Monthly Archives: January 2016

MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts – Part 22


Continued from Part 21

Radical Democracy and Radical Humanism

After the break with Congress , the League of Radical Congressmen (LRC) – which till then a group within the Congress Party –  was converted into the Radical Democratic Party (RDP) . The inaugural conference of RDP  was held at Bombay in Dec 1940. Roy’s intention was to build it up as People’s Party, which would give a new orientation to party politics in India. He tried to bring in ideas of rationalism, democracy and a scientific approach to politics.

The War was the greatest event of the early 1940s. The fate of the world depended on its outcome. It was imperative that Fascist Axis should not win the war . Roy therefore insisted on supporting British war efforts , while the Congress caught in the web of its internal politics  could not foresee the dangers that its stand might bring upon the world and on India. At that time, the general feeling in the Congress that the war was neither its making nor did it concern India. But, the initial reaction of Gandhi and Nehru was to lend support to England in her war against Nazi Germany. Later, after a series of discussions and much circumspection, the Congress revised its initial move. It resisted Viceroy’s efforts to involve India in the War against Facism.

Roy reiterated that the fight against fascism must be the immediate objective of every person and fighter, for the sake of  freedom and democracy of the future generations . He , therefore, felt it was his duty, in the interests of the world and India, to caution Congress and criticize its stand on the War.  Roy advised the Congress to rise above national prejudices and to work for the success of the forces ranged against Fascism. Roy’s  argument was  clearly different from that of the majority in the Congress.  Yes; it did make him very unpopular ; and , he became the target of many abusive and malicious attacks; but, he chose to ignore  such personal attacks.

Nehru, though he shared the anxieties of Roy over the future of democracy the world over and in India, could not break away from the majority in Congress. Had he done so, that would have split the Congress and weakened the nationalist movement.  Roy on the other hand was free to take his own decisions and strike his own path. His contention was that winning the war must temporarily take precedence over party-politics and even over winning India’s freedom; because,  India can win freedom only in a free world. And, if fascism wins, the world will descend into barbarism, and India would never be free.

By June 1941, Germany, as Roy had foreseen, attacked Russia. Early in 1942 , the War reached India, as Japan after taking over Singapore attacked Burma. The Hill- regions in Burma bordering India fell to Japanese on 7 March 1942; and, India’s position became alarmingly insecure. The Cripps Commission arrived in India seeking India’s participation and support to British war-efforts. The Mission failed; and, the Congress, thereafter ,launched the Quit India movement in 1942.

Roy opposed the Congress‘s ill-timed Quit India movement. Roy argued that the defense of the country was the duty and responsibility of its citizens.  He argued ” We as citizens of the country have to fight invader; and fight alongside with the British-Indian forces to safeguard our land and its people”. Roy remarked that the Congress’s callous stand smacked of criminal neglect of nation’s defense. Roy was abused for his ‘unpatriotic ‘stand.

By end of 1942, it became almost clear that the fascist would lose the war. Roy then stated that it is just a matter of time that India would become free through a peaceful process. He said: ‘Out of the melting pot of the War, a new world will emerge.  India will be a part of that free world. It will rise and shine in a free democratic world’.

When in 1942, he saw visions of India attaining freedom, Roy began to plan for the economic and political developments in post-Independent India. He wrote a series of articles, in his journal Independent India, outlining his ideas on economic planning in future India. Following Roy’s ideas, three of his colleagues and followers – G D Parikh, V M Tarkunde and B N Banerjee – prepared a Ten Year Plan for reconstruction of Indian economy with an outlay of about Rs. 15,000 Crores. The Plan which was completed in 1944 , came to be known as People’s Plan for Economic Development of India ; and, it was unveiled in Bombay. The basic feature of the People’s Plan was the emphasis on agriculture and social services; and, its self-financing character.  As Tarkunde remarked: “ the People’s Plan  contained Roy’s original contributions to the solution of country’s economic and political problems”.

It is very sad that when the new Government of India in 1951, began drawing up plans for the country, it totally neglected the Peoples Plan prepared earlier by the Roy Group.

Again during 1945, Roy and his associates began preparing their Draft Constitution of Free India, which was meant to serve as a blueprint for the political, social and economic progress of Free India. It was coordinated with the Peoples Plan which was essentially an economic program. The Draft Constitution was based, mainly, on the eighteen principles that Roy’s Radical Democratic Party had accepted as most relevant. The Draft Constitution was released in 1945, inviting public debate and discussion.

The main features of the Draft Constitution were : a Democratic State based in certain social and political principles. It provided for ‘disappearance of the feudatory States and their incorporation with the neighboring provinces according to the principles of linguistic and cultural homogeneity’.

The Draft visualized – organized Democracy as the source of all Constitutional Authority – the instrument as exercise of popular sovereignty. The organized democracy, according to Roy, would eliminate difficulties of holding elections in a vast country. It sought to combine legislative and executive functions of the State possible in a coordinated manner.

The Roy Group strongly believed that the greatest good of the greatest number can be attained only when members of the government are accountable, in the first place, to their respective conscience; and to their constituencies. According to the Draft Constitution, the Indian state was to be organized on the basis of countrywide network of People’s Committees having wide powers , such as  : initiating legislations; expressing opinion on pending bills; recalling of erring representatives;  and , holding referendum on important national issues. It provided for direct elections for the post of State Governors. According to Sibnarayan Ray, another prominent associate of Roy, “the Plan and the Constitution anticipated several of the principles which were to be formulated and developed as Radical Humanism in 1949 and the subsequent years”. 

Roy advocated  and strongly urged  that  the  elections to the forthcoming, proposed  Constituent Assembly be held on non-party basis  , so that  it could  frame the constitution of Independent India , without allegiance to political parties and  keeping in view  Federal structure of the New Nation .  He had also built in safety measures like fixing accountability on the elected representatives; and, the power to re-call the erring elected members. But, his Draft Constitution for Free India was conveniently assigned to the dustbin.



The talks for transfer of power began in June-July 1945 , with Simla Conference, which ended inconclusively. The talks resumed later ; and , ended with acceptance of partition of India into two dominions, along communal lines. Roy had little to do with these talks.

The transfer of power along with partition was accepted rather hurriedly, though reluctantly. The Congress was in no mood to wait any longer. As Jawaharlal Nehru recalled:’ the truth is that we were tired men and getting on in years too . Few of us could stand the prospect of going to prison again; and, if we had stood out for a united India, as we wished it, the prison obviously awaited us.’

By about the same time, serious talks were going on about the transfer of power. Roy was anxious that the power should be transferred to people and not to the political parties claiming to represent them. He did not succeed in persuading the British Government to see his point of view. He did not also succeed in building up the necessary organization of the people.

In the following spring of 1946, the Provincial Assemblies elected the Constituent Assembly. But , it was far different from what Roy had envisaged in his thesis of 1927 where Roy had envisioned that Congress as an United Front would transform itself into a Constituent Assembly , directly elected on the basis of universal franchise.

The Constituent Assembly in March 1946 was, actually, formed by indirect elections from among the legislators who drew their mandate from a limited franchise of only the thirteen percent of India’s adult population, on the basis of Hindu and Muslim electorates.


Roy was anxious to settle down in Dehra Dun and retire from politics; and devote himself completely to reading and writing. But, he could not leave politics, entirely. In March 1946, the Radical Democratic Party (RDP) contested elections to the Provincial Assemblies. And, Roy, as the leader of the Party, had to play a major role in organizing and guiding the election campaign.  In any case, all radical candidates were defeated in elections.

Roy’s political activity came to an end soon after the defeat of his party in 1946. (The Radical Democratic Party was later dissolved in 1948) . Towards the end of  1946 , Roy decaled his retirement from active politics , saying : ‘ I am not quite satisfied any longer with political activities . I can  now do other work  according to my inclinations’.

In September 1946, Roy founded the Indian Renaissance Institute at Dehra Dun. The Institute was meant to be “a cultural-educational organization founded with the object of re-educating the educators and young intellectuals of India in spirit and with the ideas of radical (or Integral) Humanism.”

In an India that was bitterly charged with communal hatred, Roy was almost entirely isolated from mainstream politics. Roy spent more time in writing two volumes of Reason, Romanticism and  Revolution.  The first volume was published in 1953 and the second in 1955, a year after Roy’s death. It holds the summary of Roy’s thoughts ; and, provides a theoretical basis for the philosophy of Radical Humanism.

While working on Reason, Romanticism and Revolution, Roy had established contacts with several humanist groups in Europe and America, which held views similar to his own. That gradually led these groups to come together ; and, to  form an international association with commonly shared aims and principles. It was named as the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) with  its headquarters at Amsterdam. The inaugural congress of the IHEU was planned to be organized in Amsterdam in 1952; and, Roys were expected to play an influential role in the congress and in the development of the IHEU.


As he predicted, in August 1947 the British transferred power to the Indians in an orderly way. But, the transfer and India’s freedom did not come about in the manner that Roy had anticipated. India was trisected; and, the occasion which should have been a great joyous celebration turned into a virtual blood bath and mayhem with millions of families across the borders being turned into refugees and thousands slaughtered on the streets. That deeply pained and hurt Roy . He was , at this time , full of appreciation for Gandhi’s valiant efforts for  bringing clam and peace into Naukhali in remote Bengal. He respected Gandhi’s courage and honest intentions.

After the attainment of Independence in August 1947 , and the dissolution of the RDP in December 1948 , it was time for Roy to turn away from politics. But, even then he could not break away from politics completely. He had to state his position, from time to time, on several issues that came up for debate. He wrote extensively on national and international problems in his Journal re-named as Radical Humanism .His articles won high recognition in India and abroad.

There were two issues, in general, that he wrote with great intensity.

: – One was his insistence on a party-less politics. Roy pointed out that Political Parties cannot help but engage in a scramble for power; and that would turn into their total obsession. Capture of power will be the paramount objective of a political party; because, without political power they would lose their relevance. Therefore, a party would descend to any level; and,  resort to any means  just to attain its objective of gaining and retaining power. In the process, the entire system and the whole range of political process could be abused leading to corruption and moral degeneration. The power within the party would naturally get concentrated in the hands of a few with a coterie around them.

He said ‘as long as the purpose of politics remains the capture of power, we cannot seem to do without parties. But, if we do not want parties, we can try practicing politics without its party-ills. Along with the party, the concentration of power in a self-centers few would , hopefully, disappear. The chances of having a more homogeneous political process and a more open society are higher. That would also ensure freedom of the individual who would then be not a mere pawn in the hands of the politicians. The welfare in the society could also be evenly spread out and distributed.

: – The other issue that Roy was writing about was: ‘the revolution by consent or by persuasion’. Revolution, he said, was necessary; but, it was not the resolution by insurgence. The revolution, he was talking about, was the process in which the people as a whole voluntarily get involved in building up from the base level of self-governing groups or communities that would have a say even in framing and guiding  the national policies.  He put his ideas in this regard in a book titled New Orientation.


The events that took place in India during the partition-years and later in the post-Independent India totally unsettled Roy and his convictions. It forced him to re-examine many of the beliefs he held earlier over the long years. For instance; he had accepted Communism as a philosophy that could change the world for better. But, to his dismay, he found that the success of the revolution in Russia had turned Communism, in practice, into a régime of tyranny and an instrument of subjecting the masses into slavery.

Roy then began to look into the roots of the ‘misdeeds’ of Stalin and his communist lackeys. He found in them an utter disregard and contempt for Man. The Human in their despotic working had been reduced to a helpless and insignificant  pawn that could be moved and discarded at will, to serve ones power-play and self-centered blind economic interests. A similar unfortunate phenomenon happened in Capitalism as well. And the two systems together had thrown the world and the human being into a deep abyss of insignificance and slavery.

Roy had seen from close quarters the working of Stalin’s rule in Russia ; and, he had also witnessed the parliamentary democracy  and its laissez-faire  in the West.

The remedies provided and the working of the Communist Dictatorship and the Parliamentary Democracies were both defective, in Roy’s view. Instead of liberating Man, they had succeeded in turning him into a slave of the State. Roy thereafter reflected that one has to , by necessity, go beyond the oppressive confines of communism and the indifferent self-serving mechanisms of Parliamentary Democracy, as it was practiced.  

After rejecting both Communism and Capitalism, Roy began to look for an institution that would guarantee Human Freedom and development of Man at large (not merely as a member of a class or nation). He then put forth a philosophy of decentralized Radical Democracy as an alternative to Parliamentary Democracy. He also rejected both the state ownership as well as unbridled capitalism as being destructive to democracy. He believed that economic democracy would be suffocated if there is no political democracy. The truly democratic economic order can be built , he believed , around the principle of co-operation where there is also the participation of workers as co-owners

He said: “the defects of a parliamentary democracy result from uncontrolled delegation of power. To make the democracy effective and functional , the real power must always vest in the People ; and, there must be ways and means for the People to wield their power, not once in a five years or periodically but on a day to basis” (New Humanism p.55)

Roy had said: “When political power is concentrated in the hands of a small community, you may have a façade of parliamentary democracy; but, for all political purposes it will be a dictatorship, even if it may be paternal and benevolent.”

“To make democracy effective , the power must always remain invested in the People — not periodically, but from day to day. Atomised individuals are powerless for all practical purposes”

At the same time , he was cautious and conceded that  it was too early for the Indian common men to understand the meaning and value of participatory democracy propagated by him , because they were  ’ seeped in the feudal tradition of monarchic hierarchy as well as in the customs of a religious patriarchal society’.

Roy advanced the idea of a new social order based on direct participation of the people through People’s Committees and Gram Sabhas. Its culture would be based in minimum control and maximum scope for scientific and creative activities. The new society of India that Roy envisioned was a democratic, political, economic, as well as cultural, entity with the freedom of the individual as its core. Roy, thus, envisaged formation of People’s local Cooperative Organizations as the nuclei of a new system of economy. He was convinced of the innate goodness and dignity of Man.

He attached greater importance to individual and his liberty. He envisaged a system of governance in which the individual citizen would exercise effective control over the people‘s representatives controlling the machinery of the state.

Roy surmised that such organized Democracy and Cooperative economy which values individual freedom and participation could be the philosophical foundation of for a new and better order of Society that would not be dragged towards war and destruction.

He named such philosophy as Radical Humanism; it is Radical because it rejected many of the traditional political and philosophical assumptions; and , its ‘Humanism’ is because of its focus entirely on the needs and situation of human beings.


The later years of his life brought about his transition from Marxism to Radical Democracy which he put forth as the guiding philosophy of decentralized ‘radical democracy’ that could serve as an alternative to parliamentary democracy, after rejecting both communism and capitalism . The Radical Democracy as conceived by Roy is a highly de-centralized system of democracy based on net-work of groups of people through which citizens wield an effective democratic control over the State. And then came his New Humanism or Radical Humanism.

The principles of Radical Humanism began evolving in Roy’s writings since 1944. And towards the end of 1946 , Roy wrote his Twenty-two Thesis which outlined, in the form of categorical statements, laying the foundations for philosophy of Radical Humanism.

The Radical Humanism or the ‘integral scientific humanism’ which is neither materialism, nor idealism, but a scientific philosophy, insisting upon the freedom of the individual brought in a new dimension to political philosophy.

The Radical Democratic Party discussed Roy’s Thesis at a conference held at Bombay during December 1946. And again at Calcutta , the  Draft Thesis was discussed , following which the last three paragraphs of the manifesto were modified / edited to delete all references to Radical Democratic Party. Thus, the revised versions of the 22 Theses and the manifesto were reduced, essentially, to Roy’s theories of New Humanism And, in 1947 the Thesis was published as a Manifesto titled New Humanism – A Manifesto.

Roy in the preface to New Humanism, acknowledges the help and valuable suggestions he  derived  from Philip Spratt, Sikander Choudhary and V. M. Tarkunde in improving his draft. The ideas expressed in the Manifesto were, according to Roy, “developed over a period of number of years by a group of critical Marxists and former Communists.”

The basic idea of the first three theses of Roy is individualism. According to Roy, the central idea of the Twenty-Two Theses is that political philosophy must start from the basic idea that the individual is prior to society; and, freedom can be enjoyed only by individuals.

In his humanist interpretation of history, presented in theses  numbered four, five and six, Roy gives an important position to human will as a determining factor; and, he emphasizes the role of ideas in the process of social evolution. Formation of ideas , according to Roy, is a physiological process; but , once formed, the ideas exist by themselves and are governed by their own laws. The dynamics of ideas runs parallel to the process of social evolution and both of them influence each other. Cultural patterns and ethical values are not mere super structures of established economic relations. They have a history and logic of their own .

The main theme of Roy’s Humanism is individual freedom, the supreme value through which all the other values in human life are derived and evaluated. Roy explained his concept of freedom as :

‘ The function of life is to live. The basic incentive of organic becoming is the struggle for life and survival. This struggle goes on throughout the long process of biological evolution, through every phase of human development, until, in Man, it becomes the conscious urge for freedom – the supreme human value. ..Man is finite; while his Universe is infinite. In the final analysis, the Universe is his environment. The innate urge for freedom in Man drives him to conquer his environment by knowing it , well and fully.’

Radical Humanism, as a philosophy of life, extends to the whole range of human interests and activities – stretched even over social, economic and political fields.

As Kanta Kataria explains 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.

Humanism must be an ethical philosophy. It must insist that Man alone is responsible for what he is. Human values in the last analysis must be human; and must keep pace with the growth of Man , his knowledge about nature and  himself .

The critics of Humanism maintain that it is a kind of Utopia. But, Roy insists it is not an abstract philosophy or theory;  but,  is a set of principles which are relevant to all aspects of human life  including the social existence. It is not a closed system; but it grows and evolves with development of human knowledge and with Man’s experiences in life.

[There is a vast body of literature discussing Radical Humanism and related subjects. You may refer to the following for a comprehensive discussion:

  1. N. Roy’s conception of new humanism by Kanta Kataria; Manbendra Nath Roy (1887—1954) by Ramendra Nath 3; N. Roy From Wikipedia;4.The Political Thought of M N Roy by K S Bharathi
  2. In each case you my also check the sources and references]


Radical Humanism brought Roy nearer to Gandhi’s thoughts. There were similarities as also differences between the thoughts of the two. Both accepted the individual as the centre of all social movements. And, both advocated decentralization of political and economic process; and, both wished for a party-less politics. Roy was however a materialist while Gandhi was guided by spiritualism.

M.N. Roy was a strong supporter of materialist philosophy. In his book Materialism, Roy says: 

Strictly speaking, philosophy is materialism, and materialism is the only possible philosophy. For, it represents the knowledge of nature as it really exists; knowledge acquired through the contemplation; observation and investigation of the phenomena of nature itself. 


M.N. Roy with Tarkateerth Laxman Shastri Joshi (advisor to Roy on Indian Philosophy

Roy had very interesting ideas about Materialism; Philosophy; Philosophy and its relation to religion; Philosophy and Science; History and numerous other subjects.

The following few paragraphs are extracts from Manbendra Nath Roy (1887—1954) by Ramendra Nath. They are reproduced here. It presents Roy’s thoughts on these and many other subjects. I gratefully acknowledge his contributions.

According to Roy, materialism is not the monstrosity it is generally supposed to be. It is not the cult of “eat, drink and be merry”, as it has been depicted by its ignorant or malicious adversaries. It simply maintains that “the origin of everything that really exits is matter, that there does not exist anything but matter, all other appearances being transformation of matter, and these transformations are governed necessarily by laws inherent in nature.”

Thus, broadly speaking, Roy’s philosophy is in the tradition of materialism. However, there are some important differences between Roy’s materialism and traditional materialism.  In fact, Roy’s “materialism” is a restatement of traditional materialism in the light of then contemporary scientific knowledge.

As Roy says: 

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.

“Philosophy”, says Roy, quoting Pythagoras, in his book Materialism, is “contemplation, study and knowledge of the nature”. Its function is “to know things as they are, and to find the common origin of the diverse phenomena of nature, in nature itself”.

“Philosophy”, according to Roy, “begins when man’s spiritual needs are no longer satisfied by primitive natural religion which imagines and worships a variety of gods as personification of the diverse phenomena of nature. The grown-up man discredits the nursery-tales, with which he was impressed in his spiritual childhood … Intellectual growth impels and emboldens him to seek in nature itself the causes of all natural phenomena; to find in nature a unity behind its diversity.” 

In his book Science and Philosophy, Roy defines philosophy as “the theory of life”. The function of philosophy, in words of Roy, “is to solve the riddle of the Universe”.

Elaborating on his definition of philosophy, Roy says: 

Philosophy is the theory of life, because it was born of the efforts of man to explain nature and to understand his own being in relation to its surroundings; to solve the actual problems of life in the light of past experiences, so that the solution will give him an encouraging glimpse into the future.


Roy is opposed not only to speculative philosophy but also to the identification of philosophy with theology and religion. As he says in Science and Philosophy

For the average educated man, the term philosophy has a very vague meaning, but sweeping application; it stands not only for speculative thought, but also for poetic fancy. In India, particularly, this vague, all-embracing sense is generally prevalent. Philosophy is not distinguished from religion and theology. Indeed, what is believed to be the distinctive feature of Indian philosophy is that it has not broken away from the medieval tradition, as modern western philosophy did in the seventeenth century. 

According to Roy, “Faith in the supernatural does not permit the search for the causes of natural phenomena in nature itself. Therefore, rejection of orthodox religious ideas and theological dogmas is the condition for philosophy.” (emphasis mine)

“With the assumption that the phenomena of nature are determined by the will of some supernatural being or beings,” says Roy, “philosophy must make room for faith.” What is supernatural, points out Roy, must be always beyond the understanding of man, who is himself a product of nature, and is, therefore, limited by the laws of nature. In this way, according to Roy, “as soon as the cause of the phenomenal world is thus placed beyond the realm of human knowledge, the world itself becomes incomprehensible.”

Roy is of the view that, “religion is bound to be liquidated by science, because scientific knowledge enables mankind to answer questions, confronted by which in its childhood, it was compelled to assume super-natural forces or agencies.”

Therefore, according to Roy, in order to perform its function, “philosophy must break away from religion” and start from the reality of the physical universe. 


On the one hand, Roy regards rejection of orthodox religious ideas and theological dogmas as the essential condition of philosophy, and on the other, he envisages a very intimate relationship between philosophy and science. In fact, according to Roy, the philosophical significance of modern scientific theory is to “render the old division of labor between science and philosophy untenable.” Science is,  says Roy, “stepping over the old boundary line. Digging deeper and deeper into the secrets of nature, science has come up against problems the solution of which was previously left to philosophy. Scientific inquiry has pushed into what is traditionally regarded as the ‘metaphysical’ realm.”

The problems of philosophy cosmological, ontological and epistemological can all be progressively solved, according to Roy, in the light of scientific knowledge. The function of philosophy is, points out Roy, to explain existence as a whole. An explanation of existence requires knowledge of existence, knowledge about the different phases of existence is gathered by the various branches of science. Therefore, in words of Roy:

The function of philosophy is to coordinate the entire body of scientific knowledge into a comprehensive theory of nature and life. 

Even in his Scientific Politics, which is more in the nature of a popular lecture than a philosophical treatise, Roy says, “having thus yielded position to science, philosophy can now exist only as the science of sciences a systematic coordination, a synthesis of all positive knowledge, continuously readjusting itself to progressive enlargement of the store of human knowledge.” Such a philosophy, according to Roy, has “nothing in common with what is traditionally known, particularly in this country, as philosophy. A mystic metaphysical conception of the world is no longer to be accorded the distinction of philosophy.”

In Reason, Romanticism and Revolution, too, Roy repeats his conception of philosophy as a logical coordination of all the branches of positive knowledge in a system of thought to explain the world rationally and to serve as a reliable guide for life.

Thus, Roy has given a secular and modern definition of philosophy. We have noted in the preface that in twentieth century the academic Indian philosophy, as taught and studied in Indian universities, has been dominated by Hindu religion, particularly advaita vedanta, in one way or another. This has been largely owing to the pervasive influence of S. Radhakrishnan. At least in twenty-first century, Indian “philosophy” must make a clean break from religion, and stop projecting “religion” as “philosophy”. Otherwise, the future of “Indian philosophy”  will remain bleak. Roy needs to be commended for making a clear distinction


Roy gives an important place to human will as a determining factor in history, and emphasizes the role of ideas in the process of social evolution. Formation of ideas is, according to Roy, a physiological process but once formed, ideas exist by themselves and are governed by their own laws.


Roy has given a very important place to ethics in his philosophy. According to Roy, “the greatest defect of classical materialism was that its cosmology did not seem to have any connection with ethics”. Roy strongly asserts that if it is not shown that materialist philosophy can accommodate ethics, then, human spirit, thirsting for freedom, will spurn materialism. In Roy’ view materialist ethics is not only possible but materialist morality is the noblest form of morality. Roy links morality with human being’s innate rationality. Man is moral, according to Roy, because he is rational. In Roy’s ethics freedom, which he links with the struggle of existence is the highest value. Search for truth is a corollary to the quest for freedom.


Roy was busily engaged in writing as also in guiding Radical Humanist movement. In June 1952, Roy along with Ellen went to Mussoorie for rest and recuperation. While returning from a long morning-walk along the hill track , Roy stumbled and fell down about fifty feet below. He sustained grave injuries and had to be confined to bed for several weeks. Ellen dutifully and lovingly nursed him back to health.

On 25 August, he had an attack of cerebral thrombosis resulting in a partial paralysis of the right side. The accident prevented the Roys from attending the inaugural congress of the IHEU, which was held in August 1952 at Amsterdam. The congress, however, elected M.N. Roy, in absentia, as one of its vice-presidents and made the Indian Radical Humanist Movement one of the founder-members of the IHEU.

Roy went back to Dehra Dun to resume his work on Radical Humanist. By May 1953, he was feeling much better; and began to plan a visit to the United States for medical treatment, along with a lecture tour.

But, on 15 August 1953, Roy suffered another attack of cerebral thrombosis. His condition deteriorated; and, the left side of his body was paralyzed.  Roy’s last article dictated to Ellen Roy for the Radical Humanist was about the nature and organization of the Radical Humanist Movement. This article was published in the Radical Humanist on 24 January 1954.

On 25 January 1954, Roy suffered another heart attack. And, M.N. Roy eventually passed away on the night of 25 January 1954, just before the annual Republic Day. He was nearly 67 at that time.

Jayaprakash Narayan wrote: Roy was perhaps never more needed than just when he died.

The Amrita Bazaar Patrika in its obituary described him as the ‘lonely lion who roamed about the wilderness called the world’

M. N. Roy Stamp



We shall round up the series, in the next part,  with slight discussions on Roy’s differences with Marxism; Roy’s relevance to the present-day world; the body of his works  and such others .





Next Part


Sources and References

1 M N. Roy by V B Karnik

  1. M N Roy – A political Biography by Samaren Roy
  2. M. N. Roy’s conception of new humanism by Kanta Kataria
  3. Manbendra Nath Roy (1887—1954) by Ramendra Nath
  4. M. N. Roy From Wikipedia
  5. The Political Thought of M N Roy by K S Bharathi

Pictures are from Internet


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MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts – Part 21


Continued from Part 20

Out of  Congress

 Nehru Faizpur session of Congress Dec 1936

The Fiftieth (50th) Session of the Indian National Congress was held on 27 and 28 December 1936 at Faizpur, a village on the outskirts of Yawal Taluka of Jalgaon District of Bombay Presidency (Maharashtra). It was, here, for the first time that Congress held its Annual Session in a backward rural setting. A large number of peasants participated in the session. The Faizpur Session was important for the Congress which had been raising demands for the welfare of the peasants and struggled for them.  The Faizpur Session was also important because it was presided over by Jawaharlal Nehru who was at his peak of influence in the Congress.

December 1936  Nehru, president of the Indian National Congres

Jawaharlal Nehru’s Presidential address delivered on December 26th, 1936 began with greetings to the Comrades in prison:To our comrades in prison or in detention we send greetings. Their travail continues and it grows, and only recently we have heard with horror of the suicide of three detenues who found life intolerable for them in the fair province of Bengal whose young men and women in such large numbers live in internment without end. We have an analogy elsewhere, in Nazi Germany, where concentration camps flourish and suicides are not uncommon.”

Then welcoming M N Roy into the Congress Party, greeted him as ‘Comrade Roy ‘as one of the bravest and ablest sons of the present generation’: … one who, though young, is an old and well-tried soldier in India’s fight for freedom. Comrade M.N. Roy has just come to us after a long and most distressing period in prison, but though shaken up in body, he comes with a fresh mind and heart, eager to take part in that old struggle that knows no end till it ends in success.

Roy in response called upon all sections and segments of the political  forces including Communists , trade unions, Kisan Sabhas and youth organizations to join Congress and build it up into a strong United Front against imperialism and for attaining India’s independence.  He also spoke about his idea of a Constituent Assembly of India with a view to ultimately capture of power.


A new period in Roy’s political life began with his joining the Indian National Congress in 1936. It was during this period that he directly tried to radicalise the Congress. He set aside his earlier idea of infiltration through proxy groups. He also was against the separatist tendencies of the CSP, the Kisan Sabhas, labour unions and Student Organizations. He wanted all those to come under the banner of Congress, sharing a common platform and presenting an United Front.

But, Roy wanted to the Congress not to be completely swayed away by the influence of Gandhi and of the bourgeois .The Congress, according to him, was a mass nationalist movement. It was not the party of any particular class.

He resisted attempts of the Left-forces to create an organization of the working class and revolutionary elements independent of the Congress. It would have weakened the Congress and gone against the ideology of an United Front.

Roy also opposed the formation of the Socialist Party within the Congress, because that would prevent the Socialist Party from accepting alternatives and would have to necessarily toe Gandhi’s rightist national policies. By remaining within the Congress he argued the Socialist would lose their independence; and also would cease to be effective. And, in case they attempt to oppose Gandhi rather too strongly, they would be thrown out of Congress. That would bring about a divide between the Congress and supporters Socialism, and eventually weaken Congress.

But, Roy’s attempts to unify and to radicalise the Congress did not succeed much because of the disunity among the radical elements. In addition, Gandhi wielded a very strong influence over the majority in congress; and Nehru despite his socialist leaning would always, eventually, abide by Gandhi. Roy could never achieve a break through. The right-wing followers of Gandhi did not relish Roy’s remarks about Gandhi’s leadership; and continued to distrust and looked at him with suspicion.


Nehru  Lu cknow session Congress April 1936

During the period of four years in Congress, Roy looked forward to Nehru for stepping up the process of radicalization in the Congress. Roy had to initiate and carry out his programs through Nehru. Roy and Nehru were perhaps two prominent political leaders who imbibed western values. And, Roy therefore was more comfortable in communicating with Nehru.

Nehru had certain advantages which Roy did not have. Nehru had charismatic personality and had a charming way of dealing with people. He was the top and up-coming leader of the Party. And, it was common knowledge that he was very close to Gandhi and enjoyed his confidence. And, Nehru was gifted with political sense, acumen and pragmatism.

Gandhi, Nehru and Jayaprakash Narayan and other leaders because of their popularity among the masses were able to capture the imagination of the people.


Unlike Nehru, Roy was not a thoroughbred politician. Roy usually went by logic and stated his conclusions to which the arguments led him, without mincing words. Philip Spratt said: Roy undoubtedly was a very astute political thinker; even his opponents recognized that merit of his. However, Spratt felt that Roy wrote for a limited circle which understood his style of thought and his background of ideas, and did not seem concerned about communicating more widely.

For instance; Roy looked at India and more particularly the Indian economy in the context of the world situation. The Right-wing Congress believed that Indian is unique and that foreign and western ideas do not apply to India. Roy had been saying even as early as in 1924, after the effects of the First War became evident, when the British exports to India had fallen to zero level, that in due course a peaceful transfer of political power to Indian hands would take place—not through the magic of ‘soul force’, nor out of the democratic convictions of the British ruling class, but by virtue of a shift of economic power.

He saw a similar situation emerging before and during the Second World War when Churchill became Prime Minister. Roy therefore advised that it would be in India’s interest to adopt a ‘responsible attitude towards War’. Roy felt that the Congress opposition to the war was not principled opposition but was assort of ‘hedging’, trying to be safe in the event of Nazi victory. Roy argued that fascism was most dangerous; and it would be in India’s interest to support British war-efforts.

Roy exhorted his colleagues to prepare for the economic and political reconstruction of independent India. He brought out two documents: ‘People’s plan for reconstruction of independent India’, and ‘A draft Constitution for free India’. Then he predicted that in spite of the pact between Hitler and Soviet Russia, the latter would be drawn into the war. And, it will have its consequences in India.

These and such other ideas of Roy were not palatable to majority in Congress, who looked at him with mistrust.

Dislike of Roy in Congress was also rooted in factors other than ideas.

There was a general belief that there was no future for him in the Congress since he disagreed with Gandhi on certain fundamental issues. And, the rumour that Gandhi had asked the right-wing members to ignore Roy politically was going round as a part of the Party gossip. The majority in Congress loved to believe that Gandhi could never make a mistake; and that Roy could never be correct in his criticism of Gandhi and Gandhism. Perhaps, the truth was  somewhere in between.

Further, Roy was alienated not only by the Congress leaders but also by the Left wing Socialist group of CSP and by the followers of Bose. As regards the communists, they were openly hostile to Roy. And, therefore, Roy in Congress was rather lonely.

During his later years, Roy’s isolation in Congress became more acute. Roy somehow always seemed to be championing unpopular and rather ‘heretic’ causes. He came to be branded as a dissenter from established ‘Congress principles’. Roy because of his views that ran counter to the current popular opinions had to face endless humiliation. Identified with British War efforts, Roy’s anti-Fascism was seen as a treachery by the national leaders and also by the middle –class educated who had strong anti-British feelings. Subhas Bose became a Hero when he led the Indian National Army (INA). But, Roy had to eventually leave Congress, in disillusionment.

Subash Bose INA

Even otherwise, Roy did not have much support from the Congress Organization as such. For Instance:

Anxious to resume political activities and to re-organize his followers, Roy decided to bring out a weekly journal called The Independent India , which was to be an organ of the ‘radical democratic national thought’. In his eagerness to promote the cause of national freedom, Roy felt the urgency of ‘democratising the Congress’ in order to broaden and deepen the social basis of the Congress as a national organization. The key note of his ideal was national freedom which could be attained ‘only through a democratic revolution’

This, of course, could not be a popular idea with the majority right-wing members of Congress.

To make it worse for right-wing, Roy added the idea that Cultural Revolution should precede a political revolution. Thus, his political program included an element which was designed to teach the people that essence of freedom was transformation of the Indian society which would quicken the ‘play of economic and cultural forces and thereby mark the renaissance of India’.

Roy wrote to several Congress leaders seeking financial help for his weekly journal. Gandhi, who obviously was against the ideal of Roy’s proposed journal, refused help. Instead, advised Roy not to take up such an activity for the present. He asked Roy to go around the country and to study it for some time; the reason being that Roy had still much to learn. Roy didn’t quite like the suggestion. But, Nehru too lent a similar advice asking Roy not to dig himself into any particular region, but to remain as an All-India figure. But Roy had decided to concentrate on United Provinces as his field of intensive work.

In April 1937, his weekly Independent India finally appeared and was welcomed by progressive leaders like Bose and Nehru. But, Gandhi, of course, didn’t like it at all.  And, the Indian Communists accused Roy of deviation.


Bose With Mr. & Mrs. M.N. Roy, 1938

Around this time, Ellen Gottschalk the devoted friend and lover of Roy joined Roy in India; and, soon thereafter they were married.  Roy and Ellen settled down in their house at No 13, Mohini Road, Dehra Dun. Ellen lived in that house even after the passing away of Roy (1954) till her last days in 1960. She also became a member of the Indian National Congress.

Roy and Ellen in Congress Party0004

With her arrival and with her support, Roy renewed his efforts to establish direct contact with the trade unions; and, to motivate the student groups to develop  a rational scientific outlook. Roy was one among the few, in those days, to stress upon the need for philosophical revolution. During this period, he published number of books , including his Fascism; Historical Role of Islam; Our Problems ; and, Letters to CSP.


Despite his disadvantaged position, Roy did try to put through his ideas, mainly through Nehru.

: – Nehru, under the influence of Roy, opposed collective affiliation of the workers and peasants organizations as proposed by the socialists. This was in line with Roy’s argument that there was no need for class organizations inside the Congress and the leftists should enter the Congress party only as individual members.

: – At the Faizpur Session of the Congress (1936) Roy suggested through Nehru a large number of resolutions for the welfare of peasants. These included demands for: fifty-percent reduction in land revenue; deferment of recovery of agricultural loans; fixing of adequate minimum wages for agricultural labor; and no new taxes in agriculture.

:- Roy tried to introduce a new method of turning Congress into a Constituent Assembly, following the pattern of French Revolution , and ultimately developing the Congress as a state within a state in order to capture power. After the Faizapur Congress (1936) where Roy had elaborated the idea, it gradually percolated to the ranks of the Congress to a limited extent. The Congress launched the Election campaign and in its manifesto the top thing was “A demand for the Constituent Assembly“. It is believed that the idea gained ground during the August Movement when the Congress leaders were in Jail. But it lost all reality when the communal riots broke out.

Eventually, the demand for Constituent Assembly was accepted by the British in August 1940. On 8 August 1940, a statement was made by Viceroy Lord Linlithgow about the expansion of the Governor-General’s Executive Council and the establishment of a War Advisory Council. This offer, known as the August Offer, included provisions for giving full weight to minority opinions and for allowing Indians to draft their own constitution. 

[ In due course, the Constituent Assembly came into being in 1946. Its members,  who were elected by the provincial assemblies, took up the task of drafting India’ new Constitution. By then Roy was out of active politics. Yet; he sent to the Indian Constituent Assembly his views favoring decentralization, a federal basis to state power, direct election of the state Governors and the recognition of the rights of the minority communities and the regions.]


The parting of ways came when the Second World War broke out.  The Working Committee of the Congress, in September 1939, stated its policy on the Second World War. The Congress declared a policy of opposing imperialism, Nazism and Fascism. It also declared that India would not take part in the war from the side of England. It emphasized that England had denied freedom to her Indian possession in contradiction to her claim that it was fighting for the freedom of the democratic nations. Therefore, the Congress announced that it would not fight for England

With the clouds of War hanging around heavily, Roy understood the great danger of fascism and warned India against it. He even warned the Comintern. However, the Communists in Russia failed to recognize this danger and made a temporary pact with Hitler in August 1939. Roy opposed it. Then he predicted that despite its pact with Hitler, the Soviet Russia would eventually be sucked into the war.

The dreaded War eventually broke out, with Great Britain declaring war against Germany on 03 September 1939. Initially, it was a war among the imperialist powers – Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy on one side, and the imperialist England and France on the other. The complexion of the War changed altogether with Germany attacking Russia in June 1941. With that, the Communists in India who till then crying hoarse for mounting pressure on England now started rooting in support of England.


With the declaration of War – close to Sri Aurobindo’s position** – Roy, in his statement of 06 September 1939, condemned the rising totalitarian Germany and Italy; he supported England and France in their fight against fascism. At that time, Roy’s view was that the war against the Axis powers temporarily took priority over the independence struggle. According to Roy, a victory for Germany and the Axis powers would result in the end of democracy worldwide and India would never be independent. He predicted that after the war the Britishers would leave the country. In his view India could win her freedom only in a free world.

At that time, the general feeling in the Congress that the war was neither its making nor did it concern India. But, the initial reaction of Gandhi and Nehru was to lend support to England in her war against Nazi Germany. Later, after a series of discussions and much circumspection, the Congress revised its initial move. It resisted Viceroy’s action of involving India in the War without consulting the Central Legislative Assembly. Ignoring Roy’s plea, the Congress began withdrawing from the Provinces, allowing walk-over to Muslim League, which at that time was an insignificant force.  By the middle of November 1939, all the Congress ministers had resigned. The Muslim League lost no time to fill in the vacuum, just as the Government, pressed by the exigencies of the War, was looking for popular support.

[  ** Both Gandhi and Sri Aurobindo regarded the Bhagavad-Gita as a fundamental text; and, studied it diligently . But, on the question of lending support to the British in the war against the Nazis, their interpretations of the Gita differed vastly and led them to opposite positions.  Gandhi opposed the invitation from the British Government to the leaders of the Indian National movement to fight for the Allies in exchange for Indian Independence after the War.  Among other things, he cited his principle of non-violence as the reason for not agreeing to go for a War. Further, in a highly controversial letter addressed to Martin Buber during the gruesome period of the holocaust of the Jews, he advised that it would be better in the long term if the Jews practiced non-violence in response to their exterminators.

In contrast, Sri Aurobindo viewed Nazis as agents of ’negative spiritual forces’ in the world working against the evolution of humanity towards freedom and dignity. He called upon Indian people to support the war efforts of the British in their just fight against the Nazis.

I am not sure which of these two positions – of Gandhi or of Sri Aurobindo- is nearer to the true teaching of the Bhagavad-Gita..! ]

Roy advised the Congress to rise above national prejudices and to work for the success of the forces ranged against Fascism. But his cry was in vain. When the Congress decided not to continue the ministerial offices  in protest against the British War policy , it was Roy who alone insisted on retaining the office on the plea of wielding the strategic position within the State machinery.

Roy’s line was clearly different from that of the mainstream of the national liberation movement; and, he became highly unpopular with the nationalists. In order to convince his critics, including his own associates, Roy prepared a thesis explaining how it was not a war among imperialists; but was a war to defeat Fascism – the most dangerous and destructive.

During May 1940, Roy organized a study–camp for  his group- League for Radical Congressmen-  at his residence in Dehra Dun , clarifying his views on the war  from various perspectives ; and outlining the approach to be taken by the League at the Congress sessions and meetings.


In the mean time, during March 1940, Roy contested for the post of the President of the Indian National Congress. He was aware his chances of winning the election were next to nothing. Yet, he did so in order to assert the right of the dissidents to contest for the highest post in the Party; and, to press for the change in the leadership. The campaign, he thought, would also provide him a platform to publicize his views on war and such other issues. The majority of the left-groups too didn’t support Roy. He managed to pool about ten-percent of the votes cast. But, by then he had drifted away from the main stream of Congress.


As the war entered into its second year, Roy was deeply distressed by the prospect of Europe descending into barbarism with the Nazi invasion. Roy during this period wrote poignant articles bemoaning the fate that had befallen Europe and France in particular. Those articles were later put together in his book whither Europe?

Deeply distressed by attack on France, Roy suggested to Congress to observe 14 July, the French Revolution Day, to demonstrate India’s sympathy and solidarity with France under attack from the Nazis.  The suggestion was rejected as inappropriate. Thereafter, when AICC met in Poona, Roy submitted a resolution calling for active participation in the struggle against Fascism. And, that resolution was also turned down.

It was at this AICC session on 27-28 July 1940   in Poona presided over by Maulana Azad that Congress made what came to be known as ‘Poona Offer’  , offering conditional support for the British war efforts, provided the British Government promised to give freedom to India after the War. The object of Congress was to put pressure on British and devise ways of negotiations with its Governments in India and in England. The principle of no-violence and its ethics did not figure much at Poona session.

The ‘Poona Offer’ of the Congress was countered by the ‘August Offer’ 8 August 1940 of the Viceroy Lord Linlithgow, which stated two conditions: the British obligations must be fulfilled; and the minority opinions must not be overrun. The Congress was unable to decide.


The League of Radical Congressmen – (which Roy had started in 1939 following expulsion of Bose from Congress) – decided to organize anti-fascist demonstration on 1 September 1940 as the anniversary of the declaration of war. The Congress prohibited the demonstration; and, ordered Roy and his followers to stop any further move in that direction.  Despite the UP Congress directive, the League of Radical Congressmen went ahead with its demonstration, as programmed. The UP Congress charged all demonstrators on grounds of   indiscipline   for violating party –order. Then, disciplinary action was instituted against the demonstrators by suspending them. The UP Congress Committee expelled their leader Roy. The expulsion was later withdrawn; and Roy was allowed to resign from the Congress.  Roy resigned from Congress in October 1940. That brought to an end the association of Roy and the Radical group with the Indian National Congress.

After coming  out of the Indian National Congress , Roy  converted   his group – the League of Radical Congressmen  into  his own new  party,  the Radical Democratic Party (RDP) , in December 1940.


By the end of 1941, the World War had extended to the East.  Japanese had reached up to the Eastern borders of India after conquering Singapore. Burma fell to Japanese on 7 March 1942. India’s position became alarmingly vulnerable.

Roy argued that the defense of the country was the duty and responsibility of its citizens. The foreign government might or might not fight the aggressor or it might abandon and just go away. But, the citizen and their leaders cannot be so callous. We have to fight invader; and fight alongside with the British-Indian forces.

At this juncture, the President of USA, Franklin D. Roosevelt asked England to enlist the support of Indians in it’s the war efforts. With the threat of the Japanese looming large and with Roosevelt’s pressure, England tried to solicit the support of the Indians in her war efforts.  Thereafter, the British Wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, at the War Cabinet, on 11 March 1942, agreed to send Sir Stafford Cripps to India with a ‘reasonable and practical’ plan.

Sir Stafford Cripps (a senior left-wing politician and government minister in the War Cabinet of Prime Minister  Churchill)  arrived in India in late March 1942 with a promise to give dominion status after the war,  as well as elections to be held after the war, in exchange for Indian cooperation and support for British efforts in World War. He discussed his proposal with the majority Nationalist leaders as also with the minority Muslims led by M A Jinnah. Cripps’s proposal, it is said, was too radical for the British Government; and too conservative for the Indians. No middle was found. Both the parties in India rejected Cripps proposal. Gandhi had called Cripps’s proposal as “post dated cheque on a crumbling bank”.

After the failure of the Cripps’s mission, Congress launched the Quit India movement on 09 August 1942, refusing to cooperate in the war effort and demanding an end to British Rule of India. There was an anticipation that the failure of the Cripps mission coming coupled with  the Japanese intrusion would render the British vulnerable to pressure  of the Quit India  movement , and they might succumb to it.

The British responded by imprisoning practically the entire Congress leadership for the duration of the war. Jinnah was pleased to see that the right to opt out of a future Union was included in the negotiations. He exploited it later.  The British had the support of the Viceroy’s Council (which had a majority of Indians), of the All India Muslim League, the Communist Party, the princely states, the Indian Imperial Police, the British Indian Army and the Indian Civil Service. Many Indian businessmen profiting from heavy wartime spending did not support Quit India.

The only outside support came from the Americans, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt pressured Prime Minister Winston Churchill to give in to some of the Indian demands. The Quit India campaign was effectively crushed. The British refused to grant immediate independence, saying it could happen only after the war against the Axis powers had ended.


Roy, of course, approved neither the Congress stand nor the call for Quit India movement.

Early in December 1942, Roy made a forecast the ‘end of the war is in sight’. As per his analysis, as a consequence of the war the imperialism as a system exploiting the backward countries would cease; and , political power would be transferred to Indians soon after the war was over.

Sensing India’s freedom to be a post-War reality following the defeat of the Axis powers and the weakening of British Imperialism, Roy wrote a series of articles in Independent India on the economic and political structures of new India. He drafted a concrete Ten-Year Plan, a People’s Plan of Economic Development (1943) in which primacy was given to employment generation through improvement in agriculture and developments of small-scale industry. He also presented a Draft Constitution of Free India (1944), a road-map for decentralized and participatory democracy.


India had always prominently figured in Roy’s programs, right from his early revolutionary years, and while he was in Comintern and even after he was out of it.  While he was in Comintern, Roy built, and monitored from distance the Communist Party of India ; set up and guided groups of Workers and Peasants. And, as regards the Congress, he was regularly sending his economic programs to the Annual Sessions of the Indian National Congress. Soon after was expelled from Comintern, Roy took the risk of coming to India, fully aware of the dangers it involved. His direct influence on Congress policies was visible in the Karachi session of 1931 which carried out the resolution on Fundamental Rights and Economic Policy, though his original draft-resolution was somewhat compromised

His efforts to organize Peoples Party in India failed; and he finally abandoned the plan when he saw several positive radical changes taking place within the Congress leadership from 1929 onward. Thereafter, he sought to strengthen the hands of the radical elements in order to indirectly capture the leadership of the Congress. To him, the Congress, at that time, appeared to be platform of all classes, but dominated by upper middle class bourgeois. Hence, he tried to build an ‘alternative leadership’, by himself entering the Congress in 1936.

As a member of the Congress, Roy  did work very hard , despite the odds and hostilities he had to face, to radicalize Congress  programs and to develop the Congress into an United Front for all parties, segments and groups to come together to fight for Indian independence and to ensure economic freedom for its masses. Roy, sadly, did not succeed in any of those ventures. When he was eventually turned out of Congress, Roy was disillusioned with the whole political process. 

The period leading up to the end of war was one of disintegration, in Indian politics.

Within the Congress party there were several groups such as the right-wing Gandhi followers; the left oriented admirers of Jawaharlal Nehru; the followers of Subash Bose who tried to make a synthesis of Socialism, Fascism and Nationalism; the bemused Congress Socialist Party led by Jayaprakash Narayan; the Communists of various shades; the trade unions some owing allegiance to Congress and some to Communist party; and there was Roy’s own group called League of Radical Congressmen. By the end of the War, the majority right-wing followers of Gandhi systematically expelled all other groups professing various shades of other ideologies. Eventually, Congress turned into a right-wing bourgeois organization under the hegemony an all-powerful high command.

It was everything that Roy dreaded.

Outside of the Congress also, the Left wing parties could not unite. The Left–wing was in total disarray during the Second World War, and hopelessly failed to influence the Indian politics.  The Communists, the Left-wing parties and Socialists all further broke into splinter groups. The Socialists Parties created their own wilderness. And, the Communist Party suffered from excessive external controls and conflicting policy directions from Comintern. The question of nationalism was never really resolved. The Communist in India broke into sects each hating the other.

And, Roy who pioneered communist movement in India and who was intimately involved in building communist groups and guiding their policies and methods, was sidelined by communists, the socialists and the congress alike. Roy was not a successful person in the ordinary sense of the term, as Samaren Roy writes, by the time he died in January 1954, he was a forgotten man.

Roy is said to have remarked: I am not quite satisfied any longer with political activities. I can now do other work according to my inclinations…I feel my leaving the party will be good for me and to the party.

M N Roy the person who always looked ahead did not fail to foresee his own bleak future. He had admitted long before that he was practically doomed to fail, because he was ‘politically’ isolated in India. ’He had, however, the conviction that his isolation was indeed the isolation of pioneers, which might not be pleasant but ‘historically necessary’. Roy exhorted his followers to have ‘the courage of pioneering’. Like Sri Aurobindo who was an extremist in politics and later chose to be a philosopher; Roy too seemed to have lost interest in traditional politics; and with the dawn of Independence he emerged wholly as a political philosopher.

Let’s talk of Roy’s thoughts on political philosophy and other subjects such as Radical Humanism, in the next part.

M N Roy Bengal Provential congress 1938



Next Part



Sources and References

M N Roy by V B Karnik

M.N. Roy: A Political Biography by Samaren Roy

Leftism in India Ch.9-11 by S M Ganguli

Socialism of Jawaharlal Nehru by Rabindra Chandra Dutt

Elites in south Asia Indian Political Thought: Themes and Thinkers  Edited by Mahendra Prasad Singh, Himanshu Roy

Sources of Indian Tradition: Modern India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh  by Rachel Fell McDermott

The Mahatma and the Ism  by E. M. S. Namboodiripad

Elections after Government of India Act 1935

M.N. Roy – Marxism and Colonial Cosmopolitanism: by Kris Manjapra

 Pictures are from Internet


Posted by on January 20, 2016 in M N Roy


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MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts – Part 20


 Continued from Part 19

Into the Congress

M N Roy joined Congress after release

On the evening of 20 November 1936 (the day of his release from prison) Roy formally joined the Indian National Congress at Dehra Dun. While speaking to the local Press on that occasion, Roy urged Indian Communists to join Indian National Congress to radicalize it; and, said: ‘the Anglo-Indian Press might project my joining the Indian National Congress as evidence of the Congress going Red. No, the Congress is not going Red; the Communists as determined fighters for the freedom of India, on the other hand, are joining the ranks of Congress. I personally have also been persistently defending Congress, though I could not always agree with some details of its policy and found it necessary to express my disagreement in critical terms…..

I am determined to show to the people of India that Communists are not alien elements within the body-politics of India, but are the sons of soil fighting at the vanguard of the army of national freedom under the banner of Indian National Congress, which is our common platform….

My message to the fellow-victims of imperialism is to rally in millions under the flag of the Indian National Congress as a determined army fighting for democratic freedom….. And so on”


Roy left for Lucknow the next day and thereafter reached Allahabad for rest and recuperation at Nehru’s home.  He stayed with Nehru for about a week. From there, Roy went to Bombay where a reception was accorded to him by his followers and the socialists. At that reception, Roy mentioned that he proposed to place before the Congress at its Faizpur session   to be held a month later  (27 and 28 December 1936) a new scheme to consolidate the leftist forces and radicalize the congress organization. Here, he also dwelt on his concept of Constituent Assembly, of which he had been talking about since 1927.

According to Roy, the Congress should transform itself into a Constituent Assembly, following the pattern of French Revolution; and should function as a state within the state. And thereby, it should strive to replace the alien Government by forming the Indian peoples’ Government; and , ultimately capture power.

KK Sinha in his Ideology and politics in India (1973 writes that Roy, while at Bombay, was closeted – for more than about two hours – by three  senior right wing leaders of the Congress Party : Sardar Patel , Babu Rajendra Prasad  and Bhulabhai Desai  They placed before Roy a bizarre offer. They promised Roy that his financial needs for his weekly would be taken care of ;  he would be accorded the position of pre-eminent Leftist leader in the Congress; and , he would also be made a member of the  Congress Working Committee (CWC)  provided he accepted Gandhi as his sole leader and that he would act in opposing or as a counterweight to Nehru who was going ‘far too left’ to the discomfiture of the majority in the Party . If things go well, they even promised to make Roy the President of INC in place of Nehru, if Gandhi approved.

Roy of course refused to accept the bait and declined the offer. He thereafter conveyed (through a special messenger  )  to Nehru  who  was the President-Elect of the Faizpur Session, the substance of the conversation he had and the offer made to him by the senior right wing leaders. Roy also assured Nehru that he had no intention of opposing him; and that he had come to India and into the Congress, mainly, to work with him.

And, true to his word, during his period of about four years in Congress (October 1936-November 1940), Roy worked along with Nehru and looked forward to Nehru for stepping up the process of radicalization in the Congress. Roy and Nehru were perhaps the only two prominent political leaders in Congress who imbibed western values.


On the eve of the Faizpur session, Roy had his first meeting with Gandhi. They had a lengthy conversation for over ninety minutes. During their prolonged discussion each tried to convince and persuade the other to   appreciate his point of view. Gandhi explained his plan to rejuvenate the dying village industries to rouse mass consciousness and to invoke the zeal for freedom. Roy, on the other hand, tried to convince Gandhi of his ideas about how to bring the Congress into a closer contact with the masses through political education. He said, raising such issues would side track the main object, the creation of an united anti-imperialist front for the achievement of Independence. Towards the end of their discussion, Roy promised Gandhi to reduce to writing his thoughts on the ways to strength the Congress, so that Gandhi might persuade the CWC to adopt a resolution based upon his script.

Gandhi clearly pointed out that while the achievement of Independence was the objective of both, they differed on methods. At the end of their talks the two agreed to disagree on certain fundamental questions.

At the conclusion of their talk, Gandhi invited Roy to his evening-prayer meeting; and explained to him the need for the prayer , the power and virtues of prayer and what it meant to him .Roy politely declined to join the prayer meet.

KK Sinha in his Ideology and politics in India (1973; page 253) writes “After Faizapur Congress, when pressed by his disciples of the Sabarmati Ashram to tell his reaction to the conversation he had with Roy, Gandhi advised them to completely ignore Roy as if he did not exist politically; for Roy appeared to him too dangerous a man even to be criticized.  “He strikes at my very roots” concluded Gandhi.


[Before we move further, we may briefly talk about the relations that existed between Gandhi and Roy during the years that Roy was in Congress.

Roy had enormous respect to Gandhi – as person. But , differed with Gandhi on many issues.

While Roy was in Congress, he could not get on well with Gandhi.  The dislike was mutual.

Gandhi advised his followers to completely ignore Roy as if he did not exist politically; for Roy appeared to him too dangerous a man even to be criticized. And, when Roy tried to push through his radical ideas, Gandhi bitingly advised him, through his letter dated 27 July 1937,  to stay out of Indian politics, and just “render mute service “

Dear Friend, I entirely agree with you that every Congressman should fearlessly express the opinion he holds after due deliberation. You ask me how you can best serve the Congress. Since you are new to the organization, I should say you would serve it best by mute service. Segaon, Wardha. The 27th July 1937.

On another occasion, when Roy wrote to several leaders seeking financial help for his weekly journal, Gandhi advised Roy not to take up such an activity for the present. He instead advised Roy to go around the country and to study it for some time. Roy didn’t quite like the suggestion. During the whole time that Roy was in Congress, Gandhi never once consulted Roy on any issue.

As regards Roy, even as early 1920-21, he had maintained that Gandhi was religious revivalist; and he was bound to be a reactionary, however revolutionary he might appear politically. In contrast, Lenin believed that Gandhi, as inspirer and leader of the mass movement and a revolutionary. The role and place of Gandhi in anti-imperialism was crucial to the difference between Roy and Lenin.

Roy also could not appreciate Gandhi’s views on celibacy (Brahmacharya), shunning alcohol, and advocating total non-violence.  Gandhi’s stand on un-touchability, according to Roy, was also suspect (this was also the view of Dr. Ambedkar). Roy remarked that sermons might have some propaganda value; but beyond that they hardy were of any use. Roy pointed out that Gandhi’s programs of similar nature were, basically, verbal, couched in sentiments rather than effective programs involving masses and appealing to their immediate interests. As regards untouchability, what was required, he said, was ‘constant campaign coupled with modes and changes in personal relationships by challenging unhealthy prejudices’.

He was also against Gandhi’s insistence of compulsory Charka (home-spun) movement. Roy pointed out that ‘sentiments can keep a movement going for a certain limited length of time, but it cannot last longer unless fed with more substantial factors’. Gandhi’s Charka movement, Roy observed, was based on hollow economic logic; it was not economically viable; and therefore Charka’s fate was sealed. Roy reminded how during the Ahmadabad Session of the Congress (December 1921), Pandit Motilal Nehru and Deshbandhu C. R. Das had also rejected Gandhi’s resolution for compulsory spinning; and how Motilal Nehru had thundered:’ We decline to make a fetish of the spinning wheel or to subscribe to the doctrine that only through that wheel can we obtain ‘swaraj…Discipline is desirable, but it is not discipline for the majority to expel the minority. We are unable to forget our manhood and our self-respect and to say that we are willing to submit to Gandhi’s orders. The Congress is as much ours as of our opponents.’

Roy also did not agree with Gandhi’s theory of ‘Trusteeship’; he said, it was neither realistic nor practical. Capitalism, he said, will not collapse because of the sentiments; but will fall because of its own contradictions.

Gandhi with Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel

However, Roy’s main critique of Gandhi , as a leader of Congress , was that he and his inner circle imposed their tactics from above on the rank and file; and that they had turned Congress Working Committee of Gandhi’s handpicked followers into  an “authoritarian dictatorial” High-Command. He found it akin to the inner working coterie of the Comintern. Roy kept asking: Why is it that Gandhi did not like to consult people outside his circle, even when intellectuals including his friends advised him to do so?  Why did Gandhi summarily reject such advice?

 Later, when Roy said: “When political power is concentrated in the hands of a small community, you may have a façade of parliamentary democracy, but for all political purposes it will be a dictatorship, even if it may be paternal and benevolent”, he perhaps also had Gandhi in his mind.

Roy wanted  the Congress not to be completely swayed away by the influence of Gandhi and of the bourgeois .The Congress, according to him , was a mass nationalist movement , a symbol of united national front. . It was not the party of any particular class or group.

[But, at the same time, both Roy and Nehru recognized that Gandhi was central to the unity and the very existence of Congress; and, without Gandhi the Congress would lose its mass appeal. Nehru, despite his differences with Gandhi, stayed on with Gandhi in the larger interests of the Party and the National movement. Roy, however, a restless new comer to the Party moved along his own convictions.]



Roy was particularly irked by the shabby treatment he meted out to Subhash Chandra Bose.

Subhash Bose was unanimously elected as the President of the Congress at Haripura session in 1938.

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel had selected Haripura, near Kadod town, around 13 kilometres north east of Bardoli, in the Surat district of Gujarat, for the 51st convention of the Indian National Congress to be held at Vitthal Nagar, between February 19 to 22, 1938. And, 51 Bullocks’ chariot were decorated for this occasion.  Gandhi placed the noted painter, Nandalal Bose as in-charge for creating a unique environment infused with rural art and craft, for the annual session at Haripura. As a significant component of this huge public art campaign, Nandalal created set of seven posters, which were later to become famous as ‘Haripura posters’, celebrating the Indian rural life and culture, in vibrant earthy colors and bold, energetic lines. These depicted rural subjects like Hunters, Musicians, Bull Handlers, Carpenter, Smiths, Spinner, Husking women and modest scenes of rural life including animal rearing, child-nursing and cooking.

Bull Handler - Haripura PosterHunter

dhaki (1) cooking

It is said; the film director, JBH Wadia, of Wadia Movietone Studio, made a full feature length documentary of the Haripura Congress.

By 1938, Jawahar Lal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose had emerged as candid spokespersons of the Congress. By the same time, Congress had divided among two groups based upon the conservative and radical ideologies. Subash Chandra Bose was quite critical of  the  conservative ideology of compromise advocated by  Gandhi.

Bose was keen on developing the power of resistance among the people of India, in order to force the British Government to abandon imposing the federal scheme on Indians.

During the 1938 Haripura session differences arose between Gandhi and Bose on the question of attitude to be adopted towards the Great Britain. Subhash Chandra Bose was against the plan of the British to drag India into the Second World War. He was aware of the political instability of Britain and wanted to take advantage of it, rather than wait for the British to grant independence. Which is evident from his statement: Britain’s Peril is India’s Opportunity.

In the Haripura session, at the instance of Subash Bose, a resolution was passed, whereunder, an ultimatum of six months was given to the British to quit, failing which there would be a revolt.

This meant that Subhash did not endorse the nonviolence and Satyagraha tactics of Gandhi to throw the British away. And, this was something Gandhi could not digest.

Subhash Chandra Bose Haripura congress

Subhash Chandra Bose, in his presidential address outlined his policy ; and, stressed the revolutionary potential of the Congress Ministries formed in seven Provinces.:

 “My term of office as the Congress President will be devoted to resist the unwanted federal scheme; will all the peaceful and legitimate powers, including non-violence and non-cooperation if necessary and to strengthen the country’s determination to resist this scheme”.

The resolution caused a great divide between Gandhi and Bose. And, Nehru naturally followed Gandhi; and, distanced himself from Bose. The differences grew further when Subhash Chandra Bose organized a National Planning Committee. The idea was to draw a comprehensive plan for economic development of India on the basis of Industrialization. It was against the Charkha policy of Gandhi.

[ For more on Haripura congress session, please check the following links : ]

 Bose NehruBose president in 1938

In 1939, Subhash Chandra Bose decided to contest again – this time as the spokesperson of militant politics and radical groups representing the ‘new ideas, ideologies, problems and programs’.

The election for the post of the President of the Indian National Congress was announced in January 1939. Subhash Bose contested the election against Gandhi’s chosen nominee. The result of the election was announced on 29 January 1939. And, Subhash Bose had won the election by polling 1580 votes as against his opponent’s 1377 votes. Gandhi was very annoyed and took his nominee’s defeat as his personal defeat. Gandhi and his disciples brought a charge of indiscipline against Bose. Roy wondered: what act of indiscipline Bose had committed, except that he contested the poll against Gandhi’s candidate?!

The re-election of Bose as the President irked both the Right and Left wings of the Congress. While the Right Wing viewed with alarm the election of Bose and the consolidation of Left forces around him as being a challenge to their leadership; the Left wing which was obsessed with ‘seizure of power’ found Bose not entirely to their liking.  Had the Left wing succeeded in its attempt it would have meant ‘a minority leadership’; and that would have split the Congress

The constitution of Congress did not provide for the removal of the President and the delegates vote was something which could not be reversed. The Congress Working committee was still controlled by the followers of Gandhi. Thus, Subhash might reign but could not rule. Gandhi, it is said, planned his moves against Subhash with utmost care.

Gandhi saw to it that Bose did not function effectively as the Congress President.  Soon after the election, most of the members of the Congress Working Committee resigned, en mass, creating an artificial crisis in the Congress working. Twelve of the fifteen members of the Working Committee resigned, in order, as they explained, to leave a free field for Bose; and also on the grounds that they felt that in his election campaign he had cast aspersions on their bona fides. Jawaharlal Nehru also resigned from the Working Committee, though with a separate statement explaining his special viewpoint (which he  said will fully explain in a booklet titled “Where Are We?”)

The Annual Session of the  Congress for 1939 which opened on 10 March 1939 in Tripuri, a small village in the Jabalpur District of Central Province (now Madhya Pradesh), was presided over by Subhash Chandra Bose. He was at that time seriously ill, running a temperature of 104* F . Yet, he insisted on attending the session, saying ‘I would rather die here in Narmada that be shifted to a hospital in Jabalpur’. He was brought to the Session by ambulance with his niece Ila Bose as nurse, and attended by Dr. and Mrs. Sunil Bose and his mother, from his Elgin Road house to Howrah station.

Gandhi’s followers insisted that Subash Bose should be certified as being truly ill and made sure that ‘he was not hiding onions under his arm pits’. Only after Dr .Gilder, the Health Minister in Bombay Cabinet confirmed and certified that Bose was running a high fever, they were silenced.

Bose Addressing the A.I.C.C. session, 1939

Subhash Chandra Bose presided over the Subject Committee Session reclining on a mattress spread over the dais. At the session, the followers of Gandhi were a formidable group, while Bose’s supporters were soft and not well organized. Gandhi did not attend the Session at Tripuri ,citing the  activities in the princely state of Rajkot as being important than the Congress session. But his followers were determined not to allow Bose to function effectively as the Congress President

Govind Ballab Pant, a veteran Congressman moved a resolution (believed to have been drafted by Gandhi himself) asserting complete faith in Gandhi’s leadership and vesting in him the powers not only to nominate but also to overrule the decisions of the Congress Working Committee. The Pant resolution said: “ In view of the critical situation that may develop ….Gandhi alone can lead the Congress and the country in victory during such a crisis , the Congress regards  it as imperative that the Congress executive should command his implicit confidence and requests the president to nominate the Working Committee in accordance with the wishes of Gandhiji”. 

When the proposal was presented to the Session, the Congress Socialist Party (CSP) led by Jayaprakash Narayan (who usually supported Bose) chose to remain silent and neutral , though the CPI group within the CSP wanted to vote against the resolution. The CS deserted Bose right when he most needed their support. The Pant resolution was passed; and Bose’s fate in Congress was sealed.

R.M. Pal in his Gandhi, Democracy, and Days of Struggle: Political Scientists Views on M N Roy discusses: “Why did Bose allow Pant resolution to be raised knowing that it was unconstitutional and undemocratic? Bose later explained to Gandhi in a letter written on 25 March 1939 that he could have vetoed this proposal but did not do so because his democratic outlook had the priority over the issue of constitutional validity. He also wrote, “I felt it would be unmanly to take shelter behind the constitution at a time when I felt that there was the possibility of an adverse vote”.

Lying on the sick-bed in the Camp, Subash Bose wrote his Presidential address, the briefest in Congress history. He warned that an imperialist war would break out in Europe within six months. He demanded that the Congress should deliver a six – month ultimatum to Britain; and, in the event of its rejection a country-wide struggle for ‘Poorna Swaraj’ should be launched.

Bose announcing his resignation

His warning and advice went unheeded, and what was worse, his powers as President were sought to be curtailed. He therefore resigned from his President’s post in April 1939; and in May 1939 announced the formation of the Forward Bloc within the Congress.

In August1939, Bose was removed from the Presidency of the Bengal Provincial Congress Committee, and further debarred from holding any elective office in the Congress for a period of three years (some believe that Gandhi himself drafted this resolution) . In September 1939 war broke out in Europe, and Bose’s prophecy at Tripuri came true almost to the very day.

Gandhi, however, claimed that he loved Subhash as a son, but his love which was as soft as a rose could also be harder than flint. But for the act of Gandhi and his followers in throwing out Bose from the Congress, things might have been different, in that Gandhi might not have remained the absolute leader for a long time.

 With the expulsion of Subhash Bose the ingredients, the complexion and nature of Congress also changed. The party till then was an umbrella organization, sheltering radical socialists, traditionalists, and Hindu and Muslim conservatives.  But ,between 1939-42  , along with Subhas Chandra Bose , the socialist groups  including the Congress Socialist Party (CSP) , Krishak Praja Party, and Swarajya Party, were all expelled from Congress . It is believed this was done at the instance of Gandhi. It was now almost entirely a right-wing organization. 


This was totally opposite to Roy’s vision of Congress as the vanguard of the army of national freedom, a common platform and the United Front for those striving for India’s freedom and social restructuring.

With the sidelining of Subhash Bose the Right-wing Gandhian asserted its complete control over the Congress. That prompted Roy to get together his followers within the Congress; and, to bunch them into a group called League For Radical Congressmen, on May Day 1939, at Calcutta.  Its inaugural session was held in Poona in June 1939. Though its program was basically that of Congress, it demanded more energetic action for realizing its aims; and, in the process advocated change in the leadership at the top. That truly angered the majority in Congress.

Subash Bose 2

Roy was also unhappy with Gandhi’s opposition to the Allied War effort. And, at the same time Roy broke definitively with the Bengal politicians with his opposition to Subhas Bose’s involvement with Hitler’s Nazis. Roy warned “that the evil of fascism knows no boundaries”. Roy was thus isolated from the right-wing Gandhi followers, the supporters of Subhas Bose and even from the CSP of JP Narayan.

Philip Spratt, a renowned Communist in his days and a journalist, noted that Roy’s approach to Gandhism “seems that of an outsider, an unsympathetic foreigner”. He had failed to make his criticism intelligible to the Indian reader. “He has never tried to get under the skin of the Mahatma or his admirers, to see where that extraordinary power comes from,” Spratt said.

In 1937, while in Congress, Roy was perhaps closer to Marx than to Gandhi. He contended that political independence alone does not amount to freedom, since it lacks the economic rights and opportunities for the masses. In the first issue of his weekly The Independent India, Roy wrote under the heading National Freedom that ‘political freedom is not the end, it is the means to an end, which is the radical transformation of the Indian society… The required changes in the social structure of our country will be brought about primarily through transfer of ownership of the land to the cultivator’. ‘And once this is attained ‘ he said’ the transformation will be complete by the rapid growth of modern mechanized industry , guarantee  to the cultivator of the entire product of his labor; abolition of all privileges; and wide distribution of the newly created wealth’. Roy thus conceived freedom in terms of sweeping economic reforms.

Gandhi claimed to recognize the importance of economic reform; but the emphasized the ‘moral’ aspect of freedom. Gandhi thus preferred to use the term ‘Swaraj’ which for him combined in itself not only Self-rule but also Self-control. This view of freedom dominated Indian national tradition. Earlier,  Sri Aurobindo had also distinguished the internal (moral) and external (political and economic) freedom. Swami Vivekananda had summed it by saying: one may gain political free and social independence, but if one is a slave to his passions and desires, one cannot feel the pure joy of real freedom’.

Interestingly, Roy in his later years revised his view of Freedom. He now believed that the motives of freedom, fraternity and order along with moral motive characterized true social revolution and Freedom. The moral motive, he said, was essential to build a strong and durable order as it ensures honesty and transparency in working of the system. In his “New Humanism” or the new philosophy of revolution, Roy went on to elaborate the idea. According to Roy, freedom does not necessarily follow from the capture of political power in the name of the oppressed and the exploited classes and abolition of private property in the means of production. For creating a new world of freedom, says Roy, revolution must go beyond an economic reorganization of society. A political system and an economic experiment which subordinate the man of flesh and blood to an imaginary collective ego, be it the nation or class, cannot possibly be, in Roy’s view, the suitable means for the attainment of the goal of freedom .

Years later, Roy was highly impressed by Gandhi moving away from power-zone immediately after India attained Independence. He appreciated Gandhi’s one-man peace mission to Bengal to douse the flames of communal riots, while celebrations were going on Delhi. Roy respected Gandhi’s moral power. The news of Gandhi’s assassination reached Roy while he was delivering a talk at Calcutta. He was deeply shocked, thoroughly disturbed and could not continue with his talk; and ended the meeting with tributes to Gandhi. In his article published in Independent India, Roy paid glowing tributes to Gandhi, stressing on Gandhi’s message that the end does not justify means.

The scholar Shri RM Pal , in his article written as apart of his ‘Research project on Gandhi and MN  Roy‘ published in The Mainstream Weekly of 10 July 2010 wrote :

On the face of it Gandhi and Roy would seem to represent two entirely opposite trends and points of view in modern history, especially in modern Indian politics…….. However, a closer view of these two very outstanding Indians suggests that contrariness notwithstanding, they may also have significant affinities which may provide clues not only to their respective personalities and careers but also to the historical context in which they lived and worked. They were both unambiguously committed to their respective ideals and brought into politics a moral dimension, which is hard to find in India today. Towards the end of his life Roy recognized in Gandhi the presence of certain rare qualities of spirit which characterized his own personality and which rarely survived the stresses and strains of a political career. Certain affinities between Gandhi and Roy in his last phase have been noted by political analysts ]


Bose stamp



Next Part

Sources and References

M N Roy by V B Karnik

M.N. Roy: A Political Biography by Samaren Roy

Leftism in India Ch.9-11 by S M Ganguli

Socialism of Jawaharlal Nehru by Rabindra Chandra Dutt

Elites in south Asia Indian Political Thought: Themes and Thinkers  Edited by Mahendra Prasad Singh, Himanshu Roy

Sources of Indian Tradition: Modern India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh by Rachel Fell McDermott

The Mahatma and the Ism  by E. M. S. Namboodiripad

Elections after Government of India Act 1935

M.N. Roy – Marxism and Colonial Cosmopolitanism: by Kris Manjapra

Pictures are from Internet

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Posted by on January 20, 2016 in M N Roy


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MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts – Part 19


Continued from Part 18

The Prison Years

The Statesman of Bombay in its edition of Wednesday 22 July 1931 reported that the Indian revolutionary and communist M N Roy was arrested at Bombay at about 5.00 A M, early in the morning, on   21 July 1931. It was reported that at the time the police rushed in with pistols in hand, Roy was asleep in a  third-floor of a Chawl in a working-class neighborhood; and he was awakened from sleep; and asked if he was M N Roy.  And when he replied in positive, he was arrested. Roy did not resist and calmly went with the police.

Mn Roy after release from Jail 19360002

Roy was arrested for the charges that were framed against him seven years ago, in absentia, in the Cawnpore – Bolshevik Conspiracy Case of 1924. Roy was charged under Section 121-A of the Indian Penal Code, “conspiring to deprive the King Emperor of his sovereignty in India.”

Justice R A Jahagirdar (Retd) in his article The Trial of M. N. Roy  explains that the relevant section the Indian Penal Code is widely worded. Section 121 as it then ( in 1930)  stood was as follows:  “Whoever wages war against the Government of India or attempts to wage such war or abets the waging such war shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine” .

But the charges filed against Roy citing his alleged crimes said to he have been committed during 1924. But, during that time, Roy was not resident in India. He was, therefore, booked under Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code.

Section 124-A…  “Whoever by words, either spoken or intended to be read—-attempts to excite feelings of disaffection to the Government established by law in British India shall be punished with……”.

[Here, Justice R A Jahagirdar remarks: Some observations are in order. The offence Sedition did not mean that the person be made punishable for mere use of words but when the words used are tantamount to disorder or disaffection. Section 124-A, even as it then stood, punished when the words used the character of action. The Section has been amended several times and has been the subject matter of decisions of the Privy Council and the Supreme Court of India.]


On his arrest, Roy was detained in custody for more than eleven days, during which a large number of arrests were made all over the country on charges of harboring Roy. Those arrested on such charges, included workers of the Indian National Congress; the Trade Union leaders ; members of the executive committee of the Bombay Nawjuwan Bharath Sabha ( a youth organization);  and , Ms. Louise Geissler of Germany, a close friend of Roy from his Comintern days.  (She had arrived in Bombay sometime in May. The police who knew of her departure from Europe were following movements her closely.)

While Roy was held in custody, no one, not even his lawyers (including Jawaharlal Nehru) was allowed to meet or communicate with him. No newspapers and journals were allowed. Telegrams, Letters addressed by Roy and his supporters to Ramsay MacDonald (the British Prime Minister) , the  members of the British Parliament and other eminent persons  were withheld. The contention of the British Government was that Roy was plotting to use his trial ‘for seditious and revolutionary purposes harmful to the State’; and therefore has to be contained.

Thousand of persons gathered in front of the police station and demonstrated demanding immediate release of Roy.

Roy was then secretly taken to Cawnpore to stand trial there. The shrewd British authorities had selected Cawnpore as the venue of the trial, because the jury system was not prevalent there (unlike in Metropolitan Presidency cities like Bombay and Calcutta). The trial was not held, as per usual practice, in the open Court.  But, his trial was conducted within the jail premises, behind the walls of jail where Roy had been lodged. That was because, the Government was anxious to avoid publicity and public demonstrations. Roy was also not allowed to make an oral defense statement in the Court. The Prosecution evidence also consisted entirely of letters said to have been written by Roy which were intercepted or obtained otherwise from the recipients. Copies or photographed letters which were intercepted and reposted; and pamphlets and other publications which accompanied the letters also formed part of the evidence. And, Roy was also not allowed to produce any defense witnesses.

Mr. Rose-Alston was the Chief Counsel for the prosecution.  Roy’s trial was called the Cawnpore Conspiracy trial because the charges in the original trial in which Dange and some others were convicted could not be held against Roy since he was outside India at that time. His trial was separated and was held after he was arrested in 1931.

While he was in Cawnpore jail, Roy was deliberately kept away from his associates who were facing trial under the Meerut  Conspiracy Case (1929-1933). Roy was also excluded from the Meerut trial, though he could very well have been charged along with the thirty-three communists including many from what was known as the Roy Group. The prosecution Counsel in the Meerut trial was said to have mentioned that the ‘British authorities did not want the Meerut prisoners to have any contact with Roy’. Another reason for keeping Roy away from the Meerut trial could be that the charges under the Meerut case were filed based on a letter purported to have been written by M N Roy during December 1927. But, the letter, as the prosecution knew very well, was indeed a forgery.


In the mean time, Roy had been insisting that he did not write any such letter to anyone in India. Roy’s statement was published in the Free Press Journal of Bombay on 15 September 1928.The WPP (Workers and Peasants Party) had also issued a statement comparing the alleged ‘Roy letter’ to the ‘Zinoviev letter’, a forgery , used by the Conservative Party of Britain to  successfully bring down the Labor Party in 1924.

The British did not like to complicate matters by implicating Roy in the Meerut trial. Strangely, the Communist group of accused in the Meerut Conspiracy Case when tendering a revised list of witnesses withdrew Roy’s name from their list.


Roy challenged his arrest on several grounds, some of which were as follows: (a) The trial was without justification; (b) The trial should be held in the regular open court; (c) There should be trial by jury; and (d) the charges leveled against him pertained to offence said to have been committed by him during the year 1924 , at which time he was thousands of miles away from India ; and therefore there are no grounds whatsoever for charging him with offences in India during that period. 

The challenges made by Roy were rejected. Instead of the Jury, a bench of four Assessors was appointed.

There was a long list of charges made against Roy; but , basically the main  charge  was that Roy had by communications from abroad instigated the people of India to deprive the King Emperor of his sovereignty of British India. In his written statement Roy rebutted that charge; and, argued that the British King had no sovereignty over India.  But, Roys’ statement was not allowed to be read, nor was it taken on record.

Ultimately the Session Case opened on 3rd November 1931, and concluded on 9 January 1932. Two of the four Assessors found Roy “not guilty”.  The Sessions Judge, however, proceeded to hold him guilty; and, to accord a sentence of twelve years of rigorous imprisonment (on 9 January 1932).

Roy was taken immediately under armed guard to Bareilly Central Jail for completion of his sentence. Roy, however, managed to smuggle out his defence statement which he was not allowed to present in court. This disallowed declaration was published in full by Roy’s supporters in India as ‘My Defence,’ and in abridged form in New York as I Accuse. (please click)

Roy was unapologetic for his advocacy of the use of armed struggle against British colonialism, in his own defence declaring. His stand was:

“The oppressed people and exploited classes are not obliged to respect the moral philosophy of the ruling power…. A despotic power is always overthrown by force. The force employed in this process is not criminal. On the contrary, precisely the guns carried by the army of the British government in India are instruments of crime. They become instruments of virtue when they are turned against the imperialist state.  

In the meantime, Roy’s friend and follower Ellen Gottschalk, who at that time was in France, launched a campaign in Europe gathering support for release of Roy.  Her dedication and determination to save Roy was truly amazing. Although her resources were meager, Ellen travelled in Europe and to England; and was also involved with arranging mass protests in Hamburg (Germany) , Paris and even in some cities in  America  . Ellen Gottschalk also organized an international letter- writing campaign demanding the early release of M N Roy. Some of the eminent persons who responded to Gottschalk’s call; and, who sent letters of concern to British authorities, included Jawaharlal Nehru, Albert Einstein, Roger Baldwin and Fenner Brockway. Her saga of self-less love and single-minded determination to save her lover, has rarely been equalled.

In India, protests demanding Roy’s unconditional release were organized on big scale by Trade Unions, Youth Organizations and Farmer Groups. The Legal Defence teams were formed.

An appeal was preferred; and, it was heard by Justice Thomas of the Allahabad High Court. The appellant’s advocate was young and able Kailas Nath Katju, (who, years later became a prominent Congress leader and a member of India’s Union Cabinet). Katju argued :  the Court had no jurisdiction;  the charges were not properly framed; the accused had not been properly committed to the Court of Session;  and, inadmissible evidence was relied upon, etc.

Katju argued on merits of the evidence that the accused should not be punished for what the Court regarded as extreme views; and, that the accused did not instigate revolt. He also argued that law by itself does not prohibit a person from having extreme views and academically discussing them. In short, the accused might have had acute views; but, he had not acted in pursuance of those views. The accused had committed no crime.

The Appellate Judge dismissed the appeal; but, mercifully it reduced the sentence to six years. The appeal was decided on 2 May 1933. The Judge in his judgment held that :

“With the knowledge that the appellant considered that he could morally resort to force, it is impossible to put an innocent interpretation on his actions and to hold that he was engaged between the years 1921 and 1929 in peaceful, legitimate political propaganda”.

A further appeal to the Privy Council was available; but , it was not pursued for the fear that an  unfavorable verdict of the Privy Council would not only cause more harm in the case,  but would  also set an adverse precedent in England.

In the confusion that followed, the Case papers, including the certified copy of the High Court judgment were lost; and, no appeal was filed. Six years’ imprisonment became permanent. That also brought to end the chapter which had started with the arrest and trial of Dange and others.

Although Roy was sentenced to Six years by the court, he ultimately served Five years and four months (till November 1936), sitting in five different jails. As an under-trial Roy was held as an A –class prisoner; but , after conviction , he was imprisoned with B-class status. Appeals made by his friends within India as also form those outside India to treat Roy as an A-class prisoner did not succeed.

Jawaharlal Nehru has said in his Autobiography:

 “I was attracted to him because of his remarkable intellectual capacity. I was attracted to him because he seemed such a lonely figure, deserted by everybody. The British Government was naturally after him; nationalist India was not interested in him; and those who were called communists in India, condemned him as a traitor to the cause.”


Within about a weeks’ time in Bareli Jail, Roy managed to establish contacts with the outside world, ostensibly with the aid of sympathetic Jail warders and other Jail staff. ( The contact though broken often with the shifting  of warders and transfer of Roy from one prison to another , somehow , continued). Roy, generally, was a well behaved prisoner. He obeyed the prison rules; and did his allotted work diligently. But, one prison rule that he persistently broke was the one that prohibited any outside contact.

 Roy used his contacts with Jail Wards to smuggle out letters, manifestos, articles for newspaper and even manuscript of his book China in Revolt which was published, in 1935, under his assumed name S K Vidyarthi. The book was re-published in 1941 under his name (M N Roy) as My Experiences in China. Similarly, Roy drafted and smuggled out the manuscript of his Our Task in India, a manifesto or a guideline for the Roy Groups.

 As regards the letters; the prison rules allowed him to send out one letter per month; its length was prescribed; and, the letters were regularly censored and blotched. And yet; Roy was also able to smuggle out letters to prominent persons, including Jawaharlal Nehru. His Letter to the Congress Socialist Party was , in a similar, manner sent from jail.

Roy managed to keep himself remarkably well informed about the political situation in India and abroad. He thought and wrote about many changes that were taking place; and also about the ups and downs of the Communist movement. The articles which he wrote about current affairs while he was in prison found their way to newspapers such as The Advocate of Bombay and Mahratta of Poona.


As regards the letters Roy sent out from prison , a special mention need to be made of  the ones he wrote to his friend and follower  Ellen Gottschalk, during the period from 11 August 1931 to November 1936. Gottschalk later published those letters in book-form, as Letters from Jail (1943).

The letters to Ellen throw light on the non-political and human side of Roy; and also provide a glimpse of his varied interests in life. Apart from his love towards Ellen, the letters reveal his emotional state, his reflections on life, and his ways of thinking and understanding the philosophy behind cultural, social and political aspects of human existence.

In his letters to Ellen, Roy wrote about the clothes he wore, the books  he read, and the work he did.  He deflected Ellen’s concerns about his physical and mental well-being.  The letters reveal the emotional strains of lonesome suffering. They express his longing for the beloved, ‘I have a feeling of distress while writing these letters. I send them off in the void, never knowing whether they will reach the destination’; ‘I anxiously wait for your monthly letters’. Later, again he wrote, ‘I am really homesick, and am eagerly looking out for the day when we shall celebrate a grand reunion’.  At the same time, Roy tells Ellen not to lose heart:  ‘we must take things as they come, and hope for better days’. But, towards the end of the six years, just before his release, the darkest tones appear in his letters to Ellen: ‘I am tired of this world. It appears to be doomed to destruction or a possible rebirth after a protracted period of torture and torment’

Roy also expressed fondness for his friends.  He enquired repeatedly about their common acquaintances, especially the German communist leaders Heinz Brandler and August Thalheimer.  ‘I am   glad to know that our family [the international organization of Opposition Communists] remains so firm and optimistic. I eagerly look out for the day when I shall again have the pleasure of being with those good old friends, maybe in this country.


While Roy was in prison, Ellen Gottschalk and Roy’s friends in Germany, kept providing him with books and journals which he wanted to read. Thanks to the efforts of Ellen Gottschalk,  Roy , in prison,  was allowed to receive packages of books from friends in order to carry on his studies and writing .The books he received over the six years of his imprisonment were mostly sent from friends in Paris and  New York  who were  members  of  the  German  Party  of  Opposition Communists (KPO). By November 1936, a total of 157 books had reached him.

Since, Roy as a prisoner was not allowed books and journals of political nature. The books he read deeply were all concerned with history, philosophy and science.

Roy was much impressed by French Jacobins (advocating egalitarian democracy and engaging in terrorist activities during the French Revolution of 1789) . He was convinced that the revolution in India should be under the banner ‘not of communism, but of Jacobinism’. He also recommended Jacobinism to the Indian communists. In addition , he also wanted the Indian National Congress to get rid of Gandhism and of its bourgeois hegemony.  The Congress, according to Roy, was a united national front, a mass nationalist movement; and was not a party of any particular class that could wield veto powers.  ‘Gandhism’ according to Roy was dangerous because “on the strength of one man’s personality, India was falsely construed as a pure cultural entity”. For Roy, the ‘vulgarity’ of Gandhism lay in its insistence on cultural nationalism on an unchanging residue of group identity.


Roy’s used his prison years for writing a systematic study of ‘the philosophical consequences of modern science’, which, in a way, was a re-examination and re-formulation of Marxism to which he had been committed since 1919.

During the jail days, M.N. Roy produced extensively political, philosophical and social criticism. The reflections, which Roy wrote down in jail, grew over a period of five years into nine thick volumes (approximately over 3000 lined foolscap-size pages).  He was supplied with one Note Book at a time; a fresh Note Book was issued only after he had deposited with the jail authorities the one that he had completed. This was rather inconvenient, as he could not refer back to what he had written earlier. And yet, his literary output was consistent and phenomenal.

Besides his writings, Roy spent time extensively, on the works such as Feuerbach’s Wesen Des Christentums  (meaning: The Essence of Christianity) that he wanted to apply to the Indian situations. The Book first published in 1841 explained Ludwig Feuerbach’s philosophy and critique of religion. It was considered a classic  . And, it is said, Marx and Engels were strongly influenced by Feuerbach’s idea of God as a human abstraction. Marx, later, used Feuerbach’s ideas in his own theory of alienation.


Roy’s ‘Prison Manuscripts’ have not so far been published in full; and are currently preserved in the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library Archives in New Delhi. However, selected portions from the manuscript were published as separate books in the 1930s and the 1940s.

The published books based on Roy’s Prison handwritten notebooks include Materialism (1934); Science and Superstition (1940); Heresies of the 20th century (1939); Fascism (1938); Historical Role of Islam (1939); Ideal of Indian womanhood (1941) ; Science and Philosophy (1947) and India’s Message (1950) . His monumental work tentatively entitled “The Philosophical consequences of Modern Science” is an outstanding contribution to the fields of philosophy and science. It is about his re-examination and re-formulation of Marxism to which he subscribed since 1919.

As Ramendra Nath writes in his Manabendra Nath Roy (1887—1954)  :

These writings show that Roy was not satisfied with a primarily economic explanation of historical processes. He studied and tried to assess the role of cultural and ideational factors in traditional and contemporary India, in the rise and expansion of Islam, and in the phenomenon of fascism. He was particularly severe on the obscurantist professions and practices of neo-Hindu nationalism. Roy tried to reformulate materialism in the light of latest developments in the physical and biological sciences. He was convinced that without the growth and development of a materialist and rationalist outlook in India, neither a renaissance nor a democratic revolution would be possible. In a way, seeds of the philosophy of new humanism, which was later developed fully by Roy, were already evident in his jail writings.”


Apart from the traditional subjects as politics, philosophy etc, Roy also wrote persistently about sexual crimes and ‘abominations’ committed by supposedly deviant women. The cases Roy documented in his prison writings were taken from newspapers and from cases he heard about in prison-gossip. All those ‘stories’ were about the sexual relations of women beyond the bounds of the patriarchal Hindu family. He wrote about sexual abuse of widowed daughters or daughters-in-law; of deviant women and their impossible desires; forbidden intimacies within and outside the family etc.

Roy’s writing on those subjects was interesting and relevant. That was because , the period of Roy’s imprisonment in the 1930s corresponded with the  heightening of the ‘woman question’ in India, and rising nationalist debate about reproductive rights, women’s property rights, child marriage and the institution  of widowhood etc.  By reflecting on the position of the so-called deviant woman, Roy articulated a vision of revolutionary change in the 1930s colonial setting.

“Roy drew parallels between imperial and patriarchal domination within theHindu family by focusing on the way strictures and punishments wereimposed on the intimate realm. The figure of the ‘deviant’ woman, driven by sexual desire to trespass the bounds of marriage, became the focus of M N Roy’s prison writings in such work as The Ideal of Indian Womanhood, written in 1935 and published in 1941, and Why Men are Hanged and Crime and Karma: Cats and Women, written over the course of 1933 to 1936 but ultimately published in 1957.”

[For more on that, please check The impossible intimacies of M N Roy by Kris Manjapra.]


The years 1931-36 marked the upsurge in political prisoners following the aggressive counter-terrorism campaign launched by the British. Most of the prisons, especially in North India, were overcrowded.  The Bareilly Central Jail , where Roy was held from January 1932 to March 1933 and again from May 1933 to April 1934, was one of the  oldest ( set up in 1848 ), the largest and the most unpleasant jails in Uttar Provinces, with a total of more than about 4,000 prisoners.

The dismal prison conditions took a severe toll on Roy’s health. Apart from severe heat conditions, Roy suffered from several other ailments during his confinement, such as dilation of heart; pain in the chest; stomach and digestive problems; loss of teeth; and frequent feverish conditions. and constant pain from a chronically infected inner ear continued to bother him.

He suffered most during the oppressive summer months of the first three years in Cawnpore and Bareli Jails.  He could not stand the rigor of Jail routine along with unbearable heat and suffocation. In spite of many representations, of his own and of his friends in India, Europe and America, he was not shifted to a cooler place in the Hills. In the summer of 1934, he became so alarmingly ill that he had to be removed to the northern district of Almora. He was brought back to Bareli after the summer months. For the next summer, he was taken to Dehra Dun; and, kept there, till his release on 20 November 1936.

It is remarkable that despite his severe ill health, Roy could read, correspond and produce phenomenal volume of writing running over over 3000 lined foolscap-size pages, on such subjects as history, sociology, politics and philosophy etc.


The harsh prison period of almost six years left a profound effect on Roy and on his thoughts. Nehru who had also gone through long years of imprisonment talked about his prison experience in terms of ‘sensitivity and continuous state of tension’. Roy too experienced ‘sensitivity’ of isolation in prison life, but none of the privileges that were accorded to Nehru and such others.

Roy suffered acute mental tension and intolerable physical strain.

Philip Spratt, a British Communist jailed in India for a total of about seven years (March 1929-October 34; and December 1934-June 1936) had a similar jail-experience as Roy. Spratt, after his release, wrote articles on jail-psychology and how a prolonged prison experience produces the effect of ‘psychological hothouse’, where there is an ‘overwhelming concentration of emotion upon itself’. Such a ‘hothouse’ , according to Spratt,  encourages the latent elements of the thoughts , suppressed emotions and feelings surge up and drives the prisoner to ‘ intense introspection’. Spratt said that the most fundamental element that flourishes greatly, in such circumstances of forced prolonged periods of isolation, is the urge towards religion; and , the jail , in a way , turns into ‘a forcing house for religion’. Spratt who till then had been thoroughly ill-religious felt the force of religious appeal.

Aurobindo Ghosh, who was an extremist in politics during his initial years in the prison, experienced mystical revelations that transformed into the Seer Sri Aurobindo. He chose spirituality and withdrew from all political activities.

[ Colin Wilson in his Frankenstein’s Castle (1980)  tries to explain such phenomenon in terms of the interactions between the right and the left halves of the human brain:

A little introspection  makes us aware that the left seems to be turned outward, towards the external world, while the right is turned inward, towards our inner-being. The business of the left is to ‘cope’ with everyday problems. The business of the right is to deal with our inner-states and feelings.

The rule seems to be that if we need support and help, we need to ask for it by turning towards that ‘other self’ in the right-brain. Wordsworth’s ‘Intimations of Immortality’ Ode shows the process in action. The poet feels depressed and jaded, and reflects gloomily upon his decreasing capacity for poetic inspiration. But the actual process of turning these insights into words makes him aware that things are not quite as bad as he thought, and he ends by writing confidently about a returning feeling of strength and optimism.

The same process also explains why people who have suffered great personal loss or prolonged isolation , imprisonment often gain religious faith in exchange; the misery causes them to turn inward; the right responds with comfort and inspiration. The left-brain self becomes aware that it is not alone, and believes it has found God. Possibly it has; but it has certainly found its ‘silent partner’ who lives only a few centimetres away; and this, in its way, is just as great a discovery.]

Roy, in the isolation of the prison, might not have experienced the religious upsurge of   Spratt or the mystical revelations of Sri Aurobindo. But, the prison –isolation definitely did bring about a marked change in Roy’s personality, his ways of thinking and his approach to politics and life in general. After the prison, Roy began to noticeably move away from orthodox Marxism towards the foundations of radical humanism. The first clear sign of his shift appeared in his article ‘Marxism is not dogma’ written soon after his release. It shows up the limitations of Marxism. His readings and his introspections in the prison led him to discover those developments in science, the practical problems of India and such other ancient societies; as also to the historical developments that Marx had not anticipated.

Roy, thereafter, felt the need to ‘revise certain fundamental conceptions of classical Materialism’. Roy, then wrote,’ the modern Marxist cannot follow the literally the line predicted by Marx… We cannot say that the developments here in India must necessarily follow the same line as Marx predicted for European developments’.

 Roy came to regard Marxism as a philosophy that aims to bring about changes in the world, in its political and economic order; and, in its class –structure. After the prison, Roy somehow, lost his acute and intense urge in traditional politics; he turned into a political philosopher with a wide breadth of vision.


Roy was released from the Dehra Dun Jail on the morning of 20 November 1936, after imprisonment lasting for five years and six months. He was broken in health; but was still looking forward to an active political life. He was received at the Jail gate by handful of Congress leaders and members from Roy Group. Demonstrations, shouting etc were avoided because of Roy’s frail health.

M N Roy received after release from Jail 1936

From the Jail, Roy was taken to the residence of Khurshis Lal, Chairman of the Dehra Dun Municipality and a prominent Congress leader.

While at Khurshis Lal’s home, Roy received a message from Jawaharlal Nehru inviting him to attend the Provincial Political Conference at Bareli; and, thereafter to his house at Allahabad, for rest and recuperation. .

On the evening of 20 November 1936 (on the day of his release) Roy formally joined the Indian National Congress at Dehra Dun. While speaking to the local Press on that occasion, Roy said:

‘the Anglo-Indian Press might project my joining the Indian National Congress as evidence of the Congress going Red. No, the Congress is not going Red; the Communists as determined fighters for the freedom of India, on the other hand, are joining the ranks of Congress. I personally have also been persistently defending Congress, though I could not always agree with some details of its policy and found it necessary to express my disagreement in critical terms…..

I am determined to show to the people of India that Communists are not aliens elements within the body-politics of India, but are the sons of soil fighting as the vanguard of the army of national freedom  under the banner of Indian National Congress, which is our common platform….

My message to the fellow-victims of imperialism is to rally in millions under the flag of the Indian National Congress as a determined army fighting for democratic freedom….. ”

The same evening, Roy left for Bareli to attend the political conference and to meet Jawaharlal Nehru.


 We shall talk about Roy, as a member of the Indian National Congress, in the next part.





Next Part

Sources and References

M N Roy by V B Karnik

M N Roy- a political Biography by Samreen Roy

Trial of M N Roy :

‘I accuse’ –suppressed statement of M N Roy

Manabendra Nath Roy (1887—1954) by Ramendra Nath

The impossible intimacies of M N Roy by Kris Manjapra.

Elites in south Asia- Roy and Radical Humanism by D G Dalton

Pictures are from Internet


Posted by on January 19, 2016 in M N Roy


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MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts – Part 18

MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts – Part 18

Continued from Part 17

Western Women in leftist and national movements (4)

Ellen Gottschalk in the thirties (Roy's Second wife, married in 1938 - an a intellectual, humanist)

Ellen Gottschalk (1904-1960)

Roy fell sick, and escaped from Stalin’s Russia even while the Ninth Plenum of the ECCI was in session at Moscow, during February- March 1928. He slipped into Berlin in March 1928; and, lived there up to 1930. Soon after coming to Berlin, Roy revived his contacts with the Communist Party Opposition (KPO) and started contributing articles to Thalheimer’s  journal Gegen den Storm (Against the Storm) criticizing the foreign policy of the Soviet Union; which meant criticizing of Stalin. And that angered the Stalin group; and, Roy was promptly expelled from the International Communist Party. Although he was officially expelled from the Party, Roy continued to believe and profess communism.

By 1928, Roy and Evelyn Trent had been separated over some serious differences that developed between them. Roy was living alone during his early days in Berlin.  During those lonely days, Roy developed relations with a few women communists. It is said, Roy had been close to Clara Zetkin , the German Communist and feminist who was active in International Women’s Secretariat and from 1921-1925 and edited its papers. Thereafter, it is said, Roy lived- in with a German woman Louise Geissler (1899-1973), whom he knew from his earlier Comintern days. She had been a staff member in the Comintern (Communist International) from 1926 and had accompanied Roy on his Comintern Mission to China in 1927. Geissler had joined the Spartacus Bund,  the militant communist Group of Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht.  And after its defeat, she joined the German Communist Party.   Now, in Berlin, Geissler was helping Roy in his political work; and, was his ‘devoted companion’. During 1929, they shared an apartment with Munster-berg the communist leader.

Roy with Geissler0002

Roy had in the mean time developed friendship with another German communist woman Ellen Gottschalk (1903-1960). With Ellen, Roy truly grew very intimate.

Ellen Gottschalk was born in Paris to a French Jewish family. She went to school in Cologne, in Germany close to its border with Belgium.  At Cologne, the cultural center of Rhineland region embracing the land on either bank of the River Rhine, Ellen took lessons in music and singing; and excelled in both. She had her further education in Germany. It is said; Ellen translated James Frazier’s Golden Bough into German. The family again returned to France. But, the events in France during the First World War aroused her anger against the social injustice, militarization and what she called the ‘absurdity of hostile patriotism’. Ellen Gottschalk ran away from home in 1923.

In Berlin she was actively involved in radical politics; working, from 1925, for the Peasant International established by Comintern.  She served for some time as secretary of the European Peasants’ Council and was the editor of its bulletin. Later she joined the German Communist Party for a year (1927-1928), during the Weimar Republic.

 [The period of (1927-28) was virtually the tail-end of the quiet period in Europe, which came about as one of the effects of the Treaty of Versailles, which had significantly reduced the power of Germany. By then, the socialist and communist unrest was brewing beneath the surface. The unrest was caused mainly by unemployment coupled with hyperinflation, an enormous economic inflation that caused the German currency’s value to plummet down and down below (n 1919, one loaf of bread cost 1 mark; by 1923, the same loaf of bread cost 100 billion marks) . But, the government simply kept printing more and more banknotes to pay the bills. In 1923, strikes were called, and passive resistance was encouraged. These strikes lasted eight months, further damaging the economy and the social life.

The position improved after 1923 when Gustav Stresemann took over as the Foreign Minister and eased the economic and political stress in Germany under The Dawes Plan.  But, sadly, the stability and recovery of the Stresemann Era collapsed following the 1929 Wall Street Crash and start of the Depression.

With the Great Depression, things went from bad to worse in Germany : The US demanded its loans back; but, Germany could not pay. And by 1932 , millions became homeless, unemployed and dependent on charity to survive. Following which  the Weimar Republic became extremely unpopular and seemed incapable of pulling Germany out of the Depression. That made room for  the  leftwing and rightwing extremist parties like the Communist and Nazi Party to  gather support of the suffering masses ; and ,  build their strength. And that led to  Hitler seizeing  power in Germany  and bringing an end to the Weimar Republic in 1933 .]


It was during 1927-28, the tail-end of moderate-period of the Weimer Republic  that Ellen Gottschalk  came in contact with many Communist Intellectuals as also the  Opposition Communists and Trotskyists who disagreed with Comintern policies. She thereafter joined the dissident Trotskyites and then the German Opposition Communist Thalheimer Brandler group.

Ellen Gottschalk and M N Roy first met in 1928 in the German Opposition Communist circles in Berlin.  Roy, by then,  had become a  leading member of the German Communist Party Opposition. They became very close thereafter. ‘I was attracted to him by his remarkable intellectual capacity’ Ellen later said.

MN Roy had been expelled from the Comintern in 1929 for his articles criticizing Soviet foreign policy . By 1930 , he decided to return to India. After being in India for about six months , living incognito, Roy was arrested in July 1931, tried for several conspiracy cases; and sentenced to  twelve years’ of imprisonment.

Ellen did not give up on Roy even while he was thousands of miles away in India and in jail. What she did for Roy thereafter is a remarkable saga of self-less love and dedication. There is hardly a parallel to her single-minded devotion and determination to take care of her lover even while he was incarcerated in a distant land that was totally strange to her.

After the Nazi influence began to spread in Germany, she fled to France. Her stay in France during that period was politically safe. Ellen made a precarious living as a secretary; and yet tried her utmost to secure release of Roy.

While in France, Ellen Gottschalk came in contact with such intellectuals as Andre Malraux, Aurther Koestler, Henri Barbusse and Paul Robeson among others. She urged them as also Romain Rolland, Staffard Cripps and Albert Einstein to intervene on behalf of Roy. Then she travelled to Britain to see the Labor Party leaders and to discuss with Jawaharlal Nehru who was a member of the Roy Defense Committee. She also organized the international letter-writing campaign demanding the early release of M N Roy. Jawaharlal Nehru, Alfred Einstein, Roger Baldwin and Fenner Brockway, among others, responded to Gottschalk’s request and sent letters of concern to British authorities. Due to the combined efforts and appeals of many eminent persons, Roy’s sentence was reduced from twelve to six years, with ‘Class B’ prisoner status.

In France , Ellen Gottschalk  made a living by doing number of  secretarial jobs. She helped Franco–Soviet Friendship Groups; and was an organizer of the 1935 International Conference on Defense of Culture held in Paris.  During 1935-1936, Wilhelm “Willi” Münzenberg, a communist political activist who at that time had taken shelter in France and had become a leader of the German émigré anti-fascism and anti-Stalinist community gave Ellen work organizing an association for German writers who had taken refuge in Paris.

While Roy was in prison, Ellen Gottschalk and Roy’s friends in Germany, kept providing him with books  and journals which he wanted to read. During jail days M N Roy corresponded with some political leaders and intellectuals. Ellen helped him greatly in this aspect.

Thanks to the efforts of Ellen Gottschalk,  Roy , in prison,  was allowed to receive packages of books from friends in order to carry on his studies and writing .The books he received over the six years of his imprisonment were mostly sent from friends in Paris and  New York  who were  members  of  the  German  Party  of  Opposition Communists. By November 1936, a total of 157 books had reached him.

At the time Roy returned to India, he was still a communist, though he had officially been expelled from the Comintern. The years in jail gave him time for study and reflection. Roy used his prison years for writing a re-examination and re-formulation of Marxism to which he had been committed since 1919.

During the jail days, M.N. Roy produced extensively political, philosophical and social criticism. The reflections, which Roy wrote down in jail, grew over a period of five years into nine thick volumes (approximately over 3000 lined foolscap-size pages). The ‘Prison Manuscripts‘ have not so far been published in their totality, and are currently preserved in the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library Archives in New Delhi. However, selected portions from the manuscript were published as separate books in the 1930s and the 1940s.

Besides his writings Roy spent time extensively, on the works such as Feuerbach’s Wesen Des Christentums that he wanted to apply to the Indian situations.

The published books based on Roy’s Prison handwritten notebooks include Materialism (1934); Science and Superstition (1940); Heresies of the 20th century (1939); Fascism (1938); Historical Role of Islam (1939); Ideal of Indian womanhood (1941) ; Science and Philosophy (1947) and India’s Message (1950) . His monumental work “The Philosophical consequences of Modern Science” is an outstanding contribution to the fields of philosophy and science.

During the period from 11 August 1931 to November 1936, Roy wrote a series of letters to Ellen Gottschalk. Roy’s letters to Gottschalk, which she collected and made available for publication, in book form, as Letters from Jail (1943).

The intimacy that connected M N Roy and Ellen Gottschalk was documented in  a  six-year  letter correspondence between the two. Apart from his love towards Ellen, the letters reveal his emotional state, his reflections on life, and his ways of thinking and understanding the philosophy behind cultural,  social  and political aspects of human existence. The Letters from Jail are of great literary merit in their own right.

Roy’s letters were censored; much of the emotionally-charged information about Roy’s physical well-being of rotten teeth, cardiac dilatation and digestive disturbances was excised by the British prison officers.

In the course of the six -year correspondence, Roy wrote about the clothes he wore, the books he read, and the work he did.  He deflected Ellen’s concerns about his physical and mental well-being. He expressed fondness for friends, and asked repeatedly about common acquaintances, especially the German communist leaders Heinz Brandler and August Thalheimer. ‘I am   glad to know that our family [the international organization of Opposition Communists] remains so firm and optimistic. I eagerly look out for the day when I shall again have the pleasure of being with those good old friends, maybe in this country.

Roy fondly recalled his old days in Europe : : ‘You are loathing beautiful Berlin, and I am homesick for it. Really, I would like to be back in Europe. When? I am afraid it will never be.’ Roy harked back to ‘those glorious days when we did nothing but laugh’.

The letters reveal the emotional strains of lonesome suffering. They express his longing for the beloved, ‘I have a feeling of distress while writing these letters. I send them off in the void, never knowing whether they will reach the destination’; ‘I anxiously wait for your monthly letters’. Later, again he wrote, ‘I am really homesick, and am eagerly looking out for the day when we shall celebrate a grand reunion.

At the same time, Roy tells Ellen not to lose heart:  ‘we must take things as they come, and hope for better days’. But, towards the end of the six years, just before his release, the darkest tones appear in his letters to Ellen: ‘I am tired of this world. It appears to be doomed to destruction or a possible rebirth after a protracted period of torture and torment’.

Kris Manjapra who in his very sensitive writing The impossible intimacies of M N Roy talks of the intimacy between Roy and Ellen, says: 

M N Roy’s life bore the stress marks of intimacies that were strange for his time. His intense private and professional relationship with Ellen Gottschalk, a German Jewish communist radical, was just one expression of the globe-straddling intimacies that disrupted the normative discourse of race, nation and colonial difference.

M.N. Roy with his second wife Ellen Gottschalk in Bombay in March 1937.

After Roy’s release from jail in 1936, Ellen Gottschalk joined Roy in Bombay in March 1937. They were married in the same month and went to live in Dehra Dun. Subsequently, Ellen Roy played an important role in Roy’s life, and cooperated in all of his endeavours. Soon after they settled in Dehra Dun, they started a journal Independent India . The name was changed to The Radical Humanist in 1949.They also published Roy’s letter to Ellen written from jail as Letters From Jail during 1943.

 Roy and Ellen in Congress Party0004

In December 1940, Roy and his followers left Indian National Congress owing to differences with the Congress leadership on the role of India in the Second World War. Thereafter, Roy along with Ellen formed the Radical Democratic Party . This signaled the beginning of the last phase of Roy’s life in which he developed his philosophy of new humanism.

Disillusioned with both bourgeois democracy and communism, Roy devoted the later years of his life to the formulation of an alternative philosophy which he called Radical Humanism and of which he wrote a detailed exposition in Reason, Romanticism and Revolution. Ellen was very much a part of that movement and participated in it actively. Roy and Ellen started the Indian Radical Humanist Movement and set up the Indian Renaissance Institute (1946) for  ‘spreading the spirit of Enlightenment, Humanism and the Search for Truth’.

MN Roy died in 1954; Ellen Roy became the center of the movement and carried forward his work until her death in 1960.

Ellen headed the Indian Renaissance Institute, from its foundation in 1946 until her death. After her husband passed away Ellen Roy edited the magazine Radical Humanist. She also revived the Annual study camps that were held for rationalists and radical humanists from all over the country.

Later , Ellen created the MN Roy Archives. She spread the message of radical humanism by conducting study camps, by travelling around India and speaking to groups.  In 1955 she went abroad to establish stronger ties with rationalists and humanitarians all over Europe but especially with International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU).

From 1957-58 Ellen was the p[resident of the Indian Rationalist Association (IRA) and organized several National Council Meetings.

Ellen corresponded with Evelyn Trent and in 1958 referred to ‘the experience we both have had with researchers from Berkley’. However, she recommended Sibnarayan Ray to Evelyn as a researcher of MN Roy’s life.

Neither Evelyn Trent not Agnes Smedley (both of whom were associated with Roy and his passion for India’s freedom) visited India. Ellen Roy, on the other hand, lived in India for about twenty-three years, from 1937 to till her death in 1960.

After M N Roy’s death in 1954, Ellen Roy continued to run her organization from Dehra Dun. She  was  murdered  under  mysterious  circumstances   at Dehra  Dun during 1960 ,  apparently  by  a  local man  long  known   to both  her  and M N Roy.


All her life in India, Ellen was much admired and loved by her associates and followers. Almost all the writings on Roy sate that in marrying Ellen Gottschalk, “Roy found not only a loving wife but also an intelligent helper and close collaborator”. That is very true.

Sibanarayan Ray (M N Roy’s biographer) writes about Ellen Roy :

“ to some ( in India) she was important, because she was close to Roy and because in a self-effacing way she dedicated herself completely to Roy’s work. To others, she was a magnificent person in her own right, with gifts, perceptions and interests which were in their combination almost as rich as those of her more illustrious husband.”

Ellen Roy’s views on India were not romantic or idealized. Ellen had a realistic approach to India.  She travelled around India, speaking to varied groups of people. She wrote in 1935:  “I am not one of those who have gone East and come back with a message of a mystic light from Orient”.

Her internationalism came not only from socialism but from her life experiences as well. 

“When you are born in one country and your mother is from another country and your father is from yet another country , and endowed with citizenship of some other country you are a foreigner in every country you have grown up a, studied and worked. And, yet you feel at home in all of those countries. Add to that when you marry an alien from a different continent – you become at home there too. You learn to see good and bad in all countries and people” (Roy: 1929; 374)

While Ellen Roy could see the ‘good and the bad’ because she lived in India for about twenty-three years , the others such as Evelyn Roy , Agnes Smedley and other wives  and working partners of the Indian  revolutionaries were unable to work and live in India for any length of time. They however contributed to the movement from abroad.

Ellen Roy was truly a remarkable person who lived a highly eventful life guided by her principles  and by the love of her life. Her commitment to Roy and through him to the cause of India is amazing.  Even after the death of her husband, she continued to stay in India and work for the cause that was close to his heart. 

It is sad that one who loved India so dearly is now totally forgotten by the Indians.

M N Roy (2)


In the

Next Part




Sources and References

The White Woman’s Other Burden: Western Women and South Asia During British Rule by Kumari Jayewardene

The impossible intimacies of M N Roy by Kris Manjapra

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Posted by on January 18, 2016 in M N Roy


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MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts – Part 17

MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts – Part 17

Continued from Part 16

Western Women in leftist and national movements (3)

Evelyn Leonora Trent (1892-1970)

Evelyn  Trent  Roy

Evelyn Leonora Trent (1892-1970) consistently described as bright, young and attractive, and as ‘a very competent and dedicated person’; was born in Salt Lake City, Utah as the youngest of the eighth children of the English-born mining engineers Lemartine Charles Trent of California and Mary DeLome McLeod of Florida. Evelyn attended High School in Auburn, California. Later, she joined Girls’ Polytechnic High School in Los Angeles in 1908 and completed the course in 1911.

Then, in 1912, she joined Stanford University, California. Her brother Edwin Walter was already in that university. Stanford was a prestigious university, though conservative in certain respects. When Evelyn was studying, women in USA did not have the right to vote.

Evelyn Trent was very active in Stanford University between 1912 and 1915. She belonged to Alpha Phi Sorority (a sisterhood of outstanding women supporting one another in lifelong achievement). David Jordan Starr was the Chancellor of the University. He was a scientist and a peace lover. Evelyn, a brilliant student, was among his favourite students. Evelyn and her close friend Ethel Rae Dugan, an Irish-American, were friendly with Jessie Louise Knight, the wife of David Jordan Starr.

Evelyn was in women’s athletic association as one of the directors. She was also in fencing sport and tennis club. She was the associate editor of Quad, Stanford University annual, during 1914 and 1915. Evelyn took English as her main subject ; and philosophy and French as her optional. During her second year, Evelyn acted as Ethel, the Duchess of Carbondale, in a three act Comedy “On the Quiet” by Augustus Thomas. Her histrionic ability made a deep impression on the viewers ; and , her performance was rated as very high.  

Evelyn discussed Tagore with  the Bengalis in the University .  While continuing her studies, Evelyn also taught poor children an hour a-day. Evelyn wondered that while millions of dollars were poured on munitions and war, why  very little was done to help needy children in desperate conditions; and wrote about her thoughts to her mother and also in the University magazine. 

Evelyn completed her graduation and started applying for jobs in the early part of 1916. She wanted to earn through her writings; and, wished to bring focus on problems of unemployment, poverty and other economic issues.

It June 1916, Narendranath Bhattacharya disguised as Rev. C. A. Martin , a Roman Catholic priest on his way to France for pursuing further theological studies in the University of Notre Dame, came to the campus of the Stanford University to meet Dhangopal Mukherjee  ( younger brother of the revolutionary Jadugopal Mukherjee  and  a contact for Bengali revolutionaries). It was on the campus of the Stanford University, at the suggestion of Dhangopal Mukherjee, that Narendranath Bhattacharya took on the name Manabendra Nath Roy (M N Roy) . And, that name stuck to him for the rest of his life.

During those days, Dhangopal Mukherjee and Ethel Rae Dugan (Evelyn Trent’s friend) were in love and were dating.  Roy met the young and attractive Evelyn Trent at Dhan Gopal’s residence in the University Campus, Ramona,  Palo Alto. Ethel was also present. Soon thereafter Roy and Evelyn started dating, and fell in love. At that time, Roy was about twenty-nine and Evelyn was about twenty-four years young.

During the early part of 1916, Evelyn who had just completed her graduation started applying for jobs. After meeting Roy in Palo Alto, Evelyn changed her plans, stopped applying for jobs. Instead, she planned to go to Europe along with Roy.

M.N. Roy, then, was in touch with Germans; but, he could neither get the promised money nor arms from the Germans. At one stage, M.N. Roy planned to go to Germany in U-53 submarine. Evelyn wanted to join him. Evelyn’s parents were shocked, and were  totally against their young, innocent and bright daughter getting mixed up with an unknown Hindu fugitive. Evelyn’s involvement with Roy seemed to them a terribly bad idea  ; too dangerous and scary. Evelyn’s parents were horrified at the thought  of their daughter running away with a stranger on German submarine.  It was also too risky and totally improper. Hence, Roy and Evelyn dropped the plan.

Evelyn, then, applied for a passport to visit European countries. Those were the days of the First World War and the American Government was not willing to issue passports to its citizens. Evelyn requested David Jordan Starr, her teacher and the Chancellor of the Stanford University, for a recommendation letter to the State Department. He sent her that letter, as requested. Even before receiving that letter, Evelyn had applied for the passport. She thanked David Jordan Starr for his letter and said that she would keep his letter as a memento.

Roy rented a house, near to the University campus, on the Ramona street, to be in touch with Dhangopal.  Roy stayed in 245 Ramona Street, Palo Alto for about six months. But, the police by then had began to suspect that Roy might be that elusive ‘Brahmin Revolutionary and Dangerous German Spy’ they were looking for . Following that alarm bell, Roy and Evelyn Trent together hurriedly moved to New York.

Roy and Evelyn were without money and a regular place to stay. For fear of police surveillance , they had to change their accommodation frequently. Initially they stayed in 2117 Daly Avenue in New York; then moved to 239 E 19th St; and later rented an apartment in 19th West 44th St. in New York. And, sometimes they had to stay apart to avoid police-attention. Since Roy did not have a permanent address, he gave a Ceylon restaurant (672, 8th Ave) as his ‘care of address ‘ to receive his mail.

At that time, Walter Edwin, Evelyn’s brother was also in New York; but was reluctant to help his wayward sister. Hence, Evelyn was forced to go in for odd jobs; and, she was , for a while , employed by American Society in 131 E. 23rd St.  By about that time, Roy met Lala Lajpat Rai, the legendary Indian freedom fighter and revolutionary; and attended some of his meetings. Lajpat Rai was impressed with the Roys; and employed Evelyn for a couple of months as his Secretary and also paid her some amount as a token help.

It is not clear when exactly during 1917 that Roy and Evelyn got married. But, in any case, Evelyn‘s parents and her brother were against her relation with Roy. The Hindu groups in New York too despised Roy for having married a foreigner and a non-Hindu. Life in New York had become very difficult because of lack of money, bad relations with Indian nationalists and constant scrutiny and survey by American and British Intelligence agencies. And, at the end, they had to seek shelter in the residence of Lala Lajpath Rai.

Lajpath Rai later wrote that Roy and Evelyn, in particular, had to face much hostility and humiliation both from Hindu nationalists and Evelyn’s family. Lajpath Rai sympathized with their plight and allowed them to live in his house. He also helped them with $ 350, out which $50 was payment due  to Evelyn for some work she did for him , as secretary.

The British Intelligence and the American police were keeping a watch on Roy’s movements.  The net was closing in over the USA -Pro – German revolutionaries and also on the revolutionaries of Indian origin. They were systematically were rounded up.  Things came to a head when the British spies broke into Roy’s room while he was away and seized some letters and papers.  Roy, at that time, was on the Campus of the Columbia University to where he had gone after attending a meeting addressed by Lala Lajpath Rai.   On the next day , that is on 7 March 1917 , Roy was eventually arrested

Roy had to spend a few hours of the night (7 Mar 1917) before he was released in the early hours of the morning and asked to appear before the Grand Jury in the Town Hall, a few hours later. The Grand Jury indicted him for violating the immigration Laws of the USA and pending trial released him on bail on his personal surety.

Roy however had no intention of returning to the trial. Roy left the court determined not to return. He was desperate to escape attention and arrest. He knew that he would be taken to San Francisco and tried there as a conspirator. But, his worse fear was deportation to India for standing trial which would result in long imprisonment or death sentence for the many acts of terror he had committed in India until 1915.

It was then, prompted by Evelyn, that Roy seriously considered escaping to Mexico. They had heard from their socialist friends about Mexico; the social revolution brewing there; and establishment of socialism in one its parts – Yucatan. Mexico, to them, appeared as the Land of Promise.

Evelyn and Roy soon travelled by train from New York to San Francisco, a distance of about 3,300-miles. And, during 1917 the journey might have taken nearly a week’s time.  

Evelyn Trent then approached her teacher and friend, Dr. David Starr Jordan, President of the Stanford University, at Palo Alto, for help. Dr, Jordan was prepared to make it easy for Roys to find a refuge in the neighboring Mexico; and, he readily gave them a letter of introduction to the Governor of the  State of Yucatan , General Salvador Alvarado  , a powerful person in Mexican politics . That indeed was an immense, immeasurable help. Roy’s biographers wonder, there is no reason why Dr, Jordan , a President of an University,  would have anything to do with a dangerous Indian fugitive who had violated American laws and was still at large evading both British and American police , and helped him to escape , had  he  not been impressed with young Roy and his mission. But, it is very  likely that Dr. Jordan was primarily trying to rescue one of his favorite students and a family-friend from a bad situation that was getting worse.

Evelyn and Roy slipped into Mexico under their assumed names of Senorita and Senora Evelyn and Manuel Mendez, in the last week of March 1917.

Soon after securing a safe place at Cordoba 33 in Mexico City, Evelyn along with Roy took lessons in Spanish from Enrique Guardiola, a teacher of Spanish. And, in about two moths time they had learnt enough Spanish not only to write articles and pamphlets in Spanish but also to speak it fluently. They began to contribute articles to El Pueblo (The People), the almost the official daily of the Mexican Government. 

After Roy came into some big-money, thanks to the Germans, they moved into a more spacious house at Merida 186, Colonia Roma, Mexico City. It was Evelyn who was primarily responsible for an almost  total transformation in Roy as a person; bringing about remarkable changes in the personal life, the habits, the interests; and, the general outlook of Roy. The Mexican experience was for Roy a sort of liberation from pre-conceived notions of culture, nationalism etc. In Mexico for the first time he had a home of his own where a woman who adored him and shared his ideals, brought him new insights and experience of happiness. The period of about two and a half years (March 1917 – November 1919) that Roy and Evelyn lived in Mexico were perhaps the most wonderfully delightful  and magical years in their life.

While in Mexico, Evelyn skillfully managed his household, his social life and his political career. She also managed his finances and bank accounts, juggling with several aliases like–Martin, Roy, Allen, Trent etc.

Evelyn took up educational programmes for under-privileged children. And, when Roy formed ‘The Friends of India League ‘ , for propagation of India’s freedom ,  Evelyn became  its  Director. Evelyn in her letters to her mother, who at that time was in Washington D C , wrote about her desire to work for an Indian Revolutionary Party; and , wished that the wasted American millions should pour into India to build schools, factories and Universities.

Along with Roy, Evelyn got busily involved with the Socialist movement in Mexico. She contributed to El Heraldo de Mexico. From August, 25, 1919 to September 4, Roy organized the marathon session of the National Congress of the Socialist Party of Mexico. Roy and Evelyn chaired most of the sessions.

Evelyn was also one of the founder members of the Communist Party of Mexico (Partido Comunista Mexicano- PCM), the first recognized Communist Party formed outside Russia

When they decided to accept Lenin’s invitation to attend the Second Congress of the Communist International to be held in Moscow during spring of 1920, Evelyn and Roy left Mexico in November 1919 to Berlin on their way to Moscow.  They travelled under Mexican diplomatic passports provided by the President Carranza, in which their names were given as Senor and Senora Roberto Alleny Villa Garcia.

While in Berlin, on the way to Moscow, Evelyn came into contact an Indian group known as Berlin Committee fighting for India’s freedom with assistance from Germans. She also established links with August Thalheimer, the German Marxist activist and theoretician. Thalheimer was one her close friends; and kept in touch with him even during her later years.

Before leaving Berlin for Moscow, Roy along with Evelyn, drafted what he called as the Indian Communist Manifesto. The manifesto was signed by Roy, Abani Mukherjee and Evelyn Trent.

Evelyn and Roy along with Charles Philips (Frank Seaman) ,invited as official delegates of the Communist Party of Mexico , participated in the Second World Congress held at Moscow from 19 July 1920 to 7 August 1920, spread over fifteen sessions. Evelyn, while at Moscow, came into contact with various other Indian leftist and nationalist leaders such as, MPBT Acharya, Virendranath Chattopadyaya and also with Agnes Smedley, who was indeed the  driving force of their delegation .

They attended a rally in Petrograd. Evelyn was reporting her views and experiences to her mother through letters and personal messages. She was all praise for the social conditions in the Soviet Union.

Thereafter, Evelyn accompanied Roy on his mission in Tashkent during 1920-21; and managed his affairs in setting up a Military School in Tashkent.

Evelyn was one among the seven signatories to the document establishing the Communist Party of India (CPI)  at Tashkent on 17 October 1920. Thus , Evelyn Trent was one of  the founder members of the Communist Party of Mexico as also among  the founder member of the Communist Party of India at Tashkent.

While she was in Moscow, Evelyn Trent taught in the Communist University of the Toilers of the East and in International Political School.  She collaborated with M.N. Roy in the organizational and intellectual development of the international communist   movement in the Soviet Union, Mexico, Europe and in India.

Evelyn wrote series of articles on their newly started journal The Vanguard of Indian Independence   (later re-named as Masses of India) attacking the Gandhian approach to the British, predicting that Gandhi would eventually compromise with the British. She published her writings under her assumed name Santi Devi. Her mature writings written with understanding and clear analysis influenced the course of events in Communism, in Indian national movements and on the Indian National Congress. Her articles on Gandhian politics and economics were regarded by many as ‘the best-argued critiques ever published in Communist literature’.  In 1923, she wrote for the Labour Monthly attacking the Indian Congress session at Gaya held in 1922. In the same year (1923) her article ‘Mahatma Gandhi: Revolutionary or Counter-revolutionary?’  was published in the Labour Monthly of September . Some of her articles were later reproduced in a book titled ‘One Year of Non-Cooperation from Ahmadabad to Gaya’.

Please Check Evelyn Trent-Roy Archive for writings of Evelyn Trent.

And, for writings of M N Roy, please click here.

After the not-so-happy Fifth Congress, Roy returned to France by August 1924 after about six months of stay in Switzerland. Evelyn stationed in France was editing and managing  the Journal The Vanguard. She was also guiding Comite’ Pro-Hindou a group headed by Henri Barbusse which did propaganda work in favour of Indian Independence.

And, in the following January (on 30 January 1925) Roy and Evelyn were arrested in Paris, due to to British pressure brought to bear upon the French Government. Evelyn was released and allowed to stay in France. Roy, however, was deported to Luxembourg.

In July 1925 the Roys attended a meeting of Indian and French Communist to plan for the Congress of the Oppressed Nationalities. Here they had strong disagreements about the British Communist Party over its interference in the affairs of the Indian Party.

It was around this time in 1925 or early 1926 that Roy and Evelyn decided to end their relationship. They were separated for ever. The exact dates and reasons for separation are not clear.


Evelyn’s latter dated 13 March 1927 addressed to their mutual friend Henk Sneevliet (Jack Horner) makes a most poignant reading. The separation was very painful to her; she was totally distraught. She desperately tried to contact Ray and longed to be with him again. But, here letters and pleadings did not evoke any response from Roy. She wrote:

I blame my husband for nothing. He could not help what happened, any more than I could. I only wish he might have been more frank and open so that together we could have discussed everything and decided on a course to follow, instead of sending me off in ignorance of his real feelings and desires.


Had he wanted me to come back, I would have come, if only to be true to him and the work. It was very hard for me to believe or to realize that he did not want me or need me. That he wanted me to stay away. I only fully knew these seven months after I left him, and it was then that I went to get my divorce.


I received a divorce six months ago, as it appeared to me absolutely necessary to do so, before I could take up my life again in any direction. I hesitated a long time before taking this step – waited over six months and wrote many letters to R. offering to return and resume our former relationship.

It was only after receiving his categorical reply to remain in this country or go to China, but not to return there, that I decided upon what course to follow.

 Life appeared to me very difficult – almost impossible to resume in the old channels I had left nine years before.

She longed to go back to her parents and to her earlier environment. But again she was lonely and not accepted

My mother & father were glad to see me, but did not welcome my ideas, and part of my family refused to have anything at all to do with me. Most of my old friends from school and college also turned away from me. I found myself almost alone, except for a very few who remained loyal to the past, without in any way understanding or sympathizing with my viewpoint.


These are my people. I understand them, and it is in this environment I can grow and develop normally, as a human being. Above all, I was so weary of being hunted from place to place, from country to country, of having to hide and always to be surrounded by a terrible fog of suspicion and fear, and to have others suspect and fear me. All this had become intolerable.


I found myself alone. I had not the heart, even if I had possessed the strength, energy and enthusiasm, to begin all over again in the movement here.


All my work had been for India. Many stories were circulated about me – from external and internal sources. Had I attempted to be active I would have been deported at once. There was no possible way to prevent it for I had no rights here at all.

At first I thought it would be impossible for me to abandon my former life and work and just to live like this – it is still difficult – but it has been forced on me by a good many circumstances. I could not remain in the Indian work, that was sure even before my divorce. My position had become very difficult.

If I had ever been in India, or could ever go there, it might have been different, but always it had been pure theoretical abstraction to me. The only living link was my husband. When this link was broken, only the abstraction remained, and I was so tired of abstract theories. I had to come face to face with realities and to learn something about every day, practical living.

The result is, I have held aloof from everything, seen no one and done nothing but attempt to regain my mental and physical strength and to solve the first problem of all – to earn my living somehow or other.


The life after return from Europe had become very difficult for her, especially during the first 18 months after her return

I was in a state of complete mental and physical collapse. The very thought of politics sickened me. I could not concentrate my mind long enough to read a newspaper or book. I was restless, unhappy and frightfully disorientated. I belonged neither to my old life or the new one I had left it for. Then there was the personal heartache.

Besides all this, I had to meet the slanderous gossip and malicious tongues of various nationalist factions in this country, who very effectually poisoned the minds of all those liberal and semi-radical people I have turned to for help and friendship. They heard such frightful things against me that one and all turned away from me.

I was accused of being a spy, a renegade, a defalcator of funds, of having abandoned my husband and the movement after having bled them dry, etc. etc.


My activities abroad had been such as to render it very difficult for me to obtain work for which I was adapted by education and training. I had lost my citizenship and this fact closed a good many avenues of employment as well as made my position extremely uncertain.


Their separation was so complete that never thereafter did they meet or correspond. And, there is not a single word or reference to Evelyn in Roy’s Memoirs.

Evelyn was  keenly following Roy’s  Memoirs published as  serial in Radical Humanist Weekly from India during 1953-54  was curious to know what  Roy said of her. But, to her utter disappointment, there was not a word about her.

The separation was very painful to both. Roy’s party work in Europe suffered a great deal, because till then Evelyn had been managing and editing Vanguard/ Indian Masses; writing articles in Inprecor.  She was his secretary assistant and co-worker.

And, from 1925 onwards the name of Evelyn did not appear in any of the “documents of literature relating to Indian Communism” . Her  vanishing act was  complete as far as Indian leftist circles were concerned.


After her break from Roy, the British Intelligence lost track of Evelyn by 1927.  Evelyn moved back to  her parent’s home in Auburn , California in 1927.She was a columnist on International affairs  for San Francisco Chronicle specially on the events in  India, Afghanistan, China , Japan    and the Asian region. Later she moved to New York where she worked as a freelance journalist; she wrote on subjects related to Aviation for Herald Tribune flying all over America and Europe gathering material on commercial aviation.

She kept in touch with the minority Left groups in USA led by Jay Lovestone. In 1931 Evelyn wrote an article to their journal Revolutionary Age , touching on MN Roy’s arrest in India , giving details of his early history and describing  how  he had returned to India after along exile, daring to brave British imperialism face to face. She called upon “American liberal intellectuals, radicals and workers’ to protest Roy’s arrest.

In 1935 Evelyn moved back to California and wrote for Sacramento papers. In 1936 she married a writer Dewitt Jones. After his death in 1949 , she returned to live in her family house in Auburn California. In 1956 she worked for the Placer County Welfare Department. She retired in 1962. And Evelyn Leonora Trent-Jones died in 1970.

Evelyn possessed great love and empathy for human beings and spent her life writing about social injustices and the need for greater humanity and awareness. Her contributions and examples will live on forever in the work she has left behind, some of which are lodged in the Hoover Institute at Stanford University. 


Many researchers tried to talk to Evelyn to ascertain the reason for her separation from Roy; but, were not entirely successful.

Shibnarayan Ray, Roy’s biographer met Evelyn in 1957-58. She said that parting with Roy was friendly but  ‘sad on her part.. Quite sad’. She retained her admiration for Roy and interest in his work and writings. She cherished her life as revolutionary in Mexico, Moscow and Berlin. But, she preferred her communist past to be not made known’

On the question of Roy silence on her in his Memoirs , she defended Roy stating that the climate prevailing at that time (1950 early)  in USA was highly prejudiced against anything Left. And   ‘any mention of her communist past could have led to witch-hunting and caused her much harassment and trouble ‘.


Later, in 1970, several research scholars on political science interviewed Evelyn through   Robert  C. North, the political science professor in Stanford  University ;   but were not successful.  Evelyn preferred to remain anonymous and silent..

Dr Innaiah Narisetti, a Journalist from India, interviewed the son of Evelyn Trent`s sister, Diven Meredith in Los Angeles, during 1990s. He also corresponded with Evelyn’s nieces who sent Dr Innaiah some rare photos and some material about Evelyn. Dr Innaiah gathered some rare material about Evelyn Trent   from the Hoover Institute in Stanford University; the National Archives, Washington DC; and, The Institute of Social Sciences at Amsterdam. Please check his research work: Evelyn Tremt Alias Shanti Devi


Evelyn Trent Jones was an extraordinary woman who lived an amazing life. A successful journalist, she travelled worldwide on behalf of the early communist movement with her husband M.N. Roy. She played an important role in shaping the life and thought of M. N. Roy in the early stages. She also played a great role in the International politics and also in developing the Indian Communist movement.

Evelyn was not only politically and intellectually an important figure in the early history of Indian Communism; but was also one of its founding members. She had a special concern for India. Her mature writings written with understanding and clear analysis influenced the course of events in Communism, in Indian national movements and on the Indian National Congress.

It is rather sad, she is not remembered with love and gratitude in India and by the Communist Party; and , none celebrated her centenary in 1992.





The Next Part

Sources and References

  Evelyn Tremt Alias Shanti Devi by  Dr Innaiah Narisetti

The White Woman’s Other Burden: Western Women and South Asia During British Rule by Kumari Jayawardena

Age of Entanglement by Kris Manjapra

Many pages of the Wikipedia

Socialism of Jawaharlal Nehru by Rabindra Chandra Dutt

India & the United States: Politics of the Sixties by Kalyani Shankar

How Stalin’s daughter defected in India-

The Lives of Agnes Smedley by Ruth Price

The Pictures are from Internet



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Posted by on January 18, 2016 in M N Roy


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MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts – Part 16


Continued from Part 15

Western Women in leftist and national movements (2)

The intertwining lives of what was called as the Left Quartet – M N Roy, Evelyn Trent, Virendranath Chattopadyaya and Agnes Smedley are rather very engaging. The lives of men and the lives of the women ran on almost parallel lines.

Roy and Chattopadyaya the best known pioneers of Indian communism were both born in 1980s to Bengali Brahmin middle class families. Both were exposed as school boys to the dynamic nationalism of Vivekananda, Nivedita and Aurobindo. They both were influenced by militant politics of Bengal and the early armed resistance. They were ardent nationalists, participated in the extreme–wing of the nationalist struggle and were involved with Germans in trying to promote revolutionary activities in India during the First World War. By the early 1920, they were operating on the same terrain and came into bitter conflict over which one was to be accepted as the leader of the Indian Communist party.

There are also interesting parallel developments in the stories of two American women. Both Evelyn Trent and Agnes Smedley were born in 1892 in the USA and were radicalized by labour, feminist and anti-imperial struggle of that period. Both were politically active in California during 1915-1916 and met briefly in New York before their dramatic confrontation in Moscow in 1921 as consorts of two Indian revolutionaries who were vying for the attention of Lenin and the Communist International. They both had stressful life in addition to the strain of living with Indian revolutionaries who were lionized because of their active association with Communist movement; but were forced to live as fugitives on the run to avoid arrest or deportation by American and European Governments.

The dedication of these two women to the cause of Indian Independence was remarkable. Yet, neither visited India.

But around 1925, both the sets of couples separated. The women never again got directly involved with Indian nationalism or Indian communist movement.

Agnes Smedley became an internationally known writer because of her subsequent links to Communist movement in China.

And Evelyn went into oblivion from mid-1920s and distanced herself from India, the Indian communist movement and the Indian national movement.


Although each pair lived and worked separately, they all converged in Moscow in 1920 during the Second World Congress of the Communist International. It was a turbulent time in India also, when events in India were gathering momentum, when Lala Lajpat Rai formed (1920) the All India Trade Union Congress; and when Gandhi’s first large Civil Disobedience campaign was attracting masses in unbelievably huge numbers. By about the same time, civil disobedience was marred by a stray incident of  violence. That led Gandhi to call off the massive protests, just at the point it could have grown into a full scale revolution. The events happening in India overshadowed the irksome relations between Roy and Chattopadyaya.

The period of 1921-22 was significant in the Communist movement and in the Indian national movement as well.  M N Roy and Virendranath Chattopadyaya met in Moscow in 1921, as delegates to the second Congress of the Communist International.

Interestingly, at Moscow, there were involved discussions both among the Bolsheviks and the Indian groups over the merits and de-merits of non-violence over revolutionary uprising. It was also a period when Marxism was discussed in India along with the tactics of Gandhi and Lenin. And, that led to heated discussions and controversies

When the Roy and Virendranath Chattopadyaya met in Moscow in 1921, their main political differences began to sprout from their conflicting assessments of the Indian political scene. Chattopadyaya was in favour of a united front of all anti-imperial forces, whether Communist or not, to overthrow the British Rule.

Roy however was reluctant to lose the identity by joining with other Indian nationalists. He was concerned with building a viable Indian Communist Party to lead the anti-imperialist movement and to lend a Socialist direction to the Free India.

The groups aligned to Roy and to Chattopadyaya fought tooth and nail over the issue. They parted bitterly.

At Moscow, the idea advocated by Roy won the approval; and the Communist International permitted Roy and Evelyn for launching the Communist Party of India from Tashkent in 1921.


Viren (3)

Virendranath Chattopadyaya (1880-1941) , born in a Bengali family settled in  Hyderabad (Deccan) , was the eldest son (the second of eight children) of Dr. Aghorenath Chattopadhyaya (Chatterjee), a scientist-philosopher and educationist who was an ex-principal and professor of science at the Nizam College, Hyderabad, and his wife Barada Sundari Devi, a poetess and singer .  Their children Sarojini Naidu and Harindranath Chattopadhyay became well-known poets and eminent parliamentarians. Their daughter Mrinalini became a Nationalist activist and introduced Virendranath to many of her circle in Calcutta.

Virendranath went to Britain in 1901 for studies, but got involved with extreme Indian nationalists in London and with Irish revolutionaries. Fearing arrest, he escaped to France in 1910, where he worked with French Socialists and the Indian revolutionary Madam Bhikaji Cama. At the outbreak of the War he left for Germany.

viren chatto2

Virendranath (Chatto) was a smart polyglot (he knew English, German, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Dutch, Italian, Russian, Persian and several Indian languages including Telugu); and had a way with women.  He was a sort of Don Juan Casanova; made many a romantic conquest.  The women for some reason were fascinated by him. He had many marriages: an English woman (1910); Irish woman (1912-1914). From 1920-1928 he lived with Agnes Smedley; and in 1930 he married a Russian woman, Lydia Karunovskaya.

It was his involvement with Agnes Smedley that was most significant. It was during 1920 that Virendranath Chattopadhyaya met Smedley in Germany to where she had moved to escape the heat of pursuit from the American police because of her involvement with the Indians who had been indicted in the Hindu–German Conspiracy Trial. They lived together for the next several years in Germany, and other places, involved with various left-wing causes

Agnes Smedley lived with Virendranath Chattopadhyaya from 1921 to 1928. (He became a member of the Communist Party of Germany – KPD; but she was not).   In her autobiographical novel Daughter of Earth (1929) , Agnes wrote :

“The first person I met in Berlin was the Indian revolutionary leader Virendranath Chattopadhyaya. In New York I had often heard of him as one who had helped form an Indian Government-in-exile and build up a world-wide network of Indian revolutionary activity. In a very short time I had entered into a union with him. ”

 “ I married an artist, a revolutionary in a dozen different ways, a man of truly ‘fine frenzy’, nervous as a cat, always moving, never at rest… a thin man with much hair, a tongue like a razor and a brain like hell on fire.” ― Smedley’s letter, pg 230

Smedely described Virendranath the revolutionary :

‘ Virendranath was the epitome of the secret Indian revolutionary movement, and perhaps its most brilliant protagonist abroad. With a mind as sharp and as ruthless as a sober. He was thin and dark—to me he seemed like thunder, lightning and rain’. ‘His mind was modern, but his emotional roots were in Hinduism and Islam. Everyone understood and loved Viren, few understood me’.  

According to Sibnarayan Ray, Roy and Viren were rivals for Agnes: “Roy would have liked to work with her since he admired the latter’s intelligence and energy.

Chattopadyaya and Smedley broke up in 1928. Their life together had been turbulent mainly due to clashes over issues of class and cultural background. In the year that led to her break with Viren, Agnes began to speak critically of Indian society and the need for reformations. She was especially disturbed about the issue of birth control. “India produced droves of ‘weak slaves’ and the Indians as also those sympathetic to Indian cause would be in stronger position if they acknowledged ‘India’s case’. The change should come from within the Indian society. They do not have to need British government or Christian missionaries”.

“My alliance with Virendranath terminated early in 1928. To me he was not just an individual, but a political principle. For me , he embodied the tragedy of a whole race. Had he been born English or American, I thought, his ability would have placed him among the great leaders of his age. Despite all this, I could not take up life with him.

Agnes saw Viren for the last time in 1933 and remembered later:

“Hitler was threatening, and Viren had left Germany for the Soviet Union, where he was connected with the Academy of Science in Leningrad. Upon my arrival in Moscow he came to me. …For me, he embodied the tragedy of a whole race. Had he been born in England or America, I thought, his ability would have placed him among the great leaders of his age… He was at last growing old, his body thin and frail, his hair rapidly turning white. The desire to return to India obsessed him, but the British would trust him only if he were dust on a funeral pyre. What happened to him after that I do not know.

(From Agnes Smedley, China Correspondent, first published in 1943; pp.15-23)

During 1930s Virendranath Chattopadhyaya was working at the Indian Department of the Institute of Ethnography of the Academy of Science in Leningrad.

His last wife and colleague, Dr. Lydia Karunovskaya, the head of the Indonesian Department at that time, later said that Viren was arrested in 15 July 1937 during the Great Purge of Stalin.  It was much later revealed that Virendranath was one among the 187 marked for execution. The sentence was pronounced on 2 September 1937; and Virendranath Chattopadhyaya was executed on the same day.

In his Autobiography, decades later, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote of Virendranath Chattopadhyaya:

“An entirely different type of person was Virendranath Chattopadhyay, member of a famous family in India. Popularly known as Chatto he was a very able and a very delightful person. He was always hard up, his clothes were very much the worse for wear and often he found it difficult to raise the wherewithal for a meal. But his humour and light heartedness never left him. He had been some years senior to me during my educational days in England. He was at Oxford when I was at Harrow. Since those days he had not returned to India and sometimes a fit of homesickness came to him when he longed to be back. All his home-ties had long been severed and it is quite certain that if he came to India he would feel unhappy and out of joint. But in spite of the passage of time the home pull remains. No exile can escape the malady of his tribe, that consumption of the soul, as Mazzini called it… Of the few I met, the only persons who impressed me intellectually were Virendranath Chattopadhyay and M.N. Roy. Chatto was not, I believe, a regular communist, but he was communistically inclined.”



Agnes Smedley (February 23, 1892 – May 6, 1950)

Agnes Smedley was born in Osgood, Missouri on Feb 23, 1892 as the second of five children. In 1901, when she was nine years of age, her family moved to Colorado. Smedley grew up under straitened circumstances. At an early age she began working after school to help support her family and she dropped out of school completely in 1907.  

At age of 16 she left home after her mother’s death and not willing to suffer her father’s cruelty to her and to her siblings. Later, she described herself as one who was a ‘poor white trash engaged in a brutalizing struggle to overcome their environment’.   And, over the next several years she studied and worked at a variety of jobs in the West and Southwest – from tobacco stripper, stenographer, waitress, book agent or ‘just plain starveling’- and went through a brief, unhappy marriage.  She then realized that ‘for women marriage meant nothing but imprisonment and humiliation’. After divorcing in 1916, she left the Southwest in her early twenties for New York City, where she worked and attended classes at Normal School. In March 1912 (when about twenty) Agnes was elected as the Editor-in-Chief of the School’s weekly magazine – The Normal Student.  While in New York, she became involved in politics and the birth-control movement.

lala lajpath rai2

Smedley, who worked for Indian nationalist leader Lala Lajpat Rai, in New York, soon became involved in his cause.  She took up a room near Lajpat Rai’s house, worked as his Secretary in the morning; attended classes at a New York University college; and, in the evening listened to Lajpat Rai on Indian History, culture and freedom movement. She treated Lajpat Rai as a ‘father figure’. She said ’ I loved him as I might have loved my father… I learnt more from him than I could have leaned from any other source’.  Lala Lajpat Rai introduced Agnes Smedley to radical ideas and to issues concerning India’s struggle for freedom and to other Indian nationalists

agnes-smedley-pic1 in sari

Agnes Smedley was also attracted by Russian revolution and to the struggle of the Ghadar Party of California. But, Lajpath Rai was alarmed when she got too radical and attempted to form a radical Indian National Party.  Her idea was to turn it into a sort of parallel Indian government, a radical body representing Indian interests abroad. She sent letters (signed by her as Bose) appealing to Trotsky and other Bolsheviks seeking support for Indian independence and for the revolutionary groups working for Indian cause in America and elsewhere.

Her correspondence with Bolsheviks and   radical groups was intercepted. She was arrested by the  U.S. Naval Intelligence Bureau in 1918 under the Espionage Act, not only on charges of aiding Germany (in the Hindu–German Conspiracy Trial), but also on the counts of disseminating information on birth control methods.  Agnes was described in the charges as ‘the the directing genius behind the plot’.  The arrest of Agnes Smedley was reported in New York Times of 19 March 1918. She was released on bail set at $10,000. Because of the Birth-control charges filed against Agnes, a campaign by Liberal women groups headed by Margret Sanger helped her release.

Again on 11 June 1918, a second indictment for violating the Espionage Act was filed against Agnes Smedley, in San Francisco, along with several Indian revolutionaries and American liberals. Since the Indian revolutionaries were said to be in league with Germans (who in 1918 were American enemies), all the defendants were charged as ‘German conspirators’; and were found guilty of conspiring to launch military expedition.

On 14 October 1918, Agnes Smedley made an appeal against her sentence; but, did not succeed. She was sent back to jail’; and, was released after eight months in prison.

During her prison-time, Agnes came in contact with an assortment of rebels:  uncompromising crusaders for birth control (Kitty Marian); liberals who opposed US intervention in Russian revolution (Mollie Stelmer); and some socialists.  That drew Agnes closer to the socialist ideas ; and, alienated her from American-establishment views.

Agnes Smedley became thoroughly disenchanted with the United States. Late in 1919, after serving out her time, she boarded a freighter bound for Europe, and finally reached Berlin, Germany. She lived in Germany   from 1919 to 1928. While in Berlin, she taught English at the University of Berlin, did graduate work in Asian studies there, wrote articles for several periodicals, and helped establish Germany’s first public birth-control clinic.

In Berlin, looking for the newspaper of the Indian exiles on whose behalf she had been imprisoned, she met the revolutionary leader Virendranath Chattopadhyaya in 1919. The two soon got caught up with each other. Smedley lived with Chattopadyaya for eight years, working along with him ,  studying Indian history and Chinese nationalism etc.

 During May 1921, She accompanied Virendranath Chattopadyaya to Moscow with a view to attend the Third World Congress of the Communist International – June 22-July 12, 1921. From May to September, they both were in Moscow.

While in Moscow, Viren and Agnes had interactions with M N Roy, who was already well established there. According to Sibnarayan Ray, Roy and Viren were rivals for Agnes.

In Berlin, Agnes Smedley and a group of progressive physicians with some financial aid from Margaret Sanger set up the first state birth-control clinic. But later, the German republican government took over the clinic and established several others which flourished until the Nazis came to power and women were ‘ordered back to the bedroom’. With Hitler threatening, Virendranath left Germany for the Academy of Sciences in Leningrad; and Agnes obtained a position with the Frankfurter Zeitung in 1928, as a special correspondent in China.

Smedley and Chattopadyaya broke up in 1928. Their life together had been turbulent due mainly to clashes over issues of class and cultural background. Though she admired Viren in many ways, she said ‘I could not take up life with him’. Her life had become very stressful. She took  psychoanalysis treatment in an attempt to combat depression; and, as a form of therapy, she began writing the autobiographical novel Daughter of Earth (1929).

Agnes Smedley, unlike Evelyn Trent, did not disappear; but remained  active till her last years. She was involved in the Communist movement in Germany and China ; and with Indian movement in 1920. She however never visited India. For her, India was a vision or a fascinating idea though she kept in touch with Nehru. She got more interested in China, reporting from there.

In 1928 Smedley went to China as special correspondent for the Frankfurter Zeitung. From her base in Shanghai she travelled widely reporting enthusiastically on the growing communist movement. She lived on and off in China from 1928 to 1941. In 1930, Agnes befriended the great writer Lu Xun whom she called ‘the man who became one of the most influential factors in my life during all my years in China’ . Together with other intellectuals in mid-1932 , the two formed the first ‘League of Civil Rights’ in China to urge democratic rights and an end to the torturing of political prisoners.

By September, 1937 Agnes was on her way to Suiyuan and Chahar provinces where the Red Army was fighting. Although in constant pain from back injury, she reported about the condition of the wounded, about the starvation and rampant disease; and appealed for medical aid for the absolute need for ‘travelling dispensaries and public health workers’. She soon became a sort of ‘wandering first aid worker’ herself, often treating soldiers from her stretcher when she could no longer sit or stand. While at the front , Agnes finished a new book ‘China Fights Back’ before leaving for Hanzhou in 1938.

[ In the meanwhile, when Agnes Smedley was in China, on 29 March 1929, the police in Meerut, India, arrested about thirty-five Indian communists on charges of ‘conspiracy to deprive the British King of the sovereignty ‘. Agnes Smedley was prosecuted in absentia. Many of the arrested had translated into Urdu and published the articles sent from Berlin by Agnes Smedley (but, the parties had never met). In one the articles she had predicted a war between Britain and Soviet Union. Another of her articles was  her moving tribute to Lala Lajpat Rai whom she loved as her’ father figure’. Lala had died at the hands of the British police during a protest march in Lahore. Agnes had written poignantly expressing her shock and remorse for the death of the departed leader. Her note was published in India during April 1929. The Meerut case dragged for three years, till 1933.]

agnes war correspondent in china

In mid-1938 Agnes became a special wartime correspondent for the Manchester Guardian. During her travels with the Red guerrillas left behind of the Red Army , she lectured and inspected hospitals and reported on the extent of American aid to the Japanese war machine. In ill health and unable to stay with the guerrillas,  Agnes decided to leave China and go back to the US.

Smedley returned to the United States in 1941 and continued to write and speak widely in support of radical causes and also on behalf of the Chinese communists. Her Battle Hymn of China (1943) is considered an excellent example of war journalism. Her speeches and sentiments, however, provoked an increasingly hostile response.

 During 1944, Agnes Smedley came under FBI surveillance and strict censorship; and she was branded as ‘a notorious communist expert on Far East ‘.  Her file recorded her as: ‘Agnes Smedley: native Born Communist’. Her mails were examined before delivery. After she received a mail from a German communist in Mexico on 22 October 1944, the surveillance was intensified; and, she came to be suspected as a Soviet agent.  In mid July of 1946, FBI put Agnes Smedley on its Special Security Watch list of suspected Soviet spies who were marked for ‘custodial detention’.

Agnes Smedley, sitting in coffee shop

American media, at the behest of FBI, talked about Agnes Smedley as Soviet spy. She retaliated by threatening legal action against the Government agency, and the media, whereupon the Secretary of Defense admitted that the charges against her by the FBI rested on no evidence. And, the investigations against Agnes Smedley were suspended in May 1947.

Agnes Smedley continued to write about the need for a new social order and a new foreign policy on the basis of Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms – Freedom of Speech and Worship; and, Freedom from Want and Fear. The FBI again, noted in her writings and speeches shades and overtones of left-ideology; and , renewed surveillance against her.

In 1949 , General Douglas MacArthur released an army intelligence report that outrageously charged Agnes Smedley with being a ‘Soviet spy at large since 1930’. Agnes Smedley, however, continued her fight; confronting her adversaries with steely righteousness.

At a press conference and on Mutual Broadcasting System , Agnes Smedley flatly denied the charges made against her; and threw a challenge calling General MacArthur ‘a coward and a Cad’. She dared him to waive the immunity he enjoyed and be prepared to face a suit for libel.

On 15 February 1949, Col. George Eyster told New York Times:’ I believe, Miss Smedely should not have been mentioned by name until appropriate authorities had investigated her’.  On 18 February 1949, the Army apologized and retracted the charges made against Agnes Smedley. But, the surveillance against her continued.

The era of McCarthyism had become intolerable. Despite her public posture of defiance, Agnes was deeply distressed. Her health began to deteriorate. She could not sleep without drugs; and she developed heart troubles. Her friends too came under watch; and were harassed. To save them from further trouble, Agnes Smedley decided to move away from the conflict-zone.

agnes medley.jpg

In the fall of 1949, Agnes Smedley, in disgust, sought refuge in England, where she worked to complete The Great Road: The Life and Times of Chu Teh, a  biography of the Chinese communist military leader Zhu De.

She died in the UK after surgery for an ulcer , on May 6, 1950.

 During her last days , Agnes  longed to return to China, saying:  ‘As my heart and spirit have found no rest in any other land on earth except China, I wish my ashes to lie with the Chinese Revolutionary dead.’

Her wish was fulfilled a year after her death, when  her ashes were interred at the National Revolutionary Martyrs Memorial Park – the Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery-  in Beijing in 1951.

agnes medley head stone2

Her book on Zhu De was published posthumously in 1956.

Agnes Smedley had a remarkable life. Agnes emerged from hard poverty to become a country school teacher, a writer; a participant in Margaret Sanger’s birth control movement; a self-appointed warrior for the poor; a socialist; a journalist; and, a freedom fighter. She was, for a major part of her life, on the battlefront of American politics, the Indian struggle for independence, and the Chinese Communist revolution. Agnes Smedley is regarded as of one of the most significant female political figures in recent American history. It is sad that due recognition and regard is not accorded to her and her work. 

Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya (wife of Viren’s brother Harindranath Chattopadyaya) writing of Agnes Smedley, in 1986, said   :

“She strode forward into some of the stormiest earth shaking events of international history. She braved wars and shattering turmoil because of her single-minded devotion to the downtrodden, and the oppressed.”



Let’s talk of Evelyn Trent and Ellen Gottschalk the women intimately related to Roy’s life, in the succeeding  parts.




 Next Part

Sources and References

The White Woman’s Other Burden: Western Women and South Asia During British Rule by Kumari Jayawardena

Age of Entanglement by Kris Manjapra

Many pages of the Wikipedia

Socialism of Jawaharlal Nehru by Rabindra Chandra Dutt

India & the United States: Politics of the Sixties by Kalyani Shankar

How Stalin’s daughter defected in India-

The Lives of Agnes Smedley by Ruth Price

Trials that Changed History: From Socrates to Saddam Hussein by M.S. Gill (Chapter 19- Agnes Smedley)

All pictures are from Internet 

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Posted by on January 18, 2016 in M N Roy


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