Moses Hess

Moses (Moshe) Hess (January or June 21, 1812 – April 6, 1875) was a German-Jewish philosopher and a founder of Labor Zionism. His socialist theories, predicated on racial struggle, led to conflict with Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.[1] A devoted Spinozist, Hess was profoundly influenced by Spinoza's life and philosophy.[2][3]

Portrait of Moses Hess in 1846


Moses (Moshe) Hess was born in Bonn, which was under French rule at the time. In his French-language birth certificate, his name is given as "Moïse"; he was named after his maternal grandfather.[4][verification needed] His father was an ordained rabbi, but never practiced this profession.[5] Hess received a Jewish religious education from his grandfather, and later studied philosophy at the University of Bonn, but never graduated.

He married a poor Catholic seamstress, Sibylle Pesch, "in order to redress the injustice perpetrated by society". Although they remained happily married until Hess' death,[6] Sibylle may have had an affair with Friedrich Engels while he was smuggling her from Belgium to France to be reunited with her husband. The incident may have precipitated Hess' split from the Communist movement.[7]

Hess was an early proponent of socialism, and a precursor to what would later be called Zionism. As correspondent for the Rheinische Zeitung, a radical newspaper founded by liberal Rhenish businessmen, he lived in Paris. He was a friend and collaborator of Karl Marx, who was the editor of the Rheinische Zeitung, and Friedrich Engels.[8] Hess introduced Engels, the future famous communist, to the communism of the early 1840s.[8]

But Marx and Engels would become known for their fickle and pugnacious approach to fellow socialists who showed insufficient agreement with their own form of socialism. By the late 1840s, they had fallen out with Hess.[8] They mocked him, first behind his back and later openly.[citation needed] The work of Hess was also criticized in part of The German Ideology by Marx and Engels.[9]

Hess fled to Belgium and Switzerland temporarily following the suppression of the 1848 commune. He would also go abroad during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71.

Hess died in Paris in 1875. As he requested, he was buried in the Jewish cemetery of Cologne. In 1961, he was re-interred in the Kinneret Cemetery in Israel along with other Socialist-Zionists such as Nachman Syrkin, Ber Borochov, and Berl Katznelson.

Moshav Kfar Hess was named in his honour.

Moses Hess

Views and opinionsEdit

Hess became reluctant to base all history on economic causes and class struggle (as Marx and Engels did), and he came to see the struggle of races, or nationalities, as the prime factor of history.

According to George Litcheim, Hess, who differed from Marx on a number of issues, still testified in a letter to Alexander Herzen that what he and Herzen were writing about "resembles a neat sketch drawn on paper, whereas Marx's judgment upon these events [European upheavals] is as it were engraved with iron force in the rock of time" (Paraphrased by George Lichtheim, A Short History of Socialism, 1971 p. 80).

From 1861 to 1863, he lived in Germany, where he became acquainted with the rising tide of German antisemitism. It was then that he reverted to his Jewish name Moses (after apparently going by Moritz Hess)[10] in protest against Jewish assimilation. He published Rome and Jerusalem in 1862. Hess interprets history as a circle of race and national struggles. He contemplated the rise of Italian nationalism and the German reaction to it, and from this he arrived at the idea of Jewish national revival, and at his prescient understanding that the Germans would not be tolerant of the national aspirations of others and would be particularly intolerant of the Jews. His book calls for the establishment of a Jewish socialist commonwealth in Palestine, in line with the emerging national movements in Europe and as the only way to respond to antisemitism and assert Jewish identity in the modern world.

Hess's grave near Lake Kinneret, Israel

Scholarly workEdit

Hess's Rome and Jerusalem: The Last National Question went unnoticed in his time, as most German Jews preferred cultural assimilation. His work did not stimulate political activity or discussion. When Theodor Herzl first read Rome and Jerusalem he wrote that "since Spinoza Jewry had no bigger thinker than this forgotten Moses Hess." He said he might not have written Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State) if he had known Rome and Jerusalem beforehand. Vladimir Ze'ev Jabotinsky honored Hess in The Jewish Legion in the World War as one of the people that made the Balfour declaration possible, along with Herzl, Walter Rothschild and Leon Pinsker.

Published worksEdit



  1. ^ Marx, Karl; Engels, Friedrich. "The German Ideology" (PDF). Retrieved December 12, 2017.
  2. ^ Hess, Moses: Die heilige Geschichte der Menschheit. Von einem Jünger Spinoza's. (Stuttgart: Hallberger'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1837)
  3. ^ Hess, Moses: Rom und Jerusalem, die letzte Nationalitätsfrage. Briefe und Noten. (Leipzig: Eduard Wengler, 1862)
  4. ^ Shlomo Avineri, Moses Hess: Prophet of Communism and Zionism, p. 7
  5. ^ Shlomo Avineri: Moses Hess: Prophet of Communism and Zionism. New York: New York University Press, 1985, s. 7. ISBN 0814705847
  6. ^
  7. ^ Henderson, William Otto (1976). The Life of Friedrich Engels. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9780714640020.
  8. ^ a b c Hunt, Tristram (2010), Marx's General: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels, Macmillan, ISBN 9781429983556.
  9. ^ The German Ideology,Tome II Part V
  10. ^ "Moses Hess | German author and Zionist". Encyclopedia Britannica.
  11. ^ Julius Kovesi, "Values and Evaluations", in American University Studies, series V, vol. 183, Peter Lang, New York, 1998. pp. 127-207
  12. ^ Not to be confused with Draft of a Communist Confession of Faith (1847), authored mainly by Engels, with minor help of League of the Just/Communist League leaders Wilhelm Wolff and Karl Schapper; text and background notes available at

Further readingEdit

  • Edmund Silberner, Moses Hess. Geschichte seines Lebens (Leiden 1966), (in German)
  • Shlomo Na'aman, Emanzipation und Messianismus. Leben und Werk des Moses Heß (Frankfurt a.M./New York,1982) (in German)
  • Shlomo Avineri, Moses Hess: Prophet of Communism and Zionism (New York, 1985).
  • Kay Schweigmann-Greve, Jüdische Nationalität aus verweigerter Assimilation. Biographische Parallelen bei Moses Hess und Chajm Zhitlowsky und ihre ideologische Verarbeitung. In: Trumah, Journal of the Hochschule for Jewish Studies Heidelberg, Vol 17, 2007 p. 91-116 (in German)

External linksEdit