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Moses Hess

Biography - Moses Hess, Socialism and Zionism

Moses Hess was born Moritz Hess in Bonn on June 21, 1812.††† He received a Jewish religious education from his grandfather, and later studied philosophy at the University of Bonn, but never graduated. As correspondent for a socialist newspaper that he helped to found, he lived in Paris,† fleeing to Belgium and Switzerland temporarily following the suppression of the 1848 commune and again during the Franco-Prussian war.†† When his father died in 1851, Hess used his inheritance to marry a prostitute, in defiance of social norms. Hess was originally an assimilationist Jew who turned first to utopian and then to scientific socialism. Hess was a friend and collaborator of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.† Hess† converted Engels to Communism, and† introduced Marx to social and economic problems. He played a an important role in transforming Hegelian dialectical idealism theory of history to the dialectical materialism of Marxism, by conceiving of man as the initiator of history rather than as a mere observer.

Hess was probably responsible for several "Marxian" slogans and ideas, including "religion is the opium of the people. He also is "credited" with Marx's notion that Jews were in love with money.† However, Hess became† reluctant to base all history on economic causes and class struggle, and he came to see the struggle of races, or nationalities, as the prime factor of past history.† From 1861 to 1863 he lived in Germany, where he became acquainted with the rising tide of German Anti-Semitism and the assimilationist Jewish movement. He changed his name to Moses in protest against assimilationism.† In this period he apparently returned to religion in the form of Spinoza's pantheism, which he somehow did not find incompatible with orthodoxy. . He published "Rome and Jerusalem " in 1862.† Hess 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.

Hess's Rome and Jerusalem went unnoticed in his time, along with the rest of this writings. German Jews were bent on assimilation and did not heed Hess's unfashionable warnings. His work did not stimulate any political activity or discussion. Hess's contribution, like Pinkser's Autoemancipation, became important only in retrospect, as the Zionist movement began to crystallize and to generate an audience.

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 Kinnereth Cemetery in Israel along with other Socialist-Zionists such as Nahum Syrkin, Ber Borochov, and Berl Katznelson

Ami Isseroff

More Israeli and Zionist Biographies The Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Zionism and Israel

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