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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 was 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 Fascism.

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.


[ Prof. Sugata Bose and Prof. Ayesha Jalal in their Modern South Asia – History, Culture, Political Economy (First published in 1998 by Rutledge) , write :

Viceroy Linlithgow’s declaration of India as a belligerent in the war against Germany, which he made without bothering to consult Congress or the provincial ministries, left Congress leaders deeply embarrassed.

Upon failing to extract a satisfactory definition of war aims from the British, Congress resigned office in the provinces. The Muslim League declared it a day of deliverance.

As Gandhi inched his way towards the face-saving device of an individual Satyagraha campaign, the more militant among Indian nationalists prepared to take full advantage of the international war crisis to strike for Indian independence

From the Indian nationalist point of view the world war was a conflict between old and new imperialist powers. That Britain was fighting for freedom and democracy was simply not credible to its colonial subjects unless they too were given a taste of these values

It was in the context of a deepening economic crisis that the major political confrontations between nationalists and the British colonial state occurred.

Radicals and socialists had always wanted to take advantage of the international war situation to advance the cause of Indian independence. It was in pursuit of this strategy that Subhas Bose had escaped from India in January 1941, having determined to subvert the loyalty of the Indian element within the British Indian army. The German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 not only upset his plans of an armed invasion from the north-west, but led Indian communists to redefine what had been an ‘imperialist war’ to a ‘people’s war’ — in which they went to the extent of lending support to the British against the nationalists.

This decision of the Indian communists led to a serious rift between them and the socialists within the anti-colonial movement; the latter saw Britain’s difficulty as India’s opportunity.

Communists, as well as the followers of M.N. Roy, were subsequently to find it extremely difficult to live down what came to be widely viewed as their betrayal of the anti-colonial  nationalist   movement at a critical moment during World War II. 

Japan’s defeat of Britain in South East Asia in early 1942, especially the fall of Singapore in February that year, emboldened even the Gandhian Congress to make more strident demands. It was to prevent the Indian nationalists from allying with the enemies of Britain that Churchill reluctantly agreed to send an emissary to hold talks with Indian political leaders

It is now clear from British documents of this period that both Churchill and Linlithgow, acting under pressure from Labour Party constituents of the National Government and President Roosevelt of the United States, wanted to see the Cripps Mission fail. 

And it did fail because Stafford Cripps was unable to meet the minimum Congress demand for immediate control of the defense portfolio at the center. Gandhi reportedly dubbed the Cripps offer a post-dated cheque on a crashing bank.

The Cripps offer as it related to provinces and  communities, particularly Muslims, is also of great interest (it is discussed in the following chapter). Gandhi drafted a resolution in April 1942 calling upon the British to quit India. He indicated in interviews that he would be ‘prepared to take the risk of violence’ to end ‘the great calamity of slavery’.

The ‘ordered anarchy’ that he saw around him, he felt, was ‘worse than real anarchy’. Gandhi believed in his own ability to negotiate with the Japanese, who would have no reason to invade India if the British left.

In any event, he was prepared to tell the British to leave India to anarchy or to God. A somewhat watered-down version of Gandhi’s ‘quit India’ resolution was eventually moved by Jawaharlal Nehru and adopted by Congress on 8 August 1942.]


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 Benoyendra Nath Banerjea – 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 legislation; 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 calm 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 handful of self-centers  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  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 suffered 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’


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 .

M. N. Roy Stamp






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


Posted by on January 25, 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


Posted by on January 18, 2016 in M N Roy


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