Moses (Moshe) Hess (January or June 21, 1812 – April 6, 1875) was a French-Jewish philosopher and a founder of Labor Zionism. His socialist theories, predicated on racial struggle, led to conflict with Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Hess was profoundly influenced by Spinoza’s life and philosophy.
Moshe Hess was born in Bonn, which was under French rule at the time. He was named after his maternal grandfather. In his French-language birth certificate, his name is given as ‘Moïse’. His father was an ordained rabbi. Hess received a Jewish religious education from his grandfather, and later studied philosophy at the University of Bonn.
He married a poor Catholic seamstress, Sibylle Pesch, “in order to redress the injustice perpetrated by society”.
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 also worked on the Rheinische Zeitung. Hess introduced Engels, the future famous communist, to communism in the early 1840s.
In the late 1840s, Marx and Engels fell out with Hess. They mocked him, first behind his back and later openly. The work of Hess was also criticized in part of The German Ideology by Marx and Engels.
Hess fled to Belgium and Switzerland temporarily following the suppression of the 1848 commune. He would also travelled during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71.
He died in Paris in 1875. He was buried in the Jewish cemetery in 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.
Hess became reluctant to base all history on economic causes and class struggle as Marx and Engels did. He came to see the struggle of races, or nationalities, as the prime factor of history.
Between 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 apparently going by Moritz Hess previously in
protest against Jewish assimilation. He was published in 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.