Spartacus: rebel or 'proto-communist'?

The slave revolt led by Spartacus shook the Roman world to its foundations and, although a failure, has inspired the oppressed for centuries. Communist historian Doug Enaa Greene delivered a talk at the Center for Marxist Education on Spartacus on March 7, 2015.

By Doug Enaa Greene

May 15, 2015 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The ancient rebellion of Spartacus and tens of thousands of subjugated slaves is arguably the most famous slave revolt in history. During his lifetime, Spartacus dared to challenge the dominance of the Roman slave masters and their Republic. In subsequent generations, the name of Spartacus has stood forth as a symbol for resistance and liberation from oppression – inspiring the Haitian slave Toussaint L'Ouverture, who led a successful revolt in the 1790s; Karl Marx; and Germany's Spartacist League of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht.

Spartacus has entered popular culture through films, television shows and novels. Despite the enduring influence of Spartacus, we actually know rather little about him – the primary historical sources were written by wealthy Romans, who were not sympathetic to him, contradictory in their accounts, and often at a great distance in time. Not only that, these histories were written by the winners in the war. Thus, we have very little concrete information on the life of Spartacus, the course of events and the goals of the revolt.

It is our purpose here to give the background of the Roman Republic and Spartacus' revolt, but to ask what exactly Spartacus represented. Despite the scanty information available, I will follow the French communist philosopher Alain Badiou in arguing that Spartacus represented a “communist invariant” (or better, a proto-communist). According to Badiou, a communist invariant is the “pure Idea of equality”,[1] which has been represented in mass revolts, whether by slaves, peasants and workers, throughout history.

These communist invariants, such as Spartacus, are examples of a political truth with four key characteristics: will, equality, confidence and terror.[2] In saying that Spartacus represents an example of the communist idea, I want to clarify that I don't believe that communism is something that was historically possible in Spartacus' time, it was just a dream. Yet those dreams, which have inspired centuries of “premature” revolts, from Spartacus onward, have pushed the limits of what was possible. Ultimately, it is only with the emergence of modern capitalism and the proletariat, with the intervention of Marxist theory and practice, that communism could be realised. As Bruno Bosteels puts it, only with the emergence of Marxism does communism cease being a dream, but becomes a historical possibility: “Marxism without communism is empty, but communism without Marxism is blind.”[3]


The Roman Republic at the time of the Spartacus revolt was in the midst of vast expansion and upheaval. The legions of the Republic had conquered Carthage, Greece and the Iberian Peninsula. The wars had turned the Mediterranean Sea into a Roman lake, which saw the Republic become a world power, standing unrivalled.

While Rome faced few challengers abroad, it was beset with troubles from within. Unlike most other ancient powers, Rome was a republic – which meant that it did not have a monarchy, but an elected Senate. The members of the Roman Senate – consuls, quaesters, praetors – came from the wealthy patrician class. Throughout most of the Republic, the patricians possessed a monopoly of power in the Senate and they were able to determine policy. The class of plebeians, composed of the small peasants and the propertyless proletarii possessed little representation. The patrician families used their political power to increase their already vast holdings of land by squeezing the peasants – and enforced those claims through judges they appointed. Patrician control of the Senate meant that they appointed the officers, who in turn took the bulk of conquered lands.

The plebeians did not passively endure their situation. Five times between 494 to 287 BCE, the plebeians left Rome in a quasi general strike known as the secessio plebis: leaving Rome and refusing to serve in the army. These conflicts eventually resulted in the plebeians being granted expanded rights by the Senate and their own form of representatives known as tribunes. The tribunes were set up to protect the plebeians from abuses by the patrician magistrates and veto unfavourable legislation. However, over time, the tribunes became an integral part of the Roman state.

As Marxist historian G.E.M de ste Croix said:

At first, one might say, they stood to official state magistrates almost as shop stewards to company directors, but gradually, although they never acquired the insignia and trappings of state magistrate, their position became more and more assimilated to that of magistrates ...[4]

Many of the wealthier plebeians gained substantially from their new elected positions, in effect they became joint rulers with the patrician nobility, which meant that ordinary plebeians had a difficult time finding protectors. Despite this, the idea of a “tribune of the people” -- a champion of the poor and oppressed classes -- has endured throughout history and has been taken up by communists such as Gracchus Babeuf and V.I. Lenin.

Even though the Republic was expanding through continued wars, this did not improve the lot of the plebeians. As said above, the lands conquered generally went to the patricians. The wars also meant that vast numbers of small farmers had to serve in the legions, sometimes for periods extending up to 20 years. By the time they came home, their farms would be mired in debt and ruined. Soldiers from abroad also imported diseases that wiped out local populations. One way that ambitious Roman generals could gain a flowing among their soldiers was to promise them land in the conquered provinces. However as soldiers saw their first loyalty to their commander and not the Republic, this led to recurrent civil wars and social unrest between rival claimants for power.

And thus, vacated and indebted lands fell into the hands of the state and the patricians, who built vast estates (ignoring laws that limited the size of holdings). Historian Michael Grant describes the process as follows: “holdings of hundreds of acres became an increasingly prominent feature of the Italian scene; and their wealthy proprietors continued to expand further at the expense of the small holders in the area, by methods ranging from purchases and mortgages to physical violence.”[5]

The large estates, or latifundia, brought changes to agricultural production. The rising urban population encouraged these landowners to produce crops, such as grain, commercially using new methods of crop rotation, manure, deeper cutting ploughs and a better selection of seeds.[6] Other products that earned more money such as grapes and olives were also in demand along with breeding of livestock to produce wool, cheese and other goods.


In order for the latifundia to profitably produce these goods, they also needed a workforce since the peasantry was ruined. They found this in a rapidly growing slave population. Although slavery had long been practiced in the Roman world, the wars of conquest during the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC brought a vast influx of slaves numbering tens of thousands. For instance, after the Third Macedonian War, which saw the conquest of Greece, more than 150,000 were sold into slavery.[7]

Slaves lacked any form of legal protection. While domestic slaves were treated comparatively better than agricultural slaves, this should not imply that they were treated well. Agricultural slaves were seen as beasts of burden – to be ill treated and worked to death. Roman landowner Cato the Elder offered advice on how slaves were to be treated: when sick, slaves should have their rations cut, more attention was to be paid to oxen and he was gracious enough to allow marriage between slaves, provided they paid him a fee.[8] Slaves were often kept in chains and sexually abused. By the 1st century BCE, Roman Italy possessed 2 million slaves compared to a free population of 3.25 million. This ruthless exploitation of slaves, the impoverishment of the Roman peasantry, the growing poor population in the cities, and the rise of the ambitious generals set the stage for social explosions that threatened to bring the Republic to ruin.

The Roman latifundia were inefficient and not very productive. Slave workers were not as efficient as free labourers since slaves had no interest in their work. Karl Kautsky describes the Roman economy as follows:

Unintelligent, half-hearted, malicious, glad of any chance to do harm to their hated tormentor, the slave labor of the latifundia produced far less than peasant farms. In the first century A.D. Pliny was already pointing out how fruitful the fields of Italy had been when generals were not ashamed to do their own farming, and how refractory Mother Earth became when she was turned over to chained and branded slaves to mistreat. This sort of agriculture might give a greater surplus than peasant farms in some cases, but it could not by any means support as many men in well-being. Meanwhile, all through the wars during which Rome kept the whole Mediterranean world in constant unrest, the slave economy kept expanding and the peasant class kept sinking; for war brought rich booty to the great landowners who conducted it, new tracts of land and countless cheap slaves.

Thus we find in the Roman Empire an economic evolution that externally bears a striking resemblance to modern developments: decline of small enterprise, advance of large enterprises and still quicker growth of large landed estates, the latifundia, which dispossesses the peasants and, where they do not replace him by plantations or some such extensive form of cultivation, at least reduce him from a free landholder to a dependent tenant.[9]

The slave economy saw the emergence of a parasite landowning class, living only for their own luxury. The influx of slaves destroyed the peasantry and independent craft production. Yet the accomplishments of Rome, its arts, literature, crafts, philosophy, science, architecture and military victories came from a class that was “liberated” from work. The much-praised “glory of Rome” was built on the blood and toil of slaves.

Naturally enough, the slaves did not accept their subordinate position passively. During the 2nd century, there were at least a dozen uprisings in Italy, two major uprisings in Sicily (135-132, 104-100 BC) and revolts in Asia Minor. The uprisings in Sicily were put down at great cost and bloodshed. So-called "barbarian” kings, who fought Rome, were able to gain major followings by promising freedom to slaves. All of this was to set the stage for the revolt of Spartacus.

Kirk Douglas portayed Spartacus in the classic film of the same title.

The revolt

Who exactly was Spartacus? The source material gives different information on his background.[10] For one, he may have served in the Roman auxiliary, deserted and was sold into slavery, where he was trained as a gladiator (according to Sallust and Appian) The historian Plutarch says that Spartacus had a wife who was a prophetess and who was sold into slavery with him (and escaped with him). He also describes Spartacus as someone “possessed not only of great courage and strength, but also in sagacity and culture superior to his fortune, and more Hellenic than Thracian”.

Spartacus was enslaved at the gladiatorial school of Lentulus Batiatus, which also contained Gauls and Germans, in Capua. According to Plutarch the slave revolt began in 73 BCE and “through no misconduct of theirs, but owing to the injustice of their owner, they were kept in close confinement and reserved for gladiatorial combats. Two hundred of these planned to make their escape, and when information was laid against them, those who got wind of it and succeeded in getting away, seventy-eight in number, seized cleavers and spits from some kitchen and sallied out.”

Other sources say that only thirty slaves at Capua were freed (Florus). Regardless, Spartacus and the escaped gladiators gathered other slaves and freed people to their standard. If the Romans are telling the truth, the slaves proceeded to plunder the neighbouring countryside and to seize Roman arms from Capua, considering their gladiatorial weapons to be dishonourable (Plutarch).

The armed force of Spartacus began small, but at its height numbered between 70,000 and 120,000 men under arms (Appian). Roman sources give multiple motivations for the slaves: revenge, freedom, plunder and returning to their homelands. According to Plutarch, the slaves elected Spartacus as their commander, and he had two subordinates who were also escaped gladiators – Crixus and Oenomaus (Orosius). There was friction between Spartacus and the other gladiatorial commanders that ultimately would cause their army to be split by tribal lines (to their detriment).

In regards to plunder, Spartacus made it policy to divide loot impartially and equally among his followers – in marked contrast to typical Roman practice where the generals got most of the booty (Appian). The slaves must have had a functioning organisational military and access to rudimentary means of production because as Appian says, they manufactured their own weapons – which meant they didn't have to rely wholly on captured Roman arms. Spartacus is noted for breaking with ancient military practice in ordering his soldiers to not rape captured women, orders which were subsequently disobeyed (Sallust).

Despite the friction with his fellow commanders, when Crixus fell in battle, Spartacus had 300 Romans sacrificed in his honour (Appian) and had Roman prisoners fight as gladiators (Florus). On at least one occasion, in order to motivate his men, Spartacus, according to Appian “crucified a Roman prisoner in the space between the two armies to show his own men what fate awaited them if they did not conquer”. Spartacus was not adverse to killing prisoners during his march on Rome and refused entry of Roman deserters into his army (Appian).

Lastly, Spartacus did not allow the use of gold in his camp. “We know”, says Pliny in the 33rd book of his Natural History, “that Spartacus (the leader of a slave uprising) did not allow gold or silver in his camp. How our runaway slaves tower above us in largeness of spirit!”[11] 

Initially, Rome did not view the revolt as a war, but as a mere policing action. As it was, the Romans were stretched thin, putting down a major revolt in the province of Hispania and fighting the Third Mithridatic War in Asia Minor. The Roman forces sent to fight Spartacus, led by praetor Clodius Glaberus, were militia who had been gathered hastily together (Appian). Glaberus besieged the slaves at their encampment on Mount Vesuvius, hoping to starve them into submission. Despite their being surrounded, the slaves managed to come behind his lines, using a secret exit and climbing down the mountain using vines (Florus). The slaves defeated the Romans and Spartacus captured the horse of Glaberus.

Following this engagement, the slaves launched a series of smashing victories against the Romans – attacking the encampment of Varenius, Thoranus and laying waste to the province of Campania (Florus). By now, the slaves were becoming even more of a regular army, gaining cavalry and rudimentary uniforms (Florus). The revolt had grown so worrying to the Romans that both the Senate consuls were sent out with armies to suppress it.

However, these victories were not total triumphs for Spartacus. For one, Spartacus hoped to make his way through the Apennines and the Alps into territory beyond Roman control, so the slaves could return to their homelands. However, one of the consuls blocked his path (Appian). At this point, Spartacus considered marching on Rome. He eventually changed his mind and according to Appian, “He did not consider himself ready as yet for that kind of a fight, as his whole force was not suitably armed, for no city had joined him, but only slaves, deserters, and riff-raff. However, he occupied the mountains around Thurii and took the city itself.” Whether that is the actual reason Spartacus called off his attack, we cannot say.

While Spartacus was moving up the Italian peninsula, the army of Crixus, 30,000 strong, was separated from the main force (perhaps by tribal rivalry) and two thirds were defeated and killed fighting the Romans at Mount Garganus. Spartacus moved his troops there and defeated the consuls, but the damage was done (Appian). By this point, the Senate was growing alarmed at the rebellion, which had defeated armies led by Roman consuls. To defeat the slaves, the wealthiest man in Rome, the politically ambitious Marcus Licinius Crassus, was given command of six legions to end the war (Appian).

In order to restore discipline to the Roman army, Crassus revived the ancient practice of decimation. According to Plutarch, ”five hundred of them, ... who had shown the greatest cowardice and been first to fly, he divided into fifty decades, and put to death one from each decade, on whom the lot fell... For disgrace also attaches to this manner of death, and many horrible and repulsive features attend the punishment, which the whole army witnesses.” To the soldiers, Crassus by using decimation, had proven himself to be someone who was more feared than the enemy. By all accounts, this brutality had the desired effect and morale improved markedly, and in a subsequent battle the Romans defeated a force of 10,000 slaves.

Spartacus and his army were now encamped near the straits of Messina, planning to cross over to Sicily. They hoped to pay for passage on the ships of the Cilian pirates in order to land in Sicily and raise the slaves of the island in rebellion once more. However, the pirates accepted payment and just sailed away, betraying Spartacus and leaving him stranded (Plutarch).

Crassus then decided to box Spartacus in, building a wall across the peninsula of Rhegium, which he accomplished in record time. The wall ran “from sea to sea through the neck of land three hundred furlongs in length and fifteen feet in width and depth alike. Above the ditch he also built a wall of astonishing height and strength” (Plutarch). Spartacus and his fighters were trapped and as they ran out of provisions, they had to break out or succumb. So during a stormy winter night, the slaves filled a ditch with wood, sticks and boughs over a portion of the ditch, managing to get a third of their army across (Plutarch).

Crassus feared that Spartacus would now march against Rome, but further divisions in Spartacus' ranks caused a section of slaves to leave the main army, who then encamped at a lake. Crassus seized on the division and struck the camp, intending to wipe out the slaves. However, before Crassus could slaughter them all, Spartacus arrived and drove Crassus off (Plutarch). Further engagements cost the slaves heavily and Crassus remained in hot pursuit. The Senate, which had heard of the siege, grew alarmed and decided to recall General Pompey from Hispania to assist in crushing Spartacus (Appian). Plutarch says it was actually Crassus who requested the assistance of Pompey and Lucullus from Thrace. Either way, Crassus wanted to end the war before either man arrived, fearing that success and glory would be ascribed to them and not himself.

According to Appian, Spartacus make terms with Crassus, which was rejected. As Roman armies landed in Brundusium, Spartacus moved to engage them, with Crassus in their rear. Spartacus knew that Pompey was also coming and prepared for battle. As the final stand approached, “Spartacus saw the necessity that was upon him, and drew up his whole army in order of battle. In the first place, when his horse was brought to him, he drew his sword, and saying that if he won the day he would have many fine horses of the enemy’s, but if he lost it he did not want any, he slew his horse” (Plutarch).

The battle was a bloodbath as Spartacus and his rebel slaves stood their ground against the might of Rome while thousands of swords clashed.

Appian says that Spartacus planned to kill Crassus, but that he “was wounded in the thigh with a spear and sank upon his knee, holding his shield in front of him and contending in this way against his assailants until he and the great mass of those with him were surrounded and slain...The body of Spartacus was not found.”

Crassus freed 3000 captured Romans citizens following the defeat of Spartacus. The fact that the slaves had treated their captives relatively humanely was in marked contrast to the behaviour of Rome. The 6000 survivors of the battle were pursued by Crassus, but Pompey's legions cut them off and captured them. Pompey wrote to the Senate, claiming credit for the victory, which infuriated Crassus. The captured slaves were all subsequently crucified along the Appian Way that stretched for 120 miles from Rome to Capua. Their crucified bodies were to serve as lesson to any slave who dared to entertain thoughts of rebellion.

The meaning

What was the meaning of this failed slave revolt? Was it just another instance of failed resistance by the exploited and oppressed masses that has occurred throughout history? Was Spartacus just a glorious martyr – one whose name we happen to know?

I would argue that Spartacus represented an example of what Alain Badiou defined as a "communist invariant", that has existed throughout history, and is an example of a political truth “in which the radical will that aims at an emancipation of humanity as a whole is affirmed”.[12]

The evidence for suggesting that Spartacus is a communist invariant or a proto-communist is scanty at best. As discussed above, in marked contrast to the Roman army, Spartacus divided the spoils of war equally among his men. Spartacus was able to unite differing tribes under a single banner (not without friction). However, no evidence exists among the sources that Spartacus desired the abolition of slavery as an institution, rather the main sources suggest that the slaves' main motivation was to escape from Italy and return to their homelands.

Yet we can speculate different motives for Spartacus. While the slaves appear to have wanted to engage in wanton plunder, Spartacus is said to have opposed this:

And many local slaves, whom their natural disposition prompted to be [Spartacus’] allies, dragged what their masters had hidden or their masters themselves out of their hiding places: to the wrath of barbarians and to the nature of slaves nothing is sacred or too unspeakable [to commit]. These things Spartacus was powerless to prevent although he begged them with frequent entreaties quickly to anticipate ... messengers ... (Sallust)

Furthermore, Spartacus refused to allow gold or silver to be used in his camp.

The internal divisions in Spartacus' army were not just tribal, but rather represented differences over how to wage war. It appears that Spartacus was at odds with his fellow generals, Crixus and Oenomaus, both of whom sought to plunder and ravage the countryside, very much in the manner of the Romans they opposed. Yet as we have seen, Spartacus had a more egalitarian ethos and despite his brutality, he was recognised even by the Romans as someone exceptional and cultured. Spartacus' differing military strategy comes out in regards to Sicily, as class based and political. For one, the Romans admit that he hoped to go to the island and raise the slaves there in revolt.

Whether Spartacus had the conscious desire to end slavery or just saw this as a desperate plan to escape from superior Roman forces, it still represented a marked difference in strategy when compared to both his slave commanders and the Romans. And the reasons behind Spartacus' failed attempt to march on Rome remain a mystery -- whether through internal fissures in the army, lack of siege equipment, or the urban support needed to take the capital (Appian) or perhaps because he had no vision of what type of society would replace the Republic.

Despite the fragmentary nature of the available evidence – we can speculate that Spartacus was not just interested in plunder and returning to Thrace, but harboured dreams of a new society. The sheer nature and size of the slave revolt had already marked Spartacus as an enemy of Roman society and everything that it stood for. For many of the slaves who flocked to the banner, they were no doubt motivated by a variety of dreams, ranging from revenge to riches, to ending slavery. The ability of Spartacus to amass and lead such a huge army so quickly can possibly be attributed to a dream of a more equal society.

Yet that dream of a new society – no slaves and no masters – was probably not coherently articulated (at least it doesn't appear so in the surviving sources). Yet objectively, an army of slaves rising up in revolt against their masters represented exactly that to the Romans.

Class struggle

Even if the Spartacus revolt objectively represented a challenge to Roman society (and perhaps the dream of a communist order), what about the slaves' subjective intentions? The slaves as a whole did not think of themselves as a class of slaves seeking to overthrow their masters. Nor did they conceive of a different social order. Yet most class struggles throughout history have not been defined by class consciousness, and that does not change their nature as class struggles.

According to the Marxist historian of antiquity, G.E.M. de ste Croix:

A class (a particular class) is a group of persons in a community identified by their position in the whole of social production, defined above all according to their relationship (primarily in terms of the degree of ownership or control) to the conditions of production (that is to say, the means of labour and production) and to other classes...The individuals constituting a given class may or may not be wholly or partly conscious of their own identity and common interests as a class, and they may or may not feel antagonism towards members of other classes as such.[13]

G.E.M. de ste Croix goes on later to say:

To adopt the very common conception of class struggle which refuses to regard it as such unless it includes class consciousness and active political conflict (as some Marxists do) is to water it down to the point where it virtually disappears in many situations. It is then possible to deny the very existence of class struggle in the United States of America or between employers and immigrant workers in Northern Europe, and between masters and slaves in antiquity, merely because in each case the exploited class concerned does not or did not have any "class consciousness" or take any political action except on very rare occasions and to a very limited degree. But this, I would say, makes nonsense not merely of The Communist Manifesto but of the greater part of Marx's work.[14]

Thus, the Spartacus revolt can objectively be said to represent a class struggle, even if all the participants lacked any notion of class consciousness and political motivations. And in their challenge to Rome, the slaves represented the potential of a different society – even if they didn't consciously realise it or if it remained only as a vague dream.

Yet the dream of the slaves, however noble, did not possess a developed vision of what to replace Roman society with. Perhaps that is ultimately why Spartacus did not march on Rome – he had no idea of what to do if he won. And even if the slaves had won, then what? The time for communism had not arrived. The backward nature of the Roman slave economy precluded that. Perhaps only a different exploitative system could have emerged – as eventually happened with the development of feudalism following the downfall of Rome.

So how do we judge this premature "proto-communist" revolt then? For one, the slaves who revolted did not know what we now do about the objective limits of history. It should be stressed, we only possess the knowledge of those objective limits because of those, like Spartacus, who dared to go the distance. We in turn will pick up their fallen banner where they left off and carry it further to victory. And the defeat of Spartacus, like that of other revolts by slaves, serfs, peasants and workers throughout history, was not in vain. Their defeats were not final.

As Rosa Luxemburg says:

Because of the contradiction in the early stages of the revolutionary process between the task being sharply posed and the absence of any preconditions to resolve it, individual battles of the revolution end in formal defeat. But revolution is the only form of "war" – and this is another peculiar law of history – in which the ultimate victory can be prepared only by a series of “defeats”.[15]

It is our job, as communists and revolutionaries, to change the verdicts of history and avenge the defeat of Spartacus. The struggles of our radical ancestors do not prove to us that the reign of the ruling class is eternal, but that resistance is possible and that sometimes we can even win.

While our struggle takes place in the present, it also fights for the defeated classes. As Walter Benjamin says, arguing against reformist social democrats who forgot their forebears who would be embraced by revolutionaries, (such as by German Communists taking up the name of Spartacus):

The subject of historical cognition is the battling, oppressed class itself. In Marx it steps forwards as the final enslaved and avenging class, which carries out the work of emancipation in the name of generations of downtrodden to its conclusion. This consciousness, which for a short time made itself felt in the “Spartacus” [Spartacist splinter group, the forerunner to the German Communist Party], was objectionable to social democracy from the very beginning. In the course of three decades it succeeded in almost completely erasing the name of Blanqui, whose distant thunder [Erzklang] had made the preceding century tremble. It contented itself with assigning the working-class the role of the savior of future generations. It thereby severed the sinews of its greatest power. Through this schooling the class forgot its hate as much as its spirit of sacrifice. For both nourish themselves on the picture of enslaved forebears, not on the ideal of the emancipated heirs.[16]

As communists, we not only take inspiration from the struggles of the oppressed and exploited throughout history, but seek to learn why they failed so that we can fight and win in the here and now. And our victory is possible now with the development of capitalism.

Although Badiou has retreated from this older position of his, I would argue that it is only when the proletariat and Marxism comes on the scene that communism is possible:[17]

With the proletariat, ideological resistance becomes not only the repetition of the invariant but also the mastery of its realization:’ This unique moment coincides with the birth of Marxism. The latter, in fact, is nothing but the accumulation of all the knowledge conveyed by the millenarian ideological struggle around the communist invariants ...[18]

For on the one hand, the agent of the communist revolution is, as Marx says, “a class with radical chains, a class of civil society which is not a class of civil society, an estate which is the dissolution of all estates, a sphere which has a universal character by its universal suffering and claims no particular right because no particular wrong, but wrong generally, is perpetuated against it... This dissolution of society as a particular estate is the proletariat.”[19] And the proletariat, acting “self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority. The proletariat, the lowest stratum of our present society, cannot stir, cannot raise itself up, without the whole superincumbent strata of official society being sprung into the air.”[20]

And in that task we are guided by Marxist theory, nourished and built upon the struggles of the past including that of Spartacus, which provides us with an understanding of history, society, economics, politics and helps us to orient our practical struggles towards revolution in order to, at long last, realise the eternal ideal of Spartacus.


[1]Alain Badiou, Meaning of Sarkozy (New York: Verso Books, 2008), p. 100.

[2]Alain Badiou, Logics of Worlds: Being and Event 2 (New York: Continuum, 2009), p. 27.

[3]Bruno Bosteels, Badiou and Politics (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011), p. 279.

[4]G.E.M. de Ste Croix, The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World: from the Archaic Age to the Arab Conquests (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981), p. 335.

[5]Michael Grant, History of Rome (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1978), p. 162.

[6]Ibid. pp. 162-3.

[7]Chris Harman, A People's History of the World: From the Stone Age to the New Millennium (New York: Verso Books, 2008), p. 75.

[8]Grant 1978, p. 164.

[9]Karl Kautsky, Foundations of Christianity, Marxists Internet Archive.

[10]The principal Roman sources on the revolt will be consulted here. Specific historians referenced can be found italicised or in parenthesis. Martin M. Winkler, “The Principal Ancient Sources on Spartacus”, Wiley Online Library.

[12]Badiou 2009, 27 Spartacus is also covered extensively in Logics of Worlds on pp. 51–2, 54, 56–7, 59–60, 63–5, 68–70, 72.

[13]De ste Croix 1981, pp. 43-44.

[14]Ibid. 57.

[15]Rosa Luxemburg, “Order Prevails in Berlin”, Marxists Internet Archive.

[16]Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History”, Marxists Internet Archive.

[17]For more in depth discussion of Badiou on the nature of communist invariants see Alberto Toscano, Fanaticism: On the Uses of an Idea (New York: Verso Books, 2010), pp. 90-2; Bosteels 2011, pp. 276-80; Peter Hallward, Badiou: A Subject to Truth (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), pp. 36-7.

[18]Bosteels 2011, p. 279.

[19]Karl Marx, “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: Introduction”, Marxists Internet Archive.

[20]Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Communist Manifesto, Marxist Internet Archive.