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

 

Continued from Part 21

Radical Democracy and Radical Humanism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

**

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Kanta Kataria explains in M N Roy’s conception of New Humanism:

Humanism is derived from the Latin word Humanus, meaning a system of thought concerned with human affairs in general. Humanism is an attitude which attaches primary importance to Man and his faculties, affairs and aspirations. Humanism had to pass through a process of development and change, but its main idea was that Man must remain the Supreme Being. Humanism means respect for man as Man and not only because of his individual achievements. The essence of Humanism is the importance placed on human being , the individual as the centre of all aspirations of  human activities .And, there should no dogmatic authority over life and thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

As Roy says: 

The substratum of the Universe is not matter as traditionally conceived: but it is physical as against mental or spiritual. It is a measurable entity. Therefore, to obviate prejudiced criticism, the philosophy hitherto called materialism may be renamed Physical Realism.  

*

Roy has discussed the nature of Philosophy and its relationship with religion and science in his books Materialism and Science and Philosophy.

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

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

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

Elaborating on his definition of philosophy, Roy says: 

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

 *

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

*

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

**

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

M. N. Roy Stamp

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

 

 

Continued

In

Next Part

 

Sources and References

1 M N. Roy by V B Karnik

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

Pictures are from Internet

 

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

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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 predictably, both  were promptly 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.

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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.

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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 acknowledged authority on Marxian doctrine. And, he worked closely with the esteemed international leaders of the Bolshevik movement and Communist Party at its highest level , such as Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky , Bukharin , Borodin and  others , who later became legendary figures. While in the company of the elite of the International communist movement, Roy was closely associated in drafting its policies and its working.

Roy 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, he 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, coming together in the struggle for attaining political and economic Independence of India. He, of course, 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 one who believed in Marxism to the one who advocated ‘integral scientific humanism’ ; and , then he went on to formulate 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.

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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.

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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 realizing 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.

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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 facade 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.

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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 ]

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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 , sitting alone at the edge ; and , looking into the unknown.

Brink

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.]

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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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