion of the Roman Republic. The SKB was officially founded in 1916 by Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Clara Zetkin, and Franz Mehringw. The league had developed as a splinter group of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), being among those in the party who violently opposed war with the Russian Empire and who called for a socialist revolution in Germany.
     First formed in August of 1916, after the SKB split from the SPD completely over the German declaration of war, the Spartacist aligned themselves with the left-wing of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (Unabhängige Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, or USPD), itself another splinter group of the SPD. After the November Revolution of 1918, the Spartacist started a new national, non-partisan organization they called the "Spartacus League" with the aim of eventually establishing an all-German Council Republic (Räterepublik). From 1916 until 1918, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were imprisoned for their roles in helping to organize public demonstrations in Berlin against German involvement in the war, and were eventual murdered by members of the conservative Free Corps (Freikorps) in 1919.
     At the end of the war, the Spartacus League renamed itself the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands), and joined the Comintern (Communist International) in 1919.
Jens Pattke, 23 March 2012

I also remember their party newspaper being called "The Red Flag" (Das Rote Fahne) and always assumed that they used either a plain red flag (see the example at V&A Museum) or the usual red Communist flag with hammer and sickle.
Pete Loeser, 23 March 2012

The Red Banner, in this context, is not so much an actual flag as the concept of revolution. As such, any design with a red cloth would suffice for an illustration or a physical flag. Symbols used might depend on the affiliation of the paper, though I used to know a publication that really did use just a long, slightly tapered I think, red cloth.
Come to think of it, the level of anarchy might also have something to do with that: After all, symbols usually mean somebody wants you to follow their judgement.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 23 March 2012

Red flags have, of course, been used by Social Democrats too, as can be seen at the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) Website. Interestingly enough, besides generating the Spartacist League, the Social Democrats also founded the organisation Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold (National Banner Black-Red-Gold) to support the democratic republic. There is some information about the flag (or banner) used by its local organisation Historischer Verein für Mittelbaden e.V./Mitgliedergruppe Schiltach in Schiltach. [although written in German, it has some great pictures]
Elias Granqvist, 27 March 2012


Spartacus (Spartacist) League Flag 1917

Image by Jens Pattke

The Spartakusbund newspaper Die Rote Fahne (The Red Flag) described flags used at various times by the SKB. Although they commonly used one with a plain red field, another version they began using in 1917 had a red star outlined in yellow in the center of the red cloth.
Jens Pattke, 25 March 2012

Here is more about the history of the Die Rote Fahne Newspaper (in German).
Elias Granqvist, 27 March 2012


Spartacus (Spartacist) League Flag 1918

Image by Jens Pattke

In 1918, a yellow hammer and sickle was added to the red star, with all three versions appearing after that time.
Jens Pattke, 25 March 2012


Spartacus (Spartacist) League Flag 1918 (variant)

Image by Jens Pattke

Also appearing late in 1918 was a variant version which showed a red hammer and sickle centered on a fibrated yellow star in the center of the red cloth. It should be noted that the monarchist colours black-white-red were never used by the Spartakusbund since they were considered the colours of rivals. Spartakusbund beliefs were diametrically opposed to groups like "The Steel Helmet," (former front-line soldiers) that were conservative or right-winged.
Jens Pattke, 23 March 2012


Spartacist League Center Flag 1914
Spartakusbund Mitte

Image by Jens Pattke


40th Anniversary Spartacus League
Commemorative Stamp 1959

Image from Jens Pattke

East German stamp issued in 1959 for the 40th Anniversary of the foundation of the Communist Party of Germany/Spartacus League in 1919. The stamp clearly shows the Spartacist Red Banner flying behind the Die Rote Fahne newspaper.
Jens Pattke, 25 March 2012


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