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cleopatra

Spartacus a Communist?

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Hello everyone,

I'me new here and its my first time posting, so forgive me if I make mistakes... :)

I wanted to hear your thoughts concerning the nature of Spartacus's revolt.

Marx thought of it as a social revolt, slaves against their masters. I dont think that this is

likely, its hard for me to think that Spartacus was fighting in the name of slavery and aiming to put an end to it. In my (humble) opinion its similar to saying that the Graccus brothers were aiming at starting a democracy.

Its just not realistic when you think about the time and the roman dependance on slave labor and slave economy.

Furthermore, there were a lot of slaves that didnt participate in the revolt, and most of the participants were

of non roman descent, which made me think that perhaps it was a nationalistic revolt, Roman against Non Romans. The

fact that Spartacus didnt leave Italy when he had the chance strengthens this theory, because it suggests that

the participants in the revolt were aiming to conquer the Roman territory and were willing to stay and fight for it.

But then I read that there were also Roman participants in the revolt, from lower classes, proletarians and such,

which made me rethink the whole nationalistic theory behind the aim of the revolt.

What do you guys think? What was Spartacus's aim in his revolt?

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Spartacus (is/was) a popular hero for the communists in the early twentieth century. It is mentioned that Spartacus shared the loot from his 'campaigns' equally among the members of his slave army, so that's a comparison between his actions and the beliefs of Marxists. As Appian says:

 

"Because he divided the spoils in equal shares his numbers swelled quickly..."

 

I've also heard it mentioned (such as in Philip Matyszack's 'Chronicle of the Roman Republic') that Marcus Licinius Crassus has been viewed by some historians as an early capitalist. Whether this view has been directly influenced by Spartacus been referred to as a communist, I am unsure. Perhaps the idea developed seperately. But the idea of an a proto-communist battling against a proto-capitalist would obviously be attractive to some Communists.

 

As for Spartacus's aims, again I'm not sure. The sources on Spartacus are few and far between, and they amount only to brief mentions in the works of Plutarch, Appian and others. Perhaps Spartacus' main goal was fight his way across Italy to the Alps in the hope of establishing a new home for him and his followers in Gaul. Upon reaching the Alps, many of Spartacus followers, who were influenced by Crixus, decided to stay in Italy to plunder the villas in the countryside. Spartacus therefore had to abandon his plans and in the following period he took to plundering Italy. (Crixus and his followers would later break off from Spartacus main force, leading to the defeats of both forces).

Appian also mentions that Spartacus planned on leading his men to Rome, but abandoned his plan after he realised that he was no match for the defenders.

 

As a result, it is difficult to see what were Spartacus's long term plans. Perhaps he had none. I personally do not think he was attempting a revolution. I think that his immediate goal was to bolster the ranks of his army so that he could launch an attack on Rome, or perhaps break free of Roman territory. The destrutction of slavery was not a goal of his, I believe.

Edited by DecimusCaesar

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I don't think there's any good reason to believe that Spartacus (whatever Marx thought of him) was either a communist or even in favor of abolishing slavery.

 

What we know of Spartacus' views derives entirely from the record of his behavior. Luckily, the record is exceptionally well-covered, and it can be found in Appian (Civil Wars 1.116-120), Florus (Epitome 2.8), Livy (Periochae, 95, 96, 97 Velleius Paterculus (2.30.5), Athenaeus, Varro, Diodorus Siculus, Frontinus (Strategies 1.5.20-22 and 7.6, 2.4.7 and 5.34), Cicero (Att 6.2.8), Sallust (Histories 3.96 and 98), Plutarch (Crassus 8-11, Pompey 21.1-2, Cato the Younger), Aulus Gellius, Suetonius, and Orosius (History against the Pagans 5.24.1-8 and 18-19) (major sources in bold).

 

Two remarkable facts stand out from these accounts. First, Spartacus himself is treated as a somewhat noble enemy (like Hannibal) rather than as an ignoble enemy (like the druids). Second, and more remarkably, there is absolutely no hint whatsoever that Spartacus was opposed to the institution of slavery. On this, the Oxford Classical Dictionary correctly observes, "Their object was not to eradicate slavery but to extricate the disaffected from its rigours" (p. 1416).

 

Spartacus' failure to question the institution of slavery should be less remarkable given the fact that all the surviving writings from the Greco-Roman world take slavery as an unquestionably natural state of affairs. Stoics, it is true, inspired legislation for the more humane treatment of slaves, and they sometimes freed their slaves upon their own deaths (as Cato did), but their concern was typically with the ill-effects of slave-holding on the slave-holders (Seneca, Ep. 47). Christians, in fact, claimed that slaves should "obey their masters" "with fear and trembling" (Paul, Eph.6:5).

 

Returning to Karl Marx, that old rotten bastard had a hodgepodge of contradictory and incoherent ideas regarding the nature of "class" conflict in antiquity. In the Communist Manifesto, he wrote of the conflict b/w "freeman and slave", but writing of the rich and poor freeman in the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852) Marx claimed that slaves were "the purely passive pedestal for these combatants". In Das Kapital, Marx claimed that the class struggle in the ancient world "took the form chiefly of a contest between debtors and creditors", but in a later edition of the same work, he claimed that the venue for this contest was to be distinguished from that of the capitalist system which was the object of his critique. Thus, the Marxist position on the role of slaves in the class struggle of capitalist societies is that it plays a central role, a minor role, and no role at all!

 

In any case, if you're interested in finding some communist heroes in the ancient world (whether for lionization or scorn), I would refer you to the world's first recorded communist--the character Praxagora from Aristophenes' comedy, Ecclesiazusae. Praxagora was a communist even before Plato was, and--what's more--Aristophenes foresaw how absurd the system was nearly 2500 years earlier than Gorbachev did. (This edition has a good translation with a great intro.)

Edited by M. Porcius Cato

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Thanks for all your quick replies!

I completely agree with you Cato, that at the time slavery was considered a natural affair of things,

and nobody would have thought to break this system, as such relatively modern ideals such as human rights

were not a part of the antiquity world. This is why its upsetting to see how modern historians try to prove that their theories were already thought of long ago thus legitimizing their claims and ideas, such as saying that Spartacus was a communist, the Graccus brothers were democrats, and Crassus was a capitalist (havent heard of that one up till now, but it proves that there are no limits to anachronisms).

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To extend the topic a bit, Cleo, read Adam Smith, Tom Paine and Karl Marx yourself. Then ask yourself if any of the 'isms' have ever existed (as a governmental structure).

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To extend the topic a bit, Cleo, read Adam Smith, Tom Paine and Karl Marx yourself. Then ask yourself if any of the 'isms' have ever existed (as a governmental structure).

Actually Ive read Marx, although embarrasingly I havent read the others as of yet. There are a lot of mistakes he makes when he reffers to antiquity times due to his misunderstanding of this period and its culture. Some of his mistakes Cato already pointed out, so I dont want to get into them again. Communism and Capitalism as far as my understanding of them are modern social-political-theories that arent a part of antiquity- the world, culture and economics were different back then. Even if Spartacus shared his loot with his army, it doesnt mean to say that he was aiming for social equality, and even if the Graccus brothers wanted to reform some laws in a way that they better with the plebs and the proleterians, it doesnt mean that they were aiming for equality and human rights within the government structure.

What do you think?

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Spartacus may have been an effective opportunist and leader but sharing of spoils is hardly a trait that equates only with communism. Many ancient armies operated under these conditions and Spartacus was simply maintaining the status quo. The army was not fighting simply for the individual freedom of it's members, but for opportunity and wealth as well. Perhaps the initial goal of those 70 men in Capua was to free themselves from the life of gladiators, but the goal certainly evolved. The followers of Spartacus were not simply a community of the disenfranchised that simply wanted to live in peace, but was an aggressive plundering army. They fought matched pairs of captured Romans, and certainly murdered, raped etc. civilians of any and all social classes in the process of plundering Roman cities and the countryside. Some may have wished to simply leave Italy disperse and attempt to live free, some may have wished to build a new society and their own social system on Vesuvius and others wanted to fight and loot and perhaps even capture Rome itself. The simple fact is that there was absolutely no universal ideology behind the revolt or the events that took place including the abolition of slavery as an institution.

 

I am not suggesting that Spartacus has not been an effective symbol for communism, as the revolt of slaves and lower class society against authority is an easy correlation to make, but the concept of 'communism' was certainly quite alien to the man himself.

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Even pirates shared their booty even up. Didn't make them communists. Some monk societies actually were/are communists. I think that we are all in agreement (Well, save for where MPC goes off the deep end :rolleyes: ). In any event, if I make any more comments, the Tyrants hereabouts will consign me to Tartarus.

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Spartacus was obviously a man with divided aims. Wanting to leave Italy but being forced to stay by the 'revolt' of Crixus et al, he must have realised that the game was up: there was no chance of him beating the whole of the Roman army, even if it was thrown against him piecemeal. Therefore, his continued fighting in Italy was the only option. I doubt that he could have surrendered and negotiated a peace settlement with the Romans given the nature of his revolt.

 

Nor do I think that he was a communist attempting to abolish slavery. Writers like Marx have always been ready to interpret history in a way to reinforce their own views.

 

Finally, don't forget that the abolition of slavery still isn't finished: there are pockets of it in large areas of the world. And to those who would still like to see Spartacus as a revolutionary bent on repealing slavery, don't forget that George Washington, the man who signed the 'Declaration of Independence' in which 'All men are declared Equal', continued to own slaves, and that slavery in The United States of America continued until Lincoln. The paradox of Washington declaring all men free except his slaves is rarely recognised, possibly because of our need for 'Heroes'.

 

Both Spartacus and Washington have been seen as Heroes, yet their actions and motives have only ever been assessed when they are being used to reinforce a writer's point of view. My proposal is that they were human and responding mainly to what could and could not be achieved. Spartacus' revolt was always doomed, since he could not beat the entire army of Rome.

 

(I've just re-read this and am not sure that it makes sense!! Oh Well ......)

Edited by sonic

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Spartacus a communist? I fall over laughing at the mere suggestion. He had no intention of pursuing a political cause, he just wanted to escape restrictions and profit from it. The man was totally unable to accept discipline. He deserted the legions, and escaped from the regime of his ludum. his escape from Capua was not because he was afraid to die. He'd already pursued some dangerous professions already - Goatherder, soldier, bandit... No. He escaped because he could not tolerate the regime that his lanista enforced, but also because he rebelled again and refused to fight for someone elses pleasure.

 

Of course, having escaped, he needed to stay free and embarked on his running battle up and down italy. Notice that he did not maintain his supposed primary objective of achieving freedom by continuing north. He turned south, either unable to control his very sizeable band of renegades or simply intent on using them to rake in more booty from banditry on a scale he'd never thought possible before. It is possible he had in mind to take sicily as a bandit realm of his own. I really doubt it was ever likely to be a communist state had he intended to exploit the potential of sicily as a home for rebellion, given the slave revolts that had already occured there.

 

The army of spartacus is sometimes quoted as an army of gladiators. No, he had a small percentage of his forces from that particular source. Escaped slaves? Yes, there were a lot them, and a mixed bunch at that. But what is often overlooked is that many were simply malcontents and vagabonds who decided that throwing their lot in with Spartacus was going to be a lot more profitable (and potentially safer) than running with a small gang.

 

Communist? No, just a crook. A very talented guerilla leader as it turned out, but not a great general.

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If not a communist, then perhaps an artist. After all, he supplied lots of highway signs indicating the results of rebellion.

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If not a communist, then perhaps an artist. After all, he supplied lots of highway signs indicating the results of rebellion.

 

 

Ooooh, now that is bad.......

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If not a communist, then perhaps an artist. After all, he supplied lots of highway signs indicating the results of rebellion.

those poor poor rebels...

 

Communist? No, just a crook. A very talented guerilla leader as it turned out, but not a great general

 

Actually in my opinion he was somewhat of a great general.

He was able to take command over an enormous group of diverse rebels, composing of all sorts of slaves - gladiators, agriculture villa slaves, mine slaves, Roman proletarians, non romans, ect - and command them very efficiently. His army of rebels didnt have any discipline and not a lot in common within them, they were all from different descent and culture wich further divides them and ruins the chances of working together. But he was able to take command of them suceed in his revolt, conquering most of South Italy and other Roman territories in just 6 months. Of course, the Roman senate was very weak at the time - so weak that they had to give a private person like Crauses the imperium to lead the attack on Spartacus instead of the proper magistrates, so you can argue that the senates weakness contributed to Spartacus's success. But still, when you think of an army of thousands of hooligans and proletarians with no discipline and not a loty in common beating the Roman army, I still think its quite impressive...but thats just me.

Edited by cleopatra

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If not a communist, then perhaps an artist. After all, he supplied lots of highway signs indicating the results of rebellion.

 

Picture the happy Roman family piling into their late model chariot for a diverting highway cruise-ifixion...

 

-- Nephele

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