M. N. Roy Jawaharlal Nehru

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M. N. ROY (1886-1954)

  • M. N. Roy : Influences and Activities

  • Manavendra Nath Roy was a born revolutionary. While still a young boy, Roy came under the influence of Swami Vivekanand, Swami Ramtirth and Swami Dayanand Saraswati. But he received his political vision from the revolutionary ideas of Bipin Chandra Pal, Aurobindo Ghosh and Surendra Nath Banerjea. He was very much moved by the vigorous style of their speeches. He was also fairly intimate with Jatin Mukherjee and worked in co­operation with the leaders of the Yugantara group, who had become sufficiently notorious for their revolutionary activities in Bengal.

    1. 2 M. N. Roy ; My Experience of China, pp. 30-31.

    By 1915 Roy was twice arrested, first, in 1910 in connection with the Howrah conspiracy case, and secondly, in 1915 in connec­tion with a political dacohy in Calcutta. Ultimately, in the end of the year 1915 Roy fled to Dutch Indies. He also visited Java, Philippines, Korea and Manchuria. He later went to the United States and stayed for some time, working there in collaboration with Lala Lajpat Rai. In 1920, on the invitation of V. I. Lenin, he went to Russia and became there the adviser of the Bolshevik Party on colonial problems. He also became the head of the Oriental Depart­ment of the Moscow Institute. He was sent to China at the end of 1926 along with Borodin and Blucher. He had gone there as the chief representative of the Communist 'International. He stayed there till the middle of 1927. He advised the Chinese communists to embark upon a plan of agrarian revolution with a view to extend­ing their social base.1 But the Communist Party of China did not act on his advice and was helped by Borodin, the agent of the Soviet Government. This amounted, according to Roy, to a betrayal not only of the peasants, but also of the proletariat.' He also did not like the policies which Stalin and other Russian communists pursued and the way in which they behaved in order to realize international communism. Roy's criticism of Stalin's red sectarianism and ex­treme leftism led to the final break between Roy and the Communist International in 1928-29. Being fed up with Stalinism, Roy returned to India incognito in 1930. But he was imprisoned for six years

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    1. (1931-36) in the Kanpur conspiracy case. In 1936 (on his release from jail), he entered actively into Indian political life. And after working for nearly 18 years as a Congress worker and also as an organizer of Radical Democratic Party he died on January 25, 1954.

    2. Agreements and Disagreements with Marxism

    3. Roy was not a Marxian in the sense Lenin or Stalin was. As a person, Marx evoked great praise from Roy. The latter regarded Marx as a great humanist and a lover of freedom. But he wanted to restate the "humanist, libertarian, moralist" kernel of Marxism after freeing it from the dogmatics of economic determinism.8 He either repudiated the teachings of Marx or made substantial modi­fications in them. He writes in his book, Reason, Romanticism and Revolution : "Marx's proposition that consciousness is determined by being. . . .placed materialist metaphysics on a sound scientific basis. His subsequent thought, particularly sociological, however, did not move in the direction indicated by the significant point of departure. Marxism, on the whole, is not true to its philosophical tradition. In sociology, it vulgarizes materialism to the extent of denying that basic moral values transcend space and time. With the impersonal concept of the forces of production, it introduces teleology in history, crassly contradicting its own belief that man is the maker of his destiny. The economic determinism of its historiology blasts the foundation of human freedom, because it precludes the possibility of man ever becoming free as an individual. Yet, contemporary sociological thinking has been considerably influenced by the fallacious and erroneous doctrines of Marxism which do not logically follow from its philosophy."2

      1. 3 M. N. Roy : New Humanism, pp. 25-26.

      Roy felt that the Marxian interpretation of history was defective, because it allowed slender role to mental activity in the social process. The materialist conception of history, to identify the history of civilization with the history of class struggle, loses all sense, Roy said, if intelligence is accorded no place in the process of social revolution. In that case, Marxism as a philosophy of action will have no leg to stand on, and revolutions will be impossible. They are historically necessary, but they are also made by men moved by the idea of revolution. According to him, it is palpably absurd to regard history as a succession of events brought about by the automatic development of the means of production. The man cannot be eliminated from the evolutionary process of history. Social forces are not metaphysical categories : they are the collective expression of the creativeness of man, and the creative man is always a thinking man. In the Marxist philosophy of history, ideas are regarded as the epiphonema of matter. Consciousness is posterior to reality. As

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    1. such, in the Marxist philosophy of history the creative role of ideas is minimized and the upholders of this doctrine of primacy of ideas are ridiculed as fantastic Utopians. M. N. Roy sought to restate Marxism. He put a theory of two parallel processes—ideal and physi­cal—composing history in its integrated form. It is true, he said, that ideation is a physiological process consequent upon the interaction with the environment. But once arisen, ideas have a logic of evolu­tion of their own. There is a mutual influence between the dynamics of ideas and the dialectical progression of social process. "Philoso­phically, the materialist conception of history must recognize the creative role of intelligence. Materialism cannot deny the objective reality of ideas. They are not sui generis ; they are biologically deter­mined ; priority belongs to the physical being, to matter, if the old-fashioned term may still be used. But once the biologically deter­mined process of ideation is complete, ideas are formed, they continue to have an autonomous existence, ah evolutionary process of their own, which runs parallel to the physical process of social evolution. The two parallel processes, ideal and physical, compose history. Both are determined by their respective logic or dynamics or dialectics. At the same time, they are mutually influenced, the one by the other. That is how history becomes an organic process."3

    2. Roy further said that "the materialist conception of history fails when it dismisses ideal systems (ideologies) as mere superstructures of economic relations, and tries to relate them directly with the material conditions of life." The logical development of ideas and the generation of new social forces take place simultaneously, together providing the motive force of history. But in no given period, he stated, can they be casually connected except in the sense that action is always motivated by ideas. A new idea must be referred back to an old idea. Philosophy has a history of its own, and it is not a kaleidoscope of phantoms. Inasmuch as action is motivated by ideas, determinism m history is primarily ideal. "Historical determinism comes to grief whenever its exponents take a superficial one-sided view, ignoring the dynamics of ideas."4

      1. 7 M. N. Roy : New Humanism, p. 19.

      Karl Marx, under the influence of Hegelian dialectics, had rejected the eighteenth century materialism of Diderot, Helvetius and Holbach. He had also repudiated the humanist materialism of Ludwig Feuerbach by whose Essence of Christianity he had been in­fluenced. Roy criticized Marx and held that the rejection by Marx of Feuerbachian humanist materialism or what Woltmann called anthro­pological materialism was ui fortunate. Roy was critical of the Marxian rejection of the autonomy c / the human being. He revolted against the fatalism implicit in the prophetical sociology of Karl Marx.'

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    1. M. N. Roy not only criticized the economic determinism and the dogmatic materialism of Karl Marx, he had also a difference of opinion with Lenin. Lenin held that during the finance-capitalist and imperialist phase of world economy, it was necessary to achieve an integration between the bourgeois nationalistic struggles of the colonial world and the rising proletarian movements in the advanced countries of the western civilization. Roy presented a different thesis in which he attempted to expose the anti-proletarian attitude of the Asian nationalist leaders. Lenin's opinion was mostly based on his experiences of the western countries, where the bourgeoisie had been the spokesmen of a national democratic evolution. Although Roy agreed that imperialism is the higher stage of capitalism, and hence colonial struggle for liberation was a part of the international strug­gle against moribund capitalism, he felt that the situation in the ori­ental countries in the early twentieth century was not the same as in Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In such a situation the class structure of the leadership of the national freedom movement was bound to be different from that of the West. Roy also did not support the Russian Revolution, which was fought mainly under the guidance of Lenin. According to Roy, the Russian Revolution did not occur in mechanical conformity to a previously laid down a priori law of history. He regarded it as a 'fluke of history' occurring due to a fortuitous combination of circumstances. Russia, he felt, was not fully mature for a social and political transformation. He said that "the communist movement has been made a subservient adjunct to the interests of the Russian State, and there has been alienation of the 'non-proletarian periphery.'5 And he regarded Russian com­munism as state capitalism.

    2. Against Russian Communists

      1. 9 M. N. Roy : New Humanism, p. 20.

      Roy was completely opposed to the monopolization of the leadership of Third International by the Russian communists who claimed to be masters both of Marxist theory and practice. The slogan of socialism in one country, proclaimed by Joseph Stalin in 1924, precluded the possibility of the realization of international communism.' Roy advocated the 'decolonization' theory at the time of Sixth World Congress of the Communist International. It signified the growing exhaustion of British imperialist finance and the partial transfer of its benefits to the Indian bourgeoisie. Roy indi­cated the changing character of imperialism.6 The decolonization thesis stressed the growing exhaustion of the exportable capital of the imperialist countries, necessitating a joint partnership with the native

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    1. Bourgeoisie. Roy prophesied that in the long run the depreciating value of imperialism would compel the foreign capitalists to part with power. The Sixth World Congress of the Communist Inter­national passed a resolution warning the Indian people against their possible betrayal by the counter-revolutionary Indian National Cong­ress. M. N. Roy suggested the demand for a Constituent Assembly for India. This stand of Roy was criticized by the orthodox commu­nists, and they (the latter) considered him to be a bourgeois nation­alist democrat.11 All these differences between Roy and the commu­nists created a rift between them, and the former, being disgusted with Marxian dogmatism, Lenin's thesis of proletarian revolution and Stalin's red sectarianism and extreme leftism, left Russia for India in early 1930.

    2. Approach to Indian Problems

    3. M. N. Roy was not only a great revolutionary and a fighter, who revolted against the British imperialism and fought for Indian freedom, but he was also a deep scholar of India's manifold problems. In 1922, he made a sociological study of contemporary India in his India in Transition. In this book Roy showed his difference of opinion from the British imperialists of the school of Montague who believed in the principle of gradual development of responsible government. He badly criticized those Indians who relied upon the British states­men and tried to work out the reforms contemplated in the Govern­ment of India Act of 1919. He also ridiculed the confusion and religious revivalism attempt by the group of extremists and nation­alists. He made a prophecy that the future Indian nation was going to be shaped by the 'inexorable evolution' of the progressive force, latent in Indian society. "The Indian transition was a consequence of the movement of social forces which were struggling for the re­placement of the old bankrupt decadent socio-economic structure."11 In India the struggle for national freedom was going side by side with the raging class struggle. In this book he discussed three basic social phenomena—the rise of the Indian bourgeoisie, the pauperization of the peasantry and the impoverishment of the urban proletariat. And the task of winning the freedom of India, in Roy's opinion, would have to be shouldered by the 'workers and peasants consci­ously organized and fighting on the grounds of class-struggle.'

      1. J1 M. H. Roy : Fragments of a Prisoner's Diary, Vol. U, pp. 99-100, 12 M. n. Roy : India In Transition, pp. 84-85.

      M. N. Roy published another book towards the end of 1922. In this book—India's Problem and Its Solution—he criticized Gandhian ideology. He showed his dissatisfaction with the constructive pro­gramme of the Congress adopted at Bardoli on February 12, 1922. In its place he pleaded for the creation of a revolutionary mass party which would organize mass strikes and foment discontent against

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    1. the existing political and economic system of the country. In place of the civil disobedience, the programme of the Congress Party, Roy put forth the idea of 'militant action of the masses.'

    2. In December, 1922, the 'Vanguard Party' with which Roy was closely associated, sent a programme to the Indian National Congress on the eve of the Gaya Congress. The programme contained the following items :

    3. (i) Abolition of landlordism,

    4. (ii) Reduction of land rent to a minimum,

    5. (iii) State aid for modernization of agriculture,

    6. (iv) Abolition of all indirect taxes and progressive income-tax,

    7. (v) Nationalization of public utilities,

    8. (vi) Development of modern industries under state aid.

    9. (vii) Legalization of labour organizations,

    10. (viii) Eight-hour day : fixation of minimum wages by legislation,

    11. (ix) Workers' councils in big industries,

    12. (x) Profit sharing to be introduced in all big industries,

    13. (xi) Free and compulsory education,

    14. (xii) Separation of state and religion, and

    15. (xiii) A national militia to replace the standing army.7

    16. This programme was not welcome in the Indian press as it was tinctured with communist ideology.

    17. A year after Roy paid his glowing tributes in his book—One Year of Non-cooperation—to Mahatma Gandhi. He compared Gandhi with S. Thomas Aquinas, Savonarola and Francis of Assissi. He acknowledged four constructive contributions of Gandhi: (1) use of mass action for political purposes, (2) consolidation of the Indian National Congress, (3) the liberation of the national forces from governmental repression by. the 'slogan of non-violence', and (4) the adoption of the technics of non-cooperation, non-payment of taxes and civil uisobedient*.-1*

    18. Differences with Gandhism

      1. 14 M. N. Roy : One Year of Non-cooperation, pp. 55-56,

      However, M. N. Roy had no liking for certain principles of Gandhism. He felt that Gandhism lacked an economic programme to win mass support. At the same time, it also lacked a revolution­ary mass movement. Gandhism, in Roy's view, did not have any programme for organizing the proletarian class with a view to doing away with the landlords and capitalists. On the contrary, it (Gandhism) worked for the unity of all sections of Indians. Roy called the economics of charkha quite reactionary. He said that "Gandhism was not revolutionism but 'weak and watery' reformism." Non-violence, the basic philosophy of Gandhism, he regarded as a

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    1. mark for hiding the true nature of grim social exploitation. He regarded Gandhian ahimsa as a subtle intellectual device for con­cealing the capitalist exploitation of the country. He criticized the bankruptcy of Congress leadership and stated that under Gandhi's leadership the Congress was being turned into a spinners' associa­tion.8 And he was not ready to accept the ethical or spiritual basis of Gandhian constructive programme.

    2. Roy organized Radical Democratic Party in December, 1940, and advocated a new orientation towards 'scientific polities'. He advocated what he called 'Twentieth Century Jacobinism'. During the World War II he supported the Allies, particularly after the fall of France. He did not regard the World War II as a war between nations. He considered it an international Civil War, the enemy in which was not a state but a rampant ideology. It was a war against fascism. A decisive victory against fascism could be won only by defeating fascism on the home fronts of the belligerents. In order that India could really defend herself in this war, an agrarian revolution was essential. Also, India should participate in the war from the side of the Allies. During the World War II, Roy characterized the Indian National Congress as the representative of nascent Indian fascism.1' He interpreted the Congress opposition to India's participation in the war as fascistic. Also, the 1942 revolution, in Roy's opinion, was fascistic because it indirectly hindered the cause of Red Moscow by weakening the Allied front. Gandhi's appeal to faith reminded Roy of fascist irrationalism and voluntarism. He characterized Mahatma Gandhi ultimately as the embodiment of Indian backwardness and obscurantism, and condemned his action as 'the mischief of whipping up forces which undermined the Indian home front."" He also advocated an 'isolation' of the Indian leaders in jail. His open support of British repressive ruthlessness and his vehement criticism of Indian leaders, particularly of Mahatma Gandhi, made him almost alienated from Indian public opinion.

    3. Exponent of'New Humanism'

    4. In the last few years of his life, M. N. Roy became an exponent of 'New Humanism'. He, like Turgot and Condorcet, felt that the advance of science was a factor for the liberation of man's creative energies. The characteristic feature of modern civilization is the

      1. M. N. Roy : War and Revolution, pp. 100-01.

      2. M. N, Roy : Freedom or Fascism (Dec. 1942), p. 105.

      Progressive triumph of science over superstition, reason over faith, he struggle had been going on ever since the dawn of history. Even during the dark Middle Ages, when scientific knowledge acquired by the ancient Greeks was nearly forgotten, rationalism asserted itself in the form of the scholastic Christian theology which conceived the grand idea of a law-governed universe and, thus, prepared the ground

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    1. for a revival of science. "The most profound and, penetrating of the causes that have transformed society is a mediaeval inheritance."9

    2. The revolt of man known as the Renaissance heralded the modern civilization. It took place over a period of two hundred years from the middle of the fourteenth to that of the sixteenth century. As a matter of fact, it was a much longer process. The revival of science began a century earlier with Roger Bacon and Albertus Magnus. They, on their part, had been inspired by the Arabian scholars who had kept the fire of scientific research burning, while Europe was merged in the darkness of ignorance during the four hundred years between the conquest of Rome by Genseric and the restoration of the Western Empire by Charlemagne.

    3. The significance of the Renaissance, writes Roy in Reason, Roman­ticism and Revolution, "undoubtedly was profoundly revolutionary; but it was a revolution in the reaim of ideas and values, which des­troyed the moral sanction of the feudal order, and consequently prepared the ground for the social and political upheavals of the following centuries."10 The Renaissance declared the dignity and sovereignty of the individual on the authority of the Sophists, Epicureans, Stoics and also of early Christianity. It did not herald the rise of any particular class ; it was the revolt of man, patronized and promoted by all the free spirits of the time belonging to the feudal aristocracy, the Church or the rising class of traders. Classic­ism was conservative. As against it, the romanticism of the humanists proclaimed the freedom of will, and faith in the creativeness of man. It liberated reason from the yoke of teleology. It maintained that the law-governed universe did not preclude revolutions to be brought about by man's will to freedom and urge to create. It declared the spiritual liberation of man, and ushered in the era of modern civilization, which immensely expanded the scope of human activity. Growing knowledge of nature increased the power of man to prosecute the struggle for freedom more effectively than ever before.

    4. Roy was inspired in the humar.ist phase of his intellectual work by the philosophical Radicals like Hutcheson, Shaftesbury and Bentham and their critical approach to the contemporary social and economic situation. He considered the rejection by Marx of their individualist liberating doctrine as a bourgeois abstraction, as unfor­tunate and as indicating an inadequate grasp of the historical evolu­tion of ethical concepts. He pleaded for a New Humanism based upon natural reason and secular conscience. Thus a rationalist humanist ethics based upon the acceptance of materialist cosmology is the sole panacea of man.

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    1. Roy's humanism (known as New Humanism) differed from the French and German schools of humanism of nineteenth century. New Humanism claims to reassert the sovereignty of man by emphasizing that history is the record of human activities and society has no business to impose ilself as a leviathan on man. It is not based on poetic or romantic grounds of sentimental effusions. It is based on a mechanistic cosmology and materialistic metaphysics.

    2. New Humanism is cosmopolitan m its outlook. It replaces the spirit of nationalism by the spirit of world brotherhood. Like Tagore, Gandhi and Aurobindo, Roy also believed that a confrater­nity of morally and spiritually liberated individuals is the fundamen­tal requirement for the realization of a better and healthier society. New Humanism is pledged to the ideal of a commonwealth and fraternity of free men. Roy was a firm believer in a world federation. He writes in his Reason, Romanticism and Revolution: "New Humanism is cosmopolitan. A cosmopolitan commonwealth of spiritually free men will not be limited by the boundaries of national states— capitalist, fascist, socialist, communist, or of any other kind—which will gradually disappear under the impact of the twentieth century Renaissance of Man."*0 Roy, differentiating between cosmopolitan­ism and internationalism, pleaded for a spiritual community. He believed that a true world government could only be built upon the neutralization of nation-states. This may be regarded as a philosophy of cosmopolitan humanism.

    3. A Plea for Individual Freedom

    4. Roy accepted that "the vital prerequisite for a social and poli­tical reconstruction was an intellectual renaissance of man and the imbibing of the fundamental essence of the philosophy of New Integral Humanism." The potentiality of freedom, according to him, is latent in man. The realization of freedom depends upon the awareness by man of his creative powers.

    5. Also, the decentralization of political and economic power is necessary for the individual freedom. Centralization, Roy was of the opinion, amounts to the negation of free initiative and autono­mous choice. Political parties with their countrywide organizations and vast financial resources became agents of centralization. He pleaded for the minimization of the role of political parties. He was completely opposed to the conception of political power as the sole instrument of effectuating social change. He felt that intensive activities in villages and workshops would be more useful instruments of social transformation than the acquisition of political power through party organization and consolidation.

      1. 20 M. N. Roy : Reason, Romanticism and Revolution, Vol. II, p. 310.

      The essence of a true democracy, Roy firmly believed, is to make every individual within its boundaries free to exercise his own

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    1. judgment and participate actively in the affairs of the state. The individual is exposed to innumerable types of tyranny in the modern state whatever its form may be. And the urgent need is to make him free to exercise his own initiative. The totalitarian claims of organi­zation, regimentation and co-ordination must not be allowed to sub­vert the freedom of the individual. John Dewey was right when he remarked, while defining his experimental approach in his Democracy and Education, that "the people receive training in the process of democracy by a process of trial and error and experimentations." Roy, accepting John Dewey's approach, felt that the people were powerless between elections and the rule of law did not afford any protection in critical times.*1 Hence he formulated an idea of 'organized democracy' where there would not be the imposition of the commands of the leviathan seated on the top, but where local people's committees would handle power. He pleaded for doing away with the system of democratic centralism. He wished a social system "where social technology and the pooled powers of human reason and engineering would be applied to the reconciliation of individual free­dom and social good and progress."11

    2. Concept of Organized Democracy

    3. Roy, like Jayaprakash Narayan, also had formulated the concept of 'organized democracy' and partyless democracy and state. The entire state structure is to be built upon the basis of organized local democracies. They will be political schools of the nation and will train the people in the art of intelligent handling of their social and moral responsibilities. The organization of local political schools is, according to Roy, highly indispensable with a view to awakening the political consciousness of the individual citizens and minimizing the tyranny of the government rule. A constant control over the governors will be exercised through direct democratic checks like recall and referendum.

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