MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 11
Communism – India – Nationalism
After his return from Tashkent, Roy was shifted to Berlin as it was thought that it would be easier for him to maintain contacts with India.
Berlin in those days was a sort of headquarters for many Indians living in Europe. It was also the hub of Indian revolutionaries. There were diverse types of revolutionary groups operating from Berlin. The more active among those included the one led by Virendranath Chattopadyaya; and, the other was the one led by Barakatullah, the former foreign minister of Raja Mahendra Pratap’s provisional government that was set up in Kabul during 1915. The two groups were opposed to Roy for various reasons. When Roy shifted to Berlin they made a common cause to attack Roy and to challenge Roy’s leadership of the Indian movement. But, by about early 1922, Chattopadyaya and Bharkatullah fell apart.
However, Roy still had to contend with the competition from Chattopadyaya, who perhaps was also receiving encouragement and financial support from Russia. Abani Mukherjee who was earlier with Roy moved over to Chattopadyaya along with S N Kar (who had recently arrived from USA). Bhupendranath Dutta however distanced himself from both Roy and Chattopadyaya.
Roy, while he was in Berlin, devoted much of his time to writing, editing, publishing books and journals. Here he was able to re-edit, complete and publish (in 1922) his India in Transition the work on which he had begun about two years ago. In 1922, he also started publishing a bi-monthly paper titled The Vanguard of Indian Independence, organ of the émigré Communist Party of India, the stated objective of which was to spread socialism in India. The paper was brought out regularly until 1928. During this period, the title of the paper was changed several times. Roy and Ellen (under her pen name Santi Devi) wrote articles calling upon Indian masses and nationalist leaders to adopt more effective lines of struggle and to align with workers and peasants.
With the assistance of seamen, Roy began to send the Comintern’s International Correspondence (Inprecor) and Vanguard to India. Vanguard was a success and influenced many in India and Moscow. And, that did not go un-noticed by the British agencies. It is said; some Indian newspapers, in one way or the other, conveyed the substances of the articles appearing in Vanguard. Such Newspapers included: Ananda Bazar Patrika and Atma Sakti of Calcutta; the Independent of Allahabad; and, Nava Yuga of Guntur (then in Madras Presidency). And, in Punjab, Gulam Hussein, Shamshuddin Hassan and M A Khan brought out a journal in Urdu titled Inquilab (revolution) , which mostly reproduced Roy’s articles.
Roy, by 1922, had also setup contacts with the correspondents of pro-soviet newspapers such as The Socialist (Bombay) and Langal (Calcutta).
Roy was also trying to establish contacts with socialists and communists in India. Among the earliest of them was an erstwhile follower of Gandhi now turned Socialist named Sripad Amrit Dange who in 1921 published a pamphlet called Gandhi Vs Lenin. And, from August 1922, Dange also started publishing a fortnightly English magazine called The Socialist, perhaps influenced by Roy’s Vanguard. These two publications attracted the attention of Roy as also of the Comintern. In the later years, SA Dange grew into a prominent Communist leader in India.
The other members that Roy was able to contact and influence were: Muzzaffar Ahmad in Calcutta; Gulam Hussein in Lahore; and, Singaravelu Chettiar in the Madras region. Shaukat Ali who had graduated from the University of Toilers of the East at Moscow was already engaged in Party activities under instructions from Comintern.
By the autumn of 1922, Roy had been able to put in place groups in five major cities, which gave a foothold to communism in India. But, the groups were scattered; and their understanding of Marxism and world communist strategy was elementary; and were also not trained in Party work. Though the movement was amorphous, it showed signs of potential to grow.
Of the five groups the one in Bombay led by SA Dange was more active, because of Dange’s organizing ability and financial support from his patrons (including RB Lorvala, an industrialist of Bombay). Under the patronage of Dange and Lotvala, library and hostels were set up in Bombay for students of Marx and to those who ‘dedicated themselves to labour work’. In August 1922, Dange , with financial help from Lotvala, started an English weekly The Socialist.
The British agencies in India were watching the activities of the groups.
Through his journals, Roy was also trying to appeal to groups and individuals, within the Indian National Congress, aligned to Socialism and its ideologies. And, he was also trying to influence the liberal Congress members. At the time of the 37th Annual session of the Congress held at Gaya during December 1922, The Vanguard acknowledged that the Congress was ‘the leader of the movement for national liberation’; and, appealed to the Congress to adopt a liberal economic program designed to raising the living standards of the poor workers and peasants. The Vanguard pointed out that a political party cannot be relevant without a sound economic program. It is only by working for economic betterment of the masses, it said; the Congress could hope gain their support in the struggle for independence. It is only then, it emphasized, that Congress movement would become a truly nationwide mass movement.
Roy kept harping on this theme in his subsequent writings also.
The Congress in the 1920’s was a collection of heterogeneous assorted splinter groups, though the central aim of the organization was to attain national independence. The general plan of Roy during 1922 was based on two elements (as outlined in The Advance Guard, a new name for the Vanguard): First, to form opposition groups or blocs, within the INC, of members who subscribed to Communist way of thinking. And this group should try to capture the party leadership. The other was to influence the congress members having liberal socialist views and draw them towards his ideas, and if possible into the Communist fold.
In his letter to SA Dange (2 November 1922), Roy outlined the strategy. It cautioned that the opposition blocs to be formed within the INC should be composed of respectable, law–abiding persons; and, such blocs should have a ‘non-offensive’ name without in any manner suggesting a link to Communists. But, such a bloc should be controlled only by members dedicated to Communism and Socialism.
Roy also emphasised the need to have , in addition, an underground apparatus that would carry out ’illegal activities’ that would covertly support the ‘legal blocs’ within the INC.
Among the eminent individuals in the Congress Party, Roy identified C R Das- Deshbandhu Chitta Ranjan Das (5 November 1870 – 16 June 1925) – as ‘most promising’. C R Das, a much respected leader from Bengal was in 1921 the President-elect of the Indian National Congress Party. He was known for his liberal, humanitarian views, sympathetic to the poor Indian masses. He argued for economics upliftment of the masses and their greater participation in the national movement. And, shortly before the Ahmadabad Congress Session of 1921, the British Indian police arrested and imprisoned C R Das for his nationalistic activities (but, truly on suspicions of his links with leftists). The British Intelligence in Calcutta had tracked ‘Roy’s agents’ in Bengal supplying Roy’s newspaper articles to C R Das. And, some of C R Das’s speeches sounded similar to the line taken by The Vanguard and The Advanced Guard. He was released in July 1922.
The other Congressman Roy had in view was: Sampurnanand an influential Congress leader from United Provinces (UP) who had included in his ‘Memorandum on the Congress Program’ some ideas taken from Roy’s articles. But, Sampurnanand was not a socialist and much less a communist. And, therefore, that channel did not eventually work out.
The other was Singaravelu Chettiar, a prominent Congress member from Madras. He considered himself a Communist; and was in contact with Roy. He did work to spread Roy’s ideas among other Congress members.
The 37th Annual Session of the Indian National Congress at Gaya which commenced on 26 December 1922 was considered a crucial session. Prior to the session there were widespread debates between the followers of Gandhi and the admirers of CR Das on the form that non-cooperation movement should take. The debates had actually started in February 1921 and had gathered pace after Gandhi suddenly called off the non-cooperation campaign following the violent turn it took in Chauri Chaura. The debate at Gaya Congress eventually focused on whether the Congress should participate in the ensuing elections to the Legislative Councils. Gandhi insisted that Congress should boycott elections, while CR Das urged Congress to participate in the elections.
Few weeks earlier to the Gaya session, CR Das had declared: “I do not want that sort of Swaraj which will be for the middle-classes alone. I want Swaraj for the masses, not for the classes. I don’t care for the bourgeoisie. How few are they? Swaraj must be for the masses, and must be won by the masses.” (Speech at the Dehra Dun, November 1st, 1922)
CR Das believed in non – violent and constitutional methods for the realisation of national independence. In the economic field, Das stressed the need of constructive work in villages. A champion of national education and vernacular medium, he felt that the masses should be properly educated to participate in the nationalist movement.
Prior to the Session, in the autumn of 1922, Roy in his Advance Guard had outlined his economic program for the Indian masses. It 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 .
Roy was keenly looking forward and waiting to see how his ideas planted in the blocs and in C R Das would emerge in the session. He viewed the Gaya Congress as a test of the acceptance or otherwise of his ideas by the Congress. He was almost sure that his program would be rejected. And, that would prove Congress was not really Red.
At the Gaya Congress, CR Das, just released after six months of imprisonment, was elected the President of the Indian National Congress. CR Das tried to give a new orientation to Indian politics. He supported elections to the Legislative Councils; but, suggested through his Council – Entry programme, i.e. ‘non-cooperation from within the Councils’; with the object of “ending or mending them. He however met with vehement opposition from the Mahatma and the no – changers. His motion on Council-entry was rejected by a two-thirds majority; and CR Das resigned from the presidency.
[Among the Communists who attended the Gaya Congress were SA Dange, Singaravelu Chettiar and Mani Lal Shah.]
Before that showdown with Gandhi and his followers, CR Das had warned Congress on the dangers of not accepting resolutions of Labour reforms. C R Das thundered: if the Congress fails to do its duty, you may expect to find organizations set up in the country by Labourers and Peasants, detached from you, disassociated with the cause of Swaraj, will eventually bring within the arena of peaceful revolution class struggles and the war of special interests.
If the object of the Congress be to avoid that disgraceful issue , let us take Labour and the Peasantry in hand, and let us organize them both from the point of view of their own interest and also from the point of the higher ideal and special interests devoted to the cause of Swaraj.’
[CR Das, clearly, was warning of the impending Communist insurgence and dangers of violence it would bring along. His perception of Communism discouraged or even frightened him; and, prevented him from supporting Communist Party.]
The Gaya Congress approved the organization of Indian labor “with a view to improve and promote their well-being and secure them their just rights, and also to prevent the exploitation of Indian labor and Indian resources.” This resolution was passed unanimously; and, a Committee on Labor Organization was appointed “to assist the Executive Council of the All-India Trade Union Congress for the organization of Indian labor, both agricultural and industrial.” A similar resolution had earlier been passed by the Congress two years ago at Nagpur, but nothing came of it.
CR Das’s repeated insistence on the importance of attaining “Swaraj for the masses and not for the classes,” which raised such a clamor in the British and Indian Press, led to his being stigmatized as “Bolshevik.”
Later in 1923, Roy in his “Open Letter to Mr. C.R. Das and His Followers” wrote :— “There are but two ways ahead: reversion to the Constitutional Democracy of the Liberals, or adoption of more revolutionary methods.—Either Mr. Das will soon have to abandon his original position in favour of the Responsive Co-operation of the Mahratta Rationalists, or he will have to part company with them in order to organise the third party inside the National Congress—the party of workers and peasants, which will infuse vigour into the national struggle by means of revolutionary mass action.” (Open Letter to Chittaranjan Das and His Followers, by M.N. Roy, Zurich, February 3rd, 1923)
[For more, please see the article written by Evelyn Roy at:
Thereafter, on 9 January 1923, C R Das organised the Swarajya Party within the Congress in collaboration with Motilal Nehru and others. The Swarajya party gained tremendous success in Bengal and the central provinces and won majority seats in the legislative councils (1924). Through the efforts of the Swarajyists, Maulana Azad was elected President of the Congress Special Session at Delhi, where the programme of Council – Entry was approved. The programme was later confirmed at the Cocanada (now Kakinada) Session in 1923.
With the death of Chittaranjan Das in 1925, and with Motilal Nehru’s return to the Congress in the following year, the Swarajya party was greatly weakened. From 1935 onward, the Swarajya Party ceased to exist.
On the death of Deshabandhu on June 16th, 1925, Subhash Chandra Bose in ”The Indian Struggle” Subhash Chandra Bose while paying homage to the departed leader draws comparison of him with Gandhi and mourns the loss a courageous leader :
Deshabandhu was nothing if not fearless. He was conscious of his exact role, namely that of a practical politician, and he was therefore never afraid of courting unpopularity. He was conscious of his exact role, namely that of a practical politician, and he was therefore never afraid of courting unpopularity.
In contrast with the Deshabandhu, the role of the Mahatma has not been a clear one. In many ways he is altogether an idealist and a visionary. In other respects, he is an astute politician. At times he is as obstinate as a fanatic; on other occasions he is liable to surrender like a child. The instinct, or the judgment, so necessary for political bargaining is lacking in him. When there is a real opportunity for a bargain, as in 1921, he is liable to stick out for small things and thereby upset all chances of a settlement Whenever he does go in for a bargain, as we shall see in 1931, he gives more than he takes. On the whole, he is no match in diplomacy for an astute British politician.
Today, as we look back on the year 1925, we cannot help feeling that if Providence had spared the Deshabandhu for a few years more, the history of India would probably have taken a different turn. In the affairs of nations, it often happens that the appearance or disappearance of a single personality often means a new chapter in history. Thus has been the influence of Lenin in Russia, of Mussolini in Italy and of Hitler in Germany in recent world-history.
And alas, in that stroke of bad luck we were deprived of Deshbondhu and given instead the much less lucid and strategic Gandhi…
The Gaya Congress was a clear failure for Roy. His glorifying violence as the means for attaining independence and mass revolution had frightened the Congress leaders most of whom were respectable, well educated middle class gentlemen. In March 1923, Roy wrote in The Inprecor:’ we sought to strengthen the hands of the Left Wing but only succeeded in frightening it’.
[Roy was also referring to the role of the WPP – Communist members placed within the Indian National Congress. Yes; the WPPs were able to carry out ideological propaganda which spread even to the members of the INC. But, the problem was that WPP members placed within the INC overdid the role assigned to them by Roy. They began talking rather loudly criticising Gandhi and his non-violence policy. Further, their talk about class struggle, armed violence etc was against the Gandhi and the Congress way of thinking. It also frightened many congressmen. Their priority was national independence, achieved through the Gandhian way. Though they did manage to arouse the thinking of some members of the INC, the WPP members were alienated from the majority.
That indiscretion of openly taking an anti-Gandhi stand undid the whole effort of placing the WPP- Communist members within the INC. It defeated the very purpose of gaining the goodwill of prominent socialist minded Congressmen like Nehru and Subash Bose. ]
Apart from the WPP, Roy did try to reach out to his former friends and co-revolutionaries of the Jugantar; and exhorted them to adopt social revolution as·· their goal, and to the Indian for an intensive Class struggle. The Jugantar group, after long discussions in a meeting presided over by Jadugopal ·Mukherjee decided that their prime aim was the liberation of the Mother Land; and would seek aid and co-operation of all classes in their fight against British imperialism ; and , not exclusively from the Communists. They also did not seem to be interested in ‘class-struggle’, as that would mean fragmentation among their support-forces. The decision was communicated to Roy, and that virtually marked the end of Roy’s association with his· erstwhile comrades
Thus, though Roy could popularize the ‘communist ideology in India, and could form communist groups, it cannot be said that his efforts really succeeded in utilizing the Indian situation and spreading it further.
Roy thought now was the time to change tactics and tracks. He reasoned that an open assault was better than covert manoeuvres. On February 15, 1923, the Advanced Gaurd again became The Vanguard, carrying the sub-title ‘Central Organ Communist Party of India’. The main aim of his plan now was not so much as to infiltrate the Congress, but to build a vibrant Communist Party – working within the Congress and without it – which would eventually capture the leadership of the entire national revolutionary movement.
Roy had earlier been talking about creating a mass party and blocs with ‘non-offensive’ names, to be operated and controlled covertly by the Communist party. He now was intent on creating the Communist Party on Indian soil as a mass based political organization. But at the same time, he did emphasize the need to have the backup of underground working apparatus.
According to a revised plan outlined in Roy’s Memorandum of 5 June 1923, a mass party which would be the public face; and, it would be called Workers and Peasants Party (WPP), while the illegal underground apparatus would be the clandestine Communist Party (CP). And, all members of the CP would automatically be the members of WPP.
But, a formal affiliation of the WPP to the Communist International would not be possible because, technically, the WPP would not be a true Communist Party. But, the Communist Party would however maintain fraternal relations with WPP. And, the new WPP would be allowed to send delegates to the Communist International forums.
The WPP, according to Roy’s scheme, should seek working relations (alliance) with bourgeois parties like Indian National Congress, using ‘every available opportunity for striking an agreement’ to pressurise those parties to adopt policies of ‘revolutionary significance’.
Learning from his Gaya experience, Roy cautioned that the WPP (Communists) should ‘leave out controversy of violence vs. non-violence’; because that would be the best tactical move that can be made without giving lie to the real Communist program. But, at the same time he reiterated that ’emancipation of the exploited cannot be done by peaceful and non-violent means’.
[The above strategy which was said to have been conveyed by Roy to the Indian communists in his letter dated 30 December 1927* created a stir in India. The letter or the forgery of it leaked to the Indian Government was produced before the Central Legislative Assembly on 6 September 1928; and, it came to be called by the name ‘Assembly letter’. The letter, among other things, also mentioned about the British Communists who had been covertly operating in India. In order to throw out such British, the Government introduced the Public Safety Bill of 1928. The Bill was opposed by the Congress and other sections of the Assembly, though none among them was a communist. The Bill was not passed by the Assembly. But, the Viceroy in the special powers vested in him promulgated an ordinance of the Public Safety Act.
*The letter of 27 December 1927 clearly seems to have been a forgery, because by then , Roy had virtually been taken out of the India-region ; and the Communist Party in India had come under control of Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB).]
But, in most of 1923 and 1924 the communist movement was crippled by series of arrests of all suspected of leftist illegal activities.
This period was distressful to Roy in many ways. Lenin, his mentor and protector, took seriously ill following an attempt on his life. In December 1922, Lenin suffered a second stroke that paralysed his right side. He then had to withdraw from all political activities. In March 1923, he suffered a third stroke; and, it ended his career. Lenin was mute and bed-ridden until his death but officially remained the leader of the Communist Party. Lenin died on 21 January 1924, aged 53, at his estate at Gorki settlement (later renamed Gorki Leninskiye). Lenin’s exit from Comintern was a huge setback to Roy.
And, that was also the difficult time for Roy in Germany. He learnt that Germans were about to round up and expell all Communist party workers. He also got the clue that he was abbot to be arrested. The German Government, had in fact, been acting under British pressure; and, it issued an order for Roy’s arrest. But, Roy managed to flee from Germany before the arrest order could be executed; and escaped to Switzerland. In September 1923, from thereon Roy went on a long tour of Europe visiting Marseilles, Paris, Genoa and Amsterdam searching for a safe location to set up headquarters and publish The Vanguard.
After escaping from Germany and after his long tour, Roy chose Zurich, Switzerland to take shelter. In January 1924, Roy started publishing the Vanguard from Zurich. But, that lasted only for two months; and the last issue of Vanguard published from Zurich was that of 1 March 1924.
From Zurich , Roy addressed a letter (dated 20 February 1924) to Ramsay Macdonald , the British Prime Minister , enquiring if he could be granted amnesty for his early terrorist activities committed in India; and, if he could be granted permission to return to India. Tle long letter ended with requet :
“To give me the permission to return to India without becoming the object of persecution for alleged offences committed in the past. I should draw your attention to the fact that my political views have undergone a radical change since I left India in 1915.
What I solicit is an amnesty from the alleged charges made against me in the past. I suppose the declaration made by his Majesty the King-Emperor in 1919 concerning Indian political offenders can be applicable to me. When I return to India I will of course, be prepared to take the consequences of my action the future.
I will appreciate it very much if I am given the passport to come over to England, there to discuss with the India Office the question of my return to India.”
This was before the Cawnpore Case came up for trial in India on 27 February 1924. After he came to know of the Cawnpore Case in which he was one of the accused, Roy realized that all his chances of safe return to India had burnt out.
Roy then, after March 1924, promptly shifted the headquarters of Vanguard from Zurich to Annecy in France, from where Evelyn managed the paper. The Vanguard was again shifted to Paris. Roy himself went back to Moscow. And, between March and June 1924 Roy went into exile in Europe. But, he appeared in Moscow to attend the Fifth Comintern Congress commencing from 17 June 1924.
At the Fifth Congress, Roy was elected as the full member of ECCI (Executive Committee of the Communist International) and a Candidate member of its Presidium. By the end of 1926, Roy was elected as a member of all the four official policy making bodies of the Comintern – the presidium, the political secretariat, the executive committee and the world congress. It was the highest position that Roy held in the Comintern.
The ECCI directed that the national liberation movement in India must be reorganized on a revolutionary basis; forming a national peoples’ party comprising the urban-petty-bourgeois, the poor intellectuals, the small clerks, the rebellious peasantry and the advanced workers. It should be an establishment of proletarian class party. The ECCI did not however specify whether the ‘national peoples’ party’ should be formed within the Indian National Congress or separate from it.
The ECCI directed that Indian Communist Party must bring trade union movement under its influence. It must reorganize it on a class basis and must purge it of all alien elements.
Sources and References
Communism in India by Marshall Windmiller
Political Philosophy of Rammanohar Lohia: Alternative Development Perceptions by K. Gopinath Pillai
Communist and Socialist Movement in India: A Critical Account by Chandrika Singh
Communism and Nationalism in India: A Study in Inter-relationship, 1919-1947
by Shashi Bairathi
The Indian revolutionaries and the Bolsheviks – their early contacts, 1918-1922 by Arun Coomer Bose Top of Form
In Search of Revolution: International Communist Parties in the “Third Period”
Edited by Matthew Worley
Political Philosophy of M.N. Roy
In Search of Revolution: International Communist Parties in the Third Period
by Matthew Worley
Peasants in India’s Non-Violent Revolution: Practice and Theory by Mridula Mukherjee Top of Form