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Moses Hess - Credit: Public Domain Wikimedia Creative Commons

Moses Hess: Communist and Proto-Zionist

Moses Hess was born in Bonn in 1812 into a strict Jewish family. Moving to Cologne to work in the family’s sugar refinery business, Hess used his spare time to read Spinoza and Rousseau. Leaving his family home in 1833, he travelled to Holland and France. His first book, published in 1837 The Holy History of Mankind, demonstrated the influence of Etienne Cabet and Pierre Leroux, as well as that of Hegel and the German romantics. The book was a synthesis of Christianity and Judaism but can be regarded as the first communistic tract to be published in Germany.

The book sketched out an initial theory of the concentration of capital, pauperisation and revolution, theories which were later to be systematised by Marx. In 1841, Hess produced a second book – The European Triarchy – which proposed an alliance between French politics, English industry and German philosophy. Hess was a correspondent of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, a newspaper edited by Karl Marx, with Hess becoming an editor in 1842. Hess apparently introduced Frederich Engels to communism.  In 1843, Hess published an article on Socialism and Communism, which had started as a review of Laurenz von Stein’s book on Socialism and Communism in France. In 1844, Hess published a Communist Confession of Faith. He also published a pamphlet attacking Stirner for his egoism.
In 1845, Hess, Marx and Engels fled to Brussels, where they all lived in the same street and set up the Communist Correspondence Committee, which had contacts in London, Paris and Cologne. However, by the end of the year, Hess had fallen out with his colleagues, though this maybe partly because Hess accused Engels of having non-consensual sex with Hess’s wife. Hess had however helped Marx and Engels with their vitriolic polemic, The German Ideology, which was written in 1846 (though not published until 1932) and attacked the theories of young Hegelians such as Ludwig Feuerbach, Bruno Bauer, Karl Grun and Max Stirner as well as the utopian socialists, Saint Simon and Etienne Cabet. In 1847, he published an article on the consequences of a Revolution of the Proletariat, from which the extract below is taken. In 1850, he was leading a Geneva branch of the League of Communists. In 1852, he was expelled from Belgium, finding refuge in Paris. He joined the Freemasons, while also participating in Ferdinand Lassalle’s workers party.
After 1848, Hess drifted away from Marx and Engels though he supported the first International, attending the Brussels congress in 1868, representing the Basle and Cologne sections of the IWMA.  After the 1848 revolution, he fled to Switzerland. In the 1850’s he focused on studying the natural sciences. His 1862 book Rom and Jerusalem, argued for the return of Jews to Palestine, a proposition later taken up by the Austrian journalist, Theodore Herzl who founded the modern Zionist movement. In 1869, he published High Finance and the Empire, as well as a tract supporting collectivism, attacking the anarchist, Bakunin. Expelled from Paris in 1870, he fled to Brussels, but returned to Paris in December 1871, dying there in 1875.

“ The rule of the people and private industry are two irreconcilable contradictions, and nothing is more natural when one creates a state industry, while letting private industry continue to exist than that the latter comes out triumphant and even puts constraints on the state industry, so that it can continue its sickly existence, through emergency regulations and monopolies. But once a Government set up by the people  openly declares war on private property in the interests of the people  by establishing a massive national industry for the common account of all those  who participate in it, once it provides itself with the means for the establishment of such a large scale common industry of the people through progressive taxation of private property, limiting or abolishing the right of inheritance, and introducing other such measures  which all attack private industry at its root by attacking capital, once it finally utilises  these means in order to develop  the capacities of the up and coming generation through public and free educational institutions, so that all youth will be able to apply its various inclinations and talents in a commonly owned industry  – what future would private industry then have?  It would lack everything it needs for its future existence: capital, men – both employers and workers – the means as well as the will.”

Further Reading:
McLellan, David The Young Hegelians and Karl Marx (Macmillan 1969)
Hess, Moses ed. Avineri The Holy Family and other Writings (Cambridge University Press 2004)
Hammen, Oscar The Red ‘48ers (Charles Scribner 1969)
Barer, Shlomo    Doctors of Revolution (Thames and Hudson 2000)

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