MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 07
In Berlin on the way to Moscow
In November 1919, after a stay of about two and a half years in Mexico, Roy and Evelyn departed from the port of Veracruz, Mexico’s oldest and largest port on the Gulf of Mexico, on their way to Russia. They travelled under the Mexican diplomatic passports, in which their names were given as Senor and Senora Roberto Alleny Villa Garcia.
It had been decided that, for reasons of their safety, the Roys’ would not travel directly to Moscow; but would reach Moscow via Cuba, Spain, and Germany. These precautions were necessary to escape the attention of the British Secret Service.It was also decided that they would spend more time in Berlin to gain good experience of the Communist movement in Germany. According to the plan, Borodin along with Charles Phillips had left for Europe prior to Roys’ departure from Mexico.
After brief halt in Cuba and in Spain, Roy and Evelyn reached Berlin, via Milan and Zurich, by the end of December 1919. The Mexico’s representatives in Europe had been instructed to render any type of assistance that Roy and Evelyn might need.
[Roy, in fact, had initially started for Berlin from Japan about four years ago, in search of funds and arms to fight the British rule. But, by the time of his actual visit to Berlin in 1919 many changes had taken place in his life, in his views and in his objectives. This time, he no longer was seeking money or arms; he was also not intent on raising a rebellion in India. He now was gripped by a new faith that believed in mass movement and social revolution. And yet, the urgent need to overthrow Imperial regimes in the colonies remained the driving force.]
On their way to Moscow, Roys’ stopped at Berlin for about four months (from end of November 1919 to April 1920; eventually reaching Moscow in end of April or early May 1920). Their wait at Berlin was perhaps necessary because of the disturbed conditions that then prevailed in post-war Europe. Further, the travel to Russia, in particular, across various borders was beset with difficulties, uncertainties and risks.
Another reason for Roy’s prolonged stay at Berlin was to meet the Indian revolutionary groups operating from Germany; and, more importantly, to meet the leaders of the German Communist movement.
As regards the Indian revolutionaries operating from Germany, they had been actively involved in liaisoning with the Kaiser’s Government , even as early as in 1913, for gaining German support – in terms of funds and arms- for carrying out armed rebellion in India against the British rule. Their aim was to throw out the British from the Indian soil by waging relentless series of guerilla wars. During 1913-14, when the War had broken out, the Indians, mainly the students, resident in Germany, formed themselves into an organization called The Berlin Committee with the objective of promoting the cause of Indian Independence. The Committee included famous persons such as Virendranath Chattopadhyaya (alias Chatto, brother of Sarojini Naidu), Chempakaraman Pillai and Abinash Bhattacharya. Lala Har Dayal, who by then had fled to Germany after orders for his arrest in the United States, also lent his support to the Committee.
The Berlin Committee persuaded the Kaiser Government to help them in the common cause of defeating the British. They had even succeeded in obtaining assurance from the Kaiser’s Government to fund and to supply arms to carry out the revolutionary movement in India against the British Rule. In 1914, German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg approved and sanctioned German support to Indian revolutionary groups. Max von Oppenheim was appointed the head of the German effort. He was an archaeologist as well as the head of the newly formed Intelligence Bureau for the east.
The Berlin Committee, on its part, established contacts with Indian revolutionaries headed by Bagha Jatin ; the Ghadar movement in USA; as also with several armament and explosives factories in German-friendly countries. Later, this Berlin-Indian Committee played an active part in the Hindu-German Conspiracy in USA.
During the course of the War, in 1915, The Berlin Committee was re-named as the Indian Independence Committee (Das Indische Unabhängigkeitskomitee).
The Committee itself was the brainchild of the Nachrichtenstelle für den Orient and its director, the Orientalist Max Freiherr von Oppenheim, who tended to refer to the IIC as ‘Meine Inder’ (‘my Indians’). The Indians on the Committee were expected to assist with propaganda material to induce desertions and surrenders among British Indian troops in Europe; among the Indian prisoners of war in German prison camps to volunteer for a military expedition to free India from foreign rule.
The ‘plot’ was highlighted and sensationalized in the press during the famous San Francisco Conspiracy Case of 1917-18, when the United States joined the war and proceeded to take action against Indians and their sympathizers operating from within the USA
The Germans did try to support the Indian rebels in USA , but were unsuccessful , mainly because their correspondence with the Military Attaché of the German Consulate in USA (Wilhelm Von Brincken ) were intercepted . Please see a Press Report concerning the letter of 04 November 1916 by Von Brincken, which was produced as prosecution evidence in the Hindu German Conspiracy.
Towards the end of the war, a group had moved with Viren Chattopadhyay to Sweden, where a strategic branch office of Indian nationalists had been set up, and from where Chatto and his colleagues had begun communicating with the Bolsheviks in the run-up to the October Revolution. Many of them moved back to Germany in the early years of the Weimar Republic
After the war and the defeat of Germany, the Berlin Committee members were reduced to a bunch of disillusioned, disappointed broken men constantly quarreling among themselves out of sheer desperation. They could not see a way out their predicament. Their plans for future had nowhere to go. The Committee was formally disbanded in November 1918, with each member pursuing his own way. And, some were getting attracted towards the nascent Bolshevik movement of Russia and to the ideology of Communism.
By the time Roy reached Berlin (say, end of December 1919), the Committee, formally, was no longer in existence. However, there were some Indians in Berlin who were looking for a forum and opportunities to work together. But, these persons were, generally, independent and not subscribing to a common view or an agenda. And, nothing much came of their restlessness. Some of such prominent Indians in Berlin during those times included: Tarachand Roy, Benoy kumar Sarkar, Abdur Rahman, Chamapakraman Pillai, Dr. J. C. Dasgupta, Satish Chandra Roy, Hardayal, Debendra Bose, K. K. Naik, V. Joshi, B. N. Dasgupta, J. N. Lahiri, Heramaba Lal Gupta, Dhirendranath Sarkar, A. S. Siddiqui, Abdus Sattar Khairi, Bhupendranth Datta ( brother of Narendranath Datta – Swami Vivekananda ) and Soumyendranath Tagore, the poet Rabindranath’s nephew, and an unorthodox socialist who travelled in and out of Berlin until 1933
During his stay in Berlin, Roy did meet some the members of the disbanded Berlin Committee; but was disappointed.
At the same time, Roy was trying to develop personal contacts with eminent socialist and communists leaders of Germany. They were figures like Eduard Bernstein, Karl Kautsky, Rudolf Hilferding, Wilhelm Pieck and August Thalheimer. He also befriended H.J. Sneevliet in Holland.
[In 1918, as the War was drawing to a close, the common people of Germany were exhausted by the deaths and devastation brought upon them. Apart from destroyed houses, they had to contend with the problem of acute shortage of food, fuel and also unreasonably high price of daily commodities. When the defeat of Germany was in sight, the social and political convulsions began to churn. In October 1918, workers, sailors and soldiers of the Baltic ports began to set up the Bolshevik-style councils; and, soon red flags fluttered atop the ports and factories. It also spread to major German cities. To stimulate the unrest that was gathering pace, the Soviet embassy in Berlin provided weapons to the insurgents. In November, Emperor Wilhelm II abdicated after he lost the support of his troops. The German parliament declared creation of the Social Democratic Party.
In December 1918, the radical elements within the German Socialists and the workers’ union founded the Communist Party of Germany- Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (KPD) under the leadership of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. After the assassination of these two leaders, August Thalheimer and others came to the forefront.]
Roy came close to August Thalheimer*, the German Marxist activist and theoretician. He started attending the secret meetings of the German Communists discussing current problems of the revolution. Roy, later wrote: I was immensely benefitted by the discussions; and, before long, I could participate in the discussions. They all treated me with kindness, affection and respect.
[*August Thalheimer (March 18, 1884 to September 19, 1948) was a German Marxist, activist and theoretician.
Thalheimer was a member of the German Social Democratic Party prior to the First World War. He edited Volksfreund, one of the party newspapers, and from 1916 worked on Spartakusbriefe, the official paper of the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD). Thalheimer became a founder member of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), where he was recognized as the party’s main theorist. (Thalheimer, it is said, was a learned Sanskrit scholar, an authority on Panini’s Grammar)
During the Stalinist years, the Communist Party of Germany – KPD criticised the foreign policy of the Soviet Union. He was expelled from the KPD. Then, in 1928, he along with Brandler formed the Communist Party Opposition (KPO). However, facing threat from Stalinist forces, Thalheimer went into exile in Paris from 1932. At the start of 1935 Thalheimer began writing a regular column on international news for Workers Age, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of the USA (Opposition). Thalheimer went to Barcelona, Spain in 1936; and became involved in the local politics of the Marxist Workers’ Party of Spain. In July 1937, six members of the KPO in Barcelona were arrested by the Stalinists. He soon returned to France again to work with the KPO in exile. He started writing articles criticizing the German Fascists and the Russian Communist Dictators, alike; A very hazardous occupation, indeed.
In 1940, after the outbreak of the War and as the German forces swiftly occupied France, Thalheimer fled to Cuba. He died in Havana on 19 September 1948.]
As regards Rosa Luxemburg the Marxist theorist, philosopher, economist and revolutionary socialist, by the time Roy reached Berlin (say, end of December 1919), Rosa Luxemburg was no longer alive; she and Liebknecht had been murdered on January 15, 1919, by members of the Free Corps (Freikorps), a loose band of conservative paramilitary groups. But her writings influenced Roy greatly.
Roy found in the life and writings Rosa Luxemburg, the convergence of two streams of ideologies: Freedom and Democracy on one side; and Revolutionary Order on the other. Throughout his active life, Roy was intensely committed to dismissal of British rule in India and ushering in new political, social, economic and moral order in Indian society. As regards the moral aspect, Roy came to believe that moral motive, independent of other motives for a social revolution (freedom, fraternity and order) was essential to build a strong and durable order as it ensures honesty and transparency in working of the system. On that point , Roy was closer to Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg than to Marx or Engels ( who had said: We reject every attempt to impose on us any moral dogma).
Rosa Luxemburg, in her book Accumulation of Capital, had written that the imperialist capitalist system survived and thrived on external markets of colonial countries. Roy maintained that argument in Second Congress as also in his later theses.
Benjamin Zachariah, a noted research scholar, in his paper Rosa Luxemburg on the National Question writes: It is an irony of history that Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919), who thought of nationalism as narrow-minded and backward-looking, should today be remembered so often as a Polish-Jewish woman, thus reducing her to a set of identitarian particularisms.
Berlin of the 1920s was the hub of international subversive activities, where Egyptian and Indian organisations could coordinate their activities, assist each other in their anti-imperialist activities, and collectively appeal to the principles of German sovereignty and international political asylum rights. Berlin was also the center where the rebel communist party of Germany began to form with networks across rest of Europe.
Roy, in particular, mentions about the secret meeting of the German Communist party, held in March 1920, which he attended. The meeting which lasted almost throughout the night discussed the strategy for the general political strike which was to be declared the next day. This was the famous right wing revolt Kapp Putsch also known as the Kapp-Lüttwitz Putsch wherein the German Army staged a Coup d’état
[It was March 1920. It had only been eighteen months since Germany’s defeat in the Great War and the subsequent signing of the humiliating Treaty of Versailles in which the politicians of Weimar Germany had agreed to pay massive reparations and accept Germany’s guilt for the conflict that had engulfed Europe. It was within this chaos that the ill-fated Kapp Putsch took place.
Friedrich Ebert (1871 -1925) , a German politician of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and the first President of Germany from 1919 , was also unwilling to abide by the humiliating conditions of the Versailles treaty. But, he hardly had any other option.
Wolfgang Kapp, a right-wing journalist, appalled by the humiliation brought upon the German nation, persuaded General Luttwitz to stage rebellion against the Government of Elbert; throw him out; and establish a right-wing autocratic government in its place. Kapp had also the support of Germany’s foremost military officer – General Erich Luderndorff. On 13 March 1920, Lüttwitz and Kapp marched into Berlin, at the head of a 6,000-strong group of Freikorps (demobilized or free soldiers), sporting swastika emblems on their helmets, determined to overthrow the government.
The Weimar president, Friedrich Ebert, called on his army to crush the Kapp Putsch, as it came to be known, but was told “troops don’t fire on troops”. Without military support, Ebert and his government fled to Dresden in south Germany.
On the same day, Luttwitz seized Berlin and proclaimed that a new right of centre nationalist government was being established with Kapp as chancellor.
From Dresden, Friedrich Ebert gave a call to the German people to go on a general strike to paralyse the rebellion as also immobilize those supporting Kapp and Luttwitz. Responding to his call, the common people, along with the workers led by the Communist Party, joined the general strike. The civil service too sided with Ebert and refused to take orders from Kapp. Within about four days of general strike the whole of Germany was paralyzed. The immobile and helpless Kapp-Lüttwitz Putsch was doomed and failed badly. Kapp and Luttwitz fled Berlin on March 17th. (But, those who fought for Kapp and Luttwitz later became supporters of the fledgling Nazi Party.)
With the failure of the rebellion, the Government of the Weimar president, Friedrich Ebert was saved. And, Friedrich Ebert returned to power and his regime was restored.]
Roy who was watching these developments was fascinated by the coming together of common people, the civil service and the workers; and , their triumph over the Army. There were some lessons to be learnt from the five days of the Kapp Putsch. It demonstrated the power of mass movement; and, of the general strike. It also showed that the Government’s means of dealing with uprisings of such nature are indeed very limited. In such stringent situations, a Government cannot effectively enforce its authority, even in its own capital, unless it has the support of its people. At the same time, the support of the army could not be taken for granted.
The German Marxists led by August Thalheimer had a slightly different interpretation of Karl Marx’s doctrine and the also differed from the Russian Bolsheviks. Though they believed in the ultimate social revolution and liberation of the working classes, they preferred a gradual progress towards socialism that did not resort to violence or armed insurgency. Their method was to build a mass movement and steer the country towards socialism. Roy, as he said, was struck by the ‘humanness ‘of the German Socialists. However, Roy a new convert to Communism, could not, at that stage, see anything other than what he had learnt from Borodin in Mexico. But later in his life , Roy came to greatly appreciate the principle of ‘humanness’ and made it a corner stone of his philosophy.
Roy had long discussions with German Communist leaders to widen his knowledge about the theory and practice of Communism. It helped him to visualize and dream about the form and content of the future Communist movement in India.
Thereafter, Roy before leaving Berlin for Moscow wrote what he called as the Indian Communist Manifesto. The opening lines of the Manifesto were addressed to the Indian revolutionaries who were told that the time had come for them to ‘ make a statement of their principles in order to interest the European and American proletariat in the struggle of Indian masses , which is rapidly becoming a fight for economic and social emancipation and abolishion of class rule’. It also blamed the bourgeois (largely the Indian middle class) striving for democracy and the failure of the nationalist movement.
“The nationalist movement in India has failed to appeal to the masses, because it strives for a bourgeois democracy and cannot say how the masses will be benefited by independent national existence. The emancipation of the working class lies in the social revolution and the foundation of a communist state. Therefore, the growing spirit of rebellion in the masses must be organised on the basis of class struggle in close cooperation with the world proletarian movements.”
Roy then suggested to the Indian nationals in Germany, most of whom were former members of the Berlin Committee, to join the proletarian forces with Russia in the forefront. However, the idea did not appeal to many, because it was not nationalistic and was not India-centered. Some of them (including Bhupendranath Dutta whom Roy knew from his Calcutta days) even suspected that Roy could be acting as an agent of the Bolsheviks planning to take control of the Indian revolutionary movement.
The draft Manifesto; its language and its strange terms were also out of their ken; and its stated objectives did not find favor with most of the Ex-Committee members who were basically nationalists and who came from educated class in India.
Eventually there were only three signatories to that document : Roy himself; Evelyn Trent Roy who affixed her signature as Santi Devi , her newly acquired pseudonym; and, Abani Mukherjee (Abaninath Mukherji ) , an Ex-member of the Anushilan Samithi , who had just arrived from India through the Dutch –East –Indies (Indonesia) and Holland .
While in Berlin, Roy started on his book India in Transition , with Abani Mukherjee providing the statistical input. The Book was eventually published from Berlin , in 1922 after he had spent about two years in Moscow. During the intervening period, Roy kept revising his Draft-Book. As it progressed, the ideas gained from discussions with Lenin and other Communist leaders at the Second Congress of the Communist International in Russia during 1920 were brought into Book.
The Book argued that the rebellion of 1857 had failed to rid of feudalism in India. The India in Transition gives a critical analysis of Indian society and a clear vision of the process of attuning Indian Independence. It remained a reference book for the communists on colonial and semi colonial questions. That was until the official change took place in the Sixth World Congress of the Communist International in 1929, by which time Roy had been expelled by the Comintern.
But, the more interesting part of the book is about the issues that figured in Roy’s discussions with Lenin on the role of Gandhi and the Indian National Congress in the Indian independence movement. Each looked at Congress and Gandhi form his own perspective, guided by own his experience in the revolution. And, that was also the crucial point of difference between Lenin and Roy.
Gandhi retuned to India in 1915. And, by about 1920-21, the Indian independence movement and the Indian National Congress had come under the influence of Gandhi.
On the question of the Indian National Congress and Gandhi, Lenin formed his views drawing upon his experience of Russian revolution. Lenin pointed out that the Bolsheviks had supported the liberal liberation movements against Tsarist rule. The bourgeois nationalism of any oppressed nation has a general content that is directed against oppression. And, it is this content that we support. The ‘nationalist bourgeoisie ‘opposed to Imperialism, could, therefore, initially, be regarded as ‘revolutionary’. You will now have to base yourselves on the bourgeois nationalism which is awakening, and must awake. At this stage we are interested in building an anti-imperialist united front. The question when and what stage such ‘nationalist bourgeoisie ‘should be discarded would be decided at a later time depending upon the situation.
Lenin had developed a broader perceptive of revolutionary processes having lived and worked through its various stages. The broader picture that he envisioned was social revolution in the West as also in the East. Lenin, in general, was in favour of a creative search for effective ways, forms and means of struggle for socialism taking along with it the national conditions. He thought that the principles of socialism , in particular situations, “ could be correctly modified, correctly adopted and applied to national and national-state distinctions”. In that wider process he was not averse utilising nationalism in creating a broad based anti-imperialistic movement; and, later to take over the movement.
[Lenin did not share Marx’s faith in the ‘spontaneous’ development of class-consciousness. He saw an essential difference between the proletariat and the socialist, meaning a class-conscious proletariat. Lenin considered that the development of genuine class–consciousness depends upon the party organization, discipline and indoctrination. At the time of the Second World Congress (1920) there was no Communist Party in India; but there only a few scattered revolutionary groups. He opined that it would take some time before the Indian proletariat and peasantry could be mobilized.]
Lenin contented that non-communist nationalist organizations like the Indian National Congress could , for the present, be considered as revolutionary, since no viable Communist party existed in India. And, it would take some time before the Indian workers and peasants could be mobilized and organized effectively. Until then, the organizations such as Congress, Lenin said, deserved support. He said, the Indian Communists were duty bound to support such’ bourgeois liberation movements’ without any intent of merging with them. As he said, there could be ‘ temporary relations’ or ‘unions’ with such movements. As regards Gandhi, Lenin believed that Gandhi as the inspirer and leader of a mass movement, could be regarded a revolutionary. It is said, Lenin, at one stage, remarked: a good nationalist is better than a bad communist.
Roy, at the age of 28, left India in 1915, just at the time when Gandhi returned to India after twenty-one years in South Africa. During his early years, Roy was busily engaged in insurgency; and, for most of his active years in India, he was a fugitive. He was not in manner associated or involved with political process. His views on Indian National Congress, in 1921-22, were tinted with the impressions he gained, while in India, as a rebellious youth. It was also clouded by the indoctrination he received from Borodin during 1919. Borodin during his brief stay in Mexico (1919) had worked hard to liberate Roy from notions of Nationalism. And, those lessons fructified in the An Indian Communist Manifesto which Roy drafted in Berlin, during 1920, en route from Mexico to Moscow for the Second Congress of the Comintern. Roy presented the same set of views at the Second Congress later in Moscow. In his Draft Manifesto, it was said: We want the world to know that nationalism is confined to the bourgeois, but the masses are awakening to the call of the social revolution.
Obviously , at that stage , Roy had neither grasped nor understood the necessity of the ‘proletariat’ to unite with the ‘national bourgeoisie’ in their common revolutionary struggle against Imperialism for achieving the Indian Independence. And, while millions were marching along Gandhi in a national upsurge, Roy wrote ‘the nationalist movement in India has failed to appeal to the masses’. He again misread the situation asserting that ‘the masses are pushed on to the revolutionary ranks not so much by national enthusiasm, as by the … Struggle for economic emancipation’. Those misinformed statements were compounded with Roy’s exuberant estimate of the Indian proletariat’s revolutionary capacity to fight, singly, for Indian independence.
In his discussions with Lenin and in his book India in Transition , Roy took a very highly critical view of Indian National Congress and of Gandhi, in particular.
Roy criticized the Indian national movement under the Congress Party – the way it was preceding and its leadership. He was particularly unhappy with the lack of any theoretical foundation, socio-economic philosophy for the Indian national movement.
He said: “There must be a socio-political philosophy behind any great movement. The much-needed ideological background of our struggle is not to be invented from the imagination of great men; it will be evolved out of the material forces making the birth, growth and success of such a struggle possible.
The Indian people are engaged in a social struggle of historic proportion and to a certain extent of unprecedented character. A modern political movement on such a huge scale involving a sweeping mass-action cannot go on forever with antiquated religious ideology.
It is highly essential to study the social conditions, actual as well as of the past, and to watch the evolution of the economic forces in order to ensure that the people of India are progressing along a course common to the entire human race.
The present situation in India is not unique in history. It is a stage of social development marked by a sudden and rapid introduction of modern means of production, resulting in a dislocation of the status quo, economic as well as territorial, of the population.
And yet; we have our peculiar problems to solve; there are peculiar obstacles to be overcome on our way. But the fact remains that we are involved in a great struggle which calls for profound understanding of the socio- economic forces making for the progress of the Indian people”.
He remarked: the Indian National Congress has landed in a political bankruptcy. Today it stands at the cross-roads. It must either adjust its socio-political convictions in accordance with the forces behind the great mass upheaval, or put itself straight on the tracks of constitutional democracy. The latter will take it back under moderate leadership, which is convinced that the British connection is beneficial to the economic interests of that class of the people whose political representative they are. Caught in morass of such hopeless contradictions, the Congress cannot provide the ideological base for Indian national movement.
Therefore, one has to be cautious. The struggle of the Indian bourgeoisie is not against a government controlled by rich landed aristocracy with strong feudal traditions; it is against the highest form of capitalism in an extremely critical moment of its existence. Consequently, there is a great possibility of compromise in this struggle.
He cited the instance of the British policy of supporting Indian industry during the war-years, in its own interests. Unable, during the war, to sell its manufactured goods in the Indian markets, Britain reversed its traditional policy of keeping India industrially backward. It took the Indian bourgeois into confidence and let them a free field to develop. It went on to appoint an Indian Industrial Commission (1916) for promoting industries in India. By the end of the war, the Indian capitalist class had gathered enough clout to make demands on British Government. The needs of the industry gave a lever to manipulate the Indian capitalists and to split the revolutionary movement. There was thus an active connivance between the British imperialism and the Indian bourgeois.
Roy then went on to assert that the over throw of the British rule will be achieved only by the joint action of the bourgeois and the masses. But in the long run, he said, the separation of masses from bourgeois leadership was inevitable. That is because; the bourgeois nationalism would end in compromise with Imperial powers.
Roy, during 1921-22, believed that organizations like Indian National Congress would eventually betray the revolution; and, Gandhism would collapse. Instead, he argued, the Indian peasantry and working class must be mobilized and brought under Communism. And, the liberation of India would be realized through the political movement of workers and peasants, ‘consciously organized on grounds of class-struggle’. He predicted that liberation from Imperialism would only come under Communist leadership. [This was despite the fact that the International Communist movement, by then , had not forged any credible link either with the Indian nationalists or with the Indian masses.]
Roy who was then a Marxist contended that political independence does not equal total freedom, since full freedom involved economic rights and opportunities for the masses. Such full freedom, Roy argued, was far beyond mere political freedom which Gandhi was fighting for. He said ‘the political independence is not the end, but is the means for radical transformation of Indian society, demanding changes in the social structure and extinction of class domination by transfer of ownership of land to cultivator . And, it should be followed by a rapid growth of modern mechanized industry ‘. Roy conceived freedom and social change in terms of sweeping economic changes’.
Gandhi did recognize the importance of economic reforms, but, emphasized on the ‘moral aspects’ of freedom. He was talking of Swaraj which meant both ‘self-rule’ and ‘self-control’. Gandhi’s view of Swaraj rooted in Indian nationalist tradition prevailed in Congress. Gandhi was , in fact , following the dictum of Swami Vivekananda : ’ one may gain political and social independence , but if one is a slave to ones passions and desires , one cannot feel the pure joy of real freedom’( Complete Works , Vol. 5, p. 419).
[Interestingly, many years later in 1940 while launching his Radical Democratic Party (RDP) , Roy declared that that the RPD must be a party not of the ‘economic man ‘ but rather a party of ‘ moral men , moved by the ideal of human freedom. He went on to say: Any connection between RPD and any particular class is repudiated. The party’s alliance can only to the abiding values of humanity, since ethical values are greater than economic interests. Call this an idealistic deviation, if you please. I would plead guilty to the charge’. ]
In his newspaper Advance Guard ‘ he sent a programme to the Indian National Congress on the eve of the Gaya Congress held in the last week of December, 1922, which included some of the following : ideas: 1) Abolition of landlordism 2) Reduction of land rent 3) State aid for modernization of agriculture 4) Abolition of indirect taxes 5) Nationalization of public utilities 6) Development of modern industries 7) Eight hour day, fixation of minimum wages by legislation 8) Free and compulsory education 9) Separation of State and religion
As regards Roy’s views on Gandhi ( as it did during 19210-22); for a short while, Roy was impressed by Gandhi and saw his non-violent path as the only path available to the Indian revolutionaries under conditions of colonialism. But Roy was disillusioned when Gandhi withdrew the mass movement.
But, at the same time , he said : Gandhi’s criticism of modern civilization , that is capitalist society, is correct. But, the remedy he prescribes is not only wrong but impossible.
In Roy’s view, the religious ideology preached by Gandhi appealed to the medieval mentality of masses. But, the same ideology discouraged the revolutionary urge of the masses. The quintessence of the situation, as he analyzed and understood it, was a potentially revolutionary movement restrained by reactionary ideology”. He maintained that as a religious and cultural revivalist, Gandhi was bound to be a reactionary, socially, however different.
He quoted back to Lenin, his own dictum: without revolutionary ideology there could be no revolution.
[Evelyn Trent Roy writing under pen name Santi Devi, in her article titled The Debacle of Gandhism (November 1922) also said : Mr. Gandhi had become an unconscious agent of reaction in the face of a growing revolutionary situation. The few leaders of the Congress Party, who realized this and sought a way out, were rendered desperate, almost despairing at the dilemma. Mr. Gandhi had become a problem to his own movement…]
Then, Roy went back to his revolutionary mode; and, declared that the mass revolt movement in Asia, India in particular, was very crucial to the success of the revolutionary forces in the West.
He said: “What I learned during several months of stay in Germany about the conditions in Europe and their immediate perspective fostered in me the feeling that the proletariat in the metropolitan countries would not succeed in their heroic endeavour to capture power unless imperialism was weakened by the revolt of their colonial peoples, particularly India” .
Many years later, in 1936, when Roy attended the Faizpur session of the Congress, he criticized Gandhi and his inner circle for imposing their tactics from above on the rank and file. He pointed out that their organizational legacy is mostly “authoritarian dictatorial” high-command that resembles the inner coterie of the Comintern. He gave a call to halt the brahmin-baniya domination over Congress; and to usher in an agrarian social revolution.
Gandhi, of course, was not amused; and, advised Roy to stay out of Indian politics, and just “render mute service to cause of Indian freedom”.
There is an interesting footnote to Roy’s dream of Indian revolution and Indian independence.
Chief Justice P.B. Chakraborty of Calcutta High Court, who had also served as the acting Governor of West Bengal in India, during 1956, wrote a letter to Prof. Dr. R C Majumdar the author of A History of Bengal. It relates to a conversation that Justice Chakraborthy had with Lord Clement Attlee when the latter visited Calcutta during 1956. Lord Attlee was then staying as a guest in the official residence of the Governor of West Bengal (Justice P.B. Chakraborty).
Justice Chakraborthy wrote:
“When I was the acting Governor, Lord Atlee, who had given us independence by withdrawing the British rule from India, spent two days in the Governor’s palace at Calcutta during his tour of India. At that time I had a prolonged discussion with him regarding the real factors that had led the British to quit India. My direct question to him was that since Gandhi’s “Quit India” movement had tapered off quite some time ago and in 1947 no such new compelling situation had arisen that would necessitate a hasty British departure, why did they have to leave? In his reply Atlee cited several reasons, the principal among them being the erosion of loyalty to the British Crown among the Indian army and navy personnel as a result of the military activities of Netaji. Toward the end of our discussion I asked Atlee what was the extent of Gandhi’s influence upon the British decision to quit India. Hearing this question, Atlee’s lips became twisted in a sarcastic smile as he slowly chewed out the word, “m-i-n-i-m-a-l!”
It might be true that the Indian National Congress under the leadership of Gandhi played a leading role in the freedom struggle. But at the same time, it would be fair to acknowledge the contributions, struggles and sacrifices made by countless non-congress organizations, groups and individuals in their fight to secure National freedom.
Among such varied and diverse groups that fought for national independence, the more prominent were the right-wing Nationalist groups and the Left –wing Communists. Their activities intensified after the sudden suspension of non-cooperation movement by Gandhi in the wake of a stray incident at Chauri Chura in 1922. It caused deep resentment, disappointment, disillusionment and disgust among the Indian youth. Some took to the Nationalist revolutionaries and lot others chose the Communist way.
Their revolutionary movements spread across the world – mainly in Europe, Far East and America.
In the following pages you would be amazed to see the intense and dedicated involvement of the International Communist Party and its organizations in Europe and Asia in their participation of India’s struggle for freedom. Apart from Indian-nationals, it is remarkable that a significant number of intelligent, bright and well meaning western men and women dedicated their lives to the cause of India’s freedom. They also made huge sacrifices; underwent persecution, withstood harsh treatment and endured long years of imprisonment just for a cause which they cherished as just and noble. They had no ambitions whatsoever of personal gain. We all should remember them with deep sense of gratitude, reverence and love.
By about April 1920, the Berlin Embassy of the USSR received a message from Angelica Balabanova, the First Secretary to the Communist International with instructions to arrange for Roy’s travel to Moscow, immediately.
Accordingly, Roy along with Evelyn boarded a middle class passenger ship named The Soviet departing from the port Stettin (regarded as the port of Berlin was the capital of the Prussian province of Pomerania, now in Poland, on the Oder). After reaching Reval (now known as Tallinn) , in Estonian Republic, they travelled by train to reach Leningrad. From there they took another train to Moscow, the political capital of USSR. It was sometime at the end of April 1920.
Sources and References
Sources of Indian Tradition: Modern India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh by Rachel Fell McDermott
Communism and Nationalism in India: A Study in Inter-relationship, 1919-1947 by Shashi Bairathi
M N Roy by V B Karnik
M N Roy -A Political Biography by Samaren Roy
All pictures are from Internet