Hess, Moses

views updated Jun 11 2018


HESS, MOSES (1812–1875), German socialist, a precursor of modern Zionism, and father of Zionist Socialism. Born in Bonn, Hess remained there with his Orthodox grandfather when in 1817 his father moved to Cologne, where he owned a grocery and a sugar refinery. His grandfather provided him with a religious education, and only at the age of 14 was Hess sent to Cologne, where he worked in his father's business. From 1837 to 1839 he studied philosophy at the University of Bonn, but did not graduate. In 1837 Hess published his first book Die heilige Geschichte der Menschheit, an historical-philosophical work that displayed a profound influence of both the Bible and Spinoza and already contained communistic elements. Of considerably greater importance was his second book, Die europaeische Triarchie (1841), in which he recommended the union of the three great powers – England, France, and Germany – into one European state.

Hess was one of the founders, editors, and, from the end of 1842, the Paris correspondent of the Rheinische Zeitung, the first socialist daily in Cologne (it was suspended by the Prussian government in March 1843 after 15 months of publication). His numerous articles and essays also appeared in a series of radical periodicals of the period. In 1845–46 he edited an important socialist monthly, Der Gesellschaftsspiegel. In 1845 Hess moved to Belgium and was active in the Kommunistenbund, and 1848–49 he lived in Paris as a correspondent for German newspapers. In 1849 he took refuge in Switzerland and two years later in Belgium. From 1853 until the end of his life, he lived – with interruptions – in Paris.

After the death of his father (1851), who left him an inheritance that constituted the basis of his very modest but independent way of life, Hess married his Christian companion Sybille Pesch of Aachen. He spent the years 1861 to 1863 in Germany, where he published his most famous work Rom und Jerusalem, die letzte Nationalitaetsfrage (1862; Rome and Jerusalem, 1918 and later editions). In 1863 he actively cooperated with Lassalle and was the Bevollmaechtigter (plenipotentiary delegate) of the Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein for the district of Cologne. At the end of 1863 he returned to Paris and contributed a number of studies to the Archives israélites de France. As a Freemason he also contributed to Le monde maçonnique. He was also a Paris correspondent of the Chicago Illinois Staats-Zeitung (1865–70), the Social-Democrat (1865–67), the Rheinische Zeitung (1868–70), and the Volksstaat (1869–70).

As a Prussian subject, Hess was expelled from France at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. He moved to Belgium, where he published his violently anti-Prussian pamphlet, Une nation déchue, Coalition de tous les peuples centre l'Allemagne prussifiée (1871). After the war he returned once more to Paris and wrote the first volume of his Dynamische Stofflehre (published posthumously by his wife in 1877). He died in Paris and was buried, according to his own wish, at the Jewish cemetery in Deutz, near Cologne. His remains were transferred to kevuẓat Kinneret in Israel in 1961.

Hess may be considered the first important German socialist and the main representative of "philosophical Socialism." In contradistinction to Ludwig Feuerbach, who applied his theory of self-alienation only to theology, Hess applied this notion to historical and economic phenomena, such as property, money, the state, politics, etc. He believed that free labor – uncorrupted by private property and identical with genuine enjoyment – should replace the contemporary social system based on exploitation and characterized by the concentration of capital and the proletarianization of the masses. Hess felt that free labor would develop the "essence" of man as a social species. Socialism was not a class question to Hess, but a humanitarian problem that would be solved by education and the organization of labor. In his view, therefore, Socialism was practical ethics. In their Communist Manifesto, *Marx and Engels bitterly attacked and ridiculed this type of "true" Socialism. Hess was the first to recognize the greatness of Marx, at a time (September, 1841) when the latter was virtually unknown. He exercised an influence on the young Marx and won Engels for Communism. Between 1846 and 1851 Hess himself was strongly influenced by Marx, but he never became a "true" Marxist. Under the impact of Marx, Hess began to stress the importance of the material and economic factors for the realization of Communism. But he remained an ethical socialist even after having adopted some of Marx's ideas.

Hess' attitude toward the Jews underwent important changes within the course of his life. In his twenties he thought that the Jews had already accomplished their mission in history and should assimilate; he felt himself thoroughly German. During the *Damascus Affair (1840), he was deeply affected by the sufferings of his fellow Jews, but his compassion was not of long duration. Yet in 1862, he published Rome andJerusalem, a classic of Zionist literature. At the beginning of the book he states:

Here I stand once more, after 20 years of estrangement, in the midst of my people; I participate in its holy days of joy and mourning, its memories and hope, its spiritual struggles in its own house and with the civilized people among which it lives, but with which, despite 2,000 years of living and striving together, it cannot organically coalesce. A thought which I had stifled forever within my heart is again vividly present with me; the thought of my nationality, inseparable from the inheritance of my ancestors, the Holy Land and the eternal city, the birthplace of belief in the divine unity of life and in the future brotherhood of all men. This thought, buried alive, had for years throbbed in my sealed heart, demanding outlet. But I lacked the energy necessary for the transition, from a path apparently so remote from Judaism as mine was, to that newpath which appeared before me in the hazy distance and only in its general outlines.

Hess' inner transformation was the result of his own studies and his own experience. At the outbreak of the Italian war with Austria (1859), he noticed the connection between his anthropological studies and the liberation movement of the oppressed nationalities. These studies convinced him that all racial domination would ultimately cease and would be followed by a regeneration of the nations, including the Jewish one. On the other hand, it is clear that he personally suffered humiliation from antisemites. The Jewish national concept held by Hess was based on his idea of race. All past history, according to Hess, moved in the sphere of race and class struggle. "The race struggle," he said, "is the primal one, the class struggle secondary." He was convinced that there are "two world-historical races" whose combined cultural efforts shaped modern society: the Aryans and the Semites. The Aryans aim at explaining and beautifying life, the Semites at moralizing and sanctifying it. In the field of races there is variety but no superiority or inferiority, so that there is no justification for racial oppression or discrimination. The final aim of history is harmonious cooperation of all nations. For every oppressed nationality, national independence is the prerequisite for social progress.

Hess professed that Jews must preserve their nationality in the exile and strive for its political restoration in Palestine. He felt that the Jewish religion is the best means of preserving the nationality of the Jews and must therefore be left unchanged until the day when the foundations of a Jewish political and social establishment are laid in Palestine and a Sanhedrin can be elected to modify Jewish law in agreement with the needs of the new society. According to Hess, the Jewish people needed a "center of action," around which a nucleus of men devoted to the religious mission of Israel could gather to pursue their work. One day these men would discover one another in the ancient state of Israel. Their number is irrelevant, since Judaism has never been represented by a numerous people (Archives israélites, 26 (1865), 486). The future Jewish state, he pointed out, must be based on the following foundations: acquisition of soil by the nation as a whole; creation of legal conditions under which work can flourish; and "founding of Jewish societies of agriculture, industry and trade in accordance with Mosaic, i.e., socialist, principles" (Rome and Jerusalem, Letter 12).

Moses Hess was forgotten for some time, and only with the birth of the Zionist movement were his personality and his book, Rome and Jerusalem, appreciated. Herzl wrote about Hess in his diary on May 2, 1901:

The 19 hours of this round trip were whiled away for me by Hess with his Rome and Jerusalem, which I had first started to read in 1898 in Jerusalem, but had never been able to finish properly in the pressure and rush of these years. Now I was enraptured and uplifted by him. What an exalted noble spirit! Everything that we have tried is already in his book. The only bothersome thing is his Hegelian terminology. Wonderful the Spinozistic-Jewish and nationalist elements. Since Spinoza, Jewry has brought forth no greater spirit than this forgotten Moses Hess (Vol. 3, p. 1090).

Articles on Hess and the beginning of attempts of translation appeared in the 1880s. M. *Bodenheimer, who published a new edition of Rome and Jerusalem with an introduction, made the book available to the public in 1899, and since then many editions have come out both in the original and translation. T. Zlocisti also contributed to the revival of Hess' memory by publishing a selection of Hess' Juedische Schriften (1905), Philosophische und sozialistische Schriften (1921), a comprehensive biography (1925, translated into Hebrew in 1945–50), and his letters (published only in Hebrew with notes by the translator, 1947). E. Silberner brought out Hess' correspondence in the original German in 1959 and wrote a new, comprehensive biography (1966). Selections of his writing have been published in German (1962), Polish (1963), and in Hebrew (edited with notes by Martin Buber, 2 vols. 1954–56).


I. Berlin, Life and Opinions of Moses Hess (1959); E. Silberner, Works of Moses Hess; an Inventory of his Signed and Anonymous Publications… (1958); idem, Moses Hess: Geschichte seines Lebens (1966); M. Schulman, Moses Hess, Prophet of Zionism (1963); J. Weiss, Moses Hess, Utopian Socialist (1960); T. Zlocisti, Moses Hess der Vorkaempfer des Sozialismus und Zionismus 1812–1875 (1921, Heb. 1945). add. bibliography: Sh. Avineri, Moses Hess: Prophet of Communism and Zionism (1985).

[Getzel Kressel]

Hess, Moses

views updated May 14 2018

Hess, Moses (1812–75). German socialist and Zionist. As an ethical socialist, Hess believed, in the early part of his life, that Jews should assimilate into the majority culture. By 1862, he had published Rome and Jerusalem (Eng., 1918) which recommended the ‘founding of Jewish societies of agriculture, industry and trade in accordance with Mosaic, i.e., socialist principles’.