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Indian Political Thought: M.N. Roy

M. N. Roy was prominent Indian philosopher of a twentieth century. He was famous as the Father of Indian communism and viewed as the first revolutionary leader of India. He started his career as a militant political activist and left India in 1915 in search of arms for organizing an insurgence against British rule in India. M. N. Roy was definitely the most scholarly of modern Indian political philosophers (N. Jayapalan, 2000). He was also a great speaker, who had a very distinct and dynamic style; and he had written huge number of texts. His most voluminous book was about 6,000 pages titled.

Manabendranath Roy had a mysterious personality in the history of anticolonial extremism. The broad outlines of Roy's political activities and intellectual musings are well known. An anticolonial rebellious who played vital role in an effort to secure arms from Germany for an uprising in India during World War I. later on, he became a political expatriate whose life took to the United States, Mexico, Russia, and Germany, and through several pseudonyms and political variations. As a member of the Communist International, he pondered Lenin on national liberation and operated in the upper levels of international communism; this was followed by his tragic failure in organizing the communists in China in 1927 and subsequent expulsion from the Comintern, and then his slow drift into the darks of postcolonial Indian politics, and his speech of an esoteric radical humanism that noticeable his alienation from radical political struggles.

Communist movement: Roy began his political career as a militant nationalist, considering in the cult of the bomb and the pistol and the requirement of an armed insurrection. He ascended to high position in the communist movement. The high position vested him with power and prestige (5 Karnik, 1975). Roy made sincere and meticulous efforts to establish contact with the communist world, and attracted the attention of the scorching Indian revolutionaries and converted them into communists.

M.N.Roy introduced the process of displacing communism in India by sending his trained representatives to different parts of the country. He met a number of Indian Muslims abroad who had left their country as a remonstration against the British policy in regard to Turkey. These Muslims once kept in imprisonment were released by the Russian forces. Initially they were not aware of communism. However, Roy convinced them. He made it clear that they could accomplish their mission and liberate India by embracing the path of communist revolution. Finally, they agreed to carry the message of Marxism and Communist thought to India. Nalini Gupta, Shamsuhuda and Ajodhya Prasad were the first communist emissaries who reached India through the sea route (Pyotr Kutsobin, et, al., 1987). Thus communism that began in the early 1920 got supported when Moscow trained Indian representatives were sent out to spread the new philosophy (Pyotr Kutsobin, et, al., 1987).

Roy was a creator of the Mexican Communist Party and the Communist Party of India. He was also a representative to congresses of the Communist International and Russia's aide to China. Following the rise of Joseph Stalin, Roy left the mainline communist movement to pursue an independent radical politics.

Roy recognized that the congress was "the leader of the movement for national liberation" and appealed for the adoption of a liberal economic program dedicated to enhance the standard of living of the disadvantaged workers and peasants. The manifesto stated that only by working for the economic betterment of the masses, the congress hope to gain their support in the struggle for independence and thus become a real mass movement. Roy was harshly critical of the exploitation of workers' turbulence by the nationalist for their political aim. He urged the Indian National Congress to procure the support of the workers and peasants by including the redress of their immediate grievances in its programme (Shashi Bairath, 1987). In September 1921, Roy sent Nalini Gupta to Calcutta. He originated a communist group and retained it under Muzaffer Ahmed before returning to Europe in March 1922. Under Roy's leadership, Shaukat Usmani, a resident of Bikaner, came back to India in December 1922 and formed communist groups at Banaras and Kanpur, where he was detained on 9 May 1923.

In 1940, Roy was instrumental in the establishment of the Radical Democratic Party, an organisation in which he played a leading role for much of the decade of the 1940s. Roy later moved away from Marxism to become an advocate of the philosophy of radical humanism. At the end of the 19th Century, revolutionary nationalism began to expand among the sophisticated middle classes of Bengal, motivated by the writings of Bankim and Vivekananda.

The groundwork of the Communist Party of India was significant event in the country's political life and played an immense role in stimulating the struggle of the Indian people for national freedom and social advancement. M.N.Roy wanted to make the communist party of India as a legal and national political party like the Congress and Swaraj parties. Roy conversed the matter with Singaravelu who had already formed a Labour and Kisan party of Hindustan in Madras. According to Roy, main task of the party was to fight for freedom and the demand of social liberation was a secondary. The question of national liberation was primary because "the release of all the forces of social production is the first step towards the ultimate realization of our programme which is the end of class domination." The Exceptional contribution of Indian Communism in the beginning was that it surfaced the way for the growth of national movement by organising the workers and the peasantry to work for the cause of National Movements.

Roy's Humanism: Roy was a born revolutionary. He was influenced by Marxists when stayed in USA. He was one of the learned person of Marxist in world. Later on, some differences arose between Roy and Stalin and Roy was criticised as a revisionist .With time, Roy became critic of Marxist. In later years, he transformed his philosophy from Marxism to radical humanism which was called new humanism. It was great contribution of Roy in the arena of modern Indian political thought (N. Jayapalan, 2000). The uttermost piece of his original work which is planned to be man's ultimate fulfilment is New Humanism. Humanism is concerning the relation between individual and society. Roy stated that individual was an end itself and society was simply a mean to an end. Roy believed that man created society for certain objects. It means that all social relations, political, economic, social, ethical must be adjusted to the fundamental requirement of promoting the freedom and liberty (N. Jayapalan, 2000).

New Humanism of Roy aims at instilling a sense of primacy of values and the urge for eternal freedom. Roy described that democracy would be efficacious only when spiritually free individuals assume the conduct of public affairs. He strongly believed in the greatest good of the greatest number that can be accomplished only when members of the government are responsible in the first place to their respective morality. Roy has moved far beyond Marxism and he has articulated some fundamental philosophies on which his Humanism stands. The main board is an independence of man. Sovereignty is a wide-ranging concept which includes freedom of man. It forbids the assumption of any other superior forces (Das Gupta.B.N, 1976). Another main factor is that humanism demands passable emphasis on all permeating democracy as distinguished from Parliamentary democracy. All pervading democracy means democracy infiltrating into all layers of administration, all layers of society and all layers of individual life. The other important twang is rationality. For man, his only guide is the voice of reason and rationality of action follows from it. New Humanism implies these three principles essentially and other guiding forces will follow from them (Das Gupta.B.N, 1976).

Kanta Kataria described in M N Roy's conception of New Humanism:

"Humanism is derived from the Latin word Humanus, meaning a system of thought concerned with human affairs in general. Humanism is an attitude which attaches primary importance to Man and his faculties, affairs and aspirations. Humanism had to pass through a process of development and change, but its main idea was that Man must remain the Supreme Being. Humanism means respect for man as Man and not only because of his individual achievements. The essence of Humanism is the importance placed on human being, the individual as the centre of all aspirations of human activities. And, there should no dogmatic authority over life and thought."

It can be interpreted from Roy's views that Roy distinguishes his new humanism from the French and German schools of Humanism of the 19th century. New Humanism is based on the investigations of physical science, sociology, philosophy and other branches of knowledge. Its philosophical foundation is provided by materialism and its methodology is mechanistic. It professes confidence in the creative power of man. Man derives his sovereignty from his creative achievement in the understanding and partial conquest of nature. New Humanism, according to Roy, claims to reassert the independence of man by highlighting that history offered man's activities and state or society has no power to impose absolute power of man. New Humanism is based on a mechanistic cosmology and materialistic metaphysics. Man derives rationality from nature through biological evolution. Thus Roy claims that humanism is a philosophy based on a synthesis of the achievement of modern knowledge.

Humanism must be a moral philosophy. It must assert that Man alone is responsible for what he is. Radical Humanism brought Roy closer to Gandhi's beliefs. There were similarities as also differences between the thoughts of the two. Both recognized the individual as the centre of all social movements. Both supported decentralization of political and economic process. Roy was however a materialist while Gandhi was guided by spiritualism.

Roy's New Humanism is cosmopolitan in its viewpoint. New Humanism is promised to the idea of a commonwealth and fraternity of freeman. He supported a world federation. In his well known work, Reason, Romanticism and Revolution, Roy wrote that "New Humanism is cosmopolitan. A cosmopolitan common wealth of spiritually free men would not be limited by the boundaries of national states- capitalist, fascist, socialist, communist or any other kind which will gradually disappear under the impact of the twentieth century renaissance of Man". Roy makes a dissimilarity between cosmopolitanism and internationalism. He pleads for a spiritual community or a cosmopolitan humanism. Internationalism assumes the existence of separate nation states. Roy considers that true world government can be built only by the decentralization of nation states.

Roy's philosophy of humanism was heavily criticised on various grounds. As Roy stated that all living beings originated out of the matter. Even the mind is the product of matter. But challengers argued that he had failed to give logical and adequate reasons as to how the living bodies are created out of the matter. He developed his theory on assumption that man is essentially a ration being. Roy was also criticized for religious as a hindrance in the development of freedom. Antagonists argued that religion played an important role in our cultural and intellectual development. Another presumption of Roy was that physical and social beings are governed by the same laws but such an analogy is not viewed as correct by other thinkers (N. Jayapalan, 2000).

Roy's Writing and publication:

Basically, Roy was a creative writer. He wrote many books, edited, and contributed to several journals. However, he was reluctant to write about himself. M. N. Roy' Memoirs (627 pages), which he wrote after initial unwillingness, only covers a short period of six years from 1915. When Roy was in an Indian prison, his friends in Germany, especially his future wife, Ellen Gottschalk, kept providing him books, which he wanted to read. Roy's letters to her from jail, published afterward as Letters from Jail contains pointers to his reading and thinking during those years (1943). His Materialism is also a justly competent book. According to Roy, Materialism was an innovative philosophy, because its epistemology is expansive in its conception.

M.N.Roy's supreme publications are as under:

  • India in Transition
  • India's Problem and its Solutions
  • What do we want, Labour Party
  • Open Letter to C.R. Das and Programme for the Indian National Congress
  • Revolution and counter revolution in China
  • Materialism
  • Science and philosophy
  • People's plan
  • On the congress constitution
  • National government or people's government
  • Rise romanticism and revolution

Roy blowout the communist ideology among the people through the communist newspapers "Vanguard". Since June 1922, it was in circulation for several years. It was a source of candid information for the Indian people about the 1917 October Revolution. In this issue Roy said "The Government maintained by violence and brute force cannot be overthrown without violence and brute." From his writings, correspondence and emissaries, he convinced people in India to adopt communism and establish communist centre in Bengal, Bombay, Madras, the United Province and the Punjab. His articles and manifestos were frequently reproduced in Indian Newspaper and periodicals, quite often in vernacular versions in Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi and Bengali. According to the records of the Intelligence Bureau of the Government of India, although nearly all Roy's publications were barred by the Government, they managed to reach people not only in the centre mentioned but also in Peshawar, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Hyderabad, Pondicherry, Orissa and other places. At the end of 1925, these efforts gave fruit in the establishment of the Communist Party of India at Kanpur.

The origins of Roy's cosmopolitan anticolonial politics lie in a movement that is hardly ever noted in thoughts of his life in India. The Swadeshi avant-garde, a modernist intellectual movement that developed at the beginning of the twentieth century. The Swadeshi movement joined Brahmo exegesis and dharmic asceticism, with their philosophies of universal time that challenged the determinist and stagiest historical time regimes of colonial universality, to nurture deterritorial nationalism, a sense of Indian independence is boundless geographically and tied to other liberation fights. The history of Swadeshi raised question "the priority granted to 'home politics' and to territorial aspiration in the study of anti-colonial nationalism" as their thinking went beyond "territorial nativism". The ability of anticolonial nationalism to orient itself beyond a given area was obvious in an Indian international network that stretched from the subcontinent to Japan, Germany, the United States, and Mexico. Rather than building the interiority of national culture, Manjapra clarifies that the Swadeshi movement "bore the mark of hermeneutic engagement with European scholars," which also "involved creating an alternative englobement of time for Indian (Hindu) subjectivities".

The Swadeshi movement's intellectual ecumenicalism informed Roy's intellectual labours between his leaving India in 1915 (working among U.S.-based Indian diasporic radicals; helping establish the Mexican Communist Party) and arriving in Russia in 1920. His writing during this period bore intelligent reflections of this influence, especially challenge to Woodrow Wilson's limited notion of self-determination. This was the modernist milieu, Manjapra claims, in which M. N. Roy discussed Lenin on national liberation at the Comintern's Second Congress in 1920, and questioned Marxism's European focus and embrace of colonial historical time.

This break was the indication of his decline, as Roy actively engaged German intellectuals, especially August Thalheimer and the Frankfurt School, as he continued to think about alternative approaches to revolution. Roy was gradually moving away from Soviet orthodoxy, "the influence of the German communist fringe on his thought" evident in his anticipating "the possibilities of building solidarity in the Indian context" between peasants, proletariat, and the petty bourgeoisie. Excluded from the Comintern in 1928 along with the German fringe, "Roy realized that mass consciousness had to be cultivated through the ongoing work of building social solidarity". This new focus also informed his conflicts with the Indian National Congress, Gandhi, and Indian intellectuals more generally. Roy returned to India in 1930, and was imprisoned by the British until 1936.

Yet he evolved into radical humanism at that time. Operating again on the margins of the nation-building project, Roy turned to sexual politics as a way to a full or global humanity, and disparaged notions of cultural authenticity. Never mastering state-building politics, Roy used his eccentricity in independent India to forward an alternative politics where "it was up to the individual to imagine his own 'dream' civilisation". This shift began in 1925 and led to his disappointment with international communism. In 1949, Roy concentrated on creating an Indian version of the Frankfurt School, the Indian Renaissance Institute at Dehra Dun, where he expressed his radical humanism as assimilating scientific rationalism with a belief in man's ability to make the world, a view of revolution as changing one's consciousness that broke from Enlightenment rationalism and Marxism's material/ideal divide.

M. N. Roy: Marxism and Colonial Cosmopolitanism is influential study of a poorly understood figure in South Asian and anticolonial history. It is the second work in the Routledge Pathfinders series, slim volumes that break with the accepted cannons of South Asian history/studies. Unfortunately, the series' structure (less than 170 pages of text) bans a fuller discussion that might engage Partha Chatterjee's notion of outside and inner domains. This structure also restricted for discussing Roy's conflicts with Indian anticolonial radicals outside India (Lala Lajpat Rai and Ghadar Radicals in the United States; German-based Indian communists in Russia) and gives the look that Roy's criticisms of Indian nationalism emerged only after independence. But this barely detracts from the importance of this work.

The new Humanist Ideology pronounces the primacy of freedom, knowledge and truth. The re-assertion of Roy of the valuation foundations of politics and society is great contribution to the modern political thought and behavioural political analysis. In the name of New Humanist, Roy attempted to reinforce the foundations of hedonism.

Roy's Materialism:

As a materialist, he deliberated life to be an end in itself. According to him, the main purpose of life is to live and to live is to have the power and resources to satisfy the desires that naturally spring in man's mind. Thus, Roy was a Benthamite, who addressed Indians to believe in concepts like self-denial and simplicity, and the joy of satisfying one's desires.

In broad sense, Roy's philosophy is in the tradition of materialism. However, there are some important differences between Roy's materialism and traditional materialism. Actually, Roy's "materialism" is a restatement of traditional materialism in the light of then contemporary scientific knowledge. According to Roy, "The substratum of the Universe is not matter as traditionally conceived: but it is physical as against mental or spiritual. It is a measurable entity. Therefore, to obviate prejudiced criticism, the philosophy hitherto called materialism may be renamed Physical Realism". Roy has discussed the nature of philosophy and its relationship with religion and science in his books Materialism and Science and Philosophy.

Roy though tried to give a sociological interpretation of Indian culture, his vast absorption and interest in Marxist theories proved him to be a failure in original interpretation of Indian society and culture. At times, his Marxist philosophies made him assume a groundless attitude of dominance.

Biographer stated that Roy gained an appreciation from Bankim that true religion required one not to be secluded from the world, but to work actively for the public good. Vivekananda reinforced this notion of social service and further advanced the idea that Hinduism and Indian culture was superior to anything the western world could offer.

He formed a band of free-thinkers including Satcowri Banerjee and the brothers, Saileshvar and Shyamsundar Bose with his cousin and childhood friend Hari Kumar Chakravarti (1882-1963). Like many Indian nationalists, Roy, became persuaded that only an armed struggle against the British Raj would be sufficient to separate India from the British Empire. To the continuance of this end, revolutionary nationalists looked to a rival imperial power, that of Kaiser Wilhelm's Germany, as a potential source of funds and armaments.

M.N.Roy has an experience in the organizing socialist party in Mexico and comintern at Russia and helping the attempts to bring a uprising in china. He co-authored the ideological thesis accepted by ComInternational with Lenin. He started the communist party of India in Tashkent.

Roy was disappointed by the communism and capitalism. He advocated the theory of radical humanism and proposed a new model of democracy in India. This was in stark contrast to the opinion held by most of the leaders. He and Mahatma Gandhi alone were the two advocates who argued for native institutions of democracy. Like Jaya Prakash Narayana, he believed in the concept of partyless democracy or organized democracy (N. Jayapalan, 2000). But many scholars accuse him for advocating a party‐less form of democracy because of his own failure as a leader of his party in helping it win elections during the process of Indian independence. In his organized democracy, there was no place of political party and power was to be vested in the hands of people. The people will be independent in this new social order. He wanted that this ideology must be put in practice (N. Jayapalan, 2000).

Roy also disapproves Maxian theory of class struggle. According to Roy, Marx's theory of class struggle has degraded individual consciousness. He was also critical of Marx giving too much importance to the working class. Roy believes that polarization of capitalist society into the exploiting and the working class never takes place. Roy did not regard extra value as a peculiar feature of capitalism. He believes that the creation of surplus value and accumulation of capital were also in a socialist society.

Roy's political philosophies are often disapproved for being utopian and unrealistic. Even his critics acknowledge that many of the political principles that Roy enunciates are relevant today. His critics indicated that some of the ideas put forth by Roy are rather too idealistic or ethereal, even from the Humanist perspective. And some of the terms he employs are amorphous and imprecise. For example; Roy talks of "spiritual needs" and "spiritual childhood" of human beings when he is arguing in favour of materialism. And, at the same time, as a materialist, he was opposed to the vain glorification of the so-called "spiritual" heritage of India.

To summarize, Manabendra Nath Roy was an Indian innovative, radical activist and political theorist. He was the thinker of modern time. It is well acknowledged that the contribution of M.N.Roy for the origin and growth of Indian Communism was highly praiseworthy. He recognized the extremists, transformed the dissatisfied Indian Muslims as extremists and founded the party. He established the communism thought among masses and had immense contribution for the struggle of India. In developing political ideologies, Roy stated that the materialism of Marxism is inflexible and unscientific. Roy is critical of the empirical account of knowledge that Marxism provides thus neglecting the creative role of the human beings. Roy believes that the dialectical materialism of Marx is materialist only in nature. According to Roy, the Marxian interpretation in history is faulty because it allows slender role to mental activity in the social process. The intelligence of human being and their cumulative actions are very powerful social forces. Roy also condemns the Marxian economic interpretation of history. Briefly, it can be said that Roy has considered as the most influential political thinkers of the modern Indian political thought. His eminent work 'Reason, Romanticism and Revolution' is a noteworthy contribution to the history of western thought. He began his theoretical chase as a Marxist, but gradually restated all the propositions of Marx. He gave a moral reaffirmation of Marxism and developed radical humanism.