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

 

 Continued from Part 19

Into the Congress

M N Roy joined Congress after release

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

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

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

**

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

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

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

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

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

**

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gandhi with Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel

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

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

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

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

***

 gandhi-bose2

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

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

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

Bull Handler - Haripura PosterHunter

dhaki (1) cooking

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subhash Chandra Bose Haripura congress

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

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

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

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

https://ia800607.us.archive.org/14/items/HaripuraCongressBose1938/BoseTalk.pdf

https://archive.org/stream/HaripuraCongressBose1938/BoseTalk#page/n7/mode/1up ]

 Bose NehruBose president in 1938

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bose announcing his resignation

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bose stamp

Continued

In

Next Part

Sources and References

M N Roy by V B Karnik

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

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

http://dspace.wbpublibnet.gov.in:8080/jspui/bitstream/10689/12677/10/Chapter9-11_209-288p.pdf

http://dspace.wbpublibnet.gov.in:8080/jspui/bitstream/10689/12677/10/Chapter9-11_209-288p.pdf

Socialism of Jawaharlal Nehru by Rabindra Chandra Dutt

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

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

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

Elections after Government of India Act 1935

http://www.gktoday.in/elections-after-government-of-india-act-1935/

https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/sections/britain/periodicals/labour_monthly/1937/02/x01.htm

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

Pictures are from Internet

 
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MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 12

MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 12

Continued from Part 11

Communism – India – Nationalism – (Continued)

Roy had much more trouble with the Fifth Congress ( held during June/July 1924)  than he ever had at the previous Congresses

The Chairman of the Colonial Commission, Manuilsky took Roy to task for exaggerating at the Second Congress the strength of ‘social movements ‘in India against the national movement. He said that Roy had failed at ‘winning over the revolutionary movements for emancipation’ in India. Manuilsky‘s ire at Roy perhaps had its root in a note recorded by Stalin in 1923.

By about 1923, Stalin was getting impatient with Roy for there was hardly any progress on the Indian front. The secret Memo 647/5 of the Political Bureau of the Russian Communist Party, issued under the signatures of Stalin and the Bureau’s Deputy Secretary Ter-Avanesoff said: “the mistakes have committed by the Communist International in its first efforts to promote a revolution in India.  It has been longer, more uncertain and more expensive business than had been · anticipated. It has been realized that Communism is completely unacceptable to Hindus in their present state of development, and independence is a condition which must precede it. Our propaganda agents did not realise this and did not report it, and continued to work on completely the wrong line”

The Fifth Congress thereafter appointed a now Colonial Commission (which included, among others, Roy, Manuilsky, Stalin and Katayama) to review the colonial question and prepare a detailed report. Roy, thus, was no longer the sole authority on Colonial question. In the three years that followed, Roy was progressively kept away from the India question.

**

After the not-so-happy Fifth Congress, Roy returned to France by August 1924 which was after about six months of stay in Switzerland. He was hoping that under the Government of Édouard Marie Herriot which had came to power  in June 1924 he would find a safe refuge on the soil of France. Herriot was known to be sympathetic to socialists and local unions.  But, the rest of the year continued to be distressful. With the Cawnpore Case being brought to trial his contacts with India almost dried up.

And, in the following January (on 30 January 1925) Roy and Evelyn were arrested in Paris, due to to British pressure brought to bear upon the French Government. Evelyn was released and allowed to stay in France. Roy, however, was deported to Luxembourg. But he managed to escape from there; and reach Moscow by 21 March 1925 to attend the Fifth Plenum of the ECCI.

[A plenum, meaning a “full assembly,” is a meeting where the Party’s Central Committee deliberates and announces policy initiatives and key personnel appointments. It is usually held at least once a year.]

***

The Fifth Plenum (March-April 1925), in regard to India, persisted with two uncomfortable questions. One, what should be the attitude of the Comintern towards the Indian National Congress?; and, the second, what type of ‘direct contact’ should be maintained by the  ECCI with Indian National Congress?

The Plenum was well aware of Roy’s position on both the questions. But, it was not convinced either with his stand or with the ‘progress’   he had made on the India front. After some discussion, the Fifth Plenum laid down its India-Policy;

“It is now necessary for the Communists to continue to work in the Indian National Congress and in the Left Wing of the Swarajya Party. All nationalist organizations should be formed into mass revolutionary party, an All-India anti-imperialist bloc. The slogan  of the Peoples Party , having for the main points in its program : separation from the Empire; a democratic republic; universal suffrage; and , abolition of feudalism – slogans put forward and popularized by the Indian Communists – is correct.

The Indian Communists should direct their efforts towards securing leadership over the masses of the peasantry, to encourage organization and amalgamation of trade unions, and to take over the leadership of their struggles.”

 

The resolution of the Fifth Plenum continued to regard the bourgeois Indian National Congress as revolutionary; and, still wanted to work with Indian National Congress.  That meant that Roy’s strategical formulations and his view of Indian National congress were rejected. The Plenum did, however, endorse formation of ‘mass revolutionary party’. But, it said, should be made up of ‘all nationalist’ organizations’.  This rider imposed by the Plenum on the membership and coverage of labour organization ran counter to Roy’s proposal for the WPP.  Roy had conceived WPP primarily as leftist trade union organizations of the Communists in India; and, it was to be a legal front for the illegal apparatus.

Another setback for Roy was that the Fifth Plenum stipulated that there should be very close contact between the sections of the Comintern in the Imperialist countries with the colonies of those countries’. That, effectively, meant that the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) will have a say and participate fully in the affairs of the Indian Communist Party. The CPGB would in effect be a sort of natural-guardian of the CPI providing advice, guidance and support.

That would go to undermine Roy’s authority and influence in India.

Following the clearance from the Fifth Plenum , Percy E Glading , a reprehensive of the  CPGB toured India during January – April 1925 , and reported back saying ‘ no Indian Communist groups existed at all’.

This really put Roy on the mat.

**

Evelyn, stationed in Paris and aided by a small group of Indians (GAK Gulani, Md. Sipassi and few others) ,  was engaged in publishing The Vanguard ( which changed its name to Masses of  India on 1 January 1925) . Her efforts to secure from French Government reversal of Roy’s expulsion did not succeed.

After the Fifth Plenum, Roy, unable to return to France, slipped into Berlin, by the spring of 1925.

**

Now, too many overseas leftist groups were trying to direct the Indian communist movement – Roy from Berlin; the   Colonial Committee of the CPGB from Britain; and Chattopadyaya and his associates from Europe. There was also group of twelve Indian leftist students mostly in London calling themselves the India Bureau; and , they got busy with the Indian affairs. Shapurji Saklatvala who had been elected to the British Parliament  in 1922  was  working with CPGB and the Indian Bureau  In addition, there was in France Comite’ Pro-Hindou a group headed by  Henri Barbusse  which  did propaganda work in favour of Indian Independence. Evelyn Trent who was in France was guiding the Comite’ Pro-Hindou.

There were competitions within India and in Europe over gaining control of the India-cantered Communist movement in particular, as also the national movement.

With so many disjointed groups working at cross-purposes, confusion and conflict was bound to be there.

In order to clear the confusion resulting from multiplicity of Communist agencies , all of which interested in the Indian movement , the CPGB invited  about twenty-five leading  party workers active in Europe ( including Roy, Evelyn,  Percy  Glading , Clemens Dutta and others) for a meeting ( named as Oriental Conference )  organised at Amsterdam on 11 and 12 July 1925. As expected, it turned out to be an ugly affair.  Roy, who had previously complained about neglect of CPGB, now accused it of excessive and needless interference with Indian affairs of the Communist Party.  Robinson of CPGB shot back saying that the Fifth Plenum had authorized CPGB to take control of the work conducted in India, a British colony; and participate fully in the Indian affairs. Roy challenged Robinson’s assertion and screamed it was ‘imperialism at its worst’

Roy also challenged Glading’s report to the CPGB which had said that ‘no Indian Communist groups existed at all’.  Roy rejected Glading’s findings; and asserted that he had documentary evidence to prove the existence and working of the Indian Communist groups. If Glading could not spot them, while he was in India, it was because the Indian Communist groups were too well camouflaged; and also because groups were not sure whether they could trust Glading and reveal themselves to him.

A couple of months after the Oriental Conference, the conflict between Roy and CPGB was somewhat eased.  Comintern’s Colonial Bureau issued a letter on 25 September 1925 outlining Roy’s role in the Indian movement. The Comintern’s letter did not lay down a clear line of authority.  It said that CPGB should not work independently of Roy. But, at the same time, it directed that  various  Indian Communist groups operating from Europe  should organize themselves as the Foreign  Bureau of the Communist Party of India (CPI)  , thus becoming a wing of the Indian organization, which again would be under CPGB.

The entire set of correspondence that took place between Comintern, the CPGP and Roy; as also the deliberations of the Oriental Conference were leaked to the British Intelligence.  The copies of all such documents were presented by the prosecution before the Sessions Judge presiding over the Cawnpore Case. The judge while evaluating Roy’s role, observed:

‘Roy definitely wanted to keep the control or guidance of the communist activities in India in his own hands and was inclined to criticize the efforts of CPGB  as based on  insufficient understanding of the problems. This view seems to have been partially accepted by the Communist International. This conclusion is supported by available evidence’.

What was interesting was the stand taken by the defendants Cawnpore Bolshevik Conspiracy Case. They agreed: Yes, we are Communists and work for the establishment of a universal order. But, they strongly rejected prosecutions charge that they were working against India’s interests or against national freedom. They said, in the present stage in India, the movement for national freedom is a progressive force.  We are ready, they declared, to work with anybody if it helps in pursuing genuine national revolutionary policy and national independence.

[The Cawnpore Bolshevik Conspiracy Case of 1924 was against the newly recruited communists (apart from Roy), abhorred by the British Government. Some newly turned communists such as Muzaffar Ahamed, S A Dange, Shaukat Usmani, Nalini Gupta, Singaravelu Chettiar, Ghulam Hussain were charged with the crimes and conspiracy “to deprive the King Emperor of his sovereignty of British India, by complete separation of India from imperialistic Britain by a violent revolution.” But this case brought the communists in the lime light. The newspapers covered the matter exhaustively; and thus, for the first time the people of India could learn of the communist doctrine in fair details. The case was a sort of introduction of Communism to the Indian Public.

However, when the Case began in April 1924, only four defendants were in India (Gupta, Dange, Usman and Ahmad). And, Singaravelu Chettiar was certified to have been too ill to travel from Madras to Cawnpore; and was therefore excused. Hussain turned a British informer and was pardoned. In this case, M N Roy was charged in absentia. Rest all people were arrested and sent to jail for 4 years.

The Case –trial which commenced in April lasted till 20 May 1924. It again came up for appeal before the High Court. In a lengthy judgment handed down on 24 November 1924, the Presiding Judge described the theory of conspiracy as ‘absurd and unbelievable’ and that the schema had never been a threat to the security of the State. However, since the defendants had acted in ‘the most serious spirit, the appeal was denied and their conviction was upheld.]

***

By about the middle of 1925 an idea began to germinate among the Indian Communists that after all it was not illegal in India to advocate Communism; and, a Communist party could exist and function in India without engaging in activities which the Government would regard as treasonable. 

Roy seemed interested in the idea of forming a Communist Party on Indian soil. As the idea gained strength, it was decided that the Communist Party of India should be launched from the venue of the Annual Session of the Indian National Congress scheduled to commence at Cawnpore from 25 December 1925. Most of the members involved in this effort belonged to the Roy group.

The organisers of the Cawnpore session of the INC however refused permission to conduct the Communist meeting within the pendal erected for holding the Congress Session.  Therefore   in a tent erected close to the venue of the Congress session, the Communist Party of India was launched on 25 December 1925, with Singaravelu Chettiar as the Chairman. It was also resolved that headquarters of the newly formed Party would be at Bombay.

What was very interesting of the launch was the speech made by Maulana Hazrat Mohani, the convener of the meet.  He emphasized that the newly formed Party would not have anything to do with the Communist International. He clarified: ‘Ours is a purely Indian organization. Our relations with similar parties of other countries will be only that of sympathy and mental affinity to  all these  in general and to the Third International in particular’.

singaravelu chattiar

Singaravelu Chettiar in his presidential speech did, in fact, went beyond Mohani’s assertion. He said, clearly:  Indian Communism is not Bolshevism; for Bolshevism is a kind of Communism which the Russians have adopted in their country. We are not Russians; and we are not Bolsheviks. Bolshevism may not be needed in India… We are one with the world community; but not with Bolshevism.

[Even later in 1927, SA Dange after his release from prison issued statements saying that he was an ‘Indian Communist ‘and ‘not a ’Bolshevik’.]

Roy, when he read the speeches of Mohani and Chettiar, surely, was not amused. He called them ‘childish’. He wrote in the Masses of India :  Nothing can be more  non-communistic that to say that the Indian working class will play its historic role in the struggle for national freedom and work out its own salvation independently of the International proletarian movement . Those who maintain and propagate this point of view are far from being Communists: they are veritable enemies of the Indian working class.

**

It was around this time in 1925 or early 1926 that Roy and Evelyn decided to end their relationship. They were separated for ever. The exact dates and reasons  for separation are not clear. Their separation was so complete that never after met ot corresponded. And, there is not a single word or reference to Evelyn in Roy’s Memoirs.

The British Intelligence was under the impression that after her separation from Roy, Evelyn moved back to USA. Neither her name nor her pseudonym (Santi Devi) appears in any of the documents, pamphlets or literature relating to communism after 1925.

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

[We shall talk about Evelyn separately later in the series.]

**

During 1925-6 Roy’s influence over the Indian question sharply declined and the CPGB began taking control of the direction of Indian Communist affairs.

In regard to influencing the Indian national Congress, Roy’s plan had been to form a legal party within the Congress party comprising Communist groups. At the same time influence the liberal Congress members through his writings in the journal; and also sending messages to the INC.

Accordingly, the CPI sent a manifesto to the Gauhati session of the INC in December 1926. Its objective was to influence the left wing in the Congress and induce the Congress leadership to adopt more radical programs. The manifesto included demands of peasants and workers, such as agrarian reforms to abolish landlord –system, abolish indebtedness, reduce exorbitant rents etc. It also urged to enact labour laws to end exploitation of labour and to ensure a minimum mages and eight-hour day work, the right to strike and to form unions. The Manifesto concluded  by cautioning the Indian National Congress that it could save itself  and find the road to  national freedom only by forming a ‘people’s Party’.

 CPI knew very well that the Congress would not be able to take decision on these issues.

**

Nehru

Nehru the Socialist-thinking leader came to prominence by 1927. During 1926-27, he travelled widely in Europe. At Brussels he  had attended the Congress of Oppressed Nationalities and had actively participated in the ‘League against Imperialism’ (LAI). Nehru also agreed to serve on the Executive Committee of the newly formed League Against Imperialism; and continued in that position until end of January 1930.

In November 1927 Nehru with his father visited Moscow to attend the Tenth Anniversary Celebration of the Bolshevik movement. He was properly impressed the progress made by Russia under the Soviets.

During this period, the younger elements within Congress began to veer around new ideas and the socialist ideas of Nehru which induced a new tone in the Congress way of expressing or terming its programs.

The Congress left wing made its first collective move in Madras session of INC in 1927. Nehru proposed radical resolutions. And, surprisingly they were accepted and passed by the Congress session.

 

The left wing within Congress differed from Gandhi on the question of Swaraj –complete freedom. They demanded the leadership to define their conception of Swaraj.  Swaraj they insisted should be complete freedom and not mere dominion status.

It was in this context that the Independence for India League (ILL) was formed by the radical Nationalists led by Nehru, Bose and others. The basic objective if the IIL was to step up the demand for full-independence. It also asked for several social and labour reforms. It also said : the League aims at a socialistic , democratic  state in which every person has the fullest opportunities of development and the  state controls the means of production and distribution.’

By about 1928, a wave of socialist/ leftist ideas was circling around the youth in Congress. It provided a platform for young radicals, youth leagues and student organizations to express their ideas of socialism.

In the Congress session of 1928, an amendment was moved by the Congress-left in favour of complete independence, while Gandhi presented a resolution seeking Dominion Status. The amendment was introduced by Bose and supported by Nehru. The amendment secured 973 votes as against 1350 votes in favour of Gandhi‘s resolution.

Encouraged by the numbers it could muster in the 1928 session, the left wing tried to present the issue again next year in the session at Lahore. Gandhi avoided confrontation by nominating Nehru as the Congress president and accepting the demand for complete independence. At the same time, a resolution moved by Subash Bose on behalf of the left calling for setting up a parallel government was rejected.

After the Lahore session, Nehru did not effectively come back to the fold of the Congress-left- wing.

***

By 1927, the Communist Party of India had almost come under the control of the CPGB; and its activities were directed by Philip Spratt (1902-1971), a young communist who joined the Party in Britain during his student days at Downing Collage, Cambridge. He had worked for some time in Labour Research Department. His credentials and background were unknown to the Police in India.  He came to India under the guise of a Bookseller.

One his major aims was to place communists in positions of leadership within the Congress organization. He listed the principal tasks of the new Party as:  (1) obtaining representation in the National Congress Committees; (2) getting program accepted and our delegates elected by the TUC ; ( 3) and, support for textile paper. Spratt also aimed to build a united front comprising the National Congress Committee, the Swaraj Party, Trade Unions and WPP.

The increased activity among the Indian Communists during 1927 was largely due to the efforts of Philip Spratt. He brought new energy to trade union and Party work. He was able to secure funds from Europe for Party work in India.  In September 1927, Spratt was joined by another member of the CPGB, Benjamin F Bradley an engineer by training.  He posed himself in India as a technical consultant to Textile companies.  Now, Spratt and Bradley became the de-facto leaders of the Indian Communist Party. Under their leadership the Communist movement gathered momentum.

Their tactics of the left elements grouping within Congress and the Swaraj Party in 1926, which was ‘to carry on a battle of clarification within the existing movement and organizations’ was working well. The Communists had infiltrated into INC, WPPs and the Trade unions affiliated to Congress. It is said; of the WPP within Congress as many as sixteen were communists. And, Nehru*, had moved closer to the Communist position, successfully encouraging the Indian National Congress to affiliate to the LAI (League Against Imperialism) . Bradley became the vice president of the Railway workers Union, the Great Indian Peninsular (GIP) which took sympathetic actions during the textile.

[*Nehru’s view of socialist views was , perhaps, based on individualism.  Nehru did not criticize Communism.  But, he often made it clear that he accepted the Communist ideology of the society but not its methods or its political philosophy. Nehru also sharply disagreed with Communists’ evaluation of Gandhi and the Indian National Congress. He regarded the Congress as a truly democratic-revolutionary force. He was keen on influencing the Congress with his socialistic ideas; and, he did not think of cutting himself off from Congress. The Communists labelled Nehru as a ’timid reformer’.

But, when you take a historical perspective of Communist development, you find that over the years it has changed vastly. The dogmas of violent armed revolutions and dictatorship are no longer valid. The Socialist content of Nehru’s views had also not made room for such dogmas.]

***

Philip_Spratt

With Spratt and Bradley taking over CPI, it meant Roy was effectively removed from the Indian scene.  And, by about this time, his work area was shifted to China. His absence from Europe gave the CPGB a free hand in the Indian affairs.

The question of affiliation of the CPI with Comintern came up at a meeting held in Bombay on 31 May 1927; and, it was resolved: ‘The CPI looks up to the CPs of the world as well as the International for lead and guidance in the work undertaken by the party in this country’. Even at this stage there was no clear resolve to seek affiliation with Comintern. The reason for that was more likely that the communists in Bombay were anxious to avoid persecution by the police. And , Dange , around this time , on release from jail said he was an ‘Indian communist’ and not a ‘Bolshevik’.

Roy, of course, in his   The Masses of India (July 1927) called the whole thing as absurd; and rebuked the Indian communists.

**

After the Communist Party was formed in 1925, the left wing groups which had been formed in Madras, Bengal and Bombay soon got converted into Workers and Peasants Party (WPP).

The formation of the WPP in 1928 was made possible by the co-operation of the left wing Congressmen in the Indian National Congress.  The conversion of the Labour Swaraj Party of the INC in Bengal into WPP in 1928 reflected the co-operation between the emerging left wing and the Communists. This was followed by changeover of the Congress Labour Party in Bombay into WPP in 1928 and formation of WPP in UP (Meerut) , Punjab  and other centres. By 1928, all these groups were brought together as an All Indian party; and , new out posts were set up in other parts of India.  They began to function as left-wing within the Indian National Congress, especially in Bombay, with encouragement from Nehru. Bombay group by the end of 1928 grew into prominence as the centre of the Communist Trade Union movement.

By about April 1928, penetration of the communists in the Congress controlled trade unions had almost been complete. They as WPP had not only secured a voice in airing the views of the movement but had also gained full hold of the workers in Bombay and Bengal.

During the Madras session of the Indian National Congress in 1928, the Communists within the Congress held a separate meeting to consolidate the WPPs and take control over their working. But Roy who since the Gaya Congress -1927- had been, talking about formation of WPPs, rued the WPP was now been ‘too openly’ being identified with Communists. ‘It is publicly known’ he remarked ‘ that practically all the members of the CC of CPI are leaders of WPP’. He said ‘the cat has been needlessly left out of the bag by publishing the list of CC members.’

At the AITUC session held at Jharia in 1928, the WPPs attempting to capture AITUC set up a communist candidate D B Kulkarni ( a Railway worker from Bombay) against Jawaharlal Nehru, the Congress Secretary. Nehru was elected with a narrow margin. But at the same time, at Jharia, the AITUC got affiliated to the League Against Imperialism (LAI) with which Nehru was also associated.

The Congress session at Calcutta in December 1928 marked an almost split among the leaders who wanted dominion and leaders who wanted complete Independence. Gandhi had proposed a resolution that called for the British to grant dominion status to India within two years. Bose and Nehru objected to the time given to the British. Gandhi brokered a further compromise by reducing the time given from two years to one. Jawaharlal Nehru voted for the new resolution, while Bose told his supporters that he would not oppose the resolution, and abstained from voting himself. The WPP members violently rejected even the ‘one year ultimatum’; stormed into the session; and occupied almost the whole of Congress pavilion. They demanded immediate independence.

Ultimately the Congress Session of 1928 at Calcutta adopted Nehru (Motilal) Report which demanded:  India must be given Dominion status within a year; the Governor-General would be only the constitutional head; no separate electorate; and, citizenship and fundamental rights to be clearly enunciated.

***

[However, all such efforts and exercises were undone after the Communists in India were asked by Comintern, during the Third Period, to severe all connections with INC, just when they were proving useful to the Communist Party.

In What came to be known as the Third Period  the Communist Party  during 1927-28 , asked  the Communist parties in various countries to move away from the bourgeoisie nationalistic organizations , disrupt the  covert bodies and unions  already formed; and, to start new Communist organizations.

In regard to India, all alliances with bourgeois including the Left-wing of Indian National Congress were shunned. It was pointed out that Left-wing of the Congress was more dangerous than the Right. The ECCI observed: for some time the workers and peasants of Indian have been showing an increased class-awareness interests. And, henceforth, conditions are such that the toiling masses can become an independent political force, under the leadership of the proletariat.

That meant the end of united front with revolutionary nationalists.

 The policy of nurturing Indian National Congress-Left was dropped at the very moment when its leaders were expressing publicly their commitment to socialism and even Marxism. That directive, instead of advancing the communist cause threw the movement into despair, drove the movement underground, marginalized within their respective labour movements or shattered by internal disputes workers broken spirit. ]

**

The WPP met in Calcutta (21-24 December 1928) to adopt the ultra-left-policy directed by the Sixth Congress of the Comintern. It met again on 27-19 December 1928 as it was hesitant to adopt the Comintern directive in toto; and did not dissolve the WPP forthwith. At its next meeting in Bombay (17-19 March 1929) the CPI resolved to re-organize the party; but, decided to keep the question of dissolving WPP in abeyance. But, soon after the conclusion of the meeting, about 31 communist leaders and number of trade union leaders were rounded up and arrested. They were charged on 30 March 1929, with conspiracy to wage war against the King Emperor.  The Congress, the Socialists and the Communists all joined in huge protest marches. Bipin Chandra Pal called upon the youth to ‘enlist themselves as active members of the labour movement; to close ranks and to present a united front’.

By then Roy’s influence on Communist movement in India had sharply declined. And, by about this time, his work area was shifted to China. His absence from Europe gave the CPGB a free hand in the Indian affairs.

**

AS Shashi Bairathi summarizes in his Communism and Nationalism in India: A Study in Inter-relationship, 1919-1947:

Historically speaking, the Communist movement in India grew out of the national environment. It was the result of the efforts of the Indian revolutionaries and nationalists who were groping their way towards a new ideology and form of struggle following disappointment over the withdrawal of the non-cooperation movement of Gandhi in 1922… The Comintern only brought together such disillusioned youth to form an All-India Centre…

To speak, therefore, of the Communist movement in India as a foreign conspiracy is to distort the historical facts. It would also be incorrect to harp on so-called antagonism between Communism and Nationalism. And yet, in India, the Communist movement could not forge a fusion or a co-operative relationship with the nationalist movement.

 **

[While on the question of Communist movement in India, let me be a little more candid.

The Left-wing in India had a strange and chequered career. The pioneers and early members of the Communist Party in India all started as extreme right-wing militants and nationalists. In fact, the RSS, the right wing Hindu organization and those who took to Communist ideology both originated from revolutionary nationalist outfits   like Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar of Bengal preaching and practicing violence. The RSS chose its own way during 1925.

But the Communist ideology took root in India much earlier by the end of the First World War and with the exhilaration of the success of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. The disappointment with Gandhi, his ways and his sudden withdrawal of mass agitation because of a stray incident of violence, all deeply disappointed the Youth. Strangely, most of those who took to Communism after disgust with Gandhian methods had their indoctrination while they were held in British prisons.

The early Communists in India came from varied walks of life. They were a combination of diverse strands of approach, traditions and practices. While many came through the path of rebellion, terrorism and conspiracy, there were also intellectuals and theoreticians who could think and write with clarity.

The Russian Revolution made a deep impact on the youth of India during the early 1920s. The left-wing and Socialism became the idiom of the thinking of the youth. Obviously, the class-struggle, the problems of the workers and peasants became the centre of their program. The general attitude and mode of thinking was veered towards anti-imperialism, socialism and revolution.

The first birth of Communist Party of India took place outside of India in Tashkent, in what is now Uzbekistan, Central Asia, in October 1920. It had its re-birth on Indian soil in December 1925 at Cawnpore.  It’s very unlikeliest founding President was Singaravelu Chettiar from deep South in the conservative Madras Presidency. Singaravelu Chettiar in his first Presidential address clearly said: “Indian Communism is not Bolshevism; for Bolshevism is a kind of Communism which the Russians have adopted in their country. We are not Russians; and we are not Bolsheviks. Bolshevism may not be needed in India… We are one with the world community; but not with Bolshevism”.

And yet, one of the major problems in the growth of the Communist party in India was too much external interference by Comintern (unlike in China)  ,by  the CP of Great Britain , by the Roy  Groups  and such others. Add to that was the question of   alignment of communist groups  in India to one or the other outside Agency ( to Russia or to China); and , birth of splinter groups  or sects each  trying to outsmart the other.

The other factor which seemed to have hurt a healthy growth of Communist Party in India was the lack of clear stand on the question of colonialism and nationalism. That question has continued to bother the Communist Party at the International level and at the national level since the Second World Congress held in 1920.

The inconsistency in the Comintern policies; its lack of clear stand on the question of colonialism and nationalism; it’s a mixed approach to Indian National Congress and the Indian National movement; its sudden shift to ultra-left in 1927-28; reversal of that policy in 1934-35; and, shifting signals during the second world war, all these created much confusion within the Communist party in India.  That disarray was exploited by the British, who played one against the other, and ultimately crushed all the groups along with their allied unions and organizations, ruthlessly.

A similar confused thinking was repeated when the question of nationalism again raised its hood in the wake of Chinese incursion into India during 1962. The Communists as a body politic showed itself in a poor light and split the in two (CPI and CPM). And later, a breakaway group within CPM calling itself as CPM- L (otherwise called Naxals) took to extreme violence.  Each splinter group professing its own doctrine vied with the other, claiming it was the true heir to the Communist doctrine in its purest essence.

Thus, the Left wing parties could not unite.  Apart from the Communists, the Left-oriented groups in India also failed to unite. The Congress Socialists and Jawaharlal Nehru generally abided by Gandhi’s leadership; Subash Bose who tried to make a synthesis of Socialism, Fascism and Nationalism was deserted by both the Socialists and Communists.  And, similarly M N Roy who pioneered communist movement in India and who was intimately involved in building communist groups and guiding their policies and methods, was sidelined by communists, the socialists and the congress alike. Roy, in his isolation lost interest in traditional politics; and with the dawn of Independence, he turned into a political philosopher. The Left–wing was in total disarray during the Second World War, and hopelessly failed to influence the Indian politics.

Somehow, the Communists Parties in India could not comfortably handle the National Question. And, turn after turn it went the wrong way. The position of Communist Party in India was worsened by the incorrect turn taken by Kuusinen, Manuilsky, and Dmitrov. They overturned a correct understanding just when the United Front approach seemed to be doing fairly well.

CPM’s website also talks of the alien influences, distortions and deviations and  also serious mistakes committed during the Communist History in India,

Perhaps the major tragedy of Communism in India was flittering away the great opportunity it had gained in West Bengal of bringing to practice the left-wing ideas. During the long tenure of its rule over the state, uninterruptedly stretched over twenty-five years, the Party working was marred by internal strife; and, sadly the Left Government failed to make any significant impact on the development of the State. During its rule,   neither the industrial workers nor the peasants were benefitted; and sadly the Communist Party and the State of West Bengal steadily went down the drain.

The Communist Party in India however could build and control trade unions and Kisan Sabhas. But, now the Communist Party seems to be losing or has lost its influence on such bodies.]

stamp

Continued

In

Next Part

 

 

 

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

 

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

[For Dr.DMR Sekhar]

MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts

Part One

Introduction and Overview

M N Roy, Communist leader with signatures, in New Delhi on September 30, 1967

 

Several years back, I posted an article about   Mahapandita Rahula Sankrityayana (1893–1963) one of the stormy petrels of India’s recent past; the restless drifter who from the Vedic Arya Samaj moved into Buddhism, then leaped on to communism and back again to Buddhism. I had written, in fair detail, about his travels in Tibet collecting copies of ancient texts; his association with the Communism and setting up the Communist Party of Bihar ; his Party work in Russia; his expulsion from the Communist Party and the USSR following his differences with Josef Stalin; and on his eventual disillusionment with Communism. On his return to India, he resumed his Buddhist work. He again took to travel ; and, visited Sri Lanka (where he taught Sanskrit), Japan, Korea, China, and Manchuria. He saw a fire temple in Baku and discovered an inscription in Devanagari script. From there he went to Tehran, Shiraz and Baluchistan and finally returned to India. During his life-time Sankrityayana wrote about one-hundred-and-fifty books and dissertations covering a variety of subjects. Apart from travelogues, he wrote extensively on a range  of subjects such as sociology, history, philosophy, Buddhism, Tibetology, lexicography, grammar, textual editing, folklore, science, drama, and politics. He also produced two huge dictionaries, one Tibetan – Sanskrit; and the other Russian – Sanskrit. He prepared a glossary of Hindi terms for administrative use. He also collected and wrote about the ecstatic songs (Doha) in Apabramsha dialect spoken by the eccentric Siddha saints of Bihar and Bengal.

In that context, I had mentioned, in passing, his similarities with MN Roy another stormy petrel of India,  the son of a village teacher who meteoroed into an intellectual at the international level ; who traveled across the globe ; participated in , as also  influenced the growth and spread of communism in various parts of the world; and, who wrote a large number of books on politics, political philosophy, sociology, history etc.

rahul_sankrityayanmn-roy-after-release-from-jail-19360002

In many ways; the life-events of Sankrityayana and Roy were similar. Both were brilliant intellectuals, great travelers, versatile linguists and voracious writers. Both coming from orthodox middle class families started as ardent Nationalists with a burning zeal to secure India’s freedom; both came into contact with Marxist principles rather incidentally; both grew into ardent communists working actively along with eminent leaders of the party in USSR;  later, both were disillusioned with Communist regimes in USSR ; both incurred the displeasure of Stalin and  were expelled from the party. Both in their later years grew into philosophers and thinkers.  Both married western women, settled down in India; and died while in India.

[Although Sankrityayana and Roy both incurred the wrath of Joseph Stalin they could, yet, said to be fortunate. While Sankrityayana was exiled, Roy lingered on the outer fringe of the Central Party for sometime, before he was expelled. He eventually returned to India. But, the other Indian Left intellectuals Virendranath Chattopadhyaya (brother of the well known freedom fighter and poetess Sarojani Naidu) and Abaninath Mukherjee one of the co-founders (along with Roy and Evelyn Trent) of the Indian Communist Party launched from Tashkent in 1921 were not so lucky. Their disagreement with Joseph Stalin made them victims of the Great Purge. Virendranath Chattopadhyaya was arrested on in July 1937; and , was executed on 2 September 1937. And, Abaninath Mukherjee was arrested in June 1937 ;and, was executed by the firing squad on 28 October 1937.]

I share with DR. DMR Sekhar, a special fascination for the life and thoughts of MN Roy. He, undoubtedly, is without a peer in the present era. There is hardly anyone comparable to Roy. His approach to politics, philosophy and life was much different. He led an adventurous and eventful life; and, his experience was vast. Roy’s intellectual odyssey took him from militant Hindu nationalist to communist and then on to radical democrat and humanist. MN Roy could be described as a global Indian and an international communist positioned between  the German Opposition communist fringe and Soviet orthodoxy;  and between the Indian National Congress and Radical Socialism; and , a sustained critique of Gandhian  notions of Brahmacharya ,  ascetic ideals  and food-culture. His thoughts were quite original. He adopted unorthodox means of separating religion from philosophy for realizing his ideals.

And yet he was not a mass-leader. Towards the end of his life, he was a lonely person.  He was a sort of romantic who envisioned, with hope, that ’Man has created something great and is destined to create something greater’. He had the courage of conviction and honesty of ideas to stand alone amidst hostile criticism.

I wondered; it is strange that such fiery figures- like Roy and Sankrityayana – have almost disappeared from scenes of the present-day-world. No longer do you come across, either in India or anywhere else, such colorful, rebellious, brilliant and larger-than life intellectual personalities, passionate about their beliefs, living and spreading their influence in various parts of the globe at an enormous risk to their person and to their acceptance in organized groups. The rarity of such intellectual odysseys  bordering on adventurism  in the present times  may perhaps have a lot to do with the ephemeral nature of things and the sense of values of the world we live in, dominated by faceless corporations chasing after virtual curves on electronic screens, week after week . Even the leaders of the so-called revolutionary parties, bereft of commitment to their original principles, have gone soft, corrupt and rotting from within.

Dr.DMR Sekhar, the Scholar Scientist, had then inquired whether I had written about MN Roy. I had by then written, briefly, some pages about MN Roy’s views on political structures, economic theories as also about his views on  religion, philosophy, science and their inter relations. But, I had not written much either about his life-events or about his intellectual life; especially,  about the later part of his life. However, the thoughts about MN Roy had been floating around in my mind whenever questions on history, religion, democracy etc; and, particularly those about Humanism came up in one context or the other.

I was drawn to MN Roy as he was a multifaceted personality: a revolutionary, political activist and theoretician and a philosopher-thinker whose sphere of influence spread beyond India into far distant lands. I was fascinated by his thoughts on the relationships, as he saw, between philosophy and religion; philosophy and science. The task of philosophy according to him is not merely “to know things as they are, and to find the common origin of the diverse phenomena of nature, and, nature itself; to understand Man and his Universe…To explain existence as a whole”; but, more importantly, it is its power or the force to change  and  reform  the world we live in, for a much better place where  all  can live with  freedom and dignity.

This was in contrast to the Indian perception of philosophy as a means to attain  liberation  from the earthly coils which hold back Man from his true destiny . As regards Religion, Roy thought that “Faith in the super-natural does not permit true understanding of the nature of the Universe. Therefore, rejection of orthodox religious ideas and theological dogmas is an essential precondition for philosophy”. He was highly appreciative of democratic and egalitarian character of Islam and Islamic teachings. However, when he lauded the role of Islam, I wonder, had been alive today whether he would have continued to hold such views. Roy grasped the intimate relationship between science and philosophy. With the ascendancy of science, he said, philosophy can now exist only as ‘the science of sciences — a systematic coordination, a synthesis of all positive knowledge’.

I realize I do not have much time left ahead of me. Before it is too late, let me dwell briefly on one of our forgotten heroes who I wish had lived a little longer and been little more active in his later life. Perhaps his active and involved presence could have brought sanity, in some measure, into the course of events that overtook India and Bengal in particular. On Roy’s death (Jan 25, 1954), the Socialist Leader Jayaprakash Narayan (11 October 1902 – 8 October 1979) wrote: Roy was perhaps never more needed than just when he died.

I propose to write a series of articles touching , in main, upon his early life adventurous events, his  busy career in Mexico , USSR and China as a Marxist  intellect and theoretician ; his contacts with the other leftist intellectuals while wandering adrift in the west;  his association with the western women engaged in  Leftist movement and the freedom movement of India; his involvement in developing and guiding the communist , trade union and peasant movements in India;  his attempts to indirectly influence the Freedom movement in India  and the economic programs of  the Indian National Congress; and,  his prison years followed by  his political  career in Indian National Congress.  I would also try to discuss his ideas on politics, philosophy, religion, history and science, as reflected in the vast body of his works.

[ I have tried to use the life-story of MN Roy as a sort of thread to talk about the series of changes or developments that overtook India, ranging over diverse phases of extreme nationalism; socialism; colonial rule; and parliamentary democracy. Roy’s life-events also help to chronicle the national movement for freedom of India, sphere-headed by the Indian National Congress but involving number of other parties and groups operating from within and outside India; as also   the birth, development and decay of communism in India . Roy’s concern for the Post-Independence India away from the steamrolling Communist dictatorship and away from the corrupt parliamentary system of party politics ; and, his Plans  for  Economic  Development  of  India and the Draft  Constitution  of  Free  India ; his vision for a party-less , country-wide network of Peoples’ Committees having wide powers such as initiating legislation, expressing opinions on pending Bills, recalling representatives and referendum on important national issues etc are truly interesting and very relevant to the times we live-in. They indeed could serve as pointers to our future world-view. ]

I trust this will find at least a handful of avid readers.

Blackmoon

Compared to Sankrityayana, Roy led a more varied and a more adventurous life. He started as a starry-eyed nationalist revolutionary believing in violence (in the present-day terms, ‘a terrorist’) wandering across the Far East in search of German arms and fund to fight the British in India. That search for German arms led Roy on to the West coast of the United States of America where he came in contact with Socialists and also the theories of Karl Marx. But, it was in Mexico that Roy underwent a thorough transformation from a conservative nationalist to cosmopolitan Communist believing staunchly in the Marxist doctrine. Roy soon emerged as an an acknowledged authority on Marxian doctrine. And worked closely with the esteemed international leaders of the Bolshevik movement and Communist Party its highest level , who later became legendary figures, such as Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky , Bukharin , Borodin and such others. While in the company of the elite of the International communist movement, Roy was closely associated in drafting its policies and its working.

He became the founder member of the Communist Party of India in 1920 at Tashkent; and was also the Chief Adviser of the Communist Party of China. He, earlier to that, had come in contact with Dr. Sun Yat Sen , Chiang Kai Shek  and Ho Chin min (who was , at one time, a student of Roy at Moscow)  and later with  Mao Tse-tung.

After the exit of his mentor, Lenin, Roy was sidelined in the Communist party following his disagreements with Joseph Stalin the dictator of the USSR. Roy was further distraught and dismayed as Stalin went on to systematically liquidate the old-guards of the Bolshevik movement and his comrades in the Party, one after the other. He was particularly saddened by the expulsion and execution of Bukharin considered as the brain behind Lenin. Roy wrote articles in the German Communist–Opposition-leader Thalheimer‘s journal criticizing Russia’s foreign policy, which angered the Stalin group. And, Roy was promptly expelled from the Party.

Roy returned to India in 1930 (after about fifteen years) knowing full well of the grave risks it involved. He was arrested and thrown into prison for six years on the charges that were framed against him in 1924, while he was away from India.  After release from Jail, Roy became a member of the Indian National Congress; and worked closely with Nehru, Subash Bose, JP Narayan and other leaders; and, also had differences with Gandhi and the right-wing of Congress.  During those four years in Congress, Roy tried to radicalize the Congress; and, turn it into a United Front or a common platform for all shades and sections of the Indian politics in their struggle for attaining political and economic Independence of India. He failed thoroughly. And, finally he was asked to resign from Congress. Disillusioned with traditional politics, Roy turned into a political philosopher.

The later years of his life brought about his transition from Marxism to the ‘integral scientific humanism’ and then on 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 decentralized 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; 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 Radical 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.

As Kanta Katatia 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 center 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.

**

Roy’s ideas , just as the traditions of India, are a series of changes with continuity. India had always prominently figured in every phase of Roy’s revolutionary, political and intellectual life, no matter whether he was in India or outside of it or even in prison. In order to understand Roy’s mature phase of thought concerning humanism etc it might be necessary to learn of the nature and evolution of his earlier ideas.

At least four phases of Roy’s life and thoughts may be seen distinctly.

The first of these began at the turn of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century, with Roy as a young terrorist inspired by patriotic zeal under the guidance of his hero Jatin Mukherjee. That phase ended with his conversion to Marxism in 1919 under the tutelage of Mikhail Markovich Borodin when the two came together in Mexico.

The second phase of his life and thinking covers his eminent career in the Communist Party (1919-1929) . That phase began in Mexico and ended with his expulsion from the Communist Party in December 1929.

The third phase began with his return to India in 1930 and his imprisonment for six years commencing from 1931; his brief flirtation with Indian National Congress for four years ( 1936-1940) ; and his subsequent formation of the Radical Democratic Party (RDP) as an alternative to Congress and the Communist Parties.

The final phase of his life, till his death in 1954, was that of a philosopher expounding principles of Humanism and launching the Humanist Movement.

Ellen Roy (MN Roy’s wife) explained:

It should not be thought that the phases mentioned above were sharply separated from one another or that there were any violent mutations in life.  Rather, they led logically and naturally from one to another; and were but stages in a process of organic growth and development. Roy never disowned his past; and to the end he acknowledged Jatin Mukherjee and Karl Marx as his guides and mentors – next in importance only to the greatest mentor of all, life itself

Ever testing his thoughts in the light of his experiences and chastening his experiences in the crucible of reason ,  he moved from terrorism to virulent Nationalism to Marxism and Communism , then on to Radical Humanism ; he moved from formal democracy to humanist democracy in action; from internationalism to cosmopolitanism . He blazed a new trial for those yet to tread the long path.

Freedom for Roy was a huge concept. He did not equate freedom either with national Independence or with cession of oppression. It was a progressive disappearance of all that binds an individual and restricts his innate immense potential as a human being”.

In the wealth of experiences that went into shaping his thoughts and outlook later in his life, he was truly unique; and, in one lifetime he lived the lives of many, spread across three continents and a dozen countries. Although these stages are distinctly marked, they run along a continuum like a thread, in the organic growth of his thought process.

***

Throughout his life Roy had pursued the quest for human freedom. He wrote:

“when as a schoolboy of about fourteen I began my political life, which may end in nothing. I always wanted to be free. In those days we had not read of Marx; we did not know the meaning of proletariat; we were not aware of class struggle; nor were we intent on realising an ism. And still, there was a vague desire or hunger for freedom; and an urge to revolt against the intolerable conditions of life. We did not know exactly how the conditions could be changed. I began my life with that dream and spirit; and I still draw my inspiration from that spirit, in search of that elusive freedom many spent years in jail and went to gallows,  than from the three volumes Capital or the three hundred volumes of the Marxists”( New Orientation, 1946 , p.183)

Roy took to Marxism because it appeared to be the right philosophy that could change the world for better.  To Roy, Marxism appealed as a more convincing explanation for his innate desire for freedom. The driving force of his Marxism was his Humanism. Freedom for him was not an abstract ideal but something that has to be lived and experienced by each individual.

While in the Comintern, Roy learnt and witnessed that Marxism in theory was quite different from Marxism in practice. Roy could not agree with a system that survives and thrives on oppression, under a dictatorship in the grab of democracy – as was the case in Russia under Stalin. He could not compromise with the new developments in the Stalin era, which degenerated into an instrument of enslavement of Man. And, that marked his breakaway from Communism as it was then practiced in Russia.

Roy returned to India, to participate , directly , in the Indian National movement. Soon after he landed in India, Roy was imprisoned for almost six years. The prison experience had a most profound impact upon his thoughts. Just as Aurobindo, Nehru and Philip Spratt;  during his isolation in the prison , Roy also had ’ all his sensitivity in a continuous state of tension’ ; and, experienced the effect of a ‘psychological hothouse’,  where one tends to overwhelmingly brood , leading to ‘  concentration of emotion upon itself’. Roy’s deep introspection led him to different modes and forms of thoughts.

Roy did not experience a ‘mystical revelation’’ as did Sri Aurobindo; yet, he was a different person after release from prison. There was a marked change in Roy’s thought, personality and general approach to life.

After his release, he began to discover the limitations of Marxism; and, the needs to ‘revise certain fundamental conceptions of classical Materialism’. He began to ponder over application of Marxism with special reference to India: ‘the modern Marxist cannot literally follow the line predicted by Marx. We cannot say that developments in India must necessarily follow the same line as Marx predicted for European developments’.

Roy came to believe that India needs a philosophical revolution; and, that without a philosophical revolution, no social revolution is possible. That was a clear departure from Marxism. He recognized the present predicament of modern society as a moral crisis that desperately needs a complete reorientation of social philosophy and political theories. He was convinced what India needed for its full and healthy development was a Party-less system with abiding values of humanity; and, moved by the ideal of human freedom.  Freedom according to him was the ultimate reality in human life; it defines and qualifies every other human experience.  “Call this an idealistic deviation, if you please” he said “I would plead guilty to the charge”.

In the subsequent elaboration of his idea of freedom, he projected it as a sort of spiritual freedom — the ultimate value of radical humanism and the key motivating force of human actions.

**

When he was in the Indian National Congress, he was disappointed to discover that it  hardly was a democratic body. The right-wing of the Congress led by Gandhi throttled every other shade of view and opinion. Roy disagreed with Gandhi on several fundamental issues. Gandhi advised his followers to completely ignore Roy as if he did not exist politically; for, Roy appeared to him too dangerous a man even to be criticized. And, when Roy tried to push through his radical ideas, Gandhi bitingly advised him to stay out of Indian politics, and just “render mute service to the cause of Indian freedom.” Roy’s views were turned down every time; and, eventually he was asked to resign from the Party.

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

Roy also could not appreciate Gandhi’s views on celibacy (Brahmacharya), shunning alcohol, and advocating total non-violence.  Gandhi’s stand on un-touchability, according to Roy, was also suspect (this was also the view of Dr. Ambedkar). Roy remarked that sermons might have some propaganda value; but beyond that they hardy were of any use. Roy pointed out that Gandhi’s programs of similar nature were, basically, verbal, couched in sentiments rather than effective programs involving masses and appealing to their immediate interests. As regards untouchability, what was required, he said, was ‘constant campaign coupled with modes and changes in personal relationships by challenging unhealthy prejudices’. He was also against Gandhi’s insistence of compulsory Charka (home-spun) movement. Roy pointed out that ‘sentiments can keep a movement going for a certain limited length of time, but it cannot last longer unless fed with more substantial factors’. Gandhi’s Charka movement, Roy observed, was based on hollow economic logic; it was not economically viable; and , therefore Charka’s fate was sealed.  

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

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 rejected both Communism and capitalism; and, 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 only be built 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’s most important prediction was that the Parliamentary form of Democracy in India would breed corruption. His lecture to the University Institute in Calcutta on February 5, 1950 warned of this.

“The future of Indian democracy is not very bright, and that is not due to the evil intentions on the part of politicians, but rather the system of party politics. Perhaps in another Ten years, demagogy will vitiate political practice. The scramble for power will continue, breeding corruption, caste-ism and inefficiency. People engaged in politics cannot take a long view. Laying foundations is a long process for them; they want a short-cut. The short-cut to power is always to make greater promises than others, to promise things without the competence or even the intention to implement them.”

In another lecture on January 30, 1947, also at Calcutta, 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 power must always remain invested in the people – not periodically, but from day to day. Atomized 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.

***

MN Roy was perhaps among the earliest few to realize the dangers of Marxism on one side and the inadequacies of Parliamentary Democracy on the other. He recognized the need for a new kind of socio-economic philosophy, a practical-theory of life (not speculation) that is guided by humanism which would re-organize social life. By humanism he meant respect for man as Man; and, essentially, where the individual is at the center of all spheres of human activities (unlike in Marxism). 

Marx had said that a good society is necessary to have good individuals. Roy, on the other hand, asserted ’it is important to have good individuals to have a good society’.  His main concern, as he said, was freedom for himself and for all others. His dream was’ to make every Indian realize her/his human dignity and make her/his own destiny’.   And for that, he said, they will have to give up many of the traditional beliefs that tie them down; but, to develop a ‘liberating philosophy of life’. MN Roy maintained that a philosophical revolution must precede a social revolution. Although his critics pointed out that his New Humanism was ethereal and Utopian, he asserted that it was a flexible philosophical structure that has relevance to all branches of human life and existence.

In 1944, Roy and his associates had drafted, with great dedication and hard work , two basic documents, namely, People’ s  Plan  for  Economic  Development  of  India and the Draft  Constitution  of  Free  India. These documents contained Roy’s original contributions to the solution of the country’s economic and political problems.

In the Draft Constitution that Roy proposed, the Indian State was to be organized on the basis of country-wide network of Peoples’ Committees having wide powers such as initiating legislations, expressing opinions on pending Bills, recalling representatives and referendum on important national issues.

He 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 . He , therefore, urged for direct elections for the post of State Governors. He advocated election to be held on non-party basis to form Constituent Assembly, which would frame the constitution of Independent India on a federal basis.  He had also built in safety measures , like fixing accountability on the elected representatives; and the power to re-call the erring such elected members. But, his Draft Constitution for Free India was conveniently assigned to the dustbin.

He paid a heavy price, without regret or rancor, for his uncompromising stand on various social,   national and international problems. He remained something of an enigma even in the Leftist political history. Although he had fought for India’s independence, in his own manner, his contribution was never recognized. He was sidelined even by his former colleagues and mates.  He came to be viewed more as a critic than as a constructive partner. It was pointed out that he analyzed various elements of thought in great detail; but, at the end, failed to come up with an integrated system or plan that would work.

The sort of Independence that India gained and the truncated look of ‘free-India’ , sliced into pieces based on religion, sorely disappointed Roy. He was hurt disillusioned and isolated. His political activity came to an end as India crawled towards freedom in the dead of a dark night.

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

His later years were spent in writing series of Books on various political and social issues as also on the events in Marxist history.  These writings show that Roy was not satisfied with a primarily economic explanation of historical processes. He studied and tried to assess the role of cultural and ideological factors in traditional and contemporary India. Roy tried to reformulate materialism in the light of latest developments in the physical and biological sciences. He was convinced that without the growth and development of a materialist and rationalist outlook in India, neither a renaissance nor a democratic revolution would be possible. He attempted his Memoir; but , could not complete it. He became engaged in educating the young and in spreading the message of New Humanism across the world.

And, towards the end of his life, Roy  grew rather indifferent to either fame or success. The long years of self-exile stretching over fifteen years followed by incarceration for six years had distanced him from the ground realities of the volatile India, which  through its varied conflicting ways was struggling to assert itself. He was isolated in more than one sense.

The reasons for his isolation could be many. He was away from India for about fifteen years; and, thereafter , was behind bars for six years. During these long years, Roy had lost direct contact with the ordinary people of India. He communicated with his followers through his writings.  And, in the political circumstances of his period, his ideas went beyond a certain class of people and did not percolate to the masses. The language of his ideas and theories was such that it would not appeal to common man.

Another reason could be that, in India, he did not enjoy the benefit of support from any major political party or group. Though he was in the Indian National Congress for a period of four years, he could not get on well with its leaders (Gandhi in particular); and, could not agree with  its approach to major problems and issues ( such as the support or otherwise to the British during the second War). As regards the Communist Party with which he was associated closely for a considerable period, he no longer had any association with it after he was expelled from the Party in 1929. And, the Indian communist party under the aegis of Joseph Stalin was markedly hostile to him. As regards the other socialist groups they were scattered and ill organized; and, had no effective leadership.

In the later years, MN Roy did not remain a man of action. He was  engaged in writing and developing streams of thoughts on politics, history, social development,  modern crisis in human affairs, science, economics , schemes for world peace and organization and such other subjects.

He also did not get an opportunity to put his ideas into practice. Since his later theories of humanism and individual freedom seemed to be tinged with idealism, many including the political activists took it as rather utopian or simply daydreaming.

Ho Chi Minh , who was at one time Roy’s student in Moscow, successfully put into practice Roy’s theory of turning the national struggle into a social revolution, with the Communist Party in the lead. And, that was exactly the kind of movement in India , and the kind relationship between the Indian National movement and the Indian National Congress that Roy had been advocating all along. Ho Chi Minh got the opportunity and Roy did not. And , that made all the difference ]

**

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

While Roy and his wife Ellen were resting in the hill station of Mussoorie, Roy met with a serious accident on June 11 1952. He fell fifty feet down while walking along a hill track. He was moved to Dehra Dun for treatment. On the 25th of August, he had an attack of cerebral thrombosis resulting in a partial paralysis of the right side. The accident prevented the Roys’ from attending the inaugural congress of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (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.

On August 15 1953, Roy had the second attack of cerebral thrombosis, which paralyzed the left side of his body. Roy’s last article dictated to Ellen Roy for the periodical 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 January 25 1954, ten minutes before midnight, M.N. Roy died of a heart attack. He was nearly 67 at that time.

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

Roy was not a successful person in the ordinary sense of the term, as Samaren Roy writes, by the time he died in January 1954, he was a forgotten man.

***

About twenty years after the demise of M N Roy, that is in 1974, the Socialist leader Jayaprakash Narayan tried to revive ideas outlined in Roy’s Draft Constitution of Free India . Narayan  in his program of ‘Total Revolution’   talked of forming ‘People’s Committees’ at the grass-root level, giving them power to legislate, opine and vote on issues of personal and national importance as well as to recall the erring members of legislatures, thus, tempering political parties. Though he could arouse the curiosity of the youth and generate some debate, Narayan could not win the Election. The power politics of Congress took charge again.

Roy and Narayan had somewhat similar political background. Both had at one time affinity with Communism; and both had later rejected Communism and Nationalism. For them, Marxism remained an ideal; but, one that was not practiced in its purity anywhere in the world.  Both tried to overcome in their revised programs the noteworthy defects of Marxism in theory and in practice.

Both Roy and Narayan placed the individual and his freedom at the core of their programs. But, the emphasis of each differed. While Narayan’s concept of Radical Democracy revolved around popular movements of the Communities at the grass-roots level, Roy’s concept rested on individuals at grass-roots politics. The experts point out that each of those programs, by itself, is incomplete. And, both their programs do not give adequate credit to the crucial and un-avoidable role of the State. And both placed undue or excessive faith in the persuasive force of moral and intellectual elite; and, therefore, have an amorphous or nebulous unrealistic air about them.  Both seemed to have taken for granted the liberal notions of equality and liberty.

Though the Radical Humanism and Total Revolution were well meant,  rising idealistic visions of the importance of the individual , they could not stand up to the challenges of the powerful Party  politics of the Present-day India. Total Revolution and Radical Humanism were very quickly cast aside. That is very sad.

jp

[Jayaprakash Narayan (1902-1979) returned to India from the US, in late 1929 as a Marxist. And soon after that, he joined the Indian National Congress at the invitation of Jawaharlal Nehru. Mahatma Gandhi became his mentor in the Congress. During the Indian independence movement he was arrested and jailed several times, particularly during the Quit India movement of 1942. Upon release, he took a leading part in the formation of the Congress Socialist Party, a left-wing group within the Congress Party. In 1946, he tried to persuade the Congress leaders to adopt a more militant policy against British rule.

After independence, Pundit Nehru offered Jayaprakash Narayan the post of a minister in the Union Cabinet; but, he refused the offer preferring to walk along the socialist path of nation-building.

In 1948, Jayaprakash Narayan, together with most of the Congress Socialists, left the Congress Party; and, in 1952 formed the Praja Socialist Party (PSP). But again, he became dissatisfied with party politics; and, announced in 1954 that he would thenceforth devote his life exclusively to the Bhoodan Yajna Movement, founded by Acharya Vinoba Bhave, which aimed to distribute land gifted by the rich among the landless.

In 1959, Jayaprakash Narayan, following the idealism of M N Roy, in an attempt to find an alternative to the modem state, argued for a ‘reconstruction of Indian polity’ as a ‘party-less democracy,’ with decentralization of power, village autonomy and a more representative legislature, by means of a four-tier hierarchy of village, district, state, and union councils. He advocated a program of social transformation which he termed Sampoorna kraanti,’ total revolution’.

In the mid1970s, he led a student -movement   against government corruption in Bihar. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi promptly branded Narayan a reactionary fascist. And, after the Allahabad High Court found Indira Gandhi guilty of violating electoral laws, Narayan called upon her to resign. Instead, Gandhi, immediately, proclaimed a National Emergency on the midnight of 25 June 1975. Narayan, the 600 other opposition leaders, and dissenting members of her own party (the ‘Young Turks’) were arrested that day.

Narayan was detained at Chandigarh Jail even after he asked for one month parole to mobilise relief in flooded parts of Bihar. After five months in prison, his health broke down; and, suddenly deteriorated on 24 October 1975, and he was released on 12 November 1975.  The diagnosis at Jaslok Hospital, Bombay, revealed kidney failure; he would be on dialysis for the rest of his life. He never regained his health.

In 1977, Narayan led united opposition forces; and, Indira Gandhi was defeated in that very crucial election. Then, Narayan advised the victorious Janata party in its choice of leaders to head the new administration.

Jayaprakash Narayan popularly referred to as JP or Lok Nayak succumbed to the ill effects of diabetes and of heart ailments; and, died   in Patna, Bihar, on 8 October 1979, three days before his 78th birthday.]

***

Beginning with the Next Part, let’s look into the life-events of M N Roy; and at the end let’s get to learn about his philosophical thoughts.

Let’s start with his Early Years, in Part Two.

17th MySt MN Roy (1)

 

Continued

In

Part Two

Sources and References

  1. M N Roy by V B Karnik
  2. M N Roy – A Political Biography by Samaren Roy
  3. The Political Thoughts of M N Roy by KS Bharathi
  4. Marxism and Beyond in Indian political thought: J. P. Narayan and m. N. Roy’s concepts of radical democracy by Eva-Maria Nag

http://etheses.lse.ac.uk/1709/1/U183143.pdf

  1. M N Roy’s New Humanism and Materialism by Ramendra Nath
  2. M N Roy’s conception of New Humanism by Kanta Katatia
  3. Many pages of Wikipedia

Illustrations are taken from Internet

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2016 in M N Roy

 

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